Category: Leadership

Oct 13 2016

businessman_sailing_umbrella(iStockphoto)

In a time when disruption, insecurity, uncertainty and lack of funding are felt by many non-profit organizations, it’s important that an organization has a solid, healthy and passionate board at its helm. To be successful, non-profit organizations, both big and small, need to have good governance: it helps their management teams make good decisions, it protects them from risks, and takes on an operational role during times of change and transformation.

Over the years, Maytree’s longstanding lunch-and-learn program, Five Good Ideas, has asked a number of governance experts and experienced non-profit leaders to address the question of good governance from different angles. The experts agree that organizations with strong governance:

  • Cultivate board diversity;
  • Foster good board-executive director relationships;
  • Insist on transparency and continuous information sharing; and
  • Strive to engage their boards in the most meaningful ways.

Tom Williams, Professor at the School of Policy Studies at Queens University, argues that a non-profit board’s two most important objectives are supervising the management, especially the executive director, and ensuring that the organization’s mission and major goals are being met. Even though the board’s role is not to manage everyday operations of an organization, it must be well informed about the organization’s activities. The directors must be prepared to ask difficult questions of management to be sure they have the right information required to make informed decisions.

Medhat Mahdy and Tim Penner, drawing on their own experiences at the YMCA Greater Toronto, as the President and CEO and Chair, respectively, agree that a healthy executive director-board relationship is essential. Willingness to learn from each other and being open is necessary to create a trusting relationship. This requires ongoing, unstructured, free-flowing dialogue and investment of time. To build trust, the board must adopt a servant leadership approach. At the same time, the non-profit’s leader – a CEO or an executive director – should be ready to be open with the board about any weaknesses or problems, as this is an opportunity to hear another perspective to address challenges and get good advice.

In an atmosphere where demand for services is growing but revenues are limited, effective boards are essential to maintain and fulfill our mission. In his Five Good Ideas presentation, Rick Powers, professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, discusses how to ensure a board can be effective:

  • Embrace increased transparency: Organizations need to be able to respond to requests for information and be forthcoming in their dealings with media and donors.
  • Be aware of the need for increased accountability: This does not refer only to donors and funders but also to those groups charged with ensuring that the organization operates within the regulations and laws applicable within their sector.
  • Pay close attention to conflicts of interest: Direct conflicts of interest are usually pretty easy to identify. Indirect conflicts are more difficult. Just as important, the perception of conflicts of interest needs be to addressed with the same rigour.
  • Determine the skill sets you need: Regardless of the organization, strong governance requires particular skill sets. Representative boards are no exception. Determine what you need and get to it.

In her Five Good Ideas presentation, Helen Hayward, Director, Western Management Consultants, addresses the importance of diversity on boards and that it should be more than just another box to check off. Diverse organizations understand their community and clients better, and a diverse board helps build social capital and supports fundraising and marketing more effectively.

Helen says that in creating more diverse boards, organizations should look beyond their current needs and shortcomings. A well-articulated strategic plan that includes broad stakeholder engagement sets the direction for the organization and the priorities in the next several years. An important step in this process is developing a board matrix that includes an objective analysis of current make-up, future needs in governance competency, expected turn-over, board structure and membership.

Last but not least, good governance is characterized by an engaged board of inspired and passionate board directors. Robin Cardozo, Chief Operating Officer, SickKids Foundation, discusses how to put together a passionate and committed board of directors, given multiple distractions, busy schedules, and the limited time that volunteer board members have to commit.

Using the starting point that engagement is “inspiring someone so that they want to take action,” Robin shares several examples from his more than 25-year-long governance experience. He highlights the importance of the recruitment process – which includes an assessment of a candidate’s capacity to become passionately engaged, and a thoughtful orientation process that helps create a strong connection with the cause of the organization. Board engagement should be maintained by continuous, actively planned and meaningful conversations, as well as by looking for opportunities to get out of the boardroom and have fun.

Putting these good ideas into practice takes time, commitment and hard work. But once the foundations of strong governance are in place, an organization will be more resilient and better prepared for sailing the rough seas of uncertainty and disruption.

Author

Katarina Vukobratovic is the Grants and Program Officer at Maytree

Apr 14 2016

WSCLS_blog

Last fall, Maytree supported West Scarborough Community Legal Services to provide training through its Community Leadership Building program for community leaders to educate them about important poverty, human rights and housing issues in Scarborough.

We spoke with program lead Regini David, Outreach and Law Reform Coordinator/Paralegal, about what they learned and how other communities might benefit from their experience.

What role does West Scarborough Community Legal Services play in the community?

Regini David: West Scarborough Community Legal Services (WSCLS) is a non-profit organization and legal aid clinic in east Toronto. We prioritize community development and law reform. We have been a key participant in the ongoing fight to legalize rooming houses in Toronto suburbs to create safe and affordable homes for low-income individuals. We also advocate for better protection for precarious workers under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA) and the Employment Insurance (EI) program. The Community Leadership Building program is another initiative that aims to empower members of our community and give them a voice.

Who did you engage in the program, both through its development and implementation?

RD: At WSCLS, we always listen to community concerns and identify the community leaders who want to do something to make change. Through our years of work with our east end legal clinics, we have identified key issues affecting our community. Employment issues – particularly those faced by precarious workers and the working poor – are critical. We’ve also identified community members who want to make a positive change. Many of these individuals contacted us because of their own issues related to poverty.

Through the Community Leadership Building program, WSCLS has trained 21 community leaders who are unemployed, people of colour, women, new immigrants and/or marginalized workers. In December 2015, we held a two-day leadership training program for community leaders, focusing on:

  • Public speaking
  • Leadership skills
  • Ontario’s Employment Standards Act
  • Law reform: Looking at the Fix EI and Rooming House campaigns
  • Outreach techniques and how to organize our communities for change

What would you consider to be the greatest success of the program?

RD: The program has created opportunities for community members to support one another, as well as helped advocate for law reform. Our community members participated in Ontario’s Changing Workplaces Review by making submissions to the review’s Special Advisors and to the Ministry of Labour. Their submissions gave voice to the struggle of precarious workers – a voice that must be heard in this review.

The members of the leadership group helped organize the launch of Toronto East Employment Law Services (TEELS) and gave a presentation as to why free employment legal services are important in their community, which garnered positive feedback from Premier Kathleen Wynne and Legal Aid Ontario.

Were there any outcomes that you did not anticipate?

RD: We did not anticipate the growing positive effect that the project would have on the other parts of the city. This has happened in a few ways – primarily because some of our community leaders have moved, and are bringing their leadership and influence to their new communities. Second, our community leaders are connected to ethnic media and to social media, and so have “spread the word” further and more effectively than we anticipated.

“I worked hard and my employer did not pay my vacation pay for two years. When I asked I was targeted and got terminated. I learned that it is illegal. WSCLS is helping me to obtain my basic rights. It is important that other community members know about the free employment services available to them in their neighborhoods so that they can get help to fight to obtain their basic rights. I am proud to be a member of the leadership group and take the knowledge I have learned to my community.” Prabakaran, member of leadership group

How will the program contribute to reducing poverty in Toronto?

RD: Precarious workers are vulnerable for a variety of reasons. When they are not paid what they are owed, they experience poverty and cannot afford lawyers to fight for their rights. Having to piece together part-time work also affects their quality of life. Most of these precarious workers are part-time workers, seasonal workers, contract workers, temporary workers, people of colour and women. Free employment law services can help individuals obtain their unpaid wages or EI benefits – to survive and pay their bills.

The Community Leadership Building program takes this a step further by engaging community members in law reform work that could benefit precarious workers more widely. For example, many part-time and seasonal workers are not eligible to collect EI benefits because they do not meet the minimum 910-hour requirement to qualify to receive benefits.

Our leadership groups – along with many others, including labour groups, legal clinics, and other community organizations – have been advocating for EI reform for a long time.

We are so thrilled to see that the federal government has allocated money to improve the EI program. One of the changes included in the federal budget is to reduce the 910-hour threshold for new entrants and re-entrants as of July 2016. This is a big victory for many precarious workers. (Read more about EI changes in the budget.)

Working with other legal clinics and our communities, we have now secured permanent funding for this program so that we can continue to help precarious workers in the underserved area of east Toronto.

“I have been treated differently because I am a temporary worker. I was not allowed to sit in the lunchroom with other permanent workers. I was not invited to the Christmas party. I was paid less than other permanent workers who did the same work as me. This is discrimination and I want to make a change in my workplace and be treated equally. Therefore I decided to advocate for temporary workers’ rights. The leadership program provided a space and opportunity to bring our voice to light.” Ondine, member of leadership group

What can other groups learn from your experience?

RD: Organizing community members is a tough job and a long-term commitment. It is important to see community members as advocates and not as victims. Sometimes people have a hard time with this concept, because we often see them as victims in need of aid.

Understanding where these people are coming from, giving them agency to affect the decisions that will impact their lives, and allowing them to have a voice will bring about change in their community, and in society as a whole.

The community voice is powerful; politicians and decision makers will listen and pay attention.

“I am so empowered as I was able to build my knowledge through the leadership training. I always wanted to do something for the community but I did not know how to go about it. The leadership training helped me to find myself and get involved with confidence.” Renuka, member of leadership group

“Under the current policy there is no paid sick leave for workers and I had to work while I was sick. This is not fair. I joined the leadership group because I want to change this. The leadership training gave me the confidence to speak about our concerns to the decision makers.” Akilla, member of leadership group

What are the next steps for the alumni and the program?

RD: The leadership group alumni have already started to build more awareness in their communities via community media and social media. They have created a monthly schedule that outlines community advocacy and outreach for the rest of this year. Some of the activities they will be working on include creating media and content that will increase awareness about the group, law reform work and continuing outreach. Alongside this, the members of the group will continue to speak and advocate for multiple campaigns, including those aimed at reforming EI and the Employment Standards Act.

Author

Tina Edan is Manager, Strategic Communications at Maytree.

Jun 20 2013

Recently, we had to say goodbye to Tony Coombes and Betsy Martin. Their passing leaves a great hole in Canada’s innovative and committed nation building communities. We remember them for who they were, the work they did, the inspiration they provided and the legacy they leave us.

tony-coombesTony Coombes

Tony Coombes died June 10. An architect and planner, Tony was the founding executive director of The Neptis Foundation. Neptis was founded by Martha Shuttleworth, Tony’s former wife, with the objective to combat sprawl and support sustainable growth in urban regions.

Tony realized that no effective planning was possible without a comprehensive understanding of the natural and built inventory. He knew that in the Toronto region particularly, there was insufficient mapping of that inventory, and one of the great projects of Neptis was to produce it. With his long experience, Tony knew what was needed, and Neptis made it happen.

Without this fundamental platform, Ontario would not have been able to produce Places to Grow, The Greenbelt legislation, and Metrolinx, the regional transportation plan. Together, they form a triumvirate that exists in few other regions of the world, and which will create benefits for generations to come.

Neptis stands as one of the great pieces of Canadian philanthropy, and Tony was a principal architect of that.

Tony was a friend of Maytree, and its sister organization The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance.

Betsy Martin photoBetsy Martin

Betsy Martin died June 4. She had long professional associations with Community Foundations of Canada and various individual community foundations in Canada. In that capacity, she was instrumental in developing many key programs and activities as the community foundation movement grew and matured.

One such program was Vital Signs, now a signature for community foundations in Canada and elsewhere. Vital Signs was developed jointly by the Laidlaw Foundation along with Maytree and its sister organization Ideas That Matter (ITM). It is an indicators project that charts the health of communities on a range of issues. Laidlaw, Maytree and ITM knew they were not likely the ideal long-term home for Vital Signs, but that community foundations were.

Betsy clearly saw it as well, and because of her excellent relationships and skills was able to usher Vital Signs into the Toronto Community Foundation and into the wider community foundation network. As those reports come out annually in communities across Canada, we can pause for a moment and thank Betsy for being the vital link.

Author

Alan Broadbent is Chairman and Founder of Maytree, and Chairman and CEO of Avana Capital Corporation.

Dec 13 2012

Paul Born

Thanksgiving, Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ashura, Bodhi … these are just some of the seasonal celebrations that bring people together to remember, celebrate and enjoy each other. For people like me, who has a community and people to be happy with, it is a season of blessings. However, for others, such times can be a source of loneliness and pain.

I have often wondered what it would be like to be homeless and invited to a charity Christmas dinner. Songs are sung, lots of traditional food is served and many well-meaning people are making themselves happy by serving you. Would the experience evoke happy memories of Christmas past? Or would it evoke pain by heightening your awareness of your present situation?

The feeling of emptiness or being alone is another common feeling for many during the holidays. It is a paradox when the holiday season is often so full and busy. Alone is not just for isolated people. It can permeate one’s being even during the most festive occasions.

Can community find us this holiday season? Can we find community? I am struck by a simple understanding: our sense of community is easily shaped by our expectations. When I go to a sporting event or seasonal concert, my expectations about finding a sense of community are low. I do not go to these events expecting to find much more than a common love of the sport or the music. Yet, when I gather with my family, my expectation of a sense of community is much higher. I want to feel cared for and I want to show caring. If these opportunities or feelings of caring are not present, I feel disappointed, or, worse, I feel alone and my longing for belonging and community becomes far greater.

Faced with these possibilities, I have two choices for how to approach the holiday season. First, I can manage my expectations. If I keep them low, then I will not be disappointed. Many of us enter family events this way. A second option is for me to be deliberate about building or deepening my feeling of community.

Here are some examples of what that might look like this season:

  • Build some fun new traditions – Invite people to go for a pre-meal walk; place “crackers” on everyone’s plates and crack them open one at a time; play a group game like charades; or open gifts one at a time in a circle. Research confirms that people who spend time together and enjoy the company of each other build bonds of trust that lead to a greater ease of reciprocity.
  • Build opportunities for everyone to contribute – Potlucks are famous for encouraging and celebrating this. They not only make a party easier and more fun to host, but they provide an opportunity for everyone to simultaneously care and be cared for.
  • Evoke collective caring or altruism – Suggest that everyone bring a hand-made, local or fair trade gift. Assemble care packages or school kits. Have people share their favorite seasonal stories of resilience or take a moment to reflect on others whose situations may not be as fortunate as our own.

Have fun together. Take care of each other. Work for a better world. These are three simple ways to be more intentional about deepening our experience of community.

Take stock of your expectations when you gather together this holiday season. It is amazing what a little creativity can do to bring people together.

Related links:

Author

Paul Born is President of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.

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Oct 17 2012

It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, Tamarack’s 7th Communities Collaborating Institute (CCI) drew to a close. While the experience is still percolating for many, we are pleased to share highlights from some of the CCI 2012 alumni blogs that offer initial reflections and a glimpse of this unique learning experience.

Wicked Problems: Collaborative Solutions – Jill Wyatt

The conversations here have given me much food for thought. One of the speakers, Tim Brodhead, talked about three forces impacting the social sector that certainly describe our work at United Way: the drive for efficiency, the imperative of effectiveness and the complexity that makes all our work so hard!

This new paradigm demands more sharing: shared knowledge, shared risk, shared trust, shared time, shared space. Collaborative work like this takes enormous time and effort, development of tremendous trust among partners and only demonstrates outcomes over time. Brodhead went on to name some of the challenges of collaboration, including the underestimation of time and effort required to create successful collaborations, the potential for creativity to be supplanted by group-think, and the stewardship of long-term trust.

Fellow-Travellers – Liz Weaver

Once a year, at the Communities Collaborating Institute, we get to stretch. We have a week to think, to reflect, meet others who may, at times, feel alone in the work that is collaborative. There is a tribe of like-minded folks who will share their wisdom, their frustrations, and give you a peek, if only for a moment, into their aspirations and hopes for their communities. That for me is the gift of the Communities Collaborating Institute. It’s not so much the insights of the speakers, or the challenge of absorbing so many ideas in such a short time, but it is the people, who journey with you through the week.

I think it is the total package which keeps me coming back – that and the fact that each year has a unique character – largely due to those who come to the gathering and share their gifts. Thank you to all of my colleagues attending the 2012 version. The paths we walk twist and turn but it is good to know we will meet each other on the journey.

Inside/Out – Scott MacAfee

We came as many independently sharing a single thought
We moved through each other,
Shared our full selves,
Had brain explosions,
We challenged,
Grew,
Learned,
Listened,
Thought deeply,
Danced,
Dialogued,
Sang,
Laughed,
Cried,
Believed in barking dogs,
Owned our suck as well as our awesome,
And never turned back;
As we created this Perfect Space of limitless possibility
We gave all of ourselves and now are seemingly more full now than when we started
We leave as one, collectively sharing the same heart… Thank You!

We Need More Leaders – Mark Holmgren

In less than two days, I have had my mind challenged by the thinking and experience of Tim Brodhead (former CEO of the McConnell Foundation), Paul Schmitz (advisor to President Obama), and Meg Wheatley (author and teacher). I have also been fortunate as a “pod leader” to spend time and share reflections with nine colleagues from around the country.

Here are a few reflections about the types of range of changes our communities and organizations require to move forward toward a future where poverty, dis-ease, and polarization are problems of the past.

We need more leaders. We need more leaders everywhere in our community, from all walks of life, of all ages. The challenges we face will not be met by old notions of leadership as a position held by a few. Leadership is action and, as Paul Schmitz reminded us, everyone leads. One of the calls to action voiced by Paul was that a priority of all leaders is to help others be leaders, whether in our organizations, our communities, or our families.

Tim Brodhead urged funders and community organizations to work together as authentic partners. What I especially appreciated about Tim’s analysis was his observation that such partnerships need to accept the iterative nature of the work and the relationship around the work. This means that funders and organizations must be prepared to learn together and make changes along the way that further our chances of achieving successful results.

What a great two days… great food. The music of Michael Jones lifts my spirits, leads me to a peaceful place, and sparks my thinking. The energy in the rooms we work in is palpable and the sincerity of all who are attending is inspiring. I am glad I am here. I am glad all of us are here.

Related:

Author

Sylvia Cheuy is Director, Seeking Community at Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.

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Sep 12 2012

The discipline of design has traditionally focused on the form and function of products (think iPod). However, design firms like IDEO are using the principles of design to create an innovative approach for addressing more complex problems. This approach is called design thinking. As traditional programs and policies within our social systems are proving less effective, a growing number of non-profit organizations are embracing design thinking to generate new solutions.

Image credit: Fraulein Schille

Image credit: Fraulein Schille

As Cameron Norman observed in his recent blog Evaluation and Design for Changing Conditions, “The days of creating programs, products and services and setting them loose on the world are coming to a close.” As an alternative he suggests that Design Thinking – a human-centered approach to innovation that brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable – offers a “relevant and appropriate” alternative approach for those seeking to influence our world.

In Design Thinking for Social Innovation, an article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, authors Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt of IDEO describe Design Thinking as an approach that “taps into capacities we all have but that are overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. Not only does it focus on creating products and services that are human-centered, but the process itself is also deeply human. Design thinking relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that have emotional meaning as well as being functional.”

The design thinking process is described as “a system of three overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.” Each of these spaces is described below:

  • Inspiration: Identifying the Problem or Opportunity – Design thinkers believe that people often have difficulty explaining their needs. To gain insight into the range of unmet needs, design thinkers forgo surveys or focus groups in favour of listening to and observing behaviours of end-users to better understand the problem and its context.
  • Ideation: Generating, Developing and Testing Ideas – In this space, the insight gained during the inspiration space is distilled into a plan for change. The emphasis in this space is on coming up with as many ideas as possible and testing them against each other. The focus of this space recognizes, to quote Linus Pauling, “To have a good idea you must first have lots of ideas.”
  • Implementation: Putting Solutions into the World – In the third space, ideas are turned into products, policies and services. Prototyping and pilot testing in real environments are then used to refine these solutions.

Jerry Sternin’s Positive Deviance Initiative provides a powerful case study of design thinking in action. The initiative’s goal was to decrease malnutrition in Vietnamese children. However, rather than studying the problem, Sternin sought out and studied families in the community who were not malnourished. He then worked with these families to offer cooking classes to the families of malnourished children. By the end of the program’s first year, 80 percent of the 1,000 children enrolled in the initiative were adequately nourished and the program had been replicated to fourteen villages. This is the power of design thinking: looking beyond the problem to discover the seeds of the solution which already exist and working closely with the clients and consumers to allow high-impact solutions to bubble up from below rather than being imposed from the top.

Related Links:

(Image credit: Fraulein Schille)

Author

Sylvia Cheuy is Director, Seeking Community at Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.

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Dec 27 2010

Intentionality, instruments, and investment must be present if integration is to succeed.

In the successful integration of immigrants, there are three necessary conditions: intentionality, instruments, and investment.

Intentionality

Every country has a choice about how it views immigration; it can view it as a liability or as an asset. If immigration is viewed as a liability, tight rules will be established to limit its impact, which will be presumed to be more bad than good. Such rules will limit immigrants to working in certain sectors or types of jobs and to living in certain places, restrict the amount of time they spend in the country, and even tie them to a single employer or organization. Thus we see temporary foreign worker programs that presume we can have only certain immigrants for defined periods of time before we send them home. A temporary foreign worker program tells immigrants that their labour will be exploited, but that they are not wanted as citizens of the country. Despite the fact that such programs don’t work, they seem increasingly popular, and in Canada the federal government has implemented a temporary foreign worker program in recent years, against all advice to the contrary.

If, on the other hand, a country sees immigration as an asset, it will do what it can to maximize the value of that asset. It will design a selection system that complements the labour market, filling jobs for today’s economy and, more importantly, creating human capital for the emerging economy of tomorrow. It will permit immigrants to enter the fields of work in which they have training and experience, rather than requiring that they qualify under the strictures of domestic certification and credentials; the proper test should be of competence rather than credentials. It will help immigrants settle in neighbourhoods with good housing and transit service and access to good schools and community amenities. It will encourage participation in the life of the community, including in the political processes, whether by joining the board of a local library or community centre or by running for election to a city, state, or national legislature. The country that is successful in integration will not leave everything to chance, but will intentionally facilitate the key elements of successful settlement and integration: finding immigrants the right job, for which they have training and experience; settling smoothly into good neighbourhoods; and participating in the regular life of the community, not in an immigrant ghetto but in a neighbourhood typical of that city or town.

So the question of intentionality is: will we give them shackles, or will we give them wings? We can choose how we treat immigrants.

Instruments

Good intentions often founder on a failure to put them into operation. Successful public policy often depends on designing the right instruments or tools, which can be difficult. A good instrument takes into account the broad context in which the policy operates, and also the various interests in play. It can be impossible to satisfy every interest, and a gridlock ensues that can only be resolved by good design or leadership. The design of effective instruments is critical.

In Canada, we are developing a set of local immigrant employment councils, modelled on the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, or TRIEC. These councils have two main programs: a mentoring partnership that pairs an immigrant with a Canadian in the same line of work, so the Canadian can both coach the immigrant on job searching and job culture, and introduce the immigrant to his or her own network of contacts, which are so crucial in finding a job; and a training program for employers to help them develop human resource management skills for hiring immigrants effectively. These instruments work because they ultimately serve the interests of all the parties.

We have developed instruments for increasing the diversity of people in governance roles, both in formally elected office and on the governing bodies of agencies, boards, and commissions.DiverseCity onBoard is a program that maintains a roster of diverse candidates who we have qualified by interest, experience, and capability. Through a matching process, we can help organizations find the right candidate for their board. And we have developed School4Civics, which trains people who want to run for office or run an election campaign. In the last municipal elections in the Toronto region, 12 School4Civics graduates ran for office and dozens more volunteered on campaigns.

Another Toronto-based program works with foreign-born authors to help them develop their craft and find a market in Canada. Diaspora Dialogues is in its seventh year and has a roster of established Canadian authors to mentor immigrant authors. The purpose is two-fold: to help immigrant authors establish themselves in Toronto, and to reflect to Canadian readers the diverse face of Canada, a diversity of culture and point of view.

Enabling immigrants to settle in neighbourhoods is made easier by creating access to mortgages, for which most immigrants don’t qualify because they lack a domestic credit history. One of Canada’s most successful companies, Home Trust, offers mortgages to home buyers who don’t qualify for traditional mortgages because they have insufficient other assets to meet the coverage required by lenders. Home Trust makes sure the value of the home exceeds the value of the mortgage by doing a careful assessment of the property. The mortgage business has proven to be a profitable enterprise when conducted with proper discipline, and immigrants create a whole new market. A government – municipal or state – could work with such careful lenders to provide a set of mortgage products that would enable immigrants to purchase homes.

In Chicago, the Chicago Federal Reserve has created financial instruments to help conservative Muslims with home ownership and small business investment while still observing sharia law restrictions on borrowing money. The reserve has identified three types of Islamic loans, each existing somewhere between rental and ownership. The first option is essentially a staged transfer of ownership, the second a lease-purchase, and the third a more classical shared equity loan of the type common for affordable housing in the U.K. Without such instruments, Muslims who want to buy a home have to save hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase it outright, get loans from family and friends, or put aside their religious beliefs and take out a conventional mortgage.

Investment

Without investment, good intentions and well designed instruments won’t work. Whether a government or society is willing to put money on the line is a critical test of whether they want immigration to work.

It is not a question only of money but often of a more precious kind of capital: political capital. In most countries there are those in the political spectrum only too willing to demonize “the other,” to raise fears of the threat of people from different countries, cultures, and religions. Such fear can create a powerful political tide, sweeping up all before it. In Toronto, we saw it in the recent election of a mayor who spoke against immigration. And Canada’s federal government has proven xenophobic when incidents like the recent arrival of a boatload of economic migrants from Asia occur.

There are not enough leaders prepared to make the case for immigration and to infuse their country with intentionality and instruments backed by the needed investment. Most of us know the arguments for immigration: economic prosperity, cultural diversity, new ideas and perspectives, and fresh energy. We also know the importance of getting integration right, of making it happen in a short time-frame and with as little human cost as possible. There is no sense in making it hard, because it becomes hard for everyone.

And we know that immigration is an investment that will pay a big return, sometimes in the first generation through the quick uptake of skilled immigrants, and certainly in the longer term as ensuing generations become educated and engaged citizens.

But we need our leaders to articulate that message, and beyond that to create and support instruments of inclusion. One that we have been trying to get our leaders in Canada to embrace is the idea of allowing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. The argument for this is that it is a useful instrument of inclusion, of engaging immigrants in the life of the community quickly, particularly at the level of government closest to the people through the provision of everyday services. We call the campaign I Vote Toronto, and we are gradually building support for it, but we still need some key leaders to come on board. We need them to invest some political capital.

As we look around the world, we can identify countries that engage fully with the three I’s of immigrant integration, and countries that engage with fewer than three. But all three – intentionality, instruments, and investment – must be present if integration is to succeed.

(Originally published in The Mark.)

Author

Alan Broadbent is Chairman and Founder of Maytree, and Chairman and CEO of Avana Capital Corporation.

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