Category: Leadership

Oct 13 2016


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.


Katarina Vukobratovic is the Grants and Program Officer at Maytree

Apr 14 2016


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.


Tina Edan is Manager, Strategic Communications at Maytree.

Feb 23 2015


For over ten years, CivicAction, Maytree’s partner in the DiverseCity project, has been building a pipeline of emerging leaders, preparing them to lead the change that the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is ready to see. CivicAction takes pride in its community of civic leaders, which is made up of engaged, passionate, emerging leaders as well as established individuals who have committed their lives to making the GTHA a better place for all.

This was evident at the MetroNext event on January 21, 2015, which brought together an eclectic mix of civic leaders spanning a generation or two. The two inaugural awards presented at the event acknowledged the good of the past and the energy of the present.

The Lifetime Achievement Award for David Crombie, former Mayor of Toronto, recognized his commitment to city-building and civic engagement. The Emerging Leader Award for Andrew Graham was an acknowledgement of his outstanding leadership to date.

“CivicAction lives and breathes leadership and knows the importance of growing strong civic leaders for today and tomorrow. MetroNext is about shining the spotlight on some extraordinary, engaged young leaders who are the new boots on the ground impacting change in their communities,” said Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO, CivicAction.

Andrew is the co-founder of Toronto Homecoming, an initiative incubated by CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network (ELN). The initiative, to attract and retain top talent in Canada, connects Canadians working abroad with opportunities in the Toronto Region.

In an interview with Yonge Street, Andrew, who moved to Toronto in 2008 after living abroad, quipped that he got involved with CivicAction to stay out of trouble outside of work hours. “My girlfriend of the time, now wife, was not in the same city the first few years I was here. So I always joked that I was looking for ways to stay busy.”

Toronto Homecoming is one among the many city-building projects supported by ELN and DiverseCity Fellows, another CivicAction leadership program. These projects include the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada, which is dedicated to advancing Aboriginal leadership across Canada, and the Pan Am Path, a multi-use path to connect Toronto’s ravines for the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

ELN is now a network of more than 900 emerging leaders who inspire and motivate each other to take action. The network offers over 30 events each year to build their skills. DiverseCity Fellows, fashioned as a “civic MBA” program, provides 100 hours of intensive leadership training to around 25 rising stars each year. So far, over 130 individuals who have graduated from the program continue to put into action learnings from one of North America’s leading urban fellow program.

Fellows include individuals like Nouman Ahmad, Executive Director of CanLeads, an organization that trains future political leaders. Nouman is leading the development of a first-of-its-kind Nominations Playbook to demystify the federal nominations process and design interventions to support first time under-40 candidates. “I believe Canada’s future prosperity lies with a new generation of leadership and responsible capitalism with a long term focus,” says the 2014-15 DiverseCity Fellow.

As seen through its ELN and other initiatives, CivicAction thrives on collaboration and is always encouraging new players to come to the table. To maintain its role as “neutral sandbox,” CivicAction will continue to bring together senior executives and rising leaders from all sectors to tackle some of the GTHA’s toughest challenges.


Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

Jul 22 2013

Earlier this month, The Rockefeller Foundation – in collaboration with The Monitor Institute and Monitor Deloitte – released Gather: The Art and Science of Effective Convening. In its opening pages, this report describes itself as a “guidebook for people who want to change the world [for] social change leaders who understand the power of convening the right group of people, and who believe that collective intelligence trumps individual smarts when it comes to solving shared problems.” It offers a rich resource for anyone taking on the role of a lead convening designer by providing an array of very practical how-to guides and tools for thinking through each of the seven building blocks of effective convening.

The seven building blocks are defined as:

  • Choosing to Convene – The resources in this section aim to help you decide whether convening is the right tool for your situation at this point in time.
  • Defining Your Purpose – What is the point of your gathering and how co-creative or traditional do you want it to be? This section helps you to define your gathering’s “north star.”
  • Forming Your Team – This section maps out how the work of convening is typically divided and helps you establish a team structure to get it all done.
  • Assembling Participants –Determine who will be interested in the gathering you are hosting, who you should invite and how you can convince them to come.
  • Structuring the Work – This section helps you to ensure that once you’ve got the right people in the room, they will accomplish some specific work together. It answers the question: what are the activities that will support the group who are gathered to achieve their intended purpose?
  • Planning the Follow-Through – Assess the success of the gathering and move into actions on important next steps.
  • Tying It All Together – Translate your general principles about your gathering into a specific experience with a clear plan on how to create it.

In addition to offering practical tips and tools, Gather does an excellent job clarifying important distinctions between workshops, conferences, meetings and convening. Convening is distinct from other common ways of bringing people together “in one important way: for the duration, the attendees are participants in a collective effort that serves a specific shared purpose.”

Every convening has three defining characteristics:

  • Diverse Stakeholders – Convening involves a diverse mix of stakeholders – often from different organizations – who represent a range of perspectives on a topic.
  • A Clear Purpose – Convening is intended to drive towards alignment, decision-making and/or reaching intended outcomes.
  • Co-Generation of Insight and Action – Convening relies on all participants to generate insight and action so that – together – the thinking of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The impetus for Gather emerged from the Rockefeller Foundation’s recognition that, while convening had been a critical tool in its own work and evolution, the Foundation had not “formalized our skills and training in this core competency.” In 2011, this led to the launch of an internal Foundation project focused on documenting and strengthening convening skills within the Foundation, its immediate colleagues and its grantees. Gather built upon this work and was developed as a resource that could be shared widely with the Foundation’s colleagues, partners and grantees.

Gather provides three reasons for why its authors believe the skill of convening will become increasingly important in the future:

  1. People have simultaneously become more globally connected and also more fragmented into silos.
  2. Many of the challenges we now face are larger and more interconnected than ever before.
  3. Social solutions that will be needed in the future are larger than any single organization.

What convening offers is an opportunity to tap into collective intelligence and accelerate change. Noting that the power of convening has “grown dramatically over the past two decades,” the authors also observe that “this convening power is still not tapped to its fullest potential.”  And so, in addition to offering a practical toolkit, Gather issues a challenge to anyone wanting to work with others to change the world: “build your convening muscles and make the headway we all need against today’s increasingly complex challenges.”

Learn More:


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

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.


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:


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,
Thought deeply,
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.



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)


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

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Mar 28 2012

“What I discovered during all these years is that as long as you have confidence in what you do, and as long as you’re confident in your abilities and your skills, you can do anything you want. Having said that, you always have to have goals.”

Osman HamidAs you talk to Osman Hamid, you quickly realize that his story is about inspiration, both being inspired by and inspiring others.

A Maytree Scholarship program alumnus, Osman is currently completing his MBA at Ryerson University, where he is active in the university governance and community. He’s that rare person who can work and exist in two worlds that many times seem at odds with each other. Whether working closely and volunteering with and on behalf of students, or working on university governance, Osman has made strong contributions to university life and how the institution is responsive to various communities.

Like many students, Osman went through a period of being unsure of what he wanted to study. Starting and stopping an engineering program, dealing with the uncertainty of not finishing what he started and of moving from university to college for another program, he was able to not only persevere, but to thrive.

He promised himself that he was “going to do something when he got into university again. And I was able to do it by being involved with student government, being able to volunteer with different campaigns the university was holding.” He sees as one of his biggest accomplishments to prove to people who believed in him, “that I was able to do it, that I was able to get to the goal, which is graduate, get a degree and be able to move on and be a contributing member of society.”

Volunteering: an important part in Osman’s life

“Volunteering has been one of the best experiences that I’ve had. Why? Because, you know you’re doing something you believe in when you’re doing it without getting paid.”

Based on his own experiences, Osman sees volunteering as an important part of how he lives his life and contributes to his community. It allows him to continue to learn and grow, while also helping others to do the same. Whether supporting fellow students through the Muslim Student Association, Ryerson Commerce Society, and Ryerson Students Union or sitting on the Ryerson Board of Governors, volunteering has lead Osman into leadership.

Leadership, for Osman, is not merely being in a position of power or influence, but being able to create mutually supportive experiences and institutions that benefit all involved: “You’re able to understand how leadership is formed, what it takes to be a leader, and where you need to go. So for me, I was able to benefit, and I was able to benefit others, through the things that I did. So, volunteering, that’s what it does for you. It gives you that contentment, that sense of being able to do something.”

Leadership diversity and the importance of mentors

Osman sits on the Ryerson University Board of Governors and is proud of its diversity, not only from an optics standpoint, but because it makes the board better, more effective:

“That diversity is really appreciated because it helps us get different points of opinion, different takes on things, whether it’s business experience or cultural experience. And, at the same time, you feel that it is well represented. It represents the community.”

Part of being on the Board of Governors includes seeking a mentor. Osman sought out someone he trusted and respected. In this case, it was Ryerson University president, Sheldon Levy.

“Sheldon Levy was an excellent choice for me. We’ve worked together on certain student initiatives during my years at Ryerson, and I believe that he’s going to be able to give me the inside scoop on how to be a very productive and engaged governor on the board.”

Sheldon Levy is equally enthusiastic about Osman’s contributions: “We’re blessed to have him. He’s a very strong leader who sees his role as giving back. He wants to advance others. He’s not afraid to ask the difficult questions to do his job well. He shows strong backbone. He has strong opinions but is always willing to listen and is open enough to change his mind if he sees that the other person’s point has value. He treats others with respect, but expects to be treated with respect as well.”

Osman’s final word: “He’s management, at the end of the day, and I have to provide oversight over him. I have to get his side of the story in order to be able to make the decisions.”

Sounds like a balanced, productive relationship between two leaders who respect each other.

Advice for Maytree Scholarship students

Osman’s leadership is inspiring, in general, but also specifically to others who have been, are and will be participating in the Maytree Scholarship Program. When asked what advice he has for Maytree’s scholarship students, he highlights being confident, committed, and eager to learn.

He points to the importance of giving back. “Give back to community, because if you don’t give back to the community as part of this program, then you’re not fulfilling the values of this program. The Maytree Foundation is helping people, so you need to also go there and help people. If you don’t do that, then you’re not fulfilling the best that they saw in you.”

We’re proud to know Osman and to be inspired by him.


Making Their Mark: Canada’s Young Refugees

Marco Campana is a communications expert living in Toronto and Maytree's former content manager.

Mar 12 2012

followmeontwitter_byFanie!On March 21, Twitter will celebrate its sixth birthday; boasting over 500 million registered users and, among other impressive numbers, one billion tweets a day.

Not only are at least 100 million people actively tweeting (the rest are lurkers, or completely inactive), the social impact of Twitter has become a realm of study that will no doubt keep communications academics busy for decades. Good for us? Bad? Either way, it is a reality that attracts a lot of opinion and speculation. Last week, for example, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone declared it unhealthy to log on to the social networking site for too long.

From capturing details of daily life to being a mobilizing tool for social change, there is no doubt that Twitter has become an important medium of communication. It teaches us many things about what, as a culture, we deem important and worthy of repeating.

What I’m interested in is what we can learn from it. In particular, what does it teach us about leadership?

  1. Know where you’re going and be precise about sharing it. You only have 140 characters. You need to be clear about what you want to communicate and communicate it well. Are you tweeting about your first date, your latest project at work or Rob Ford and the TTC? The very fact that you’re on Twitter (the medium) says, “I’m a hip leader, in touch with the times.” The message says, this is what I think is worthwhile. Both are equally important.
  2. Listen. As important as sharing worthy information is, it is important to listen to what others are saying. What is the context and climate you are leading in? Listening to what others are saying gives you the advantage of staying ahead of the conversation.
  3. Engage. Listening you are, you say? Prove it by participating. It’s important to listen, but also to respond and say thank you. More than good manners, it’s a necessary step to take information into the realm of discussion and analysis.
  4. Build your network. Every leader needs followers. Tweeps. What’s the point without them? They’re as interested in who you are as what you’re saying. Real-life integrity, courage and enthusiasm are all traits of anyone worth their 140 characters.
  5. Be present. An ironic point of tweeting an event requires one to be praying into a smartphone, temporarily disengaging from one’s immediate surroundings. On the other hand, one needs to be actively listening or engaging with the environment to tweet about one’s surroundings. Balancing input and output is critical.

Related Twitter links:

(image by Fanie Grégoire)


Tina Edan is Manager, Strategic Communications at Maytree.