In September 2018, I attended for the first time the conference EconoUs. Besides the fact that I was impressed by the very inspiring exchanges and stories shared, one idea called my attention: IDEA. Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility were at the heart of the opening plenary, The Big IDEA for Real Change. This concept aims to change how we think and act by ensuring diverse voices have the opportunity to only to be heard but to lead. In this perspective, the panel invited us to reflect on how we identify with others and how we make choices and take actions to model what we think the world should look like.
Back from the conference, I felt like I wanted to learn more about this concept, to see what was going on. I wanted to discover and share a few of the various initiatives for better Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility. I talked with representatives from three organizational members of CCEDNet to understand their work and the issues around IDEA. I met people from Working for Change and the Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) from Toronto, and Spence Neighborhood Association (SNA) from Winnipeg. All three people were amazingly passionate and have been involved in their work for the past 10 years or more.
Responding to the needs of the community
In all cases, I noticed that the organizations were created for a specific need and then grew to answer new IDEA needs of the community. Working for Change was created in 1994 to respond to the need for employment opportunities for people with mental health issues. Today, the organization includes five social enterprises run by people overcoming addictions, poverty or homelessness.
The Learning Enrichment Foundation was formed 40 years ago in response to the need for youth programs in the local community. Since then, many programs have been developed. They now also offer childcare, employment and settlement services, language training, skills advancement programs and community enterprises serving, among others, newcomers and people who are unemployed or underemployed.
The Spence Neighbourhood Association was created in 1997 by five volunteers to improve the living conditions of the area, primarily by cleaning up one back lane. In a context of crime and poverty, the SNA quickly developed a set of new programs to respond to other needs. Today, they are offering each year more than 300 community activities, initiatives, events and meetings for youth & family, the environment, holistic housing and everyone’s safety.
From objectives to action, but first comes values
More than offering services, all three organizations want to fulfill a mission. At LEF, they want to provide integrated, holistic, and community responsive initiatives that enable individuals and families to become valued contributors to their community’s social and economic development. For Working for Change, the aim is to provide training and employment opportunities to people who have been marginalized, to speak out against marginalization, and to work to change policies that adversely affect their communities. The SNA’s mission is to work with the people of Spence to revitalize and renew their community in the areas of holistic housing, community connections, community economic development, environment & open spaces, and youth & families.
“There is so much work you can do
but without a set of values to guide the work,
housing work could be common development.”
We sometimes say ‘actions speak louder than words’. Each of the organizations I spoke to is engaged in work that clearly conveys their guiding principles, what is leading them to achieve their goals. Each organization has its own list of values and guiding principles and they are all crossing IDEA. They believe in an inclusive community, with diversity and respect for difference, and where everyone can have opportunities of empowerment.
Impact, results and influence
The work done by these three organizations has a real impact on the lives of people in their communities in terms of IDEA. Here are a few examples. With SNA, offering some teenagers their first opportunity to play sports has resulted in better high-school academic performances. At Working for Change, some people coming from ODSP (the Ontario Disability Support Program) are now working full-time in a union environment.
At LEF the story of a Cuban painter stands out. When he first arrived in Canada, he took advantage of the newcomer services at LEF. He was a very hard-worker, at the expense of his passion for painting. He came back a few years later as a volunteer, offering art classes to youth. On top of making an impact in these young people’s lives, he has developed more self-confidence and a passion that is becoming more powerful everyday.
“Nowadays it is very easy to lose hope
but I think we just have to all work together
and believe in everyone’s strengths”
In all these actions, organizations argue that it is less about helping people and more about empowerment. What also really strikes me is the fact that the influence does not stop at the doors of the organization, it is much bigger. All the families, friends of the beneficiaries are impacted too. All of this reminds us what community members can help build when they apply their shared values towards building programs that address the needs within the community.
Building a better future
More than responding to the community needs I also noticed that these organizations are trying to build a solid basis for a better future. They are having a real impact on the system to make it so that fewer people are left behind. LEF, which is now offering more than 30 child care centers, has contributed to reducing the length of time it takes for Child Care Assistants to go through training to become Child Care Educators. This evolution makes it more accessible for many more people and enables them to attain better-quality jobs. Thanks to the work of SNA, Spence neighborhood now benefits from better, safer, and more sustainable infrastructures. And Working for Change has contributed to establishing a Bill for domestic