Creating stronger and more sustainable community social services

The past five months have been busy at The Federation. The NDP government’s focus on social issues like poverty and childcare means there are many opportunities for The Federation to engage with decision makers. And we’ve been doing just that.

In meetings and consultations and committees we have been making very clear the impact that BC’s community social services sector has on the well-being of British Columbians and the important role we can play in helping the government act on its promise to ensure that all British Columbians have access to the services they need.

We’ve been creating dialogue about the key issues affecting our sector and we’ve been acting on opportunities to address decades of severe underfunding.

Another such opportunity will be The Federation’s annual Social Policy Forum. This year, we’re bringing together Federation members, sector partners, and the government to create a plan for improving the strength and sustainability of BC’s community social services sector. This event will bring together stakeholders, create space for learning and dialogue, and model the type of collaborative approaches that are needed to address the issues we’re facing.

Our plan for the 2018 Social Policy Forum

Following a short—but important—General Meeting for Federation members, Day One of the Social Policy Forum will be dedicated to learning and networking. We’re lining up a speakers list of subject matter experts, politicians, and thought leaders. Their presentations will both inform the work that will take place on Day Two and give you ideas and inspiration to take back to your communities.

Day Two will bring everyone back together for a day of dialogue, design, and problem-solving. Facilitators will guide working groups as they create plans for addressing some of the most pressing issues our sector is facing: coordination, supervision, training, attraction, retention, and inclusivity.

We’re excited to confirm that Finance Minister Carole James and Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson will join us and take part in the planning and dialogue. (And we’re waiting for confirmation from other government leaders who have been invited to participate.)

With so much at stake, we want to take advantage of this opportunity. That’s why participants should be prepared to do some thinking (and working) ahead of time. When you register for the Social Policy Forum, you’ll be asked to select a working group for Day Two.

Each group will be dedicated to one of four issues affecting the sector (see the image above). The Federation staff team and our group of facilitators (made up of Leadership 2020 alumni) will provide each group with resources and information to help you prepare.

After the event, those resources will be combined with the notes and ideas from each group and turned into a summary report which will be shared with participants and used by The Federation’s Board of Directors to determine next steps.

Learning, Dialogue, Action

We’re focusing on issues that we believe are important to each of you, regardless of the services you provide. And we’re hoping for a diverse range perspectives and experiences in each group. As such, I encourage you to share this invite with anyone in your network who would want to be (or should be) a part of this work.

Our goal is to create a vision for the future and a plan that is thoughtful and nuanced and reflective of the diversity and complexity inherent in our sector. This is an opportunity for government, allies, and community organizations to come together and begin the work of following through on that promise of improving service delivery in BC.

More details, registration, and accommodation info can be found on our website. I encourage you to register soon and look forward to seeing you in Victoria.

Rick FitzZaland
Federation Executive Director


Research Bulletin December 2017: Creating a strong, sustainable sector

We’ve spent the last month (among many other things) tracking research, analyses, and evaluations from across Canada that can help inform and improve service delivery in BC.

This month’s research bulletin shares research that analyzes and addresses issues related to the strength and sustainability of our sector: funding models, government relations, social policy, working conditions, sector (and organizational) growth, as well as mental health at work. Here’s what we’re covering in this issue:

1. Charities, Sustainable Funding and Smart Growth
2. Change Work: Valuing decent work in the not-for-profit sector
3. Charting a Path Forward: Strengthening the Charitable Sector in Canada
4. 2017 Alberta Nonprofit Survey
5. Mental Health in the Workplace

You may have noticed that ‘strength and sustainability’ will also be the theme of our February 2018 Social Policy Forum in Victoria. We’re bringing together stakeholders and planning two days of learning, dialogue, and action dedicated to strengthening our sector and improving service delivery—and registration is open now!

As always, our goal is to share useful research and information in a useful way. If you have feedback about how we can make this service better and/or if you want to suggest issues or service areas for our Research and Policy Analyst to pay attention to, please contact us.


1. Charities, Sustainable Funding, and Smart Growth (2016)

This report by Imagine Canada analyzes the importance of the economic contributions of Canada’s charity and nonprofit sector. It also tracks the sector’s recent growth and offers scenarios and projections for the future.

The authors argue that governments must recognize the sector’s importance as an economic force and treat it as such with policies designed to stimulate smart growth, productivity, and employment.

More importantly, however, the authors warn that failing to do so will result in a “social deficit” as demographics change and sector growth slows. This deficit will appear as a gap between what is expected from the nonprofit sector and what it will be able to do with future revenue projections:

This social deficit will appear as an accumulation of unmet needs, in growing waiting lists for social services, and in increasingly overburdened charities and nonprofits, overworked staff and volunteers.

Without changes to social policy and funding patterns, non-profits and charities across the country will struggle to meet the social, cultural, and environmental needs of Canadians in the future and we will all experience a slow but perceptible erosion of our quality of life.


2. Change Work: Valuing decent work in the not-for-profit sector (2015)

This 2015 report was part of a collaborative effort between the Ontario Nonprofit Network, Toronto Neighbourhood Centres, and Mowat NFP to promote discussion about “decent work” in the non-profit sector and to encourage action on workforce development issues.

One of the main goals of this (ongoing) decent work initiative is to explicitly link the goals of social protection and inclusion to employment and economic growth. According to the authors, program demands are too often pitted against investment in organizational support and management.

And while the authors argue that adequate government support is one key requirement, they also include an examination of the internal cultures of organizations: “Decent work is not only about policy changes at the government level. It requires collective action to ensure structures, regulations, and practices […] work for each sector.

The report argues that positive changes will require discussions that challenge both existing funding models as well as legislative and regulatory structures that impede long-term planning and responsiveness for service providers.


3. Charting a Path Forward Strengthening and Enabling the Charitable Sector in Canada (2017)

This recent report (also by Mowat NFP and Imagine Canada) explains how, over the last two decades, Canada’s nonprofit and charitable sector has significantly evolved into an essential part of Canada’s social fabric, civic life, and economy. The report’s goal is to position and describe the country’s non-profit sector as “a vital partner in maintaining a healthy and productive democracy.”

However, growing demand for services, changing demographics, and economic shifts are beginning to change how governments work with, think about, and finance charities and nonprofits across the country: “The resulting mismatch between organizational realities of nonprofits and charities and the current policies and frameworks has strained the government-sector relationship.

This short, readable report serves to (1) define the current challenges straining the relationship between the federal government and the nonprofit and charitable sector, (2) explore what the future of that relationship could look like, (3) identify possible priorities, and (4) present options for improving engagement between the government and the sector.


4. 2017 Alberta Nonprofit Survey (2017)

This analysis of Alberta’s annual Nonprofit Survey examines the impact of Alberta’s economic downturn on the province’s nonprofit sector—and the impact is quite evident.

The report contains brand new data broken down by region, budget size, subsector, charitable status, and organizational staffing size. (The majority of respondents were social services organizations.)

According to the authors, the province’s economic downturn has affected the social wellbeing of citizens and the stability of many non-profits and charities. In fact, the majority of organizations that responded (62%) reported an operating reserve of six months or less.

This is a short but numbers-heavy report with plenty of charts and statistics. And those numbers tell an important story about where our neighbouring province needs to focus its attention in order to maintain the critical services and supports that Albertans deserve.


5. Mental health in the workplace (2017)

Lastly, this online white paper from the World Health Organization addresses the growing issue of mental health in the workplace. It also covers a range of difficulties that may be created or exacerbated by work (such as stress and burnout).

The brief analysis compiles years of WHO research and analysis into a short online guide to workplace mental health. It covers work-related risk factors, ways to create a healthier workplace, and ways of supporting people with mental health issues at work.

Also included are links to the WHO’s Global Plan of Action on Worker’s Health (2008-2017) and its Mental Health Action Plan (2013-2020) which outlines relevant and internationally recognized principles, objectives, and implementation strategies to promote good mental health in the workplace.


Leadership 2020 Newsletter: Mindfulness

We held our first Leadership 2020 design session all the way back in 2010. We had already done research, surveys, and program reviews in the preceding two years, but we needed something more.

So we brought together 15 people willing to disrupt the typical approaches to leadership development and training. Some came from the social sector, others came from business, but they all brought wisdom and curiosity—each had observed, questioned, tested, engaged, mentored, reflected, and been at the edge of innovation in their field.

That one-day design session gave shape to a Leadership 2020 program that has remained more or less the same since day one. We began by identifying our three pillars of great leadership—personal, practice-based, and participatory. We later added a fourth pillar—perceptive—and built atop them a generative curriculum and a unique pedagogical approach to leadership development.

In the seven years since there have been countless books and articles and presentations on the need to reimagine leadership in a similar way. So what was it that enabled our group of 15 people—most of whom didn’t know one another—to really see what kind of leadership was truly needed? How were they able to sort through the noise what everyone else thought was important (labour relations, financial analysis) and envision a new way forward? I think it has a lot to do with presence.

According to Otto Scharmer, an MIT professor, researcher, and author of several books on this idea, the success of our actions as change-makers does not depend on what we do or how we do it, but on the inner place from which we operate.

As leaders, we can be educated and practiced in many areas but if we are not actively engaged in discovering our own internal processes, patterns, strengths, and blind spots, then we too risk becoming focused merely on the what and the how of our work instead of the purpose of our work, the “place from which we operate,” and (perhaps most importantly) the people we need to engage with and learn from and create space for.

Our design team brought their presence and awareness to the discussions back in 2010 and they wisely identified the first pillar of leadership development as the personal—in other words: “we are the work.” And that’s the unifying theme of this very first new-and-improved Leadership 2020 newsletter.

Insight and mindfulness

I have been practicing Vipassana or “insight meditation” off and on (mostly off) for the past 37 years. When I was able to sustain my daily practice of meditation, I felt more grounded, centred, and resilient. But lately, I have been rather inconsistent in my practice.

That was until several Leadership 2020 participants inspired me to rekindle my Vipassana practice. And I have since found some wonderful teachers that offer their guided meditations online. Here are a few of my favourites.

Tara Brach – Dr. Brach is a psychologist who has woven mindfulness practices into her work on trauma and healing. She offers dozens of guided meditations on her website and resources for everyone from beginners to advanced practitioners. (She also has two beautifully written books: Radical Acceptance and True Refuge.)

Sharon Salzberg  Sharon has been a meditation teacher and practitioner for over 40 years. If you are a podcast lover, check out Sharon’s Metta Hour podcast. She applies her insights to everyday life and invites a diverse array of practitioners to the program (including Dan Siegel, bell hooks, Ram Dass and Inner City Youth).

Kristin Neff  Dr. Neff is a researcher and teacher who has been at the forefront of mindful self-compassion practices. Her website offers guided meditations, self-compassion resources, and tips for your own meditation practice.

Implicit or unconscious bias

Over the past few years, we have shared many articles about implicit bias and, more specifically, the work of Mazarhin Banaji and Tony Greenwald on ‘blindspots’ or the hidden biases we all have.

In work that Wedlidi Speck and I have been doing on cultural safety, we have been repeatedly reminded how powerful, insidious, and harmful implicit biases can be when they serve to maintain the dominant orders and privileges.

Implicit biases are unconscious and this makes them very hard to uncover and address. However, mindfulness practices can help us observe the thought patterns that reflect these biases.

The Implicit Association Tests curated by Harvard’s ‘Project Implicit’ can offer insights into some of our implicit attitudes. And once we are able to see these biases in action, we become much more able to understand and address them. You can take the Implicit Association Tests here.

Decision-making and bias

This article by David Rock and Heidi Grant Halvorsen builds on the work of Banaji and Greenwald (above). It explores contemporary neuroscience research to show how new organizational practices can shift even the most ingrained thinking.

The authors explain some of the more common types of bias and describe the ways in which our biases show up in the workplace and how they affect decision making and human resource practices. For example: “People overestimate the degree to which they can control negative effects of a disaster, and underestimate the time and effort it would take to prepare.

But thankfully, the authors also offer some strategies for mitigating the negative impact of our biases. You can read the full article here.