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Katimavik: A study in nonprofit resiliency

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Ask Willy Fournier whether his organization’s revitalization is a “renaissance” and he’ll tell you “No. Not yet.” But it’s something perhaps far more important: a symbol of resilience - and even some defiance - in the wake of years of anemic government funding before a complete turning off of the taps in 2012 by the then-ruling Conservative party in Ottawa.

We’re speaking of course about Katimavik. Fournier is chair of the board of the nation’s only longstanding youth service program. First established in 1977, now some 40 years on, it has a deep history and has had an even deeper impact on tens of thousands of Canadian youth throughout the decades.

For a more in-depth look at its history and place in Canada’s charitable – and formative - landscape, you can read CharityVillage.com’s 2005 story featuring Katimavik here.

Back from the ashes

The charity’s website states it has enabled “more than 35,000 young Canadians to become actively involved in volunteering” (some 1,000 per year) in benefit of vulnerable communities nationwide, “representing more than 30 million volunteer hours, which is equivalent to:

  • a person working 24/7 for 3,360 years;
  • all staff working for the Quebec government working for 7 days straight, and;
  • $189.6 million in savings for Canada”

But those stats are as of 2012, when the organization was still running, more or less, as it had for the entirety of its then-35 year existence. Then, things seemingly went dark amidst outcries from sector advocates and sundry stakeholders accusing the government of the day of cutting the program’s funding out of spite.

The program was created under the Liberal Government of Prime Minister Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, championed by Senator Jacques Hébert.

Unsurprisingly, one of the fiercest advocates for reinstating funding in 2012 was Katimavik’s former chair, and then-Liberal MP Justin Trudeau. In this April 5, 2012 CBC news report, the not-yet-Prime Minister called then-Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s shuttering of the charity a “brutal...ideological” move.

Regardless, for the next three years Katimavik ceased fully functioning and scrambled to find benefactors so that it could to keep a skeleton staff in place.

Fournier and his staff’s perseverance and determination to get back to helping youth serve Canadians has now, four years later, paid off. Though its mission is presently somewhat modified to, through its work, seek “active reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in all programming.” Fournier explains how that plan came about and the strategy employed by the board in 2012 to get Katimavik through its dark times:

“The previous board had done a diligent job in managing funds such that [they were] sufficient...to maintain a minimum skeleton staff. In the Strategic Plan of January 2012, the board had already identified its interest in making the Katimavik experience available to certain segments of Canadian youth that did not have the same opportunity to participate. These included: Indigenous youth, youth emerging from government care (foster care); and youth-at-risk.

“With the termination of federal funding...the board suspended the National Core Program and re-focused on specialty programming and alternative sources of funding. Katimavik developed partnerships, primarily with Trent University, the Indigenous Studies Department and the First Peoples’ House of Learning; with Sir Sandford Fleming College, and with the City of Peterborough. We piloted a custom program for youth emerging from government care, which will require additional work.”

Echoing through the halls of power

In February this year, just prior to the new federal budget announcement, Fournier and Katimavik staff were in Ottawa to meet with Peter Schiefke, Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, along with a team of advisors.

“Mr. Schiefke emphasized the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to Canadian youth; he named himself Minister for Youth,” states a posting to the Katimavik news feed on its website. It continues: “Our meeting was part of a broad consultation process being led by Mr. Schiefke. He was directed by the Prime Minister to assess the needs of Canadian youth and to compile a report of organizations [that] can assist the government in delivering on its electoral commitments regarding youth. These include a national youth community volunteer service...[and]the government’s overarching commitment to the reconciliation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

Asked if Trudeau or Mr. Schiefke had since given Katimavik any indication of how or whether it would fund his organization directly, Fournier told CharityVillage that the Prime Minister has “a very deep understanding and appreciation of what the Katimavik experience has been able to contribute to Canada’s youth.” The charity has also shared its plans with the Ministers of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and Heritage Canada.

The charity, as part of its plan to endure despite the hardships it has faced since 2012, has developed and implemented an “approach called Indigenous Youth in Transition, which has been very successful,” Fournier states. “We are currently working to expand this [program] in partnership with several First Nations, the Metis, and the Inuit. The program will belong to the Indigenous group/government, and be delivered through Katimavik and its partners.”

Budget 2016 brings hope

When the 2016 Budget was announced on March 22, the following funding commitments were made regarding youth programming in Canada. These can be found in the Helping Youth Succeed section.

  • $105 million over the next five years dedicated to helping "young Canadians gain valuable work and life experience while providing support for communities across Canada."
  • A further commitment of $25 million per year after the fifth year to support youth service.

However, details on which organizations or groups will benefit from these funds, and how much each will qualify for, were not specified. The government will announce those details some time in the next few months, according to the Budget document.

Needless to say, all this sounds positive to Katimavik, which would appear to be on the cusp of coming back all the way from the brink. If the government funding announcements fall the way many think they will, Fournier’s plans to re-establish his charity to its former vitality will come to fruition.

“We are targeting between 2,000 to 2,500 volunteers per year by 2020, with about 1,800 in the national core program,” he says. “The additional volunteers include youth in the continuing and new specialty programs, e.g. Indigenous youth and youth emerging from government care. A key goal is to become even more cost effective, a trend that had been well underway in 2012.”

Advice for sector peers in similar straits

Asked for his advice to other nonprofits on how to deal with a similar funding crisis, Fournier says he has four key lessons to share with his sector colleagues:

  • Know your strengths and leverage them.
  • Develop mutually beneficial partnerships.
  • Adapt and foresee critical new developments (e.g., Katimavik’s new curriculum and activities to support reconciliation between Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.)
  • Maintain and strengthen alumni relations.

It all seems to have worked for Fournier and the Katimavik mission.

So, is his organization now experiencing a “renaissance”?

Fournier still won’t go that far, taking a pragmatic line, one assumes, until an official funding announcement is made that will allow his plan to fully unfold. He states simply: “At this stage, ‘renaissance’ is the aspiration and the goal; not yet the achievement.”

Almost to the goal

It’s been four hard years of patience, hard work and adapting to survive. Katimavik can wait just a little longer – now with a very real light at the end of the tunnel - before its true renaissance.

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is a professional writer living in Toronto. He can be reached at aajzenkopf@yahoo.com.

Please note: While we ensure that all links and email addresses are accurate at their publishing date, the quick-changing nature of the web means that some links to other web sites and email addresses may no longer be accurate.

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