Looking toward the future: Building on the legacy from Canada 150

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One of the hallmarks of Canada’s centennial celebration was the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal. After the centennial year ended, the Expo site was repurposed and continues to be used in a variety of ways — from the Biosphere to a casino to condominium housing.

The Government of Canada took a very different approach to Canada’s 2017 sesquicentennial, including among its initiatives seeding a collaborative Community Fund for Canada’s 150th that was matched and delivered by Canada’s community foundations, with $16M in capital awarded to thousands of grassroots initiatives in every province and territory.

As we move into 2018, we thought it would be useful to examine the legacy of Canada 150 and to see how the nonprofit and voluntary sector is building on it.

Building toward the future

“Many applicants for The Community Fund for Canada's 150th grants took this as an occasion to look toward the future, to build a lasting impact,” says Laurel Carlton, director, leadership initiatives and governance of the Community Foundations of Canada. This included a variety of pilot projects and “first annual” events including the first annual National Indigenous Day celebrations in Brampton, Ontario, a pilot project engaging seniors in rural Nova Scotia, and the premiere of an annual theatrical production at the Isle Aux Morts Theatre Festival. The Students on Ice 2017 Arctic Expedition piloted a mentorship program for youth to partner with expedition staff and mentors in their fields of interest.

Other Community Fund grants went toward creating a product with lasting impact, such as an accessibility app in Montreal that originally included information about accessible Canada 150 (and Montreal 375) sites, but which will be used more generally going forward to map accessible events and sites in Montreal.

The Rick Hansen Foundation also received federal funds for a signature initiative awarding grants to school and community groups for infrastructure improvements and awareness building about improving accessibility. While the Foundation disbursed 55 Barrier Buster grants, they also developed new accessibility-focused bilingual curriculum for educators of students in all grades, curriculum that Carol Nelson, vice president of marketing, Rick Hansen Foundation, says is among the assets that will continue to help them tell their story past 2017. Another asset developed was a public service announcement video which can continue to be used for general awareness building. Nelson adds, “We feel that the most important legacy is that we have made tangible improvements in 55 communities across Canada which will help improve the lives of many people.”

Partnerships and collaboration

The Rick Hansen Foundation found that Canada 150 and their Barrier Buster program “gave us another reason to talk with community groups and other disability organizations. It gave us an opportunity to reach out in areas of collective interest, and to tap into partnerships we hadn’t made before. Some of these partnerships will continue as we move forward.”

This is a common experience, says Carlton, pointing to the importance of Alliance 150 in bringing together a network of individuals, organizations, governments and businesses who shared an interest in doing something remarkable during Canada’s 150th. JP Bervoets, vice president, Community Foundations of Canada, the host partner of Alliance 150, says, “One of the most positive outcomes from Canada150 was the way in which it brought together individuals and organizations that hadn’t historically collaborated to achieve meaningful, community-led impact.”

Carlton reflects that the federally-supported Community Fund for Canada’s 150th focused on encouraging new relationships, whether that was across generations, between ethnic groups, or communities that had never talked or worked together before. She adds that 2017 also established new momentum for both the government and the voluntary sector to engage with Canada’s north. “There has been a lot of discussion among community foundations and other people in the nonprofit sector about how to sustain these relationships in 2018 and beyond.”

Listening to other narratives

At the same time there were groups that came forward in critical conversation about Canada 150. Tim Fox, director, Indigenous relations at the Calgary Foundation says, “Canada 150 was a point of contention for Indigenous communities – not a time to celebrate. A lot of projects resulting from Canada 150 focused on incorporating that truth-telling." He points to Leroy Little Bear, member of the Blackfoot Confederacy and founder of the Native American Studies Department at the University of Lethbridge, who was asked to be an ambassador of Canada150 and who agreed as long as he could use his platform to tell the untold story of assimilation and genocide.

Community Fund grants were awarded over 30 projects led by Friendship Centres across the country as well as projects proposed by individual First Nations governments that had distinct focuses like celebrating Indigenous culture or revitalizing language or cultural practices. Carlton also points out that many other communities wanted to make sure their own narrative was not lost in the process, such as Newfoundland, which only joined Confederation in 1949, or the people of Halifax who wanted to be sure that the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion was not lost among the Canada 150 events. Carlton says, “When we were able to take the conversation beyond a specific and top-down idea of Canada 150 and allow space for thought of what matters to your community, then you could see some creative thinking open up.”

What comes next?

“As early as 2015,” Bervoets says, “we began asking how we could build on the momentum of 2017 and the collaboration it encouraged within and across sectors. We asked ourselves: without the 2017 narrative, what would be a frame to allow this?”

An agenda emerging on the international stage offered a lens through which organizations could continue to work together and build on this momentum. The United Nations developed 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by world leaders in 2015 and that look toward 2030 as a target. While the SDGs are not legally binding, governments are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks for the achievement of the goals.

“The 17 goals of the SDGs also align well with the Canada’s 150 priorities of youth, reconciliation, inclusion and diversity, and environment,” says Bervoets. “The SDGs provide an opportunity to break down barriers between sectors and organizations and also demand that all sectors play a significant role.”

Alliance 150, Canadian Council for International Co-Operation (CCIC) and Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) co-hosted a day-long meeting in November 2017, entitled The Next 150: A National Conversation on Canada and the Sustainable Development Goals. The event brought together the public, private and philanthropic sectors to reflect on what has come out of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. 89% of participants at the event thought that using the SDGs would be a helpful framework moving forward.

“Not every nonprofit will engage with each of the goals,” says Carlton, “but the SDGs are deeply connected and really go to the root of many social challenges we face in Canada. They offer an opportunity for our organizations to get specific about the future, with 2030 as a horizon.”

Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI) is taking on a role convening groups of people to use the SDGs to map out a process for Canada’s future. Among their wide-ranging initiatives, WGSI is hosting a Generation SDG Summit in April 2018 to bring together a multi-disciplinary, multi-sectoral, multi-generational group of Canadians to determine specific priority areas within the SDGs that Canada should address through collaboration.

Challenges going forward

One key challenge emerging from both Canada 150 activities and the shift toward the 2030 SDGs has to do with data.

“The Canada150 exercise raised questions around the types of things we typically measure and value,” says Carlton. “Much of the value around Canada 150 has been around relationship-building potential. But how do organizations make the case to funders to value impacts that go beyond the typical monetization or quantification of outcomes. Rather than simply tracking how many people attended a workshop, the real value comes from the impact from relationships developed at a workshop. There is a huge missed opportunity if we don’t talk about new relationships.”

A different data challenge has to do with what we actually measure, whether there are people who are invisible within the data that is measured, and where there are gaps. Historically, says Bervoets, countries have only had to report at an aggregated national level, but the SDGs require data to be disaggregated — broken down to consider smaller groups. This means that it will be easier to see people and groups often left behind in a more generalized story of national prosperity and success — such as people with disabilities or Indigenous communities. While the sector welcomes such segmentation as providing a more accurate picture of our country, only 39% of organizations surveyed after the National Conversation on Canada and the SDGs were collecting data that could be mapped to SDGs, while 40% reported needing significant capacity-building to get there.

Another challenge is for organizations to use the data from 2017 and the lessons learned to move forward. The Rick Hansen Foundation, for instance, had almost 500 applications for its grants. “We were overwhelmed with interest in the grant,” says Nelson. “It told us that there is a huge demand. The legacy of this information is that we can build a solid case for the high need for improved accessibility across the country.”

It is also important to be sure that these goals are enshrined in civil society, to survive changes in federal governments over the next 15 years, although Bervoets believes they are already being widely adopted by both the nonprofit and private sectors. Julie Wright, general manager, WGSI, says, “If we build a resilient sub-national framework that works from the community up, then governments can encourage and enable rather than driving the agenda.”

Next steps

For organizations and individuals who have come to the end of 2017 and wonder what they can do to build on the momentum of the sesquicentennial, here are a few suggestions:

  • Subscribe to the Alliance 150 newsletter to connect with both an online and in-person network, as well as to access resources and to learn about the evolution of this Alliance toward 2030.
  • Join the opening and closing sessions online (April 22 and 25) for the WGSI Generation SDG Summit.
  • Watch TVO’s The Agenda the week of April 22 as they broadcast about the Generation SDG Summit.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Sustainable Development Goals, and talk with your board and staff about how your work is located within this framework.
  • Seek out collaborative partners within the sector and across sectors.
  • Talk with funders about the value of collaboration and relationship-building in your work.

“I thought once 2017 and all its events were done that we would take a breath,” says Nelson. “Instead, we’re saying let’s continue driving on that learning and success to take our story and goals to the government, and other funders and donors as we move forward.”

Susan Fish is a writer/editor at Storywell, a company that helps individuals and organizations tell their story well. She has written for the nonprofit sector for almost two decades and loves a good story.

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