Nothing generates creativity like a road trip (or train trip!). A few of Pillar's staff headed up to Toronto for the Ontario Nonprofit Network conference, Nonprofit Driven. From economic equity, how to activate a network and what it means to have decent work for women in nonprofits; we enjoyed two days of collaborative thinking, while exploring some tough challenges for our sector.
Each of us took the time to reflect on this experience and the lessons, opportunities and questions we are bringing back with us.
Click to skip to reflections on:
- ONN Conference experience
- Reimagining Governance
- Networks & Network Leadership
- Fare thee well? How are women faring in the nonprofit sector
- The Power of Resilient Networks & Storytelling
- Community Benefit Agreements
“A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.”
~ Khalil Gibran
This quote was introduced very early in the conference and was repeated many times throughout. I have to ask myself, what does this mean through the lens of someone that coordinates education opportunities?
One of the presenters said, “What’s great about a network conference like this is that people at a program coordinator level can engage and listen through CEO ears.” I would add to the end of that statement “...and vice versa.” It’s a level playing field when we are all learning something new, together. What then, do we do with the learning? How do we make knowledge act?
Later in the day, we were taken through an exercise where we talked about what we want to give to and get from the network. I heard myself say that I wanted to collaborate to innovate how we offer education in the sector. The truth is, I have no idea what that means! But, I’m curious. From the session on Human-Centred design and design thinking, we were encouraged to “stare into the mystery.” So, I ask, what could/should we be doing differently? How can we reduce idle knowledge?
I believe that any educational experience can be called a success when you leave it with more questions than you had when you arrived. I suppose one way to make a little knowledge act is to ask more questions!
We are about to experience major shifts in the nonprofit sector, as long standing Executive Directors begin to retire from the workforce, and we struggle to bring and retain young people into the sector. What I think less people consider is the impact of that demographic shift on nonprofit boards.
We know that all incorporated nonprofits are required to have boards, and that they play an instrumental role in ensuring compliance, financial sustainability, and strategic visioning for organizations. We also know that the definition of community engagement is evolving for young people.
But what happens if young people don’t see boards as a valuable way of contributing to their community? Concerns of meeting competency requirements, feeling tokenized, and the idea that compliance is boring all are contributing factors that push young people away from boards were mentioned in this session. The facilitators challenged us to reimagine how governance could look 10-15 years from now. Perhaps we do not need to convince young people to see the value of boards, but rather we need to create an inclusive culture to accommodate the diversity of leaders who are upcoming, and re-frame governance in a way that resonates with them instead of asking them to conform.
Knowledge Sharing. Collaboration. Wider Reach. Enhance. Share Expertise and Strengths. Generosity of Spirit. Safety Net. Belonging. Strength in Numbers. Learning. Co-Creation.
At the beginning of a plenary session that Ontario Nonprofit Network hosted about networks and network leadership, each table was asked to come up with a few words to describe what a network is and what a network does. We then explored three major principles of successful networks:
Network leadership is different than organizational leadership
Key Takeaway: In a network, people come together over opportunities that resonate with them; not everyone engages in the same way all the time (and that’s okay!).
The foundation of successful networks is trusting relationships
Key Takeaway: Visually map out your network to see how it’s organized, how everyone is connected, and where there are opportunities for even more links (Get a whiteboard or flipchart so you can actually draw it!)
Networks enable community building and social impact
Key Takeaway: A successful network will foster co-creation, collaborative leadership, and generative learning. Collective wisdom will emerge (and a culture of curiosity helps!)
Throughout the two days, I thought a lot about the network that we have been building at Pillar, a network that we are all part of in different ways and to which we all contribute our own unique strengths and skills. By learning about what others in the network are working on, we can find ways to collaborate with each other and create opportunities for even more links.
This panel discussion resonated the most for me. As a woman who has worked in the nonprofit sector for a couple of decades I was motivated by this emerging call to action conversation. Conversation where we as a sector aspire to make every job a good job and challenging the feminization of our sector and the resulting lower wages was inspiring. Stemming from the ONN Decent Work for Women working in the Nonprofit Sector this was a great discussion on how we leverage our work to be recognized for its critical impact on the economy.
A big take away from Journey to Reconciliation: Peer Story Telling
Authentic conversations need to happen nation to nation.
Pillar has been on a journey of exploring how do we build a network mindset where individuals, organizations, and enterprises are sharing, leaning on each other and collaborating in deep and meaningful ways. The Power of Networks session helped to paint a picture through the words and examples of how we do this to ultimately lead to resilient networks. Words like elevating, lift, belonging, relational, emergent, generosity of spirit, weaver resonated with this essence we have as our vision for what is possible. The images of networks that have been mapped had our team excited and strategizing about we can weave this into our work because it speaks to the commitment we have been exploring around measuring impact and the connections for positive community impact. We are planning for a network mapping session at our Annual General Meeting in April so here is a tangible example of learning, leading to ideas and action.
We also learned that storytelling is a bridge between individuals and collective action. It has the power to inspire, to connect and to be remembered. So how do we measure the impact of network building and share this collective story to create the momentum for social change. How do we tell stories grounded in ethics that understand the consent required to share and then possibly share again the stories of those with lived experience. As I was at the conference, I had someone ask if they could share a video I had created congratulating one of our finalists for the Pillar Community Innovation Awards. It was an example that when the individual recognized that the original intent of the video was intended for one audience and when she was looking to expand that audience it was critical she seek permission.
In the spirit of the Nonprofit Driven conference I accept the challenge to take what was learned and put into action so I will go forward committed and driven to weave the vision for a resilient network with ethical storytelling to lead to collective action.
At the Social Enterprise World Forum, we were challenged to think bigger. To get involved in the billion and trillion dollar conversations that are shaping our future. It was a challenge that really shook my faith in the good work we are doing. Is the world really crashing around us while we focus on small scale change?
While I don’t believe that our work is meaningless, it does beg the question: how does social enterprise become more than a drop in the bucket of economic development? How do we use our voices to shift the dollars of tomorrow towards social good? Community Benefit Agreements might just the answer (or one of them at least). These agreements are enforced on companies looking to operate in our communities, particularly around infrastructure. They seek to ensure that our community is benefiting equitably from growth.
Some examples of Community Benefits guaranteed in Ontario projects:
- Must secure 10% of their workforce from people with barriers to employment
- Must use portions of property to develop affordable housing
- Must provide apprenticeships to local youth through colleges
- Commitments to purchase from local businesses and social enterprises
As one of the keynotes at ONN pointed out, we are in the middle of a wave of infrastructure development in Canada. Community Benefits Agreements could be how we double, triple or quadruple the affect of this money flowing into our communities.