Nonprofits and social enterprises are uniquely positioned to be invaluable partners of government in developing programs, services, policies and funding support that are representative of community needs. With pre-existing connections to the communities they serve, nonprofits and social enterprises can effectively contribute to human-centered design approaches that lead to systems change.
The following are examples of how different levels of government have engaged the community to build a strategy around complex issues or opportunities. Pillar Nonprofit Network was invited to sit at the advisory tables for the development of these strategies. In community driven processes, Pillar acts as a voice for the affected populations ensuring their needs and solutions are heard.
Partnerships with Municipal Government
City of London Community Economic Road Map
In collaboration with the City of London, and representatives from the government, business, post-secondary and not-for-profit communities, Pillar had a seat at the table to help develop London’s Community Economic Road Map. The strategy reflects the community’s aspirations for our local economy and was developed through the principles of alignment, engagement and partnership. The roadmap identified five priorities to work towards to help build our local economy:
- A city for entrepreneurs;
- A supportive business environment;
- An exceptional downtown, a vibrant urban environment;
- A top quality workforce; and,
- A national Centre of Excellence for medical innovation and commercialization.
City of London Community Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
In 2016, the City of London engaged over 600 community members to help build a Community Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (CDIS). City council identified the need to develop this strategy as a way to “build a diverse, inclusive and welcoming community” by “supporting all Londoners to feel engaged and involved in our community”. Pillar’s Director, Diversity and Governance was a member of the 200-person team of CDIS Champions who contributed to the development of the strategy. Along with a vision, statement of commitment, strategies and a glossary, the strategy includes five key diversity and inclusion priorities for the city, including:
- Take concrete steps towards healing and reconciliation;
- Have zero tolerance for oppression, discrimination and ignorance;
- Connect and engage Londoners;
- Remove accessibility barriers to services, information and spaces; and
- Remove barriers to employment.
London for All: A roadmap to end poverty
In September 2015, the Mayor’s Advisory Panel on Poverty was established to provide input on tangible solutions for addressing poverty in our city. Pillar’s Director, Diversity and Governance was asked to sit on this panel along with other local experts in the fields of health and social services. Together, the group compiled an extensive report with recommendations on how the city can take steps to end poverty within one generation.
Partnerships with Provincial Government
Community Hubs Ontario
Community hubs bring together services, like health, social, cultural and recreational services, in one location to provide people with consolidated access to resources they need. Pillar’s Executive Director was involved as a member of the Premier’s Advisory Committee on Community Hubs. The advisory group was developed to identify provincial barriers to creating community hubs, offer recommendations for reducing these barriers and supporting their development. Through consultation with 350 organizations, including local service providers and provincial ministries, the Advisory Committee co-created a Framework and Action Plan that the government has committed to putting into effect to support the development of community hubs.
Keys to effective collaboration with government
Through Pillar’s ongoing involvement with various government initiatives, we have seen that intentional and collaborative relationships, where the power relationship is balanced, are necessary to effect transformative system change. These principles have been foundational in our collaborations with various levels of government.
- Build trust and empathy – Establishing trust and empathy at the outset of any collaborative project is essential to an effective relationship. Open and consistent communication about vision, financial realities, and community needs helps to create an atmosphere of trust. To build empathy, we need to ensure we’re always seeking the perspective of our partners and the communities we serve.
- Name power dynamics – It’s important that the power government has over nonprofits or social enterprises is acknowledged in early conversations. When both parties listen and ask questions power becomes equalized. Leveraging the common strengths of all participants and working together towards shared goals is often more effective than the format of traditional hierarchical relationships. Ensuring that concrete action steps and timelines are in place also ensures all participants are aware of their responsibilities in the partnership.
- Select the right partners – Seeking the appropriate partners within government and nonprofits who are experts on the topic of the collaboration is essential to creating systems change. Throughout the course of the collaboration, it’s a best practice to assess who needs to be at the table and for what length of time as partners may need to change as projects evolve.
- Establish a common goal and vision – Effective partnerships must start with the development of shared goals that are meaningful to collaborators and are representative of the community the project will serve. Having a shared vision to work towards acts as an effective guidepost for decision making throughout the project.
- Leverage assets and shared services – When working together towards developing new programs or services, municipalities, nonprofits and social enterprises should collectively review the assets they bring to the table. Conducting this assessment helps to create a better understanding of each sector and create efficiencies in the development process. An asset-based review can include strategic focus, values/approach, human resources, knowledge/competencies, financial resources, and technology/space infrastructure.
- Foster inclusive innovation – As government develops new policies and programs, nonprofits and social enterprises can offer their experience with the diverse populations they serve to promote inclusive innovation. There are times when government may make decisions without consulting those with lived experience and nonprofits and social enterprises can be valuable partners in acting as representatives of these individuals.
- Invest in community impact – In working with government, the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors must advocate for funding that goes beyond enabling transactional service delivery to support transformational systems change. In recent years, the government has shifted to short-term project funding that makes it difficult to create sustainable change. For nonprofits and social enterprises to create long-term impact, core funding and multi-year funding is required. When developing economic strategies and supports, governments should regard nonprofits and social enterprises as important economic drivers that contribute to achieving inclusive economic growth.