Time to Engage – takeaways from ONN’s 2015 Conference: Nonprofit Driven

This year’s Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) conference focused on opportunities forParliament_clock Policy, Leadership and Action. Three speakers issued challenges to the sector and instilled a sense of optimism about the role non-profits can play in Canada’s democracy. The federal election outcome certainly contributed to that optimism – it’s time to engage!

Rick Cohen, national correspondent with the Nonprofit Quarterly, delivered the conference’s opening keynote speech. Based on his observations south of the border he suggested that nonprofit sector organizations share a common mission: strengthening democracy. Nonprofit agencies closely connected to different communities are well-positioned to give voice to their communities and amplify their challenges and interests. Cohen noted that in the absence of rapid responses to community issues from organizations, social movements like Black Lives Matter have stepped in.

Engagement_peopleJohn Wright, Senior VP and Managing Director at Ipsos, helped participants consider the implications of the new Liberal majority government under the leadership of Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau. He highlighted messages Trudeau relayed in his first post-election media conference where he emphasized a commitment to greater openness and transparency, and to changing the ‘tone’ in government. Throughout the campaign, and in the post-election period, Trudeau has indicated he welcomes greater public engagement in government. Wright expects the ‘chill’ many non-profits experienced under the Harper government to change. He suggested non-profit leaders should take Trudeau up on his offer by reaching out to new MPs and offering to assist them in getting up to speed on issues. Wright reinforced that organizations still need to stay in touch with non-Liberals over the next few years.

Professor Henry Mintzberg closed the session on a somewhat less upbeat tone. He shared the essence of his most recent publication, “Rebalancing Society – Radical renewal beyond left, right and center”, a topic he’s been mulling over since 1991. Mintzberg suggested a better balance between the public, private and ‘plural’ (his proposed term for organizations in the third or civil society sectors) sectors is needed. Those in the private sector that benefit most from imbalance, although well-organized compared to those in the plural sector, are unlikely to implement the kinds of broad systemic solutions required. In contrast, those in the plural sector who are closest to citizens are in the best position to work across sectors to restore balance and fix broken democratic processes. He challenged the non-profit sector to work collectively to address the growing imbalance in Canadian society.









Sandi Trillo, VISION Management Services

Recommended resources and references

Forces for Good (2012): Authors Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant have identified 6 practices high impact non-profit organizations use to achieve extraordinary results. One includes advocating AND serving. The practices reflect their finding that greatness includes working outside the boundaries of an organization – with government, business, individuals and nonprofit networks.

Maclean’s interactive Visualization of Canada’s 42nd Parliament: http://www.macleans.ca/shape-of-the-house/

Rebalancing Society – Radical renewal beyond left, right and center (2015) (PDF). Free download.

Samara-ONN Infographic (PDF): an illustration of how a broken democracy impacts communities and how non-profits have a role to play as bridge between communities and government to create a more vibrant democracy.

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