On not letting a crisis go to waste – An Innovation Agenda for Canada’s Community Sector

March 25, 2010 at 5:14 am Leave a comment

Tim Brodhead

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“You never want to let a crisis go to waste.”

Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff

The current economic crisis threatens Canada’s community sector just when it is most needed. We are in a period of transformation and should not expect a return to business as usual when present financial strains ease. Governments, business, and the rich diversity of community organizations will have to collaborate to address the large-scale social, economic, and environmental challenges facing us. Community organizations are uniquely able to engage Canadians directly in the search for solutions to longstanding problems. However, they too must change to meet new demands and opportunities. Above all, Canadians will need to be resilient, creative, and resourceful. Innovation, inclusiveness, and a positive public policy framework will allow the community sector to flourish.

So, is it over? Can we re-boot to “business as usual?” Bank profits are up, unemployment down. Was it just another blip in the boom-and-bust cycles of the market or the harbinger of a more significant and permanent change in our economy? If the latter, what does it mean for Canadians’ well-being? What should the community sector – those organizations, associations, and voluntary bodies that contribute so much to the quality of life in our communities – do to prepare itself?

This article will argue from the premise that Canadians are living through a transformation that has been accelerated, but not caused, by the economic downturn we are experiencing. More specifically, it will explore some of the implications of this for Canada’s voluntary or community sector (I prefer the term community, as voluntary is often misunderstood to mean volunteer). It will also argue that new models and approaches are urgently required, not just to ensure the health of a sector too long taken for granted in the public realm but to maintain Canadians’ well-being.

New methods and approaches are disruptive. If we believe we face short-term strains, we will respond in traditional ways, tightening belts, and getting on with it; but if we believe we are now in a world of constant, accelerating change, we must become leaders in making Canada and Canadians more resilient, adaptable, and creative in finding sustainable solutions to long-standing social challenges. The argument here is that it is time to re-think our operating models, our function, and our contribution to Canadian society, embracing innovation and re-asserting our role as catalysts, community-builders, and creative problem-solvers.

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