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We Need to Talk About Decent Work

We Need to Talk About Decent Work

A few weeks ago, as part of a crowd of about 500 nonprofit workers, we listened as we were urged, “Remember, we are employers and job creators and have a responsibility to provide decent work.” We began sharing an idea that we hope will inspire and ignite the sector – the idea of decent work.

Over the past 11 months at ONN, Toronto Neighbourhood Centres and Mowat NFP, we’ve been thinking a lot about decent work and how it relates to the nonprofit sector.

The concept is a big one. At its heart, decent work is about choice: how we as a society – individuals, managers, community and government – choose to structure our organizations, networks and policy systems to work better, and work for all. Decent work involves thinking about how investments in employees – in the health, protection and vitality of the workforce – can actually help organizations achieve greater impact.

At the same time, the term is simple. It resonates with people. It leads us to ask, what does work look like when it’s rooted in the principles of decency?


Image of ChangeWork Header


Investing in our people

What would a sector that invests in people look like, and what would it take to make it happen?

Our new report, ChangeWork: Valuing Decent Work in the Not-For-Profit Sector, explores this idea. It is meant to engage nonprofit boards, executive directors, staff and funders in discussion about the value of decent work for the sector and how nonprofits can lead the decent work movement, both within the sector and in society at large.

For the sector, it’s not just about better benefits and pay for nonprofit workers. Decent work provides an opportunity for us to align mission and practice: to work to create policy changes that make work better for all and, at the same time, tackle the systemic issues that hold the sector – and its passionate workforce – back.

How do we get there?

To start, the nonprofit sector as a whole can begin building a movement focused on the idea of decent work and what it could mean for communities in Ontario and across Canada. We can bring the idea of decent work to communities and engage as a listener, partner and model for action. We can also share stories and showcase approaches that demonstrate how investing in people helps nonprofit organizations meet their missions better.

A movement like this is important as it can push the conversation into organizations, community networks and the policy process. Creating change will require collective action and recognition of the influence the sector has as an employer and major economic contributor. Decent work, according to the Atkinson Foundation, is “about removing roadblocks, building bridges and taking detours until we get to an economy that works for the 100%.” When considered in the light of such an agenda, decent work can become another way in which nonprofits multiply the community impact of their work and investments.

The ChangeWork report was developed to help engage nonprofit boards, executive directors, staff and funders in these discussions. It also identifies some practical steps to move the conversation towards concrete action at the sector, community, and organizational levels. However, it is up to the nonprofit sector to engage with these ideas, own them and decide how it can best champion these efforts.


Lisa Lalande
Lisa Lalande

Lisa Lalande, Executive Lead, Mowat NFP - Mowat Centre’s research hub that provides evidence-based research and analysis on systemic issues facing the non-profit sector in Canada, with a particular focus on Ontario. Lisa is an experienced not-for-profit sector leader with almost 20 years’ experience in strategic planning, program development, communications and change management, and fund development.

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