Time to roll up our sleeves and lead
As with many in the nonprofit sector here in Canada, over the last month our team has watched our US nonprofit counterparts struggle with what the new administration will mean for their organizations, their communities and the role of the nonprofit sector in the country.
As public benefit organizations, we are closely connected to communities with an ear to the ground – seeing firsthand when communities are struggling and providing solutions for some of society’s biggest problems.
By our nature, and through our legislative frameworks, charities and nonprofits are nonpartisan enterprises. But that doesn’t mean we can’t advocate. Changing broken systems and building better ones is part of the public policy process. This means engaging with government on policy and programs that are in the best interest of communities, where people, especially those who are marginalized, aren’t left behind.
Yet, we find ourselves in a tenuous situation: how do we continue to focus on the public policy issues so relevant to Ontarians and Canadians, remain nonpartisan and simultaneously address the hate and divisiveness permeating public discourse so it doesn’t trickle – or stream – north?
And let’s face it, we all know that such vitriol is already here in our communities. We’re not immune to intolerance in this country.
Our sector has a critical role to play, now more than ever, in strengthening our communities and building solutions that will contribute to a thriving, healthy and prosperous province for all.
We must take a stand. We can ensure that our organizations, through the work we do in our communities, does not tolerate hate for others. We can lead by example and welcome all volunteers and all employees to contribute positively to the communities they live in. We can shut the door on racism and sexism and xenophobia and intolerance. We can begin by addressing these issues openly, directly and first hand within our own organizations and communities. We can ask our employees and volunteers to let us know when we are failing and when we are succeeding and to help us along the way.
Many of us are not comfortable addressing such difficult issues in our organizations and in our workplaces. These issues don’t happen in our sector – we are the “do-gooders” after all. Yet, this naiveté will not protect us or those who are most vulnerable.
The nonprofit sector employs one million workers in Ontario. We have five million volunteers engaged in our work. That’s almost half of Ontario’s total population – 44% as a matter of fact. And if you include the people our organizations serve – our program participants, clients, donors, supporters and community members – our sector is connected to ALL Ontarians. We have the people power, community connections and knowledge to lead the way.
At ONN’s recent conference, one of our speakers stated that the nonprofit sector’s involvement in public policy is beyond a nice thing to do – it’s our moral obligation to share our perspectives on what is happening in our communities and develop solutions to address issues. Not only do I strongly agree, I would take it one step further given recent events: standing up for human rights, peace, inclusion and safety for everyone living in Ontario is our moral obligation as nonprofit organizations, regardless of our individual missions.
“We are the microphone and the monitor,” as spoken work artist David Delisca so accurately described the sector in his performance at ONN’s conference.
This is not partisan. This is personal. A world of hate, intolerance and divisiveness is not the world I want my kids and future generations to inherit. I’m a glass half full type of person. I know we can do better. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and lead. All six million of us.
(These opinions are my own.)
We’ve started a list of organizations offering resources related to anti-racism, anti-sexism, and diversity & inclusiveness. Do you know of others? Share them with us!
- 25 simple ways we can all be more disability-inclusive (inclusion and accessibility)
- Anti-Black Racism (anti-racism resources and more)
- Anti-Racism Resource Centre (resources on race, anti-racism, and anti-discrimination)
- Canadian Centre for Diversity & Inclusion (workplace solutions, diversity leadership)
- Canadian Women’s Foundation (anti-sexism)
- DiverseCity onBoard (diversity & inclusion)
- Ontario Human Rights Commission (Anti-racism and anti-discrimination for municipalities: Introductory manual)
- Ryerson University Diversity Institute (diversity & inclusion)
- Toronto Newcomer Office (newcomers)
- Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, TRIEC (workplace diversity, finding immigrant talent)
- YWCA Toronto (anti-sexism)
- In response to the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec
- How to Think Differently about Diversity in Nonprofit Leadership: Get Comfortable with Discomfort – Sean-Thomas Breitfield, Nonprofit Quarterly, April 10, 2017