The Ontario government has sent a powerful message today that it wants to be a stronger partner with the province’s vital community sector. A robust and resilient community sector is good for people, necessary for building healthy and inclusive communities and important for a dynamic economy. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Eric Hoskins and Ontario Trillium Foundation chair Helen Burstyn released a six-point strategy today that lays a solid foundation. The Wellesley Institute’s Michael Shapcott served on the seven-person advisory committee to Minister Hoskins and, along with the other leading experts and thought leaders, helped identify the big issues facing the sector and propose practical and pragmatic solutions.
Ontario’s community sector includes more than 45,000 non-profit organizations, plus other charitable and voluntary groups. It employs more than one million people – 15% of the province’s workforce. Non-profits contribute $50 billion to the provincial economy – 7.1% of GDP, greater than auto and construction combined. Non-profits deliver community-based health, housing, social and education services.
“Ontario’s not-for-profit sector… is everywhere,” says Minister Hoskins. “It reaches into every corner of our province, touching people of every age and involving communities from all backgrounds… Our not-for-profit and voluntary sector is the third pillar of our society and economy, alongside the public and private sectors. It defines who we are and what we aspire to achieve as a province.”
“Enabling, encouraging and supporting the sector to work better makes social sense and economic sense,” says Helen Burstyn. “The time and resources we give to this effort now are sound investments in our future and are among the most meaningful a society can make.”
The Wellesley Institute’s research and policy work, and the work of others, shows that non-profits face a growing administrative burden, out-dated legal and regulatory structures, uncertain financing, and challenges in effective collaboration. Canada’s Social Finance Task Force has set out a national roadmap to strengthen the financial foundations for non-profits and social enterprises.
The six recommendations in today’s report reflect both detailed input from the advisory committee and also expert opinion from consultation sessions throughout the province. The recommendations include:
- Respect and recognition for the community sector by appointing a Minister responsible for, and accountable to, the sector; and issuing an annual report on the state of the not-for-profit sector.
- Foster co-ordination and collaboration between the sector and government by creating a co-ordinating body within the government; and also establishing an advisory board to guide on-going work.
- Build capacity within the sector to address funding, operational and other challenges, including greater collaboration in policy development, legislative and regulatory oversight; new funding approaches and new forms of collaboration among non-profits; plus strengthen the role of volunteerism in the province.
- Modernize, standardize and streamline the relationship between government and the community sector by leveraging technology to break down silos, increase transparency and reduce administrative burdens; create an on-line portal as a one-stop for information relevant to the sector; and also build a province-wide database to streamline applications for funding and better co-ordinate work among ministries and agencies.
- Invest in social innovation, social finance and new resources for collaborating within the not-for-profit sector.
“The Ontario government listened carefully to the challenges facing the community sector and has set out a detailed strategy to support a stronger and more effective community sector,” says the Wellesley Institute’s Michael Shapcott. “Now it’s time to roll up our collective shirtsleeves and get to work on implementing the all-important detail.”