Economic recovery throughout the Greater Toronto Region requires the active engagement of all sectors, including the vital non-profit sector that delivers a variety of critical programs and services and provides a valuable boost in the form of jobs and other economic activity. The Wellesley Institute joined with other leaders from the government and private sectors for the Greater Toronto Region Economic Summit in early May. It was an important and lively gathering – pulling together for the first time more than 250 leaders from all parts of the region.
“Choosing Our Future”, the economic recovery action plan arising from the summit, was released earlier today and it offers a series of important recommendations aimed at governments and the private sector, but almost totally ignores the non-profit sector and the essential role that it plays not only in supporting the people who are the victims of the current recession, but also in building a dynamic and innovative economy for the 21st century.
The GTR economic recovery plan calls for a ‘regional economic war cabinet’ of politicians and government officials to co-ordinate investment. A good idea. It calls on the province and the private sector to create a single economic marketing agency for the Greater Toronto Region. Also smart and sensible. The plan includes recommendations to strengthen the financial services sector and green economic development, to create a regional business service centre initiative as a single portal for private enterprises, to address employment issues in the private sector, and to streamline infrastructure funding to municipalities – all very worth proposals, as well. And the call for a uniform eligibility standard for Employment Insurance will provide immediate and welcome relief for the large number of unemployed workers in the GTR – most of whom don’t qualify for EI under the current eligibility rules.
But a two-legged stool isn’t very stable – and the GTR economic recovery plan that focuses on government and the private sector misses the indispensable role of the non-profit sector. The non-profit sector includes a variety of not-for-profit, voluntary and charitable organizations that touch on many of the most important aspects of economic vitality and liveability: Health and social services, housing, food, the environment, arts and culture, sports and recreation, education and skills training, childcare, social enterprises, research and policy.
A growing number of surveys and research reports, including studies from the Wellesley Institute, show that the non-profit sector is in the grip of what some are calling a “perfect storm”: The recession has driven up demand for programs and services at the same time that the recession has driven down the available resources. Now, more than ever, governments and the private sector need to recognize the key role that the non-profit sector plays in creating a prosperous and livable region, and ensuring that the pragmatic solutions that will support a strong and innovative non-profit sector are in place.
“We are encouraged by the economic summit aim to build a stronger and more vibrant GTR as a great place to work and live,” says Rick Blickstead, CEO of the Wellesley Institute. “We believe that the ‘war cabinet’ must include members from the not-for-profit sector who provide much of the social fabric of our region.”
The Toronto Board of Trade in its first prosperity report card released earlier this year underlined the critical importance of “liveability” as a key component of economic prosperity. The GTR action plan needs to reflect this with practical recommendations, starting with: a region-wide network of non-profit, government and private sector leaders to identify the critical challenges facing the non-profit sector and to develop an action plan specific to the sector, drawing on good practices underway within and outside the GTR.