FacebookTwitterRSSContactStaff Directory
About Tamarack Learn Events Join a Community
  Transforming Community

Transforming CommunityWhat role can an organization play in a community? And what is the implication of that support, for the organization itself, and for the citizens of the community?

In Montreal’s Saint-Michel neighbourhood, Centraide United Way of Greater Montreal (Centraide) intentionally set out to demonstrate and test a new way of working with communities. Along the way, they also explored a new role for Centraide.

This seminar features Lyse Brunet, Vice-President for Social Development at Centraide and Ira Barbell, Senior Associate at the US-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, and a key player in the Foundation's flagship neighbourhood-based initiative Making Connections.

Together with Dal Brodhead, author of Tamarack's paper, Neighbourhood Change and the Role of Centraide/United Way of Greater Montreal in Saint-Michel, these thought leaders explore what happens when organizations commit to investing in long-term community transformation.

On this page you'll find:

Meet the Thoughts Leaders

Dal BrodheadDal Brodhead - Dal Brodhead's recent paper, Neighbourhood Change and the Role of Centraide/United Way of Greater Montreal in Saint-Michel, shares the Centraide story in Saint-Michel. Dal is Principal and the Chief Executive Officer of the New Economy Development Group Inc. and has been involved in international and national development since 1978. Dal presently manages a portfolio of consulting projects in Canada in the fields of community economic and rural development, citizen engagement, and participatory evaluation. He is also a community coach for Vibrant Communities Canada.

Lyse BrunetLyse Brunet - Lyse Brunet is vice-president, Social Development, of Centraide of Greater Montreal and is responsible for Centraide’s community investment strategies. Lyse has 30 years of experience in community action in Quebec. Lyse is a strong promoter of collaboration in local communities and a key partner of the strategic alliance between the City of Montreal, Social services and Centraide to support community building in 30 local communities in Montreal.

Ira Barbell - Ira Barbell is a Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one of America's largest private foundations. He oversees the foundation's initiative to engage the philanthropic sector in ongoing learning and sharing around effective philanthropic practices. Ira is also a key player in Making Connections , the Foundation’s flagship initiative that’s focused on helping children in vulnerable neighbourhoods succeed by strengthening their families’ connections to economic opportunity, positive social networks, and effective services and supports.

Back to top.

Centraide's work in Saint-Michel

1,2,3 Go! logoCentraide of Greater Montreal's (Centraide) work in communities began in the early 1990s with 1, 2, 3 GO!, a project to mobilize a whole community to create a favourable environment for the development of its young kids.

Dal describes it this way, "This strategic initiative, now operating in eight communities, is focused on mobilizing a community around the well-being and development of very young children and support to their parents. It is an action-based approach responding to the situation of the very young in the community, and it is intended to empower community members to change the conditions. 1, 2, 3 GO! was conceived of and funded initially by Centraide as a consortium of partners that also obtained funds from several foundations. Uniquely, it was and is also an action-research and continuous learning project that continues to reflect on its lessons learned on the ground and in terms of its reconceptualization. It intentionally links practice with theory."

1,2, 3 GO! was Centraide's first real experience of community building in Montreal's poorer neighbourhoods and helped Centraide to see the community working closely together on poverty and social exclusion.

Centraide has a profound commitment to community and an openness to change and new ideas and, in Saint-Michel when Vibrant Communities came along, Centraide saw there was a readiness in the community to convene the community, government and the private sector on strong action around poverty.

In Saint-Michel, 40% of the community lives in poverty, 40% of children drop out of school, and the community faces the challenges of its physical decline as well as being a first point of settlement to many of Montreal's new multi-ethnic immigrants.

The Saint-Michel community was already working on these issues, but needed some additional energy and there was a lot of opportunity there. Cirque du Soleil was establishing itself in the community and wanted to have an impact, as did Centraide.

Centraide saw that the key ingredients for success were in Saint-Michel. The community was used to working together, a key business partner wanted to be part of the community's redevelopment, and Centraide was ready to have a strategic impact in Saint-Michel and in Montreal generally.

Back to top.

The challenges of becoming a community impact organization

Centraide faced some big challenges when they made the decision to transform into a community impact organization. United Ways had a history of working with agencies as a traditional funder, but were not trained to be proactive or focused on community impact. Centraide staff asked, "Is it really our role to do this?" They faced a new paradigm of community impact, as well as the challenge of being appropriately resourced to do the work

Working with Saint-Michel, Centraide explored new learnings and began to position the community building work in greater Montreal with major partners and decision-makers (e.g. the City, private sector, major donors). Networking in that manner to help the community and to bridge the local effort to the regional and provincial efforts was a new challenge for Centraide.

Other challenges included learning about what kind of leadership you need in your own organization and in the community to bring the appropriate resources together as well as how to work together on poverty successfully.

Back to top.

Lessons learned for Saint-Michel & Centraide

Centraide of Greater Montreal logoCentraide and the community of Saint-Michel have learned a lot during this process of working together. Centraide has greatly increased its understanding of the complexity of community and how to be a leader in a network approach. It's really a work in progress. Each day, says Lyse, you learn more about community when you get closer to community.

Saint-Michel’s influence in Montreal has increased - it has become a best practice and example of what’s possible when individuals and organizations work together in a new way, linking people together and building a collaborative culture. Other neighbourhoods are interested in the approach, and even Centraide has to work more in the collaborative manner of Saint-Michel.

Centraide's convening role in Saint-Michel was key. The organization created bridges between the neighbourhood and the greater community of Montreal. Staff learned that the community has to mobilize itself but it does not always have all the means it requires to create change. Communities need institutions and decision makers involved in their change efforts to learn, understand the local context and support the work.

Lyse describes Centraide's work in Saint-Michel as having "a greater impact than we thought we could ever make."

Back to top.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation & Making Connections

The Annie E. Casey Foundation logoThe Annie E. Casey Foundation was founded by Jim Casey in 1948. The primary mission of the Foundation is to foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. In pursuit of this goal, the Foundation makes grants that help states, cities, and neighbourhoods fashion more innovative, cost-effective responses to these needs.

Like many foundations, and like Centraide, the Foundation came to neighbourhoods through a circuitous route that began in the 1990’s. In many ways, the Foundation's experience parallels that of Centraide’s – they didn’t just come to neighbourhood connections either.

Instead, the Foundation shifted from a programmatic focus to one of partnerships with powerful human service agencies to improve policy and programs. Wanting to improve the situation for vulnerable children, staff realized the role families play in improving the lives of children and became much more aware of the impact place was having on the ability of families to raise children and improve their own lives.

They decided to explore how improving neighbourhood conditions would help to strengthen families. Gradually they began to learn what was working and what was not. Pulling together those learnings, they began to test them in neighbourhoods - integrating the Foundation's understanding of people, place and opportunity.

Back to top.

Parallel experiences

There are a lot of similarities between Centraide’s experience in Saint-Michel, and the Foundation’s experience with Making Connections.

Importance of the catalyst convenor role - Like Centraide, the Foundation plays an important catalyst convenor role, helping to bring partners to the table and create safe spaces to have conversations. These safe spaces ensure that powerful partners hear the community voice and build that into their decision making. There is a necessity to be a bridge. This work began to reshape the way all the partners worked.

Emphasis on increasing influence – There is never going to be enough money from one organization to do this kind of community impact work. We have to be able to engage other partners in this process. That's an influence agenda and requires capturing the learning, creating an awareness of what's happening, and articulating concrete pathways of change that will help to change people's lives. Your influence provides the space for many organizations and foundations to participate in shaping people's thinking and understanding of the issue.

Recognize that money isn’t enough – You need to invest in people with patient capital. Recognize that community transformation – and reshaping people’s thinking and understanding - takes a long time. This is often a minimum ten-year investment in a community.

Leadership – The key of authentically engaging people in community is critical. You must create opportunities for resident engagement and leadership development so that residents play a vital role in shaping the changes that will improve their lives. Centraide provides training for coordinators of the neighbourhood tables. Eighteen people participate in a year and a half training program called "Bridging leadership". As a community impact organization, you do not decide anything, but you must learn how to bring people to the table to work together to increase impact. Your low key leadership must be efficient and collaborative.

Back to top.

Additional advice for community impact organizations

Adopt a two-generation approach to change - You have to change the circumstances of the families of the children in neighbourhoods to change outcomes for kids. For the Foundation, that means investing in the early stage of a child's development and talking about a two-generation approach to community impact. Focus on both ends of the work. Centraide is likewise committed to the long-term and provides core funding, what they call "patient capital", to agencies.

You can improve community relations - Transparency and authenticity are key. Lyse described Centraide's work as "moving towards a friendship" or a "federation of friends". You need people on both sides to be comfortable in that space. This does not mean you always agree but you have to put things on the table, talk and challenge each other. It's a very creative and innovative, but not easy, way to work and requires the right conditions and the right people at the table.

Know that it's not easy - You can impact process as well as create concrete results. Both are necessary to maintain rhythm of community and the passion for the work. In Saint-Michel, some concrete results included building a community centre for kids and developing cooperative housing.

Build in learning and change - Embedded in this is a commitment to learning and continuous improvement. Be humble about the work - you are not going to get it right. If your intentions are good and you enter into genuine relationship with the community, they will forgive the fact that you're not as smart as you thought you were and will stick with you as you move forward. There is not a right way to do this. There are lessons learned to take advantage of. Be sure to enter relationships in a genuine way.

Celebrate your efforts - Celebrations give people a chance to see who's involved and brag about what they've been doing. They can be key to the success of keeping partners interest over the long term.

Back to top.

Resources & Links

Neighbourhood Change and the Role of Centraide/United Way of Greater Montreal in Saint-Michel - In Montreal’s Saint-Michel neighbourhood, Centraide/United Way of Greater Montreal (Centraide) intentionally set out to demonstrate and test a new way of working with communities. Along the way, they also explored a new role for Centraide. This Tamarack paper by Dal Brodhead details Centraide’s transformation into an advocate for and partner in community building. Download the paper in English or Français.

Centraide of Greater Montreal - Learn more about Centraide's work in Greater Montreal by visiting their website. While there, be sure to check out the publications page to download some great resources!

1, 2, 3 GO! - 1, 2, 3 GO! is a project to mobilize a whole community to create a favourable environment for the development of its young kids. The project can take place in your neighbourhood, and involve you, your neighbours, your local community agencies, institutions, merchants, etc. Learn more about the project here.

Making Connections - Making Connections is the flagship initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Its core strategy helps children succeed based on the belief that the best way to improve outcomes for vulnerable children living in tough neighborhoods is to strengthen their families’ connections to economic opportunity, positive social networks, and effective services and supports. Launched in 1999, Making Connections is a decade-long effort to demonstrate this theory in disinvested communities across the country, and in full partnership with residents, community-based organizations, local government, businesses, social service agencies, community foundations, and other funders. Learn more about Making Connections here.

Paths to Leadership in Community Change - This paper from the Annie E. Casey Foundation examines the leadership development process in several Rebuilding Communities Initiative (RCI) sites.  It also presents a conceptual framework that helps people better understand the leadership development process as well as suggests best practices for communities interested in leadership development. Download the paper here.

Family Circles, Sharing Our Experiences: Engaging Residents in Family-Strengthening Efforts - This paper describes the use of study circles to engage residents in family and neighborhood strengthening efforts in three Making Connections initiative neighborhoods--Des Moines, Iowa; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Seattle, Washington. Download the paper here.

Results Accountability - This web-based guide by Mark Friedman provides information and resources on the results accountability process. Visit the website here.

A Road to Results: Results-Based Accountability in the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Education Program - This report details the Casey Foundation's four-year effort to develop a results-based accountability (RBA) approach to its K-12 education portfolio. Though still a work in progress, the Foundation's experience with RBA can help other philanthropic organizations and individual donors develop their own approaches to producing and documenting the results of their investments. It can also assist Foundation grantees in their quest to clarify and communicate more clearly to donors and other interested parties the results they want to achieve and their progress in achieving them. Download the report here.

Le Chantier in Saint-Michel: Tackling Poverty and Social Inclusion - This paper from the Caledon Institute of Social Policy shares the story of Vivre Saint-Michel en Santé, a community revitalization initiative in the Montreal neighbourhood of Saint-Michel. VSMS has created a new offshoot organization to work specifically on projects that will address poverty and social exclusion. Launched in March 2004, Le Chantier de revitalisation urbane et social (Le Chantier) is helping create a sense of optimism among the residents of this densely-populated, culturally diverse part of Montreal. Download the paper here.

Le Chantier dans Saint-Michel: S’attaquer à la pauvreté et à l’exclusion sociale - Vivre Saint-Michel en Santé, une initiative de revitalisation communautaire implantée dans le quartier Saint-Michel à Montréal, a donné naissance à une nouvelle organisation dont le mandat est de travailler des dossiers qui s’attaquent spécifiquement à la pauvreté et à l’exclusion sociale. Lancé en mars 2003, le Chantier de revitalisation urbaine et sociale (le Chantier) contribue à l’émergence d’un sentiment d’optimisme chez les résidantes et résidants de ce quartier densément peuplé et culturellement diversifié de Montréal.

Learn more about Saint-Michel's work in Vibrant Communities here.

Back to top.


Audio Description

Interview: Transforming Community: The Centraide (United Way) Experience

Run time 00:35:27







Audio Description

Q&A: Transforming Community: The Centraide (United Way) Experience

Run time 00:13:47










The Ontario Trillium Foundation