Iqaluit, Nunavut is an incredible place. It has one of the most youthful demographics in Canada. It also has a vibrant and energetic community of locals who care deeply about the future of their young people. Despite this, Iqaluit is an under-serviced city with respect to child and youth programming. TNC recently had the honour of helping to change that, in a small but important way.
This was a dream project. And this is why.
The TNC team was hired by a collaborative of five national charities, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Canada, United Way Centraide Canada, YMCA Canada, Boys and Girls Club of Canada (BGCC) and the YWCA of Canada, to explore how they could expand national child and youth programming into Iqaluit.
These charities wanted to closely collaborate, which isn’t something we often see in the social service sector where brands can “compete” despite having shared goals. The charities embraced their overlap and recognized how their differences could lead to a strong and lasting presence in Iqaluit. They agreed that to fulfill their collective desire to meet the needs of Iqaluit’s children and youth, coordinating their efforts made sense. The charities’ openness to collaboration was our first hint that this project would be unique.
There were other hints too.
In this sector, it is easy to pay lip service to community consultation and to reflecting the needs and desires of locals. It is tragically easy to be a “typical consultant” who jets in, jets out and prescribes ill-fitting program solutions based on faulty assumptions. Not surprisingly, these efforts fail to create lasting change. There’s another more meaningful side to consulting, though, where a team that really cares about making a positive impact can serve as a catalyst for ideas, energy and action. As we set up this project, we realized one simple thing about the five charities. They really, and I mean really wanted this done right. They weren’t interested in lip service or in creating the appearance of having an impact. They wanted to do work that would change the lives of children and youth in Iqaluit. And they trusted us to design an approach that would lead to sustainable change.
We had full license to roll out a comprehensive community engagement process without any preconceived notion about the design of the end product; the model for expanding national programming. The national partners wanted to ensure that what the model eventually became would truly be a reflection of the community’s needs and desires. This meant we could implement real, bottom-up program design driven by an authentic desire to listen. We embedded ourselves in the community to the greatest extent possible so that we could understand more fully how the community interacts, shares, and communicates. We strived to bring the community together around this initiative to build momentum and support. Our work built on connections between local residents who are already working tirelessly to improve outcomes for their children and youth and it directly involved children, youth, and families in the design. Because of this approach, we were able to create the conditions for lasting change to occur, long after we’re gone. This was possible because five charities rose above the usual barriers to collaboration and gave us a mandate to really do it right for Iqalummiut-the people of Iqaluit. Our experience demonstrates that when one approaches a community with authenticity and openness, one is greeted with authenticity and openness.
Thank you to the five partners for allowing TNC the freedom to roll out this amazing project in the right way. Importantly, thank you to the community members of Iqaluit for your incredible guidance, wisdom and support.