Intelligence

Disrupting giving: Ten of Canada’s most innovative non-profits

Green Iglu | Facebook
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Canadian charities are no stranger to the disruptive forces reshaping the world. The Logic scoured the country for non-profits using innovative techniques to improve education, health care and the environment.

After canvassing a group of experts and foundations from across the country, we found 10 of Canada’s most innovative non-profits. They are listed below in alphabetical order.

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Arctic Eider Society

Purpose: Digital aggregation of Indigenous knowledge

Location: Sanikiluaq, Nunavut

Founded: 2011

The group monitors and shares data on ice sheets in Hudson’s Bay. Its app, Siku—the Inuktitut word for sea ice—is set to launch in December, at which point it will be the only commercially available app tracking ice levels in Canada’s North. Before becoming one of five winners of the Google Impact Challenge in 2017, netting $750,000 in funding, the app was used as an internal tool. According to Joel Heath, executive director, over the last two years, the funding has helped scale the app into a social media platform where users can share data, tag locations and monitor wildlife. Heath said he hopes the app is adopted across Canada and in other regions around the world. “It’s a platform to help facilitate self-determination for Indigenous communities and research,” he said. The group leads efforts in ice-monitoring in Hudson’s Bay by building a consortium of communities and organizations in the area to share data on ice levels and wildlife. 

Community Forests International

Purpose: Forest conservation through carbon offsets

Location: Sackville, New Brunswick

Founded: 2007

Forests International got its start preserving forests in Tanzania’s Pemba Island. Through its carbon-offset initiative, the organization works with companies who pay to conserve privately owned forested areas in Atlantic Canada that serve as carbon sinks. This keeps carbon dioxide safely in the ground that would otherwise have been released from clearcutting. The method has been used as a way for air passengers to offset the emissions generated from their flights. Forests International’s carbon-offset initiative goes further, allowing entire companies to purchase them. To date, it’s helped seven companies become carbon neutral by offsetting emissions, keeping more than 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and protecting 1,000 acres of mature forest. The group claims to have the potential to draw down over one billion tonnes—more than Canada’s entire annual greenhouse gas emissions—by 2030 using this model. “In order to finance conservation, we really need to change people’s mindsets around why we value forests and what services that forests offer us,” said Monica Allaby, communications coordinator. 

Green Iglu

Purpose: Growing food in harsh Northern conditions

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Founded: 2014

Green Iglu makes year-round farming possible in Canada’s North. Using greenhouse domes, designed by founders Stefany Nieto and Ben Canning, Green Iglu can grow food in harsh conditions. The greenhouses use vertical farming, a technique allowing more food to be produced in less space by stacking growing surfaces. “Why should we continue to outsource the economic opportunity when food is worth three, four times more in these communities?” said Nieto in an interview. Green Iglu currently has three domes operating in two communities up North. However, following a partnership with TakingITGlobal, a Toronto-based non-profit that is also on this list, Nieto and Canning were able to bring the educational component of the project—teaching agricultural methods through video conferencing—to seven other Northern communities.

Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE)

Purpose: Shareholder advocacy on ESG issues

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

Founded: 2000

SHARE helps companies and foundations live up to responsible investing principles. Focused on environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, SHARE works on behalf of small- and medium-sized investors to influence how companies invest on ESG issues, like climate change and  human rights. To date, it’s worked with 164 companies to advance ESG principles, resulting in 50 companies achieving ESG targets and 20 shareholder proposals being filed on behalf of clients. It recently launched the Reconciliation and Responsible Investing Initiative—one of the first of its kind in Canada—to help companies implement recommendations from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report. The initiative, created in collaboration with the National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association (NATOA), focuses on Recommendation 92 of the report, which addresses corporate responsibility. It calls on corporations to conduct meaningful consultations for development projects and educate their management and staff about anti-racism, cultural awareness and the history of Indigenous Peoples. According to Kevin Thomas, CEO of SHARE, the initiative’s long-term vision is to encourage companies and their shareholder “to adopt internal practices that align with reconciliation around the call to action.”

The Rumie Initiative | Twitter

The Rumie Initiative

Purpose: Bringing online education to offline communities

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Founded: 2013

Rumie provides free online educational resources to communities without internet access. Using tablets preloaded with its LearnCloud software—a crowdsourced library of educational content—the project is deployed to remote communities and emerging economies. Currently, Rumie has tablets in more than 20 countries, including Liberia, Guatemala and Syria. “The learners are reflected in the content; it’s in the right language for them. It’s current and up-to-date content,” Ness Kenalty, program manager, told The Logic. Rumie was a winner of the 2017 Google Impact Challenge, receiving $750,000 in funding, which Kenalty said helped it focus on Indigenous communities in Canada that don’t have internet access. The non-profit has also hired a director of Indigenous programming, currently based in North Bay, Ont., who helps preserve Indigenous languages and develops educational content for Northern students.

TakingITGlobal

Purpose: A platform for young people to connect and organize 

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Founded: 1999

Through its own online forum, TakingITGlobal wants young people around the world to share their ideas. It uses research databases and educational tools to get young people to organize around local issues ranging from environmental concerns to human rights abuses. Over the last four years, the organization has increased its focus on Indigenous communities. In 2014, it helped launch Connected North—an initiative supported by a Cisco Foundation donation of over $5 million—which links educators in urban areas with 42 remote schools in Indigenous communities through live video conferencing. In 2018, the group launched its #RisingYouth initiative, which provides small grants to underrepresented young people for community service projects. “We’re excited about helping young people realize a future where their needs and their dreams and the things that they want to see in their communities are more tangible and less far away from reality,” said Liam O’Doherty, director of digital youth engagement programs.

Venture for Canada

Purpose: Pairing university students with startups

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Founded: 2014

This organization trains post-secondary students and recent graduates to work for Canadian startups and small businesses. Its internship and fellowship programs pair them with firms in Ontario, British Columbia and Atlantic Canada. In April 2018, Venture for Canada received $4.4 million in federal funding from the government’s Student Work Placements Program, which created 505 spots for Venture’s Atlantic Canada internships, launched that year. About a week later, the Ontario government provided the organization with $1.4 million in funding. Throughout 2018, the group had more than 500 interns and 250 fellows complete the program. Its staff also increased from three employees to 16, and it launched its first cohort in Atlantic Canada. Scott Stirrett, its founder and CEO, said the focus on Atlantic Canada is about “catalyzing working areas and learning opportunities in a sector that traditionally has been very underrepresented.” He said 70 per cent of the companies participating are hiring an intern for the first time ever, and the same percentage of employers have fewer than 10 full-time employees.

Victoria Hand Project | Twitter

Victoria Hand Project

Purpose: 3D printing low-cost prosthetics for emerging economies 

Location: Victoria, British Columbia

Founded: 2014

This non-profit uses 3D-printing technology to create and fit low-cost prosthetics in emerging economies. The group has set up print centres in local clinics and trained staff to fit 3D-printed prosthetics in Egypt, Uganda, Cambodia, Nepal, Guatemala, Haiti and Ecuador. The prosthetics can be manufactured for around US$80, and currently serve more than 100 amputees around the world. In December 2018, the group partnered with LimbForge, a U.S.-based non-profit, which provides clinicians with a software platform to more accurately fit amputees with prosthetics. According to Michael Peirone, the Victoria Hand Project’s COO, the organization plans to take its technology to the Turkey-Syria border next, where refugees—some of whom are recent amputees—can be fitted with prosthetics by locally trained clinicians. “One of our main goals is to actually have them [print centres] run on their own and be self-sustaining,” said Peirone.

Windmill Microlending

Purpose: Loans for immigrants and refugees to have credentials recognized

Location: Calgary, Alberta

Founded: 2005

Windmill provides loans of up to $15,000 to skilled refugees and immigrants to obtain Canadian credentials for the jobs they were trained to do in their home countries. Since 2005, the group has scaled from five loans per year to more than 800, with a 97 per cent repayment rate and more than $28 million provided in loans. That makes it Canada’s largest microlending charity by number of clients and loans provided, according to Mary Ellen Armstrong, national director of marketing and communications. It was founded to address the barriers of accessing credit for recent immigrants and refugees, and to provide loans for credential recognition quicker than the federal government’s foreign credential recognition program. Currently, the group has 1,787 active loans, including 172 in its refugee loan program. “The Conference Board [of Canada] estimates that we’re [Canada] losing about $13 billion a year because of underemployment of skilled immigrants. So that’s the problem that we’re trying to solve,” said Claudia Hepburn, CEO.

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Winnipeg Boldness Project

Purpose: Data-driven solutions for community problems

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba

Founded: 2014

Focused in Winnipeg’s North End area, this project develops initiatives targeting childhood social inequalities specific to its community. Since it was created, the group has addressed issues like youth school readiness, access to specialized health services and saving for post-secondary education. Recently, the lab surveyed 191 caregivers and 367 children from the neighborhood—the first time data had been collected about early childhood development in the area—to inform its future initiatives. Diane Roussin, project director, said the lab’s goal is to “centre Indigenous wisdom in the problem definition, as well as solution-finding.” For example, the group’s Indigenous Doula Initiative was created to provide pregnant women who would otherwise face barriers to pre- and post-pregnancy care with doulas, which are non-medically-trained companions who support pregnant women. The program—one of several focused on health—came about in the hopes of addressing the higher rates of negative pregnancy outcomes, like infant mortality, that Indigenous women face compared to non-Indigenous women.