Wood Buffalo Blog

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 14:06

March, 2014

By Nancy Mattes, Director, Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo

Do you ever catch yourself thinking that you love your community?  Usually this happens to me when I’m travelling outside of Canada, and I’m seeing things that don’t exist in my neck of the woods.  It also happens when I’m hearing stories of persecution, injustice or crimes against humanity.  These stories are a sobering reminder that not everyone has the same rights and freedoms that we enjoy in Canada.

I live in a great community.  I have a good job, my kids are getting a good education and I can walk my dog without ever worrying about my personal safety.  The grocery store and the gym are minutes away.  I can visit a local gallery to feed my creative interests and I attend world-class concerts at the local think-tank.  While some people like to complain about all the issues and problems in our community, I like to remember how lucky I am to live here. 

A couple of years ago a local community organization sent out a community wellbeing survey to find out how residents felt about their quality of life.  The survey was conducted by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), which is a Canadian innovation and award-winning success story.  It has eight domains of wellbeing (education, environment, arts and culture, sports and recreation, time use, community engagement, healthy populations and living standards).  Unlike the GDP (gross domestic product) this survey measures the things that really matter to Canadians.  For example, it measures the overall accessibility of the health care services in our community and how much time people spend commuting.  The results from the survey generated a report for our community that identified significant trends and examined the priority areas critical to our region’s quality of life.

Another benefit of the CIW community wellbeing survey is its comprehensive approach to looking at the interconnectedness between domains.  Today’s fast-paced and global society means that systems are connected in ways that didn’t exist twenty years ago.  By exploring how each domain impacts the other, we can get a better understanding of what is affecting wellbeing.  While issues may change over time, the effectiveness of the survey and its ability to measure quality of life remains.

That’s why I am so excited for Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo to be involved in a similar effort in Wood Buffalo (Fort McMurray, AB).  A multi-sectoral group of community organizations are working together to conduct the CIW community wellbeing survey this spring.  During the month of May, the survey will be mailed to approximately 7,000 households (including households in the outlying communities) in Wood Buffalo.  The results will help us understand what areas are critical to Wood Buffalo’s quality of life.  Decision-makers will be able to use the information to prioritize resources and strategies.  Funders will be able to use it to allocate resources to areas of highest need.  Community members will be able to use it to advocate for positive social change.

If your household is selected to complete the survey this spring, please take 30 minutes out of your day to fill it out.  Your investment of time will benefit your family and neighbours in a collective effort to improve the quality of life for all residents in Wood Buffalo.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - 12:29

By Kim Nordbye, project manager Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo

In November 2011, I was seconded by my employer, Suncor Energy, to a project that at the time was called the Wood Buffalo Community Building Project. I was excited for the new adventure but wasn’t really sure what the project would involve. All I knew was the secondment was for one year (and later extended to two) and the Suncor Energy Foundation was trying a new approach to supporting the communities where Suncor operates.

Today, two years later, as my secondment comes to an end, and I go back to Suncor in January, I feel so blessed to have had this incredible opportunity! It’s with mixed emotions that I leave my role as project manager for Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo (renamed in 2012) and return to Suncor. While I’m thrilled to be returning to the community investment team where I started with Suncor in 2000, I’m also sad to leave the incredible role I was given in the Wood Buffalo social profit (nonprofit) sector. But, it’s not really goodbye! Social Prosperity continues for a couple more years and I will absolutely stay involved – just from a different desk.

The Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo project has a goal of building capacity in the community building sector. It is a community-driven collaborative process focused on building and sustaining innovation and social change for improved quality of life. The project emerged from Suncor’s vision to further build quality of life in Wood Buffalo by focusing on building capacity in the nonprofit sector. These organizations are critical to the social fabric of the community, providing services that range from recreation to crisis intervention. If these organizations are strong and better able to provide appropriate services, then the quality of life in the whole community will be impacted.

So, when I arrived to the project in November 2011 I came with all kinds of ideas from the business world, from my experience living in Fort McMurray since 2003, and from working with communities in Wood Buffalo and Calgary through my Suncor roles in stakeholder relations and community investment. I had a pretty good sense of how important the sector is to our community, our province and our country, but what I quickly learned is that I had no idea how pivotal this project would be.

This collective impact project has brought together incredible partners from the Suncor Energy Foundation, the University of Waterloo, the United Way of Fort McMurray, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the private sector and most important the social profit sector in our region. Together, we have been pioneering a new approach to building and sustaining capacity in the sector and in our community. Together, we have been working towards a common goal of helping the community benefit sector be better equipped and positioned to deal with the unique issues and complex challenges we face in our rapidly growing region. Together, we have been building a strong and resilient Wood Buffalo with a social profit sector that has the capacity to meet the community’s needs.

For the past two years, we have focused on developing skills, creating learning opportunities, connecting organizations to resources, learning about social innovation and collective impact and, for me, the most important outcome is we’ve built relationships and trust. Without healthy relationships and trust the different sectors cannot work together to make this region a global model for sustainable living. While I always knew how important relationships were, I’ve learned over the past two years that they cannot be taken for granted and require constant attention and nurturing.

As I transition out of the project manager role, what I’m most inspired by are some of the incredible initiatives that have emerged from the great conversations sparked by Social Prosperity over the past two years. Celebration events such as the Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards (www.heartofwoodbuffalo.ca), game changing conferences such as ConvergenceYMM (www.convergenceymm.ca) and the creation of FuseSocial (www.fusesocial.ca), the new social profit backbone entity formed through the merger of Volunteer Wood Buffalo, Leadership Wood Buffalo and Nonprofit Sector LINK.

Going forward, I’ll continue to work with Social Prosperity through the project steering committee, so it is a new chapter for me and not goodbye! I’d like to give big thanks to the incredible project team, the steering committee and my secondment leaders, Cathy Glover (Suncor), Nancy Mattes (University of Waterloo) and Diane Shannon (United Way). You have and will continue to be wonderful mentors for me and I look forward to many more adventures together! Another big thanks goes to Suncor for believing in this project and giving me this wonderful opportunity.

As I return to Suncor, I take with me a wealth of experience and new found knowledge that I can share with my colleagues. I am so proud of the sector, its leaders and volunteers for the incredible passion and dedication they have put forward in this project. I have learned so much from you and I thank you for this incredible journey. I return to Suncor knowing that I am now part of an exciting movement in our community!

Watch for news in early 2014, announcing a new Fort McMurray Social Prosperity project manager. In the meantime, you can continue to contact the project director, Nancy Mattes at nancy [at] socialprosperity [dot] ca or reach out to any of our dedicated, local steering committee members: Diane Shannon, Bonnah Carey, Cathy Glover, Russell Thomas, Manny Makia, Bryan Jackson, Heather Evasiuk, Sana Elache, Tim Reid, Ken Chapman and Tracey Carnochan.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Kim Nordbye

knordbye [at] suncor [dot] com

Friday, September 6, 2013 - 09:26

May 8, 2013

Blog by Kim Nordbye, Project Manager. Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo

In April, I embarked on a two-part learning journey, having the honour of attending two incredible conferences.  In A Learning Journey Part 1 – Leading a Backbone Organization for Collective Impact, I shared my learning from the first conference.  Now, in part 2, the focus shifts to the second conference I attended, hosted by the Muttart Foundation.  The Muttart Foundation believes that Canada is best served through a strong, independent and interconnected voluntary sector. It also believes that foundations and other funders can help ensure the sector maintains and gains strength. For almost two decades, the Foundation has provided capacity-building funding to both individual charities and to charitable-sector infrastructure organizations – those charities that serve other charities.  And, since 1997, the Muttart Foundation has hosted periodic discussions to allow the sector and government to discuss regulatory issues. Topics have ranged from advocacy and business activities to the role of ethnocultural organizations and think tanks.  The consultations are about bringing together a group of people to solve a common problem.

So, in April I had the honour of attending one of these Muttart Foundation consultations and the topic was the Alberta Societies Act - the primary nonprofit corporate legislation in Alberta.  At first, when I received the invitation, I’ll be honest I questioned what value I could bring to such a discussion.   But after the three days, I recognized that with my role in Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo, I have the ability to help raise awareness in the Wood Buffalo social profit sector around the importance of not only understanding the legislation but also of understanding the changes that could happen or more importantly should happen.  I was also pleased to see that concerns raised by some of the nonprofits in Wood Buffalo around the legislation were the same concerns brought forward in the Muttart Foundation session – the desire for a nonprofit’s purpose to be included in the application, the need for flexibility around financial audit requirements & thresholds and the desire for nonprofits to engage in emerging social enterprise opportunities.

The session, co-hosted by the Alberta Law Reform Institute, brought together experts and stakeholders from the sector and government.  Over the three days we discussed what is good about the current legislation, what problems need to be addressed and what benefits and problems might flow from changes in legislation.  A main theme that arose from the conversation is that whatever changes are made to the legislation, in the end, the legislation needs to focus on what nonprofit corporations are, what they do and what they need to do.  The legislation should be enabling and guided by the principles of strengthening the sector, enhancing sustainability and ensuring good governance.  We need legislation that helps the sector to be what it needs to be. 

Through the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo project we’ve had similar conversations around strengthening the identity of the sector and enabling the sector to be a key pillar in community development.  Having the right legislation that enables the right environment is critical to success.  But at the same time, what also came up in the Muttart Foundation discussion was that the sector can’t rely on the legislation to do it all and they must themselves build or create the conditions needed for a strong and sustainable sector.

What are the next steps?  The Alberta Law Reform Institute will prepare a recommendation report that will be submitted to the Alberta Government.  There will be further consultation with the sector and other key stakeholders and it is obviously in the best interests of the sector that its voices be heard.  So, watch for the recommendations coming out of the Alberta Law Reform Institute’s report and I encourage all nonprofits to participate in future consultations about potential changes to the legislation.

Friday, September 6, 2013 - 09:26

May 8, 2013

Blog by Kim Nordbye, Project Manager. Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo

In April, I embarked on a two-part learning journey, having the honour of attending two incredible conferences.  The first was hosted by the Tamarack Institute and attended by approximately 100 people from across Canada and the United States including 11 people from a wide variety of Fort McMurray organizations – Volunteer Wood Buffalo, Nonprofit Sector Link, Leadership Wood Buffalo, Community Futures Wood Buffalo, St. Aidan’s Society, Y-Connect, the Bridge Foundation, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the Wood Buffalo Arts Council, the Oil Sands Developers Group and MacDonald Island Park. 

At Champions for Change:  Leading a Backbone Organization for Collective Impact we discussed how collective impact brings together actors from different sectors to agree on a common agenda to address a complex social issue.  We looked at how backbone organizations play a complex, behind-the-scenes role in the success of these collective impact initiatives. The group from Fort McMurray worked together to look at the various collective impact initiatives forming or potentially being formed in Fort McMurray to see whether they have the five conditions necessary for successful collective impact – common agenda; shared measurement; mutually reinforcing activities; continuous communication and; backbone support.   And, we learned how backbone support has specific roles to ensure success including guiding the vision & strategy; supporting aligned activities; establishing shared measurement practices; building public will; advancing policy; and mobilizing the funding and resources needed for the collective impact initiative. 

For me I learned three key things over the three days that I hope to bring back to my work in the community with Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo:  1) relationships, interactions and constant communication are key to fostering and creating the right environment; 2) with complex social issues, we need to focus on simple rules or minimum specs that will enable participants or stakeholders to absorb and embrace the complexity and; 3) we need to expect surprise and be comfortable with the discomfort.

Over the three days, I absorbed as much as I possibly could from some amazing collective impact thought leaders such as John Kania, Brenda Zimmerman, Liz Weaver and Paul Borne.  And, the three days together with other Fort McMurray social profit leaders allowed me the opportunity to learn more about the work we are all doing in Wood Buffalo & how we can better collaborate together for the success of individual collective impact initiatives and for stronger collective impact in our region as a whole.  I encourage you to contact the organizations that attended the workshop and tap into the wealth of information & learning they are bringing back to Fort McMurray.

Finally, if collective impact, collaboration and community building are of interest to you, then I also highly recommend participation in another incredible Tamarack Institute event taking place in Edmonton, October 7-11.  Accelerating Impact, 2013 Communities Collaborating Institute  is designed for those who desire new ways to lead, engage and transform their community and then accelerate impact by linking local efforts to provincial and national agendas.

For Part 2 of my learning journey, read my second blog – Getting Legislation that Helps


Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo
thanks the Suncor Energy
Foundation for its generous support.
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