Saturday, 28 September 2013

Capacity Building in Indigenous Communities

By Nathan McCorrister, 2nd year (part-time) MDP student

As I shared in my first blog for the MDP program, this past summer (2013) I had the privilege of undertaking my domestic field practicum at the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation (UWCRC).  Prior to my field practicum with the UWCRC, my home community of Peguis First Nation entered into a unique partnership to develop a long term land purchase plan and strategy.  It is through this partnership that we were able access the expertise needed to develop such a plan utilizing expertise from the Institute of Urban Studies and the UWCRC.  It was through this planning that our community also needed to not only gain experience with this type of planning but also to identify and plan for the capacity development needs to implement the strategy.

 As many Indigenous peoples and nations are marginalized because of colonization that resulted in loss of land, resources and culture, communities here in Canada continue to struggle with poverty and have scarce resources thus there human capacity is limited.  As a result these communities often have a much lower standard, or baseline, to start from in terms improving governance, economic development, health programs and services, etc. Communities often have to use already scarce human resources to initiate new programs, improvements to governance and other aspects of community development.  Often many leaders or staff of Indigenous communities may find themselves wearing different “hats” to assist in addressing the new initiatives or the extra work needed to accomplish improvements to the community.  

Courtesy of CESO 2013
As there is a need to access expertise and to build capacity within Indigenous communities, many communities here in Canada are turning to outside parties to access expertise and to build capacity. Consultants and other experts can be costly, as such, some communities are turning to other groups for partnerships, groups such as universities, colleges, non-profit organizations (e.g. environmental groups), cooperatives, various levels or government, etc.  One such non-profit organization, the Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO), is a group of mainly retired professionals who for the most part donate their time, or at a reduced fee depending on level of service, actively offer their services to Indigenous communities and other marginalized groups.  They can offer services ranging anywhere from planning, engineering, communications, etc. CESO has been very active in Canada since 1969 and have worked on over 30,000 assignments across Canada ( ).

Access to expertise and lack of capacity in Indigenous communities is a common problem but there is opportunities to begin to start a foundation upon which to build the required capacity.  Along with capacity building, there are also many tools and options for training of Indigenous peoples, through various programming and hands on experience with partnerships.  In the development field while working in Indigenous communities this should always be expected thus we as development practitioners should become knowledgeable about capacity building in terms of options to develop it and to be ready to experience it in the field.

Friday, 27 September 2013

From Norway House to New York

By Rachel Bach, 2nd Cohort

Rachel Bach (L) and Alison Everitt (R)

My first field placement has come to an end and I am now back in Winnipeg and back to classes. I had a great time in Norway House and I definitely learned a lot. We had the opportunity to work on a variety of tasks and projects; like the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program, Steps & Stages, the Summer Activity Camp for Special Needs Children, Norway House Celebrates Moms and Babies, among others. I will always remember my time in Norway House fondly and I have a new appreciation for my coursework now that I have some experience on the practical side.

As part of our field placement, we attended two research summits; on in Norway House and one in Winnipeg. Dr. Roberta Woodgate had recently completed a 5 year study in Norway House and was presenting on the findings. Her study was entitled: Understanding the Disability Trajectory of First Nation Families of Children with Disabilities. The study revealed that the families of children with disabilities have many needs that are not adequately addressed and that parents struggle due to a lack of resources and services in the community. In our talks with the community, we learned that this has been an issue for many years and is largely due to jurisdictional disputes. The provinces will not fund services in the community because First Nation’s are a federal responsibility, but the federal government will not fund these services as healthcare is a provincial responsibility. The families and individuals are the ones that suffer as a result. Families of children with disabilities are left with four options. Firstly, families can place individuals in institutional care, which is costly and would likely be away from the community. Secondly, the entire family can relocate to larger urban centers to access services – in the case of Norway House they would likely be relocating to Thompson [a three hour drive from Norway House] or Winnipeg [an eight hour drive from Norway House]. A third option is to remain in the community with no or few services. The final option for families of children with Special Needs is to give up your parental rights to the child and give your child up to Child and Family Services in order to give the child access to services. Regardless of the option chosen, individuals and families still face exclusion through isolation, marginalization, and complex daily challenges. This is further compounded by the endemic levels of poverty, lack of access to health care, limited social services, and restricted educational opportunities that are characteristic of First Nations across the country. These issues expand to adults with special needs and their families. Children are eligible for some services through the education system. However, one they “age out” of the system, there is nothing available to them in the community.  

Andrea Folster is the manager of the Home and Community Care Program in Norway House. She wants to open up a home for adults with special needs in the community. The idea is use the current Phillip Evans Memorial Home. Ali and I worked with Andrea to create a proposal to do so. The proposal is currently under review. This was an exciting project to be apart of, as it is a community-based solution to a self-identified gap; this is what development practice is all about!

When Ali and I saw the call for abstracts for the First Annual Conference on Sustainable Development Practices we thought that it would be a great opportunity to share with the MDP community about our experience in Norway House and to highlight what they are doing. The people in Norway House had expressed that it can be difficult being so remote and that it is easy to feel isolated. It was nice to be able to share their story and to represent Canada at the conference.

International Conference on Sustainable Development
Presenting at the conference was a great experience. We were able to network with like-minded others. It was nice to meet students from the other 24 programs. We met students and faculty from Sciences Po, Lund University, Columbia University, the University of Waterloo, Berkley, University of Minnesota, Universidad de Los Andes, and more. There were also representatives from the private and non-profit sector, which was a great opportunity to see how they relate to the academic world.

Overall, it was great experience and I would strongly recommend other students to submit abstracts on their projects next year!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Planning for Indigenous Communities

By Nathan McCorrister, 2nd year (part-time) MDP student
This past summer (2013) I had the privilege of undertaking my domestic field practicum at the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation (UWCRC).  I was pleased to be able to receive approval from the University of Winnipeg (U of W) Masters in Development Program (MDP) to choose my field practicum with the UWCRC given my personal interest and area of focus in community economic and business development.  Given a past working relationship with the UWCRC with my current career (I’m a part time student) and my knowledge of the work the UWCRC does in terms of community and business development for the U of W, it was an obvious choice for my domestic practicum.    
The UWCRC is a non-profit charitable corporation, created to support the U of W by developing a sustainable university and is guided by a four pillared concept of sustainability: environmental, social, economic and cultural.  The UWCRC is mandated to develop partnerships with community, private and public sector organizations.  The UWCRC developed a comprehensive campus development plan that has and continues to expand the campus and the land scape of downtown Winnipeg (The University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation, 2013).  

Wayne Flamand (L) and Nathan McCorrister
I was given the opportunity to work with senior staff, particularly Mr. Wayne Flamand, on a few of the projects the UWCRC is currently developing including work on the Merchants Hotel redevelopment considering various options and uses for the building and developing a new business proposal within a new public institution developing financial projections and cash flows based on market conditions and other related factors.  One of the valuable lessons learned working with UWCRC is that in any business venture careful planning and assessment must completed and followed through to increase successful outcomes.

As many Indigenous communities are turning to social enterprise economic development as one of the tools to improve social conditions in their community, there is an increased amount of Indigenous communities that are venturing into new businesses.  As there is such a scarce lack of resources, monetary and human resources, with Indigenous communities, all the more effort and time that should be given to careful planning and assessment of any business idea and or plan. Many Indigenous communities across Canada have great examples of successful business ventures and related business or community economic development plans.  As some of my experience and research has shown, business success takes time it doesn’t happen overnight, it will take careful planning and foundation building both from governance and business perspective.

Just as important as planning and assessment is, our sustainable development course work, and as experienced by some of you had in the field, has proven that it’s also important to take the time ensure a participatory approach to community economic development.  The participatory approach can often take some time and or a community may already have a good vision or plan that they would like to see occur or implement, in any event it’s important to take the time to meet and communicate with community members in identifying a community’s vision, goals and objectives whether for economic development reasons or other.  Here at the UWCRC this is an approach that was undertaken with its comprehensive campus development plan and that is now successfully being implemented.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Challenges of a Rural Development Organization

By Sunday Lizu, 2nd year MDP student

Locally run development organizations can have the same challenges as any other organization but there are challenges they face that are unique to their circumstances. Having spent time with a locally run development organization, I would not claim expertise at understanding these organizations but I have quite some experience working with community led organizations. Effective and efficient operations and organizational management can pose quite a challenge to community based organizations and at the core of these is the lack of qualified and capable human resource. It is very important that local organizations are managed by the local people themselves to determine the direction of the organization and meet their set goals and objectives. Apart from this, local organizations also serve as sources of employment for the local people. However, the dilemma remains that of finding qualified individuals in the local communities who will fit into the positions and be able to deliver in line with the vision, mission, goals and objectives of the organization.
The 2013 graduating class of the Bina Hill Youth Learning Centre

The challenge of human and social development today is that many development programmes fail because they are planned and delivered by experts that do not reside in the local areas. This top-down model of delivering development to disadvantaged communities has been challenged on the basis that it does not really meet the demands of the communities and do not usually capture the participation of the community members who feel not part of the programme. The paradigm shift in development programming now demands that any programs that are aimed at enhancing the livelihoods of people in disadvantaged areas should allow for the participation of the same people from inception (planning) to implementation. This process requires consultation with the intended beneficiaries and so far, development programmes that have involved the intended beneficiaries in the process of planning and implementation have had a very high rate of success. However, it is not an easy challenge for most development organizations and professionals to completely involve local communities in the planning processes as this implies that the whole process takes longer and more resources are needed to do so.

Sunday (C - back) with some members of staff of the COBRA project of the NRDDB

Low literacy levels in the local communities manifest themselves in different ways and hinder the effective participation of the communities in the planning and implementation processes of these development programs. Local communities can improve their livelihoods in many different ways and many local communities are appreciating the support they are receiving to improve their livelihoods through the provision of social amenities and the improvement of their socio-economic status. My own observations have been that, although the education standards in most of these communities are low leading to a lack of qualified local individuals to run local development organizations, capacity building programmes for effective management have helped in closing the literacy gaps and developing local man power to run development programmes efficiently.  The North Rupununi District Development Board in Guyana is one organization with many challenges related to effective management and operations. However, these challenges exist mostly at the senior management level as the junior staff work hard enough to deliver in their respective positions. All the project staff in the organization are members of the local communities and most have not finished their secondary school education but capacity building programmes and on-the-job training programmes have allowed the local youth to deliver for the organization, serving their communities while earning a livelihood for themselves. Yes, human resources can be a huge challenge for locally run community development organizations but it is a challenge that can be overcome through empowerment programmes that improve the capacity of the local people.