The Winnipeg Boldness Project

The Problem

Canada’s social systems, particularly its social welfare systems, have been designed for critical care intervention with families. Child welfare work is difficult work, but as a system, it’s about child protection, not about family unity. Legacy systems held in place by regulation and assumptions about best interests prevent the long-term growth of strong, interdependent families and thriving communities.

The Innovation

The Winnipeg Boldness Project is a holistic 6-year strategy aiming to create large-scale systems change in order to improve outcomes for families and communities in Point Douglas, Manitoba, particularly in the area of early childhood development. It will achieve the following three objectives:

  1. Generation of a strength-based narrative or community story that challenges negative perceptions of the North End of Winnipeg.
  2. Combining Collective Impact and Indigenous approaches the strategy will introduce a new lens for development based on ways of knowing, being, feeling and doing.
  3. The Winnipeg Boldness Project will collaboratively design and implement a preventative early childhood development six-year strategy. The intention is to keep families together in their communities, fortified with adequate supports and programs that will be more effective in producing positive outcomes.

Members of the local community, United Way of Winnipeg, Province of Manitoba, and The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation discussed a partnership to look at improvements to childhood development in Winnipeg’s North End. Community members articulated the need for institutional partners to honour the history of local people working with families to improve outcomes. This combination of community wisdom and experience, coupled with philanthropic, public and community sector funding helped launch The Winnipeg Boldness Project in 2014.

Ways of knowing, being, feeling, doing

The Winnipeg Boldness team have documented a model widely used in the North End of Winnipeg that is based on the interconnections of the body, mind, and spirit to express wholeness and balance in ways of knowing (values and beliefs), being (how values are expressed), feeling (heart space), and doing (practice based on values and beliefs). This is a human-centred model. The inner centre depicts holistic health and wellbeing, the balance of body, mind, and spirit.

A child-centred system recognizes the interconnected and interdependent nature of human relationships and that children live within families, who live within extended families, who live within neighbourhoods and communities. Seeing communities as whole systems in this way would ensure that social policy, funders, institutions, and service providers meet their responsibilities to the whole, rather than disconnected individual parts, creating better designed, effective and more holistic programs of support.

For example, this child-centred approach might see a network engaged to support a family in times of crisis. When a family member is struggling with addiction or stress causing violent behaviour, the extended network is engaged to facilitate shelter for the children.

“We know that ways of knowing, being, feeling, doing works. If the systems could work from that place, it would change the world.” -Diane Roussin, The Winnipeg Boldness Project 

Challenges

LEGACY SYSTEMS:

The social services sector has largely developed procedures that are emergency-based, not strength-based, which hinders the achievement of positive outcomes. When children are removed from a household deemed unsafe, they are placed in emergency foster care. This often takes the form of hotel accommodation due to a shortage of available foster care beds. A care worker attends to the child 24/7. The approach is costly, isolating, and ineffective in the long term.

EXPECTATIONS:

While some members of the collaboration may feel impatient to see results delivered quickly, others are more realistic about the time it takes to build something with long lasting impact.

TRANSLATION:

The concepts of both Collective Impact and ways of knowing, being, feeling and doing are new to many in traditional business or social services. An additional challenge, therefore, lies in documenting and describing the approaches and the outcomes.

While child-centred, strength-based language is spoken fluently in community, it is not familiar to others. This affects program development and partnership possibilities. The Collective Impact language is also new to many, including members of Indigenous communities and application will need to proceed at the speed of the trust built between partners. In fact, this approach could help others working on Collective Impact initiatives.

ASSUMPTIONS:

Families living in the North End of Winnipeg who access social services are sometimes wrongly considered unable to look after themselves and a drain on government resources. In actuality, it is often barriers created by systems that keep families down and the rearrangement of resources to meet the needs of family and child would demonstrate that another way is possible.

FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY:

Although funding from several groups, including the McConnell Foundation and Manitoba Government, along with local partners, The United Way of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Foundation, The Richardson Foundation and Investors Group, has been generous, funding will need to be renewed annually and there is considerable pressure to demonstrate results. Managing expectations and finding alternate and supporting funding sources will be an ongoing challenge.

“It feels like lots of things: collegial, optimistic, hopeful, supportive, frustrating. Trying to translate and find common language is time consuming. But you’re sailing when you find a common agenda.” – Diane Roussin 

Impact

NETWORK BENEFITS

While financial sustainability remains a challenge, the network of partners and champions engaged in The Winnipeg Boldness Project provide multiple benefits besides financial support. New relationships with diverse partners generate social capital across sectors where barriers once stood. There is access to knowledge networks and shared philanthropic experience in emergent processes that recognize the need for long term planning horizons in order to achieve more disruptive outcomes.

EMERGENT POSSIBILITIES

The organizations engaged at the local level admit that all parts of the community and welfare ecosystems have been disconnected for some time. Having all sectors sit together at one table is a novel concept. There is possibility in exploring the synergies between the ways of knowing, being, feeling and doing and the Collective Impact approach. Both apply a strength-based lens in their work for change.

While recognizing that communities are unique in different cities and regions, the strength-based approach to families can work anywhere. If one of the country’s systems – health, justice, social assistance etc. could adopt the model, it would be transformational. From there, learning could be applied to other systems.

There are long-held and negative assumptions about those that access welfare across Canada and around the world. Any successful program or process that results in a more empathic and evidence-based response to those in need could be tried in multiple jurisdictions globally.

POTENTIAL IMPACT

The broadest impact for the project will be to change the way that systems interact with families and children.

By moving away from a top-down model and shifting to a family-centred approach, systems can better support community by removing barriers that often create roadblocks to success. Networked access to shared resources that explain this approach to service delivery can be applied across other service areas.

SCALE

A strength-based approach could renew legacy systems that are out of step with community and ineffective in supporting thriving families long-term – both socially and financially.

Long-held assumptions would begin to shift and people would feel more optimistic about their future. As the program experiences success, investigation for scaling out or up is possible. What could be learned from the Winnipeg experience that could be applied in other jurisdictions? What could be learned from application in the child welfare system that may be applied to the justice system? Lessons will be multiple and hopefully, application transformational.

“We want all children of every nation to enjoy ‘Mino-Pimatisiwin’, the fullness of life. That is our sacred responsibility.” – The Winnipeg Boldness Project 
Download a PDF version of the Winnipeg Boldness Profile.
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