A Vancouver-based not-for-profit settlement organization recently received $213,250 from the government to help newcomers enter into volunteer leadership positions within the boards of directors of community-oriented non-profit organizations.
According to a press release, MOSAIC, which serves immigrants and refugees, will be using the funds for a “newly expanded project to increase access to social and civic board positions for racialized newcomers, while fostering equitable social and civic engagement.”
MOSAIC has also found, through a 2019 survey, that while 100 per cent of newcomer clients want to be civically engaged, only 30 per cent of them are. Respondents highlighted a lack of access to information and opportunities as the main barriers.
The funds for the new program come from the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Anti-Racism Action Program, itself a part of the federal government’s Anti-Racism Strategy. MOSAIC will use the money to host training sessions for racialized newcomers through the Social and Civic Opportunities: Pathways to Equity (SCOPE) program.
Mimoza Pachuku, SCOPE’s project coordinator, says newcomers are often too preoccupied with “survival factors like housing, getting a job, learning the language and getting to know the local community” to even think of volunteering in such positions.
“Most of us feel a bit lost about how to find a way to be civically engaged in our new home as newcomers,” she told New Canadian Media. “This is the gap that the SCOPE program aims to bridge.”
The program’s necessity stems from the fact that non-profit boards often recruit candidates with corporate experience, Wendy Cukier, director of the Diversity Institute, told the Toronto Star.
Upon completion of training, participants will be given the opportunity to be matched with boards and committees in non-profit organizations in the community that match their interests.
“In the SCENE project that worked like a trailblazer for the SCOPE program, we did have one cohort of 30 participants who went through the training process and received the support to get on boards,” Pachuku says.
Studies have suggested that more diverse boards are associated with an increase in firm value. And according to a report from the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, Board diversity also improves governance practices, which is understandable as diversity increases innovation, creativity and problem-solving.
But Canadian companies still have a long way to go in achieving equality on boards.
For instance, according to a report released by the Diversity Institute through Ryerson University, while 49 per cent of Vancouver’s population is racialized, only 16.8 per cent of them are directors of boards. A scan of websites of non-profit organizations indicates that many prominent boards have zero Black, Indigenous and people of colour – or BIPOC – directors.
“There are a lot of immigrants and newcomers who arrive in Canada with so much potential, experience and talent,” says Pachuku, adding that the program is meant to help them “believe that they could be in those decision-making tables.”
It’s important to note that as former CEO of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Robin Cardozo, notes in a recent study, “(w)ithout meaningful inclusion, a strategy to build a diverse board will, indeed, end up as an exercise in window dressing,”
“There needs to be a shared understanding as to why a candidate is being recruited to the board, and how he or she will contribute to the success of the organization,” he states.
According to the 2016 Census, women of colour occupy only a small percentage (6.5 per cent) of total management positions. As of time of writing, MOSAIC has received more applications from women than men to participate in the SCOPE program.
With a background in journalism and migration studies, Zahra Mahdi worked as a freelance correspondent covering immigration and refugee policies from May 2021 to April 2022. Her bylines also appeared in the Toronto Star. She is a Master’s student in Migration and Diaspora Studies at Carleton University and holds an undergraduate degree in journalism.