Archive for June, 2014

Want to Advance Your Impact by Working with Policy Makers and Practitioners?

Innoweave’s newly launched Constructive Engagement module may be for you!

On May 27th, Innoweave convened its first ever Constructive Engagement workshop, developed and led by Sean Moore of Advocacy School, in partnership with the Ontario Nonprofit Network and hosted by United Way Toronto. Seven leading nonprofits from across Ontario took part in the one-day workshop to begin to apply new tools to advance their mission by engaging policy makers, practitioners and/or the public. In the words of one participant, the session “created a space for teams to focus on breaking down our obstacles and developing concrete next steps for solutions.”

Cathy Taylor, Executive Director, Ontario Nonprofit Network, noted that “successful policy engagement is a key part of getting our work done. We encourage nonprofits to join Innoweave’s Constructive Engagement session – it has helped refine our approach. We’re looking forward to seeing many more organizations get on board.”

The why, who and what in Constructive Engagement

Constructive engagement is grounded in having a solid understanding of the policy or practice change you want to see happen, why you want to make this change, who you need work with to make this happen, and what the person or organizations you are seeking to engage can deliver.

  • Why engage?  Constructive engagement needs to be based on solid understanding of your mission, and how engaging with other organizations (such as government) can help advance it. Workshop participants began their day by clarifying their impact goals and identifying policy or practice barriers that might be addressed through constructive engagement. Impact goals pursued by participants include enhanced cycling infrastructure, improved community food centres, youth engagement through the arts, and youth immigrant settlement and community integration.

  • Who do you engage? Next, you have to know who you are seeking to engage – not just who they are, but also their perspectives, needs, constraints, and objectives. Through the workshop, teams began to think about and prepare for Strategic Inquiry, the process which, over time, can help advance relationships of trust and mutual understanding.

  • What can you achieve through engagement? Finally, groups tackled the issue of crafting an “ask” to test with decision makers. Crafting a strong ask starts with a definition of what’s needed to achieve mission-related goals, what engagement partners could deliver, and what would be reasonable given the context (such as the political environment). Teams understood that their “ask” will be refined throughout the engagement process.

As one participant expressed, it was crucial to learn “that constructive engagement is about understanding the perspectives of those you seek to influence”. Constructive Engagement is “not a new idea,” explains Sean Moore. “More than a thousand years ago, Cicero advised: ‘If you wish to persuade me, think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words’.”

Interested in applying Constructive Engagement to your mission goals?

You can learn more about the Constructive Engagement module:

  visit our website, featuring informational webinars and case studies;


  attend a Constructive Engagement Workshop in the Fall.

 If you have any questions about the module, granting process, or if you’d be interested in hosting a Constructive Engagement workshop of your own, or would like to become a coach please contact at

Innoweave provides small grants to help organizations access the coaching that they require to implement a new approach. If your organization has attended an Innoweave workshop, you can apply for a grant between now and July 2nd!

Meet Another Innoweave Social Enterprise Grantee – and Learn How Innoweave Can Help With YOUR Great Idea!

Innoweave provides small grants to help organizations access coaching to implement a new approach. If your organization has attended an Innoweave workshop, you can apply for a grant between now and July 2nd! Click here to learn more.

Innoweave is pleased to introduce you to some of our latest Social Enterprise Grant recipients, and highlight the exciting ventures they’re embarking on! This is the latest in a series of blogs profiling Innoweave grantees. Click here to read the profile of another Social Enterprise grant recipient, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper!

Canadian Hearing Society

Attending an Innoweave Social Enterprise workshop in Toronto gave the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) the confidence and clarity they needed to advance their emerging social enterprise idea. CHS is a non-profit health care and social service organization that provides  services, products, and information. Its goal is to help remove barriers to communication, advance hearing health, and promote equity for people who are culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing. Following a major policy change in Ontario, they saw an opportunity to use their internal skills and expertise to both advance their mission and generate revenue by developing a social enterprise.

“Like most not-for-profit organizations CHS has limited resources and capacity to focus on growth to expand our services”, says Christopher Sutton, Manager, Institutional Development at the CHS. “Over the last few years our funding has remained flat, yet we have seen an increased demand for our services and costs have risen. At the same time there have been advancements in technology and legislation that enable people with disabilities to be fully engaged in society which has created a new market and demand for services from us.”

The introduction of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) presented an opportunity for CHS. They decided to launch Accessibility Solutions, a social enterprise that provides a wide range of communication services to government, businesses and individuals in order to break down communication barriers for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing.

Accessibility Solutions fills a current gap in the marketplace. Each time its services are used, CHS directly improves outcomes and advances its mission.

CHS has 74 years of experience running various programs and services across 28 offices in Ontario, with its 450 employees. This gave them a unique network and perspective that positioned them to help the private sector adapt to new regulations and remove barriers for people who are culturally Deaf or hard of hearing.

However, to become launch ready, the team determined they would need some outside support.

Leveraging Organizational Expertise for a New Opportunity

“When the opportunity for members of our senior management team to participate in a one-day workshop hosted by Innoweave, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Capacity Builders was presented, CHS was very excited”, says Sutton.  “Together as a team we were able to have many of our questions answered and participate in some intense organizational assessments to determine our readiness and if social enterprise was the space we wanted to enter.”

“The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and Innoweave have enabled CHS to engage in conversation and think differently about how we operate and provide business as a not-for-profit organization. CHS is excited to be able to develop a social enterprise that will create cultural and social impacts that break down barriers for people who are culturally Deaf and hard of hearing.”

Since attending a full day Innoweave Social Enterprise Workshop and developing a coaching strategy, CHS has now been awarded an Innoweave Social Enterprise Implementation Grant. They will be working with Ryan Turnbull of Eco-Ethonomics to develop a business plan and launch their social enterprise.

Got a Great Idea? Access Innoweave’s Webinars, Workshops, Coaches and Grants!

If you’ve attended an Innoweave workshop and have identified the next steps needed to get your social enterprise launch ready, you can connect with one of Innoweave’s Social Enterprise coaches.

Organizations can apply for funding to hire a coach. Applications are open until July 2nd for organizations that have attended a Social Enterprise Workshop. Learn more about Innoweave’s grants here.

The Power of Asking the Right Questions

A year after participating in Innoweave’s Impact and Strategic Clarity module, Girls Action Foundation  is buzzing with renewed energy and a clearer sense of direction.

Learning how to effectively articulate and measure impacts is a powerful process. Even for leading organizations, gaining new insight on organizational strategy and real-world impacts can be difficult, but it is incredibly valuable.

One year after participating in the first cohort of the Innoweave Impact and Strategic Clarity (ISC) module, we asked senior leaders at Girls Action Foundation:

What’s changed in the way you work, based on your participation in the module?

“We’re looking at our programs with a strategic perspective, involving both the board and managers, as well as other team members as needed,” explained Saman Ahsan, Executive Director. Ownership and a shared strategic perspective are key elements of the profound culture shift that’s taken place at Girls Action Foundation. Ahsan notes that through the ISC process, the team has “undertaken an evaluation of our network, as well as a review of our young women’s leadership program.”

“What I enjoyed about the Impact and Strategic Clarity module is that it forced us to move from from hope– the “what we hope to do”–  to define actual concrete achievements and accountability,” notes Juniper Glass, Senior Director of Strategy and Partnerships. “Most organizations have a big, overarching vision and then they have their day-to-day work. What bridges the gap between those two is the outcomes and intended impact we aim to achieve.”

Glass explains that having a visual representation of their Theory of Change has had a tremendously positive impact on the way teams understand their work.

Girls Action Foundation's Theory of Change

Girls Action Foundation’s Theory of Change

“The quality of our thinking has improved. The theory of change has really become a practical tool. For example, we use our local girls program as a learning lab to learn about what’s going on with girls, to try out new innovative practices and workshops, etc. which we can then implement at the national level.”

Gaining clarity in a complex organization

“Like most nonprofits, we have a lot of complexity within the organization,” explains Glass. “There’s the fact that we work locally and nationally, have different program streams with different client groups and age groups; plus we also have a systems change objective. All of that complexity was difficult to convey to new staff, or even team members who had been around for a while, to see where their work fit into the organization as a whole.”

“To be able to put all of that on one page in the form of an organization-level Theory of Change was challenging but really great,” Glass says.

Speaking of impact

Girls Action clarified specific intended impacts for each of its local, national and systems change streams. As identified above in their Theory of Change, some of these include:

  • For local work: 200 girls annually in underprivileged communities of Montreal gain confidence, critical thinking and communication skills and social supports.
  • For medium-term outcomes: increased number of girls’ programs across Canada, and more girls’ programs reflect Girls Action key practices.

Getting the Board on board

One action that is paying dividends for Girls Action is their decision to involve members from their management teams as well as their board in workshops and meetings.

Innoweave ISC coach Lara Evoy, who, along with her partner Stephanie Garrow, worked with the team, says, “It was really amazing that Girls Action decided to do this because it meant that not just the management team but also their staff and board understood and participated in the process. They had a Board member actually sit in on all the Innoweave meetings and come to all the workshops.

“In turn, that person could be the spokesperson to the rest of the Board. Someone who really got it and could champion the work to the Board.”

This is significant because investing time (a notoriously scarce resource with nonprofit management teams) can sometimes increase the feeling of being overwhelmed, especially if the organization’s leaders feel sandwiched between the sometimes conflicting priorities of their staff and their Board.

The benefit to the Board of being involved in the ISC process is that, as Evoy says, “Boards are then able to speak with greater authority and be clearer about what the organization does when conversing with governments and funders.”

Continuous Improvement

There is more to do. The team at Girls Action is making important strides towards working more strategically and orienting their programs and activities around impact.

“This internal process is ongoing after the module,” Ahsan reflects, “but it’s hoped that at the end of it we will have answers to our questions, as well as strategic directions that will be arrived at collaboratively, hence owned by everyone.” Thanks to the Impact and Strategic Clarity process, the organization has been rejuvenated and reinvigorated with a shared vision and a map of how to get there. It’s a cultural shift that is paying early dividends.

Applications to participate in the Innoweave Impact and Strategic Clarity module are open between now and July 2nd. Click here to learn more.