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ABC Life Literacy Canada partners with Innoweave

Jim Warrington, ABC Life Literacy Canada Board Chair, reflects on their mission and why they chose to work with Innoweave to develop a Theory of Change through the Impact and Strategic Clarity module.

The Theory of Change process, introduced to ABC Life literacy by Lisa Watson, was both timely and mission critical for future growth. The Innoweave Impact and Strategic Clarity Module made sense to us because of four key factors:

  • ABC’s current strategic plan was in its third and final year
  • Our primary funder, the Government of Canada, was potentially changing its funding model from core to project-based support Tuned out to be the case as of July 1, 2014)
  • Gillian Mason, a skilled and committed not-for-profit executive, had recently assumed the leadership of the organization and was familiar with this planning process
  • The ABC Board wanted to see a refreshed mission that focused on greater, measurable outcomes and labour market impacts

We believe this process has been very successful because the “design team” of staff and Board members has worked closely together in mapping our Theory of Change, enabled very professionally by Lisa Watson using McConnell Foundation and Bridgespan Group principles and best practices. In a very short period of time, the organization has created an Impact Statement and clarity for how we’ll get there. A one-page summary of the work has been successfully shared with major stakeholders, including the Government of Canada.

Having this strength of strategic insight has allowed us to continue to plan for growth and a more sustainable future, without relying on core government funding.  This work has allowed ABC Life Literacy Canada to think of itself and its impact in an outcomes-driven fashion, ensuring that literacy and numeracy rates will increase in Canada over the next 10 years. To have all our stakeholders, our Board, our volunteers and our staff march to the same drummer has been a critical component here, and it might not have happened so quickly or so effectively without the Theory of Change process, or Lisa Watson’s informed and focused leadership.

The best example I can think of this process’ impact is an all-day meeting we held on February 1st, 2014. It was a Saturday, and we managed to get all but one Board members out with key staff for a discussion and review of the draft Theory of Change. This enlightened the findings and drove the principles of the final outcome. In my 9 years of volunteering for the organization, I had never seen this level of participation before, especially on personal time.

As we transform the organization post-core funding, this journey ends up being mission critical for our success. We are grateful to the McConnell Foundation for the support they have given us, and the outcomes we will see as a result.

In the end, it is all about adult learners and better, more valuable life experiences, thanks to upskilling. This will impact thousands of Canadians, so thank you.

Gillian Mason, President, ABC Life Literacy Canada, offers her reflections on the development of a Theory of Change:  

ABC found enormous support working with Innoweave through the Theory of Change at this crucial time in our history. Lisa Watson with the insight and support of Sally Fazal, facilitated a process that grounded our staff and board in our key values and our long term vision. It has given us a chance to signal to our stakeholders and partners very clearly, who we are, what we believe and where we are going. We are in a time of unprecedented change and extraordinary possibility at ABC and our experience with Lisa and Sally, has positioned us to adapt and take advantage of some of the exciting opportunities. We are currently growing and changing at a rapid rate while still remaining guided by our Theory of Change and focused on our ultimate goal of increasing adult literacy in Canada.

Additional Notes and Evidence that helped to frame ABC Literacy’s work with Innoweave.

from Jim Warrington, ABC Life Literacy Canada Board Chair.

Literacy and Numeracy in Canada is Declining and Only Action Will Reverse This Trend

  • Over the last 10 years, Canadian literacy rates have dropped: in 2003 we ranked above average compared to other countries, we are now just average
  • Percentages of Canadians with below desired literacy and numeracy rates are staggering: 49% for literacy and 55% for numeracy; this means almost 6 in 10 Canadians do not have the desired level of numeracy skills
  • In the 2013 OECD survey Canada is ranked eleventh in the world, behind the Slovak Republic, Estonia and Australia
  • Canadian youth (16 to 24 years) are under-performing in literacy compared to their OECD counterparts

(Statics from OECD PIAAC 2013 survey)

Essential Skills are Critical to Business Success

  • Essential skills training provides solutions for:
  • Changes in the business
  • Health and safety concerns
  • Paperwork completion and document-use challenges
  • Communication, teamwork, and leadership requirements

(Advancing Workplace Learning study, 2013)

  • Essential skills are the building blocks for all other learning; they include: reading text, document use, writing, numeracy, oral communication, computer use, thinking skills, working with others, and continuous learning
  • Essential skills proficiency is strongly linked to positive labour outcomes (employability and earnings potential) (TD Economics Special Report Dec. 2013)