Building for Breakthrough

Posted on April 4, 2023
By Mark Cabaj



It's time to think and act big again.

That is what I thought after Paul Born asked me if I would like to join him in a series of workshops to share the ideas in his newest book, Breakthrough Community Change.

Why? Because change-makers have always struggled to change the systems underlying – and perpetuating – stubborn societal issues, like poverty, racism, environmental degradation and climate change. Most systems, by their nature, are inert and resistant to change.

Covid-19 changed all that. It disrupted everything and, in the process, it created windows for social innovation, change and transformation. It gave movements like Me Too, Black Lives Matter, and Idle No More an extra lift. It generated awareness, insight and empathy into precarious work – and led (in some instances) to adjustments in income support programs and working conditions (e.g., witness the progress of Bill C-22, Canada Disability Benefit, at the Federal government). The societal progress on an equity-diversity-inclusion orientation to day-to-day life accelerated. There are more people than ever ready to embrace a transition to a low carbon economy. 

Yet, after three years, it appears that we are in a post-Covid hangover. Many people and organizations are tired, disconnected, overwhelmed. They are weary about the societal polarization of how to address our most pressing issues. Many are retreating into private lives simply to re-ground and regroup.

It's understandable, but it’s the opposite of what we should be doing. The worst of this episode of the pandemic appears to be over, yet the disruption continues: inflation, continued climate change, unpredictable financial markets. Some argue that we are now in the ‘long emergency’. 

Now is the time to double-down on use these crisis-induced disruptions to make deep and durable changes. Now is the time when we can make remarkable leaps forward. 

Back to the workshop. 

I have worked with Paul for 37 years. Together, we started Opportunities 2000, Canada’s first collective impact initiative to address poverty. We then moved on to establish and manage the start-up decade of Tamarack Institute. We have done dozens of projects together since. I know firsthand how seriously he approaches the work of community change and his deep commitment to encourage others to be bold and generous.

His book synthesizes decades of hard-won insight into what it takes to create the conditions for breakthrough community change. I really enjoyed it. And its prompted me to deepen my own thinking and practice about how learning and evaluation can support – rather than inhibit – transformation efforts.

We have some ideas we want to share and test with change-makers in a workshop format. We don’t think they are the only way to make big change. We think we need a lot of people using a lot of ways to make change. Yet, we are confident that these ideas represent a very useful contribution to anyone who wants to shape – not endure – the future. 
It's time to think and act big again. Looking forward to seeing many of you at the workshop and having high stakes discussions!

Year end Reflection

Mark Cabaj

By Mark Cabaj

Mark is President of the consulting company From Here to There and an Associate of Tamarack. Mark has first-hand knowledge of using evaluation as a policy maker, philanthropist, and activist, and has played a big role in promoting the merging practice of developmental evaluation in Canada. Mark is currently focused on how diverse organizations and communities work together to tackle complex issues, on social innovation as a "sub-scene" of community change work, and on strategic learning and evaluation.

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