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Community Benefits Summit Highlights Opportunity for More Inclusive Prosperity

Posted on April 3, 2018
By Leena Sharma Seth

Two types of social wealth building initiatives are on the rise: Community Benefit Agreements (CBA) and Social Procurement. Scotland, Los Angeles, the Vancouver Olympics, and even the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games/Parapan Am Games were amongst the first to adopt CBA's and social procurement adoption. In fact, Ontario is the first Canadian jurisdiction to pass legislation on CBAs. Ontario’s Bill 6, the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, received Royal Ascent in 2015 and the regulations to support this policy are currently in development.

Ontario’s Long Term Infrastructure Plan, titled Building Better Lives, was released this past November.  It includes a commitment to implement a Community Benefits Framework with all major infrastructure projects by 2020. Key milestones along the way will include: piloting community benefits in a select number of infrastructure projects in 2018; development of the framework in consultation with stakeholders in 2019; and implementation of the framework in 2020. I invite your attention specifically to section 3.6: Supporting Community Benefits. I share an excerpt from this section to give you a sense of the flavour in this document:

Community benefits are defined in the IJPA as the“supplementary social and economic benefits” arising from an infrastructure project, such as local job creation and training opportunities, improvement of public space or other benefits the community identifies. This concept can help advance a range of goals, including reducing poverty and developing the local economy with input from under-represented groups.

Three kinds of initiatives can benefit communities:

  • Workforce Development Initiatives provide employment and training opportunities (including apprenticeships) to members of traditionally disadvantaged communities, underrepresented workers and local residents. This work complements the government’s broader workforce development initiatives.
  • Social Procurement Initiatives include the purchase of goods and services from local businesses or social enterprises (organizations that use business processes to achieve social or environmental impacts).
  • Supplementary Benefit Initiatives make a neighbourhood a better place to live, work and play — these are benefits that a community affected by a major infrastructure project asks for. It could be the creation of more physical public assets (e.g., child care facilities, a park) and/or getting more or better use from existing public assets (e.g., design features to reduce noise pollution or traffic congestion during and after construction).

Local Examples

Last week, the Toronto Community Benefits Network, in partnership with Osgoode Hall, York University, and Duke Heights BIA (Business Improvement Area), held its second annual Community Benefits Summit.

The aim of this Summit was to explore government and business purchasing and infrastructure development strategies and policies can be better utilized to create inclusive economic growth for disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups in community, particularly youth seeking educational and employment opportunities.

Session themes included: Community Benefits 101, Creating the Foundation for Inclusive Development, Creating Green Jobs Through Climate Justice, The Black Experience (exploring the intersectionality of race, poverty, inequity, and institutional racism), and Diversifying a Skilled Workforce; From Goodwill to Good Practice.

The Summit opened on Friday, March 23rd, with a resident-lead bus tour that started at the Duke Heights BIA. This BIA is the second largest one in North America, has 2500 businesses, 32,000 employees, and represents approximately $2B in real estate.  The tour included a presentation from Metrolinx on the Finch West LRT, an 11-kilometre route that will run along Finch Avenue from Humber College to Keele Street (expected completion 2022). Bus tour participants also heard from TTC Riders about their work on fare integration, phasing out tokens, and the need to keep public transit public. Senator Ratna Omidvar delivered a keynote at the dinner later in the evening, and the group also heard from Itah Sadu, a dynamic entrepreneur, community builder and owner of Toronto bookstore, A Different Booklist.

The first keynote on day two was delivered by Matthew Green, Councillor for Ward 3 in Hamilton.  His passionate and engaging talk focused on the really opportunity that community has for economic justice and economic uplift through the adoption of community benefit agreements.  He challenged the audience on the belief that “Rising tides float all boats”.  Green feelt what most often happens with economic revitalization is that people living in poverty are often displaced, forced to move even further away from their home communities as the lack of affordable rentals and housing grows. Green reminded us that with community benefit agreements, we have the opportunity to demand opportunities for marginalized and equity seeking groups in the local community. 

chris wilsonDuring the session on The Black Experience, we heard from a panel of community leaders and youth about the challenges black youth face in accessing sustainable and livable income employment opportunities. Overcoming poverty, racism, a lack of access to strong networks and infrastructure that is a privilege to so many youth from the dominant culture, are only some of the issues that were identified.  This session talked about how organizations like Crosslinks, the Labour Education Centre, and  the FYOU Project, are working to bridge gaps to access to the opportunities available as a result of the Metrolinx CBA agreement that was signed for the Crosstown LRT.  Anne Marie Moulton, a member of the City of Toronto’s Lived Experience Advisory Group, said it best when she said “Communities are most vibrant when all of us show up. Citizens, business leaders, people living in poverty, the government…When all of us work to ensure that a life of dignity and respect is accessible to all of us.”

I learned so much from this day spent in dialogue about the work of community groups to drive the community benefit agreement conversation and inspired by the cross-sector partners working to make CBAs a truly impactful reality. I learned that the Crosstown LRT has already employed 41apprenticeships and 110 professional, administrative and technical from equity-seeking groups.

Wood Buffalo, in Alberta, and several Vancouver Island communities have also moved to adopt social procurement frameworks. A Federal private member’s bill is also in the works with Bill C-344 having passed its second reading. The policy environment and the practice environment are slowly coming together to make CBAs a powerful lever for poverty elimination across Canada, and globally.

Take a look #COS2018 on Twitter to see the insightful tweets that were abound during the Summit. Stay tuned for more information about community benefit agreements and social procurement!

Poverty Reduction, Cities Reducing Poverty, Leena Sharma Seth

Leena Sharma Seth

By Leena Sharma Seth

Leena has been working to empower communities and individuals for over two decades. Passionate about social justice and creating equitable communities, Leena has leveraged this passion in service for organizations that include Global Vision (Kuala Lumpur), Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton, and the Halton Poverty Roundtable. Leena is a trained community mediator and completed a Master's in Conflict Analysis & Management at Royal Roads University in 2012. Leena enjoys designing inclusive processes and facilitating spaces that are conducive to connection, communication, and collective action. She recently completed the Circle Way Practicum, deep training in a body of work that draws on our collective, ancient, and inherent wisdom to gather inclusively. Leena hopes to mainstream “circle” as a collaborative process that teaches organizations and communities to work together more holistically. Leena is a Collective Impact champion, having witnessed its power to accelerate impact in her work at the Halton Poverty Roundtable, and looks forward to supporting communities in Canada to realize their collaborative goals to eliminate poverty in their respective communities.

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