Too often, mothers new to Canada struggle to find work because childcare is too expensive. With a little one at home, basic things, like attending a resume workshop or applying for jobs online, can be a struggle. It also compounds other challenges, like language barriers and a lack of Canadian experience, that most newcomers face.
The Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, which serves immigrant and refugee women, realized this problem contained its own solution. In 2018, it created a program that trains immigrant women interested in early childhood education to fill the gap. Participants care for the children of other women to free them up for events — like job hunting workshops they might otherwise miss.
Now operating as Pop-up Childcare, the initiative has taken newcomer women to settings ranging from corporate events to conferences to provide childcare for attendees. Their skills are in high demand. The 16 women who participated in the program’s first training cohort, run in partnership with Vancouver Community College, all found jobs before they completed the program.
Simple, but innovative, the program tackles a widespread problem. But ideas like Pop-up Childcare don’t get implemented often enough. Settlement workers find it can be a struggle to design and implement creative initiatives to solve well-known problems in the settlement sector, according to research by PeaceGeeks.
To obtain their perspective, PeaceGeeks carried out an extensive literature review and interviewed 36 stakeholders, including representatives of settlement organizations of different sizes from rural and urban areas across Canada in 2019. PeaceGeeks also worked with Simon Fraser University to run community consultations in Vancouver and Surrey in July 2019 that drew 56 participants, including newcomers, front-line service providers, settlement sector leadership, programming partners and private sector funders, to discuss how to improve the sector.
Even though Canada is seen as a global leader when it comes to immigration, representatives of many settlement agencies told PeaceGeeks that funding structures make them feel like they’re in survival mode, leaving settlement workers with little capacity to innovate. Reporting requirements and funding structures also stifle innovation by giving agencies a lack of room to fail. Meanwhile, stories abound of successful pilots that couldn’t obtain government funding to scale.
Our discussions pointed to three key ways IRCC can refresh its funding model to foster innovation and agility.
Reevaluating funding structures
First, IRCC should think about developing more flexible funding structures. In particular, sector leaders told PeaceGeeks that IRCC needs to reevaluate five-year funding cycles and consider a fast-track option for established programs. Currently, successful well-established initiatives have to reapply for funding every five years in the same manner as new, untested ones. Settlement agencies end up spending months filling out applications to ensure funding for programs with a track record of success — that’s time and resources that could be directed to helping newcomers instead.
At the same time, the circumstances of newcomers coming to Canada change more rapidly than every five years. Too often, settlement workers find themselves restricted by five-year agreements that don’t account for the needs of the latest batch of newcomers or give them flexibility to move around funding as new priorities emerge. They may also find themselves struggling to incorporate new technologies or innovations they hadn’t mentioned in their funding application.
This forces resourceful workers to test ideas with their own resources off of the side of their desks. When a staff member at an agency in Ontario, for example, thought of running English lessons for Syrian refugees who couldn’t attend classes over Whatsapp, she had to use her own smartphone. It wasn’t until she’d proven the model worked that her agency was able to get funding for a work smartphone.
Fostering innovation and collaboration
Second, IRCC should consider how its funding model can foster collaboration and innovation. For starters, settlement agencies need funding agreements that give them room to experiment without fear they’ll lose funding if their ideas fail. Funding agreements need to recognize that making mistakes is a critical element of the innovation process. And, if settlement agencies pilot ideas that succeed, they need support to scale them up. Too often, industry veterans, disheartened by successful pilots they couldn’t expand, are hesitant to try something new.
IRCC should also think about how to refresh its funding model to foster collaboration. During consultations, sector participants told PeaceGeeks they feel like they are in competition for limited resources, leaving them hesitant to work together. Rather than using funding applications to simply divvy up funds, IRCC could broker partnerships between agencies with similar or complementary proposals.
IRCC could also consider creating a national data strategy with a focus on helping agencies share knowledge and best practices by creating more transparency about what programs are being funded and how well they work. Right now, agencies share data about their programs with IRCC, but they don’t get feedback or information about what’s happening in the rest of the sector — or how their programs compare. For example, a list of programs funded by IRCC’s Service Delivery Improvements program, which funds innovative ideas, isn’t available to settlement agencies. If agencies don’t know how others are experimenting, it’s harder for them to learn from one another.
Creating a dialogue
Finally, IRCC should engage in a national dialogue with the settlement sector about how to improve its funding structures. Like our local community consultations, this dialogue should include newcomers, front-line service providers, sector leadership, programming partners, other funders, as well as representatives from other sectors working on innovation.
The agencies who spoke to PeaceGeeks have many ideas for improvement, but they need a forum to share them. Canada has long held a reputation as a world leader when it comes to immigration and inclusion. Opening up the conversation will ensure the settlement sector continues to flourish and innovate.