Where to in 2017?

Dear BCCIC Members,

Happy New Year and Happy 150th Birthday Canada!

2017 promises to be an interesting year, which I understand in some circles is considered as much a curse as titillation.  This time of year lends itself well to pondering our future as a network and perhaps mulling over the previous year’s efforts. Are we on the right path? How did we do last year? Do we keep forging ahead or is it best to pause, come up for air and perhaps change course, with a more seasoned focus? Our country is 150 years old. Our network is almost 30. Our cause, “to make the world a better place” is as old as the first mother’s hopeful gaze… and as immediate today as the rubble in Aleppo.

Our network has grown considerably. We now have 42 full organizational members, four Chapters, 14 affiliate members and 86 individual members bringing us to a whopping 146 members, just four members shy of the 150 mark and a 185% increase in membership since I started working here. We look forward to celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday this year by surpassing the 150 member threshold… ideally in January.  If you can help us reach that goal then please do! Membership works best by word of mouth.

Pride is easy to trip over but almost impossible to suppress when we review our results. You have asked us to make sure we serve the entire province, not just Vancouver and the lower mainland. Over the past year our staff have driven over 7500 km, held 48 roundtables and visited over thirty communities not just once, but in some cases twice! That is a lot of time on the road, in every corner of BC, talking to mayors, city councillors, NGO leaders, planners, academics the private sector and just about anyone else you could imagine who cares about the Sustainable Development Goals and global cooperation.

In one three week period in November we made over 1400 phone calls using rotating teams that methodically went through lists and lists of people who might be interested in the SDGs. These were not robo-calls. They were at times long drawn out philosophical discussions on why the SDGs might be of interest to someone in Merritt or Kamloops or Smithers. Our teams of interns and staff have mapped over 2200 groups in BC alone who are working on the goals in a searchable digital map that grows by the day. I invite you to explore it. Our neighbours in the Yukon and Washington were impressed so they invited us to visit.  We showed them what we were up to and even held a roundtable in Whitehorse. This year we are stretching our imaginations toward Alberta and the rest of Canada when it comes to mapping social change. Within 24 months we hope to map internationally.  

Dubbed BC 2030, our current campaign on the Sustainable Development Goals is oriented toward the BC elections and ensuring that our political discourse includes a discussion of BC’s potential leadership when it comes to Agenda 2030.  So far we have reached our goal, indeed surpassed it, of working with at least three communities intensely by the May election deadline.  Over 600 leaders in BC spent more than 3 hours each exploring the global goals with us in 2016.  That is a lot of dedicated time and discussion on the most important agenda item our species faces for the next fifteen years. The result is we stirred up a lot of interest which we must now focus in 2017.  BC 2030 is designed to do just that and I encourage you to get involved. It promises to be a ride.  

You asked us to provide workshops on how to do your work better and you took the time to answer our survey and tell us how best we could do that. We wrote a list in order of priority and then we delivered on every single request and more. Whether it was a two day monitoring and evaluation workshop, an internship “community of practice” series, or a single lunch and learn on ethics or grant writing you scored our efforts at a minimum of “above average” with a majority giving us top marks on the evaluations (6 or 7 on a 7 point scale). We delivered 27 capacity building workshops and counting. We are very pleased that when we offer workshops now, the trend is to sell out the seats versus struggle to advertise. Thanks for helping us steer this course and please don’t be shy to tell us where we might go in 2017. Nobody keeps winning without improving their game.

Networks are ideal when it comes to representation. We can speak on behalf of our sector and indeed we feel it is our job to represent your interests in Victoria, Ottawa and even the United Nations.  In 2016, with your involvement, we held roundtables here in Vancouver with the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, Marie-Claude Bibeau and met with Parliamentary Secretary Karina Gould in our office and in Ottawa. We sat down with Global Affairs Canada staff at Sussex Drive on multiple occasions and they took the time to visit us here at Carrall St. We met with deputy ministers in Victoria and we submitted consultation papers to the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy in June, the International Assistance Review (IAR) in July and the Defense Department Review in August. Each of these policy papers was a major effort that involved consultation with you and furious writing on our part within short deadlines. As members, if you have not read these shared perspectives, why not take a moment, make a cup of coffee, and peruse our collective recommendations.  They are timely, well thought out and backed up by the years of experience that our sector can provide.

We had youth represent our views in Ottawa at a roundtable on the IAR and we once again sent a youth to the Counsel of the Parties UN meeting on Climate Change in Marrakech in November along with our Senior Policy Analyst, where she was able to meet with officials in Environment and Climate Change Canada. We now have two permanent delegation seats at the UN COP meetings which we intend to fully take advantage of.

In 2017 we will continue to mentor young ambitious, intelligent, caring minds at every opportunity. We hired summer students in 2016 and hope to have more in 2017. We visited schools, spoke at Universities, attended academic conferences, completed a major International Development Research Centre research paper  and were asked to be keynote speakers at various forums. We had three of our own “unconferences” and inspired at least three spin off unconferences. We wrote a lot of interesting thoughts down.  I invite you to look at just two publications to understand the depth of that claim. “Keeping Track” explores the indicator framework for the UN Sustainable Development Goals and “The Invisible Mosaic” will walk you through our SDG outreach program in detail. A quick glance at either paper will reveal how deep we dove. You can decide for yourself if either qualifies as impressive. 

Our office these days is packed. It is designed for five people so we rotate shifts to accommodate up to 22 core staff, interns and contractors.  It is January 4th, I started work yesterday, and we have already had two phone calls asking if we could use more help and two e-mails inquiring about volunteer opportunities. There is no shortage of energy that can be tuned in our collective direction. The limiting factor is our capacity to manage growth responsibly.

We have redesigned our technology such that we can video conference, maintain high speed communications and work with our new cloud based communication system that accommodates up to 16 telephone lines (and at times they all get used). We can theoretically have a conversation in our telephone room, create a podcast or make a video in our media room, or try to meet in our board room, if we could drown out the ever present din of staff, interns and volunteers changing the world and bumping into each other in the coffee corner.  We have weird apps, google analytics and digital ways of measuring our hits, impressions and Klout ratings. Rumour has it we hit the all-time high score of 59 (for those of you who understand why that number is impressive) and our record for monthly website page views is now over 13,000. We have 2468 current twitter followers and 1865 facebook fans, many of whom I have never met. Apparently, someone out there in cyberspace is paying attention! We had over 20 traditional media clippings, radio and television interviews and blogs in the month of November alone.

I believe last year we produced 25 videos and webcasts. I was personally pleased when Environment and Climate Change Canada called and randomly asked if they could feature one of our videos on their web page. That might not qualify as “viral” but it definitely landed in the right place. 

In BC we continue to host the Inter-Council Network of Provincial and Regional Councils for International Cooperation (fondly referred to as the ICN) and we sit on the executive of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC). Both are national bodies that strive to unite our voices from coast to coast to coast. It has been a pleasure hosting the ICN whose list of accomplishments over the last year is as lengthy as BCCIC’s. We will continue to host the ICN until March of 2019.   

Being busy is not the same as being effective and I am quite convinced that technology and new ways of doing things can never replace the fundamentals of our business…which seem to be as much about love, and care for our fellow beings, as it is about growing digital footprints. I try to remember this when new people walk in our door every day.

And this is where my new year’s message to the collective membership of BCCIC twists philosophically toward the world we now find ourselves in.

It is 2017. Word has it our Prime Minister is the last major progressive leader left standing on a planet mired in growing violence,  increasing division and forced migration, a trend toward nationalism vs global citizenship and less global cooperation.  Our path, which is to make the entire world a better place, is quickly being trodden and eroded by those that believe in making their world a better place…often at the expense of others. It is an old argument, indeed as old as fear and greed… both of which have been around a long time. My guess is we will evolve through the coming period but we will need to be strategic. Every evolutionary leap is tested by setbacks. I believe thinking globally is an evolutionary leap that is about to endure a beating from which it will emerge stronger. Our mission, as a species, is both to survive and to come out the other side of the current global predicament, a wiser and more refined version of Homo Sapien. Our dream as Canadians should be to lead through the gauntlet of the next fifteen years.

Those are fighting words and there are strategies we need to discuss. The Trudeau government, for example, has now been in power for more than a year. In Global Affairs Canada and our sector there has been much talk… but we need to be truthful about the “walk”.  Has our international assistance envelope of a paltry 0.28% of GNI come anywhere close to our peers? According the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development it has not. In the case for claiming global leadership money talks so humility requires our country to mumble right now or get off the stage… or at least move to the back behind the the United Kingdom (0.71%); the Netherlands (0.76%); Denmark (0.85%); Luxembourg (0.93%); Norway (1.05%); and the star of global citizenship Sweden (1.40%).

Has there been a renewal of partnership between the Trudeau government when it comes to funding small and medium sized organizations? These grassroots groups make up the vast majority of our networks and the councils have studied your activities carefully. The plight of small and medium sized organizations has been the single most repeated and consistent message to government for many many years now. Indeed, has there been a concrete increase in funding to work with Canadians at all; large, medium or small? The answer as of January 4, 2017, despite the rhetoric of global citizenship, is a clear no.

There are currently three calls for proposals on the Global Affairs Canada website; one, for agricultural supply chains in Haiti and two for internships. The Haiti RFP, because of its criteria, remains beyond the reach of most of our members. The two internship proposals are laudable, improved versions of what has been offered for many years. Not much is happening.

The general lack of creative interaction, innovation and partnership between government and civil society has been met with the words “be patient, it is coming”. Everything we are told, will flow after the coming announcement of the International Assistance Review results. In other words, stay tuned, hold your breath and wait until February or maybe sometime after that… 

This is the part where we breathe, we look around, and we consider changing our course. Our Prime Minister has directly asked us in his New Year’s  and Christmas messages to reject the politics of fear and division and to help him move toward hope and diversity and cooperation

After all, Canadians helping others – no matter the distance that separates them – is what this country is all about.”

Indeed, Prime Minister Trudeau is a quarter of the way through his mandate and Cabinet is committed to “deliverology” which is a philosophical approach that upholds political promises and dedicates itself to “results”.  Results that require energy, usually in the form of funding.

We estimate the national “absorptive capacity” of our eight Provincial and Regional Council networks alone (not the entire sector) to work with the Prime Minister and Minister Bibeau and help achieve those results to be 120 million dollars over a five year period among the small and medium sized organizations only; hundreds of millions more if we include the larger players. It sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but it represents a fraction of what we need to spend in order to pull our weight as global citizens.  

The irony, is that we have tabled a proposal to help get us there, through the Inter Council Network, which we have argued and refined and revised and reviewed and discussed ad nauseum for almost three years. At the end of the day we have reduced this to less than 20 million over a 42 month period, approximately the amount of time the Prime Minister and Minister Bibeau have left in their current mandate. If they want our help they are well advised to enlist us now.  We have implored Global Affairs Canada, on your behalf, to either support a decentralized fund for small and medium sized organizations and kickstart our sector, battered by years of attrition, or come up with a brainier idea! Twenty million, at this point, is the bare minimum we should be talking about. How do we harness the incredible grassroots energy of Canadians to achieve the SDGs, move the world toward global cooperation if not through the existing Canadians who do this work and have been doing it well for more than forty years?  On a realistic scale we need to talk in much more ambitious terms and we need to include discussion about the larger groups as well. CCIC, has intelligently persevered on our behalf in that regard.  

Sadly, the ICN proposal sits right now, as I write this, on a desk in Ottawa; frozen in inertia, waiting for a sign.

It is January, 2017. I have a single hope for this year. It is that Minister Bibeau, inspired by promises of “sunny ways” will see a sign in the current fog of bureaucratic inertia. A loud and clear sign that there are hundreds of grassroots groups in our sector, bound cooperatively in council structures, capable of moving her and the Prime Minister’s agenda forward quickly and efficiently. We can do it because we are already working toward a better world.  We remain patient. We also remain poised for action. We too, are waiting for a sign. After more than forty years of working together we know that we can deliver, globally cooperate and be the best that Canada represents in a year marked by national identity. So let’s recognize the existing signs; actually see them and acknowledge them, and get on with what needs to be done.

My worst fear is that, crippled by bureaucratic reticence and fear of innovation, Global Affairs Canada will require more signs, more planning, more delay despite a political mandate to move forward and existing ideas that could clearly deliver.

Inspired by our Prime Minister, I am going to cast away that particular fear and cling to hope until at least February, knowing that on the matter of choosing hope over fear, we should clearly lean his direction.   

This brings me, finally, dear members to the end of this New Year’s message. But not before telling you one more success story. This year, there was considerable enthusiasm to help govern our council. As you know we held board elections for the first time in many years based on the numbers of candidates and we followed the election with a board/staff retreat. We have a very exciting, ambitious, qualified and thoughtful board which intends to renew our strategic plan and position us for the coming years both strategically and operationally. As a person who helped with our previous strategic plan I am pleased to begin this process knowing that we achieved and surpassed every one of our previous strategic goals and specific objectives as a network. In other words, we set out to climb a mountain over a period of three years and we did it. I look forward to mapping the new terrain we plan to walk, jog or run together in the coming years as our world changes around us. Thanks for travelling with us in 2016 and on behalf of the team here, we look forward to our journey in 2017. We hope you will join us in our strategic planning and more importantly help carry it out.

Happy New Year,


Michael Simpson

P.S. As always I am interested in your membership comments or questions. If you strongly agree with our direction or, strongly disagree or simply have thoughts you would like to share please e-mail me (hyperlink to my e-mail address)  anytime or use the good old fashioned telephone (604-899-4475).  Over the coming weeks I expect to be in Ottawa and we regularly meet on your behalf. It helps us enormously to know if our membership believes we are on the right track.