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Feminist Success Stories - Célébrons nos réussites féministes

Karen A. Blackford
Marie-Luce Garceau
Sandra Kirby

Part V: Caring — Partie V : Question de soins et de services

Implementing Principles: An Alternative Community Organization for Children

Marge Reitsma-Street et Pat Rogerson

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1The purpose of this article is to describe the principles that guided the development of a community organization serving children. The following is a brief description of the context for the organization. Six categories of principles are described; these principles, expressed as objectives, are as follows:

  • To promote active participation of members;
  • To create egalitarian work relationships;
  • To nourish dailiness;
  • To care for the caregivers;
  • To expand the capacity to act powerfully;
  • To nurture partners and networks.

2Examples that illustrate implementation of these principles are presented throughout the article. Specific detail is included to reveal one effort to create a less hierarchical and possibly more feminist organization. Illustrations are drawn from the three historical stages in the development of the organization: from 1989 to 1990, the period during which funding was obtained; from 1991-1994, the period during which the organization and its programs/services were developed; and from 1994 through 1995, the period during which the organization incorporated. In the discussion, we reflect on several issues raised by this case study that are relevant to developing feminist institutions.

3Sources for the case study include extensive, weekly minutes of meetings beginning in December 1989 to incorporation in the spring of 1995; interview transcripts with key informants in the organization; and published documents (Reitsma-Street 1992; Reitsma-Street and Arnold 1995; Diallo 1996). Data were collected largely by funded research staff. The authors also draw from their memories, personal experiences, and diaries: both were part of the original group of twelve who worked one day per week in 1990 to organize the Association; the authors continue to be actively involved one day per month.

The Better Beginnings, Better Futures Research Demonstration Project

4The organization described in this article is called the Sudbury Better Beginnings, Better Futures/Partir d’un bon pas pour un avenir meilleur/Nigan Bemaadizidwiina Association, hereafter Sudbury BBBF or the Association. It is one of the eleven sites in the five-year Better Beginnings, Better Futures Research Demonstration Project funded by three Ontario ministries and a federal ministry. The research project aims to evaluate whether holistic, high quality, integrated, and accessible programming for children ages 0 to 8 living in low-income communities presents behavioural and emotional problems and promotes the development of community institutions (Ontario, MCSS 1989).

5An essential feature of the BBBF project model is the participation of community members in its design and management. The funders hypothesize that community participation in project management increases the likelihood of the project continuing after funding ends in five years.

6Researchers are funded to follow the development of the programs, children, families, and neighbourhoods in the eleven experimental sites and to compare these developments to those in matched comparison communities without Better Beginning programming (Peters 1994). The research aims to follow the children for 20 years after the project ends.

7Sudbury is a city of 91 000 located in Northeastern Ontario. The Sudbury BBBF site is located in two adjacent, multicultural neighbourhoods in the heart of the city. Of the 1000 children under ten years of age in the two neighbourhoods in 1990, one-third lived in families dependent on social assistance for everyday expenses. One-quarter of grade four students demonstrated low academic performance, compared to 15% in other schools on similar measures. In a spring 1990 needs survey, 303 parents and children reported that there were few safe places to play in their neighbourhoods and a limited number of culturally sensitive programs.

8By 1995, the Sudbury BBBF had created free and interesting daily activities for over 300 children in four community sites, with weekly cultural and peacemaking initiatives in the five neighbourhood schools. Over 250 adults have become members of the Association and are actively learning the skills of participation, including election of a Council to manage the organization. Almost all full-and part-time staff are hired from the community with their earnings and skills remaining in the neighbourhoods. Researchers are currently engaged in analyzing results of the early impact of the programs in Sudbury and the other experimental and comparison sites on indicators such as child development, parental stress, school performance, and behavioural problems.

The Development of Principles to Guide the Organization

9Several principles were drafted in the early days of the Association to help create a democratic and comfortable atmosphere, and to guide proposal development (Sudbury, BBBF 1990). The fundamental principle was that the organization must ensure participation of native, francophone, and multicultural groups within its structure and programming. After one year of funding, the principles and project vision were revised. These 1991 revised principles were included in Sudbury BBBF brochures and in all the wallet-size membership cards. The principles were used to guide the development of structures and programs throughout the years, and to shape the deliberations of committees responsible for creating an independent organization. The vision and revised principles make up the preamble to the 1994 bylaws of the independent Sudbury BBBF (Diallo 1996).

10We are writing this chapter in response to comments made in 1994 by colleagues that the organizational processes used by the Sudbury BBBF seemed remarkably similar to those envisioned by feminists. These comments spurred us to analyze the organization of the Sudbury BBBF. Our focus is the implementation of six categories of principles that appear most relevant to theorizing feminist institutions. It is not the intent of this paper to evaluate the impact of these principles. That question, however, may be pursued in the future.

11The majority of the original team of twelve who developed the initial principles were women as were most of the 35 permanent staff hired between 1991 and 1995 to implement the revised principles. Some were committed to exploring a feminist approach to building an organization. To most members of the Sudbury BBBF Association, however, an explicitly feminist analysis was neither central nor conscious. In the words of one key organizer:

I had never considered that the style of management I used was a feminist style. I know I am female. I picked and packaged a process of management that felt good and worked with my community and our agency.

12There was intense interest in developing an alternative organization that “felt good and worked.” The original team members and later the project coordinator and the community workers had many years of community development experience, mostly in anti-poverty, native, women, and children organizations. They did not want a traditional, impersonal hierarchical agency with an English-speaking white, professional, male elite. The alternative was less clear, but the search for an alternative was central to the development of the Sudbury BBBE Discussion of the elements considered to be important to that development follows:

(1) Promoting Active Participation

13The first principle is development of opportunities that promote participation in the activities and decision-making of the BBBF project. This principle meant creating processes to respect diverse traditions of participation of the native, francophone, and visible minorities in the BBBF neighbourhoods. The principle of participation also meant uncovering ways of reducing the multiple threats to participation encountered by poor, proud, and sometimes desperate residents.

14Representatives of three cultural communities, along with education and children’s mental health services, met in December 1989 at the invitation of two organizers to begin shaping the Sudbury BBBF Association. Later, members of public housing projects in the neighbourhoods and several service agencies joined in. The initial venue for participating in decisions included three-hour weekly Association meetings. Members took turns taking notes and chairing the meetings, using whatever language or style they were most comfortable with. The recorder for one week became the chair the following week, with more experienced people helping those less experienced.

15Participation was also encouraged early in the life of the organization through the use of small time-limited action research activities such as collecting and analyzing data of immediate relevance to organizational development (Reitsma-Street and Arnold 1994). For instance, in the spring of 1990, Association members went into two neighbourhoods to find out people’s needs and desires. Clear questions were asked, including “What would you do for yourself and the children in your neighbourhood if you won a million dollars?” In three weeks, Association members interviewed 363 children, parents, and agency people who lived or worked in the two neighbourhoods. During a long afternoon session and evening potluck, members searched for themes in the interview data. The four themes that emerged from this piece of action research gave specific directions for project development: the need for safe places to play; good schools; a neighbourhood centre; and more culturally appropriate services.

16Following funding approval in January 1991, the weekly Association meetings were expanded to include all those who were interested. Average attendance grew to 15, doubling to 30 when key decisions were discussed. Meetings were held in community buildings with access to childcare and travel monies were supplied to those who requested help. The criteria for membership was deliberately very broad. People who came at least several times to meetings and who accepted the vision and principles of the Association could participate and make decisions.

  • 1 As of 1994, membership is divided into two categories: “regular members” who live in the two neigh (...)

17In 1993, to further promote participation of community residents, a membership coordinator was hired. A simple orientation manual with pictures was created. Throughout 1994 and 1995, community workers and the membership coordinator — all of whom lived in the neighbourhoods involved — frequently visited community residents’ neighbourhoods. Membership increased to 250 by the second annual meeting of the Sudbury BBBF Association.1

18It is not easy, however, to promote and maintain the participation of people with limited incomes who have good reasons to be sceptical of another new organization. Therefore, priority was given to creating and funding avenues for accessible and enjoyable participation as quickly as possible, starting with the Halloween Party of 1991. Before-and after-school children’s programs with food, cooperative games, and art were initiated as well as regular potlucks, feasts, celebrations, and holiday activities for people of all ages. These events take place in four community buildings situated in the two neighbourhoods. All events are free. Community members are encouraged to help out with children’s activities, or just to drop in. There are also free and frequent activities for adults, such as mediation and racial-awareness workshops. Childcare services are provided.

19The Sudbury Association uses staff hiring as one of the most important ways to develop leaders who will maintain community participation. The majority of people on hiring committees are representatives of the community. Priority is given to hiring and training people who have intimate knowledge and commitment to the BBBF neighbourhoods. By hiring neighbourhood people, the Association helps to ensure that staff wages, training, energy, and leadership remain in the community after work hours, and/or after contracts end. Over the past five years, 35 full-and part-time staff have been hired, many of whom live in the project’s neighbourhoods. In addition, training opportunities and some wages have been given to 111 people in summer and contract positions; many of these short-term workers also live in or have family in the neighbourhoods.

20The last approach used to promote the principle of participation in decision-making is the creation of caucuses or working groups, attentive to the diverse needs of the multicultural neighbourhoods (Diallo and Reitsma-Street 1995; Reitsma-Street and Arnold 1994). Early in 1991, semi-autonomous caucuses were invented and they have evolved with need and interest. Caucus members are expected to support the vision and principles of the Sudbury Better Beginnings Association, and to come to the Association for budget approval of new activities. Each caucus, however, such as the Research Caucus launched in April 1991 and the Staff Caucus developed in 1994, selects its own language, style of working, links to the community and goals. For instance, the Francophone Caucus initially concentrated on creating a supportive atmosphere for adults and children so they could play in French in their own small community building, and to resurrect French local festivals. Because the caucuses have proved their value in promoting participation of the various cultural constituencies in the BBBF neighbourhoods, the caucus was enshrined in the May 1994 constitution of Sudbury Better Beginnings Section 11.1.

21In sum, many initiatives were launched to promote the principle of participation in this community organization for children’s programs. Members of the community could participate in the frequent, free activities; become members; or help out with events. They could also hire staff, approve programs, develop their cultural caucus, and elect councillors.

(2) Creating Egalitarian Work Relationships

22To implement the second principle of egalitarian work relationships, the Sudbuty BBBF chose its sponsoring agency, the Native Friendship Centre, carefully. This Centre had policies, principles, and history that encouraged a holistic response to community needs, and an atmosphere that welcomed cultural diversity and low-income people. The Native Friendship Centres Board of Directors was ultimately responsible for hiring, contracts, and reports until Sudbury BBBF became a corporation. It did not, however, veto or hold back recommendations that had been fully discussed and decided upon by consensus within the BBBF Association.

23Two key procedures used in the Native Friendship Centre were adopted and developed by Sudbury BBBF to promote egalitarian work relationships: consensus decision-making and a flat salary structure.

  • 2 With incorporation, the Association meets up to three times per year, while the thirteen member Co (...)

24Although consensus decision-making was strange to some within the agency and to community people who joined the Association, no one could join without agreeing to this consensual approach to decision-making. “Decisions by members at meetings of members shall be made by consensus” is enshrined in the 1995 General Organizational By-law 6 of the incorporated Sudbury Better Beginnings, Better Futures Association. Consensus decision-making is used at the weekly or bi-weekly Association meetings (1990-1994),2 the monthly meetings of the Council elected by the Association (1994 to now), and in caucuses, committees, and team working groups.

25Over the years, workshops have been held on how to build consensus and many meetings and discussions about what consensus means have occurred. Whether the decisions deal with hiring, firing, contracts, new programs, or the selection of symbols and principles, there is time to discuss and reflect. When a decision is to be made, the chair of a meeting gives everyone in the room an opportunity to comment on his or her willingness to live with the decision or to ask for more time and information. A consensus approach to decision-making helps to minimize the dominance of a few individuals or one constituency. Reducing the propensity of a few to dominate is particularly important when working with people who feel powerful, or when there are constituencies such as women or visible minorities who have had painful histories of exclusion.

26There are times when consensus is not achieved; more time is needed; or new proposals must be debated. A member can choose to stand aside or pass or have his or her concern recorded when the persons turn to comment comes. Sometimes the people with the most opposing views go away with the responsibility to come back with a compromise recommendation that they can agree with. The disagreeing parties can ask to agree on a local or outside mediator. If the mediator cannot achieve an agreement, an arbitrator is selected by both sides. The arbitrators decision is final. To date, mediation has been used several times, arbitration not at all.

27Besides using consensus decision-making to encourage egalitarian work relationships, the Sudbury BBBF chose a relatively flat salary to pay its staff. Annually, the coordinator earns only $7,000 more than the community workers. Provincial pay equity legislation boosted everyone’s salary in 1995 as listed in Table 1.

Table 1 — 1995 Hourly Wage

$11.65 — short-term contract

$12.15 — childcare workers

$16.84 — community workers, office coordinator

$19.25 — program coordinator

28The flat salary structure helps to avoid significant inequalities within the staff group, and between the staff and the community members, most of whom are neighbours. The Association also wanted to hire as many people from the neighbourhoods as possible. This decision meant money, expertise, and ownership of the project would remain in the neighbourhoods. The consensus approach to decision-making and the flat salary structure continue to contribute to egalitarian working relationships as we write this article.

(3) Nourishing Dailiness

29Holistic organizations assume that many aspects of people and their communities must be taken into account when services are developed. Feminism adds a sharper focus to holism and speaks of dailiness; the spaces and bodies that people actually live in where tragedies, joys, and contradictions converge in everyday moments (Aptheker 1989). Organizational processes attentive to dailiness start with the bodies, fears, and uniqueness of people within the minutiae of an encounter — this includes meetings, events, workplaces, and long-term planning exercises.

30Concrete attention to dailiness is expressed through food, space, and time for visiting. Family events and children’s activities include substantial, free snacks, not just for nourishment but also for comfort and sociability. When the Association designed its physical space, there was systematic attention to creating welcoming space that “did not look like agency offices.” The program centres are in simple community spaces, such as church basements, recreation centres, and schools, within walking distance for older children and adults. Within the centres, there are no individual offices and closed doors. Desks are placed in backrooms or at edges of rooms, with paintings, couches, plants, and coffee welcoming people as they come through the door.

31The Association imbibed the sponsoring agency’s policy on “visiting” that acknowledges the importance of spending time with colleagues and neighbourhood residents, chatting about joys and troubles, and asking about friends and family. Visiting makes the moment important; it is not just a means to an efficient end.

32An invention to nourish dailiness, called “circling in,” developed early in 1990: at the beginning or end of each meeting or event, members and guests take a moment to reflect, to ask questions, to add to the agenda, to seek solace or advice, to share a story, or to pass in silence. If there are more than 20 people or many newcomers in a meeting, the focus of circling is on introductions at the beginning; at the end of the meeting, people are asked to break up into small groups for a moment of reflection and sharing. Throughout the years, we have heard members exclaim: “At least I am not treated as a machine in these meetings. There is always some time for me.” This circling process is not unfamiliar to people from feminist and native traditions; it is an important practice that has been taken up by most of the caucuses, small teams, and committees developed after 1990.

33The systematic attention to colour, texture, comfort, and celebration of success helps to nourish a sense of delight in the day. Food, music, ceremonies, awards, art, plants, and stories are used to build and maintain an organizational culture that expresses appreciation of effort, and honours the achievements that every member makes, no matter how small. In May 1995, the first year of independence and Council elections were celebrated with a potluck and dance attended by people of all ages: appreciation awards were given to 60 volunteers. Throughout the years, there has been particular attention given to choosing vivid colours for brochures and lively paint for walls, to designing attractive, artful, and simple membership booklets, and to selecting the Association’s logo of four children holding hands looking towards the tree of peace presented in Figure 1. Good-quality paint and materials are purchased for use in the child activity programs, and the concrete blocks and pipe-filled ceilings of the four simple program centres are covered in crafts by the children as well as work by local artists. Additional grants have been sought to plant trees and build gardens.

Figure 1 — Logo of Sudbury’s Better Beginnings Better Futures
Partir d’un bon pas pour un avenir meilleur
Nishin Aagi Maagitang Wii Niigan Bemaadiziwiina

Figure 1 — Logo of Sudbury’s Better Beginnings Better FuturesPartir d’un bon pas pour un avenir meilleurNishin Aagi Maagitang Wii Niigan Bemaadiziwiina

34The final approach to nourishing dailiness is an organizational culture that supports cooperation and creative risk-taking. There are no competitive sports or games in the children’s programs. Staff are hired and trained to build a cooperative sense of adventure and problem-solving. Members and staff rotate to try out new jobs and roles. The Sudbury BBBF supports risks: for instance, in 1994, members of the street theatre group sponsored by BBBF joined with other social justice groups in Sudbury to protest a welfare snitch line.

35Nourishing dailiness has moved beyond principle; there is continuous attention to the daily needs and strengths of those who participate in BBBF through the presence of food at events, welcoming space arrangements, “circling in” at meetings, time for visiting, and use of colour and celebrations.

(4) Caring for the Caregivers

36To implement the caring principle means the BBBF Association had to design processes that support its members, especially those giving care to others whether as staff, parents, or volunteers. Section 2.8 of By-Law Number 1 explicitly states this intent: To care for members of the Corporation and its partners by providing mutual support, learning and personal development opportunities.

37“Caring for the caregivers” has solid roots in human services organizational research (Berry 1975; Street, Vinter, and Perrow 1966; Ontario, MCSS, 1989). Feminist scholarship gives additional attention to building processes in organizations that care fully for the range of caregiver strengths and needs (Finch and Groves, 1983; Weeks, 1994). Persons who perform paid or unpaid caring work for children and adults inside the family home or in social service and educational centres have social, emotional, problem-solving, and organizational skills that too often are devalued or made invisible; these competencies could and do add valuable strengths to organizations. Because those who give care are often devalued, caregivers may become overworked, anxious, unwell, and unproductive, especially when they do not receive financial, emotional, and social support (Baines et al. 1991). Female caregivers, in particular, are expected by others to perform unpaid and paid caregiving work at the same time, or for many long hours per day with little time off (Oakley 1981; Armstrong and Armstrong 1990). In an organization, attention to “caring for the caregivers” therefore, means developing an environment and policies that attend to the multiple tasks, demands, and needs of people who care for others.

  • 3 35 full-time staff, 111 on various contracts; five students for each of the five years for total o (...)
  • 4 This conservative figure includes the 51 people whose attendance was recorded several times in min (...)

38From 1992 to 1994, there were free bi-weekly workshops — often led by highly-skilled professionals versed in progressive adult learning methods — for members to learn about consensus building, mediation, welfare appeals, architect designs for the community gardens, and voting procedures. Since 1994, the training has been tied more closely to the monthly staff meetings and semi-annual retreats. Several programs have developed to help parents achieve literacy and complete high school credits. Hiring, training, and supervising students are crucial procedures used to promote leadership that people can use in their own lives and for their communities. Adding up full-time, part-time, contract staff, and placement students, 171 adults3 have gained training and experience through the Better Beginnings Association in the last five years. This figure excludes the more than 50 human service and educational professionals who have contributed to Better Beginnings during these same years.4

39Children of members are not welcome only at meetings or events. There is an assumption that childcare needs to be provided, although in the early years procedures were clumsy and members had to request money to reimburse babysitters or to cover travel costs.

40Sick leave policies are similar to the city’s Board of Education, 1.25 days per month. Vacation time is not so generous. Staff members who have worked for one year are entitled to 2 weeks off. The pattern continues as follows: 3 weeks for 2-5 years of service, 4 weeks per year for 6-10 years of service, and 5 weeks per year for more than l0 years of service. Part-time staff have less time off.

41Additional time, however, can be taken off to stay home with sick children or for mental health reasons without pretence. Compassionate and court leave to sort out family concerns is not uncommon nor is it frowned upon. Sick time has averaged two days per year per staff, excluding extended periods for major illnesses or pregnancies. In the contracts of full-time staff, it is written that they neither lose their jobs nor their positions if they are on leave for extended periods of time.

42The learning is not a one-way street. The principle of caring for caregivers assumes that people know things and bring skills to the project. The Association, therefore, finds opportunities and gives encouragement to people so they will give what they can and so they will learn more. In reflecting on her four years with the project, one woman said:

Before I just sat and listened, or I didn’t come to meetings. But here, it’s such as surprise. People want to hear what I have to say. Sometimes my ideas are used. Makes me want to say more. I use what I learn at home, and in my other part-time job.

43A final implication of the caring for caregivers principle is the awareness that people are not machines nor are they unidimensional and limited to just one role or task. The Association assumes that members are learners and family members at the same time that they are workers or volunteers. It is not uncommon for Association members to know and care about each other’s children and family members; to use work time to call home or have family visit at work; to organize an Association workshop or bake pies for events at home. Caring means helping people find a balance between members’ private home and public worlds, rather than leaving the difficult task of balancing up to individuals.

44Are there some members more responsible for this principle of caring? What happens to them? The practices of sharing work with a buddy, rotating jobs and responsibilities, and taking time off help to ensure that no one person is overwhelmed and that the work of the Association can carry on without her (or him). For instance, five of the original team members took several months off from BBBF in 1990-1991, while, during 1994-95, three of the full-time staff took long leaves to renew themselves.

(5) Expanding the Capacity to Act Powerfully

45Power is seen by Sudbury BBBF as the capacity to achieve objectives that are cooperatively devised and revisited. Power is not limited to a few people in management.

46The organizational diagram in the original 1990 proposal was that of a large circle symbolizing the Association, with small intercepting circles each of which had specific tasks and interests, such as the Research Caucus, the Native Working Group, the sponsoring agencies, and the Community Advisory Committee. The 1994 organizational diagram presented in Figure 2 features the expansion of forums in which BBBF members can discharge power on behalf of their neighbourhoods. In the middle is the Council, made up of volunteer members who live in the Better Beginnings neighbourhoods and who are elected annually by the Caucuses and Association members at large (By-Laws 12 and 17). The By-laws formalize the power of the people who live in the neighbourhoods to “manage and direct the affairs of the Corporation, borrow money, and sign contracts that affect the direction of the Sudbury Better Beginnings activities.”

Figure 2 — 1994 Organization Chart of Sudbury Better Beginnings, Better Futures

Figure 2 — 1994 Organization Chart of Sudbury Better Beginnings, Better Futures

47The early creation of cultural caucuses and the later development of many small self-directed teams for each program/activity help to implement the principle of expanding the capacity of people to learn skills, to make decisions, and to influence outcomes.

48The self-directed teams are scattered throughout the various services and components of the Association. There is, for instance, a team for each of the Early Bird and after-school programs offered at three locations, the cultural programs and peaceful playgrounds within the five neighbourhood schools, and the summer native camp. The paid and volunteer community members associated with a service or job become a team. They meet regularly, usually weekly, to sort out their activities and problems.

49To help small teams commit to a common vision, a full-day staff meeting and workshops happen every month. Twice a year, there are week-long training and planning sessions for all Association staff. New staff are given orientation sessions by senior staff who emphasize the overall vision, the specific tasks, and the stories and legends of the Association. Annually, staff have a job review with the Coordinator. The review emphasizes the gifts each staff member brings to the job, as well as strengths, accomplishments, and plans to address any difficulties.

50In a Spring 1995 interview, a staff member summed up the long process to expanding the power of Association members:

I don’t know if it was accidental or on purpose. We were pushed to take charge of our own services and responsibilities in small groups, and we learned how to develop our own power.

(6) Nurturing Partners and Networks

51From the beginning the principle of nurturing partners was pursued. Network building with human service organizations started with the original organizers who were lent to the Association for one day per week from their agencies, such as the Children’s Mental Health Centre, John Howard Society, the Board of Education, and the Native Friendship Centre.

52In February 1990, meetings and workshops were organized to invite interested human service agency people in the city to learn about the BBBF model of prevention, and to ask for assistance in the creation of the new organization. An Agency Caucus started in the spring of 1991. Middle managers and senior front-line people in health, educational, and recreational organizations met to discuss partnering, integration, and prevention. The Agency Caucus met monthly for two years and then disbanded. Although the agency people were not successful in finding terms of reference for tasks they felt comfortable carrying out, they did share and learn from each other.

53In the 1994 Constitution of BBBF, there is no provision for agency representatives on the Council or in the Association. There are, however, several formal agreements with various groups such as churches, recreation departments, and schools for renting inexpensive space in community buildings, along with many informal connections with human services agencies and organizations through frequent workshops, professional development days, and some purchase of service arrangements.

54Several other systematic attempts to nurture networks have also occurred. In 1990, official leaders in the community, including the Chief of Police and the Medical Health Officer as well as spiritual and labour leaders, were invited to become members of the Community Advisory Committee to the BBBF (See Figure 2 presented earlier). Since funding, this Committee continues to meet annually to support the Association, and to contribute expertise to problem-solving and vision-building.

55A second approach is the development of ties to the local university and college so that up to five students annually can complete educational placements within Sudbury’s BBBF Association. In addition, each year the Association successfully finds summer and short-term funding for over 20 people. Successful applications for funds from other sources, such as the Bronfman Foundation for inner-city environmental regeneration, also expand the network of people and agencies associated with Better Beginnings.

56The third avenue to help implement the principle of nurturing networks is the secondment and voluntary contributions of Association staff and members to other neighbourhood organizations or committees, such as la Caisse populaire and a native business. As of 1993, the Association devoted approximately one day per week of one staff member’s time to work with other agencies on job creation proposals and the creation of GEODE — a new, non-profit grassroots organization committed to economic development through small lending circles, small loans, a cashless green barter system, and small business ventures.


57Although Sudbury BBBF does not call itself feminist or emerge from the women’s movements, we argue that six principles, especially “nourishing dailiness” and “caring for the caregivers,” are infused with the feminist ideals of participation, humanism, and cooperation (Ferguson 1984; Riger 1994; Weeks 1994). Given some of the similarities between feminist principles and those pursued by the Sudbury BBBF, the specific details association with implementation of the principles through three stages of organizational growth may help others to learn or replicate these efforts. As participants, we see these details as evidence of strengths and successes. As observers, we see several issues that challenge BBBF and other feminist organizations.

58The use of principles, consensus decision-making, and small teams does not prevent dissent, nor always resolve it. The hope is that, with these three organizational structures, dissent does not explode destructively but becomes a source for growth, creativity, and change.

  • 5 Other Better Beginnings sites had 50% of their Steering Committees reserved for agency representat (...)

59For instance, the dissent between the neighbourhood residents and professional agency representatives was never resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Developing egalitarian participation in the face of substantial inequality in power and resources is difficult. People in the Better Beginnings neighbourhoods report they feel less powerful in their speech, knowledge, resources, and connections than professionals (Diallo 1994). Carefully-picked professionals and agencies who were committed to consensus decision-making and community participation gave generously of their paid and unpaid time and expertise in the first years of the project; some continue to do so at the time of writing. Nonetheless, these professionals, female and male, continued to dominate in Association meetings and decision-making. The Community Advisory Committee captured the expertise and support of agency directors, but it met annually and was not directly involved in the BBBF organization or integration efforts. A BBBF agency caucus started in 1991 to give professionals their own space and to decrease their dominant participation in the Association. The agency professionals could not find an institutionalized role within BBBF that they were comfortable with, nor did the community members feel confident with agency representatives in the decision-making circles of BBBF. In 1994, the agencies were disappointed to find that they did not get the anticipated one-quarter of the seats on BBBF Council.5

60In our opinion, the attempts used over the years to resolve the differences between neighbourhood members and professionals have sparked greater interest in community development and a shrewder appreciation of partnership and power. Different processes and strategies need to be explored to implement the principle of nurturing networks when there is significant inequality among people. To date, Sudbury BBBF has chosen to emphasize the principle of promoting the participation of neighbourhood residents over nurturing formal agency partnership.

61Differences and controversies continue, particularly over culture and language (Reitsma-Street 1992; Diallo 1996). The domination of English as a language of decision within meetings and buildings is most difficult problem to solve. The francophones are more bilingual than those of other cultures, but they also know that use of the French language is central to their cultural identity. Implementation of the six principles described in this article has helped to create some compromises and solutions, such as creation of a francophone caucus, several rooms within one building dedicated to francophone programs, and multi-cultural workshops. However, cultural tensions tend to flare up during the current formalization stage of organizational development in which policies and procedures become routine (Riger 1994). The principles of participation and caring will be tested again as new forms of compromise are sought.

62The precarious financial health and fragile reserves of families within the neighbourhoods and the members of Sudbury BBBF pose the greatest challenge to the principles, magnifying not only cultural and policy tensions, but also threatening livelihoods. Using a flat salary scale to promote the principle of egalitarian working relations can mean that everyone is paid poorly. The egalitarian approach reduces inequity and envy; it cannot ensure adequacy. In Sudbury’s BBBF, there are few staff people earning sufficient money from their paid work to actually meet the needs of their own families. Many neighbourhood people are hired, and salaries are not lower than community standards, but individuals, especially single parents, are still left with the problem of making ends meet.

63In March 1995, the Sudbury Better Beginnings Association received an additional two years of funding. After 1997, the Association is expected to find money to meet neighbourhood needs. At the same time, there are substantial cut-backs in all social services, increasing unemployment, and decreasing levels of political and economic power at the local level. As of October 1, 1995, members on social assistance, including one-third of BBBF neighbourhoods, faced 21% reductions in their cheques with no changes in the costs of shelter or other necessities.

64It may be time to develop several new principles, or to revisit old principles that give greater priority to the skills needed for the upcoming struggles against cutbacks, inequality, and oppression. This may not be the task or responsibility of a community organization serving children, such as BBBF, but there is a need to theorize what types of principles and organizations can help to change the rules of a game that so unfairly dispossesses people. The trust necessary for implementing consensus, cooperation, and egalitarian principles within an organization may need to be tempered with a scepticism that can fuel the risk-taking and militancy for conflict work outside the organization. Larger networks, more resources, and political action may develop from a principled commitment to fight the structures that disadvantage people (Irwin 1994; Ng 1990).

65Organizational principles that help to overcome oppression will not be feminist or freeing; this is especially true if they are implemented on the backs of the invisible work and energies of women or poor people.

66We found in the BBBF work that promoting participation meant people put a great deal of themselves into their work, including many unpaid hours. On the one hand, energy is released when there is a serious sharing of power with dispossessed groups and there are opportunities to learn new skills. On the other, will the government and leaders ignore the need for substantial resources for children’s services and argue that poor neighbourhoods can maintain these services using just volunteers? In addition, when does the promotion of participation and egalitarian work relationships demand that people give their organization more than what is personally healthy? Future research is pending on the volunteer hours and “in kind” contributions donated by neighbourhood people to the Better Beginnings, Better Futures projects. Initial conservative estimates suggest that these voluntary contributions add up to one-half of the Better Beginnings’ annual budgets (Mione, Neysmith, and Reitsma-Street 1995). It is impossible to understand what it truly costs to launch comparable community programs or social justice struggles without acknowledging invisible energies and costs.

67The one thing that does not depend upon further funding or research, however, is our awareness that another vision of organization is possible, a vision rooted in union, native, and feminist traditions. The personal skills and knowledge gained are owned and will remain in the Sudbury Better Beginnings, Better Futures neighbourhoods. The sense that there is another way to manage is also being discussed by educational and service agencies who have worked with the BBBF Association. Six years of contact have piqued an interest; high levels of serious community participation in low-income neighbourhoods are not impossible.



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1 As of 1994, membership is divided into two categories: “regular members” who live in the two neighbourhoods and “associate members” who live elsewhere but who are sponsored by a regular member and have had a community involvement in the neighbourhoods. Associate members are restricted to 25% of total membership.

2 With incorporation, the Association meets up to three times per year, while the thirteen member Council elected by the Association meets monthly (By-Law 8.3).

3 35 full-time staff, 111 on various contracts; five students for each of the five years for total of 171.

4 This conservative figure includes the 51 people whose attendance was recorded several times in minutes of Association, Agency Caucus, or Community Advisory meetings, or at training workshops.

5 Other Better Beginnings sites had 50% of their Steering Committees reserved for agency representatives.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1 — Logo of Sudbury’s Better Beginnings Better FuturesPartir d’un bon pas pour un avenir meilleurNishin Aagi Maagitang Wii Niigan Bemaadiziwiina
Fichier image/jpeg, 71k
Titre Figure 2 — 1994 Organization Chart of Sudbury Better Beginnings, Better Futures
Fichier image/jpeg, 126k


Associate Professor, Multidisciplinary Master’s Program in Policy and Practice, Faculty of Human and Social Development, University of Victoria

Former Assistant Director, N’Swakamok Friendship Centre, Sudbury

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