During my fellowship, I have come across a small number of examples of business engagement in youth homelessness which is systematic, going beyond supporting individual organisations, initiatives and services, rather, aiming to effect change in systems, policies and practices.
At a national level in Canada, both the Catherine Donnelly Foundation and the Home Depot Canada Foundation take this approach. This blog will focus on the work of the Catherine Donnelly Foundation – the next one on Home Depot Canada Foundation.
Housing has been a priority area for funding for the Catherine Donnelly Foundation since it started its work in 2005. Initially, they funded individual projects on an annual basis, many of them focused on youth homelessness, but soon started to question this approach and to think about whether they could work more collectively and be more focused on the prevention of homelessness in order to increase the impact of their investment.
They brought together a number of agencies from across Canada, including Eva’s Initiatives, Choices for Youth and Broadway Youth over two and half days to explore what this might look like. Out of these discussions came a proposal for a programme called Mobilising Local Capacity to End Youth Homelessness (MLC). This five year programme ran from 2012 and involved a funding partnership between the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, Eva’s Initiatives, the Learning Community and the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, with $1.25million invested by the Foundation. The programme had two main components:
- local community engagement – helping communities assess local needs and identify resources to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness. Kamloops and Kingston were the first two communities to go through this process
- systemic policy change – encouraging policies and strategies to promote and support transformative change within government services at all levels
The achievements of the MLC programme far exceeded the expectations of the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, with six communities supported to develop and implement plans on youth homelessness, public awareness raised, networks built and promotion of the need for systemic change to effectively tackle and end youth homelessness.
In October 2015, A Way Home Canada was launched, emerging from the success of the MLC programme. A national movement working as a coalition of partners dedicated to preventing and ending youth homelessness in Canada, A Way Home Canada (AWHC) takes a multi-dimensional approach to its work from supporting local communities to take action on youth homelessness, undertaking research, sharing learning, working with young people with lived experience of homelessness, engaging the public and advising and assisting government at all levels.
AWHC is supported by a number of Foundations, including Catherine Donnelly, which made a second commitment of $1.25million in November 2016. A relatively new element of AWHC’s work is the Making the Shift programme which sees a real focus on prevention.
The Catherine Donnelly Foundation aims to work in a participatory way with the organisations it funds – being a partner, sharing the power. It has also played an important role in bringing six other funders together through the AWHC Funders’ Table – an approach that emphasises that youth homelessness is the business of all those funders – ‘it’s all our business’. The organisations involved in the Funders Table have pooled resources to fund a Director of Policy at AWHC for a two-year period. They are investing in capacity for thinking, learning and changing systems, something that is vital and is emphasised in this blog I recently read called Let’s Fund Teams Not Projects.
The Foundation is also looking at how it can use its asset base to further its mandate and has already invested in a small number of social impact bonds.
My conversation with Valerie Lemieux, the General Director of the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, was fascinating. I think that the Foundation punches well above its weight and is a great example of real strategic thinking about maximising impact of investment and effecting change in order to end youth homelessness.