Strategy, Passion & Policy Make Change
The Maytree Foundation used relentless incrementalism to reform immigration policy in Canada, winning the Council's 2005 Paul Ylvisaker Award for Public Policy Engagement.
The words passion and public policy may not seem to mix. They're like people from entirely different parts of the world, speaking different languages, being invited to sit down at a table and come up with a common vision. And that is close to what The Maytree Foundation, located in Toronto, Ontario, did when it created a broad-based group of partners to institute immigration reform in Canada. For its efforts in not only inviting groups to the table but, in many ways, creating the table, Maytree is the 2005 winner of the Council on Foundations' Paul Ylvisaker Award for Public Policy Engagement. Alan Broadbent, chairman of The Maytree Foundation, says "Grantmakers have talked about 'leverage' in recent years. In Maytree's view, the biggest lever available to affect crucial social issues is public policy. By changing how a society agrees to exercise its collective will, we can create solutions to the hard problems and critical issues. That is an orientation Maytree adopted over 20 years ago and sustained."
The Need for a Table
Reforming immigration policy is not something that has received a great deal of attention since Maytree was created in 1982. Indeed, in the more recent post-9/11 environment, it seems that governments in developed countries have narrowed and tightened their immigration policies, making settlement and integration morerather than lessdifficult for reasons of security. But The Maytree Foundation has a different perspective on immigration, which is one of its three major organizational goals.
In choosing to focus on "accelerating the settlement of immigrants and refugees in large urban centers of immigration," as the foundation states it, Maytree Foundation Executive Director Ratna Omidvar says that the foundation took a long view of immigration to Canada. "Every wave of immigrants has played a role in strengthening this country. We consider this focus a nation-building strategy and are glad to play a strategic role in hastening the fruits of what new immigrants can offer."
As in many countries to which refugees and immigrants are drawn, immigrants in Canada face a thicket of policy, regulatory and attitudinal barriers to full workforce participation. The result is that 60 percent of immigrants in Canada are forced to take unskilled or semi-skilled jobs outside their chosen professions. "Consequently, for example, experienced immigrant doctors in Canada are delivering pizza, instead of performing life-saving operations in hospitals that are short of staff," says Daranee Petsod, executive director of the California-based Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees.
Immigrants often found themselves negotiating the thicket of barriers by themselves or with the help of a few, scattered nonprofit organizations. "This issue was not front-and-center in the public mind. Maytree made it front-and-center in the public domain," says Naomi Alboim, who is a fellow and vice chair of the Policy Forum at the School of Policy Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and an associate of The Maytree Foundation.
Breaking Down Barriers
Immigration reform has been one of The Maytree Foundation's goals since 1987. "[The foundation] has funded immigrant and refugee issues," says Petsod, "gaining in the process an in-depth understanding of the issues and barriers that prohibit immigrants and refugees from being fully and well-integrated into the workforce."
Armed with that understanding, the foundation set out to begin clearing that thicket. Two of the initiatives that resulted from the foundation staff 's resolve led to both a deeper and broader awareness of the issues facing refugees and immigrants, as well as the beginning of country-wide change in how Canada deals with those issues.
The first initiative was to expand post-secondary education opportunities for refugees in limbothose who had been identified as refugees but had not yet gotten permanent resident status. Maytree implemented a range of initiatives both to provide opportunity to those refugees and to create public awareness of the issue. Through the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, co-founded by the foundation and Caledon's president, Ken Battle, it published a series of policy papers to educate the community, the general public and policymakers. It used research findings to organize widespread support and strengthen its advocacy position. It promoted media coverage of affected refugee students and supported and partnered with groups coordinating advocacy efforts. It also launched a scholarship fund that, in 2004, provided more than $290,000 to 56 refugees in limbo and has given financial assistance to more than 100 students.
Ultimately, through those initiatives, the foundation led the drive to change legislation to allow refugees in limbo to apply for and receive student loans from the government. This small change in regulationsthe addition of "and Convention refugees"will enable about 10,000 refugees across Canada to gain access to post-secondary education. The exclusion, says Maytree Foundation President Judy Broadbent, was not a deliberate one. In part, it was the foundation's ability to raise awareness about the issue that made the difference.
The second initiative was to create pathways to workforce and economic integration for skilled immigrants. To do that, Maytree has implemented a comprehensive strategy involving multiple stakeholders. It began by publishing a series of reports documenting barriers to employment for skilled workers and proposing a clearly defined set of policy solutions. One of those solutions was the creation of a regional immigrant employment council. Through Maytree's leadership, advocacy and coalition-building, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) was created as a regional public-private council to dismantle the many and complex obstacles to full workforce participation by skilled immigrants.
TRIEC brings together large employers, community agencies, regulatory bodies, government officials and universities to eliminate barriers blocking skilled immigrants from securing jobs in their fields. With public and private funding, TRIEC is implementing several programs, including an internship program that gives skilled immigrants needed local experience; a mentoring program that matches immigrant workers with professional Canadian counterparts to help them develop professional networks; and a toolkit for employers that describes how others are integrating immigrants into their workforces and the positive impact on their businesses.
The benefits for immigrants are obvious, but these changes will help Canadians as well. "This Employment Council coalition was cited repeatedly to me in my interviews as a revolutionary concept that holds the potential to change policies and employment practices across the nation," says Joe Breiteneicher, president of The Philanthropic Initiative, based in Boston.
"In Canada, there's pretty dramatic evidence that by 2011, 100 percent of the net labor force growth will be dependent on immigration By the year 2025, 100 percent of the net population growth will be dependent on immigration. Canada needs not only highly skilled people, but people in general," explains Maytree's Alboim.
To start with Maytree's accomplishments is to get the story a little backward, because the innovative and collaborative approach The Maytree Foundation took to change the legislation and create TRIEC earned it the Ylvisaker Award. Maytree succeeded in focusing attention on immigration reform and starting the process of change by taking a multi-pronged approach to the issue.
Omidvar succinctly outlines the process, "First of all, you have to understand it completely. Then you have to present the problem with evidence and in a fact-based manner to take away emotion and hyperbole. 'Here are the facts. These are the solutions. These are the costs and benefits.' You build a community of support around the solutions. Sometimes that process is natural. Sometimes it evolves. You have to go through an incremental process of what will work and will not work. Keep hammering away at it every which way you can. Build partnerships with everyonethe community, media, nonprofits. It is a process of relentless incrementalism, as Ken Battle calls it."
The first step was for the foundation to make sure it knew what it was talking about. Breiteneicher explains that it "didn't pull this out of thin air. They got to know the lives of the people who were affected." Petsod says that Maytree's staff and leaders recognized the need to earn legitimacy from the time it began its policy work. "Given its position as a funder with no track record, Maytree worked hard to learn about the issues, build alliances and identify strategic opportunities. Today, Maytree is widely viewed as a key policy leader and highly regarded by a diverse group of stakeholdersincluding grantees, foundation colleagues, business leaders and government officials with whom Maytree may occasionally be at odds." In a series of interviews he did for Maytree, Breiteneicher says, a government immigration officer told him, "They are so trusted because nothing they do doesn't come from research, so grounded, that even their adversaries respect them and see them as collegial."
From making itself an expert in the issues and barriers facing immigrants, Maytree moved to the second part of its approach: creating awareness. The foundation began by identifying the issue of labor market integration, explains Alboim. Next, it published a paper through Caledon, its social policy arm, to raise public awareness of the barriers faced by skilled immigrants. After that, the foundation funded and led a research process to identify possible solutions and followed up the research with the publication and dissemination of a paper called "Fulfilling the Promise: Integrating Immigrant Skills into the Canadian Economy," which outlined a comprehensive approach to the issues. That model was presented and validated at more than 100 conferences, workshops and meetings.
One official Breiteneicher interviewed said that The Maytree Foundation has begun to change the national dialogue on the productive policies in regard to immigrants and refugees. Alboim agrees, "The foundation created awareness at all levels of government and among a range of stakeholders It made sure the issue was well-researched and articulated, involving a variety of players in research and articulation."
The third prong to its approach is working with all of the parties involved in the issues to create a solution. Omidvar says, "We're seen as a neutral party. When we call groups or people to discuss an issue, they come. We have the capacity to bring people to the table who would not normally come."
A good example of Maytree's collaborative approach has been in its work with grantees. Citizens for Public Justice is one of the grantee organizations that worked with Maytree to change the student loan regulations. Executive Director Harry Kits explains, "We've been able to work very closely together in planning. There was a back-and-forth discussion of when is the right political time and other strategic questions. The foundation worked directly with politicians it had contact with and we've done other things depending on who had contacts. My experience with other foundations had been that they consider the grantees as experts in the field and say 'go and do good work.' The Maytree Foundation had developed contacts because of other projects that were really useful and helped to make things happen."
Petsod says that Maytree is "one of those rare foundations that has successfully risen above the money and power dynamics that often define grantor-grantee relationships." Kits agrees, "The foundation made a substantial financial commitment and strategic partnership arrangement with our organization for the long haul, to see this policy change through. This enabled a collaborative relationship with a real sense of trust. The money was available to feed the partnership and to ensure the completion of the task; it was not a source of worry, conflict and power struggles."
Maytree staff has worked closely with community leaders and institutions over many years, treating them as valuable resources and equal partners that play a crucial role in advancing the policy agenda, says Petsod. Beyond grantees, she says, the foundation "has developed close working relationships with key advocacy groups, service providers, businesses, academics and governmental organizations."
No Silver Bullet
The Maytree Foundation's comprehensive, systems approach to work on immigration reform distinguishes it from other grantmakers. Alboim explains, "There is no silver bullet that is going to solve all particular component parts of this issue."
And, says Petsod, the foundation used that comprehensive approach to connect and leverage its grantmaking, programming and advocacy efforts. "For example, its scholarship fund for refugee students in limbo not only met concrete financial needsit also supported advocacy efforts to make student loans available to this population. The scholarship program created opportunities to collect data and to highlight real-life stories that were shared in compelling newspaper articles and in moving personal testimonies to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance."
Petsod points out that "Maytree's approach of engaging multiple sectors and stakeholder groups to effect lasting change is not the easiest route to take and cannot be accomplished without a tremendous amount of passion and vision, often without seeing any results for years."
Which leads to the final lesson in Maytree's accomplishments. Omidvar says, "The heart of all this is passion and you feed your passion. You ally yourself with the passions of others. You can change the world."