Creating an Enabling Environment for CDN CSO's

Creating an Enabling Environment for Canadian CSO’s – Sharing Stories of Identity & Approach


“What makes your organization different?”

Last week, a man walking down 124th street in Edmonton noticed our office’s front entrance and wandered upstairs to ask us that very question. He wanted to know: Who are we? What do we do? What makes us different? We responded that 1) we are a small organization – we believe small is beautiful, 2) we partner with local organizations who implement grassroots development projects (according to locally identified needs), and 3) we can do more with less. Our approach to development focuses on managing resources through innovation and efficiency, while striving to maximize the donations of Canadians through federal and provincial matching grants.

These simple questions can also be applied to the larger context of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Canada, and the unique roles that they play as international development actors. Today, CSOs are facing a rapidly changing environment as a result of the Canadian government’s shift in focus and priorities on the world stage. These changes are deeply threatening the present and future sustainability of our rights-based approach to development, and the potential for populations in the Global South to strengthen local processes for human development in harmony with their local environments.

Building an enabling environment must begin with CSOs reasserting their individual and collective identities to both the Canadian public and political institutions, while sharing case-studies that demonstrate how our unique approach is successful in impacting positive social, economic, and political change.

Change for Children (CFCA) is proud of the continued success that we have seen as a result of our rights-based approach and our engagement of local partner organizations and communities in Latin America and Africa. In June 2012, Candida Escalante – a mother, school teacher, and local water justice advocate from the rural community of Santa Teresa, Nicaragua – stepped on stage at the United Nation’s Equator Prize award ceremony in Rio de Janeiro to accept an award for the grassroots success of CFCA and Centro Humboldt’s holistic Water Project in the ecologically fragile region of Chinandega. Over the last eight years, this project has provided over 75,000 people with access to clean drinking water.

Candida, who had never participated in development decision-making processes prior to the implementation of this project, represented thousands of women and men from Chinandega who have formed local Water & Sanitation Committees – groups responsible for managing and controlling their water resources, and for raising their collective voices within processes of forming national water laws, including Law 260, which recognizes water as a public resource.

The future environment for Canadian international development CSOs seems uncertain. But what remains clear is that, individually and collectively, our achievements at the grassroots level are immense. In order to reshape the current environment for CSOs in Canada, together, we must share our successes with the Canadian public and political institutions, and convey the stories of who we are, what we do, and why we do it. The collective sum of our success stories as Canadian CSOs is a tool, in itself, for recreating an environment that nurtures our capacity for affecting positive change and sustainable human development.
By Trina Moyles, Change for Children Association