Archive for 2014

ABC Life Literacy Canada partners with Innoweave

Jim Warrington, ABC Life Literacy Canada Board Chair, reflects on their mission and why they chose to work with Innoweave to develop a Theory of Change through the Impact and Strategic Clarity module.

The Theory of Change process, introduced to ABC Life literacy by Lisa Watson, was both timely and mission critical for future growth. The Innoweave Impact and Strategic Clarity Module made sense to us because of four key factors:

  • ABC’s current strategic plan was in its third and final year
  • Our primary funder, the Government of Canada, was potentially changing its funding model from core to project-based support Tuned out to be the case as of July 1, 2014)
  • Gillian Mason, a skilled and committed not-for-profit executive, had recently assumed the leadership of the organization and was familiar with this planning process
  • The ABC Board wanted to see a refreshed mission that focused on greater, measurable outcomes and labour market impacts

We believe this process has been very successful because the “design team” of staff and Board members has worked closely together in mapping our Theory of Change, enabled very professionally by Lisa Watson using McConnell Foundation and Bridgespan Group principles and best practices. In a very short period of time, the organization has created an Impact Statement and clarity for how we’ll get there. A one-page summary of the work has been successfully shared with major stakeholders, including the Government of Canada.

Having this strength of strategic insight has allowed us to continue to plan for growth and a more sustainable future, without relying on core government funding.  This work has allowed ABC Life Literacy Canada to think of itself and its impact in an outcomes-driven fashion, ensuring that literacy and numeracy rates will increase in Canada over the next 10 years. To have all our stakeholders, our Board, our volunteers and our staff march to the same drummer has been a critical component here, and it might not have happened so quickly or so effectively without the Theory of Change process, or Lisa Watson’s informed and focused leadership.

The best example I can think of this process’ impact is an all-day meeting we held on February 1st, 2014. It was a Saturday, and we managed to get all but one Board members out with key staff for a discussion and review of the draft Theory of Change. This enlightened the findings and drove the principles of the final outcome. In my 9 years of volunteering for the organization, I had never seen this level of participation before, especially on personal time.

As we transform the organization post-core funding, this journey ends up being mission critical for our success. We are grateful to the McConnell Foundation for the support they have given us, and the outcomes we will see as a result.

In the end, it is all about adult learners and better, more valuable life experiences, thanks to upskilling. This will impact thousands of Canadians, so thank you.

Gillian Mason, President, ABC Life Literacy Canada, offers her reflections on the development of a Theory of Change:  

ABC found enormous support working with Innoweave through the Theory of Change at this crucial time in our history. Lisa Watson with the insight and support of Sally Fazal, facilitated a process that grounded our staff and board in our key values and our long term vision. It has given us a chance to signal to our stakeholders and partners very clearly, who we are, what we believe and where we are going. We are in a time of unprecedented change and extraordinary possibility at ABC and our experience with Lisa and Sally, has positioned us to adapt and take advantage of some of the exciting opportunities. We are currently growing and changing at a rapid rate while still remaining guided by our Theory of Change and focused on our ultimate goal of increasing adult literacy in Canada.

Additional Notes and Evidence that helped to frame ABC Literacy’s work with Innoweave.

from Jim Warrington, ABC Life Literacy Canada Board Chair.

Literacy and Numeracy in Canada is Declining and Only Action Will Reverse This Trend

  • Over the last 10 years, Canadian literacy rates have dropped: in 2003 we ranked above average compared to other countries, we are now just average
  • Percentages of Canadians with below desired literacy and numeracy rates are staggering: 49% for literacy and 55% for numeracy; this means almost 6 in 10 Canadians do not have the desired level of numeracy skills
  • In the 2013 OECD survey Canada is ranked eleventh in the world, behind the Slovak Republic, Estonia and Australia
  • Canadian youth (16 to 24 years) are under-performing in literacy compared to their OECD counterparts

(Statics from OECD PIAAC 2013 survey)

Essential Skills are Critical to Business Success

  • Essential skills training provides solutions for:
  • Changes in the business
  • Health and safety concerns
  • Paperwork completion and document-use challenges
  • Communication, teamwork, and leadership requirements

(Advancing Workplace Learning study, 2013)

  • Essential skills are the building blocks for all other learning; they include: reading text, document use, writing, numeracy, oral communication, computer use, thinking skills, working with others, and continuous learning
  • Essential skills proficiency is strongly linked to positive labour outcomes (employability and earnings potential) (TD Economics Special Report Dec. 2013)

Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy partners with Innoweave

by Lynn Roblin, MSc. RD, member of co-lead of the Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy group

The Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy (OFNS) design team formed in 2011 as a working group of the Ontario Collaborative Group on Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (OCGHEPA).  The group includes representatives from non-profit, health, food and academic organizations dedicated to addressing population-based issues relating to healthy eating, physical activity, healthy weights and the determinants of health, including food access.  Sustain Ontario, a province-wide, cross-sectoral alliance that promotes healthy food and farming, is a key partner within the OFNS Design Team and houses all documents of the collaborative.

The OFNS group has identified the need for a cross-government, multi-stakeholder coordinated approach to address food policy and program development and to develop a plan for healthy food and farming in Ontario.  The group prepared an Action Plan Framework as a result of consultations with over 40 representatives of relevant provincial ministries, food, nutrition, health, and farming groups, engagement with Aboriginal and First Nations groups, and online surveys with over 200 submissions between 2012 and 2014.  Research, background papers and consultation reports are available on the Sustain Ontario website.

Three members of the OFNS group attended the Innoweave collective impact workshop in the fall of Sept 2013 and 12 representatives, including 3 ministries, attended the February 2014 workshop. Participants at both workshops felt the collective impact approach would help us further engage key actors to achieve system level change for a coordinated, cross-ministry, multi-stakeholder mechanism to address food and nutrition policy and programming in Ontario.  This will ultimately help improve the health of Ontarians and strengthen Ontario economy and resiliency of our food systems.

Thanks to funding from the McConnell Foundation and Innoweave the OFNS group is receiving coaching support.  The coach will help us finalize our system level impact goals, further develop our theory of change and advance mutually reinforcing activities, and create a process for shared impact measurement.  The coach will also work with us to refine the collaborative organizational structure and a resource plan.

The OFNS group is a dedicated group of individuals representing a variety of organizations who have provided tremendous in-kind and volunteer support.  The OFNS group has applied and is hopeful to secure funding through Innoweave for a backbone coordinator so that the excellent work on the strategy can continue.


Impact & Strategic Clarity Coach Profile: Robin Cory


Robin Cory

What made you want to become a coach with Innoweave?

I am trained as a coach and was providing strategy support to non-profits at the time that Innoweave launched. Having lived in the United States for 10 years, I was familiar with Bridgespan’s work with a number of U.S-based non-profits and was thrilled to hear that they were going to be developing a program for Canadian non-profits in partnership with the McConnell Foundation.  The opportunity to learn from Bridgespan and to deliver the Impact and Strategic Clarity module in Canada has been a fabulous experience for me.  I think they have developed some extremely important and practical tools for organizations to think more clearly about their work and desired impact.

 What has been your experience so far? How have you found the process?

I have loved my work as an Impact coach.  My partner Margot Smart and I have coached over a dozen organizations, since the start of Innoweave, helping them achieve greater strategic clarity through the development of an intended impact statement and theory of change.  My sense from the organizations we have supported is that they are left with a decision-making tool to help them be even more thoughtful about what they will say yes and no to in the future—and that’s our central objective.

What are the benefits to working with an Innoweave coach?

The approach we take really is one of a coach and champion.  I think the three greatest values we provide as impact coaches are the tools, the probing questions and the accountability structure.  After working through a topic and generating ideas as a group, the team then meets without us to advance the thinking before we meet again.  Organizations really get out what they put in.  And we have been extremely fortunate to have worked with a group of extremely thoughtful and committed leaders who I believe have gained much greater focus and clarity as a result of this process.  It’s really about thinking differently or more rigorously about how to allocate scarce resources for maximum impact.

What has been your biggest learning or “aha” moment while helping organizations complete the Innoweave ISC module?

There have been two.  The first is deep realization around how challenging the work of non-profit organizations is—given the complex and often competing forces creating the issues they are tackling and the limited resources they have to bring to bear to achieve their goals.  The second is that so many social service agencies are driving at similar outcomes.  Although as impact coaches we work with single organizations by design, this work continues to raise for me the importance and potential of partnerships, collaborations and Collective Impact — across sectors.

 Who would you recommend apply for the module?

Organizations that are at an important inflection point.  They are seeking to answer clear strategic questions and could benefit from a decision-making framework to aid them in doing so.  They are willing to revisit their theory of change or need to develop one.  They could assemble a working group, which includes the ED or CEO, that could collectively commit to about a day a week of time over ~5 months.  And most importantly, are up for having some fun—we do try to laugh as much as possible!

To find out more about the Impact & Strategic Clarity module and how you can apply, please visit