Research, Reviews, & Updates

The ESPC provides research, reviews, and updates on a range of social issues

Room for change: The Champion's Centre's Progressive Approach to Alberta's Homelessness Crisis

Room for change: The Champion’s Centre’s Progressive Approach to Alberta’s Homelessness Crisis.

Book by Rush, Halbauer & Hopchin, The Champion’s Centre, 2006.

I’ve always admired people who aren’t afraid of dreaming big, and Klaas Klooster fits that profile well. Recognizing the need for long-term housing solutions for those who are chronically without a home, especially those suffering from mental illnesses, Klooster dreamt of The Champion’s Centre. Room for change recounts the journey of bringing that dream to reality, and it is an inspiring and eye-opening tale.

The Champion’s Centre was founded in Ponoka in 2002. It “combines ecologically and financially valid concepts of compressed housing for the disabled, those that are homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.” The Centre houses over a dozen men in individual units, and provides them with services such as a hot meal, cleaning, and personal encouragement. The Centre also incorporates small businesses into its premises; this model provides funding for the organization and gives part-time work opportunities to residents who are capable of taking on the responsibility.

A second Champion’s Centre was founded in Medicine Hat in 2006. Since this book was published a location was opened in Brooks and plans for an Edmonton Centre have been set in motion.

The Champion’s Centre model is unique with respect to other group homes. The Centre receives some of its funding from the government and other community organizations, but it also generates its own support through its on-site businesses. As a result, tenants are able to live for substantially less than if they maintained an independent residence.

This book is an engaging read, providing narrative accounts from staff, volunteers and residents at The Champion’s Centre, as well as from staff at other temporary shelters. They discuss some of the obstacles and rewards they meet in their day-to-day work, and they reflect on the necessity of having many types of people involved in this kind of project. While visionaries like Klaas Klooster provide a dream for new initiatives, others bring forward practical know-how related to maintenance and support raising. Klooster reflects on the value of having community support for a project like this and relays some advice on how to garner it.

The book also provides a discussion of the ties between homelessness and mental illness, giving a brief summary of several of the mental illnesses that contribute to homelessness. The point is made that “while humanity may still lack the power to eradicate mental illness, it certainly has the power to eradicate homelessness.” The Champion’s Centre has focused on providing housing for those with mental illnesses because of the high prevalence of mental illness among people who are without a home.

Read this book if you work with the homeless or recently housed; if you are interested in the link between mental health and housing; if you need inspiration for bringing your dreams to fruition.

Visit The Champion's Centre website
Review by Jennifer Hoyer

Valorizing Immigrant's Non-Canadian Work Experience

Valorizing Immigrant’s Non-Canadian Work Experience.

Report from Canadian Council on Learning, 2009.

As a result of Canada’s low birth rate, and the retirement of an aging population, immigrant workers are becoming increasingly important in Canada’s labour force. This report explores foreign work experience and its role in the assessment and recognition of immigrants’ qualifications for Canadian jobs.

The identified barriers that immigrants face when searching for work in Canada include (1) lack of recognition for foreign credentials, (2) language barrier, and (3) the lack of valorization of foreign work experience. Unfortunately, most programs and initiatives today are only designed to address the first two.

This becomes a major problem, placing immigrants in a Catch 22 situation where they are unable to get a job without Canadian experience, and are unable to get Canadian experience without a job.

This report further examines foreign work experience through innovative practices, challenges, and government support

Innovative Practices to Valorizing Foreign Work Experience

One innovative practice includes the preparation, organization, and conduct of interviews. Organizations such as RBC, Assiniboine Credit Union, and Manulife train or coach immigrant applicants in cross cultural communication techniques to explain and understand how foreign experience relates to the Canadian labour market. This approach requires thatimmigrants learn about the cultural context of the Canadian workplace, the Canadian labour market, and the operations and informal culture of the industry sector; and recruiters and managers learn about the different effects of cultural differences on communication.

Innovative practices also include bridging programs that integrate immigrants’ foreign experience into the assessment of their knowledge and skills, the demonstration of competencies, resume preparation and job searches, and customized internships and placements. These bridging programs are evident in a few organizations including The Immigrant Skilled Trades Employment Program (ISTEP), Workplace Integration of Newcomers (WIN), and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).


One of the prevailing challenges is the lack of recognition by employers of the value of work experience acquired outside Canada. This is often due to the inability of employers to understand how foreign work experience may relate to the Canadian workplace and contribute to it. This causes many employers to simply refuse foreign work experience as valid experience for employment.This report also argues that the “diversity advantage” that immigrants with foreign experience can bring to our economy to enhance our international competitiveness is utilized by few employers; some who may even argue that it does not exist.Addressing this problem will require investments of time, effort, and money to provide effective communication and well-designed education and training.

Government Support
Many innovative practices for valorizing foreign work experience have been exercised by the Immigrant Settlement Agencies (ISAs), with support from Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Immigrant Settlement and Adaption Program and some provincial governments. As well the federal government’s Foreign Credential Recognition (FCR) program in late 2003 with a budget of $68 million stimulated a variety of initiatives.

These initiatives have resulted in an increased openness among employers to understand the experience and needs of immigrants, and to take unaccustomed risks in recruitment, hiring, and workplace integration practices.

Promising Developments
Although there are many promising developments surrounding the issue of valorizing foreign work experience, it is evident that Canada's employers and governments still face many challenges in creating a smooth transition for immigrants looking for work in Canada. Organizations must begin to recognize and value immigrant experience to not only address the trending worker shortage in Canada, but to also identify the opportunity of hiring immigrants as a ‘diversity advantage’ where they are gaining new skills and experience that will further drive organizations to new strengths and economic competitiveness.

Read this report if you are an organization interested in valorizing foreign work experience, or are an individual interested in immigration work related issues.

Read the report online.

Review by Darlene Paranaque 

Financial Literacy: Strategies to meet the needs of low-income Albertans

Financial Literacy: Strategies to meet the needs of low-income Albertans. Report from Social and Enterprise Development Innovations, June 2009.
Everyone is talking about money these days. Or rather, everyone is talking about lack of money; the last eighteen months have proven difficult for most Canadians. While financial literacy is not a new idea, it has received attention as the general public realizes they might not be making the best financial decisions. We are not as financially literate as we could be.

Social and Enterprise Development Innovations (SEDI) is a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income Canadians achieve economic self-sufficiency. Their work spans areas including financial literacy, asset building, and entrepreneurship. Briefly defined, SEDI is working from the premise that the goals of financial literacy are to increase financial knowledge and change financial behaviour. The Alberta Ministry of Employment and Immigration asked SEDI to look at financial literacy in Alberta, more specifically how it is effective and could improve the lives of low-income Albertans.

This project resulted in Financial Literacy: Strategies to Meet the Needs of Low-Income Albertans, a report that surveys best practices in financial literacy programs and policies around the globe and within Alberta. It contains feedback from program participants on how policies and strategies can be most effective.

Around the world
Internationally, New Zealand has taken the lead in successful financial literacy programs and policies. They are one of a small number of countries that has conducted a national financial literacy survey (Statistics Canada is currently working on a similar project); this survey indicated which demographics have lower levels of financial literacy. The data collected has been used to create a national strategy, which focuses on inclusion of financial education in school curriculum, provision of adequate information for any citizen faced with financial decision, and promotion of financial literacy programs in the workplace. The strategy focuses on teaching financial literacy at every age, with the recognition that financial habits develop early in life.

Hallmarks of a good national strategy
Programs in the UK, USA and Australia are also examined. Successful approaches to financial literacy in all these countries have several characteristics:

  • Attitudes that financial literacy is a basic skill needed over the course of one’s life
  • A national survey to create a baseline measure, with follow-up surveys every few years
  • Multi-sectoral strategies, in the form of partnerships with many types of organizations to reach all audiences
  • Ongoing program evaluation
  • Information and programs are provided free of charge In Canada

The Canadian government invested five million dollars in financial literacy over the course of 2007 and 2008, through the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. Several other organizations, including the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education, SEDI, the Canadian Centre for Financial Literacy, and the Joint Forum of Financial Market Regulators, are also involved in financial literacy program and policy development. The only province to currently boast financial literacy components within school curriculum is British Columbia. Several programs have been developed to target low-income Canadians who aren’t in school in major cities such as Ottawa, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Vancouver, in conjunction with the YMCA, CIBC, and other local organizations.

In Alberta
Here in Alberta, organizations in municipalities across the province have set up financial literacy programs for their clients and other low-income earners in their communities. In Edmonton, the Candora Society’s Women’s Savings group focuses on strategies for saving money and connecting to community resources. The Edmonton Financial Literacy Society creates financial literacy curriculum tailored to several specific target audiences, such as aboriginals or immigrants. In Calgary, Momentum has programs to help low-income earners better manage their resources to achieve financial self-sufficiency.

Current concerns
As a result of recent economic events, approaches to financial literacy have become more reactive rather than proactive. It is important that policy developers keep in mind the need for proactive strategies even as they deal with current crises. Recent events have also proven that, while financial literacy education is crucial, regulation and public policy to protect consumers must also be in place.

This report contains solid grounding on the ingredients of sound financial literacy policy, and feedback from program participants will provide the Alberta Ministry of Employment and Immigration with insight into the barriers program developers and participants may face.
Read this report if you are involved in financial literacy program or policy development and delivery; if you are working to improve the lives of low-income Albertans; if you are interested in financial education.

Visit our library catalogue to find this publication in our library or online. For more information on SEDI’s own perspective on financial literacy, visit their website at www[dot]sedi[dot]org, or check out some of the following publications (available online or through the ESPC library):

Financial Inclusion for Homeless Persons and Those at Risk. SEDI, 2008.
Delivery Models for Financial Literacy Interventions: A Case Study Approach. SEDI, 2008.
Financial Capability: Learning from Canadian Communities. SEDI, 2006.
Review by Jennifer Hoyer

Stretched to the Limit: Economic Impact Survey, Alberta's Nonprofits & Charities

Stretched to the Limit: economic impact survey, Alberta’s nonprofits & charities by the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations. Results from October 2009.

No one needs to be reminded that times are tough; as we develop coping mechanisms for the current economic situation, many nonprofit organizations are unsure of what the future will bring.
The Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO) has released data from its third survey of nonprofits in Alberta, and results line up with the general atmosphere: Nonprofits have been hit hard by the economic downturn and are afraid of what further economic hardship may bring.

The sector has done a good job of coping with the various impacts of the recession. Organizations have looked to streamline their operations, letting go of staff where necessary while trying to maintain programs. Cost cutting is done in areas that will not affect programs; in some instances this results in greater collaboration, partnerships, and mergers. Many programs have been saved by these efforts.

Another major impact of economic hard times has been an increase in service demands, especially in the health and social service sectors. Respondents in this survey revealed that many clients are coming to them who have never had to look for outside help before. As organizations are struggling to find finances to meet existing needs, the demand for their services is increasing.

The CCVO’s survey shows that nonprofit organizations have seen decreases in revenue received from every source: fundraising campaigns, corporate support, earnings, government grants, and every other type of support.

While organizations have efficiently dealt with tighter budgets up to this point, this survey indicates that there is little room for them to deal with further constraints if current conditions continue.

The survey data represents responses from organizations across Alberta, although most participants were from nonprofits in Edmonton and Calgary.

For more information on this or the CCVO’s other surveys on economic impacts of the recession go to their website at www[dot]calgarycvo[dot]org.

Read this report if you work in the nonprofit sector and would like to know how your organization measures up with current trends.

You can find this report in our library, or download the PDF online through our library catalogue.
Review by Jennifer Hoyer 

Doing Better for Children

Book published by the OECD, 2009. Available in the ESPC library as book or PDF.

Childcare workers and policymakers interested in child welfare should take a look at Doing Better for Children. This in-depth report examines the efforts OECD member countries are making to enhance the well-being of their children. The authors ask what government programs for children are achieving and investigate whether money is being spent wisely. Why should we care about these issues? Because the health of our economy and society hinges on the well-being of today’s children.
The scope of this book includes data on how 28 member countries, including Canada, distribute government social spending across the life cycle of a child. It is very helpful to look at Canada’s data in this context. The report also lets us look at how we measure up against our peer countries in relation to the proportion of resources they allocate to child well-being.

Doing Better for Children compares data across six areas:

  • Material Well-being
  • Housing and Environment
  • Education
  • Health and Safety
  • Risk Behaviours
  • Quality of School Life

Other important issues are also discussed. It turns out that more money is spent on the last third of childhood – the “facebook years” – than the first third – the “Dora the Explorer years”. By contrast, the authors conclude that spending on the first third of childhood is more effective. Following from this, policies regarding services for infants and very young children (under-3s) are compared across countries.

Another interesting theme is intergenerational inequality. Do children become their parents? Is social mobility an option for children today? It turns out that socioeconomic class plays a major role in determining social mobility.

Controversial conclusions are made with regards to family environment. The authors discuss whether family make-up has an impact on child well-being, and they state that staying together for the kids doesn’t necessarily create a better home environment than a single-parent family.

The authors report some difficulty collecting data due to a general lack of statistic-keeping for this age group. Despite this, they have compiled insightful data into easy-to-read tables and graphs.

Several general policy recommendations are made. They include the following:

  • Governments should invest more in early childhood than in later adolescence
  • Early investment in disadvantaged children needs follow-up throughout their childhood
  • Intergenerational inequality will most likely be broken by early investment
  • Policies for child well-being need to address all the dimensions of their lives
  • Politicians and policymakers need targets and timelines if goals related to child well-being are to be met.
  • Comprehensive statistics on children need to be gathered regularly, both to monitor child well-being and to inform policy. At present, children are “statistically invisible” in many countries.
  • Governments must be vigilant in tracking the effectiveness of programs and ensuring that funding is properly allocated.

A few specific and thought-provoking policy suggestions are made: Parental smoking should be reduced, especially during pregnancy. Educational funding should be reallocated towards disadvantaged children. Less money should be spent on post-natal hospital stays, older children, and single parents. Whether you agree with these statements or not, the report is worth a read.
There’s nothing like some OECD policy recommendations for good conversation starter!

Review by Jennifer Hoyer