Shock-proofing the future of non-profit work

April 7, 2021 |
Contributed by Sara Laux, McMaster University

Brent McKnight and Sandra Lapointe

An innovative collaboration between McMaster and the United Way of Halton and Hamilton has received funding from Canada’s Future Skills Centre. The project, which leverages the support and broad expertise of a network of partners that includes Social Impact Advisors, CampaignRaven, Mitacs, and Universities Canada, will help the not-for-profit (NFP) sector build its capacity for social innovation through partnerships with universities.

The project is one of 65 initiatives that are part of the Future Skills Centre’s “Shock-proofing the Future of Work” program, launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to encourage the creation of partnerships that will promote resilience in the face of potential future disruptions.

Led by Brent McKnight, an associate professor in the DeGroote School of Business, and Sandra Lapointe, a professor in the Faculty of Humanities, the project aims to create new pathways to allow different sectors to learn from and work with each other.

Over the two-year project, the team will create, pilot and scale a program that combines skill development for non-profit managers with experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students. In the final phase of the project, an online collaborative platform will help partners like the University of Guelph and the University of Ottawa implement the process to build their own version of campus-community partnerships that focus on skills for social innovation.

The pandemic has hit the not-for-profit sector particularly hard, eliminating a key element of Canada’s social safety net. To improve their sustainability, NFPs need to focus on social innovation: creative thinking that benefits people,” explains McKnight, who is the founder and co-chair of McMaster’s Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability. “This program is innovative in its approach, in that it will help current managers within the NFP sector build key skills while also providing relevant, hands-on experiences for undergraduate students – who are the NFP managers of the future.

Launched in February 2019, the Future Skills Centre is the first pan-Canadian centre established at the federal level to focus on skills training for the future. They work with more than 5,000 partners across many different sectors across Canada and have invested more than $102 million into innovation projects in Canada.

Universities, working with community partners like the United Way and with support from organizations like Future Skills Canada, are uniquely positioned to provide this kind of community-based capacity building, which will ultimately strengthen the entire sector and benefit our students as they transition into the workforce,” says Lapointe, who is also the director of The/La Collaborative, a national network that connects experts in the humanities and social sciences through campus to community partnerships. “By building social-innovation knowledge and skills, we will be helping NFPs emerge stronger from crises like COVID-19.


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