A Learning Network is a gathering of like-minded individuals who commit to a personal and/or organizational capacity building effort over some period of time. Participants examine trends and issues that impact their work and potentially create broad strategies for collective work in a region or sub-sector. The intent is to be a catalyst for change, incite improved collaboration and enhance sector self-awareness. These retreats combine a mix of external stimulation (e.g. ‘expert’ resources) and internal reflection (e.g. group exercises). We provide a professional facilitator to ensure peer to peer exchanges happen effectively and a resource person (i.e. expert on specific capacity issues) to inject new ideas and to go in depth in a particular area.
Learning Networks enable us to focus resources on select leaders and their organizations. These interventions facilitate progress on core capacity issues by fostering an in-depth understanding of the major issues facing environmental organizations. Further, the opportunity to meet three times or more allows us to have an evermore tailored curriculum, allows new relationships to be developed or existing ones strengthened and builds trust between organizers and leaders to drive ideas and themes deeper.
Past Learning Networks: Good to Great, Boreal Learning Network (BLN), Alberta Water Learning Network, Water Leaders’ Network, Ontario Freshwater Learning Network, Atlantic Learning Network, Prairie Learning Network and Environmental Leaders and Management (ELM).
The Economic Literacy Project (2014-2021) centred on training and knowledge building to support the participation of environmental leaders in the development of a smarter and sustainable economy.
- 4 offerings of a six-part in-person workshop series in Toronto that took a case-based approach to better understand economic concepts and their role in supporting a green economy. A condensed 2-day version was delivered in Halifax, Calgary and Vancouver each with a local host ENGO.
- Green Economy Perspectives was a speaker series in Toronto that featured such luminaries as Bruce Lourie, then Ontario Minister Glen Murray, TD's Karen Clarke-Whistler, Dr. Peter Victor and the UK's Stewart Wallis.
- an internship program - the Sustainability Network Environment & Economy Fellowship Program (SNEEF) - twice helped York FES graduate students complete field placements with ENGO alumni of the workshop series described above.
- the Green Economy Learning Network gathered ~35 key ENGO leaders from ~20 different green economy non-profits for a blended in-person/virtual series of sessions on three key themes - communications, government relations, & community engagement.
Canadians have a desire to participate in environmental programs but some, especially newcomers and members of ethnocultural communities have had challenges connecting with mainstream environmental NGOs. Many ENGOs today have limited diversity and don’t fully reflect or authentically engage the communities they serve. If ENGOs want to maximize their impact, they need to start responding to the nuances, needs and wants of the communities they want to engage in their work.
Between 2010-2015 we led The Environment & Diversity Project (EDP), a four-year collaborative initiative designed to help the Ontario environmental NGO community consider, develop and implement strategies to better reflect and engage under-represented communities. We trained, supported and inspired ENGOs interested in diversifying their audience by placing young professionals into each of the partner ENGOs to work with underrepresented communities and created networks by facilitating links between numerous NGO diversity resources and the ENGO community.
In 2017 we piloted Everybody’s Business: Strengthening Engagement, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Great Lakes which was a bi-national ENGOs community of practise where staff teams could explore diversity efforts. It was to be about helping leading environmental organizations better reflect the communities they serve and move them from good intentions to real change. Everybody’s Business was a collaboration with the Institute for Conservation Leadership, Anima Leadership and Berthoud Consulting.
Social Network Analysis (SNA) involves mapping and measuring how organizations, groups and people connect and interact with one another. Results serve as a foundation for developing strategies and initiatives to make networks, and the organizations that comprise them, more efficient, effective and impactful.
In 2015-2016, Strengthening Networks in the Great Lakes gathered data on 143 environmental nonprofits from the US and Canada who work on public policy, monitoring and ecosystem restoration, public awareness and education, and community organizing. Data visualization tools mapped how organizations connected and interacted with one another, and to identify opportunities to share information and experiences and to improve coordination and collaboration. The project was funded by the C.S. Mott Foundation.
In 2017-2018, Strengthening Networks in the Lake Simcoe Watershed employed SNA to to better understand relationships within and between 41 agricultural commodity associations, not-for-profit environmental and grassroots farm organizations working to protect and restore the health of the Lake Simcoe and it’s watershed. Maps that visualize relationships were presented to stakeholders at a workshop and results were used to identify collaboration opportunities. The project was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Good to Great is an organizational capacity building program loosely based on Jim Collins' classic management framework that provides an opportunity for ENGOs to consider, develop and implement strategies to significantly increase their impact through a learning network and via direct management assistance.
A facilitated learning network provides an intensive residential learning format for environmental leaders to address both management skills and leadership development. Sessions occur over several days every six months. They take place in a rural, residential, retreat-like atmosphere and involve ~20 or so key leaders.
Direct management assistance (DMA) provides Good to Great organizations with support to enable them to work with an experienced consultant or resource person over many months on processes that build organizational capacity of their specific organization. Consultants are selected by the organizations but paid for by the Sustainability Network.