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Inclusive Local Economies Symposium Strengthens Sector Learning


Metcalf’s Inclusive Local Economies program was created to improve the economic livelihoods of low-income people in Toronto. Now four years into the program, Metcalf and our community of grantees have tested several new approaches and identified important strategies and areas of focus.

On April 20th, many of these organizations and leaders came together for the second Inclusive Local Economies Symposium: a day of panel discussions, breakout conversations, and activities designed to further strengthen connections and encourage collaboration within the sector.

Opening Remarks

Inclusive Local Economies Program Director Adriana Beemans began the day by sharing her insights from Metcalf’s Resilient Neighbourhood Economies (RNE) pilot. The project was a three-year undertaking which sought to create economic opportunities in two low-income Toronto neighbourhoods. Beemans talked about how the RNE pilot underscored the importance of collaboration among stakeholders, given that the sector’s work is complex and strategies need to shift with the evolving policy landscape. Beemans explained that the symposium was designed to foster this critical sharing, learning, and collaboration.

“We want to ensure that we are investing in connections, capacity building, and collaborations capable of making systemic change.”— Adriana Beemans

Work, Equity, and Systems Change

In the first panel discussion, Reza Ahmadi of the John Howard Society of Ontario, Danielle Olsen of the Hospitality Workers Training Centre, Deena Ladd of the Worker’s Action Centre, and Maya Roy of Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto discussed how equity informs their work.

Ladd, Olsen, and Roy spoke to the precarious nature of the contemporary workplace, in which traditional employment standards are quickly eroding. Roy explained how newcomer women are often forced to transition from conventional employment in the garment industry to at-home piecework. Olsen discussed the importance of improving job quality for seasonal, part-time workers within the hospitality sector, while Ahmadi shared how his organization is working with employers to challenge the persistent biases that can prevent individuals with criminal records from even getting a job interview.

Panelists stressed the need to partner with employers and policy makers to ensure that equitable workplace standards are upheld. Ladd encouraged organizations to put the knowledge and expertise of workers at the centre of their advocacy efforts, especially with the Ontario government’s pending Changing Workplaces Review.

How do you engage with workers who are directly impacted by bad jobs? How can their passion, their leadership, and their experience drive the movement for decent work?”— Deena Ladd

Enthonography: A Way for the Sector to Test its Assumptions

Metcalf Innovation Fellow Sarah Schulman’s organization InWithForward recently completed a six-month residency with West Neighbourhood House (WNH) in which researchers spent large amounts of unstructured time with visitors to WNH’s drop-in program. InWithForward undertook their project without explicit goals or expectations in order to shed the ingrained assumptions that shape traditional data collection methods. Using their rich array of ethnographic data, the group now intends to identify more effective and supportive strategies grounded in the lived experiences of individual drop-in service users.

In her keynote speech, Schulman shared the theories and methods behind her approach to data and evidence collection. She challenged symposium attendees to examine their assumptions when designing services for their clients, and to view systems change as the compilation of many smaller interventions tested within equitable relationships between professional and clients.

“How do you know what you know, and how do you find out what you don’t know? What separates opinion from actual knowledge?”— Sarah Schulman

Place, Scale, and System Change

The second panel discussion was moderated by Rachel Gray, Executive Director of the Stop Community Food Centre. Kuni Kamizaki of Parkdale Activity & Recreation Centre, Mona ElSayeh of Access Community Capital Fund, Steve Shalhorn of Toronto Community Benefits Network, and Peter Frampton of the Learning Enrichment Foundation spoke about the crucial value of partnerships — both internally, within organizations, and externally across groups. While their “places” range from a single neighbourhood to the policies of the City of Toronto, all agreed that deepening collaborations within their particular level of scale is necessary to improving their impact, and that advocating for systemic change requires innovative thinking.

“Admitting that many systems are broken is giving us the freedom to act differently and test new approaches.”— Peter Frampton

Photo Gallery from the Symposium


We look forward to sharing videos from the panel discussions and from Sarah Schulman’s keynote in the near future.



The George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation
38 Madison Avenue, Toronto, ON  M5R 2S1