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by Alejandra Bravo
School4Civics (part of the DiverseCity project) provided more than three years of political training for diverse, emerging leaders in the Greater Toronto Area. What has our impact been?
School4Civics set out to train political “lifers”
The School4Civics program was created to identify, recruit, train and connect diverse leaders. We offered a non-partisan training and mentoring program delivered by campaign experts from across the political spectrum. Our goal was to help emerging leaders build political power beyond one single election campaign. We wanted to train new leaders and see them become active in politics.
We wanted to make “lifers” out of program participants. But we also wanted to change the election and political narratives, to make them more inclusive and responsive to local communities.
Why did we do it?
It is important to recognize that leaders signal who belongs and who doesn’t. They provide role models. They’re powerful symbols for future generations to see what they can and cannot aspire to become. It matters who is within the corridors of power. Those who lead organizations and institutions and make decisions can truly shape the future. Political leadership is particularly visible. In 2007, with elections at various levels of government coming, we knew there was a gap.
The upcoming elections represented an opportunity for new political actors to emerge. We thought that we could enrich the political process by infusing the elections with a new, diverse generation of leaders.
We sought to demystify election campaigns – and to some degree the reality of electoral politics – for leaders from underrepresented ethnic and racial groups. In the process, we’d equip them to run for elected office or work behind the scenes in election campaigns.
Program participants were a diverse group of individuals working in a range of sectors, and already making a difference in their communities. But they were not yet truly politically connected. Participants came from across the Greater Toronto Area, representing the region’s diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation. Each cohort had a balance of genders and a range in ages.
They were selected based on demonstrated social change leadership, a capacity to learn in a multi-partisan environment, and a commitment to use the lessons in real life elections. The majority of participants had volunteered previously on election campaigns, but lacked knowledge of their inner workings. And they lacked the political networks to play more significant roles.
We ran our participants through a curriculum built on three key components. The first two for broader leadership development: identifying political values, and planning for the short and long term to make an impact. The third, more specific to elections: learning about practical campaign tools such as fundraising, communications, identifying and getting out the vote. We delivered the program in workshops, virtually, via one-day bootcamps, and via networking opportunities where participants learned from each other.
The program was designed to coincide with an electoral cycle which saw election campaigns at all levels of government, concluding with the October 2011 Ontario vote.
Impact of School4Civics: the leaders
Since 2008, we’ve trained more than 150 emerging leaders with the majority participating in election campaigns or nomination races. When we asked them about their impact, we were particularly interested in measuring their political efficacy before and after participating in the program:
Participants reported that the program quadrupled their political efficacy. In addition, 90% said the DiverseCity project helped in their political journey.
And what about paying it forward? 60% have already opened the door or supported someone else in his or her political aspirations. Another 30% have plans to do so.
Impact of School4Civics: we changed the conversation
The program contributed to a heightened awareness of the lack of diversity in elected office, particularly in the municipal election in 2010. It may have also raised expectations for change in the community, by showcasing new candidates and leaders prepared to stand for elected office.
In part this happened because of extensive media attention. Both the program and the diversity gap in elected office have been referenced in election-related stories. We helped, behind the scenes, using our own networks to connect new faces with reporters looking for stories.
This increased profile has generated interest among the political parties in the people we have been training. Most significantly, program participants have used their skills in the real world of campaign nominations and elections. They ran as candidates or work as campaign volunteers in a range of roles – from knocking on doors to acting as policy advisors to mayoral candidates.
New series – School4Civics stories
Individual leaders seeking to make social change through the political process is where School4Civic’s impact will be truly measured. So, we are launching a new series of stories, chronicling the individual journeys of School4Civics participants who have made a political impact.
We want to know: “Where are you now?”