Strategic Planning at the CRC: Being adaptive and resilient

yellow_crocus_emerging_through_snow smallWhat do you love about the CRC? What do we do really well? What could we do more effectively? What could we do together that would make significant positive change in Regent Park, a community with the highest child poverty rate in Canada?

Spring is a time of hope, renewal, new life and new ways of being community together. Yellow crocuses are popping through the cold hard soil this week. How something so seemingly fragile and delicate can do so in March in Canada is a wonder to me.

In The Other Side of Chaos, Margaret Silf talks about chaos theory and the premise that, in nature, order periodically breaks down into chaos. Within the chaos, often a new order is trying to reveal itself. Some of the new order will “take” and hold, as the old order must die.

We are about to embark on strategic planning at the CRC.  How much of our staff and program resources do we spend on immediate relief; how much on building up skills that will fundamentally change the ability of the community to live well? We can spend two dollars to serve two exceptionally healthy meals or we can decide to spend one dollar on an amazing meal and the other on a program that provides intensive training so that Amir doesn’t have to use our services in two years. What choice do we make?

In nature, politics, the economy and community work, we all experience change, death and renewal, order and chaos, growth and decay that becomes new life. Margaret Wheatley, Ed. D, writes on Chaos and Complexity Theory. Wheatley suggests that we all work in organizations designed from 17th century images of the universe: filled with clockwork images promising us prediction and reliability, teaching us to view everything, including ourselves, as machines.

Wheatley advocates that we must trust that this is a world of growth, rejuvenation and process. We live in a landscape of movement and complexity, of forms that come and go, of structures that are not from organizational charts or job descriptions, but from impulses arriving out of deep natural processes of growth and of self-renewal.

For us at the CRC, we must be adaptive and resilient. As a community of humans, it is in our DNA to create ourselves, maintain ourselves and change ourselves if required, to survive and thrive.

This spring, we’re embarking on a strategic planning exercise to answer key questions from lots of different perspectives. Four years ago, this amazing building opened and gave new life to CRC, our community, volunteers and staff. Just a few short years ago, we were a small grassroots organization with 7 to 8 staff and a budget of about $700,000.

Today, we are a thriving hub of social housing, home of the Regent Park Community Food Centre, a busy drop-in and clothing room, and a social enterprise. In 2015, we housed 110 people and had 1,066 significant housing support actions. We served 62,000 healthy nutrient-dense meals and had 3,488 visits to our clothing, shower and laundry program. Over two hundred dedicated volunteers gave us 29,000 hours of their time. Our Community Gardens team led workshops and innovative practices in 2 communal and 187 allotment style gardens. At our weekly summertime food and cultural event, Taste of Regent Park, we served over 2,000 meals cooked by community caterers and sold $3,000 of affordable produce.

In the last 6 months, we’ve been strengthening our infrastructure, deepening Board relations, building a healthy team dynamic, and we’ve filled some vacancies with very gifted new staff.

Regent Park has many strengths and many needs. It is ranked as the 8th highest need community in Toronto. In the Urban Heart research, it ranks in the red/danger zone on 10 variables, including unemployment, low-income, premature mortality, and mental health. Poverty is estimated between 46-49%. We know that 64% of people who use our services identify that they do not have enough money for food.

We need the best and brightest aboard to work with the community to incubate healthy change. Our staff and volunteer profile is dedicated, smart, passionate, innovative, collaborative, creative individuals bringing their best to a community that deserves and needs it.

It’s our moment to determine where we need to go to be high impact in this neighbourhood and how we can bring increasing depth to our programs and approach to community development.

It’s not unusual for the strategic planning process to reveal that key stakeholders have different ideas about what we want to do. A strategic plan helps to build consensus and clarity on the organization’s mission, values and goals and to stimulate new thinking and creative collaboration.

Why Now?
When I arrived, many dedicated staff were working hard on lots of initiatives. Without a unified vision, everyone can move in their own direction. It’s challenging to move a boat forward effectively if everyone is rowing to a different destination. A strong strategic plan will help us to make decisions about what work is essential, what key outcomes we will seek, what funding is aligned with our vision, which partners we need to get to know better, and what skills we require on our team.

Once we have the plan in place, we will know exactly which priorities are key. CRC will have established outcomes and indicators to tell us if we’re on track. If another agency down the street is already doing this work well, let’s not duplicate. Let’s sort out what we are uniquely gifted to do and do that exceptionally well. In his seminal classic, Good To Great, Jim Collins’ research indicated clearly that organizations are more likely to succeed if they focus on one thing, and do it very well.

CRC is a living, dynamic, breathing system with a life of its own. The death of plants and animals makes it possible for new lives to thrive in an ecosystem. From endings comes new growth. We will need to say “no” to some elements to birth new ways of working.

“When what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at and what drives your economic engine come together, not only does your work move toward greatness, but so does your life. For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.”
― James C. Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

I invite you to spend your time well with us in this beautiful community.

Join Us
How can you participate? Our process will include an environmental scan, focus groups, online surveys and interviews. We will keep you posted on the ways in which you can give your feedback. We want to hear from volunteers, community members, staff, donors, the Board, funders, partners, and management. It takes a village and we’re going to ask you to be a key player in that village.

Claire Barcik, Executive Director



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