by Andi Sharma
The NMFCCF (The Fund) Open House was held on June 2nd and welcomed a diversity of stakeholder interests to see what The Fund has been up to over the last several years. We celebrated by listening to stories, and then eating some great food catered by Neechi Commons – a local indigenous workers cooperative and social enterprise that provided delicious food inspired by the traditional foods in the North. The invited guests were as eclectic as the collaborative members themselves with representation from northern communities, current funders, private sector organizations, government and a whole host of support organizations. Julie Price, the Fund’s director, provided an overview of The Fund’s operational activities since its inception three years ago. You simply couldn’t help but be inspired as she covered the community impact, the growth of the Fund and the incredible lived realities of the lives that the NMFCCF has touched. And how better to illustrate the human aspect of our work than by kicking off the event with the premiere showing of the incredibly powerful and moving video Na-Tas-kek: Reconnecting with Mother Earth created by the talented team at BUILD Films._
In fact, humanizing the issue of food insecurity was a critical focus for our Open House, so as a way to both honor our foundational principle of shared learning and embody the ethos of collective impact, several community members were asked to share their stories. Carl McCorrister and his grandson Toryan of Peguis First Nation were invited to share the story of their Community Garden Project; Hilda Dysart and Shirley Ducharme of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin spoke about the wonderful traditional foods work they are doing with both youth and elders; and though unable to attend, Larry Alm was invited to share his experiences with small livestock husbandry through their community chicken raising project. These stories were a heartwarming and inspirational way to connect the current and potential funders to the communities they support and really demonstrate the value of the Fund’s work.
In keeping with the notion of humanizing the work of the Fund, two presentations by current Fund members followed the community stories which allowed for two things: to demystify the role of the funder in the collaborative and provide insight into the tangible benefits of being part of the funding collaborative. Some of the key benefits highlighted included: the access to a broader network of stakeholders and the increased access to funding that comes with such extension; the ability to tap into a diverse array of the talent that forms the collaborative; the mobilization of the entire food security continuum (government, private and non-profit organizations) toward a singular goal; and the critical component of community involvement to engage in reciprocal learning so that funders and communities alike can learn from one another.
From my perspective, the Open House was not only an opportunity to share the NMFCCF story with prospective funders, but was also a chance to connect the funders with the communities that they support and together celebrate the past year. It should come as no surprise that the relationship between funders and recipients is often complicated by the divisive power imbalance that is thought to be inherent to the granter/grantee paradigm of philanthropy. However the NMFCCF opts instead for inclusivity and bridges these divides through intensive relationship and trust building. To that end, we take every opportunity to work with grant recipients in a direct and reciprocal manner so they can know our names, faces and know too that we are not another set of “helicopter” philanthropists who parachute in to provide some assistance then leave as abruptly as they came – a situation all too familiar for Manitoba’s northern communities. So in this way, the Open House was a perfect example of how the NMFCCF’s community-driven model tries to incorporate the ethos of collaboration and collective impact into all aspects of the Fund’s operations.
Being part of the NMFCF has helped me understand that the secret to success for addressing complex and nuanced social issues, like food insecurity, is actually a messy and prolonged process which requires a sustained campaign to increase the capacity and coordination of the entire continuum of actors in the food security sector – from the community to the government and everything in between. This, I think, is what the NMFCCF is trying to accomplish by bringing all interests to the same table and to begin in earnest, an agenda of change at a level unprecedented in northern Manitoba. We often speak about our guiding African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. For me, the Open House demonstrated that above all else – if we work together, we can accomplish so much more.