blog

Re-imagining how we work: Governance

Every few months, we’ll be highlighting how The Stop’s work is changing to challenge racism and inequality in our organization and within our community. We’re starting at the top with our governance structure.  

From our origins in the 1980s, The Stop Community Food Centre has always believed that food is a basic human right.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed whose rights are protected in Canada, and whose are not. Black, Indigenous and racialized Canadians have been the hardest hit when it comes to food insecurity, as a direct result of the systemic racism that’s been sustained in our society.

To better address this reality, The Stop needs to re-imagine how we operate.

For decades, we’ve followed the traditional non-profit governance model: our volunteer Board of Directors are responsible for our funding, legal, and regulatory structures, while our Executive Director and the Senior Management Team lead our operations and programming on the ground.

But so much about this model—in which leadership is hierarchical and often unrepresentative of the communities they serve—runs counter to our values, and frankly, isn’t sustainable. The current pandemic has shown how this model puts additional weight and responsibility on one body of the organization, and how this can cause harm.

Past Stop staff have publicly expressed their frustration at this arrangement, and current staff have expressed their eagerness to see transformation.

We’re committed to making this change by following inspiration that’s close to home.

For decades, The Stop’s staff and volunteers have co-created programs and services with our community members. They’ve worked in tandem to strengthen community wellbeing, and have supported peer leadership at every opportunity. This is the model for The Stop’s Community Advocacy Office, our Economic Justice Project, and our Urban Agriculture programming—to name just a few examples.

To eliminate inequities in our organizational governance, we’ll look to follow their lead by distributing power and decision making more broadly, particularly to those who are most affected by poverty and food insecurity.

This shift will improve our ability to support opportunities in their communities, strengthen our decision-making, create a more transparent organizational culture, and avoid the burnout that the non-profit—and specifically the social sector—has unfortunately become known for.

As the Ontario Nonprofit Network recently wrote in their blog post Equity, power, and the future of the nonprofit sector, “Creating a wider network participating in governance decisions not only opens up more possibilities for the work, but takes care of those who are needing to make those decisions.”

We’re excited about their work in this space, and will be following closely.

Here’s how our network will widen in the coming months:

Strengthening our HR practices to improve work conditions for all our staff. We’ve hired a new member of the Senior Management Team who will soon be redesigning our human resources procedures, reframing and reengaging our staff-led Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression (AR/AO) Committee, and spearheading our multi-year AR/AO policy implementation plan. The Stop’s staff have also recently unionized, and we’re eager to work collaboratively with them as we improve our workplace.

Incorporating membership more meaningfully into our governance. Every year, hundreds of community members sign on to become members of The Stop. Members are eligible to attend our Annual General Meeting, approve the appointment of auditor, and vote for new Board members. We see an opportunity to increase member participation throughout the year to guide our decision-making, and we will be looking at meaningful ways to do just that.

Seeking new voices for our Board of Directors. Our board has largely been focused on the fundraising and fiscal obligations of the organization. We recognize the need for a more diverse board, one that’s more representative of the communities we serve. There are currently two open positions that we are seeking to fill, and will be posting publicly in the coming month and proactively engaging new communities to encourage applications.

These are just the first steps. The Stop’s mission is to challenge inequality, and we commit to continually addressing instances of oppression that appear in our policies, work, systems, and values.

We also commit to challenging the ways in which anti-Black racism, colonialism, and intersecting networks of oppression shape the experiences of our community members, volunteers, and staff. In the coming months, we’ll be sharing more updates on how our work is changing in services to these goals.

Re-imagining The Stop will be a collective process. If you’re passionate about our mission, we’d love to hear from you at bod@thestop.org.

 

Leigh Godbold, Executive Director
Sarah Powell, Board Chair