Winnipeg, a city full of contradictions

15/01/2015, Winnipeg, Canada, Mareike writes:

Light a Spark, Do Pro Bono Work!

Spark, a service of the Canadian CED Network - Manitoba

The non-profit sector has always been supported by local communities in various ways and volunteering is one of the main contributions. I, as well, spent a good share of time volunteering for small local organizations in Italy.

There are two sides at each experience: the volunteer’s and the organization’s.

On the volunteer’s side, many reasons can drive a person to give their time for free, the most common being sense of community, willingness to help others, gaining experience in a specific field. The beauty of it is that anyone can be a volunteer.

Organizations value the help from volunteers particularly when they are able to work independently or bring something new or special with them. It is also true that any help is appreciated, although community organizations are often small and have reduced staff, factors that hinder the possibility to follow and train a volunteer on their tasks.

This was the context here in Winnipeg too, in the early 2000’s, when CBOs and other groups in the CD/CED movement figured that professional help was needed in order to make a change while dealing with scarce financial resources. At the same time, a consistently growing number of professionals were willing to give back to the community and were often frustrated by the traditional volunteering opportunities: either the organization was not ready or didn’t really need that expertise, or the offer wasn’t timely. 

Under the guidance of a multi-organization steering committee, a service called CEDTAS was created in 2004. It is now known as Spark, a successful service of the Canadian CED Network Manitoba that leveraged over $245,000 in pro bono assistance in 2014, taking its total leveraged assistance to $1 million.

On one side, Spark helps negotiate a match agreement between the professional and the CD/CED organization. The agreement works as a sort of contract, where a work plan, roles and responsibilities, hours, timelines, steps and outcomes of the collaboration are set beforehand.

On the other, it serves as an information broker for referrals. It does so by providing a list of volunteers with the right skills to an organization that has the funds to pay for a service, by referring organizations to workshops on suitable topics, and by leveraging resources by connecting people or organizations with similar ideas.

So, why is Spark special and worth mentioning?

It is a service that goes beyond volunteerism by engaging professionals in pro bono work, therefore introducing a new model that applies in a better way to an always-evolving city like Winnipeg.

It brings skills from a very wide range of expertise to the table of the non-profit sector.

Spark adopts a 1 professional-to-1 organization approach, that implies deep assessment and personalized project shaping. It is a service that not only has registered the significant milestone of $1 million leveraged, but has had a tremendous impact from the participants’ point of view. Professionals report a great return in terms of sense of the community and understanding of the challenges in the city, along with a perceived stimulation when applying their skills to a new context. In some cases personal relationships are born between the professional and the organization, such as becoming members of the board or being considered for future job openings. This kind of return was quite a pleasant surprise for the staff of Spark, as the original idea came with the intent to help the other side of the match.

Spark is connected to the the Global Pro Bono Network, and differentiates itself from the other members for being CD/CED led and driven, somehow reflecting an organic approach that is rooted in the community work of the Prairies and in Winnipeg’s unique social context.


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