If you’re an activist in Toronto, you probably know Tools for Change.

There to “help you develop skills to champion social change,” they are a fabulous example of local collaboration between organizations. And it is leading to both greater efficiency and higher impact for Greenpeace and for the broader movement.

One look at their testimonials page and you’ll see that their trainees love them!

How does Tools for Change work?

Let’s say that Greenpeace in Toronto, with 250 active local volunteers, wanted a one-day workshop on processes and practices for conflict resolution for their 5 group leaders on a weekend.  Problem: with only 1 organisation and 5 people to attend, it is questionable whether the benefit from the workshop is really worth the trainers’ time in preparing & delivering the curriculum.

Solution: (this is the clever bit…) by joining the training needs of three larger organisations together, and openly promoting the workshops through a network of other smaller NGOs, the situation transforms in four key ways:

  1. Each workshop has high enough participation to make it worthwhile for the trainer to invest in. And therefore more great trainings are available for volunteers.
  2. With a larger pool of trainers to draw from, each trainer can focus on delivering fewer trainings over the year, at higher quality.
  3. Participants benefit from learning in a larger and more diverse group, with more diverse stories.
  4. Relationships and understanding are built at the grassroots level between different organisations

Who is part of Tools for Change?

How do they make decisions?

Tools for Change was founded 4 years ago by OPIRG (the “Ontario Public Interest Research Group”) and Earthroots. Shortly after – and with a lot of work from Natalie Caine, GP Canada’s national Volunteer Program Coordinator – Greenpeace also saw the benefits and joined the collaboration. It is the strong community ties and movement-wide relationships maintained by GP Canada’s volunteering and organizing staff which made this collaboration possible.

Tools for Change’s core decision-making team is formed of one representative from each partner organization (including Natalie), and a paid part-time coordinator, Jessica Bell (thanks for the interview Jessica!)

Annually, the core team surveys the local NGO network on their ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ for core training. As a ‘movement service’, their focus is always ‘What would be most helpful to you?’

Each year they receive approximately 80 survey responses. The core team uses this input, as well as their own expertise and knowledge of the local context, to decide on a program of 15-20 workshops – ranging from Direct Action to fundraising – to last the course of the year. And of course, they recruit skilled trainers for each workshop.

The size of each training can vary from 5 to 50, depending on the topic. And depending on the content, both large and small groups can be equally valuable for the future of activism in Toronto.

Local focus

Tools for Change have a clear preference for engaging local trainers to run each workshop, so that 1-1 relationships between trainers and trainees can be kept up after the workshops, and informal networks can be built. Local Greenpeace trainers are involved in approximately one-quarter of the workshops.

Currently Tools for Change is present only in Toronto, although they have a vocal interest in starting up similar collaborations in other cities.

How does the money work?

Tools for Change is a low-budget affair, with an annual budget of less than $22,000 and one coordinating staff member, Jessica Bell. There are three core revenue streams:

  • The three core organisations collectively give just over $7000 to the project annually. In 2012, Greenpeace contributed $1700.
  • The ‘Fee for Service’ model brings in $3,000-5,000 directly from participants in the trainings. Staff and volunteers from Greenpeace, OPIRG and Earthroots don’t have to pay to participate in the trainings, and for the remainder of participants there is a sliding scale, usually from $20-$60.
  • Grants, which Jessica is responsible for applying for, account for about $10,000 annually.

(And of course, anyone can donate to their work online!)

Trainers are paid a flat rate of $250 per workshop if they are freelance activists or consultants, not if they are paid staff of an NGO. The space for the trainings – complete with projector, flipcharts and markers – is provided free of charge by the University of Toronto.

How would I set up a collaboration like this?

You would need:

  1. good relationships with other organizations who understand the value of training their volunteers and staff
  2. a willingness to let go of some control and be truly equal ‘co owners’ of the project.
  3. some training expertise, and connections with other trainers in the region
  4. ambitions for quality training that are greater than your own capacity to achieve alone
  5. some time to try out, test, and establish the collaborative institution

And remember, there are risks in any new project. For collaborative projects, it’s vital to find the right balance point: too much or too little coordination and management can be deadly, as can under-consultation or over-consultation with the networks they serve.

Contact Natalie Caine at GP Canada, or tools.change [at] gmail.com if you are interested in setting up something similar locally and would like some advice on how to make it happen!

You should follow Tools For Change on Twitter @Tools4ChangeTO

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