As WE Charity packs up and leaves Canada, it is like an old rotten tree falling in the forest. It took too much of the light and cast a shadow covering too much of the forest floor. It drank up too much of the rainwater. As they depart, new growth and new life will spring up from its decay.

Written by: Adam Janes

PT 1: Setting the stage 

It is September 2020 as I write this. You know what is going on. The economy is hurting. People are hurting. Our social and emotional capacities are at their limits.

In the midst of this, the WE Charity Scandal has had a cascading effect on the Voluntary Sector, Not for Profit sector and even the Federal Gov’t itself. With significant changes in the highest cabinet positions and calls for resignation and now WE Charity leaving Canada, it is time we reflect on this story and the gap between reality and government actions with regards to the charitable sector.

The item of concern in the centre of this controversy was a 900 million dollar student summer grant program for volunteering. It was clear this program was a disservice to volunteers, students, national not for profits and local charities alike. WE Charity, a charity with a sorted past, built on a remarkable story of a 12-year-old, Craig Keilburger, who founded the international organization to end child labour globally, had been chosen to lead a granting program for volunteer service for students. It has become clear this choice was both a misplacement of funding and the wrong choice of who would run it.

As it lingers, this story becomes more about privilege. All parties involved here are out of touch with who is making the difference every day in the communities where volunteers freely offer their time. They do not understand the overstretched not for profits trying to make a difference in the lives of those around them with little resource and even less funding to manage and organize volunteers. Finally, they failed to see in the nuts and bolts of this deal it had university-aged youth working for $10 an hour ($4 under minimum wage in Ontario).

The COVID19 shutdown decimated the voluntary sector and these funds, even if fully doled out as planned, would not have aided this issue, it would be like adding tens of thousands of cars to a city with no new roads. In Ottawa, since COVID thousands sit on waiting lists for organizations to try and ready themselves to welcome back volunteers. Close to 90% of volunteer positions shuttered during the Pandemic. The depth of the damage stems from the underdevelopment of the voluntary and not for profit sectors, a lack of investment in policy, structures and a lack of funding in programs and staffing. This underdevelopment of the voluntary sector is not just a Canadian problem; in the UK, 750,000 people signed up to help as part of a national strategy, only to sit on a waiting list for months. Similar stories have arisen from other parts of the globe.

In the coming weeks, we will look at the angles of change, volunteerism, governance and avoiding creating other WE Charities in the future. Keep reading as we investigate this dire misalignment of power and resource. May the new growth and amazing biodiversity flourish in this new chapter of society and may the government truly see who tends the gardens in the charitable and not for profit sectors. 

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