Our Work:
Civic Engagement for Social Change

Fostering active citizenship, personal and social transformation.

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Civic engagement for social change fosters active citizenship and personal and community popular education processes to strengthen democracy and promote a more inclusive, just and sustainable society.

The climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted a long overdue assessment of how racism, discrimination and inequality prosper within our legal, economic and political systems. At the same time, widespread cynicism about politics, polarization, and a related steep decline in voting has revealed the fragility of our democratic institutions and a need to encourage greater participation in community-based and civic affairs.


Black Lives Matter activists and Indigenous land stewards show systems change begins with individuals and communities coming together to share their experiences and give voice to injustice and the many ways social movements are interconnected. It’s an awakening for people across the country that requires listening, reflection and action, but also offering resources to those most affected by these crises.


It’s time as a society to support collective, community-learning efforts that build awareness, critical consciousness, leadership, skills and action among those facing discrimination and marginalization. Transforming our society depends on it.


July 12, 2024


"CDF has been the most collaborative and supportive funder I have ever worked with. They truly have walked this journey with us. And in doing so they have self-reflected and worked hard to decolonialize their practices through-out the entire organization. As one Indigenous woman stated, “CDF has supported us being us. We have not had to fit into a box but can do what we need to do to bring about healing and positive changes. That is huge.”

Ishbel Munro

National Steering Committee Righting Relations

Civic Engagement for Social Change at a glance


By Spring 2024, our Civic Engagement funding stream will have provided more than 230 grants.


These grants total over $8.6 million.

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Objectives and approach

Our Funding Objectives

Civic engagement for social change fosters active citizenship and personal and community transformation to strengthen democracy and promote a more inclusive, just and sustainable society.

This funding stream was previously known as Adult Education. We have renamed it to use language that is more accessible and understood. We continue to support initiatives adopting a popular education process where individuals, as the source of knowledge, voice their experiences and needs to define goals to work as a group toward community action and change.

Adult education as a model builds on collective knowledge and strengths and offers opportunities for more equitable power-sharing, especially for groups systemically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social and civic life.

Our Approach

The Foundation supports projects that use adult education or popular education processes to assist equity-seeking groups to collectively name the racism, poverty, violence or other forms of exclusion and oppression they experience.


CDF funds initiatives that engage those underserved groups to develop a critical analysis of the social, political or economic roots of problems they experience and then develop strategies for change by recognizing their group strengths and organizing for systemic change.


We encourage groups that develop leadership, communication, organizational skills and participatory research allowing equity-seeking people and allies to develop and implement strategies for change, particularly initiatives that amplify voice and strengthen community response and democracy.

What We Look For

We look for participatory processes:

  • Where everyone teaches and everyone learns
  • That begin with the experience of the group engaged in the program and
  • Involve a high level of participation, critical dialogue and reflection that helps develop new knowledge, consciousness, attitude, leadership and skills
  • Culminating in action for empowerment and social and systemic change

The Foundation also embraces the significant role faith can have in motivating and sustaining social action for change. As a result, we consider multi-faith projects that draw upon religious and spiritual traditions in support of social change, such as work for peace, human rights, equity, and social justice. Such projects could take place within a specific faith community, multi-faith or secular context.


Successful Funding Examples

Some successful funding examples include:

  • Workshops, learning circles as well as arts-based and other types of collective learning activities that aim explicitly to address issues such as racism, sexism/violence against women, poverty, social exclusion and marginalization
  • Activities to promote active citizenship
  • Training programs for social movement activists and/or leaders

Recent funding cycles include the support of organizations that boldly work to create a more equitable and just society. Among the organizations supported was Inspiring Communities’ Changemakers program, a Nova Scotia-based initiative delivering connections, leadership skills and funding to under-resourced residents to create new community programs. Black Lives Matter and Wildseed Centre for Art & Activism in Toronto, meanwhile, offered mentorship and other supports for formerly incarcerated Black people through employment and volunteer opportunities in the Earthseed Community Garden program.

In Yellowknife, NWT, meanwhile, Dene Nahjo’s on-the-land Hide Tanning Mentorship was supported in their work to advance social and environmental justice for Northern peoples, while promoting youth leadership along with Indigenous values, climate action and modern land claims.

And in Ottawa, the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity will gather racialized, queer, and/or religious storytellers from across Canada to facilitate workshops that speak to their lived experience and relationship with religion, faith, spirituality, and queerness. Through Pride in Faith and Spirituality leaders will learn tools to build allyship with marginalized 2SLGBTQ+ people in their communities.


Our Civic engagement for social change initiatives

Righting Relations: The work of handing control to partners and aiding systems change

In the spring of 2014, The Catherine Donnelly Foundation gathered adult educators from Indigenous, women’s, labour, newcomer, arts and cultural organizations to discuss how to address Canada’s most critical and complex issues.

A working group was established that led the following year to the development and launch of Righting Relations: Adult Education for Social Change (a program of The Catherine Donnelly Foundation).

Righting Relations is a community-based and community-led network that works collectively to strengthen individuals’ and organization’s capacity to work for radical social change with Indigenous, immigrant, refugee and low-income communities. The Foundation does not lead the program and is one participant among many.

The Foundation’s decision in 2008 to shift from only providing one-year project grants to building longer-term relationships with program partners of three to five years was made to encourage community-driven efforts to propel systems change. Funding Righting Relations for five years reflected our first major effort to ‘grant deeper’ and disrupt the traditional power imbalance between Foundations and the organizations we fund.

Program leaders have since gathered a diverse network of adult educators and community organizers in three hubs - Eastern, Central and Western - each made up of various local “circles”. Participants work actively within the circles to support political and economic literacy work that advances decolonization, peace, justice and healing.

“When we are doing Righting Relations and focussing on capacity building, drawing out leadership strengths, each person feels valued. They belong and are needed. And together, we see a glimpse of the world we are building,” says National Steering Committee member Ishbel Munro.

Renée Vaugeois, a Steering Committee member and the Executive Director of the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights in Edmonton, adds “there’s an element of trust, but also the realization we’re all there to push the conversation together. Adult education is such an absolute critical need in this country.

“We’re excited to work as teams and push conversations [on issues] like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report to hear what people think; not to have them close their minds and say ‘this is not for me,’ but to create a space where they can engage and start to see the realities.”

Now entering its sixth year, CDF has renewed support for Righting Relations with a five-year commitment that extends funding to 2025).

Some of the goals for the next five years include:

  • An independent governance structure
  • Deepened dialogue throughout the country focused on addressing challenging issues for marginalized communities.
  • Strengthened networks of collaboration across critical issue areas in Canada that are actively working to promote and support adult education, organizing and dialogue.
  • Strengthened capacity and leadership of adult educators and community organizers in Canada

For more information on Righting Relations visit www.rightingrelations.org Link opens a new window

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