Our Work:
Adult Education

Fostering personal and social transformation.

CDF_Adult Ed Icon_Bright Blue_Adult_Education

Fostering active citizenship, democracy and personal and social transformation through adult education to 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.


Black Lives Matter activists and Indigenous land stewards demonstrate systems change begins with individuals and communities giving voice to injustice. It’s an awakening for privileged Canadians that requires reflection and action, but also resources for those most affected by these crises.


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


July 7, 2023


"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

Adult Education at a glance


By 2021, our Adult Education funding stream will have provided more than 170 grants.


These grants total over $7 million.

A woman sitting outdoors smiling at the camera

Objectives and approach

Our Funding Objectives

Adult Education initiatives promote active citizenship, democracy and personal and social transformation as a means to promote a more just, equitable and sustainable society in Canada.

Our Approach

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

We fund initiatives that engage marginalized 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.

We encourage groups that develop leadership, communication, organizational skills and participatory research allowing marginalized people and allies to develop and implement strategies for change.

What We Look For

We look for participatory adult education 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
  • Culminating in action for change and empowerment – from new knowledge, attitudes and skills

The Foundation also embraces the significant role that faith can have in motivating and sustaining social action for change. As a result, we consider projects that draw upon religious and spiritual traditions in support of adult education for 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

Our most recent funding cycle includes the support of organizations that boldly work to create a more equitable and just society. The Black Leadership Institute on Social Action for Change received funds for an initiative to gather members of the Toronto region’s Black community for leadership development. Skills for Change participants will gain transferable knowledge to drive local change related to the intersectional barriers faced by Black people.

In Yellowknife, NWT, meanwhile, Dene Nahjo’s on-the-land Hide Tanning Mentorship will be 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 Vancouver, the Sierra Club of British Columbia Foundation was provided a grant to use popular education processes with a focus on lived experience, to create an analysis of the climate crisis and generate community-based actions for climate justice among immigrant and refugee communities.

Our adult education 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

Stay up to date

Stay up to date with CDF and our network of changemakers by signing up to receive our newsletter and occasional press releases.

* indicates required