Building on a successful organizing experience during the municipal elections in Ottawa, City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) set out to strengthen the capacity of local organizations, service providers, and residents to engage low-income neighborhoods during the 2015 Federal Elections. The Catherine Donnelly Foundation was pleased to provide financial resources to increase the engagement of multi-cultural communities in electoral processes, particularly low-income voters whose voices and concerns need to be included in campaign policy platforms. City for All Women Initiative has an organizational mandate of promoting democracy by engaging women in the electoral process and moving beyond it. It is a political approach that promotes a deep sense of belonging and strives to make a difference for women in the communities where they live.
This project responded to the Catherine Donnelly Foundation’s funding priorities in Adult Education, which seeks to invest in civic engagement initiatives working alongside communities that may be facing systemic barriers, such as poverty or discrimination. In order to support those working directly with diverse community members, CAWI strategically partnered with the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres (CHRC) in the Ottawa area. The project sought to build and sustain the capacity of 13 community health resource centres by transferring the skills and experience that CAWI has developed over 10 years of training women in civic participation.
As shared by a community worker and project participant: “I was equipped with resources that helped me to build my confidence in delivering messages. I was given the appropriate training and resources to educate residents in the federal elections and why they mattered”. This initiative also effectively engaged 34 women leaders across the city, many of them of immigrant background who contributed their own knowledge, life experiences and facilitated discussions in ‘café’ style meetings with residents. These meetings were meant to provide a safe and welcoming space for community members to identify their election priorities and ideas for change.
The project developed comprehensive educational tools for both facilitators and residents. The Facilitators Package guided community leaders on how to lead Making Votes Count meetings in their neighbourhoods. Facilitators worked with adults in an interactive and participatory atmosphere and helped them identify key relevant policy issues. Other elections education resources created included pamphlets summarizing party platforms on fundamental social issues such as housing, childcare, transit, jobs and poverty reduction.
A critical aspect of this project was its commitment to reflection and documenting learning. An Evaluation Report was produced to assess the effectiveness of the strategies and the applied approach in voter mobilization within low-income communities. The report also hoped to provide a set of recommendations that can guide future elections education initiatives. The project achieved its purpose of increasing voter participation. The highest voter turnout in the country occurred in a riding where this project was implemented.
Throughout 2016, CAWI has continued building a vibrant civic engagement movement in the Ottawa region. The website developed for this project continues to run under the name: Making Voices Count and it stores community resources for Adult Educators to access.
The Catherine Donnelly Foundation thanks CAWI for working to foster more inclusive and democratic communities in Canada.