The Inspirit Foundation's Community Impact Program provides grants to activities that support young adults (aged 18-30) of different backgrounds to develop as knowledgeable, inclusive, emerging community leaders and take action together to achieve positive outcomes for their communities.
The Community Impact Program inspires young people to encounter, learn about and develop positive relationships with others of different cultural and religious backgrounds through collaborative action.
Projects supported through the program intentionally facilitate relationship-building and knowledge-sharing between youth of different backgrounds and beliefs, create opportunities for young adults to learn about and appreciate the diversity of their own communities, develop skills to help find commonalities and bridge differences, and build experience in leading collaborative community projects.
Inspirit has learned from its community partners that project success is directly influenced by three factors:
• creating a safe space for dialogue and relationship-building: space to ask awkward or difficult questions and tell personal stories that help locate common experiences;
• increasing participants' knowledge about the diversity of their communities through visiting places of worship, meeting Elders and leaders of faith and cultural communities, and creating opportunities to make personal connections, and
• creating opportunities for young people of different backgrounds and beliefs to take action together. Collaboration around a common goal builds skills, learning opportunities and the motivation to build bridges that last.
The Inspirit Foundation was launched in 2012 with the belief that Canada's increasingly diverse society would be strengthened by the building of bridges between spiritual, religious and secular beliefs. Inspirit also believes in the potential of young people to create a stronger Canada, together. The Community Impact Program reflects those beliefs.
The program addresses challenges related to an increasingly diverse society – which can include racism, prejudice and hatred – by helping to develop knowledgeable, inclusive and pluralistic emerging community leaders who are committed to working together to make a difference in their communities.
Canada is more religiously and culturally diverse than ever. Although young people are considered to be more open to difference than older generations, opportunities to explore matters of cultural difference – and religious difference in particular – are rare. Without opportunities to ask questions, build relationships and find commonalities, misconceptions and prejudice can grow.
In the past year, misconceptions and prejudice have led to racism and acts of hatred, including vandalism against places of worship, and violent reactions to photographs of visibly religious childcare workers. They have also led to seemingly unbridgeable divides between cultural communities.
In response, the Community Impact Program challenges communities to support local young people of different cultural and religious backgrounds to build knowledge in order to combat misconceptions, build trust through positive relationships, and take the lead in creating an inclusive and collaborative community.
Making a Difference
Over three years, this pilot program will have inspired over 3,000 young adults in communities across the country to challenge their own misconceptions, build new relationships with others of different backgrounds and beliefs, and actively take the lead in building positive change in their communities. By the end of 2015, the program's 45 grantees will have supported partnerships between more than 230 diverse community-based organizations serving communities of different ethnicities, cultures and religious beliefs, and will have catalyzed over 100 youth-led initiatives that aim to bring communities together.
Feedback from participants has included:
• "I feel more confident asking questions, interacting with strangers and showing compassion for my community."
• "It really helped to become friends with people of different faiths, instead of just reading about different faiths."
The community organizations that have led Community Impact projects have shared that developing and fostering new relationships between young people of different backgrounds and beliefs can take time. A safe and respectful space must be facilitated so that questions can be asked, experience can be shared and authentic relationships can grow.
This is also true for organizations serving diverse communities that work together on a Community Impact project. Inspirit is learning that, for initiatives that aim to bridge communities of different ethnicities, cultures and/or beliefs, sufficient time is needed to work on partnership-building in order to locate the shared vision that is crucial to their success.
Vision for the Future
Inspirit has heard that "to do good, you have to show good."
Inspirit is inspired by the clear commitment of thousands of young people across Canada to address community challenges collaboratively across difference. As this pilot program comes to a close in 2015, Inspirit will remember how project participants and their facilitators have said they feel they are "modeling pluralism" to family members and peers. They have also said that the effect of their project is "snowballing" in their communities. The knowledge and insight gathered from young adults and their organizations – in the communities across the country that supported their learning and actions – will continue to inform the development of the Community Impact Program.
About the Inspirit Foundation
The Inspirit Foundation is a national, grant-making organization that supports young people in building a more inclusive and pluralist Canada. One way it does this is by funding projects that foster engagement and exchange between young people of different spiritual, religious and secular backgrounds.
Inspirit supports, convenes and champions powerful ideas – media products and platforms, activities, programs and events, research projects and publications – that foster learning, inclusion and collaboration.
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