Diversity of Voices on Cultural Boards

By: Myrna Williams January, 2019

INVOLVE prepares newcomers and Indigenous volunteers for leadership roles.

For decades, many organizations have increasingly recognized the importance of cultural and ethnic diversity in their workplaces. The notion that “diversity is strength” is becoming a common and accepted belief for community and cultural organizations and the boards that guide them.

Recognizing this, INVOLVE (Integrating New Volunteers with Opportunities to add Leadership Value through Education) program helps prepare newcomers and Indigenous leaders for serving on volunteer boards. First piloted by the Regina Open Door Society (RODS) in partnership with the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan (MCoS) and SaskCulture, the program has been running since 2015.

Originally, the program’s goal was to support and prepare new Canadians to be welcomed as volunteers on boards. Part of the program involved preparing the existing cultural boards to understand how to welcome and support newcomers as they participate in board decision-making and policy development. “It was important to eliminate discomfort on all sides, so that the new Canadians could feel confident about contributing their ideas to strengthen the boards, and the existing board members would welcome them and their new ideas,” says Rhonda Rosenberg, executive director, MCoS.

Recently, Dominga Robinson, Outreach Consultant, SaskCulture, worked with consultant Heather Ritenburg and Rosenberg, to adapt the existing INVOLVE program to include an Indigenous component. “Indigenous people face similar challenges as newcomers when it comes to board representation,” she says. “Both are under-represented on cultural and community boards.

“Indigenous people face similar challenges as newcomers when it comes to board representation. Both are under-represented on cultural and community boards.” ~ Dominga Robinson

“So we have expanded the program to support all people of colour to learn how to find and use their voices – and how to have their voices heard. This program is a push to encourage and support boards to diversify.” The Indigenous component has grown the INVOLVE program, which now has expanded partnerships to include the Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan and the North Central Family Centre in Regina.

INVOLVE also offers training and orientation for organizations that are interested in recruiting newcomers, including mentor/mentee sessions that link people to organizations.  “I call it ‘Board 101,’” Robinson explains. “INVOLVE not only supports and trains the newcomers to be participants, but the program also prepares the organizations and existing board. Then, it all is brought together through the mentorship piece.”

Community organizations, large or small, can benefit from in the INVOLVE program by training local facilitators. Local partner requirements are:

  • Strong connections to newcomers and organizations in the community;
  • Ability to recruit 12 to 20 participants who meet the requirements of the program;
  • Space for training;
  • Staff coordinator or capacity to recruit and manage a contract for a coordinator (4 hours/week for 3 – 4 months).

According to Rosenberg, participants benefit by gaining volunteer experience that employers value, by developing networks and establishing community connections, and developing leadership skills. The cultural and community organizations benefit by gaining new and diverse perspectives and increasing their volunteer base. Everyone benefits from this win/win program!