Cowichan Contemplates Social Policy Framework

image004On October 21, 2014, 39 board and executive directors from community based social service organizations joined with business leaders in Duncan B.C. to hear from a panel on “A Social Policy Framework: What are the possibilities for the Cowichan region?”

Panelists included Jennifer Jones (a Lyackson Nation community member); Cathy Robertson (Executive Director of Community Futures – Cowichan); Dr. Paul Hasselback (Central Island Community Health Officer) and Michelle Staples (City of Duncan Councillor and Social Planning Cowichan staff member).

In advancing a social policy agenda for the province, Dr. Hasselback reminded us that it is important to pay attention to different belief systems, to political cycles, to other policy areas (e.g. economic policy), and to celebrate what we are being successful at. He suggested that we find common language to talk about a social policy framework at local levels and make the language clearer.

Jennifer Jones highlighted the idea that in promoting an action like the development of a social policy framework, we need to realize that we may not get agreement on all items, but as long as we can get agreement on “not passing the buck”, then we are making progress.

Cathy Robertson spoke about why a social policy framework matters to business. Initially she was skeptical of the concept but then realized that from a human resources perspective, issues like affordable housing, day care, mental health and food security all play into a vibrant and growing community where customers support local business. She also spoke about the work of Dr. Paul Kershaw and the “Generation Squeeze” initiative that she believes resonates with young people and families.

Michelle Staples, who is on the City of Duncan Council, the municipality that started the UBCM process, spoke to the importance of redefining what “social” is. She used the example of how roads are connected to social policy: safety for citizens, the ability to get around a community. Being persistent in policy change is key as we are talking about systemic change.

Participants commented on how social policy has so many ripples and that the community needs more conversations to understand the concept. People wondered how they could have voice around the issue and noted the role of Board Voice.

In terms of actions to move the idea forward, ideas included the importance of continued dialogue to expand the circle to all levels of community (business and government); for board directors to recognize their role as community leaders; to develop a language that people can understand and develop a template that can be shared with all board members; the importance of grassroots community mobilization; looking at things through a community and common good lens; to take risks rather than being risk adverse.

There was recognition that the systemic challenges a social policy framework can address are complex and intersecting. It is through building and maintaining relationships, overtime, that change will occur. Initiatives like a social policy framework and long-term coalition building are needed. One of the challenges is that this approach does not fit into the quick results approach that is often expected of social sector organizations. The important role of board directors in championing for a healthy community was noted.

by Leslie Welin, Vice-Chair, Board Voice