FuseSocial, The Story
Where did it all begin?
Many social-profit organizations begin their work as a means to fill a gap. If children are hungry, let’s feed them. This solves the immediate issue, until the next day when they are hungry again. So you find some more money and feed them again, and again, and again. Pretty soon you realize there is more to this than feeding children. The next step, maybe, is to look at why they are hungry, and to try and prevent that situation from existing. You’ve moved, in effect, from social-profit work 1.0, immediate solutions, to social-profit 2.0, proactive work.
FuseSocial is a step or two farther down the road. Social-profit 3.0.
Some years back the Suncor Energy Foundation started to look at the work of social-profit organizations in the context of the bigger picture of society as a whole. They realized that their funding efforts needed to be more than a reactive stopgap to life’s emergencies, and should instead have a more concrete aim. To help them on this road to enhancing quality of life, they involved some of the brightest minds in the country. The Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo Project, led by the University of Waterloo and funded by Suncor, used the social-profit sector in our local community as a means of improving quality of life in the region.
They identified immediate issues that needed aid: lack of facilities, lack of quality staff, challenges in obtaining sustainable funding. Once these were addressed, they then began to look at how to do things differently.
FuseSocial can trace its history back to the thinking that came from the Social Prosperity Project. It was born out of a joining together of three social-profit organizations, all of which already had distinguished histories in Fort McMurray. The fusion of these three groups - Volunteer Wood Buffalo, Leadership Wood Buffalo and Non Profit Sector Link – had come about because they recognized that the impact they could make together was much greater than as individual organizations. The work of these three groups: promoting and increasing volunteerism, attracting the brightest and best in industry to the social-profit world and championing capacity-building, was an ideal starting point for the new organization. This interlinking mix of social-profit work one that dealt with immediate needs, one that looked far ahead, and one that linked the time in between, gave FuseSocial and excellent base to advance and enhance capacity building in the community.
But why FuseSocial? The first part is easy.
Fuse: (verb) joining two or more things as one to create something new.
FuseSocial, in keeping with the clarity and simplicity that went into their restructuring, their entire rationale is described on their website in less than 200 words.
First and foremost they see themselves as a backbone organization. That’s a very pointed term as it indicates that they are a social-profit that supports other social-profits. They help groups to see opportunities to work together, present social-profit success and challenges on the provincial and national stage and engage the population in the work of the social-profits through volunteerism. In addition, they keep the public informed and work with funding partners to direct their support. They mention the collaborative nature of their work, and conclude with this line. “This collaboration is not about building a better agency, it’s about building a better community, building capacity.”
Capacity-building is also an idea bigger than the actual phrase. It was originally used to embody the conceptual approach to understanding the obstacles in the way of development so as to allow people to overcome their exclusion. It is a more detailed ideal of ‘helping people to help themselves’. On an individual level it calls for creating as situation where people can learn and adapt to change. In society, it recognizes that to create capacity for the individual, the agencies that offer such capacity need to be accountable.
Developing this idea of capacity-building further, FuseSocial has recognized that, regardless of the funding available for social-profits, using it wisely is a goal to be aimed for continually. It started in their own formation, taking three successful groups, combining them, and finding common ground. That is most obvious if you have a chance to visit their offices and meet their people. The small staff seem to manage the practical and the philosophical with ease, although there is always a certain amount of elasticity. The practicalities of planning programs and courses, engendering partnerships and focusing the lens on what is immediately needed is combined in part of what they do. By definition, social-profits fill gaps not caught by the nets of various branches of governments. These gaps are often sudden, and social-profit innovators always need to try and be one step ahead.
By way of example, FuseSocial’s position in the municipality made them ideal to help organize volunteers during the aftermath of the 2016 fire. All through that difficult time FuseSocial was also helping the leaders of social-profits in the community, supporting agencies to deal with the stresses caused by the evacuation and re-entry. Later their work spread to compiling a lessons-learned list and spreading critical information on things that had never before been encountered up here.
Less than a month after the start of the fires, FuseSocial facilitated a meeting in Edmonton during the evacuation period to keep leaders informed and connected. New words became part of the conversation, each of them fraught with needs; recovery, resilience, post-trauma stress, compassion fatigue. FuseSocial was there to help make sense of everything.
That planning day in May 2016 saw many leaders from Alberta offer practical advice and solutions for disaster management and its aftermath. From the beginning it was obvious that social-profit organizations were a vital part of preparation plans. Matt Sawatsky, an Emergency Preparedness Specialist, told the group of the Emergency Initiative that Calgary launched in 2015, after their experiences in the 2013 floods. It builds on two pillars: the capacity of social profit organizations to continue to provide services during emergencies, and a recognition of the need to increase collaboration between the public and social profit organizations in emergencies.
What this is, is an acknowledgement that in an emergency, the local/provincial/and national government not only acknowledge the need for social-profit assistance, they plan for it as part of their response.
FuseSocial has many practical rungs to its long ladder. In addition to its work in connecting volunteers to needs and interests, and its leadership training of the future, the group aims quite definitely at the practical. One of the ways it does this is in training for social-profit leaders. Professional growth and developing skills within social profit sector staff is vital to ensure the sector is best equipped to meet the changing needs of our community. Practical courses in grant-writing, financial acumen, resource and people management are part of the help offered.
To provide data for making decisions FuseSocial conducts and accesses surveys about the sector and community needs. Data matters as it can be an indicator of trends and needs. This information is gathered and shared through their website, fusesocial.ca, along with other pertinent data.
FuseSocial also gathers together a lot of reports and statistics. This is not the most glamourous part of their function, but it may be the most vital ten years down the line. The ability to analyse what happened in the past and what was the best way to react is of tremendous importance for future planning. The value of forward planning has never been more obvious than the example of 2016.
The most practical application of FuseSocial’s work is in the way they foster collaborations. Starting this year they are hosting a number of meetings where the leaders in the region, including government, industry, social profit executives and community leaders, can get together and find areas of mutual connection. In addition to the simpler aspect of direct networking, FuseSocial will continually convene conversations around issues or opportunities that may arise in the community. Through these conversations FuseSocial will strive to identify innovative ways of addressing community needs.
And then there is perhaps the most important part of FuseSocial’s work. While the capacity building is an important and tangible part of their work, the engagement and thinking that brought FuseSocial into existence recognized the need for innovation.
Social Innovation is like a think-tank, but more. It looks at the whole of the little bit of society that is represented in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and asks, ‘How can we do better?’
Social-Profits 1.0 was reacting to a situation; 2.0 was continuing the good work. 3.0 is Social Innovation. It asks questions like, what would we like our community to look like in 5 years’, 10 years’ or 15 years’ time, and how do we get there? FuseSocial’s embrace of advancing a culture of social innovation may be the most important work being done in this community for the community. Bonnah Carey, the Chief Social Entrepreneur at FuseSocial had this to say. “We need to be unafraid to try new ideas in our social-profit world. Trying and even failing sometimes, leads to future success. FuseSocial is prepared to take those risks.”
FuseSocial is geared towards forward thinking. In addition to all the practical help and connections that they create and generate, there is a strong element of the thoughtful about the people who work there. It’s not just in the job titles, although they are an indicator of a different way of doing things. An organization that has a job for a Knowledge Catalyst, a Creator of Possibilities and a Champion of Change is very aware of its responsibility to the future. People who work in the social-profit world tend towards reform and idealism. It’s good that FuseSocial takes both so seriously.
The true value of FuseSocial, its capacity to capture innovation and lead it into the realm of the practicable, may only be measurable in years to come. For now, its ability to bring people together to have conversations about present and future needs is its most visible and important work. In addition, its position as the direct link to provincial and national conversations about social-profits and their work ensures that they are following and analyzing the provincial and national trends, and in some cases helping to set them.
However it is their mindfulness of the people of the region that may very well be the most valued part of their operation. To have a group of people asking ‘What if?’ instead of merely reacting to things already happening puts the community in a very advantageous position. Addressing social needs as they arise and maybe even identifying them before they become a need is an ideal that comes ever closer when organizations such as FuseSocial are unconstrained.
Will there ever be a time when social-profit organizations are not needed? No. Even if the future turns Utopian; no wars, no sorrow, no poverty, no discrimination, no famines, no natural disasters, no unnatural disasters and a Canadian team winning the Stanley Cup every year, there will still be a need for social-profits. They are a measure of the whole of society, the schools, the playgrounds, the Arts and culture, the sports and recreational facilities, the various outlets of religious expression and the freedoms to be able to express them. As social-profit organizations inch ever nearer to the goal of social innovators, their purpose as a reflection of our societal needs will become ever keener and more focussed. And as always there will be a next step to take, a next ‘what if’ to contemplate. And those steps and what ifs will be led by organizations like FuseSocial.
Who is FuseSocial?
In the words of some of the FuseSocial team…
“You know when you learn to ride a bike and someone is there to support you, guide you and cheer you on? That’s how I see FuseSocial working with the social profit sector. To support, guide and encourage so that the sector contributes to a vibrant, healthy community for all of us!”
“At FuseSocial we create the space for people to have conversations and to think differently to explore new ways of solving social issues. Innovation, interconnectivity and strong relationships will help create a strong and vibrant Wood Buffalo!”
“FuseSocial gives agencies space and time to explore ways to solve the problems we all face together as a community.”
“FuseSocial brings support and strengths to the third sector (defined as that intermediary space between business and government where private energy can be deployed for public good). The sustainability of a community depends in many ways in the strengths of its third sector, that’s what FuseSocial does, it brings support and new perspectives to the players in the third sector.”
“FuseSocial occupies a unique space in Wood Buffalo; It encourages innovative, collaborative efforts to strengthen the social sector that works so diligently towards making this a community where everyone can thrive.”
A letter by Bonnah Carey
I often get asked, “Why did Volunteer WB, Leadership WB, and Non-Profit Sector LINK come together to create FuseSocial?” It was definitely a long process with lots of discussion amongst all three boards. The overwhelming reason was to become an organization who pushed boundaries to challenge new possibilities. We asked, “Could it be that anything is possible, could our community set a deadline to end violence and actually achieve it, could we find a way to end poverty if we collectively set our minds to it, would it be crazy to have urban gardens growing healthy food to feed our hungry?”
Looking for new ways to address our social problems has been a passion for me for most of my 25 years working in the social-profit sector. I wish for a safer, healthier, compassionate community where everyone feels they belong for my five children and seven grandchildren. To achieve this wish during the past 25 years, I have lived in five provinces and many wonderful communities; however Fort McMurray is definitely the community where I felt at home instantly, and learned very quickly it was also a place where new ideas and possibilities could happen. I believe if any community could end poverty it is Wood Buffalo and we can become a community where everyone feels safe and secure
I am not sure if being a somewhat isolated community creates the “get it done” attitude or whether it is the diverse individuals who have moved here that bring creative ideas and willingness for openness to new thinking. I only know that conversations I am lucky enough to be a part of are different, engaging and vibrant – this excites me. It makes me certain that if any community can create a place where neighbours look out for each other and kindness is the foundation for how people chose to treat each other is here in this community. Every day I come to work at FuseSocial I feel privileged to serve the social sector and community to explore the possibilities.
We believe that a strong and diverse social profit sector is vital to a bold and vibrant community. We support the sector and community to enhance community wellbeing.
To create a community culture for social innovation.
For FuseSocial to inspire the social profit sector and community every day to push boundaries that maximize all of our potential.
Social-profit sector, government, business, private sector, general community, funders, and media.
In 2013, Leadership Wood Buffalo, Non-Profit Sector Link and Wood Buffalo Volunteer and Information Centre decided to “fuse” into one agency to create greater impact and value.
Addresses social sector and community needs through data and research, education for volunteers and sector staff; community and individual leadership development; volunteerism and social innovation by challenge current thinking to improve community wellbeing.
A community where government, business, private sector, social sector and every individual works together to ensure that Wood Buffalo is the best place to call home.