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Living Standards | Education And Learning, Food, Getting Around, Poverty

CommunityWise

At CommunityWise, we offer more than just subsidized office space. As a nonprofit hub, we build the capacity of grassroots and small nonprofit organizations by creating opportunities and facilitating resource-sharing that enables increased knowledge, skills, effectiveness, connection, and community for our 85 nonprofit member groups. We also seek to engage with the broader community through nonprofit sector development work with a current focus on anti-racism and equity.

Our Story

Why We Exist

“CommunityWise is a rare and incredibly valuable staple in the Calgary community. CommunityWise has led the way in offering physical and social space to marginalized groups long before societal access to space became a reality.” – Calgary Queer Arts Society (CommunityWise member)

 

Shared space is powerful and we know that nonprofit hubs are capable of achieving a number of significant benefits. This includes allowing small organizations to spend a higher proportion of their funds in directly impactful ways. The cost savings and stability resulting from nonprofits being located in a shared space are most often re-directed to increased existing program-related spending. Other uses include the development of new services and programs, and increased staffing (2015 State of the Shared Space Sector Survey, Nonprofit Centres Network, p. 3).

Beyond this, however, CommunityWise is defined not only by the building as a physical centre, but by the communities, the organizations, and the individuals who occupy it. Playing much more than a landlord role, we strive to learn from, and be in relationship with, our members. This means that the strategies and tactics through which our mandate is carried out are heavily influenced by the groups who use the building. Accordingly, we have been encouraged by our strong, longstanding, and trust-based relationships with our members to meet them where they are at, striving to meet their unique needs to ultimately better enable them to meet their own goals.

Our 85 member groups connect with CommunityWise in so many different ways. They are small organizations that dedicate themselves to peer support or advocacy around marginalized populations and issues. According to our 2019 member survey, 61% of our members reported having annual budgets of less than $50,000. This statistic obscures the fact that a large portion actually have annual budgets of less than $15,000 and are entirely run by volunteer support.

Their words reveal the multiple reasons why CommunityWise exists:

“The benefits of being housed at CommunityWise have been immeasurable. We have been able to expand our services and vision from the offering of counselling services to the facilitation of client groups, the hosting of a platform of therapists from all over Calgary, and the organization of workshops with instructors from the city as well as abroad.” – Calgary Narrative Collective (CommunityWise member)

“Thanks for all the terrific community support. CommunityWise helps us do our work better through your supportive staff, reasonable rent as well as connecting to other social justice, environmental and arts groups.” – Alberta Media Arts Alliance (CommunityWise member)

“Of the many positive aspects of the Anti-Racist Organizational Change (AROC) project, I most appreciate that CommunityWise is committed to promoting inclusion and equity not only as an outcome, but also through its process. Meaningful change that prioritizes the voices of those most impacted by racism is far-reaching and vital, and I am thankful for the learning and growth I have gained with AROC.” (Working Group Participant)

 

Our Impact

What We Do

CommunityWise is a nonprofit hub that, for 40 years, has existed to support and strengthen diverse grassroots groups and nonprofit organizations through our central location in the historic Old YWCA Building that we’ve been the stewards of since 1979. We provide affordable office and community space, backbone infrastructure (shared internet, mailboxes, office equipment), and collaborative capacity-building programming to 85 member organizations, most of whom are small nonprofits or grassroots groups. We also engage in a wide array of community and nonprofit sector development work with a focus on anti-racism and equity. Our long-term organizational goals as identified in our theory of change are to: 1) support our members so that they are better able to achieve their own organizational goals and 2) contribute to making Calgary’s grassroots and nonprofit sector more equitable.

The work of these supported organizations spans a wide spectrum of social, environmental, and cultural issues and their approaches include direct services, peer support, community development, and systems change. Among other areas, they work in addictions supports and advocacy; community economic development; hunger alleviation; disability services; mental health supports; ethnocultural community organizing; LGBTQ2S+ peer support; Indigenous community services; and film, performative, and community arts.

Over the past 40 years, the supportive physical and social space provided by CommunityWise has allowed hundreds of organizations to undertake their programs and activities with the stability and flexibility necessary for maximum impact. We’ve played a critical role at multiple lifecycle stages of member groups through simultaneously serving as:

1) an incubation hub for new organizations who need a place to start out

2) a transition hub for organizations experiencing challenges accessing space over the shorter term

3) a long-term home and and inter-generational hub

CommunityWise members collectively serve tens of thousands of people in Calgary and surrounding areas each year (source: CommunityWise Member Survey). 1500 events, meetings, appointments, peer support groups, celebrations, workshops, and more took place at CommunityWise in 2019 (source: booking calendar).

VALUE-DRIVEN:

5 values guide everything we do:

-Mutuality: We cultivate relationships, connection and collaboration because of their shared benefits and because together we can withstand individual and shared challenges.

-Inclusion: We respect and elevate diverse voices, practices and cultures, individual uniqueness and collective wisdom.

-Accountability: We are responsible to our shared space, to each other, to the larger community, and to the planet.

-Trust: We have confidence in the knowledge, experience, and ability of our members and partners, and actively work to keep their trust in us.

-Equity: We recognize and redress historical and current-day inequities experienced by certain equity-seeking groups and strive for their barrier-free participation.

 

Our Programs

How We Do It

  • Below-market office and community spaces.
  • Shared backbone infrastructure: shared internet, mailboxes, office equipment
  • Collaborative learning opportunities with community partners on such topics as: governance, fund development, financial management, first-aid, self-care, community mental health, peer support.
  • Internship and practicum placements: since 2010, we have hosted over 25 students who support the work of our members.
  • Anti-Racist Organizational Change (AROC): since 2016, we have led an AROC process. The goals of AROC are to address organizational racism and create greater racial equity and inclusion within CommunityWise while also sharing lessons learned with other nonprofits.

Our Requests

What You Can Do

Our current COVID-19 related urgent needs are threefold:

1) to reclaim the operating revenue lost through the closure of our building in the face of ongoing operating costs (building maintenance, staffing, security) so that we will be ready and able to operate at the same level of service to our members when we re-open;

2) to afford our members temporary office rent relief during a time when their own sources of revenue are severely jeopardized by COVID-19 so that the essential services they provide are not permanently interrupted; and

3) to learn about, and experiment with, alternative ways to connect with and support our members in the absence of a place-based colocation model.

 

“Thanks for offering a safe space for groups and organizations who can’t often find one in traditional structures!” – anonymous donor

“This organization is a gem. When you walk through the doors of the old building, you feel distinctly like you’ve left Calgary. Officially, they provide affordable office and community space to grassroots efforts. But also…They are unwaveringly committed to community and equity in all they do. They care about each human who walks in the building, regardless of how or why they ended up there. They do A LOT with not a lot of money…personally, they inspire me to try harder and be more thoughtful. Your dollars couldn’t be going to a better cause.” – CommunityWise Supporter

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