Community Capacity Development

In 2017, Canada will celebrate its 150th year since confederation. Canada has passed through many phases and evolved through the years to become a prosperous and democratic nation, with an inclusive multicultural society, setting an example for the world to learn from and emulate.

In 2005, Statistics Canada produced a study in which it projected national demographic trends and concluded that the face of the country is changing. According to projected trends, in 2017, roughly one Canadian in five will be a visible minority. This is equivalent to the highest level observed in the twentieth century, namely, the 22% observed between 1911 and 1931.

In 2017, for every 100 people identifying as visible minorities old enough to leave the labour force (age group 55-64), there will be 142 people old enough to join the labour force (age group 15-24). Throughout the rest of the population, there will be only 75 potential entries for every 100 potential exits.

Based on the proposed projection scenarios, persons who are members of non Christian denominations should represent between 9.2% and 11.2% of the Canadian population in 2017, or between 3,049,000 and 4,107,000 people. This proportion therefore reflects an upward trend in relation to its observed level in 2001 when 6.3% of the population (1,922,000 people) declared its religion as Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or other non Christian religions. People belonging to these religions accounted for approximately 4% of the population in 1991.

Among these religions, and in keeping with what was observed between the 1991 and 2001 censuses, it is the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh religions that could see the number of their faithful grow the fastest between now and 2017. Projections indicate that these three denominations will see their membership increase by 145%, 92%, and 72% respectively, compared to 2001, to reach 1,421,000, 584,000 and 496,000 people respectively in 2017.

The Challenge Ahead: Building Community Capacity

As we can see from these projections, the Muslim community is experiencing significant growth in its population. More importantly, the demographics of this community will be unique. Because of its high fertility rates, youth will make up a sizable portion of the community population. In addition, there is a sizable influx of new immigrants to the community that need resettlement and support for integration. There will also be an increasing senior population as the first waves of Muslim immigrants reach their senior years. All these demographic transformations will present new challenges in the next 10 - 20 years.

Compounding these challenges is the fact that the majority of new immigrants choose to live in the major cities. More specifically, Statistics Canada projects that by 2017, visible minority populations will reach approximately 3.2 million in Toronto (more than half the metropolitan total), 1.4 million in Vancouver (also more than half), and 750 thousand in Montreal (Statistics Canada, 2005). As such, the emerging social landscapes of Canadian metropolitan centres will be unlike anything we have seen before in this country. There are few precedents worldwide, in fact, to the level of diversity that will characterize Canada's largest metropolitan centres in 2017.

Because of the magnitude of the change, there is a greater risk of marginalization among the visible minority communities in general, and more acutely in the new immigrant populations. Indeed, Hiebert (2005) warned that without effective intervention, levels of marginalization will surely increase. This intervention has to involve all levels of government and bring in a wide network of institutions, including, of course, those outside government. He identified three strengths to build upon in this respect. The first is the remarkably positive level of public support for immigration, diversity, and multiculturalism.. The second is the breadth and depth of Canadian civil society, especially the organizations dedicated to the cause of immigrants and minorities. The third is the patchwork of institutional jurisdictions and systems across Canadian metropolitan areas. Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and other metropolitan centres are under different provincial jurisdictions, have different administrative systems, different NGOs, different urban cultures, and so on. This is fertile ground for experimentation with new policies and programs, as long as there is dialogue between the centres and a will to take up successful initiatives regardless of their origin.

There are already signs for such fears about marginalization and ability to integrate new immigrants into society. In a study about diversity in the workplace in the 21th century, RBC Financial Group (2005) highlighted that Canada's track record in successfully integrating immigrants is slipping. On average, immigrants arrive in this country better educated, in better health, and at similar stages of their careers as those born in the country, but the evidence suggests that during the past two decades, they have been much less successful in achieving success than in earlier waves of immigration. Immigrants are having a harder time reaching Canadian income levels than was true in the past, in part because we have cut back on programs that help immigrants adjust and in part because many immigrants have difficulty gaining recognition for the education, skills and work experience they bring with them. The study concludes that the cost of failure to fully realize the potential of immigrants and women in the workplace is significant. It reflects untapped economic opportunities that quickly tally up to billions in lost wages, productivity and output. Reversing this trend is of paramount importance for our well-being as a nation. All sectors of society, public, corporate, and non-profit, should work towards this goal.

More fundamentally, and notwithstanding the importance of economic integration, political integration is crucial for building a stronger society where all citizens celebrate their "substantiated citizenship".

"Substantiated citizenship" could be achieved through inclusion and integration. Inclusion could, at least operationally, mean connecting people with services provided by federal, provincial, and municipal governments. But, more importantly, it targets opening up opportunities for visible minorities in shaping policies at all levels of governments. The other important aspect of substantiated citizenship is the integration. Integration will not be achieved without participation. Effective participation depends on civic engagement, which requires civic literacy. Simply put, in order to participate, one needs certain skills, information, and behaviours. Civic behaviours include political engagement and volunteerism.

While governments are called upon to put forth sound policies that can ensure integration and inclusion, communities are expected to build their own capacities to respond to those challenges and facilitate the inclusion process.

It is essential, therefore, for the Muslim community to chart a roadmap for building its capacity to deal with those fundamental challenges, so that we realize our potential as a resilient and vibrant community.

What Community Capacity Means

Community capacity is the combined influence of a community's commitment, resources and skills that can be deployed to build on community strengths, address community problems, and seize opportunities. The underlying premise of capacity building is that no one is without capacity, but often it need to be developed. Hence, it takes a well-thought-out process to start both capacity building and effective community development. It is broader than simply skills, people and plans; it includes commitment, resources and a well-devised strategy to make it successful. Most often, capacity is referred to as including the following components (Hackett, 2004)

  • people who are willing to be involved;
  • skills, knowledge and abilities;
  • wellness and community health;
  • ability to identify and access opportunities;
  • motivation and the tenacity to carry out initiatives;
  • infrastructure, supportive institutions and physical resources;
  • leadership and the structures needed for participation;
  • economic and financial resources; and
  • enabling policies and systems.

MAC is working on four strategic priorities to meet the needs of the increasingly growing community:
  1. Investing in ways to fill the Intergenerational gap: developing a Canadian Muslim identity.
  2. Reducing Barriers to participation in economic and social activities.
  3. Building responsive infrastructure.
  4. Civic Engagement and Substantiated citizenship.

Various programs across many chapters are designed and delivered to help the association deliver on those strategic priorities. MAC is using the 8 outcomes defined by the Aspen Institute to measure success in order to track the effectiveness of its programs.