Kahir Lalji is a community champion and non-profit leader. Inspired by caring for his grandparents, Kahir dedicated the last 15+ years of his life to supporting the quality of life of older adults – always attempting to ensure the representation of traditionally underserved populations. He is the Provincial Director of Population Health with the United Way of the Lower Mainland and the Executive Director of the United Way Southern Interior BC.
Kahir is a Gerontologist with a Masters of Gerontology from Simon Fraser University, and also has a fellowship in developmental leadership and evaluation. He is on the Advisory Board of Aging 2.0, the President of the Board of Directors for British Columbia Original Minds Association. Kahir also serves on the Board of Directors for HelpAge Canada and BC211 and is a Member on the Aga Khan Health Board for Canada.
Kahir, who commissioned this paper, will set the stage for background and an overview of the CBSS network in BC and will illustrate the impact the network of community-based agencies have made on the lives of Older Canadians, their families, friends, caregivers and the communities in which they live.
Rising to the Challenge
Marcy has worked as a researcher, policy consultant and educator on labour market, training and employment policy, health care services and health system change. In her role as a health policy researcher, Marcy co-authored more than 25 academic studies and policy reports on community health and long-term care restructuring, health workforce development and service quality issues, and community-based solutions to the current challenges in our health care system. Now that Marcy has retired, she has become increasingly interested in the broader social determinants of healthy aging and interventions that support resiliency in older adults. She is currently one of the co-leads on the Raising the Profile project, a new provincial network supporting community-based senior’s services to work more collaboratively with each other and with the broader community and governments. Marcy is also volunteering in an advisory capacity with Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, the BC Health Coalition and the BC office of the Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Marcy will speak of her role in coordinating, co-designing the study as the co-chair of the leadership council and will highlight the importance of grassroots leadership and the use of community development approaches in informing policies and programs.
Steve Patty is a teacher, consultant, author, and conference speaker. He leads Dialogues in Action, a consulting firm dedicated to helping people and organizations evaluate their impact, multiply their influence through leadership, and design strategies to make progress on their mission. Steve has consulted for organizations both within North America and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and has been trained at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Steve has worked extensively with the United Way in helping organizations within the not-for-profit sector in British Columbia, evaluate and measure their program impact. Steve and his team partnered with United Way to complete this study.
Steve will highlight and expand on the findings of this research and reflect on undertaking this investigation through a pandemic. He will expand on the key messages his team found by this study: unreached seniors, the digital divide, volunteers being essential to the work of the CBSS network and the importance of long-term stable partnerships of the various agencies in community supporting older adults.
Esther Moreno is a mother, educator, and community activist. She has over 25 years of experience teaching high school students and supporting learners with learning disabilities and diverse cultures. She is a granddaughter to her 93-year old grandmother and actively participates in her care as she grapples with isolation. After becoming a mother, she discovered the richness that community engagement brings to others through social connection. She brings this knowledge and her passion to serve others to her work at the United Way. Esther participated in the research as an interviewee and now presents to various bodies of government to further awareness of the findings and recommendations of this study.
Esther will be expanding on the recommendations that came from this investigation during an unprecedented time in our history. She will also share the firsthand stories of seniors that were interviewed.
Angela Brooks, United Way, Canada
Kahir Lalji, United Way, Canada
Marcy Cohen, Community Based Leadership Council, Canada
Steve Patty, Dialogues in Action, United States
Esther Moreno, United Way, Canada
Embedded in community are not-for-profit and local government agencies that offer services to older people. This study looked across British Columbia for how effective and responsive these organizations were in addressing the needs of vulnerable older adults through the COVID crisis. The task was to understand the impact of these organizations as a collective and their ability to be strategic, effective, responsive, and collaborative during the pandemic.
The aims of this study were to:
- demonstrate the value of this collective of community-based organizations in identifying and addressing the vulnerabilities experienced by older people during the pandemic;
- demonstrate the importance of developing new ways of working and building partnerships and collaborations;
- provide recommendations to decision-makers for policies and resource allocation to support these organizations that are geographically embedded within community; and
- identify learnings to inform these organizations on how to increase their impact
A convergent mixed-method outcome evaluation focused on the impact of this community-based collective of agencies during the pandemic. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected from volunteers, partners, and leaders who work in these agencies through individual interviews, regional and provincial consultations, and a survey. The data represents all five health authorities in BC, as well as remote, rural, suburban, and urban communities through single-service and multi-service organizations.
This collective of community-based organizations was well positioned to take on leadership and to pull agencies and people together. Stable and flexible funding provided these agencies with the opportunity to respond creatively and collaboratively to the needs and circumstances of individual older adults. Pre-existing partnership were the key to moving quicky and effectively into action, once the pandemic hit. Partnerships were critical for communities to mount effective responses to the needs of vulnerable older people. However, new partnerships were challenging to establish in the middle of crisis.
Implications of findings
There are still many vulnerable older people who are not connected. To reach the more vulnerable and bridge the digital divide, the need to increase partnerships with both health authorities and municipalities is highly recommended. The need for more volunteers to provide training and mentorship was evident. Come participate in order to enhance your learnings on how this research can support your advocacy and calls to action of decision-makers in both resource allocation and policy changes.