Building the Network of Networks

In February, 2012, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) announced an exciting new initiative: the Professional Immigrant Networks Initiative, or PINs. Sponsored by Scotiabank and funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, PINs aims to unite the dozens of professional immigrant networks that have been working independently under the radar for many years – helping professionals in various ethnic communities throughout the Toronto Region to connect with others in similar situations. PINs has become a network of networks.

Racquel Sevilla, TRIEC Manager, Program Development, defines professional immigrant networks as, “…organizations that are created by immigrants for immigrants. So these are member based, volunteer run associations. That’s what distinguishes them from community agencies which are there to provide services and are not member based. Amongst their many objectives, they have to be helping members connect to employment.”

Some groups provide professional development opportunities, some share job boards from employers, others offer mentoring services and some offer all these services and more. Groups like the Senegalese Association of Ontario are mostly cultural and social but have some employment focus. Others, like the Association of Filipino Canadian Accountants, are ethno-specific and very employment focused. Meanwhile, the membership of the International Doctors Network comes from many countries. Collectively, these organizations have about 30,000 members.

TRIEC has two and a half staff members dedicated to making the PINs initiative achieve three goals:

1) Building capacity of the networks to better serve their members. To accomplish this goal, PINs hosts several learning exchange sessions per year, where the networks’ leaders come together and learn about topics of common interest. For example, one session was on mentoring programs. The learning exchange highlighted several existing, successful models for mentoring, and the group leaders came to learn about them. Another big part of the capacity building is the website, which PINs launched on February 9th to build an online community. In the site’s Members-Only area, leaders can network, share information and message one another for leader-to-leader learning.

2) Making connections. Many people are not aware that these networks exist, nor that immigrants are helping themselves and their communities through them.

PINs connects the networks to other stakeholders: employers, government, mainstream professional associations, regulatory bodies, and educational institutions.

The immigrant networks are excited by the opportunity PINs offers to share information on their programs and help immigrants form connections. Sevilla explains that many newcomers are sometimes unintentionally misinformed by friends and family, who may be out of touch with currently available services. “So we arm [the networks] with up-to-date information. Member feedback tells us they value current, relevant, and good information that they can pass on to their members.”

Making connections is also about events and activities that can help forge connections between the networks – and between the networks and the stakeholders. “For instance, we piloted a group mentoring program. JVS Toronto – one of our partners – has been doing group mentoring in various communities for years. We saw this as a great program that could be transported easily to professional immigrant networks. So JVS is training the trainers – one coordinator in each of the five pilot networks. This has been successful – with good employment outcomes – but it’s still early days. “

3) Leadership development - to empower and strengthen the voices of immigrant leaders and emerging leaders – is accomplished through PINs’ leadership development workshops on communications, governance for non-profit boards, and strategic planning and resource development. “Many participants realize early on that they might be the best engineer or doctor, but could benefit from leadership development,” says Sevilla. “Volunteer work doesn’t generally give access to this kind of training. We realized this is a huge area where we could lend a lot of support, so we invested in putting on a number of these workshops which have been really well-received.

“The second piece of our leadership development is actually strengthening the voice of immigrant leaders.

Many people - immigrants, stakeholders and the mainstream public - are not even aware that these networks exist. We want to be able to enable immigrant leaders, to position them in places where they can be spokespersons and have a voice in influencing programs and policies on immigrant employment.”

Sevilla’s internal roster of media spokespersons is short, but high in quality.

Taking The Vision Across Canada

ALLIES, Assisting Local Leaders and Immigrant Employment Strategies, is a partnership between Maytree and the J. W. McConnell Foundation. Before the formation of ALLIES, Maytree had been asked, because of their experiences with TRIEC, to help other communities across Canada come up with best practices to create multi-stakeholder collaborations focused on immigrant employment in their community. ALLIES originated as a way to create and strengthen these collaborations in communities across Canada.

This has given life to other Canadian Employment Councils. In Calgary, there’s CRIEC. In Edmonton, there’s ERIEC. In Waterloo there’s WRIEN (Waterloo Region Immigrant Employment Network). Other councils across the country include Montreal, Ottawa, London, Halifax and the provincial Immigrant Employment Council of BC. For links and details, see the ALLIES website http://alliescanada.ca/.

ALLIES has provided a bit of funding in the past, through a number of federal sources as well as the Maytree and McConnell Foundations. Through ALLIES, the executive directors meet periodically. Mentoring programs like TRIEC’s mentoring partnership program have emerged in multiple cities across Canada through the help of ALLIES. It really is about building coordination between communities.

ALLIES is very interested in the work being done at PINS. They hope to find the networks operating in other communities, and connect them to the network of networks that is being built in Toronto. As each community is different, the networks in their communities may serve slightly different purposes. But being a network of networks – the bigger PINs is, the more benefit there is to its members.

For more information, visit the PINs website at http://www.networksforimmigrants.ca/.