Canada Bridges (aka Bridges Social Development) was founded by Donna Kennedy-Glans in 2002 to be an organization focused on building human capacity in places where others rarely go, and doing so by invitation only.
The values and approach were what made Canada Bridges unique. The model was relatively simple: receive community invitation, complete needs assessment, and then develop a training team in Canada and send them to Yemen for 3-4 weeks to train local community members. At the core of this were strong relationships with community members in places like Yemen, India, and Oman, and also with Canada Bridges expert volunteer trainers who donated their time to run these training programs internationally. From 2002-2009, the organization completed two trips per year to train in healthcare, legal services, education, project management and journalism, as based on the community needs.
In 2008, the context and situation changed in the communities where Canada Bridges was working. Yemen was undergoing severe civil unrest, and our healthcare program in India was shut down due to a change in government policy. Adaptation was necessary, so we ran a training program in Oman, where we brought community members out of Yemen to train in a neighbouring country . . . but this proved challenging for a number of reasons; we just couldn’t provide effective support to our partners and friends.
And so, Canada Bridges had to ask some tough questions: Do we seek out new relationships and new invitations to do work internationally? Have we run our course as an organization and therefore need to shut our doors? About this time, we were approached by a group of Yemeni youth living in Calgary who said, “You have to do something; we need your help in Yemen.” Our response: “how can we best support you?” And so, we received our next community invitation – this time from a community right here in Calgary. What followed was no different from our approach internationally: we spent a year assessing their needs, researched approximately 200 leadership programs around the world, and developed a training program called “Unveiling Youth Potential” to invest in building youth capacity as community leaders and social entrepreneurs.
The program received incredible feedback, both from the original Yemeni youth community, as well as from others we have worked with since: Calgary’s Pakistani community, Indian community, and Muslim women’s community, to name a few. And then in 2010, Canada Bridges received an invitation to explore our program and approach with the Indigenous community in Canada. The nature of Canada’s Indigenous community proved to be somewhat unique from the other groups we had worked with, and so we continued to adapt our program and how we work to ensure it meets community needs and expectations.
Currently, we are focused on Unveiling Human Potential in youth ages 16-30 by providing support and capacity building with those who may not have the same access to resources and opportunities that others might have.
Regardless of where and with whom we find ourselves working as an organization, the youth capacity building model by which we operate stays the same: focus on building relationships, respond to invitations, understand the needs of the community, and co-design a capacity building approach with the community to enhance what is currently working well. The intended result: youths' ability to take care of themselves and their communities is improved.
Check out this video that a group of students from SAIT made about Canada Bridges!