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Winning by Pulling Together
Direct Democracy and Civic Engagement are Crucially Important to the Process
By Mahassen Mahmoud | Other articles by Mahassen Mahmoud
At 2 consecutive AGM's at one condo corporation, namely YCC76, an experiment in participatory development took place. Direct democracy and civic engagement are crucially important not only to ensuring a democratization of decision-making process but also to enhance social inclusion.
Challenges and Opportunities
YCC76 is one of the largest, if not the largest, in Ontario with 1420 units and it is a model of social diversity with a large population of newcomers and people from various ethnic backgrounds and age groups. Moreover, it is a self-managed corporation. Decisions regarding the budget, which is over 9 million dollars, and the overall operations are made by the board members who are volunteers. YCC76 has 2 property managers, one of them is senior, which are supervised by the Board of Directors.
The number of board members is 12, which is quite exceptional. The buildings, comprising 3 high-rises and a number of town-homes are aging, with over 40 years passed since they were built, and there are several building envelopes and repair projects going on.
The buildings are adjacent to Crescent Town, which has been designated as a priority area by the City of Toronto, which has a strategy regarding integration of different communities including those who are more affluent and those who are lower income earnings.
Having a vision, mission and guiding principles is a necessity to identify priorities, set up partnerships, make decisions on budget and operations. Moreover, it is important to ensure board cohesive action considering the large number of board members.
History and Process
At the 2017 AGM the writer of this article, and board member of YCC 76, obtained the consent of the board to conduct a "data collection" exercise. Flip-charts were posted at the AGM which were titled "questions about our priorities, items to be included on our planning objectives, successes, improvements needed and action items". A process of analyzing data took place along with a report that was submitted to the board.
At the following 2018 AGM, 4 flip-charts were posted that focused on identifying values, guiding principles and committees that owners volunteered to join to provide recommendations to the Board of Directors. In the beginning of July 2018 the Community Engagement Forum was held and presided by YCC 76 Board President at that time, Mahassen Mahmoud, and a participatory development process had been established to set up values, vision and mission as well as operational planning priorities.
Issues and owners' groups covered re-branding, exterior and interior appearance, communication and accountabilities.
Guiding principles discussed were:
- Transparency and effective communication
- Supporting social inclusion, diversity and owners' engagement
- Cost effectiveness
The exceptional outcome of encouraging owners' engagement was that over 60 owners have signed up to become active volunteers in various owners' committees.
On top of the previously mentioned and obvious benefits of setting up guiding principles, the process itself has benefitted owners' awareness of issues, enhanced the credibility of the Board of Directors and supported healthy relations with owners.
The Social Context
The City of Toronto had noted the community development aspect of YCC76's experiment and organized a forum on what is needed to enhance healthy communities. This Forum was attended by over 100 participants from the Crescent Town residents, YCC76 condo owners, community service agencies and the City of Toronto. The City will send the analysis of the data collected for further action and will provide recommendations. YCC76 participated as an organizer in this partnership-based event along with Pinedale management company for the rental buildings of Crescent Town and Crescent Town Club.
The Day After
Further communication to all owners is planned to expand the base of owners regarding discussing the guiding principles with ALL owners and then take more formal discussions at the board level.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of position of YCC76.
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