Paul Born founded Community Opportunities and Development Association (CODA) in 1986 to address the unemployment needs of the people of Waterloo, the city in which he lived. Paul constructed an organizational board for CODA with a specific ratio of business (40%), labor workforce (50%), and citizen sector (10%) representation, in order to drive collaborative participation from all community stakeholders. His model proved highly successful when CODA moved from a resource-scarce organization to onewith a million dollar annual budget in just one year. This structure would become a critical element of Paul’s strategy for addressing the poverty issues faced by many Canadian communities.
During a 1996 - 2000 CODA campaign, Opportunities 2000, Paul set a target for the city of Waterloo to bring poverty levels to the lowest rates in Canada by the year 2000. With a strict timeline, Paul built local networks consisting of private and citizen sector organizations. He challenged these networks to identify local sources of funding. He then used the newly found funding to invest in community activities focused on poverty reduction rather than alleviation while simultaneously investing the remaining funds into launching new businesses for low income individuals. The campaign reduced poverty for more than 2000 families and assisted in the launching of more than 1200 small businesses for low income households, creating the conditions for Waterloo becoming the only city in the country to eliminate place based poverty in the 2000 census.
Paul recognized that the key to successful poverty reduction in Canada was to enable other communities to create their own integrated, place based strategies. Knowing that in order for this to occur, there would need to be a national convener focused on helping develop these poverty reduction plans, Paul left CODA to establish Tamarack Institute in 2002 in close partnership with Alan Broadbent of the Avana Capital Corporation Tamarack is a nationally focused innovator, connector and supporter of communities that builds upon the learning’s from Opportunities 2000 and acts as a comprehensive national support system to aid in the creation of local poverty reduction strategies. Paul fortified this national support system by partnering Tamarack with Canada’s leading family foundations (the J.W McConnell Foundation and the Maytree Foundation) and a high-profile institute on policy reform (the Caledon Institute) in order to secure the financial support and policy influence needed to implement and grow Tamarack’s flagship program Vibrant Communities.
Under Vibrant Communities, Paul requires that all members establish a leadership round-table that engages: three senior private sector leaders, three representatives of government (usually municipal), three representatives from the voluntary sector and community leaders with lived experience in low income situations. The leadership round-table is given 12-18 months to build a comprehensive, results-focused plan that utilizes local financial assets. All plans are unique to the region that is developing them; however Tamarack guides the creation of the plans with 4 distinct core principles. 1) A poverty matrix is used to research and assess the complexity of poverty issues specific to the region, 2) Participant cities are instructed to articulate how they identify themselves as a community and what change they want to see in themselves as a community, 3) Leadership groups must draft a theory of systemic change specific to their community and 4) The different sector representatives must determine how they will work within their own sector to implement the established plan. The plan is revisited and revised as needed on an annual basis by Tamarack and the leadership team. All communities involved must commit to continued learning and sharing with other Vibrant Communities members across Canada, throughout their strategic timeline.
Tamarack invests in finalized plans using partnership funds, with a specific investment ratio of one dollar of coalition funds for every three dollars locally identified from the community. All community strategies must be financially sustainable, providing both social and financial returns on investment. To date, Tamarack has built a multi-million dollar operational budget, due in part from the revenue generated from Vibrant Communities. Now in its 10th year of operation, Paul is moving to a model that encourages all member communities to secure 100% of their financing from local sources.
Paul also works congruently to affect social policy reform through the coalition member Caledon Institute. Caledon connects the emerging insights of member communities and prepares policy-focused resources for dissemination in order to bring the work of the communities to the provincial and national governmental conversations surrounding poverty in Canada. This has allowed many provincial governments to design poverty reduction strategies that complement the work of their cities.
Paul also ensures that there is an ongoing network of support, deep-level learning and best practice sharing between all communities involved in the initiative. In order to drive active contribution and continuous learning, Tamarack administers an online learning community and equips all participant cities with communication tools and a website. In order to further disseminate best practice models to the broader Canadian population Paul facilitates the national publication of several books that he co-authors and/or authors on Tamarack and the Vibrant Communities initiatives. Tamarack publications include: Evaluating Vibrant Communites: 2002-2010 by Jamie Gamble, Cities Reducing Poverty by Mark Cabaj and Conversation, Collaboration and Community Change by Paul Born.
Implementation of the community plans occur when all members represented at the leadership round-table return to their respective sectors and align their organizational strategic plans, operations and activities with what has been developed. Measuring the physical, social, financial and human assets accumulated, the innovations developed due to Tamarack intervention are numerous. In one community, the governmental leadership enlisted the local transit association to create an affordable bus-pass option for low income individuals, which contributed to more than $600 of additional annual income for those who utilized the benefit. In another community, local private leadership implemented a sticker program, in which small businesses that provided employees with benefits and salaries above the minimum wagewere given a special sticker to display on their store fronts. A congruent public awareness campaign about the stickers was then launched informing the public that by shopping at these small businesses bearing the sticker, they would be supporting low-income individuals out of poverty in their community, thus driving economic growth for the businesses involved. In one of the most successful community initiatives, voluntary leadership members converted a local food bank to a food co-op, allowing patrons to develop practical hands on job training, while receiving much needed food assistance. With the help of Tamarack and local financers the co-op then secured funding to rent use of a commercial grade kitchen, allowingco-op members (many of which were low income new immigrants) to launch their own food service and food provision businesses at a low cost, utilizing the skills they had developed while increasing their annual income.
Paul’s network of communities encompasses regions across Canada. There is at least one active vibrant community in every province in Canada. By October 2012, Tamarack had worked with all 10 provincial governments to design poverty reduction strategies that complemented and supported the work of the Vibrant Communities within their jurisdictions. Since 2002, Tamarack has collaborated with 84 cities across Canada, including 2,278 partners and 840 lived experience individuals to apply more than 439,000 poverty reducing activities coupled with 53 governmental policy changes (municipal and provincial) resulting in 202,000 households less poor across Canada. Paul’s goal over the next 4 years is to bring 1 million Canadian households out of poverty in 100 cities across Canada, complemented by the creation of the first Tamarak supported national poverty reduction strategy at the federal level. Paul seeks to create Vibrant Communities across North America, drastically reducing economic poverty within his lifetime.