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Resilience & Sustainability: the Difference it Makes to Have Assets

At Momentum, we base our community economic development work on the Sustainable Livelihoods model. This approach to poverty reduction is based on the assumption that everyone, no matter their circumstances, has assets on which to build.
To create sustainable livelihoods, the kind that see us through good times and bad, we must think beyond financial assets. While there is no doubt that financial assets are a very important part of the whole, the model takes a broader and more holistic view. As you see in the diagram above, it looks at five categories of assets. To be truly and sustainably prosperous, each of us needs to be conscious of building assets in all five areas.
When participants come to our programs, we introduce this way of thinking about assets. They indicate the strength of their assets in each area at the beginning of their partnership with us, and again at the end. We very deliberately focus on having them build assets in each category.
At Momentum, we walk our talk. We understand that our own progress and development depends on building holistic assets as an organization. In the asset maps above, we show a graphic approximation of Momentum’s assets. As you can see, over the past 25 years, we have built our assets in each area, and hence our capacity to be productive and sustainable.
In 2015, we had a good reminder that this way of understanding assets—of understanding wealth—really does build confidence. It was, in many ways, a tough year. The economic downturn in Calgary meant that we were busier than ever. We responded very well to the challenges posed by sharply increased demand, and thinking about our assets helped us do it. What assets could we draw on to provide support for our participants? Were we responding to the situation in a way that drained assets, sustained them, or continued to build them?
Having built solid assets in all five areas allowed us to remain confident. With your support, we knew we had the resources to make it through these times.
As we describe our assets to you, please note how connected they are. Assets in one area help to build assets in another.
We have not numbered the assets in the list below because we do not want to indicate a priority between them: no one is more or less important than the other. Every one of the five asset areas is necessary for Momentum’s sustainability and ongoing resilience.

 

Sense of Self

These assets are about our identity, values and beliefs, motivation and self-confidence. They are what define our culture as an organization. In 1991, we were a small branch of the Mennonite Central Committee with a goal of helping people out during the downturn in the economy. As MCC Employment Development, we didn’t have a culture or values distinctly our own. Then, in 2001, we became a self-governing charitable organization and, in 2006, we discovered who we really were as an organization. We became Momentum.
Now our identity is very clear. Our mission, vision and values are living and well-used guides. We know who we are, and you—our supporters—know too.
You know that we plan carefully, are mindful in our approaches, and do what we say we will do. You know that we offer education and support, not handouts. You know that we push toward excellence in all regards, including in the measurement of important metrics. You know—you have experienced—that relationships are central to us, that we think of ourselves as a family, that we work as equals among equals, each with something to share, each with something to learn.

At Momentum, MBAs and social  workers know how to talk to each other. They get along, they collaborate. They know why they’re there, and they’re all focused in the same direction. – Brian Hill, Resource Development Manager, Momentum

 

Basic Needs

Basic needs are the resources—the material goods and services we all need to survive, such as housing and transportation, including access to those goods and services. You will note on Momentum’s asset maps that our resources haven’t changed much in 25 years. But looks can be deceiving. The asset map needs to be taken in context.
The fact is that Momentum has always been diligent about ensuring that we have what we need to work with our participants. We actually have more assets now in this category than we used to have, and that’s because of the context: Our work has expanded significantly since 1991, and we are still making sure we can get our work done well.
We ensure that our staff have the right equipment, technology and resources to do their jobs. We provide a physical space that is pleasant and safe to work in—although admittedly there are days when it feels as though we are bursting at the seams. There is a kitchen at the centre of our offices because we all share the basic need for good food, and we share good food with one another regularly.
We are very consciously located near the communities where many of our participants live. Our office is easy to get to by car and is located less than five minutes away from the closest C-Train stop. Over the years since we moved to our present location,   we have been taking over more and more of the building, and thankfully there is still some room to expand
As Momentum grows in the years to come, we remain committed to making sure we meet our basic needs so that we can meet the needs of our participants and our staff.

Momentum helps people go beyond survival. . . . Momentum helps people actually get ahead. – Doug Laird, long-time Momentum volunteer and donor.

 

Skills and Knowledge

Skills and knowledge are our assets as human beings: what we know and what we are able to do. At Momentum we pride ourselves at being relatively good at what we do.
We have a real commitment to quality, and work diligently to improve our programs and processes. We track our outcomes, and measure our progress. We conduct and publish research. We evaluate our programs’ long-term and social impacts, and we pay attention to the results and use them to implement changes when necessary.
We build our skills and knowledge by listening to our participants, our partners, our supporters and our staff. We acknowledge and appreciate how much we have to learn. We share our skills and knowledge in turn, through our programs and our policy research and action.
Our donors also help us build our skills and knowledge. Their contributions are certainly important in building our financial assets, but equally important are the skills and knowledge they share with us. They ask us good, tough questions that force us to flex our visioning muscles, and to think further than we might otherwise have done. They want to work with us to make a sustainable difference, so they support us as we try new things, knowing that even if we don’t succeed, we will have learned.

Momentum staff are average people doing wicked things. – Amanda Sneddon, Owner, Amanda Sneddon Photography, Business Development Graduate

 

Connections

Our connections are our relationships, community and networks. We live within a community, and our community is crucial to our strength no matter what the economy. In 1991, we had few affiliations with other networks or organizations, and far fewer donors and funders than we have now.
Today, Momentum’s connections are an inspiring source of strength. In 2015, Momentum worked with over
•    200 community partners
•    400 members, who include former participants, donors and volunteers
•    20 funders
•    330 donors
•    4,000 participants in programs that we delivered
•    50 staff members
In this challenging year, we needed our community, and it really came together. Donors offered very substantial financial and moral support. Funders remembered us when they had extra funds available. Community partners worked closely with us to resolve issues around referrals. Our board members, donors, staff and participants introduced us to other individuals, organizations and ideas that helped us move forward.
The Momentum community is strong, active and engaged. People from all walks of life, from all socio-economic levels and from many different cultures work together.
We are grateful for and attentive to every one of these relationships. We could not do our work without them.

That’s the beautiful thing about Momentum: everybody walks together. It is a family culture. We love one another, we help one another. The day I came in for the first time, I couldn’t differentiate who were staff, who were students. Everybody was working in symphony together. I just love this place. – Michael Odetola, Trades Training Graduate

 

Finances

Financial assets refer to income, savings and other sources of financial security. As the diagram indicates, Momentum’s financial assets have grown substantially over time. Growth has come both in the diversity of our funding sources, and in the amounts we have available to invest in our work. We do not have to worry about living year-to-year.
Momentum’s financial partners came through in a very meaningful way in 2015. We know that they recognized that our participants would be deeply affected by difficult economic times. We acknowledge and are very grateful for the trust that our financial partners place in us.
Financial partners helped us ensure Momentum’s programs continued and, in one case, even expanded.
Thanks to the generosity and support of our donors, we exceeded our fundraising goal in 2015. Over the past five years, fundraising revenue has gone from five percent of our income to 18 percent. This makes a tangible difference to our ability to achieve our mission. Donors invest in both bricks and mortar: they support both our programs and community leadership efforts, as well as our core administrative work, which holds it all together.

The energy was unbelievable, the optimism was infectious and the room was buzzing with all the tributes from the 20 graduates. We are making a difference in our community. I am very proud of our involvement. – Hussein A. Farah, CFP / CIBC District Vice President, Calgary South / Corporate Donor Representative / After attending a YFG grad

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