The Power of Unconventional Funding 

Now in our third year of the Ontario Community Changemakers program, a microgrant and fellowship opportunity designed by 8 80 Cities and powered by Balsam Foundation, we are beginning to see the return on investment this type of youth-focused low-barrier funding can offer.  

Now in our third year of the Ontario Community Changemakers program, a microgrant and fellowship opportunity designed by 8 80 Cities and powered by Balsam Foundation, we are beginning to see the return on investment this type of youth-focused low-barrier funding can offer.  

The 2023 – 2024 OCC program received more than 100 applications from across Ontario. The 8 80 Cities team then faced the challenge of selecting 20 recipients for this round of funding. After much debate, we chose participants from Belleville, Barrie, Brant County, Ottawa, Peterborough, Pickering, Russell, Sudbury, and Toronto.  

The Projects 

As we have seen every year, the Changemakers’ projects vary widely in approach.  

Micha “Happy” Edwards is focusing on food as a source of joy and health. Happie Inner Quest uses food to uplift and strengthen individuals, fostering connection and belonging in the wider community.  

Balu Kanagalingam is creating a compassionate space for Black, Indigenous, and racialized men to connect and heal. 100 CNFSSNS invites 100 men to read out loud another man’s confession; the project is about taking accountability through storytelling. 

Samantha Loney is using the funding to continue her Travelling Métis project,  a podcast by Métis youth for Métis youth; the project travels around Ontario, telling and sharing the stories of what it means to be  Métis.  

Benjamin Wright is thinking about Third Space through his ‘Welcome’ project, which will activate public foyers through comfort and accessibility, and Shammah Salwa is exploring Vermicomposting from the home to the garden; her project will engage individuals and families to design and build their own vermicompost. 

These projects are a small sample of the incredible work the 2023 – 2024 cohort has planned. To learn about all the Changemakers and their projects, check them out here.

The Studio 

The Ontario Community Changemakers program kicks off every year with the Toronto Studio, an opportunity for Changemakers to come together and learn from each other and also from our excellent facilitators. This year, the studio was particularly special because it was the first time since the launch of the program in 2021 that we have been able to have a Studio entirely in person.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the first two years, so we were excited to bring all 20 changemakers to Toronto over Pride weekend (June 23 – 25, 2023) to experience the workshop in person.

Changemakers arrived on Friday night and stayed in downtown Toronto. On Saturday morning, they met bright and early at the 8 80 Cities office for our first presentation, led by Lindsay (Swooping Hawk) Kretschmer. Lindsay’s presentation and discussion were on Indigenous Cultural Awareness and how Changemakers can continue learning about and incorporating Indigenous perspectives into their work. This is a particularly pertinent topic to us at 8 80 Cities, as we always include in our work the goal of putting the land acknowledgement into tangible actions and outcomes.  Lindsay’s honest and insightful presentation created a truly open space for our Changemakers to ask questions and think deeper about the ways we learn and teach history in Ontario and Canada. There was much emotion and much follow-up work to do. Thank you, Lindsay, for such a thoughtful talk!

The group at Scadding Court Community Centre

From there, we led the group on a walk to Scadding Court Community Centre, where we had a great lunch at the 707 Market, followed by a tour of Scadding Court. Scadding Court is a truly out-of-the-box community space, and we are so impressed by what they are continuously able to accomplish with their unique model. Changemakers were very impressed and excited by the Oasis Skateboard Factory, also known as “
Skateboard School,” the alternative high-school program offered by the TDSB.

Through the studio, I am learning how to create collective legacies of change moving towards equitable societies in Ontario!!!  Nicole Sudiacal (She/Her)  

Kengsinton Market Tour

Our final stop for the day was a tour of the Market called Oh Kensington!: A Decade of Activism for Survival and generously facilitated by the Friends of Kensington Market. We learned about sites of active resistance in the market, where residents continue to fight for public space and affordable housing against the backdrop of development and gentrification. Changemakers were able to see up close the power of community and how that particular community is able of Kensington Markt. We encourage you to check out the ‘My Tab’ initiative.

Saturday ended with a rowdy but fun dinner in the Market at Pizza Via Mercanti. This was a great time to reflect on the day and also for 8 80 Staff and all the Changemakers to relax. After a very delicious meal, participants went off to celebrate Pride while staff went home to gear up for a busy day two.

Despite the previous nights festivities, everyone arrived ready for a busy workshop day. We had the pleasure of being hosted as SvN Architects + Planners in Toronto. A huge thank you to our friends at SvN for loaning us this inspiring space for the day! If Saturday was about fun and exploration, Sunday was all about business. We had presentations and workshops focused on Project Visioning, Project Planning and Programming, Engagement and Storytelling and a final (not so short) word from our founder, Gil Penalosa, where we talked all things active transportation and elections (with the next day of course being election day in Toronto).

I am very inspired by all the innovative ideas around the table with my fellow community Changemakers. Kamilah Francis (She/Her)

One of the wonderful things about Sunday was seeing our past Changemaker, Nithursan Elamuhilan present his 2021 – 2022 project to the newest cohort. It was a beautiful full-circle moment for our program, and we are so proud to see the lasting impact and connections this funding creates.

I ask myself how many people in my life affirm my capabilities; this project has done that for me.  Balu Kanagalingam

The Takeaway 

One of the parts of the Ontario Community Changemakers program that is so unique is that it is designed to create as few barriers as possible, both in the application process and requirements and in the individual project execution. We have seen from this model that our Changemakers are given the space to experiment, pilot, pivot and even “fail”. We never expect project ideas to arrive fully formed, and even when they do, only one or two projects are executed precisely as initially proposed. While making community change, the OCC program is also about individual growth.

We believe that the changemakers themselves are as important as the final outcome of their projects, so we spend the year after the studio mentoring and helping Changemakers navigate all the challenges that come with creating pilot projects, something we at 8 80 Cities know a lot about. In the end, we always see changemakers finish the year having delivered meaningful and impactful projects, often which are growing far beyond the scope of the initial grant. Still, we also see growth and skills development. We see a community of changemakers who can rely on each other and the next generation of leaders and social justice activists.  

I wanted to thank you. I am an introvert by nature, and the fact that you all made a space so welcoming and comfortable made me feel like I could share.  Saif Ahmed (He/Him)