The volunteer boards and committees help guide the North Shore’s local governments, and non-profits are falling behind in ensuring that their membership reflects the communities they serve.
That’s the word from the North Shore Immigrant Inclusion Partnership, which is launching a campaign to recruit immigrants interested in volunteering and partnering them with a board looking to up the diversity of its membership.
In 2016, the NSIIP surveyed 37 North Shore volunteer boards across a swath of sectors including local government, social services, health care, education, arts and culture. Only seven respondents (19 per cent) reported having any immigrants on their board or committee.
According to the 2011 National Household Survey, almost 30 per cent of District of North Vancouver residents identified themselves as immigrants. In the City of North Vancouver, that’s closer to 37 per cent. More than 40 per cent of West Vancouver emigrated from another country, according to the National Household Survey.
Immigration data from the 2016 census is due out in October, although the official stats on language showed growing numbers of people who speak an immigrant language as their mother tongue grew sharply in all three municipalities.
The upshot is operational planning decisions are being made with less perspective from the people impacted by them, said Angela Sealy, a consultant who joined the project in May.
“If you have just a homogenous group, the research has shown the decisions become pretty well the same. It doesn’t cast a wide enough reach into the community to really have a clear picture of what is going on in the community,” she said.
Between now and December, the group is looking to recruit 10 to 15 established immigrants for volunteer boards. The group is offering training for the prospective immigrant board members to help with the transition. Many immigrants are here from countries that do not have democratic processes (and in many cases, because of that fact), Sealy noted.
More than three-quarters of the board survey respondents said that having diversity on boards is “very important” compared to just five per cent who said it is not important. Half reported a lack of time and resources required to identify diverse candidates, according to the survey. That could be a big part of the problem, Sealy said.
“I think it’s because they have not been asked. From the existing boards that I’ve interviewed, they’re quite willing to give it a try. They’re very open,” she said, “because they know it’s important.”
But the handful of immigrants who are serving are finding it rewarding, among them Maryam Nani, a trustee with the North Vancouver City Library.
“For sure, immigrants or newcomers have a different perspective or cultural, social or economic background and point of view. … It’s good for us as immigrants and newcomers to have a representative on boards and local organizations in order to pass our voices from our community,” she said.
Nani said she’s helped her board better understand the needs immigrants have when they arrive and the library, which tends to be a gathering place for newcomers trying to get established, has been able to respond accordingly.
“(Serving on a volunteer board helps) how they can improve their language better, how they can get a job easier, how they can adjust to the culture sooner and how they can feel more included and try to have a happier life as a North Vancouver resident,” she said.
NSIIP will hold an information session for interested immigrant candidates on Tuesday, Sept. 19 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the North Shore Multicultural Society. To register or to learn more, contact Angela Sealy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-522-1492.