Roundtable 16: Resilient Organizations


Resilience is the ability to survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of challenges and changes. Our city, and the world around it, is facing accelerated and often unprecedented change. Local service providers and non-profit organizations are at the vanguard of complex local and global challenges, and in many cases, have adapted and innovated in order to continue to serve their communities.

This transformation comes in the form of altering and expanding missions, service models, and spaces in order to meet the changing and growing needs of clients, staff, and volunteers. Not only do organizations change day-to-day operations and services to serve their communities, but they have demonstrated tremendous capacity to provide critical support and services during times of crisis. This adaptive change is at the core of resilience.

Sharing learning from local organizations that have changed in the face of challenges and uncertainty helps us to feel empowered to survive, adapt, and thrive in the future.

Roundtable Discussion

There were nine participants from a variety of non-profit and community-based organizations and funders of NPOs in the Resilience Roundtable, as well as the facilitator Katie Mcpherson and notetaker Katia Tynan. Discussion centred on various ways that individuals and organizations have demonstrated resilience.

Through this discussion, three themes emerged: people, funding, and spaces. People are at the centre of all resilient organizations. Community ownership and buy-in builds a base of support for organizations, and ensures that the organization will remain flexible to the needs of their community. Caring for staff and volunteers is also a critical component of this resilience. A culture of validation and self-care for front line workers and for volunteers needs to be supported to mitigate burnout and vicarious trauma.

Additionally, funding is a key challenge, particularly in the Canadian context where there is a focus on seed funding for pilot projects, but little operational or long-term funding to turn pilots into ongoing programs. Organizations also have limited access to funds to collaborate with other organizations to create long-term, systemic change, and are stifled by the prevalent model of transactional relationships both with other organizations, and with individuals.

Finally, organizations require security of spaces and places to operate, room to grow and adapt as the community they serve also grows and changes, and must be able to steward and hold space for future generations. In a place like Vancouver, this can be a significant challenge – particularly as many organizations are anchors in their specific neighbourhood or community. Moving across the city to find larger spaces can disrupt critical, place-based services.

Key Findings

  • Community resilience starts with individuals having a sense of purpose, worth, value, and being able to contribute in a meaningful way.
  • Resilient organizations centre themselves and their work around serving the needs of their community. By fostering a sense of ownership from the community, the organization will ensure that it is able to be adaptive to changing needs, and have advocates and champions to support it through challenges.
  • Safety and rules: need to balance inclusion and safety in the context of low-barrier spaces. There is a difference between rules that are put in place for safety, and rules that are put in place just for order.
  • Failure as a pathway to learning: being able to take risks and learn from failure is essential. Resilience is built through flexibility, adaptation, and transformation.

Knowing that failure is okay; it’s part of building resilience and a pathway to learning.

Elisabeth Kyle
  • Need to be careful with the language of resilience as it can sometimes be used to denote personal failure if people aren’t able to surmount their situations, rather than recognizing systemic oppression and institutional barriers.
  • Resilient organizations have a strong vision and a mission – not just funding. Vision and mission help guide organizations so that the priority is not self-perpetuation, but meeting needs and providing valuable services to their community.
  • Resilience requires collaboration and strong communication within organizations and between organizations.

A resilient organization is a good communicator.

Sharon Esson
  • Resilience is dependent on circumstances – resilient behaviour in one context may not be resilience in another context. Successful programs or models can’t necessarily be implemented in another place and expect to be successful.


  • Support flexibility and involvement in systemic change – working beyond individual and organizational challenges and working on root causes:
    • Advocate upward – don’t just try to change behaviour of individuals, try to change systemic and organizational behaviour.
    • Take stock of where you are at and what value you bring to the community.
  • Empower local, context responsive community leadership
    • Resource board or ward system model as examples
    • Build a sense of ownership for service users over. organizations. Empower them to express their needs.
  • Systems operation – collaborating and working together with like-minded organizations rather than competing with them
    • Advocate for backbone funding and support to run long-term programs, do relationship building, professional development, strategic planning, etc.
  • Talk to each other – the left hand should know what the right hand is doing.
    • Government should develop clear guidelines on what its responsibility is to support non-profit organizations.
    • Cut red tape – use guidelines rather than hard rules.

Related Initiatives

First United Church provides low-barrier emergency shelter and social housing in their three Vancouver buildings. Emergency shelter clients have access to a reserved bin in their personal storage program and are matched with a case planner. The shelter is open 24 hours a day.

Beyond The Conversation exists to engage, empower, and inspire seniors, new immigrants, refugees, and youth. We are a volunteer-led initiative who are driven to use the English language as a vehicle to foster a sense of belonging, self-confidence, and connection to the community. It is volunteer driven with no funding.

Britannia has its origin in cooperative community action. Local citizens and various civic agencies created the organization in 1974 to coordinate and integrate a wide range of human services. Through a locally elected Board of Management, the non-profit society provides a leadership role in developing and facilitating educational, recreational, library, and social services for the communities of Grandview-Woodland and Strathcona.

VAST is a primary mental health resource for refugees in Vancouver providing counseling, support groups, documentation of psychological trauma for refugee claims, education, and referrals.

411 Seniors is a membership organization supporting seniors. They have a drop-in seniors’ centre with programming and will soon be moving to a new permanent location that will include seniors’ housing.
VanCity is a cooperative credit union building resilience amongst its staff and systems to ensure that members can access funds during a disaster. It is also working on supporting businesses and communities to become more resilient.

Ballet BC is a non-profit, creation based company with a mandate to create new works. Ballet BC’s collaborative model has produced visionary work that has brought the Company local and international acclaim.

Return to Roundtable Report List