On February 11th, 2021, virtually for the first time, the Toronto East Quadrant (TEQ) Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) held its 9th annual BRIDGES Collaboration Forum in partnership with LIP’s across Toronto. (LIP’s bring service providers, public stakeholders and newcomers together in community-based planning around the needs of newcomers. CCS is the lead agency in Toronto East.)

BRIDGES is a relationship-building forum for newcomer-facing services’ providers from across the Greater Toronto Area, York, Durham and Peel Regions, as well as the City of Toronto Newcomer Office and Peel Region newcomer strategy group. The forum aims to help build organizational capacity across the sector and share expertise to nurture effective strategic partnerships. This year’s theme was: “Collective Resilience and Innovation: Supporting newcomers through adaptive partnerships and rapid transformations”.

True to the conference name, collaborations were at the forefront of all conversations, discussions, and workshops. Suman Roy, the Executive Director at the Scarborough Food Security Initiative and the keynote speaker, highlighted and commended the resource sharing efforts between established grassroots groups and frontline service providers (such as food banks) to meet the most urgent needs in communities, such as food shortages engendered through COVID-19. Suman encouraged frontline organizations and service providers to leverage the learnings and carry these best practices forward to support their work and new initiatives too.

Next, the plenary, consisting of funders, discussed that partnerships were not only developing and evolving at the service level, but that public and private stakeholders at all levels had pivoted and adapted to support Toronto’s newcomers and most vulnerable groups. Gillian Wan, Director, Integration – Settlement Network, Ontario Region, from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), encouraged community service providers to apply for funding from a consortium of partners. This could be achieved through partnering with grassroots organizations, the corporate sector, and public and private foundations.

Other members of the plenary were Rosemary Bell, Community Development Officer, City of Toronto, Saida Osman, Community Development Officer, City of Toronto, and Yvonne Ferrer, Director, Programs – Citizenship and Immigration and Office of Women’s Issues, Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

A series of workshops followed and explored topics such as newcomer unemployment, strengthened supports for victims of gender-based violence, and addressing oppression and racism through collective action.

The BRIDGES Collaboration Forum offers a unique space for attendees to gain knowledge about the current sector challenges and about practical solutions they can use to support their clients.

Kudos to the CCS organizing team for transforming this normally in-person, GTA-wide conference into a virtual event.