Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo (SPWB), a project based in Fort McMurray that has ties to Waterloo Region, Ont., received top honours from Suncor Energy last week.
SPWB is a brand or catalyst driving excellence in Fort McMurray’s social-profit sector. It was one of the recipients of the President’s Operational Excellence Awards, which recognize Suncor teams, individuals and contractors for remarkable achievements in such areas workplace well-being and smart environmental practices.
Supported by the Suncor Energy Foundation, SPWB earned an award for innovative thinking in community development.
“Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo moves the needle for (Fort McMurray), but also helps Suncor see new ways of partnering with the community,” Kim Nordbye, the foundation’s manager of community investment — and a member of the SPWB steering committee — said in a interview Saturday (Nov. 7).
The awards were handed out the night before in Calgary. Nordbye and several colleagues who worked on SPWB shared the news at a Board Governance Boot Camp hosted by FuseSocial and Capacity Canada in Fort McMurray. The Suncor Foundation was the boot-camp sponsor.
Several years ago, the foundation wanted to more clearly see how its charitable contributions improved quality of life in the Fort McMurray area.
Community leaders gathered to share ideas about how the social-profit sector could improve the services it provides and build resiliency in a community so closely tied to the ups and downs of a resource industry.
Social Innovation Generation (a partnership that involves the University of Waterloo) and Waterloo-based Tamarack — An Institute for Community Engagement signed on to help. Capacity Canada was also at the table.
Out of all of that, Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo formed as a landing pad for the ideas and research that began to pour in.
When the university’s involvement in SPWB came to an end last spring after five years, Capacity Canada took over as curator.
Fort McMurray, a city of about 76,000, sits atop the Alberta oil sands and serves as a primary base of operations for companies getting crude oil out of the bitumen-soaked earth. It has the usual social-service needs of a city, from care of the homeless to support for families fleeing domestic violence.
And as a resource-based community, it sees a lot of churn in employment, both in the labour working in the oil-sands mines outside of town, and the leadership of social-profit organizations.
The Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo initiative, Nordbye said, got agencies talking to each other. When they did that, they realized they faced some common challenges that might better be addressed collectively than individually.
Agencies now play a role in community planning, instead of being told what to do.
“At the end of five years, we haven’t solved it all, but we’ve seen a shift,” Nordbye said. “We see the (social-profit) sector has become much more professional. It is more confident and can stand up for itself. It has a better ability to talk to the private sector and the municipality.”
As for the retention issue in the social-profit sector, that hasn’t entirely gone away. But there are signs the community engagement generated by SPWB has put some polish on Fort McMurray’s image as a place to call home.
“There are a lot of people now who have no worries about moving to Fort McMurray,” Nordbye said.