International Organization Spotlight: The Broadbent Institute

Luckily for the global progressive movement, there are organizers and organizations that support organizers all over the world. Change through grassroots engagement is not limited to the United States. At 63 Magazine, we want to spotlight international organizers, campaigns, and organizations, understanding that the challenges, the failures, and the victories each of us face are connected.

This issue, we talked to Rick Smith, the executive director of the Broadbent Institute in Canada to learn about the work he and his team are doing to enable change. The Broadbent Institute, an independent, non-partisan organization, is the first organization in Canada created purely to champion progressive change through the promotion of democracy, equality, and sustainability and through the training of a new generation of leaders. Created in 2011, the Broadbent Institute was founded in part after the realization that conservatives in Canada had more sophisticated political institutions than progressives did. Just five years after the Broadbent Institute was created, this is definitely no longer the case.

Through a number of different practices, the Broadbent Institute works to develop the leaders of tomorrow, to convene progressive voices to recast national conversations, to research and share ideas that will create a better future, to encourage open political discussion, and to motivate Canadians to speak and act based on their beliefs. Rick Smith, who has been active in Canadian politics for the last 25 years, says “if you were going to mush together the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Wellstone Action, that’s kind of us. We do the direct, focused, policy and communications work that CAP does, but we also do the training and education similar to what Wellstone Action offers.”

The Broadbent Institute understands that social change does not happen without intentional, organized, and strategic action. Certain that improving and expanding organizing is an essential part of helping the progressive movement in Canada, Rick says of their efforts, “We have tried to zero in on those ideas we think are the most potent and the most critical for progressives to win on and then train folks up so that they are armed with the best available campaign tactics to win.”

From huge training events in hotel ballrooms with thousands of people, to fellows programs designed to bring leaders together to learn from and challenge each other, to participating in intensive international training programs, the Broadbent Institute relentlessly pursues its mission to equip a new generation of progressive campaigners with the tools they need.

In 2014, the Broadbent Institute partnered with the grassroots consulting firm, 270 Strategies, to offer 15 Canadians a chance to work on American midterm Democratic campaigns for five weeks. The Broadbent Institute covered the expenses for these 15 individuals, which gave each participant the opportunity to learn firsthand the lessons and best practices across grassroots organizing, digital strategies, data analytics, and communications that you can only learn from spending a lot of time working on a campaign.

Some of the most successful training alumni from this five-week program include two young women who created the highly effective #NoTaxOnTampons Campaign, to question why feminine hygiene products were taxed at a higher rate than other products. At a time when Canadian federal politics were divisive, the campaign was able to win a unanimous vote in the House of Commons to remove the extra tax on tampons.

Another alum of this intensive program served as the election day coordinator for the Alberta New Democratic Party, a job he would never have had the confidence to take on without the investment in his training he received from the Broadbent Institute. Here, this access to training not only improved his own career, but it gave him the chance to influence and develop other progressives through his work.

As the Broadbent Institute continues to expand its work, the reach of its efforts is felt more and more in Canadian politics. Inspired by a common vision of free, equal, and compassionate citizenship in Canada, the Broadbent Institute is constantly delivering on its mission to support, develop, and promote social democratic principles.

Rightfully proud of their work, Rick describes the increasing number of times they see individuals who have been a part of the organization’s work reaching successful outcomes across the country, whether in political party campaigns or in civil society advocacy campaigns. He says, “Ultimately we’re in the business of helping progressives win more often—that’s a benchmark of success that we’re most concerned with.”

As Canada continues to lead the way on environmental and social issues, there’s no doubt that progressives around the world will continue to benefit from the increasing impact the Broadbent Institute achieves north of the U.S. border.