Hill Day Reflections: An Interview with Jacquelyn Wright, President & CEO

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Hill Day Reflections: An Interview with Jacquelyn Wright, President & CEO

During International Development Week, Cooperation Canada and its member organizations, including Canadian Feed The Children (CFTC), convened on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to engage with parliamentarians about the strategic importance of international assistance and the difference it is making in the lives of millions of people worldwide. This year, representatives from Cooperation Canada’s member organizations met with Members of Parliament across party lines including the Bloc Québécois, Conservative Party, Green Party, New Democratic Party, and Liberal Party.

We interviewed our President & CEO, Jacquelyn Wright, who attended Hill Day to represent CFTC. She shared insights about the vital role of advocacy in uplifting children and families worldwide, the key messages conveyed to decision-makers, and why it’s important to engage in these kinds of discussions with parliamentarians.

Q: What is the significance of Hill Day?

a group of people looking over brochures

Jacquelyn Wright (pictured far left), with different members of Cooperation Canada participating in Hill Day. Photo credit: Cooperation Canada.

Hill Day serves as a crucial platform for Cooperation Canada and its member organizations, including CFTC, to directly engage with parliamentarians on the importance of Canada’s international development assistance amid ongoing global crises. With representatives from various political parties, this event underscores Canada's role in addressing pressing global challenges and emphasizes the impact of international assistance on millions of lives worldwide.

As a member of Cooperation Canada, CFTC recognizes the shared responsibility to advocate for the international development sector's priorities. Participation in Hill Day not only allows us to spread awareness about the importance of our collaborative work but also provides a platform to influence government policies and decisions affecting our partner communities.

By engaging directly with parliamentarians, we can advocate for increased funding and policy support to address these complex challenges effectively. Given CFTC's growing role in advocating for children and families in Canada and around the world, Hill Day provides a crucial opportunity for our partners' voices to be acknowledged and heard within the sector.

Q: Have you participated in Cooperation Canada’s Hill Day before? How was this similar or different?

A: Yes, I've participated in Hill Day four times in the past, both through CFTC and previous organizations. This year's event showcased notable growth within Cooperation Canada, which now boasts over a hundred members. I was excited to see the diversity among members and the collaborative spirit during this year's event, which I believe highlights the evolving landscape of our advocacy efforts.

Q: Why did you choose to participate this year?

A: Engaging with politicians and individuals involved in politics is personally significant to me. It offers a valuable opportunity to educate decision-makers on the context and impact of our work, and the impact that Canada’s international development assistance has on communities.

The timing of Hill Day is particularly poignant given the multitude of converging crises facing our global community. From the devastating impacts of climate change to the exacerbation of poverty and hunger due to the pandemic, the need for international assistance has never been more urgent. Canadian aid initiatives play a pivotal role in mitigating these crises, offering vital support to communities worldwide.

Emphasizing CFTC's community-led approach to development is where I really focus. There needs to be organizations like CFTC asking questions like, “How does this impact the communities and local partners?”, and that’s what I strive to do when I’m in the room. My goal is to advocate alongside our partner communities and ensure their voices are heard in the policymaking arena.

Q: What key messages or priorities did you convey?

Our key ask was for the Government of Canada to increase investments in support of women and girls in humanitarian emergencies and protracted conflicts and crises, and human rights, civil society and democracy.

Cooperation Canada compiled some staggering data points to highlight the urgent need for humanitarian assistance globally. For example, nearly 300 million people in 72 countries will require humanitarian assistance and protection in 2024. Additionally, globally, as many as 783 million people - closer to twice the population of Canada and the USA combined - experience hunger. These are damning figures that need to be addressed on a global scale.

We also emphasized that despite the rising level of global conflict, instability and humanitarian need, Canada’s commitment to international assistance has fallen short. In fact, the federal budget announced in March 2023 revealed a 15% decrease in funding from pre-pandemic levels.

This declining investment sends the wrong message to our global counterparts, leaving Canada at risk of being left out of critical global conversations and coalitions. We relayed that it undermines our responsibility to contribute to a safer, more stable, and prosperous future for both Canadians and people worldwide.

Q: Tell us about your experience. What was the process?

a group of people in suits standing against a wall smiling

Jacquelyn Wright (pictured far left), with Cooperation Canada members and Mike Mika (pictured fourth from left), the Chief of Staff for Minister Hussen.

A: Cooperation Canada provided comprehensive training prior to the event, guiding members on engaging with decision-makers and structuring our advocacy efforts. During Hill Day, teams of representatives from various organizations convened to discuss our key messages with parliamentarians.

In my group were representatives from Action Canada, Cooperation Canada, Kentro Christian Network, and Christian Lutheran World Relief. Collaborative efforts and partnerships like this are integral to amplifying the impact of Canadian aid initiatives. If it’s an issue for us, it’s likely an issue for many communities worldwide. So it’s important to have collaboration among members so we can amplify the message. By uniting voices and perspectives, we can effectively advocate for meaningful change and address complex, shared challenges faced by communities worldwide.

My team engaged with officials across various political parties, including Mike Maka, Chief of Staff for Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of International Development, Larry Maguire, an MP for the Conservative Party in Manitoba, and Salma Zahid an MP for the Liberal Party in Ontario. They were all open to and engaged in the conversation. Mike Maka was even receptive to amplifying our message with Minister Hussen and all members of staff.

Q: In an age of digital communication, what unique advantages does face-to-face advocacy during Hill Day offer?

In-person advocacy offers a unique opportunity to convey the urgency and impact of Canadian aid in a compelling and personal manner. The main benefit of engaging in person to me is that it allows for better rapport building. In-person, you get to really know a person. You see their office, the knick-knacks on their desk, their wall decor. It helps to understand the decision-maker, their personal values, and their perspectives.

As well, there are many in-person events like parliamentary receptions that are wonderful opportunities to mingle with decision-makers in a more informal setting. These events provide a good opportunity to meet people you normally wouldn’t interact with and to spread the mission of both your organization as well as the broader international development sector.

Q: Overall, how did it feel to participate?

a group of people in suits standing in a row, smiling

Jacquelyn Wright (pictured second from left), with Larry Maguire, an MP for the Conservative Party in Manitoba (pictured third from left).

Participating was both exhilarating and challenging. It felt empowering to directly engage with decision-makers and advocate for causes close to our hearts. At the same time, it was a reminder of the immense responsibility we carry in representing our organization and partner communities amidst these escalating global challenges. Overall, the experience was deeply rewarding, knowing that our efforts contribute to shaping policies that can positively impact lives around the world.

Q: Looking ahead, what are the strategic priorities for CFTC in terms of international assistance, and how do you envision the organization's role in shaping the future of Canadian aid?

A: Moving forward, CFTC remains committed to partnering with communities and local partners to deliver community-led programming that creates tangible, long-term impacts for children, families, and communities in Canada and globally.  We are here with communities who are building local, self-reliant, sustainable systems to provide food for their children, youth, and families across generations. We work in solidarity with communities to impact all areas of nourishment at all stages of their lives, including income generation, education, gender equality, racial justice, and climate impacts. As part of a collaborative network, CFTC envisions shaping the future of Canadian aid through anti-oppressive, de-colonized, community-led, and non-paternalistic approaches to international assistance.