TiHS Episode 21: Abby David – collaboration during a pandemic

TiHS Episode 22 - Abby David

Abby David is the Manager of Employment Initiatives at the New Brunswick Multicultural Council (NBMC).

Earlier this Summer I learned that NBMC had been doing some innovative coordinating work with member agencies after everyone pivoted to remote work.

I was curious about their work with member agencies to develop policies and tools and share best practices on:

  • Communication (internal for settlement staff and external for clients, including support in different languages)
  • Technology and how we use it to provide services to our clients and maintain lines of communications
  • Case Management in remote mode, support to most vulnerable clients etc.
  • Remote services for youth

In this conversation Abby shares how NBMC worked together as a provincial sector and what the fruits of that work have been. Among other things, we talked about

  • How prepared were agencies for the sudden move to remote work?Do you have policies in these areas that could be shared with other agencies?
  • How have different agencies in New Brunswick operationalized this work in their day-to-day?
  • What has newcomer service during COVID-19 looked like in New Brunswick?
  • Are there interesting stories, learning, a-ha moments?
  • What work still needs to be done?

I think anyone working in the sector will find this conversation insightful and useful.

Some themes from our conversation:

  • Not all members were not prepared, but they shifted quickly and successfully online: “it was a very interesting to see how some of our members decided just to move everything to an online mode. I think that we heard very inspiring some inspiring stories about how staff were able to provide training for the clients before they’re actually registered to these online services, and develop capacity for the clients explain everything, how it should work. And then everything from language class to information sessions, into employment services, everything just moved to be online, and it’s working smooth smoothly for them. I think that the clients are eager to continue to learn and stay connected. So that’s where we could, we could really see very high level of participation and turnout.”
  • They were quickly able to harness the expertise that did exist in their membership: “we have brilliant experts in within our members. They know how to develop online learning and how to create technology connections. And we needed to find the ways for us to communicate with the with the clients, and to support the staff who suddenly work from home, and how they can use the digital service delivery mode that they are required to do.”
  • Online safety and security were essential: “And we also wanted to make sure that it’s safe, because everyone knows how important it is to be safe using technology. So we wanted to make sure that both sides, their staff supporting the clients and the clients themselves, know how to work with that and have their well established protocols to be safe as well.”
  • There have been some increases in service accessibility: “right now you can open it for more people in the smaller and rural centers that usually are unable to travel to one of the big cities. And there’s many opportunities for New Brunswickers right now, because of the dynamics that usually most of the programs are in the big cities, and people from smaller centers get less access to to to the support and services and right now, we see a big opportunity for us to to engage with them as well.”

Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript using Otter.ai. The transcript has not been edited. It may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.

0:00
Earlier this summer, I learned that the New Brunswick multicultural council had started to work with its member agencies to develop policies, tools and share best practices related to COVID in the pivot to suddenly remote work. A number of workforces were created including communication which talked about internal communication with staff but also external communication with clients including support in different languages, technology and how they use it to provide services to clients as well as to maintain lines of communications throughout the organization with partners, and with experts in the field and case management to support remote work and to especially to provide a support to most vulnerable clients who may or may not have access to the technology that agencies were pivoting to. I spoke with Abby David, from New Brunswick multicultural council to learn more about how they work together as a provincial sector and what the fruits of that work has been. I think there’s some really good learning here for everyone in the sector. And I appreciate her sharing enjoy the conversation.

0:56
My name is Abby David. I am the employment initiatives manager for newcomers in New Brunswick, New Brunswick multicultural Council. We are the umbrella organization for all the ethnic, cultural and multicultural associations and settlement agencies in New Brunswick. We are a bilingual organization, and we have 17 members across the province. We’ve been here since 1993. And that’s what we are.

1:28
Welcome. And thank you so much for joining me. We connected in the digital messaging for settlement integration group, that refugee 613 years running, which is itself an interesting practice. And when I when I saw you posting about this was around the time when everyone was going suddenly remote, the pandemic had kind of hit and you know, everything was closing. And you had posted that that New Brunswick multicultural Council was working really quickly with with member agencies to develop policies, tools, and to start sharing best practices on in three main areas in communication, both internally with staff but also communicating externally with clients around technology and thinking about, okay, how are we going to pivot this to to online really quickly, and then also to really focusing on case management. In particular, you talked about supporting the most vulnerable, so so I was really interested because I thought you know this, a lot of people were scrambling at the time to try to figure this stuff out. And it looked like you were coming together as a province as a sector to really think about this together. And and especially the piece about sharing best practices really caught my eye because I think that’s something the sector can do more of. So yeah, so I guess the first question, before we dive into to what happened was, how prepared Do you feel the agencies were for this move to remote work to moving online?

2:51
Yeah, I think that the the members were not prepared, because only because they have always been the go to place for newcomers that are arriving in different regions. And we always pitched for the thing that people should come in and get support and meet someone and connect with our variety of services and programs that we offer. And we encourage people to stay not a stay at home, but to go out of the house to engage in a community to find a way to even to travel to this agency to find the people to connect. And I think that suddenly our members, or the first time in there, existence, they lost this in person connection, and had to start to support clients remotely.

3:47
And and you you obviously, as a counsel notice that did they actually I’m curious, did they come to you looking for help? Or did you as a council recognized that there was going to be this need and started quickly organizing?

3:59
I think we identified it, as the council and also are very well established connection with a leaders, the Leadership Forum, and we always get people together on challenges. I was reflecting about some of the questions that you showed me last night, and I thought, last time we had to get all the people to work together was when we had to respond to the Syrian refugee response a few years ago. And that’s where we started to see people coming together municipalities and organizations to support and work together. And that’s how you need to actually operate when you have a crisis. So that’s where we try to mobilize all these efforts to to work together and start to share best practices and that’s what we did this time as

4:52
well. I’ve heard other people mentioned that as well that they’ve had this recent experience of everyone, you know, all hands on board and not just in the sector. But as you mentioned, municipalities, employers, other other actors in the community. So I think that’s a really it’s interesting, a lot of us have had that experience, then it could kind of replicated pretty rapidly this time around you, you set up some really specific working groups around communication technology and case management. Can you tell me a little bit about why and how those were the focus? And what kind of work you were doing with with the agencies on these areas?

5:26
Yes, sure. So first of all, we did start with three task forces. But very quickly, we added the fourth, fourth one that was focused on steel is focused on support for youth and education, because we we have to support partners there. And I’ll explain more about that. But first thing was the technology technology we have really aren’t experts in within our members. They know how to develop online learning and how to create technology connections. And we needed to find the ways for us to communicate with the with the clients, and to support the staff who suddenly work from home, and how they can use the digital service delivery mode that they are required to do. And we also wanted to make sure that it’s safe, because everyone knows how important it is to be safe using technology. So we wanted to make sure that both sides, their staff supporting the clients and the clients themselves, know how to work with that and have their well established protocols to be safe as well. We also looked at the service providers, because once everything started to come in the government was so kind to provide all the financial services and benefits for people. When you have to apply online and language is not there, you don’t speak either or read French or English. How do you do that. So we needed to support the service providers as well. And that’s where we started to see government providing information sessions and translated documents. And you could see that it’s coming. More and more, it became like the new normal for everyone to share documents in different languages. So that was the first one the tech Task Force. The second one was communication. And that were, that was where we wanted to make sure that people are getting the information that is consistent, first of all, and then simple, simple for them to digest. We were very carefully monitoring the level of, of understanding and acceptance of people of all this flood of information when you function not only not in your first language, but also in a crisis situation. So your mind is really tuned into other things. And we wanted to make sure they get the information in the simple way and in the right way. And we also wanted to take care of these vulnerable clients that might not be able to read all the messages. So how can we record something for them? How can we make it very simple, digital nuggets that they can they can, you know, get or even use social media and Facebook, where people are more used to that, or use so many people in our sector that speak so many different languages who could again, record information messages or sessions, or provide translated documents and interpretation services, to be able to cover most of the languages that people needed information for. We also connected with many more people in the province that are not necessarily a registered client with any of our members. Because there are so many international students here, temporary foreign workers, skilled workers, people who are here and don’t speak the languages. They’re French or English. And we opened up to support all the people that are actually vulnerable in that sense. So through communications taskforce, we wanted to make sure that information is being delivered as simple as possible and in other languages, and also providing some support to staff where they needed to relay some messages and in support clients. How can they make sure that the message is again, clear, consistence and simple.

9:41
Now, that’s great. I think I saw a webinar that that you ran about exactly that clear communication, which was really valuable. Because a lot of settlement practitioners, they’re not communications professionals, right. And so just understanding that, especially in a crisis, how do you how you can tailor a message seems like a really important piece.

10:00
Exactly. And I think we carried on with that message with that concept with the other subgroups and task forces that we put in place to work together. Because even with a case management taskforce, we started to work to bring members together to work around this vulnerability, support support for clients who are in a vulnerable situation, or at risk. And we started to develop protocols and tools to, to ask the right questions. So we developed this concept of how to ask the open questions and the right questions and how to have very quick and easy access to information. So that settlement, people where they started to reach out to their clients via WhatsApp calls, Facebook, phone calls, whatever it is, they have the opportunity to ask all the questions and to get the right information to assess if a client is in risk and if they need any support. And so they they also use these methods of how to ask the right questions and how to, to make sure that the clients really understand. And if you ask the clients, if there is enough food at home for the family, or if they tell you Yeah, we went to the superstore yesterday, and they have six kids. So you ask them, so I’ll do go there, there is no bus, how do you take your kids and go and you’re not practicing any social distancing? Obviously, if you bring six kids with you to the supermarket, and then ask them, Do they wear face masks? Or is there anyone to watch them while you’re shopping, or all these questions that people needed to be to become aware of. In the case management taskforce also decided to work on different priorities. And they had discussions around also providing virtual activities guides to the members, because now many it is moved to be online and virtually. So they develop this one, there was subgroup working around return to work, how to support clients, when they return to work out to make sure that they understand the rights and the safety measures in a workplace. There was a group working on protocol for client assessment and how to refer them to the right services, how to make decisions based on what you hear from, from the clients. And everything that we developed in this group. All went into one guide that we call the settlement Reference Guide. And now all the sections with all the information about financial support and resources and community because it’s very much local, every community has their own services, food, bank, volunteers, transportation, all that. So we developed something that is accessible to everyone. And they can always go back to that guide and check upon the needs of their clients what their response is. We also learned that people from other parts of the province not necessarily our members also are also using these guides and protocols. Everyone felt the value in it. Because information is there. It’s easy, it’s accessible, it’s consistent. So there is no question there is no

13:44
need to look for the information to support your clients.

13:47
Yeah, that consistency is so important. In a situation like this, obviously, where everyone is, is kind of playing from the same playbook basically. So So clearly, the coordination and bringing everyone together had impacts beyond even your membership, which is really interesting.

14:03
Exactly.

14:04
And you mentioned, sorry, go ahead.

14:06
Yeah, I just wanted to say that the last one that we established was the youth and education because very quickly, we were contacted by the Department of Education, when they had to, again, make sure that the messages goes to the parents goes to the kids. And they started to look specifically into access to technology. Because the schools were closed in New Brunswick very quickly. And immediately the Department of Education started to work on a plan to provide technology and do homeschooling for the kids. And that’s where we wanted to make sure that our families the clients are being contacted and ask the right questions. Because if you call a family and you ask, do you have internet yes or no you It’s good to know. But how many kids need the same device? What is the bandwidth that you’re using? What is the capacity of the parents to support the kids homeschooling not in the first language? So all these questions were very much geared towards this technology. And we had all the members that have used workers and Swiss workers settlement workers in school, were tasked to work with a school district in their region, to make sure that all the families are being contacted, and they know what to do.

15:37
And did the Ministry of sound translation or did it depend and rely on the agencies to translate and interpret that information,

15:44
they did a very good job, they immediately started to develop the document in in other languages as well on their website. We just wanted to make sure that, again, families are being having this personal connection with our workers are aware of what’s happening. And there were cases that we’ve seen clients that, for example, had access to a laptop through one of the programs and they didn’t need it. They heard about a family and other city that needs that laughter because they have three little kids at home, that need to do homeschooling donations when were made people transfer their laptop. So you know, people just feel that they’re all in the same boat and want to help each other. And

16:28
yeah, that’s great, great community a story there for sure. Yeah. Excellent. So So you’ve mentioned a lot of resources, a lot of coordination has happened. And I’m curious, there’s the settlement reference guide that you mentioned. And is that public, that’s something anybody can access, or is that to through your membership.

16:48
So right now is for the membership. But we also have newsletter that the communication starts first established right away, and they share it every week with different topics. And there is always a website that people can access the newsletter from from last week’s if they need information. And it’s there for everyone. So all the partners in the community that support new commerce in different capacities, for example, the universities that wanted to address some of the concerns that international students had, or even daycares that we have parents bringing in kids, and they don’t speak the same language, you know, all these people can always go to that resource and get some help from from the information there.

17:35
That’s great. So you want to help the public with a lot of the information so anyone could access it? That seems really important. I’m curious about the the policy work like around technology around the case management pieces that you worked with agencies to develop? Because when when everyone went remote, I with a few colleagues did a national survey just quickly asking you people, how’s it going? And where are you out with policies and a lot of agencies were obviously, in the midst of creating policies related to both remote work as well as online technology, service delivery and and some of those key things that you mentioned earlier, like safety online, and privacy and security and things like that. Were obviously top of mind, but also things that some agencies were really kind of struggling with, were you able to support? I mean, I guess one question is, did a did some of your agencies already have some of these in place, especially those who were doing online work already? And were you able to then kind of share them across so that other agencies could quickly get themselves up to speed?

18:31
Yes, absolutely. So I think the first guy that went out to everyone was the how to work from home remote, remote guide, the tech Task Force developed that and they shared it immediately, first of all, with the members, and they’re all using it. And then secondly, with other partners in the community, they opened it and I think they had delivered a few sessions, and there is a recorded session that everyone can, you know, any point and, and use it and just get all these ideas and concepts of what to to be aware of. So that’s the first thing. And yeah, and I think the second thing that it’s interesting, again, you know, in crisis, everyone is is hands on, and they want to, to work together. So the tech taskforce after they did that they started to look into a client relationship management system CRM, because some of our smaller agencies don’t have funding to have robust systems that manage clients records and all that. So again, the council initiated a process of all the members to work together in identify identifying the needs of how to support clients remotely, and how to make sure that information is recorded. And right now they’re actually in the midst of identifying the need for the CRM for for the agencies that don’t have any any platform

20:01
To share information and now that everyone is working

20:05
remotely, you have to have one central space that people share and record information about the clients.

20:13
For sure. I mean that that obviously has an impact on case management as well. Yeah. I know. And so I guess since then, since everything kind of started, how have you seen different agencies shift into remote work? I mean, again, we’ve heard a lot of different stories ircc, which is a core funder of the sector, put out there, you know, these are the essential services you must provide. But we’ve heard from a lot of agencies that they’ve gone over and above that, that they’ve been able to, you know, there’s obviously a digital divide with some clients, like, particularly seniors, or as you mentioned, those questions, you have to ask about a household, maybe they have a device, maybe they have an internet connection, but it’s shared amongst five people, for example. So that that poses real challenges to to accessibility and service delivery. So I’m wondering what kind of stories you’re hearing from some of the agencies about this shift online, particularly those who may not have been as comfortable previously, and what their experience has been now that they’ve been doing it for a few months?

21:12
Um, yeah, I think it was a very interesting to see how some of our members decided just to move everything to an online mode. I think that we heard very inspiring some inspiring stories about how staff were able to provide training for the clients before they’re actually registered to these online services, and develop capacity for the clients explain everything, how it should work. And then everything from language class to information sessions, into employment services, everything just moved to be online, and it’s working smooth smoothly for them. I think that the clients are eager to continue to learn and stay connected. So that’s where we could, we could really see very high level of participation and turnout. We also utilize the technology for many other activities that we never thought that we’re going to do online. So for example, the Ramadan was in the middle of every everything in I think, May to June or even April this year. And instead of having the Ramadan activities that usually are being celebrated in cities like St. JOHN and Frederick, Don, and Martin, they created a virtual Ramadan celebration, just to support people to feel that they’re still practicing what they are used to, but they don’t have to actually break the social distancing rules, and go and visit families, they can still pray, they can still benefit from that. We also started to see members providing more and more Facebook sessions, chess sessions bingo evenings, it was targeted to different groups. There were some sessions for kids in different ages, some sessions for women. We also have some youth programs that are offered for young adults between 18 and 30. A program that is called skills launch, and that’s about access to education and employment. And we have people from all over the province, that are graduated alumni from this program. And we also created a Facebook platform for them and started to create sessions about different topics that matters for them in this pandemic. So there was one session about financial literacy, or for all the youth who wants to connect to this platform, one of our members who is an expert in financial literacy training, provided that and now, finally, sorry, suddenly, now that everything is online, anyone could be an expert. In no time they have a presentation. They’re there. And they allow us to connect and ask all the questions that are, you know, bothering them these days, about financial support, how to save for for later and all that. We also started to provide sessions around mental health and wellness, giving them some tips. So we also had one member that is social worker that supports families in transition in people with trauma backgrounds, so she was there to provide some tips of how to, you know, take care of yourself while you’re at home. And right now we’re focusing on some sessions around employment. So back to work, what do you need to do, how do you do a new way of job search and all that. Also, something that is not related directly to us, the console but in your browser. provincial government that is responsible for employment services, they also partner with us and with many others and created virtual janitors, they created a full platform for everything that’s online. And we were there to support the clients to try and navigate this platform and new kind of way to do the job search. So there are many, many examples.

25:25
Yeah, it sounds like there’s been some some opportunities even to to increase accessibility. For some folks who may who have, for example, the people have gone through financial literacy are able to continue to access information and, and presentations and then and then themselves become experts and share information. So do you feel that there’s been a shift in some ways around even the idea that of service accessibility? Because of the the increased use of technology?

25:53
Yes, absolutely. I think that we can tell that for many of the programs that were approved, to continue or to start through government, in the new fiscal when they saw happen, many of them are looking into the budget that was approved to be kind of an in class training or, you know, hands on, and looking at the blended learning option right now. And all the opportunities that it opens, because right now you can open it for more people in the smaller and rural centers that usually are unable to travel to one of the big cities. And there’s many opportunities for for new brunswickers right now, because of the dynamics that usually most of the programs are in the big cities, and people from smaller centers get less access to to to the support and services and right now, we see a big opportunity for us to to engage with them as well. Also, the province started something that’s called turning point, I’m not sure if you’ve heard about this, this is a podcast. And that was developed to proactively address some of the backsliding support for immigration. And by setting the stage for a broader conversation about economic recovery. And that was 10 businesses and industry partners that partner together and launch this initiative. I think this week was the last week of this. They have a website. It’s called turning point and being and initiative, a lot of conversations with economists and figures from education, employment and industry is here to think about how can we look at New Brunswick recovering economy?

27:50
Well, it’s interesting because that that I would assume kind of builds on you’ve run a conversational tour. A few years ago, I think I can’t remember 2017 or 18, maybe where you actually went to different locations to have these conversations about the future of New Brunswick and the importance, the important role of immigration. So it sounds like this is that dude, are you involved with this, this this with the turning point podcast and helping with that as well?

28:17
Yes, absolutely. It’s, it’s interesting that you mentioned that because on our boardroom, in the office of the council, we have this timeline of what’s going to happen during March, April and May. And that was all these new conversation tour that we’re hoping to have in and host these sessions in different communities, exactly as we did two years ago, and people were ready to run, and suddenly everything shut. So I think they this was really creative, to develop everything online and use some of the experts here, doing post podcasts and working in the same mode, connecting with people inviting speakers, and inviting the public to share their ideas and concerns and participate in these in these calls as well.

29:08
That’s great. A lot, it sounds like a lot of things have been accomplished, particularly focusing on ensuring that newcomers are supported that they’re kept informed. And obviously an increase in access to services for some people in some smaller centers that may not have had access to the full suite. I’m wondering what kind of impact and stories you’re hearing about settlement practitioners and agencies, especially, again, some of those who may not have been as, as early adopters to some of this technology. How are they feeling about their ability to continue to do their work? Is there a shift in this, like you’ve mentioned blended service, for example, the idea that moving forward, what does this look like for us as a sector?

29:47
Yes, I think that there is a very big change and shift in people’s way of thinking we’re looking at this. I think everyone understood From the beginning, how I described to you that people were used to see the clients in person, suddenly, they have to guide them through all the paperwork, all the documents, all the different sessions, remotely. And it just transforms the way that people think about serving the clients and delivering their programs. I think we heard from many, many of the members that they feel more confident and comfortable because they see the network of support around them. We have seen smaller centers that have never met their partners from other parts of the of the province, working the same, in the same field, working with schools, helping families, family, they can share best practices and ask each other, just connect with each other. And we see the value of that. But also, there were new people joining the settlement staff and employment teams, and they see a lot of benefits from all the documents and protocols that have been developed. And they’re using it, the managers are very happy because they don’t have to invest too much in the coaching. And again, when it’s remotely it’s harder, so they have access to all the information. And you can really see how organizations learn from each other and share best practices. So that’s a big win for us,

31:27
for sure. That’s a huge shift for the sector. And so moving forward, I guess, you know, looking ahead the next six months to a year, what are you looking at as a council, but then I guess as as in within your membership of the new normal of settlement service delivery? Is there? Is that conversation starting to come up already?

31:47
Yes, it is. And we already started to, to work on some new initiatives, I think mainly around the same idea of connecting and creating partnerships. If it’s about the need for an online learning system, if it’s about the connection that we want to continue with the Department of Education. There is also a lot of work done around employment services, and how can we better collaborate with service providers from government to help them to again, provide the same quality, same level of service to clients that don’t speak the languages and need some support and make more help them to be more aware. And yeah, so we we see that shift, and that’s where we are invested right now and then moving forward until the fall, to start to develop these new initiatives together with more partners in the in the community.

32:49
Fantastic. Sounds like you’ve done a lot of work and accomplished a lot in what really has been a very short time. But the council and your members, it sounds like you’ve worked really harmoniously together. So I’m wondering if there’s any final thoughts or lessons you would leave with other communities who may be slightly less coordinated. Some advice you might give them about moving forward as a sector with with this perhaps new, blended new normal approach?

33:20
I think in the past few years, we were invested in efforts of showing how, what’s the value of working together in less and less clutter than and less and less, you know, more and more creative initiatives that are for people working in silos, we have demonstrated to through some of our programs and some of our initiatives that the more you work together, the more you make alignment, it helps the clients it felt a province to grow. People can feel comfortable, to move from different parts to other parts of the province. And that helps also with retention, because if you can find the best place for yourself and for your family in other parts of the province, you don’t have to look outside. Retention was an issue for us. So that’s one thing, also working together with government and working more closely with partners in the community. That’s something that it’s only it only brings value. It only shows that you work together and you make things happen. And if there’s a will, there’s a way. So that’s what we we believe here. And I think I think other partners in the community had seen that this is actually working. And that’s what we’re going to do moving forward.

34:44
Wonderful. That’s a great message for people. And I appreciate you taking the time to help to help explain your experience in New Brunswick. I think there’s a lot of really great stuff others could learn from in the sector and beyond. So thank you again for your time.

34:58
Thank you, Martha. Thank you very much.

35:00
Thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you in your work. You can find more podcast episodes wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my site@markopolos.org I appreciate you listening and if you have any tips, suggestions ideas or want to be interviewed or know someone who wants to be interviewed please drop me a line through my website or Marco at Markopolos org. Thanks again.

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