For 95 years, the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg (SPC) has been a catalyst and creator of social change in the community.
The non-profit, membership-based organization began in 1919, when a group of Winnipeg agencies delivering social services came together to collaborate and share information, forming the Council of Social Agencies, which eventually transformed into the SPC of today.
"Not only did those organizations start to collaborate, but they then started to create new organizations and new institutions," said SPC executive director Dennis Lewycky.
"One of the first ones was the Community Chest, which eventually evolved into United Way. That coming together of like-minded people not only provided improved services for people in the community but really generated a whole movement of social benefits and supports for people in need. It really did contribute to the cultural growth of the whole community."
Despite almost a century of contributing to social change, Lewycky said many people haven’t heard of SPC, as the organization often works behind the scenes.
"If you ask nine people on the street, eight of them won’t have heard of us," Lewycky said.
"But, if you look at the different social services, for example, the North End Women’s Centre got started through an initiative of the Social Planning Council. The North End Community Renewal Corporation, we didn’t start that one, but we were there.
"The Indian and Métis Friendship Centre, we set that one up in 1955. That was the first one in Canada and the model became an inspiration for people across Canada to do similar."
The SPC is governed by a 15-member board of directors and has approximately 150 members. Currently, Lewycky said SPC is working with the city’s neighbourhood associations.
"They’ve never really communicated, so a year ago we started a process where they got together to look at common issues and common needs," Lewycky said.
"In January, we helped them form the Winnipeg Neighbourhoods Coalition. In six months we’ll probably step back and they’ll be an organization that represents neighborhood associations. St. John’s, William Whyte, Dufferin, all of these neighbourhood associations are part of this coalition."
Lewycky said SPC’s main focus these days is poverty and the social issues that stem from it. Lewycky said poverty doesn’t only affect the poor.
"Directly we know people living in poverty require more health care," Lewycky said. "If you’re poor, you can’t have an adequate diet and you end up using the health care system more. That’s a direct cost.
"There’s also indirect costs. There’s been some good studies recently showing that when a large portion of the society is excluded from the labour force, it undermines the productivity of a country. Manitoba has to become more competitive and productive dealing with the global economy but we don’t use a large part of our population. They’re not gainfully employed. They don’t have the training or social supports.
"If we can provide them with that assistance, they can contribute to the economy and they then pay taxes, bring up their kids, own their homes and do all those things that contribute to the economic and social life of the community."