The People Sector


October 11, 2017 - Farewell speech at OCASI Annual General Meeting by Ibrahim Absiye, President of OCASI - Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
(Reprinted with permission)

My fellow members of this Council, associate members and other colleagues, I want to take a few minutes of your time to talk about my feelings today about who we are as a sector. And let me begin with my own personal experience.

About 40 years ago, I joined the workforce. I spent the first 25 years of my youth and young adult life working in the private sector, particularly in finance and accounting.

For that quarter of a century, my job description was one line and one line only: protect the bottom line, which later on was transformed into: increase shareholder value. Because I was young, I really enjoyed that challenge. But, as my friend Carl will say, it cost me all my hair!

About 15 years ago, I joined the non-profit sector and so let me to talk to you about the Canadian non-profit sector, our sector. And here are a few facts: The Canadian non-profit sector is:

  • The second largest in the world, after the USA,
  • With over $110 billion in annual economic activities,
  • There are more than 162,000 organizations throughout Canada,
  • The sector employs more than two (2) million people,
  • Its contribution to the Canadian Gross Domestic Product, or the GDP grows between four & six percent annually, which is a faster rate of growth than the overall GDP increase,
  • The sector contributes more than four (4) times more to Canada’s GDP than auto manufacturing, making the sector important not only for the vital services that it delivers to Canadians, but also the jobs and economic boost that it delivers to local and national economies,
  • Its contribution of $110 billion annually amounts to 7.2% of the entire Canadian economy.

This is why the non-profit sector is often referred to as the “Third Pillar” of the economy. Of course the others are the private and public sectors.

Looking closely at our sector, and in comparison with the public & private sectors, our non-profit sector is largely dependent on voluntary contributions, particularly, volunteer Boards of Directors.

While both public & private boards are paid handsomely, either by remunerations, or retainers, or salaries, or per diem allowances, or other forms of monetary compensations, our boards are rewarded through thank-you’s and personal satisfaction.

My friends, the sector has a number of challenges. While OCASI is leading in addressing all the outstanding issues such as resources, funding formulae, staff professional development and retention, equality & equity, it is important that we as members are aware of what is happening in the country and around the world.

And speaking around the world, here is a major challenge. According the UNHCR,

  • There are 66 million displaced people around the world as we speak.
  • 23 million are registered with the UNHCR
  • 10.0 million are stateless
  • 30% of all refugees are in Africa
  • 26% are in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • We all read the horrible news coming out of Myanmar and the Rohingya refugees on a daily basis.
  • There is no end in sight to the Syrian conflict.
  • And on and on and on … what is going on, you might be wondering?

Now, our sector, and under the leadership of this Council, is advocating that Canada should take the lead in addressing these challenges by raising the immigration target levels to 450,000 people a year, including these refugees.

The question is: can we as a sector support this level of newcomers? To me, the answer is yes. Of course we can, if and when our government decides to respond positively.

We have the capacity, we have the expertise, and we have the experience to receive, to serve and to settle 450,000 newcomers or more annually quite easily. Remember we were tested last year, and passed the test with flying colours.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, if we raise the target to this level, or more, it will mean:

  • More workers to fill the labour force shortage,
  • It will mean more entrepreneurs to create new jobs,
  • It will mean more customers to buy capital assets such houses and cars, and
  • It will mean an injection of new & young blood that will help us pay for and support our aging population.

Now, ladies & gentlemen, if that is not nation-building, I don’t know what is?

But if we give in to the myth that immigrants & refugees

  • Compete with native-born workers for the same jobs, or
  • Drive down wages, or
  • Put pressures on the public safety net,

then Canada will never be able to compete on the world stage economically, socially and politically.

To me personally, I have spent enough years of my young age protecting profit, and I still have enough energy in me to protect people. And protecting people, in my opinion, is what this sector is all about.  

So, let me quickly remind you what we, together, as members of this council, stand for:

Our Mission is to achieve equality, access and full participation for immigrants and refugees in every aspect of Canadian life.

In our statement of principles and beliefs,

  • We, together, assert the right of all persons to participate fully and equitably in the social, cultural, political and economic life of Ontario.

  • We, together, affirm that immigrants and refugees to Canada should be guaranteed equitable access to all services and programs.

  • We, together, believe that Canada must be a land of refuge and opportunity, a country known for humanity and justice in its treatment of immigrants and refugees.
  • We, together, believe that in cooperation with other groups and communities which promote human rights and struggle against discrimination, we will see these principles realized.

How? Here is the answer. Only and only if we act as a collective voice, as a body of member agencies serving immigrants and refugees.

You see in all these statements and beliefs that I mentioned above, our focus is to protect people. So, I wonder why we don’t call ourselves the “People Sector”, instead of the non-profit sector! Think about it please!

Finally, in Africa, we say:

  • If you want to go fast, go alone, but
  • If you want to go far, go together.

Ladies & gentlemen, answering the call to serve and volunteer in order to improve the lives of others is an act of empathy with profound and lasting impact for everyone involved. Together, we go even farther.


Ibrahim Absiye
President, OCASI