Each and every year, thousands of youth across the country sadly make the life-altering decision to drop out of high school. In some of Canada’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods, up to 50 per cent of students do not graduate from high school, taking a dramatic toll on our communities, our health and justice systems, and our economy.

We spoke with Pathways to Education President & CEO Sue Gillespie to learn about the work this national charity is doing to strengthen our communities and make Canada a graduation nation.

GO MAGAZINE: Tell us a bit about the Pathways to Education Program and the communities you work with.

SUE GILLESPIE: The Pathways to Education Program provides students from low-income communities with academic, financial, social, and one-on-one supports specific to their individual needs. Partnering with dedicated organizations in low-income communities, Pathways supports youth to graduate from high school and achieve their full potential. Through the Program, students build the skills required to graduate and successfully transition to post-secondary education, training, or employment. The Pathways Program was launched in 2001 in Regent Park, Toronto, and at the time supported close to 100 students. Today, there are 20 Pathways Program locations in eight provinces across Canada, which support over 5,000 students annually.

Pathways’ vision is to break the cycle of poverty through education. In Canada, the national dropout rate averages between 7 to 13 per cent. It’s a figure that often forms the narrative that there isn’t really an issue in our country, but that isn’t the case. In low-income communities, the high school dropout rate can be as high as 50 per cent. The story behind the statistic is that youth who live in these communities face barriers to education – like a lack of financial resources, minimal to no academic support, or a network positive role models available to them – that can greatly affect their chances of graduating. Pathways works in these communities to unlock the potential that exists by supporting youth to overcome the barriers they encounter so that they can graduate from high school – which is the first step towards building a successful future.

The Boston Consulting Group undertook an analysis of the Pathways Program that provided an objective verification of the Program’s societal return on investment. What were some of the key findings?

In 2011, the Boston Consulting Group analyzed the Pathways Program to determine its social impact. The report’s findings were outstanding. For every $1 invested in Pathways, there is a $24 social return on investment. That investment is reflected in the successes that Pathways students and alumni continue to achieve as they go out into the world and bring with them knowledge, experience, and resilience.

Gore Mutual recently announced a partnership with Pathways to establish the Resiliency Fund which provides financial supports and educational incentives to students. Describe how these supports can mean the difference between attending post-secondary education or not? 

Imagine, that as a parent, you have to decide everyday which one of your children gets to go to school because you can only afford transit fare for one of them. Or imagine that you have to decide between putting food on the table or paying the rent, let alone thinking about saving for your children’s post-secondary education. Those decisions are a reality for far too many families living in low-income communities and as a result, the youth who live there face financial barriers to education that are outside of their control. These barriers greatly impact their chances of even graduating from high school, let alone pursuing post-secondary education.

Thanks to Gore Mutual, Pathways to Education established the Resiliency Fund to continue supporting young people to overcome the financial barriers they face so they can graduate from high school and build a successful future. Through the Resiliency Fund and the Pathways Program, students receive short-term financial support in the form of transit fare and meal vouchers, and long-term, they are provided with post-secondary scholarships to make pursuing further education a reality. This partnership reflects Pathways’ and Gore Mutual’s values of putting people first and building strong communities.

Many industries are facing disruption from technology. Are you seeing social media and technology shaping the future for charitable giving and charities themselves? If so, describe it and how you plan to adapt to the changes?

Pathways is developing strategies to leverage technology to increase program delivery so that we can reach more students in more communities across Canada. We are testing pilot projects with new and existing resources to successfully scale for impact. It’s an evolving process that our partners and donors are invested in supporting.

To reach that goal, we evaluated our charitable giving platforms to reflect changes in technology and how they relate to the non-profit world. Donors now have access to Pathways 24/7 through online and mobile giving platforms hosted through the Pathways website. At Pathways Canada, we have a Director of Digital Strategy who develops best practices and analyzes donor engagement online so we can continue to build strong relationships with our community.

A lot of Canadian charities depend on corporations for the majority of their funding. What are some of the ways that small businesses and individuals can make a meaningful impact with their giving?

Being involved is your first step towards having a meaningful impact. Champion good causes by donating your time, giving financial support, or increasing awareness of the issues you support. Pathways to Education wouldn’t be possible without generous support from individuals, businesses, foundations, and governments. We are grateful to volunteers who dedicate hundreds of hours in tutoring and mentoring, to our campaign cabinet and board members who engage with their networks to talk about the successes and proven impact of the Pathways Program, and to corporate champions who provide financial support to ensure we can continue to deliver the Pathways Program across Canada. Every gift has an impact. We are always stronger together.

We want to ask you a personal insurance question. How did you last purchase insurance? Did you purchase online or through a broker in person?

My husband and I make our insurance decisions together with a trusted advisor who ensures that we make informed decisions. To me, financial literacy is imperative to understanding the impact of my financial decisions and how best to utilize insurance products so my family has peace of mind. Through our advisor, my husband and I discuss what’s important to us long-term and how we manage potential risk. There are many challenges throughout life and I want to know that my insurance is aligned to protect my family and our assets.

As the insurance industry grows, it’s important that it continues to put people’s right to have clear information first, so they can continue to make well-informed decisions. That means providing people with knowledge, resources, and access to services and products that meet their unique needs. At the end of the day, we all have different needs to support our plans for now and the future.

Want to learn more about Pathways to Education? Visit the charity’s website here and connect with them on Facebook and Twitter

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