Bridges Social Development was founded by Donna Kennedy-Glans, whose background was Vice President of Nexen Inc. As a result of Nexen’s international operations, Donna spent much of her time working and building relationships with various community and government members in Yemen. When she ended her career with Nexen, she received an invitation from the Yemeni community to come and train local women in professional services. Her first response was to ask questions: Why isn’t anyone doing this already? Do the women even want this? Is Canada set-up to do this? The responses were all satisfactory and in 2002, Bridges Social Development was born; an organization focused on building human capacity in places where others rarely go, and doing so by invitation only.
The values and approach were what made Bridges Social Development unique. The model was relatively simple: receive community invitation, complete needs assessment, and then develop a training team in Canada and send them to Yemen for 3-4 weeks to train local community members. At the core of this were strong relationships with community members in places like Yemen, India, and Oman, and also with Bridges Social Development’s expert volunteer trainers who donated their time to run these training programs internationally. From 2002-2009, the organization completed two trips per year to train in healthcare, legal services, education, project management and journalism, as based on the community needs.
In 2008, the context and situation changed in the communities where Bridges Social Development was working. Yemen was undergoing severe civil unrest, and our healthcare program in India was shut down due to a change in government policy. Adaptation was necessary, so we ran a training program in Oman, where we brought community members out of Yemen to train in a neighbouring country . . . but this proved challenging for a number of reasons; we just couldn’t provide effective support to our partners and friends.
And so, Bridges Social Development had to ask some tough questions: Do we seek out new relationships and new invitations to do work internationally? Have we run our course as an organization and therefore need to shut our doors and congratulate ourselves on what we’ve accomplished? About this time, while undergoing future direction conversations, Bridges Social Development was approached by a group of Yemeni youth living in Calgary who said, “You have to do something; we need your help in Yemen.” Our response: “Well, it’s not for us to do; it is for you to do as the future of that community . . . so how can we best support you?” And so, we received our next community invitation – this time from a community right here in Calgary. What followed was no different from our approach internationally: we spent a year assessing their needs, researched approximately 200 leadership programs around the world, and developed a training program designed to invest in building their capacity as community leaders and social entrepreneurs. We then put together a team of expert facilitators and piloted the Unveiling Youth Potential program in 2009 . . . but this time we drove to the training facility at the University of Calgary, rather than flying to Yemen.
The program received incredible feedback, both from the original Yemeni youth community, as well as from others we have worked with since: Calgary’s Pakistani community, Indian community, and Muslim women’s community, to name a few. And then in 2010, Bridges Social Development received an invitation to explore our program and approach with the Aboriginal community in Canada. The nature of Canada’s Aboriginal community proved to be somewhat unique from the other groups we had worked with, and so we continued to adapt our program and how it is executed to ensure its effectiveness with this group.
Now we are focused on Unveiling Human Potential in youth and young adults by providing support and training to those who may not have the same access to resources and opportunities as others might have.
Regardless of where and with whom we find ourselves working as an organization, the model by which we operate, our intentions to build human capacity, and our core values are and will always remain the same: focus on building relationships, respond to invitations, understand the needs of the community, and design a support/training model to invest in the capacity of people to take care of themselves and their communities.