The Greater Toronto Area was recently recognized as being the most diverse city in the worldOpens in new tab icon, with over 51% of residents being foreign-born (according to Statistics Canada). Diversity is a particular strength of our city, but opportunities for individual success are often dependant on where a person lives in the GTA. There are opportunity gaps between Toronto’s higher and lower-income neighbourhoods and, unfortunately, those gaps are increasing. In Peel, Toronto, and York, more than 15% of the population lives on a low income, while 44% of workers are in some degree of precarious employment. And, in Toronto, 49% of neighbourhoods were low income in 2015—up from 26% in 1970.

In response, United Way of Greater Toronto (UWGT) together with BMO, began its Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity (ILEO) initiative to leverage investment across industries and sectors to create more opportunities for residents to prosper and contribute to their neighbourhood’s revitalization. Daniele Zanotti, United Way Greater Toronto President & CEO and Co-Chair of the ILEO Leadership Table reflects on the impact of the ILEO initiative:

“A deliberate and place-based approach is our focus in driving change in communities. It’s change that enables the community and residents to be part of the progress they want to see. And of course, we couldn’t drive this change without our frontline agencies like ACCES, our corporate and public sector leaders, all working together towards a common goal to build and support economic opportunities.”

Creating economic opportunities and revitalizing communities happens effectively at the local and neighbourhood level. With this in mind, a multi-sector Leadership Group convened to identify where, how, an in what manner can cross-sector investment have the most impact.

“The ILEO initiative is really a meeting of committed stakeholders including residents, community organizations, public services, corporations, and the City of Toronto to determine how to consolidate and use resources to create programs that will have a lasting effect on people’s lives. ACCES is proud to support this initiative as one of the partners,” says Allison Pond, President and CEO of ACCES Employment. ACCES is one of several community agencies working with the UWGT on the ILEO initiative. According to Allison Pond:

“The important work is not only creating place-based pilot programs, but also monitoring them, evaluating them, and adapting them as needed.”

A first-wave of ILEO projects is focused on Scarborough’s Greater Golden Mile, a once burgeoning commercial district in the 1950s and 60s. More recently, the neighbourhood has faced economic decline and despite the higher-than-average rates of residents with high school education in the neighbourhood, income and employment rates are below the city average. The first wave of the ILEO project is focused on employment and later phases will involve other community partners in different sectors to create positive opportunity within this region.

As part of the ILEO vision, United Way, Sun Life, IBM, and ACCES have teamed up to co-create the Good Jobs pilot project, a scalable workforce development model that removes barriers to employment for residents of priority neighbourhoods while resolving workforce retention issues faced by employers. The pilot leveraged IBM’s platform and ACCES’s Healthcare Connections curriculum to train the residents of the Greater Golden Mile (GGM) neighbourhood and connected them with jobs at Sun Life. This model can now be used with other employers in the GGM neighbourhood, but it also can also be shared with other cities to create lasting inclusive economic prosperity for neighbourhoods across the country.

“The Good Jobs Pilot is a perfect example of how cross-sector collaboration can address the need for inclusive workforce development with positive long-term social impact.”

“This pilot is helping reduce gaps in the economic prosperity at the neighbourhood level by providing access to upskilling and reskilling. This ensures that jobseekers have opportunity to grow, connect to in-demand careers, and access sustainable income”said Claude Guay, President and General Manager, IBM Canada. Enrolled clients receive one-to-one job search support and take part in employer training, in conjunction with Sun Life who has also committed to hiring participants from the program.

“Our Good Jobs pilot is helping make a difference in people’s lives and drive meaningful impact in the community. We’ve hired people with health care backgrounds, bringing relevant skills and experience into our disability management business,” said Jeff James, Vice-President, Group Disability, Sun Life.

“This is one way Sun Life is bringing its purpose to life and taking action locally to build sustainable and healthier communities.”


Demonstrated Success

Habeebah Patel came to Canada in September 2020 and lives in Toronto’s Greater Golden Mile. With a background in psychology, Habeebah was hoping to get involved in social work in Canada. As she heard about the ACCES/Sun Life HealthCare Connections pilot program, she realized she might be able to acquire a role in the insurance industry that was connected to healthcare and that had significant opportunities for advancement. “I was always a stay-at-home mom, and I had never worked in Canada, so I knew work experience was an issue. The ACCES team was very encouraging, and the content, the timing, and the scheduling of the program was ‘spot on’. I loved all the help! And, at the end of it all, I knew I would be getting an interview, which was very motivating.

Graduating from the first Cohort of the pilot project, Habeebah utilized her newly developed job search and interview skills in meeting with Sun Life’s HR Manager and the Director of Disability Claims. She nailed the interviews and has now started her career as a Disability Adjudicator with Sun Life. She is truly excited about her future and her career potential. “The biggest hindrance to newcomers like me is uncertainty—but this is a complete, 360 program. The most important thing we need is support, and ACCES offers that. I encourage other newcomers to take advantage of these opportunities!”

[blockquote]”The biggest hindrance to newcomers like me is uncertainty—but this is a complete, 360 program. The most important thing we need is support, and ACCES offers that. I encourage other newcomers to take advantage of these opportunities!”[/blockquote]


Habeebah Patel


Disability Claims Adjudicator with Sun Life

 Healthcare Connections with Sun Life Alum

ILEO brings together the private, public, and community sectors to find innovative ways to reduce gaps in economic prosperity at the neighbourhood level. ILEO is convened by United Way Greater Toronto and BMO.