Looking inward to move forward

Building leaders through organization assessment

Students taking part in AITC's 2014 AgDays Adventure (photo supplied by AITC)

Kids love to eat pizza - and now, a Manitoba organization plans to create a Pizza Farm to educate kids on how the ingredients to their favourite food are grown in our province.

Run by Agriculture in the Classroom-Manitoba Inc (AITC-M), the Pizza Farm Educational Program plans to bring around 250 middle-school students to four different farms across the province, where they will plant, grow and learn about the ingredients required to make a pizza.

"The lesson plans along with the experience of growing the ingredients are fun because it's something they're so familiar with," said Johanne Ross, executive director of AITC-M, which has applied for Growing Forward 2 funds to launch the program.

The Pizza Farm idea came about after AITC-M undertook an organization assessment through Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD). The assessment was crucial for AITC-M to look at new ways to educate young people about agriculture and the important role it plays in our province.

"It's something that encourages an organization to look at its internal governance, leadership and operations," said Leanne Tibbatts, rural leadership specialist for MAFRD. "It's done anonymously and takes just 20-30 minutes to complete."

For AITC-M, the organization assessment was completed by 18 individuals - executives, board members and staff - and was compiled into a report to show where they rated themselves in the six categories:

  • strategic direction
  • governance/leadership
  • program delivery
  • fund development
  • strategic relations
  • internal operations and management

"Because it's an anonymous process it really gives staff and the board the opportunity to share what they feel about the organization, leadership and direction," Tibbatts said. "Every organization is different, but it really is a simple process in finding strengths and weaknesses that ultimately help the organization grow. It's a truly valuable experience."

Insight leads to future planning

Executive director of AITC-M Johanne Ross said she wasn't surprised by the results and was happy to see the positive ideas that came from having the assessment completed.

"We were really proud of our results. It allowed us to have an honest conversation," said Ross. "We used the report to assist in the development of AITC-M's strategic plan for the next three years."

Having the report broken into six categories allowed AITC-M to look at things it may not have thought too much about in the past. One of the things the organization decided to focus on is to develop a Crisis Management Plan. It was also decided to work on succession planning, so future staff and board members have reference and direction in their roles.

The assessment is a prerequisite to apply for funding from the Growing Forward 2 - Growing Visions and Growing Actions programs to give organizations insight on how they can grow and to ensure an organization has the leadership capacity in place to carry out the projects for which they are seeking funding.

More opportunities to grow

AITC-M has been delivering programs in Manitoba since 1988, and has grown from a small organization with just one employee to having eight employees and many volunteers in a very short time. In 2014, it was able to provide agricultural education to more than 40,000 students, teachers and volunteers in the province through similar curriculum-driven events and programs.

"Teachers and students alike love our programs. They leave with a new sense of respect and knowledge that agriculture affects them, every day, even beyond the food on their plates," Ross said.

AITC-M's goal for 2015/2016 is to continue to grow and reach many more students across the province.

"Our youth are the future of the agriculture industry. We must continue to foster an interest in agriculture and food production. Through the many resources and programs offered by Agriculture in the Classroom-Manitoba, students are encouraged to explore, experience and understand this vital industry," said Ross.

Explore more industry leadership resources available to rural organizations in Manitoba.