4-H struggles with reorganization in Alberta

Recent petition shines light on member unrest as group wrestles with aftermath of consolidating three entities into one

It’s been a difficult time for 4-H in Alberta.

Last year, it combined the 4-H Foundation, which was the financial arm, and the 4-H Council, which co-ordinated with the national organization and dealt with membership regulations, to form a single entity called 4-H Alberta.

The move, which was intended to streamline operations, followed consultations with members in 2019.

As well, the provincial government, which had previously provided staff to run summer camps and local programming, decided to stop doing that and instead provide only funding.

4-H Alberta chief executive officer Kurt Kinnear said the situation effectively led to three organizations being combined into one.

However, unrest within the membership recently became public after a petition was circulated calling for Alberta 4-H members to rally against proposed changes. The opposition centred on the since-rescinded proposal to amalgamate the province’s seven regional boards into five.

The petition accused 4-H Alberta’s board of not adequately consulting with members about regional amalgamation or providing enough time to do so, but Kinnear said the organization did listen to members.

“The feedback said we shouldn’t do it.”

He said it’s part of the growing pains the organization is currently facing.

“We’re a one-year-old organization in an organization that is over 100 years old.

“There is a big wheel rolling and we have to get ahead of it really quick.”

He said there have been challenges in adjusting to the single board that now manages the provincial organization, including communication with members, and acknowledged that things have to change.

“The front door isn’t as easy as it should be, and the welcome mat is not out,” Kinnear said of the current situation.

“I feel that is what we’ve got to do this year and we’ve got to do it quite well.”

Kinnear said the criticism sparked by the petition is connected to the revamping of Alberta 4-H’s structure, but the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help matters.

“We have 20 staff and we’ve never been able to sit down together during the first whole year of our operations,” he said.

“From an operational perspective, I think that negatively affects our ability to work together.”

Kinnear said he would like to hear directly from members who have problems with the organization.

“But the bottom line is there is a lack of trust amongst a small percentage of the 4-H community,” he said.

“I think what it really does is take our eye off of membership and taking care of them.”

If some members think that more time is needed to review organizational and bylaw changes in Alberta 4-H, “tell (the board), ‘we need more time,’ and trust they will give you more time. It’s really that simple,” he said.

Dawn Krinke, executive director of Manitoba’s 4-H Council, was sympathetic to the issues facing the organization in Alberta.

“It takes awhile for change to be accepted in whatever you’re doing, really,” she said.

“4-H has been the way it is for a while, so it’s going to be a little while for them to work out the best way forward.”

Manitoba’s 4-H clubs have also been required to adapt to the pandemic.

“The restrictions changed and we were in lockdown from the beginning of November 2020 pretty much right until a few weeks ago in Manitoba,” she said.

“A lot of our clubs were waiting and waiting in the hopes of reorganizing in person, which didn’t actually happen, apart from our equine clubs and some of our beef clubs.”

Krinke said Manitoba had good results under the circumstances, including a virtual food series that included a cooking class with accompanying comments from producers who explained where the food came from.

That program will continue after the pandemic, she added.

There were also virtual series on equines and bees.

“The silver lining is we all have to learn by doing again, and we did come up with programming that will continue,” said Krinke.

Cera Youngson, executive director of 4-H Saskatchewan, said she believes the changes that 4-H Alberta is going through will smooth out at the end of the day.

“It’s a major structural change for them and we’re a big foundational organization — more than 100 years old — and sometimes it’s difficult to think about changing things that have been a way for so long,” she said.

“I think they are moving forward in a way that is going to allow them to serve their members better.”

Youngson said 4-H Saskatchewan hasn’t been immune to the pandemic either as it moved its public speaking competitions into the virtual realm.

“We were able to have all of our presenters come on Zoom, say their speeches live to each other as an audience and to our judges tuned in online as well,” she said.

Some participants used the virtual platform to play to their strengths, she added.

Source: www.producer.com