Founded in 2001, Pathways to Education launched in the Toronto neighbourhood of Regent Park after considerable research showed that this at-risk community had a 56% dropout rate among its young people. The program centres around four key pillars, which address specific barriers faced by the youth and their families. The program provides participants with academic, social, financial and advocacy supports.

The results demonstrate that the young people in the community can, with support, achieve academic excellence at levels comparable or better than youth from more privileged backgrounds. With this program, the Regent Park community experienced a decline of more than two-thirds in the dropout rate and a three-fold increase in post-secondary participation.

Pathways to Education now operates in eleven communities in four provinces across Canada (Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Manitoba), with results mirroring those in Regent Park. Additional sites are planned over the coming years. The results of this unique program have been groundbreaking, reducing high school drop-out rates by over 70%, and increasing the rate at which youth go on to college or university by as much as 300%.

Advice for innovators

Several lessons can be learned from Pathways’ development in the community sector, which may have relevance for innovation in other sectors. Pathways learned that, in the development of an organization, it is important to have:

  1. Clarity of vision and purpose. The program’s success has also been attributed to the founder’s ability to put things into perspective; that is, they recognized specific challenges and designed the program to address them. It is important to focus on the specific goals and objectives of the innovation that is being developed.
  2. A commitment to community development. The founders of Pathways believe that the community knows both its problems and the needed solutions. The role of community development is to organize the capacity of residents and to help obtain the resources required to implement community-driven solutions.
  3. A firm grasp of your long-term commitments. This value must be communicated to and trusted by those who are the subject of the innovation. Too many short-term interventions, even when successful, are not sustained. Pathways’ commitment to the community was to support young people and their families over time and participants had to be assured, by its actions, that this commitment was real.
  4. Tools to measure outcomes and accountability. There is no innovation that can be successful in the absence of performance indicators. Outcomes matter to both the community and to funders. This cannot be imposed later in the process: measures of success need to be built into the design of the innovation (or intervention) from the outset.
  5. A strategy to build partnerships to create a network of resources and support. The partnerships developed by Pathways are numerous and include not only those required to financially sustain the program, but also those required to run and grow the program itself. These networks include volunteers, institutional partners, funding partners, program delivery partners and more. The partnerships are based on common values and a shared vision of what success is for those the innovation serves. These are effective partnerships and it takes considerable work to ensure their value.

For more information about Pathways to Education, visit: http://www.pathwaystoeducation.ca/

The Case Studies in Social Innovation database is a joint initiative between SiG @ MaRS and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation.