2018 ABLE photo essay: Financial well-being for all

26 June 2018
Author: Trisha Islam
From May 7 to 9, the 2018 ABLE Financial Empowerment Conference was held in Richmond, British Columbia hosted by the ABLE Financial Empowerment Steering Committee with support from Family Services of Greater Vancouver and Prosper Canada.

Here are some interesting facts: 
  • We hosted 270 attendees
  • There were 68 speakers on the agenda featuring experts from across Canada, the U.S. and Australia
  • There were a total of 25 sessions covering a range of financial empowerment topics.
Some firsts: 
  • The conference was held in Richmond, British Columbia 
  • Australian speakers, Carmen Daniels and Eddie Buli joined us from ICAN in Queensland, Australia to share their innovative work (check out their blog post!)
  • Adult learning principles were embedded throughout the conference. In response to feedback we received from the 2015 ABLE conference, we enlisted the help of practitioner and educator Jeanette Romkema from Global Learning Partners who equipped us with intensive learning on Dialogue Education.

Last summer, we also gathered feedback from financial empowerment stakeholders across the country to find out what you wanted to learn and who you wanted to hear from. We then invited speakers from all sectors, including representatives from a non-profit collaborative based in Yukon and Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island. Speakers rolled up their sleeves with us, and designed some truly creative, inspiring, and thought-provoking sessions. 
Day one kicked off with Elder Kwes’ Kwestin representing the Musqueam Nation who officially opened the conference with a powerful welcome message.  


Our MCs, Louise Simbandumwe of SEED Winnipeg, and Jeff Loomis of Momentum, got the crowd warmed up with Financial Empowerment Bingo! The aim of the game was to complete the Bingo sheet which required meeting many new people. Two lucky winners received a free registration to the next ABLE conference and a copy of Rachel Schneider’s book, The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty respectively. 


Rachel Schneider, the Omidyar Network Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, shared deep insights into the lives of low and moderate income households in the United States. She was one of several speakers who talked about how we can understand and improve the financial well-being of people living on low incomes in Canada. She was joined by Menno Simons College Professor Jerry Buckland, ACORN Executive Director Judy Duncan, and Prosper Canada Director, Elodie Young. Watch the video

From there, it was back-to-back learning, brilliantly captured by our graphic recorder from Drawing Change.

12 exciting breakouts – which to choose? These carefully curated sessions were organized into the following streams to ensure there was something of interest for everyone: 

  • Population focus: northern, rural and remote communities, newcomers and refugees, Indigenous Peoples, people living with disabilities, and youth-in-care transitioning to independence
  • Promising practices: government trailblazers, how to tackle high cost financial services, and innovative financial services
  • Research/Evaluation: income volatility, reducing the pain of evaluation and boosting the gain, and amassing data to tackle financial vulnerabilities 

If you weren’t able to attend the conference or attended and simply want to recap what you learned, we have you covered! Videos of all plenary sessions are now available on the ABLE website. You can also find presentations, session resource lists, and photos, for your information. Please feel free to share these resources broadly across your networks.

Here are a few session highlights…

Tia Schaefer gave her honest, humorous, and poignant thoughts on supporting former youth-in-care through Vancouver Island University’s pioneering Tuition Waiver Program. 

It’s all smiles as Mohammed Alsaleh shared his brave and moving story about the journey from Syria to Canada as a refugee. While his breakout session wasn’t recorded you can watch his TEDx talk for a taste of what he shared with us.

Thought leaders from the field shared inspiring, actionable messages on helping Canadians bridge barriers to tax-filing and accessing benefits that they’re entitled to, like the disability tax credit. Moderated by Prosper Canada CEO Elizabeth Mulholland, we heard from Plan and Plan Institute Executive Director Tim Ames, AFOA Vice President Simon Brascoupé, CRA Manager Marie-Josée Gagné, and WoodGreen Community Services Director, Steve Vanderherberg. Watch the video.


Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, talked about federal action to reduce poverty in Canada, followed by a discussion moderated by Community development specialist Nene Kraneveldt with panellists, Sheila Regehr, Basic Income Canada Network Chairperson and Alana Baltzer, Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination Chair. Alana shared how the Basic Income Pilot is changing her life. 


Just when you thought the day was winding down, Caroline Munshaw from Prosper Canada introduced the Marketplace session!

Almost 20 attendees pitched their discussion topics to attendees, telling them why to visit their table, or “stall”. Pitchers enticed attendees with promises of free resources, a free online tool, or a chance to chat about super clinics. The market was buzzing from start until closing time. 


The final session of the conference was moderated by Adam Fair, ABLE Chair and Prosper Canada Vice President, Strategy and Impact who led a discussion on Bold visions for building financial well-being for all with  Carmen Daniels, ICAN co-founder; Aliza Gutman, Senior Director, Centre for Financial Services Innovation; and Hannah Moffat, Population Health Equity Initiatives Leader, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. 


Participant feedback has been resoundingly positive. The ABLE Conference Working Group worked hard to foster an environment conducive to learning and engagement. We made sure to provide adequate time for networking throughout the conference, and were thoughtful about allowing time for reflection, discussion and engagement. The networking dinners hosted by Dean Estrella from Momentum, John Stephenson from Prosper Canada, Murry Baker from FSGV and Jane Rooney from the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada were a big hit. We also heard that the “Mellow Room” which was provided as a quiet space to unwind was very much appreciated as were the morning walks with Caroline Munshaw and Althea Arsenault. We’re happy to know our efforts paid off.

So that’s a wrap! Thank you to all of our 2018 ABLE conference sponsors, the ABLE Conference Working Group, our amazing MC’s Louise Simbandumwe of SEED Winnipeg and Jeff Loomis of Momentum, the smiling staff from our co-host, Family Services of Greater Vancouver, Sea to Sky Meeting and Association Management, and everyone who trekked across the country or braved the morning commute to join us! 

We look forward to setting the bar even higher for the 2020 ABLE Financial Empowerment Conference. 



Trisha Islam is a Program Officer at Prosper Canada. Her current work involves designing and implementing programs around financial coaching, tax filing and accessing benefits with partners from across the country. She has an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in International Development from McGill University and a Master of Science in Comparative Social Policy from the University of Oxford.

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