Major cutbacks at social justice agency KAIROS

By 
  • May 1, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - The ecumenical social justice agency KAIROS is dumping five of its 27 employees and trimming its programs to focus on two areas of work.

Staff cuts were triggered by falling revenues from foundations and churches hit hard by last fall’s stock market collapse, said KAIROS executive director Mary Corkery. But even without the dip in investment income KAIROS would have had to eventually trim its expenses, she said.

“It’s a long-term problem. It’s a structural problem,” Corkery said.


Along with plunging contributions from churches and decreased income from its Justice Fund endowment set up by religious orders and other Christian bodies, KAIROS has recently seen its costs skyrocket. The agency had to give up its below-market-rent office space at Deer Park United Church in midtown Toronto. New offices a few blocks away required renovation at KAIROS’ expense and nearly doubled the rent for the agency.

The financial picture for KAIROS is further darkened by soaring unemployment in Canada’s industrial heartland. As large industrial unions shed members and the dues that go with them, they’re cutting back on grants to social justice groups.

“We were hit almost everywhere you look. And the problem is, it won’t be over in one year,” Corkery said.

Corkery praised her board and member churches for staring down the crisis and producing a more focussed vision for KAIROS concentrated on two major themes — sustainability in economics and the environment and human rights at home and abroad.

In the future KAIROS will not have a desk dedicated to shareholder activism, it will not make grants to anti-poverty organizations, it will have fewer overseas partners in poor countries and will not engage in refugee work. Those areas are left to individual churches.

“One of the things they (member churches) looked at was what they’re already doing and what they want and need to go forward as a priority for ecumenical work,” said Corkery.

In service to the churches, KAIROS will concentrate on research and advocacy.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is pleased that a focus on rights for native people remains a KAIROS priority, said associate general secretary Bede Hubbard.

But in general Canada’s Catholic bishops are pleased by a shorter list of priorities at the ecumenical organization.

“They were somewhat diffused in their energy and their structure. This way it’s better,” said Hubbard. “By trying to do too many (things) they didn’t have the ability to sustain their efforts.”

“The program moving forward is a good one and it will serve us well,” said Corkery.

KAIROS was created in 2000 by combining the staffs and programs of 10 separate ecumenical coalitions with expertise in areas from human rights in Latin America to corporate social responsibility. In combining the groups to form a single agency, KAIROS ended up with a diffused and expensive list of programs and interests, said Corkery.

“I don’t think that one organization can carry forward all of those areas of work without a lot more staff or a lot more money — and that’s not on the horizon at this moment,” she said.

“The member churches are committed. Could they give us more of their money? I can’t answer that, but the fact is they’re in distress also,” said Corkery. “The things that are hitting us are hitting them.”

With the exception of global partnerships program leader Dale Hildebrand, which employees get the axe is not yet known. Under the collective agreement, union members will exercise bumping privileges to determine who goes and who stays. As a manager outside of the union, Hildebrand is out almost immediately.

“We’re losing good people. It’s a great loss,” said Corkery.

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