The COSMOSS* initiative in the Bas-St-Laurent region

A few facts

  • Large territory of 22,186 km2
  • Population: 200,000
  • Low population density
  • 8 MRCs (municipalité régionale de comté or regional county municipality): Kamouraska, Rivière-du-Loup, Les Basques, Témiscouata, Rimouski-Neigette, La Mitis, La Matapédia and La Matanie)
  • 114 municipalities
  • A rural, touristic economy based on the exploitation and transformation of natural resources, primarily in the forestry and agricultural sectors. High proportion of seasonal work.
  • Average disposable income per capita: $24,465

* COSMOSS : Communauté ouverte et solidaire pour un monde outillé, scolarisé et en santé (A community of openness and solidarity in support of a society that is well-equipped, educated and healthy)

Located along the south shore of the St. Laurence River, the Bas-St-Laurent region (also called the "Bas-du-Fleuve" or "Lower St. Laurence" in English) is bordered by the Chaudières-Appalaches region on the south-west and the Gaspésie on the north-east.

The region is known for the beauty and quality of its environment. For several years, the cities of Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski have ranked high on Quebec's Relative Happiness Index* thanks to the quality of their environment, proximity to nature, service offering and geographical diversity.

The Bas-Saint-Laurent is far from homogeneous, however; its eight MRCs are very different from one another. Municipalities bordering the St. Lawrence benefit much more from tourism, while the interior municipalities are traditionally more rural. Outside of the few urban centres (Rivière-du-Loup, Rimouski and Matane), 50% of the region's population lives in rural areas in small municipalities where services are virtually non-existent. Regional employment is concentrated in the primary sector, largely focused on the transformation of natural resources, particularly forestry and agriculture.

A region with major issues… and strong social capital

The Bas-Saint-Laurent is facing some serious challenges. According to the 2016 Indice de vitalité économique des territoires** (economic vitality index) published by the Institut de la statistique du Québec, the Bas-St-Laurent is the second most devitalized region in Quebec after the Gaspésie. Many of its municipalities rank as devitalized (37.5%) or even very devitalized (42%). Services are few and far between. A penury of grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, banks/caisses populaires and primary schools is forcing rural residents to leave in search of services-a trend that is accompanied by a demographic decline that will only become worse as the population ages. In spite of the challenges presented by devitalization and poverty, however, the region possesses a strong social capital and is known for its culture of mutual aid and community spirit. It is in this culture that COSMOSS found its roots in the Bas-St-Laurent region.

What is the COSMOSS approach?

COSMOSS has been mobilizing local and regional communities since 2004. Today, it unites close to 150 partner organizations (municipal councillors, communities and institutions) in eight MRCs from various sectors: health and social services, education, municipalities and employment. The objective of this initiative, the only one of its kind in Quebec, is to develop the full potential of all the region's children and young people, from conception to age 30, by creating the necessary conditions to give them an equal chance for success in life. Thirty percent of the population of the Bas-St-Laurent is currently 30 years of age or under.

Actions spearheaded by COSMOSS and the services it offers are adapted to local conditions and vary from one MRC to another. The four primary objectives are to:

  • further early childhood development (children between 0 and 5) and help ensure a successful start in school
  • promote healthy lifestyle habits
  • keep children and youth in school and foster educational success
  • promote sustainable social and professional integration.

In 2016-2017, each of the region's eight territories drew up and submitted a three-year strategic action plan (2017-2020). Partners prepared a portrait of the situation of young people and the services currently offered in their MRC, then identified the problems they wanted to work on. Although this exercise was complex and demanding, partners were motivated to participate as never before-eloquent proof of their desire to work together to help the children and youth in their area. For the first time, the eight MRCs naturally targeted several common issues that they could work on collectively across the region. These include the various transitions in children's lives (not only from daycare/CPE to preschool and primary school to high school, but also from high school to adult life) and food sharing (i.e., sharing the produce of the land and the hunt with food banks).

A learning organization that constantly adapts its actions based on needs

Since 2015, COSMOSS has been gradually compiling information on all the various projects of its partners and local agents, constantly adjusting its strategy based on information received. Since all strategies implemented are documented, the outcomes of initiatives can be monitored to assess their ability to bring about desired changes. Certain projects that have had positive repercussions have been adopted by other MRCs. For example, a project first set up in the MRC of Matapédia called "Stella" that was aimed at stimulating toddlers' language development was subsequently taken up by seven other MRCs in the Bas-St-Laurent.

Throughout the year, partners are also offered several opportunities-at quarterly meetings or the joint meeting of regional partners-to share their experiences, lessons learned and success stories.

COSMOSS recently published a document entitled Treize ans de changements - Chantier local et régional de mesure des résultats (in French), in which it identifies the "Top 10 ingredients" for effective action:

  • Encourage joint project management
  • Make sure everyone shares the same understanding, vocabulary and tools
  • Define actions by consulting participants
  • Adapt services in order to improve participation
  • Promote a personalized approach
  • Foster the creation of a friendly environment and bonds of trust
  • Make use of expert resources
  • Ensure an appropriate frequency and intensity of services
  • Encourage simple, accessible approaches
  • Integrate lessons learned

What is the role of the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation in this collective initiative?

The relationship between COSMOSS and the Foundation dates back some 15 years, to the time of the first reflections of the partners in the Bas-Saint-Laurent on the COSMOSS project and those of the Foundation on its approach.

For all those years, the two organizations have shared:

  • a belief that the best way to fight poverty is to concentrate on the development of children, young people and their families, and
  • a conviction that community mobilization is a powerful driver to achieve that goal.

Recently, both partners worked together more closely on a new approach for providing support for communities developed by the Foundation (see the Foundation's Funding Policy)--always with the objective to help children and youth develop their full potential.

The Foundation encourages the use of rigorous practices that allow progress in achieving desired changes to be monitored. Such practices have been transplanted throughout the region, being applied to strategic planning, outcome monitoring or evaluation. Although COSMOSS has extensive experience in working with multiple stakeholders, it recognizes the Foundation's capacity for flexibility and its respect for the realities of the communities it supports. The Foundation's involvement thus entails no additional administrative burden for local people who are busy providing young people with the services they so desperately need.

Find out more about the COSMOSS initiative in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region (in French only)

We wish to thank Emma Savard, Executive Director of COSMOSS, for answering our questions.


* Relative Happiness Index or Indice relatif du bonheur (IRB): The IRB defines itself as a social observatory that explores and identifies the characteristics, attitudes, attributes and behaviours that contribute to improving the overall happiness of communities and the people who live in them.

** The Indice de vitalité économique du Québec (economic vitality index) is the best indicator of the situations of communities and regions, compiling data on employment, income and annual growth rate. 

 

We believe

"We believe" is a short video that uses images to illustrate our constantly renewed desire to prevent poverty for the good of future generations in Quebec.

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