System Innovations Grant

System Innovations grants support collaboratives as they aim to understand and strengthen systems so they work better for youth.

Term length

Minimum 2 years, Maximum 5 years

Amount awarded (per year)

Minimum N/A

Maximum $250,000

Systems such as education, justice, child welfare, language and culture, health and employment play a critical role in the social and economic wellbeing of youth. When there are gaps in these systems, community-led organizations, charities and institutions take part in reducing barriers for youth by working collaboratively with those impacted to create meaningful change. 

Systems change work examines how policies, practices and procedures within these systems can be improved to better reflect the needs of a diverse population. Strengthening a system aims to improve how youth navigate services and creates more unique and equitable access to supports, resources, programs, and more. It’s an opportunity to reimagine systems, services and resources so they can better meet the needs of youth, and more specifically, how Indigenous and Black youth experience those systems.  

Systems change takes time, trust, and a deep understanding of how systems function when serving youth. It takes the insights of many who directly support youth, and those engaged in policy, design and grassroots work to look at the diverse ways to ease the experiences youth have as they navigate and engage with systems. Real change goes beyond any single organization and/or isolated program.  

With a System Innovations grant, collaboratives can help create meaningful, innovative change by delivering projects that benefit youth, while prioritizing Indigenous (First Nation, Métis, Inuit) and Black youth. 

This grant supports collaboratives as they:   

  • Examine and understand how youth access and experience the services within a system 
  • Engage a group of partners within the system to work together toward a shared strategic vision 
  • Explore potential models and best practices 
  • Invest in capacity building to shift outdated behaviours   
  • Design and/or implement strategies for system change 

We support two types of system change projects:   

  • Groundwork: Laying the groundwork needed to strengthen a system of services or opportunities for young people benefitting from the work 
  • Implementation: Implementing strategies to strengthen a system of services or opportunities for young people benefitting from the work

Important Dates and Deadlines

Application available End of 2023
Pre-Application Coaching Call Completed  February 14, 2024 
Lead Organization Registration deadline   February 16, 2024
Grant Application deadline March 6, 2024, at 5 PM ET 

Notification of Grant Application final assessment

Approximately 3 months after the Grant Application deadline
Start date for all Grants July 1, 2024

Plan your application

Please read the information on this page carefully and access available supports and resources before you apply for a grant.   

Take time to consider these key questions: 

  • Does your collaborative have the knowledge and experience of working with youth to deliver this project?   
  • How will you engage youth impacted by the issues in a meaningful way?  
  • Does your system change project align with one of YOF’s Priority Outcomes


Access our supports 

  • Join us at an information webinar 
  • Book your pre-application coaching call
  • For immediate support, contact us at 1 800 263-2887 or  
  • Stay informed about new support opportunities by joining our mailing list at


Collaboratives applying for a System Innovations grant need to be focused on identifying opportunities for improvement within a specific system and creating thoughtful strategies that result in positive change for young people.   

We prioritize projects that benefit Indigenous (First Nation, Métis, Inuit) and/or Black youth.

Requirements for lead organizations

Collaboratives applying for a System Innovations grant will need to have one lead organization. The lead organization of a collaborative is required to meet the requirements listed below and must meet OTF’s Eligibility Policy

Any one of the following organizations may be eligible for funding as the lead: 

  • A charitable organization or foundation registered with the Canada Revenue Agency 
  • An organization incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation without share capital in a Canadian jurisdiction 

Any one of the following Indigenous communities may be eligible for funding as the lead: 

  • A First Nation 
  • A Chartered Community Council, operating under the Métis Nation of Ontario  
  • Inuit 


The lead organization: 

  • Accepts responsibility for the grant. This includes submitting the grant application, managing the payments and reporting requirements if the project is approved for funding.  
  • Must meet OTF’s Financial Need and Health of Applicants Policy
  • Needs to be based in Ontario. 
  • Plays a key role in bringing stakeholders to the table for the delivery of the project. 
  • Needs to have strong community connections, the respect of community stakeholders, and an established reputation. 
  • Needs to have a strong track record for serving and engaging youth. This includes knowledge and experience in delivering work that benefits young people.  

We invite Indigenous and Black organizations to assume the role of lead organization in collaboratives that are working to improve systems for Indigenous and Black youth in Ontario. 

Requirements for collaboratives

A collaborative is a group of two or more organizations - each with specific roles and responsibilities. 

We recognize that collaboratives will enter this process in different stages of readiness. If there are other organizations not currently in your collaborative that you consider essential to the work, you will have the opportunity to describe how your collaborative will secure their engagement as part of the application. 

Readiness: Are you prepared for this work?  

Organizations in the collaborative need to demonstrate that they are ready for their system change project. They will have:  

  • Capacity to lead culturally responsive systems change work that is youth-centered. 
  • A common goal where there is mutual benefit, shared decision-making and accountability to each collaborative member. This includes clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities for the project. 
  • A strong track record of serving the youth who are the intended primary beneficiaries of the project.  
  • An ability to influence shifts in behaviour that ultimately benefits youth well-being. 
  • A newly formed collaborative or have been working together for some time. 

Reflect communities served 

The lead and collaborative organizations need to reflect the communities and populations served. This includes in the mandate, leadership, and staff teams of all collaborative organizations. 

Organizations in the collaborative also need to come from diverse sectors and backgrounds relevant to the system they want to strengthen. This includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Indigenous and Black organizations 
  • organizations led by and serving specific communities 
  • grassroots groups 
  • youth-led groups 
  • system partners and/or institutions  
  • community networks and/or leaders 

Project eligibility

Your project may be eligible for funding if it meets the requirements below.  

Demonstrate youth and community engagement  

Young people need to be engaged at all stages in the project and need to be the primary beneficiaries of the project. This is demonstrated when youth: 

  • Help identify challenges and issues in a system 
  • Are collaboratively creating the solutions and vision for change 
  • Participate in the decision-making process at the leadership level 

Organizations in the collaborative also need to engage diverse people, organizations and partners in the project.  

Young people are defined as: 

  • Youth facing systemic barriers between 12-25 with diverse identities and lived experiences  
  • Youth living with special needs and/or disabilities between the ages of 12-29 
  • Youth living with mental health needs and/or addictions between the ages of 12-29 

Submit a complete application  

  • There is a collaborative agreement in place. You do not need to submit the collaborative agreement with your application; however, we may ask to review the agreement during the assessment stage. 
  • The project strongly aligns with the selected YOF Priority Outcome.  
  • The project complies with OTF’s policies.  
  • Primarily the Eligibility Policy. This policy defines eligibility for OTF funding and outline exclusions.  
  • All project activities are based in Ontario. 
  • The process and strategy of the proposed system change work is feasible. 

The following activities are not eligible for funding

  • Service and/or program delivery for one of the collaborative organizations. 
  • Pilot programs that are delivered for more than one year. 

Not sure if you are eligible? Reach out at

Application process

The application process involves various steps for collaboratives and the lead organizations.

Before you apply
Book a required pre-application coaching call
  • Book a required one-to-one pre-application coaching call. 

  • Contact us at 1 800 263-2887 or for immediate support.  

Register lead organization
  • Ensure your lead organization is registered by the deadline.
    • If the lead is new to OTF, you should register your organization.
    • If the lead is already registered with OTF, reach out to The YOF team will check to see if you need to update any information in your organizational profile.
  • As part of the registration process, we will verify if the lead organization is eligible for OTF funding.
Application submission and assessment
  • Lead organizations will be invited to apply for a grant after they have been assessed as eligible. 
  • Our experienced staff and volunteers assess your application against the application assessment criteria. 
  • Grant Review Committee volunteers make funding recommendations. 

All applicants will receive news on the status of their grant application approximately three months after the grant application deadline.  

After approval
  • Start date: Grantees can choose project start dates as early as October 1, 2023.  
  • Reporting & monitoring: In addition to scheduled touch points twice a year, grantees track activities, spending, and learning to complete the annual report and a final report. 
  • Evaluation: Grantees work with an external evaluation team to evaluate the partnership of the collaborative, and their path towards the selected YOF Priority Outcome.  
  • Knowledge sharing: If your project is approved for funding, YOF requires all System Innovations grantees to host one knowledge sharing event before the end of the grant. 
  • Completion: After OTF staff approve a final report, the grant hold-back funds are released and the grant is closed. 
  • Grantee compliance: A random sample of grants are subject to a Grantee Compliance Audit. Grants can be audited for compliance at any point within the grant's life, or after the grant has been closed. 

Choose your project type

We know that collaboratives may be in different stages of readiness as they begin this work. You may be starting with groundwork, or you may be ready to implement strategies for change. You can apply to do groundwork or implementation only, or both within the same grant.

Your collaborative can spend a maximum of two years on groundwork activities that allow you to prepare for systems change work. Your collaborative can: 

  • Form or solidify partnerships and engage young people and other key stakeholders.
  • Formalize the collaborative’s governance model.
  • Ensure the essential information, knowledge, and people are identified and gathered to inform an effective and sustainable system change strategy.
  • Conduct research to understand the experiences and needs of young people as they engage with the specific system.
  • Explore potential models and best practices.
  • Design a theory of change and draft an action plan.

Examples of groundwork

The following are examples of groundwork activities for a System Innovations project focused on addressing the impacts of racism experienced by urban Indigenous youth accessing the mental health system. 

  • Deepen understanding of how the mental health system is structured, accessed, and experienced by urban Indigenous youth through system or journey maps.
  • Strengthen the collaborative so it is equipped to do this work. Ensure those most affected by the system are leading the way. Ensure Indigenous organizations, grassroots groups and youth are leading the work of reimagining what mental health supports look like and how they are delivered.
  • Identify the changes that need to be implemented for organizations directly supporting Indigenous youth and invest in capacity building work to support the adoption of new ways of doing and processes.
  • Craft a theory of change for system strengthening using culturally anchored values and practices. 
  • Build a strategy that identifies purpose, values, goals, objectives, and tactics for strengthening the mental health system for urban Indigenous youth.
  • Draft an action plan.

Your collaborative can spend up to three years doing implementation work. Implementation involves the collaborative putting its groundwork (research, theories of change and plans) into action. Your collaborative can:

  • Involve an engaged group of partners that have experience working together towards a shared strategic vision.
  • Put into action the collaborative’s governance model, theory of change, strategic framework and action plan.
  • Develop a robust capacity building framework for approaches that will support staff training of collaborative organizations and those that support youth.
  • Implement strategies for systems change.

Examples of implementation

The following are examples of what implementation work can look like in a project focused on improving a system of supports for Black youth leaving care: 

  • Draft and implement a set of shared policies and procedures to ensure Black youth leaving care can find and access a consistent and caring adult who will help them navigate and access housing, employment, and education supports across a number of agencies.
  • Create conditions for changes in policy and practice for young people leaving care within collaborative organizations.
  • Establish an advisory group composed of Black youth with experience in the child welfare system to guide policy implementation and provide regular feedback on service improvements.
  • Design and implement a shared intake process that would be used by all collaborative organizations to improve system coordination and service navigation for youth leaving care.
  • Ensure all parts of the system are working in a coordinated manner through strategic and time-limited testing of new ideas.
  • Regularly convene service providers to strengthen their equity practice and culturally anchored programming through on-going training and development of an equity audit.

Choose your Priority Outcome

YOF has identified specific Priority Outcomes for the System Innovations grant. All approved projects must advance one of these outcomes through project activities.

When choosing your Priority Outcome, think through the following questions:

  • What are the key issues and/or challenges your selected YOF youth face in accessing and interacting with the system you are focusing on? Issues and challenges could include those related to policy frameworks, ideologies, culture, service design, or integration of service delivery.
  • What results are you hoping to achieve in the long run?
  • How do young people experience the system your collaborative is focused on strengthening?

With your responses in mind, choose the Priority Outcome that most directly aligns with the change you hope to make as a collaborative.  

  • Supporting youth in and leaving care and/or involved in the justice system to navigate and access resources for wellbeing.
  • Addressing racism and its impacts on youth in urban, rural, and/or Northern communities.
  • Empowering girls and/or young women to lead, including women’s economic empowerment initiatives.
  • Supporting Indigenous, Black, and/or newcomer youth to enter the labour market and transition to sustainable career pathways. 
  • Creating safe spaces for Indigenous and/or Black youth to build strong community and cultural connections.

Choose your priority populations

Your proposed system change project should be aligned with the youth named in your selected Priority Outcome. As you consider the system your collaborative will focus on, identify the youth that will benefit from your work and the other identities or experiences that they share.

When selecting Indigenous youth (First Nations, Métis or Inuit), youth can be from urban, rural and on reserve communities.

  • Indigenous youth (First Nation, Métis, or Inuit)
  • Black youth  
  • Racialized youth  
  • Newcomer youth  
  • Francophone youth  
  • Two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual (2SLGBTQIA+) youth
  • Youth living with disabilities and/or special needs between the ages of 12 to 29  
  • Youth living with mental health needs and/or addictions between the ages of 12 to 29 
  • Youth living in rural, remote and/or Northern communities  
  • Youth in conflict or at risk of being in conflict with the law  
  • Youth in care or leaving care  
  • Youth in low-income situations or from low-income families  
  • Youth who are homeless or at risk of being homeless  
  • Youth at-risk of dropping out or have dropped out  
  • Youth who are not engaged and/or at risk of not being engaged with education, employment, and training programs

Eligible costs

You can request funding for direct personnel, direct non-personnel, and overhead and administration costs to help you deliver your project.
  • Direct Personnel Cost (Full Time)
  • Direct Personnel Cost (Part-Time)
  • Direct Non-Personnel Costs
    • Purchased Services: Services purchased including the services of consultants / contractors / subject experts specifically relating to the delivery of the project.
    • Equipment Purchase or Rental: Cost to purchase or rent equipment related to the delivery of the project.
    • Meetings/Convenings: Meeting/convening costs incurred relating to the delivery of the project.
    • Supplies and materials: Items purchased specifically for use in the delivery of the project
    • Travel: Travel costs incurred by employees, volunteers and participants, that are directly related to delivering the project.
    • Honorariums: To acknowledge, in a small way, the contributions of community leaders and experts in the groundwork and/or implementation stages of work
    • Knowledge Sharing: Costs associated with space, food, accommodations for an in person or virtual Knowledge Sharing event 
    • Learning and Evaluation: YOF grants include the support of a third-party evaluator that will focus on process evaluation. These costs are covered by the YOF. If the collaborative would like to go further in the evaluation of your work, up to a maximum of 10% of the total grant request budget can be used for planning and executing an evaluation of your grant project. This amount is only for the evaluation of your grant project.
  • Overhead And Administration Costs
    • OTF will support overhead and administrative costs directly associated with the funded project, to a maximum of 15% of the total YOF Grant Budget.

All costs funded must be eligible and directly attributable to the project.

Please note that 10% of the awarded funding will be held back, to be paid upon satisfactory review of the final report.

  • Expenses related to programming or service delivery for an extended period 
  • Capital infrastructure projects (renovations to space) 
  • Expenses related to political or religious activities 
  • General or ongoing operating expenses (unrelated to the project) 
  • Bursaries, scholarships, sponsorships or individual requests (including regranting funds to other projects or people)
  • Fundraising campaigns  

For a full list of ineligible expenses, review OTF’s Eligibility Policy.

Application assessment

Your System Innovations grant application will be assessed by experienced OTF staff and volunteers based on the eligibility requirements for lead organizations, collaboratives and projects.

Assessment Area 1: Eligibility

  • The collaborative has selected one organization to be the lead.   
  • The collaborative has a formal agreement with collaborative partners in place. 
  • The lead organization is based in Ontario. 
  • All project activities are based in Ontario. 
  • The lead and collaborative reflect the communities and populations served.  
  • The process and strategy of the proposed system change work is feasible. 
  • The total requested amount does not exceed the annual total for the number of years requested. 
  • Groundwork activities will be completed within a two-year framework. 
  • The lead organization must meet OTF’s Financial Need and Health of Applicants Policy
  • The collaborative is focused on improving systems for selected YOF youth through system change and not program/service delivery. 

Assessment Area 2: People

The right people are in place to lay the groundwork for system change and/or to implement system change that leads to the YOF Priority Outcome for YOF youth.

Scoring weight: 30%

Key areas of your application to focus on:

  • The lead organization has the capacity and community knowledge to steward the collaborative. 
  • The size and composition of the collaborative are appropriate given the stage of work, the selected system, issues identified, chosen YOF youth, and proposed approach to system change.
  • YOF youth affected by the system have a clear and meaningful role in the project. 
  • The collaborative has the capacity and legitimacy to effectively steward the process and achieve the project deliverables.

Assessment Area 3: Strategy and Impact

The strategy is appropriate for laying the groundwork for system change and/or making system change that leads to the YOF Priority Outcome for YOF youth.

Setting the context

Scoring weight: 20%

Key areas of your application to focus on:

  • The collaborative understands the system, its issues, and impacts on YOF youth.
  • There is clear alignment between the system issues identified, selected YOF youth, and selected YOF Priority Outcome.
  • The collaborative understands the context, opportunities, and barriers to making system change.


Strategizing for system change

Scoring weight: 25%

  • The collaborative has demonstrated that the groundwork has been set already or will be set through this project.
  • The collaborative has clearly described the steps they will take to lay the groundwork and/or make system change.
  • The proposed steps are designed to meet the needs and interests of selected YOF youth.
  • The collaborative has made a coherent case for system change work given the long-term impact at individual, organizational, collaborative, and system levels.

Assessment Area 4: Process

The processes to be employed are appropriate for laying the groundwork and/or leading system change.

Scoring weight: 25%

Key areas of your application to focus on:

  • The collaborative has clearly defined project deliverables.
  • The collaborative has described a feasible approach to achieve project deliverables.
  • The description of activities, project plan, and budget are aligned.
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