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

Sectors such as education, justice, child welfare, language and culture, social services and employment play a critical role in the social and economic wellbeing of youth. When there are gaps in the infrastructure and interactions within and between these sectors, communities and organizations work together to create meaningful change. This is what we define as systems change.  

Systems change work examines how policies, practices and procedures can be improved to better reflect the needs of youth impacted by systemic issues. In this grant stream, YOF prioritizes systems change work that improves the experiences of Indigenous and Black youth who continue to face system barriers and oppression.  

YOF recognizes that systems change takes time, trust and a deep understanding of how systems function. Youth must be included in the process along with youth-serving organizations and other key stakeholders who directly support policy, design and grassroots work. This collaboration ensures real change goes beyond any single organization and/or isolated program. 

In the System Innovations grant stream, we invest in collaborative work that strengthen systems to:  

  • Improve how young people navigate and experience services. 
  • Reimagine more unique and equitable access to supports, resources and programs.  
  • Involve youth in the creation of new processes and approaches to better meet their needs.  
  • Reduce the impact of systemic barriers and oppression as a result of historical and current-day realities of Indigenous (First Nation, Métis and Inuit) and Black youth.  

YOF prioritizes investing in collaborative projects that positively impact youth with the following lived experiences or identities:  

  • Youth in conflict or at risk of being in conflict with the law   
  • Youth in care or leaving care   
  • Youth at-risk of dropping out or have dropped out   
  • Youth living with disabilities and/or special needs between the ages of 12 to 29   
  • Two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual (2SLGBTQIA+) youth 

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

Important Dates and Deadlines

Application period opens December 4, 2023
Step 1
Complete the required pre-application coaching call February 14, 2024 (Closed)
Step 2
Deadline for lead organizations to submit the Organization Information February 16, 2024 (Closed)
Step 3
Deadline for eligible lead organizations to submit the grant application.
Only organizations that are eligible for funding will be invited to complete the grant application
March 6, 2024, 5 PM ET (Closed)
Notification of funding decisions Approximately 4 months after the grant application deadline
Start date for all grants August 1, 2024

Plan your application

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  


Collaboratives interested in applying for a System Innovations grant need to be focused on identifying opportunities for improvement within a specific system and creating thoughtful strategies for change. Projects need to help create improved experiences for the following young people:   

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

Requirements for lead organizations  

Collaboratives applying for a System Innovations grant need to have one lead organization. The lead organization needs to meet the requirements below and must meet OTF’s Eligibility Policy

We prioritize collaboratives that are led by Indigenous (First Nation, Métis, Inuit) or Black organizations.  

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 

In addition to the requirements listed above, lead organizations must: 

  • Have a primary purpose, presence, and reputation for delivering programs and services with direct community benefit in Ontario. 
  • Demonstrate the financial capacity to manage OTF funds, deliver and complete the proposed project as per OTF’s Financial Need and Health of Applicants Policy
  • Demonstrate that they provide services in Ontario. 
  • Be incorporated as a not for profit for a minimum of 5 years from the time of application submission. 
  • Have a clear mandate and track record for serving and engaging youth between the ages of 12-29. 


  • If a lead organization does not meet OTF’s requirements, their application will not be eligible for funding. 
  • If a lead organization has an active System Innovations grant, it is not eligible to apply again until the current grant is closed. This includes submitting the final report and evaluation.  


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.  
  • Plays a key role in bringing stakeholders to the table for the delivery of the project and stewarding the project over the life of the grant. 
  • 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 that are  Indigenous (First Nation, Métis, Inuit) and/or Black.  

Ineligible Lead Applicants 

  • Organizations that do not have a primary purpose, presence, and reputation for delivering community-based programs and services with direct community benefit in Ontario.  
  • A person applying as an individual. 
  • Municipalities or their cultural or recreation agencies, including municipal libraries and museums. 
  • Universities, colleges, schools and hospitals, and their affiliated agencies. 
  • Religious organizations or institutions * 
  • Newly formed organizations (less than 5 years as a registered not for profit). * 
  • For profit organizations or businesses.

*While these organizations may not be able to be the lead organization, they can participate as members of the collaborative to support with the system change work. 

Requirements for collaboratives  

A collaborative is a group of two or more organizations - each with specific roles and responsibilities working towards a shared goal. It can be made up of local organizations, experts, system partners, grassroots groups and more. 

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. 

Collaborative agreements need to be completed and signed by the grant application deadline. We may ask to review the agreement during the assessment stage. 

Learn how to create a collaborative agreement.  

Readiness: Are you prepared for this work?  

Collaboratives need to demonstrate that they are ready for the systems change project they are looking to steward. As a collaborative, the following requirements must be met:   

  • The collaborative has the capacity to lead culturally responsive systems change work that is youth centered. 

  • There is a common goal, shared decision making and accountability to each collaborative member. This includes having clearly defined roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for the project. 

  • The collaborative and/or the members have a strong track record of serving the youth who are the intended primary beneficiaries of the project.  

Reflect communities served 

The lead organization and collaborative members 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, subject matter experts  

Project eligibility 

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

Demonstrated 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.  

Ineligible project activities  

The following activities are not eligible for funding: 

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

Application process

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

1. Prepare your application 

2. Book a required pre-application coaching call

  • During this call, we discuss key eligibility requirements, the details of your project and the readiness of your collaborative.   

3. Create an OTF account  

  • Lead organizations need to have an OTF account to access grant applications through OTF’s Granting Portal. 
  • Once the pre-application coaching call is complete, create an account to begin the application.   
    • If the lead organization is new to OTF, create a new account
    • If the lead organization is already registered with OTF, reach out to We will verify if the organization’s information is up to date.   

4. Complete the Organization Information 

  • Review the application questions in the Organization Information section 
  • Once you submit this information, the eligibility of the lead organization is assessed 
  • Only lead organizations that meet funding requirements will be invited to complete the grant application.   

5. Complete the grant application   

Review the grant application questions. Ensure that you have answered all the questions clearly and that the application is complete.  

6. Review and application assessment   

Our experienced staff and volunteers review and assess your application against the assessment criteria for System Innovations grants.  

7. Recommendation and selection 

The Grant Review Committee makes funding recommendations. OTF’s Board of Directors reviews and approves projects for funding. 

8. Notification 

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

9. After approval 

  • Start date: Grantees can choose project start dates as early as August 1, 2024.  
  • 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 are required to work with an external evaluation partner provided by OTF. Grantees will be given resources and further information once their projects start. The evaluation partner will measure the engagement of youth in the project and the collaborative’s work to advance the system change work and 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. 
  • Begin to explore policy and practice changes to support the strategy. 

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. 
  • Enhance the capacity, skills and knowledge of the collaborative so it is equipped to deliver on the strategy. This may include recruiting additional collaborative members with different lived experiences and identities.    
  • 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 structural, policy, process and behavioural changes that need to be implemented for organizations directly supporting Indigenous youth and invest in capacity building work to support the adoption of new approaches. 
  • 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 and other collective work completed in advance 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 priority youth. 
  • Implement strategies for systems change, which may include new organizational policies, service/program frameworks and/or coordination process. This can happen at a community, or regional level. 

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:  

  • Develop 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 practices and understanding of 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? 

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 
  • Girls and young women 
  • 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 (NEET) 

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. Capacity building workshops and trainings. 

    • 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. This may include salaries of support services, bookkeeping, insurance etc to resource the work of the lead to steward the collaborative.  

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   
  • Ongoing expenses of the lead organization to sustain its program offerings  
  • Expenses related to personal one-on-one professional services, such as direct therapy, counselling (health services), or others services such as legal or accounting.  
  • 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 criteria for the eligibility of lead organizations 

The eligibility of lead organizations is assessed using the following criteria:  

  • The lead organization is based in Ontario.  
  • The lead organization has been incorporated as a not for profit for at least 5 years or more. 
  • The lead organization and the majority of collaborative members reflect the communities and populations served.  
  • The lead organization has a clear mandate and track record for serving and engaging youth between the ages of 12-29. 
  • All project activities are based in Ontario.  
  • The total requested amount does not exceed the annual total for the number of years requested.  
  • Groundwork deliverables will be completed within a two-year framework.  
  • The lead organization is in compliance with OTF’s Eligibility Policy.
  • The collaborative is focused on improving systems for selected YOF youth through system change and not program or service delivery.  

Assessment criteria for projects 

Proposed projects are first reviewed to ensure they meet eligibility requirements. This includes checking that the proposed strategy, groundwork deliverables and process are aligned and feasible for system change work. Eligible projects are reviewed and assessed against the following key areas:  


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, selected 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. 

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 selected 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. 


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 described a feasible approach to achieve project deliverables. 
  • The collaborative has clearly defined project deliverables, and are demonstrated in the project plan. 
  • The description of activities, project plan, and budget are aligned. 
  • The budget and project plan are clear and include robust details. 
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