System Innovations Grant

System Innovations Grants support collaboratives to better understand, strategize, and work collectively to strengthen systems so they work better for youth, while prioritizing Indigenous and Black young people.

Term length

Minimum 2 years, Maximum 6 years

Amount awarded (per year)

Minimum N/A

Maximum $250,000

What do you have the power to change?

Real change goes beyond any single organization or isolated program. Are you part of a collaborative (a group of two or more organizations) designing and/or implementing strategies for systems change? Apply for a System Innovations grant to lay the groundwork for systems change and/or to take steps to create system-wide change.

The grant funds one or both of the following:

  • Groundwork: Planning and preparing for systems change
  • Implementation: Putting research, theories of change, and plans into action

Important Dates and Deadlines

Application available April 3, 2023
Pre-Application Coaching Call Completed  May 31, 2023
Lead Organization Registration deadline   May 31, 2023
Grant Application deadline June 20, 2023, at 5 PM ET.
Notification of Grant Application  Approximately 6 months after the Grant Application deadline
Start date for all Grants October 1, 2023

Plan your application

Systems change takes time, trust, and a deep understanding of how systems function when serving youth. System Innovations grants support systems change projects through collaborative work. To give your application the best chance of being successful, please read the information on this page carefully and access available supports. It will help you make sure that your collaborative and the people you want to support align with Youth Opportunities Fund (YOF) funding priorities.

  • Join us at an information webinar
  • Book a one-to-one coaching call
  • Contact us at 1 800 263-2887 or for immediate support
  • Email to join our mailing list

Take time to consider these key questions:

  • Are your collaborative partners members of the community(ies) they seek to serve?
  • Do they have a strong track record of serving selected YOF youth beneficiaries?
  • How will you engage the selected YOF youth as partners in this change process in a meaningful way?
  • Does your lead organization have community connections, a strong reputation, and the respect of community stakeholders?


Discover if your collaborative is eligible for funding, and make sure your beneficiaries (the people who will benefit from your work) are in YOF's priority populations.

Eligible Collaboratives

Collaboratives eligible to apply to the System Innovations grant:

  • Must reflect the communities and populations served. This means that partnering organizations reflect communities served in terms of both mandate, leadership, and staff teams.
  • Must include young leaders in both groundwork and implementation as the intended beneficiaries of the systems change work
  • Have the capacity to lead culturally responsive youth-centred systems change
  • Can be newly formed or have been working together for some time
  • Include partners from diverse sectors and backgrounds relevant to the system in focus and vision for change. 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 community networks. We recognize that collaboratives will enter this process in different stages of readiness. If there are collaborative members missing that you consider essential to the work, you will have the opportunity to describe how this collaborative will secure their engagement as part of the application.
  • Have clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities

We prioritize projects led by and for Indigenous (First Nation, Métis, Inuit) youth and Black youth. Read our definition of a Black- or Indigenous-led grassroots group.

What do we look for in a collaborative lead?

Each collaborative will select one organization to be the lead. The lead organization accepts responsibility for the funded project and plays a key role in bringing key stakeholders to the collaborative table. The lead must meet all requirements to be an OTF funded organization.

Additionally, they must:

  • Bring strong community connections, a strong reputation, and the respect of community stakeholders. We invite Indigenous organizations and Black organizations to assume the role of lead in the collaboratives that are working to improve systems for Indigenous and Black youth in Ontario.
  • Be a registered charity with the Canada Revenue Agency, or an organization incorporated as a non-profit corporation without share capital in a Canadian jurisdiction, or a First Nation, a Métis or Inuit community.

Project eligibility

Your project may be eligible if it:

  • Submitted a complete application
  • Has a collaborative agreement in place, which is available to be shared with YOF if requested
  • Strongly aligns with your chosen YOF Priority Outcome 
  • Complies with OTF policies. Our policy requirements define eligibility for OTF funding and outline exclusions. Funds are granted to eligible applicants delivering eligible project activities that directly align with YOF Priority Outcomes.
  • Benefits young people ages 12-25 facing systemic barriers, and/or 12-29 for youth living with special needs and/or disabilities 
  • Carries out all project activities in Ontario

Not sure if you are eligible? Reach out to us at

Application process

OTF's application process involves various steps for collaboratives and collaborative lead organizations.

Key dates and Grant Application submission
Before you Apply
  • Join us at an information webinar
  • Book a required one-to-one pre-application coaching call by August 31, 2022 to be eligible to apply
  • Contact us at 1 800 263-2887 or for immediate support
Register lead organization
  • 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.
  • The YOF team will verify your organization’s eligibility to apply for a System Innovations grant. Lead organizations can apply online after they have been assessed as eligible, and after they have participated in a pre-application coaching call.
  • All applicants will receive news on the status of their Grant Application approximately six months after the deadline date.
After approval
  • Start date: The start date is no earlier than March 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 collaborative’s progress towards the chosen YOF 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 your 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. Grant files 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 to implement strategies for system change. You may be starting with groundwork, or you may be ready to implement strategies for change. You can apply to do groundwork only, or both groundwork and implementation within the same grant.

You can spend a maximum of two years on groundwork activities that allow you to prepare for systems change work. Laying the groundwork looks like:

  • Forming or solidifying partnerships, inclusion of young people and other key stakeholders. Formalize the collaborative’s governance model
  • Planning for systems change and ensuring the essential information, knowledge, and people are identified and gathered in order to inform an effective and sustainable system change strategy
  • Groundwork activities include: research to understand the experiences and needs of young people as they engage with the specific system, exploring potential models and best practices, designing a theory of change, and drafting 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.
  • Craft a theory of change for system strengthening using culturally anchored values and practices
  • Build a strategy framework that identifies purpose, values, goals, objectives, and tactics for strengthening the mental health system for urban Indigenous youth
  • Draft an action plan

Implementation involves the collaborative putting its groundwork (research, theories of change, and plans) into action. Implementing systems change looks like:

  • An engaged group of partners that have experience working together towards a shared strategic vision
  • Putting into action the collaborative’s governance model, theory of change, strategic framework, and action plan
  • Implementing 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 to navigate and access housing, employment, and education supports across a number of agencies
  • Create conditions within partner organizations for changes in policy and practice for young people leaving care
  • 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 partners in order 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

The 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 YOF Priority Outcome, think about:

  • 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 will young people experience the system your collaborative is focused on strengthening?

With your responses in mind, choose the YOF 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 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 systems change work should be aligned with the primary beneficiaries named in your selected YOF outcome. As you consider the system your collaborative will focus on, identify both the primary beneficiaries as well as those intersecting identities and experiences that are most relevant to what you are doing and why. This means that your collaborative is working to improve the system for one or more of these primary populations and how it addresses their intersecting identities and experiences:

  • 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 or special needs between the ages of 12 to 29  
  • Youth living with mental health needs and/or addiction
  • 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 at-risk of dropping out or have dropped out
  • Youth in low-income situations or from low-income families  
  • Youth who are homeless or at risk of being homeless  
  • Youth who are not engaged or at risk of not been engaged with education programs, employment programs, or training programs

Eligible and ineligible project expenses

Costs that can be funded in System Innovations include: 

  • Direct personnel costs: Salaries, mandatory employment related costs and employee benefits for staff positions funded specifically to carry out the project. 
  • Direct Non-Personnel Costs: All non-personnel costs directly related to project delivery 
    • 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 costs: 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: YOF 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 by YOF 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 grant application is scored by experienced OTF staff and local volunteers based on three areas of the application: People, Strategy + Impact, and Process.


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

Scoring weight: 25%

Key areas of your application to focus on:

  • The size and composition of your collaborative are appropriate given the stage of work, the selected system, issues identified, chosen YOF youth, and proposed approach to system change
  • Your collaborative reflects the communities and populations served. This means that the lead organization and partnering organizations reflect communities served in terms of mandate, leadership, and staff teams
  • YOF youth affected by the system have a clear and meaningful role in your project
  • Your collaborative has the capacity and legitimacy to effectively steward the process and achieve the project deliverables


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

Scoring weight: 50%

Key areas of your application to focus on:

Setting the context

  • Your 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
  • Your collaborative understands the context, opportunities, and barriers to making system change

Strategizing for system change

  • Your collaborative has demonstrated that the groundwork has been set already or will be set through this project
  • Your collaborative has clearly described the strategy and steps you will take to lay the groundwork and/or implement strategies for systems change
  • The proposed strategy and steps are an effective response to the systemic issues and system failures identified
  • The proposed strategy and steps respond to meet the needs and interests of selected YOF youth
  • The collaborative describes a future state and impacts that, if achieved, will result in a stronger system for youth beneficiaries
  • The named impacts/changes can be advanced through the proposed strategy


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

Scoring weight: 25%

Key areas of your application to focus on:

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