Jake Stika is a Co-founder and the Executive Director of Next Gen Men. Having grown up as an immigrant to Canada as well as having lived in Brazil, Germany, and the Czech Republic in recent years, Jake has a global perspective on community development and social innovation. Jake believes himself to be a reconnection entrepreneur and is less interested in symptoms, but rather underlying causes. His vision for Next Gen Men comes from observing society today and wondering how to create change amongst youth and his peers for a better tomorrow, today.

Q: Tell us more a bit about your how you began your social enterprise, Next Gen Men:

Next Gen Men is an existing non-profit, we started with our Youth Program for boys aged 12 - 14 where we challenge societal constructs of what it is to “be a man” today. We are doing this through a gender transformative lens and we’ve seen really promising progress. We started the Youth Programme 3 years ago and from that we grew to add a program which is a monthly discussion group for adults of all genders to hold space for conversations that men don’t traditionally have. Having these two really promising programs while understanding the constraints of running a non-profit regarding sustainability, scalability, financial feasibility, we knew that we needed to design a social enterprise. Last fall I was named one of 20 Ashoka’s Emerging Innovators in the Canadian social sector and corporate social responsibility came up as a major theme during the Summit and Bootcamp. Given my values and my background in entrepreneurship and start-ups, my struggle was how do I take something as intangible as healthy masculinity and create a product or a service that people would be willing to pay for. I came back to Calgary and worked out of a business accelerator for 3 months on this issue as well as in collaboration with the University of Toronto’s volunteer consulting group to do market research on the idea. We developed a program called Equity Focused Leadership where we’re taking the lessons we’ve learned with our youth program, including that a gender transformative program needs between 10-15 sessions to root. We are also offering evaluations by measuring the changes in attitudes and beliefs amongst the participants, as well as evaluations 6 months after the workshops on changes to organisational attitudes and beliefs. We’ll hopefully be able to have that social return on investments, where we can say that female employees 6 months after the program saw a marked difference in equitable attitudes.

Q: What is a unique feature of your social enterprise?

For people such as ourselves, gender equity is just the right thing to do but when you look at it from a business perspective, there needs to be a return on the bottom line. Studies show that 30% or more representation of women on your leadership translates into a 6% increase in profits. Diversity and inclusion are actually two different things - you can have diversity without having inclusion but if you create an inclusive environment for that diversity, output rises by 50%. We do take a gender focused lens but it’s within a broader diversity and inclusion lens. If people can be more equitable from a gender standpoint then we believe that those tools will then translate to more intersectional issues such as race, ageism, ableism, but starting from that really prevalent.  

 We also offer one-off workshops and presentations on unconscious bias, allyship or power and privilege. These are a bit of a Trojan Horse for us to come into an organisation and really show them the value of looking at things a different way. Really it’s about starting this discussion about equity and working with men around it. There’s a lot of women support groups that are important and valuable but essentially if a company says ‘were handling equity, we have this group’ then the company is saying that women are facing a problem and we tell them to fix it themselves. We want to engage men, who often in today’s society still hold those positions of power and influence, in the discussion.

Q: Have you been getting involved in any partnerships?

We are actually starting a collaborative project with Shift, a groupout of the University of Calgary which is focused on domestic and gender based violence. What they have identified is that violence prevention programs don’t necessarily work because they are mandated after the moment of violence, most men don’t go preventatively. Shift found to be more upstream thinking, so they’re focusing on healthy masculinity which is something that Next Gen Men has already been working towards.

Q: This isn’t easy work - what motivates you to keep moving forward?

If you asked me 6 or 7 years ago whether I would be leading a feminist male organisation, I would say no, you’re crazy. But today I’ve gone through a lot, I’ve had my own struggles with mental health, well-being and the stigma surrounding those issues and masculinity. One of my cofounders, who is my best friend, lost his 13 year old brother to suicide. I grew up in jock culture, we’ve seen how toxic masculinity affects us and those around us and we want to create a platform for change. Really, I would love to stop calling it toxic masculinity because it paints the word masculinity with a negative connotation, I would rather just redefine what masculinity can be.

I myself am really privileged in this work as a cis-white heterosexual male, but that being said I also came to Canada as a refugee immigrant. We don’t know the other person’s privileges or lived experiences and in this work, as I mentioned, I’m tremendously privileged and I want to use that to highlight privileges and disadvantages.

Find out more about Jake's experience in ACSE, First Edition by clicking here!

 Interviewers: ACSE team

Canada, 2017