Our History

“Our dream is that all sectors become our collaborative partners, and we are able to support them to be culturally aware and competent.”

– Yvonne Chiu, one of the founding members of the Multicultural Health Broker Co-operative

We have grown from twelve original Brokers in 1994 to 54 Brokers in 2012.  As we serve more and more families, our budget has evolved from $115,000 to $2 million over the same period of time.

The Multicultural Health Broker Co-operative’s roots began in 1991 with an Edmonton Board of Health 3 year project conducted by a radical team of staff working in the Health Promotion Division.  There was first a scan of populations in Edmonton to identify those not well-served by the health system.

The research revealed that immigrant and ethnic minority individuals in the Chinese community did not attend pre-natal classes (which at that time, were free of charge).  In talking to these immigrant couples, Health Promotion staff discovered that there was a lack of awareness about the classes, and a general lack of confidence to find out about services.  Couples were also worried about talking about health concerns with health professionals, and were concerned that their personal views about prenatal health might be in conflict with the health providers’ views.  There was also fear that the prenatal classes might be embarrassing or uncomfortable for couples.   People also said, “since coming to Canada, we are very lonely.  There are no opportunities to meet other people.”

The information from this project sparked the beginnings of the concepts that we use today.  Our foundation was built on meeting families where they were at, and bridging between communities and systems, and connecting those to counter social isolation.

In 1993, Edmonton Board of Health partnered with hospitals that offered peri-natal health services and (what was then called) Grant MacEwan Community College to offer training to 12 women who were nominated as natural leaders and community mobilizers by their communities.

The training was based on the mutual learning framework, where both teachers and students learned from each other.  The training gave the women credibility, and the women also formed strong friendships.  The curriculum’s focus was to teach the women how to be childbirth educators, where they would deliver pre-natal classes in their own languages.

Soon we discovered that because mothers were being discharged early from hospitals, there was a need to also incorporate post-natal care.  The Brokers also realized that it wasn’t just about health education – to be truly holistic, they had to look at the whole family and focus on community development and building mutual support groups so families could be connected to help each other.  Over the years, we have expanded to serve the Youth and Senior communities, too.

The Brokers are the eyes, the ears and witnessed what was happening in the system for families new to Canada.  We close the gap between systems and families, and create capacity building by teaching cultural competency for those who work in the mainstream system.

We had a natural synchronicity as a group, and decided to form a workers’ co-operative in 1998.  We chose this organizational structure because it best reflects our community of Brokers and is flexible and non-hierarchical.

Ours is a relationship-based practice that uses practice-based evidence as research to inform the system.   Today, each Broker goes through mandatory training and continuing education from Alberta Health Services Public Health.

We have many generous funders and collaborators including: Alberta Health Services -Primary Care, Edmonton & Area Child and Family Services, Edmonton Public School Board, Sage and Alberta Workers Health Centre.

“This work is about relationships, people and connection.” – Saima, Multicultural Health Broker


We are proud of the recognition we have achieved in our community.  Our awards include:

  • 2003 Innovation (Prevention Power Community) Award – Capital Health
  • 2005 Rise (Recognizing Immigrant Success in Edmonton) Award – Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers
  • 2005 Service Award and Honourary Member – Alberta College of Social Workers
  • 2006 Annual Worker Cooperative Award – Canadian Worker Co-op Federation
  • 2012 Public Interest Alberta’s award for advocacy for the public good – Public Interest Alberta