Lead with Curiosity
Austin Lui is currently completing his Master’s degree at the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) at UBC. Austin is a Project Coordinator with LEDlab, working on The Lux project under the guidance of EMBERS.
Many of the issues in the DTES are in plain sight: crumbling infrastructure, neglected buildings, people facing a variety of mental health issues, addictions, and homelessness. Yet these visible problems are only the tip of the iceberg. There are invisible forces at play that are impossible to see just walking down the street. There are examples of resiliency, unlikely collaborations, and a strong sense of community. The DTES is truly a unique neighbourhood, for better or for worse. This uniqueness provides an opportunity for innovation.
During our orientation week at LEDlab, we learned about different frameworks for understanding these invisible forces, and ways innovation happens. What are the policies and societal issues that influence the current state of the DTES? What is our role in this larger system?
My project is to develop the information platform for the Lux. The Lux is an income generation hub to help individuals with their needs to find work wherever they are at in the Income Generation Continuum. This platform will help the Lux staff to navigate the resources that an individual needs to make money. This includes finding the right job opportunities to suit individuals needs and capacities – even if they are very part time or informal, providing workshops and training programming, and identifying spaces for low income entrepreneurs and artists to make, sell, and store their products. This approach is fundamentally different from existing government-mandated employment services because the goal of the Lux is not to get people off of income assistance and into full-time work. The goal is to help people meet their basic needs. You can read more about it here.
Despite knowing the objectives of my role, I keep asking myself: how can I, a graduate student living outside the DTES, make any real positive change within 8 months? After having many conversations, I am starting to understand how I can use my time with LEDlab to make a lasting impact. But the first step is to listen. The best advice that stuck with me during orientation week was to listen by “leading with curiosity”. I have mostly spent the last month immersing myself, making connections, and trying to understand the intricacies of the DTES. There are 3 particular themes that stand out to me as I reflect on what I have seen and heard.
There is a shift happening in how the DTES works. Within the last 5 years, many of the agencies and businesses that work in and for the neighbourhood are starting to work together. Rather than developing new programming (that probably already exists) to compete with others for funding, organizations are starting to form committees, talk to one another, and find ways to collaborate.
I was impressed with how these committees include a wide range of organizations, community members, and businesses. These meetings were not only accessible, but inclusive to everyone. This meant using language that everyone could understand, providing food and drinks, and accommodating for everyone’s schedule. The collective range of knowledge and creative ideas proved to me the power of inclusion.
One of the concepts we learned during the LEDlab orientation was the distinction between complicated and complex systems. “Complicated” systems may have many factors, but they are predictable. As long as all the variables are accounted for, outcomes can easily be replicated. In “complex” systems, outcomes are not easily replicated – as there are a multitude of variables, both known and unknown interacting in unpredictable ways. Variables are dynamic, and the nature of the system itself is constantly shifting. The DTES is a complex system. The organizational structures and the nuances of people’s lives are unique and ever changing. People wear many different hats and take part in multiple initiatives. Part of understanding the DTES is getting a better sense of these networks, and learning about the nuances of living in the DTES.
During this process of listening and learning, I have felt well supported from LEDlab, my fellow cohort members, and my community partner, EMBERS. I look forward to the next 7 months!
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