What does it mean to close LEDlab?
Kiri Bird is Program Manager for the Local Economic Development Lab. In our third and final year, Kiri’s work is focused on institutional and government relations, knowledge mobilization, building capacity for social innovation and systems change, and overseeing the sunset of LEDlab in June 2018.
As Winter releases its hold on Vancouver, slowly giving way to Spring, so too do we begin moving the Local Economic Development Lab towards its planned close in June of 2018. This week, our final cohort of graduate students reports out to Urban Core and other community partners on the results of their eight-month internships. At the end of April, Austin and Nicole will move into full time roles with their project supervisors, EMBERS and Buy Social respectively, while David is off on an adventure to Rwanda, where he will continue to explore social entrepreneurship.
As Ara and I prepare for a period of reflecting, reporting, and celebration, it seems there’s a curious paradox to be winding down LEDlab, while the world around us comes alive at the very same time.
But what does it mean to ‘close down’ a social innovation lab?
Over the past six months, we’ve been working internally and with our partners to understand: what are the unique contributions and types of value being created by the lab? And how can we ensure those contributions are being adopted, institutionalized, or held in some way by the DTES community moving forward?
With succession planning in mind, we set about codifying the core offerings of LEDlab: student internships, interagency coordination, strategic facilitation, social innovation workshops, etc. We have thoughtfully woven these functions into grant proposals, job descriptions, and the mandates of some of our partners including Eastside Works, Exchange Inner City, and Urban Core. We’ve also played a pivotal role in helping to resource these organizations (by supporting grant writing, making introductions to private donors, etc.) so that they can move forward the work that we’ve collectively shaped over the past few years from a place of stability.
In January and February we ran a workshop series inviting 40+ organizations to learn about ‘systems change’, supported by Vancouver Foundation. Our goals were for organizations in the DTES to be better equipped to engage with complex challenges through experimental approaches, to provide a space for reflection and system-level sensing, and also, to feel empowered with the vocabulary of social innovation and systems change now being used by many Canadian funders.
From workshops to fundraising, to recruitment and hiring, we’re trying our very best to ensure that the work that may have started ‘inside’ the lab is able to thrive and survive in the DTES community beyond our involvement.
While all this work is appreciated by our partners, another message came through loud and clear in the impact report research that our Developmental Evaluator, Steve Williams, led in 2018. That is, the ability of LEDlab to identify and respond to gaps and emergent opportunities, without ego, and outside of an organizational mandate, is a unique value that will be missed once we close.
I don’t have an answer for this, but I personally feel heavy under the weight of knowing how hard it is to resource and find the right type of weaver who can dance between the tangible and the abstract, knowing when to lead, and when to step back. It takes contextual knowledge. It takes relationships and trust. There’s not a hard deliverable to ‘sell’ to a funder. The role of network weaving is too often undervalued and underestimated, and we need to find a better way of recognizing and resourcing this work in our communities.
But another way of looking at the work moving forward in the DTES is through a lens of strengths. Last week Ara and I met with a wise woman, Vanessa Richards, Director of Community Engagement at 312 Main and an incredible community organizer and weaver herself. She reminded us to make our ‘closing’ more of an ‘offering’, one which shines a light on what’s glowing, juicy, vibrant, flourishing, and coming alive.
What’s alive and ripe with possibility in Vancouver, B.C. and Canada is activism and an appetite for change. There is momentum and openness at all three levels of government for poverty reduction. This is significant! There’s a real opportunity for an ambitious social policy agenda in B.C. There’s 312 Main, the largest coworking space in Canada, over 100,000 sq ft, with a mandate of social and economic development, opening at the corner of Main and Cordova. There’s Eastside Works, a project that has been in the making for over two years, taking in clients and finding creative ways to recognize and enhance skills and find meaningful sources of income. So it’s not a time to feel scarce, or to feel loss. It’s a time to feel hopeful.
I’m proud of the work we’ve done the past three years, and I’m incredibly excited about the assets and resources the DTES community has to move forward with. In particular, social enterprise and employment services groups have so much more cohesion than a few years ago, and clarity in approach that is rooted in cross-sector collaboration and systems change. LEDlab closing isn’t about succession planning, it’s about success.
Over the years I’ve written about the importance of trust. We asked for trust when we first starting working in the neighbourhood. And by consistently showing up and creating value, we earned that trust. We also sought explicitly to build trust amongst our partners. Now, I can see that trust is again needed. Trust in ourselves, that we have the opportunity and the ability to advance the work started and to see it through. We got this.
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