The Evolution of LEDlab
Kiri Bird is Manager of the Local Economic Development Lab, a role she has played since 2015. Kiri was hired for an internship with what would become LEDlab by Ecotrust Canada and RADIUS SFU while completing a Master’s in Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University.
Happy New Year and Welcome, 2017!
Much has changed since I began this journey in January of 2015. I think back to the eight themes that emerged from our early consultation work, which I conducted during my internship with Ecotrust Canada and RADIUS SFU. How many of them still hold true today? How have community needs and priorities changed? How has the lab’s ability to respond to these needs changed?
I love the New Year because it’s a time to pause for reflection and set intentions for what’s to come. Below are my thoughts and reflections on the evolution of our work as we head into the final 18 months of our program.
Where We Are Now
I can’t speak about ‘where we are now’ in January 2017 without acknowledging the devastating gravity of the fentanyl crisis. With more than 755 deaths registered in BC in 2016, the effect is staggering and heartbreaking. Every time I hear an ambulance, I cringe knowing that it is likely responding to an overdose. When I see the number of lives that have been lost, I also wonder how many more lives have been saved thanks to first responders and overdose prevention sites. The DTES Market has been orchestrating an incredible community-driven, crowd-funded response to the opioid crisis. If you don’t know about this important initiative, you can learn more here, and consider donating if you can.
To be perfectly frank: some of our partners working on the front lines report that things in the DTES are getting worse. People seem to be more housing insecure, and more food insecure than a few years ago; Income Assistance rates are stagnant, while the cost of living has increased; the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen in cities across Canada; and the effects of inequality might be showing up most acutely on the streets of neighbourhoods like the DTES.
Despite the gravity of the situation, for those of us working on community economic development in the DTES there is some hopeful energy and good momentum. The newly adopted DTES CED Strategy represents a very important step towards the shift in policy, practice, and culture that needs to take place in order to create opportunities and improve the lives of low-income DTES residents.
One important aspect of the CED Strategy is the future of the committee who co-created the strategy: the CED Strategic Action Committee or CEDSAC. The dedicated committee members who worked on the CED Strategy continue to have discussions about how CEDSAC can develop into an organization that will support and enhance community economic development in the DTES, including implementation of the CED Strategy.
What Changes Have Happened?
The most dramatic changes that I have personally observed and experienced over the last two years are the following:
- A willingness amongst agencies, social enterprises, and other community groups to work together and collaborate. The structure (more connected) and behaviour (abundance mindset) of the network has changed.
- New emergent intermediary organizations are forming – that is, organizations working between and amongst community groups and organizations without a personal agenda, that actively facilitate connections and relationships.
The first change can be exemplified by a number of large collaborative grants and RFP responses that have been submitted this year. Broadly speaking, there seems to be recognition that the complex problems we are working on can’t be solved by any one organization. When I first began work in this community I was told repeatedly, “there are people who just don’t work together!” Instead, I now hear, “there’s an energy to work together that hasn’t existed down here for decades!”
The second trend is slightly more nascent (of course there have been intermediaries in the past) but in particular, there are two new groups forming which propose to connect, support, and enhance the work of various agencies, advocacy groups, and community leaders all working towards poverty elimination/social inclusion/a transformed economy in the DTES. One of these is CEDSAC; the other is a proposal for a new collaborative income-generating hub, which recently went to RFP.
LEDlab’s Evolving Role
When we began this work, we were given clear instructions to ‘help put money in the pockets of DTES residents.’ We worked with grassroots organizations like the Binners’ Project and the DTES Market to build and enhance viable options for creating low barrier employment in the neighbourhood. You could say that we dedicated our resources (students, networks, time) to building the capacity of individuals and individual organizations.
As the neighbourhood and system around us evolves, we find that momentum is building around intermediary organizations that are operating at an inter-organizational or institutional scale. I now believe that we can add the most value to the neighbourhood by focusing our resources on these evolving intermediary organizations, and enhancing structures that bridge between sectors, and across scales.
What I know now that I didn’t fully appreciate two years ago, is that creating the systems changes (yes there are multiple) that we hope to see for the DTES will require the whole community. Within the broader movement, it’s important to be able to understand what your unique offering is, and how you add value to the whole. Recently SiG put out an article about ‘Mapping the Field of Systems Change’ that included a schema and a number of definitions for different roles within the field of systems change. Everyone can’t do everything, but we can find ways to meaningfully partner, to specialize, to share information and resources, to help each other understand, and to contribute where it makes sense on an individual and organization level and for the system as a whole.
Our intention for 2017, as we head into our final cohort, is to continue to refine our value proposition to the DTES community. The priority in the coming weeks we will be to ask and listen to what is needed of us, and to act in service of the work that is unfolding. We will remain committed to the co-creation of our program model, and continue to adapt in order to respond to what we are called to do.
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