Exchange Inner City: New Name, Big Vision, Next Steps
LEDlab Manager, Kiri Bird, interviewed Exchange Inner City Director, Steven Johnston, about Exchange’s new name, growth, and vision for 2018. Read their transcribed interview below.
Exchange Inner City, formerly CEDSAC or the Community Economic Development Strategic Action Committee, is a community backbone organization that works with DTES residents, CED actors and policy makers to build a more vibrant and inclusive local economy. Exchange was originally formed as co-creation committee to support the development of the DTES CED Strategy.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Steve, on the record! A lot has happened for Exchange this year and I’m excited to have you share your updates with our readers.
First off, tell us about the re-brand. What is the meaning of your new name?
Our new name came about after a lot of conversation with our membership. Although the previous name, CEDSAC (which stood for Community Economic Development Strategic Action Committee), spoke directly to the work we do, the name was lengthy and cumbersome to say and explain! We decided to replace it with Exchange Inner City for several reasons. One, Exchange speaks to the role we play convening residents, policy makers and the business community in an effort to shape policy, develop and launch innovative community economic development projects and share information and learning. We facilitate the exchange of ideas and points of view to create communities where everyone is included and can express themselves. The addition of Inner City keeps our work grounded in place. We are directly connected to Vancouver’s high priority neighbourhoods. Finally, the name allows us to grow and replicate our work in other communities. For example, we could provide backbone support in Surrey under the name ‘Exchange Surrey’. Exchange describes what we do and the location ensures the work remains grounded in community.
What work or moments are you most proud of from you work in 2017?
We’ve accomplished quite a bit in 2017. Several accomplishments stand out, I’m not sure I can narrow it to just one. I’m proud of securing funding to continue our work into 2019. This allows the projects we’ve initiated to continue and grow. I’m also proud of work on the Locals Card, a project that works with local businesses to find finds way to provide community members with affordable goods and services and other incentives. We already have twenty confirmed participating businesses and we’re recruiting more every day. I’m also proud of our growth. We now have over 50 members representing a diverse group of stakeholders and we’re still growing!
Speaking of funding, you’ve recently been awarded $50,000 from the City of Vancouver and two years of support at $75,000 from Vancouver Foundation. What does this money allow you to do in 2018?
This funding affords us the opportunity to redirect our efforts into project development, community engagement and other emergent opportunities. Having a runway of secured funding means we can focus more of our attention on initiatives such as the Locals Card, our social procurement roundtable, and our advocacy work around poverty reduction at municipal and provincial levels. Finding funding for work like ours is challenging. Often, funders prefer to support discrete projects with defined outcomes and timelines. It’s challenging to find support for backbone organizations. Our need is support for core operations. It’s the staff that make the connections and support our members to effectively align their capacity to achieve a collective impact. In 2018 we hope to continue to demonstrate the value of our community backbone working model and shift the way foundations and other donors consider supporting a whole ecosystem of actors to create systemic change.
Where are the greatest opportunities for Exchange this year? Possible risks?
I think the greatest opportunity for Exchange Inner City will be influencing the Community Benefit Agreement attached to the St. Paul’s Hospital development. We know the relocation of the hospital has the potential to accelerate gentrification in the Inner City. We believe a comprehensive and well thought out CBA policy will mitigate some of these effects and ensure the development creates prosperity for all community members. As a network organization, I think one potential risk we need to be cognizant of is the potential for members to assume that the work is getting done without their participation and for their attention to drift. We need to ensure that our work is meaningful and engaging to our members so that it is not only staff but our members who continue to drive our work.
In a community like the DTES, how do you balance the urgent needs of residents with some of the more long-term goals for example securing Community Benefit Agreements, projects which could take years?
I think we can balance these needs in a couple of ways. One is by ensuring that residents have a leadership role in all of our work. By engaging residents in CBA policy discussions and development we create ways for community to be engaged in otherwise abstract or distant policy work. Even though these developments can take years, having residents involved throughout the process allows them to see shape how their community can be positively changed through development and share information and updates in a timely fashion with other residents. Exchange Inner City has also launched a number of quick start projects, like the Locals Card. This means we have active and more immediate work happening that complements some of our longer term objectives.
I know have discussed this a lot, but how would you describe the relationship between LEDlab and Exchange Inner City? How does LEDlab sunsetting in 2018 help or hinder your work?
LEDlab will be missed! The Lab has been a leader in mobilizing community resources, making connections and kick-starting and supporting innovative groups like Exchange Inner City and Urban Core. LEDlab was instrumental in supporting Exchange during its initial startup phase and continued to provide support after staff was hired. LEDlab has also continued to make connections between policy makers and other stakeholders with Exchange Inner City and aligned some of it’s work with Exchange’ key projects and activities. This has increased the overall efficacy of our work. LEDlab has attained a measure of political capacity that will be hard to replace!
Well, that is very kind! At the same time, I know that our shared vision is in great hands with the diverse and active membership of Exchange Inner City. Last but not least, where can folks go in the future for updates on your work?
Our old website cedsac.org is still active. There you can find our newsletter sign up, which is the best place for up to date info on Exchange Inner City. In the future, our old website will redirect to a new domain reflecting our new name and brand.
Thanks again, Steve, and I looking forward to what 2018 has in store for Exchange Inner City!
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