Community-led Innovation Courtesy of the People in Our Neighbourhoods
Pop the trunk and load up on your next grocery run, order the lunch special from your favourite take-out joint and prepare to join us this Friday as The Deep Change Happy Hour goes live.
My co-host Alaina Lockhart and I are welcoming six old and new friends to our virtual table. Each is deeply embedded in their communities and the initiatives they lead reflect those connections.
Which is how Alaina and I like to work too. Alaina is an award-winning serial entrepreneur, co-owner of the Sussex Ale Works, former municipal and federal politician, and rural development expert.
Alaina is passionate about rural communities and is optimistic about the role these smaller communities can play in building back better. As she wrote last week, “[i]magine a province that starts to tackle the economic and fiscal challenges faced by municipalities and the province by simply rethinking the relationships between our urban, suburban, and rural areas. What if we started thinking about those clusters as interdependent. As true equal partners.”
My roots are in journalism and that is where my heart is firmly planted — in using stories to provide people with the information they need to make informed decisions around issues that effect them, their families and their communities. I’ve spent over three decades reporting on the ground, researching and analyzing how, when and why citizens engage on contentious public topics.
While I grew up in Canada’s largest community, I have spent my career working and living in smaller cities and towns. In each of these places, I’ve reported firsthand on the changes disrupting local resource economies; the steady out-migration of young people to large cities; and the inequity and anger felt by Indigenous people over repeated attempts to gain greater control over their lives. I’ve also observed the growth of underlying resentments and distrust towards distant governments and corporate players who, when they do come to town are there to announce closures, shutdowns or social support programs.
Over the years I’ve covered a lot of protests. I’ve been yelled at, threatened and trolled by people on all sides of these debates. It is a thin line that separates an angry protester from a frustrated politician, government staffer or corporate representative when they feel their interests threatened by a well-worded turn of phrase.
But while the mood remains dour within the province’s business and political circles, and with the journalists who cover them, there are signals of hope in our communities. Multi-sectoral networks have emerged, bringing with them new perspectives and new approaches to our economic, social, political and ecological challenges.
Technology has handed power to the people and we are still learning how to use it to achieve our shared goals. While the headlines and political spotlights have to date concentrated on those using these new technologies to amplify their anger, I believe the hope-fueled change we all crave is already happening in the work of community-led networks and community-anchored leaders.
These groups and individuals, like the six joining us Friday, are part of a global shift towards grassroots citizen-led movements. Each in their way is working to identify and support a new cadre of leaders who will step up and out into a new form of leadership that is community-based and community-driven.
Today, more people understand our region’s structural problems and are ready to get to work finding solutions. Over the years they have watched family, neighbours, and friends leave amidst a backdrop of failed political conversations and they have looked at each other and said ‘enough’. These engaged community members have the potential to be strong advocates for systems change – but only if they are welcomed into the conversation by traditional government, corporate, labour, educational and non-profit players through ongoing engagement that leads to jointly developed action.
That’s the goal of The Deep Change Happy Hour — to welcome new voices, new perspectives and new ideas into the conversation about what comes next. As I wrote on April 29th in my Deep Change column, “Covid-19 has revealed systemic weaknesses and challenges, and in doing so has presented us with opportunities to improve — to build back better.”
The Deep Change Happy Hour is about lifting up and out the people working to do that.
So pull up a chair or settle into the couch, fire up Facebook and join us for lunch.
All of us together; that’s the change I believe in.