Reflections on the start of SFU CED’s 2017-2018 Cohort

The SFU CED program has undergone a number of evolutions in the roughly 20 years that it has existed. It is currently undergoing another one of those evolutions as its relationship to Simon Fraser University and the Faculty of Environment in which it is situated deepens and expands. Constant throughout these evolutions have been the values at the core of the program and the hopes they bring. These don’t come in a manual as such, that each Director hands down through the ages, but they ring true in the curriculum of the program and the work of its alumni network. That a better world is possible, that all communities have tremendous potential for transformation and creative problem solving, that just, sustainable, equitable and inclusive forms of economic development are key to the future prosperity of communities and to our planet, and as the old saying goes we are the ones we have been waiting for.

This Monday the 2017-2018 SFU CED cohort convenes in Vancouver for eight months of intensive peer supported learning. A mix of in-class and online interaction exploring the current state of practice and innovation in the field of Community Economic Development, equipping each cohort with the tools to bring positive change in their respective communities. I remember my own cohort experience from 2013-2014, I had also just started grad school, was overextended on a number of volunteer boards, and was the Executive Director of the Hastings Crossing BIA at the time. I assumed that because it was a continuing education program, and only a certificate, that I would breeze through it. After all, I had already worked in Community Economic Development since 2009.

I quickly realized this program wasn’t a breeze through type experience, it was challenging and transformative and required one to be truly present. That in itself is a key learning, and one that to this day in my work at the City of Vancouver and in this role with SFU I am constantly trying to remain mindful of. What it means to be present in fields of work where we can quickly find ourselves pulled in multiple directions, flying at 10,000 RPMs to address crises and enable multiple opportunities in complex communities. In my role as Director I have to assume that most students in this cohort are similarly busy juggling work, family, and other commitments. That’s why the first day is so essential to grounding us, setting intentions, and being mindful of the context in which all of us have come to this shared moment and what we aim to achieve moving forward from it.

It didn’t always used to be this way, but the program now starts with Carol Anne Hilton’s Indigenomics classes. Carol Anne, from the coastal Nuu chah nulth Nation works to incorporate an Aboriginal worldview while bringing First Nations, industry and government together to design new approaches for sustainable, inclusive development. I’m glad the previous Director Nicole Chaland decided to do this. Beginning with these classes communicates a few important things right off the top. Firstly it demonstrates that there are other ways of knowing and being in the world, that Western/Anglo-American late capitalism is not the only way to organize an economy and measure its success (and in fact has proven to be remarkably crappy in terms of the outcomes it generates when working optimally let alone in cyclical throes of dysfunction and crisis). It also honours and builds on the longstanding tradition of CED as a vehicle for community capacity building, organizing and action towards economic and social justice.

Much of America’s experience of early CED is intertwined with the civil rights movement, in particular with inner-city communities often comprised of minorities and racialized/stigmatized populations who embraced development models that are inclusive, empowering, and often place-based. [1]  

By starting off the program with Indigenomics, we can explore the deeper question of what an economy is for, who it is for, how we consider what we value, and what success looks like. More especially, all of this in the context of indigenous peoples and the leadership roles they increasingly play when it comes to responsible forms of development, action on climate change, speaking truth to power and more. This is particularly poignant and relevant as our province emerges from the fog of false promises around an eventual LNG boom which has justified controversial and overpriced megaprojects that threaten food security in its pristine watersheds while denigrating indigenous land rights. The parallels between the struggle for early 20th century civil rights and the struggle for early 21st century indigenous rights should not be lost on anyone. All of us have a responsibility to support that struggle. Now, just as before, community economic development is playing an important role in articulating alternatives to exploitative, extractive, speculative and unsustainable forms of economic development in rural and urban setting as it equips communities with tools and practices to build their capacity and exercise their collective agency. 

With this in mind I extend a big thanks to Tides Canada, who generously offered a sponsored tuition program with us this year to assist with travel costs and accommodations for several students coming in from remote communities in northern BC. 

As we seek to practice reconciliation in Canada, the SFU CED Program has benefitted greatly from Carl Anne’s contributions to our curriculum. I hope it inspires our students to consider how we all seek to practice reconciliation, healing, and forging a new path forward through our own organizations, whether they are non-profits, businesses, or a university professional program. To this end I am deeply grateful of Hereditary Cheif Sxwpilemaat Siyam (Chief Leanne Joe) of the Squamish Nation for providing a welcome to open this year’s cohort. We’re also proud to include Leanne among our growing alumni network, which includes other indigenous leaders as well as leaders in the non-profit and social enterprise sectors, small business, government employees like myself, city councillors and even a member of Parliament from Vancouver Island (Whose name rhymes with Bored Lawns)

So as this new cohort prepares for eight months of rewarding exploration of CED (and of themselves as agents of change in their communities) I’m excited to welcome them and I thank them for making this commitment to themselves and to their communities. I’m grateful for the chance to continue building on the work of those leaders who came before me, birthed this program, matured it to its current state and contributed to the development of Canada’s most dynamic and impressive community of practice. Melanie Conn, Mark Roseland, Anna Kemp, Nicole Chaland, the scores of amazing instructors like Carol Anne, Michael Shuman, Sean Markey, Brian Smith, Ann Docherty, Elvy Del Bianco and Jeremy Murphy, and the hard working administrative staff at SFU’s Faculty of Environment, Nikoleta, Michelle, Leigh and of course our current program coordinator Jeremy Stone. 

With that I offer the warmest welcome to our 2017-2018 cohort, I’m excited to meet you all in person on Monday. 

[1] (Roger A. Clay Jr. and Susan R. Jones, Journal of Affordable Housing & Community Development Law, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Spring 2009), pp. 257-267)