Expanding Community Networks in British Columbia

“I see that as the key success—relationships are happening in this space and they’re not happening with the same people over and over again. There are new people coming in.” — Laura Gaaysiigad Cuthbert

Laura Gaaysiigad Cuthbert works every day to connect and build a broad community network—and not just among those who are already calling themselves social innovators. She is Social Innovation Canada’s Weaver in British Columbia, working from RADIUS SFU.

“I’m looking at any sort of progressive organization,” she says. “It could be grassroots folks, it could be local non-profits, NGOs, or labor unions. Anyone who is doing any sort of progressive movement building across the region, see(ing) how we can relate and collaborate.”

For Laura, a lot of that work means creating connections and networks between individuals and groups who may have felt excluded in the past. Currently, she leads two formally organized groups, which host about ten events a year combined.

The first group brings together individuals in upper management at local ventures and lab sites who are involved in social innovation. Through a mailing list and bimonthly gatherings, Laura connects them with each other and others in the space.

The second is the BC Systems Change Group, and is open to anyone who is interested. This group also holds bimonthly events, but Laura does a lot of what she refers to as “single callouts”—reaching out to individuals she sees working within the realm of social innovation, asking them if they’d like to grab a coffee to discuss what they need.

“Trying to bridge them to existing members is a big deal for me,” she says.

Laura and RADIUS SFU have a vision for this kind of connective work in the future. Laura plans to put together a community of practice, offering coaching for changemakers in the region. “Because my connections are mostly outside the grassroots and activism space, I’m bringing in a lot of that world as well.”

Social innovation in British Columbia

British Columbia offers a number of shining examples of innovation projects that are both built and rooted in culture. One such project is Ethos Labs, a Surrey-based program built solely for Black youth. Skookum Lab, also based in Surrey, works with Indigenous innovation, while Kudoz focuses on evolving how people with cognitive disabilities connect with local volunteers, community, and gives new opportunities to learn. There are also groups who have fostered the Social Innovation Space, like PLAN, Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network, whose mission is to help families secure the future for their relative with a disability and to provide peace of mind.

The future of social innovation

In Laura’s view, the realm of social innovation is undergoing a pivotal revitalization. One that will profoundly impact the future of communities. What was once a community made up of primarily white academics, and sixties-era NGOs and nonprofits, is slowly evolving—along with the language we use to describe this work. As a number of millennials enter and shift the nature of the social innovation space, it will be important to challenge the past, the assumptions we make, and how those assumptions play into different systems of oppression.

“I think existing harms are a challenge, we need to centre Black People, Indigenous People, and People of Colour, we need to centre Queer, Trans and Two Spirit voices, we need to centre those who live with physical and cognitive needs” Laura explains. “It’s going to continue to be a problem until it’s recognized that systemic oppression directly affects progressive and future-focused spaces. We must ask who we are building innovation for and with.”

When asked what Laura is particularly proud of when it comes to her work with RADIUS SFU and SI Canada in the past year, she says it’s in seeing people show up and feel welcome in a place where they may not have previously seen themselves, or that may have actively excluded them in the past.

“Every time someone new shows up who has never accessed social innovation, they’ve never accessed SFU, they’ve never heard of McConnell, they’ve never heard of SIG, never heard of any of these things—and they’re there because they’re doing good work, and because we invited them to be there and they’re equal, and at the table…(That’s) my main goal.”

 

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