Connecting Communities with Opportunities

1 06 2017

Changing the world, one community at a time. That’s what drives the team at MDB Insight, and one of the main reasons Karen was attracted to working with them. Best known for their portfolio of successes in economic development, MDB Insight’s core areas of practice also include cultural development, workforce development, community development, business development, research and analytics, trade and international development, training and facilitation. Passionate and curious innovators, the people behind MDB Insight share a vision for community-building that includes responsible economic growth, social innovation, and environmMDB-Insight-Website-Logoental sustainability.

Over the coming months, Karen will be doing research and writing in support of business development strategies identified by MDB Insight as it expands its portfolio and explores new and meaningful ways to connect communities with opportunities in a rapidly changing social and economic landscape.

With offices in Calgary, Hamilton, Toronto, Kingston, and Glasgow (UK), MDB Insight is Canada’s largest specialist economic development consultancy and a respected management consultancy firm recognized for the depth and breadth of its expertise and experienced team. To find out more about their work, visit: MDB Insight.

 





100 Resilient Cities

12 04 2017

Community building encompasses a range of efforts by a diversity of citizens to support, nurture, initiate and bolster the prosperity and health of a community. These can be large, organized efforts coordinated by government or grassroots efforts undertaken by individuals, families, or neighbourhoods. Community builders share an interest in the future of their communities, and a desire to see everyone in those communities realize their potential.

Resilient-city-feature-imageWith that in mind, this community builder has been interested in the work of 100 Resilient Cities, an initiative pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation “to help cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century”. Their approach focuses on “urban resilience” – “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience”. Examples of chronic stresses include high unemployment, overtaxed or inefficient public transportation system, endemic violence, and chronic food and water shortages. Acute shocks are “sudden, sharp events that threaten a city” and include earthquakes, floods, disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks.

Lest we think this urban resilience is important only for cities in developing countries or far-flung corners of the globe, it’s important to know that four of Canada’s largest cities are among the 100 (Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver). Other member cities include Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Pune (India), Porto Alegre (Brazil), Semarang (Indonesia)Semarang Resilience Strategy - 2016-1.png and Yiwu (China). Using a City Resilience Framework, the 100 member cities are working to better understand and implement the things that make a city resilient – from health and wellbeing to leadership and strategy.

Members of the 100 Resilient Cities team and a panel of expert judges reviewed over 1,000 applications from prospective cities. The judges looked for innovative mayors, a recent catalyst for change, a history of building partnerships, and an ability to work with a ride range of stakeholders.

Member cities are moving forward with an inspiring and focused catalogue of initiatives aimed at positive, tangible community impact. In Greece, for example, the city of Thessoloniki has just released Resilient Thessaloniki – A Strategy for 2030 following two years of intensive participation as a 100 Resilient Cities member. In Chile, the city of Santiago recently committed 10% of its budget to building resilience as part of its first Resilience Strategy. And the city of Wellington has unveiled a comprehensive resilience strategy to prepare New Zealand’s capital “for the next 100 years”.

Resilience Strategies are more than a milestone — they are a roadmap, a call to action.

The 100 Resilient Cities platform is supported by private, public, academic and non-profit sector partners ranging from corporate titans Microsoft, Siemens and Cisco to international charities like Save the Children, The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. Other notable partners include The World Bank, the Advanced Research Institute at Virginia Tech, the Watson Foundation, the Asia Foundation and the Social Intelligence Institute.

According to 100 Resilient Cities, “Calgary hopes to insulate its economy from shocks caused by fluctuating oil prices as it develops more robust responses to natural disasters” and Toronto “is addressing rising inequality while developing responses to increasing severe weather events”. Looking forward to news about the initiatives and plans coming to all four Canadian member cities as a result of their participation.

[photos: 100 Resilient Cities]





Love, community, and investing without money

4 05 2015

Many years ago I was fascinated by an idea that described the different “currencies” people use (or invest) in their pursuit of personal relationships, love, and human connection. I don’t recall when or where I first encountered this concept, but I now understand it to be based at least in part on the work of Dr. Roderic Gorney, who posited that love, passion or sentiment, rather than being emotional in nature, were instead actions. His 1973 book, The Human Agenda, spoke of “the new abundance” and theorized about man’s “conscious control over his values and his future evolution”. No wonder the concept resonated with me! Gorney was a protégé of renowned anthropologist Dr. Ashley Montagu, who studied human love and its currency. He too saw love as an action, and wrote that it supports both the survival and the wellness of a beloved.

What I actually remember about my first exposure to the concept was that we each express our love and affection in different ways, and that it’s possible to observe someone and identify the currency they invest when they are expressing their love for another. My father, for example, spends time and gives of his workmanship with those he loves most – he may verbally express his love infrequently, but he’ll build a beautiful bookcase or come over and repair my plumbing as an expression of his love for me. Quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch were The Five Love Languages identified by Dr. Gary Chapman in 1992. Some individuals freely talk about their love (poems, words of affirmation), physically demonstrate their affection (a hug, a kiss), invest their attention (homework help, listening intently) or creative endeavours (handmade gifts, home-cooked meals). Still others will spend money on gifts or give of themselves through service (volunteering, teaching). Wilkinson and Grill (1996) identified sixteen relational currencies. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that my currency is most often quality time, followed by gifts (often small tokens, just because).

Just recently, I was listening to Ideas (with host Paul Kennedy) on CBC Radio and heard Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (2014) talking about similar concepts – but with an unmistakably economic bent. Joined by a panel of respected guests, the conversation focused on things like the sustainability of a “sharing economy” and whether (if it lasts) it benefits business, society, or the state. Different in many ways from the concept of relational currency, it nonetheless sparked for me a reminder that we all invest in society and in community in our own ways, whether or not it’s money we spend. Yet, we seldom hear about currencies other than monetary ones when discussions turn to economic models or sustainability within communities.

Wendy Strgar (“Fairness is Love’s Currency”, HuffPost, 2013) points out that “most of the world’s most urgent crises can be traced back to unfairness both in the distribution of natural resources and the capital that serves as the accepted currency to make things happen”. And yet, she points out, “for all the buzz words on growing the good economy, like social return and triple bottom line — the investment community remains largely locked into fear-based models of investing, which requires financial returns and limited risk. The truth is that even among the wealthiest money is not experienced as a currency of freedom and love, but rather fear — of loss, of failure, of self”. This, for me, is akin to the work that Hildy Gottlieb and the team at Creating the Future have been doing over the past decade or so – concepts like “collective enoughness”, stone soup approaches, and “Pollyanna Principles” (the name of Hildy Gottlieb’s 2009 book). This notion of a limited “accepted currency” leaves out so much of what individuals (and collections of individuals) invest in their communities and society on a daily basis.

Frequently cited examples from the Internet-enabled sharing economy (aka the peer economy, P2P, or collaborative consumption) include Airbnb, RelayRides, and SnapGoods. The CBC Radio panel mentioned Uber – controversial for its oppositional impact on the taxi industry – and, interestingly, they talked about car owners in Europe who are taking their own independent approach to the ride matching model (thus eliminating the need for a central Uber structure at all). Still, even this progressive panel seemed dismissive about the economic influence of a model without money. Yes, it’s there, they seemed to be saying, but it’s not really worth much.

The sharing economy has been described as disruptive, and holds appeal for many who see it as a softer, gentler alternative to commercialism. So-called millennials are said to be distrustful of big brands and consumerism, drawn instead towards alternative models. Still others see potential for the collaborative consumption concept to transform economic ideals, pointing out that Ebay began Paperclipas a peer-to-peer model and has proved what scale and empowered ordinary people can do. I remember the young man who listed a paper clip for sale, and eventually traded his way into a house. It was suggested of his remarkable story that folks can and will find value in anything if the conditions and circumstances are right. Would you trade a golf club for a skipping rope if the incentive was right? Might the incentive be stronger or more powerful if it’s a human need rather than a simple transaction? A needed wheelchair for a child, for example, might prompt more generosity in an exchange than would otherwise be expected.

Harvard Business Review has suggested the sharing economy “is not about sharing at all”, that it remains a commercial exchange despite using cyber distribution in place of storefronts. “Most successful services associated with the sharing economy are essentially all about convenience, cost efficiency and ease of access rather than sharing and social interactions”, according to Christoffer O. Hernaes (writing for TechCrunch). He also suggests that these services often replace rather than encourage social interaction and are not premised on altruistic objectives. His notion conjures up images of lonely shoppers, short on time, perched in front of their screens looking for bargains. But isn’t the peer economy about sharing and trading, recycling within the marketplace, and a more conscious consumerism? Doesn’t it empower those whose currency might otherwise be insufficient – like an urban farmer bartering eggs for art lessons? Maybe the feel-good factor I thought was inherent in the sharing economy isn’t as significant as I imagined. It certainly doesn’t echo the notion of relational currencies that sees us each having different currencies and spending or investing those as a reflection of ourselves.

Wendy Strgar said “fairness is a measure of the heart. It comes when we trust that there is enough for everyone and when we really get that there is no other — no over there, but rather that we are all in this together”. She hopes for a day when we “measure our returns based on the vibrancy of the communities we create”. Hildy Gottlieb has been blogging about “inviting social change funders and investors to recreate how social change is resourced, to align the values of their means with their intended ends”. The converging ideas here are about shifting focus away from the transaction and instead considering what we have to contribute, and to what end. For me, it can be anything from swapping books with friends instead of buying them, or rescuing a pup from the local animal shelter. Anyone can barter, volunteer, or invest of themselves in countless other ways that are not necessarily monetary.

I’ll be continuing to follow these different concepts in an effort to better understand how communities and the individuals within those communities can benefit. For others interested in this topic, on June 5th Carolyn Sechler and Ellis Carter will join Hildy to talk about Benefit Corporations, or B Corps, a fascinating model of purpose-driven business – you can catch the Making Change Broadcast at www.creatingthefuture.org and participate via Twitter using #CTFuture.