By Elvira Truglia
This fall, the Local Economic Development Lab (LEDlab) gave the green light for a new group of students to start working on community projects in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. An award-winning community-university partnership between Ecotrust Canada and RADIUS Simon Fraser University, LEDlab works with community partners to jump-start ideas by matching graduate students to non-profit organizations for eight months. Students use this incubation period to help launch or scale new and innovative ideas. The added human resources LEDlab provides allows the community partners to try new things in a safe environment and to learn from and support each other in the process.
“One of the largest reasons that ideas don’t take off is it is difficult to access funding to develop the idea, and dedicate staff or resources to them,” says LEDlab’s manager, Kiri Bird. “We provide the human capacity to advance the idea, sometimes with a technical or business skillset that the non-profit might not have in-house.”
Brandon Toews, an MBA student at SFU with an arts background, is one of the four students in the cohort, funded through Mitacs, a national non-profit supporting research and training across Canada.
Before joining LEDlab, Brandon Toews says he was extremely troubled “to see the lack of resources that were available to marginalized and vulnerable communities and to see how often they were overlooked or outright ignored”.
He’s now happy to be involved with the Binners’ Project, a grassroots initiative in the Downtown Eastside with the goal to become “a project once led by outsiders, people from privileged positions, that over time becomes led by people in that community that it is trying to help”.
“I want people to know that binning is a legitimate living, people work hard for it,” says Michael Leland who has been collecting redeemable containers in the Downtown Eastside for the last 11 years.
Now a team leader with the Binners’ Project, the 58-year-old former commercial fisherman wants to remove the social stigma associated with “binning,” the term for collecting and reselling recyclable materials.