Students bring their talents and skills to community projects through Vancouver’s LEDlab

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.

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Cities for People + Getting to collective impact

Read the original article, Ten Key Ingredients for Collective Impact: Powering Town Halls for Societal Change, by Indy Johar, Imandeep Kaur, and Orestes Chouchoulas on Dark Matter Laboratories.

One of the goals set out by the Cities for People initiative during its inception over three years ago was to shake up the ways in which we work in cities. How? By approaching big issues from a thematic, collaborative, multi-sectoral angle, rather than on a project-by-project (setting out objectives and following a linear timeline to tackle one facet at a time) basis. The ‘experiment’ laid out in the first phase of Cities for People, which wrapped up in summer 2015, was to see how taking a thematic approach would enable us to identify ways to scale up, out, and deep – on the kind of ‘wicked problems’ cities are faced with, from inequality to housing to public spaces. Underpinning this effort was the belief that lasting change comes from individuals and organizations, often in different sectors (public, private, nonprofit), working deeply together to drawing out commonalities and symbioses that lead to breakthrough moments. This concept is easy to agree upon, but can be difficult to put into practice: how do we actually work in this way to transcend traditional partnerships that quickly become removed from the problem with which they’re trying to address? This article lays out ten essential pieces of the collective impact puzzle necessary to develop a practice of deep collaboration.


The energy behind collective action (referred to variably as Collective Impact, Collective Innovation, and Collective Change) is fundamentally rooted in the understanding that meaningful change is increasingly not in the hands of any single organisation. No single actor is able to bring about structural impact in terms of addressing life outcomes, health outcomes, alleviating poverty, or even creating new connected products and services. Whether seen from an interventional perspective or a political and organisational legitimacy perspective, the complex interdependencies at the heart of our largest challenges are not addressable by agents acting in isolation. It is increasingly recognised that impact at these scales requires us to build open, large, diverse, multi-sector coalitions committed to a shared mission, common accountability, allied political intent (small “p” politics), and change at a systems level. These open movements seek to work beyond individual agendas, missions, and activity to leverage our collective capacity for organised and coordinated agency but also to manage and moderate the “unintended aggregative consequences” of our siloed individual decisions.

When many citizens and organisations band together in pursuit of common objectives they generate new kinds of power, agency, and innovation.

Some see Collective Impact as nothing new — just partnerships rebadged and rebranded. We would argue that this misses the point. Collective Impact is not about partnerships between a handful of key institutions sitting in a closed board room but rather about a new architecture for movements of citizens and organisations numbering in the hundreds. Collective Impact is a fundamentally different social scaling theory that changes everything. Collective impact represents a different politics of change that transcends partnerships between a sample of stakeholders and looks to all-embracingmovements.

Therefore, inevitably Collective Impact requires new models of planning, organising, and financing. While we continue to invent them, we have identified a few key ingredients:

1. An authentic invitation to a shared challenge

The core momentum behind mobilisation en masse comes from a genuine and authentic invitation to address a shared challenge that many of us face consistently. There is beauty and great potential in the energy generated by individually motivated participants joining forces.

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Indigenous Innovation: The Moose Hide Campaign

Laurence Blog Author_EN

In 2011, during a father-daughter moose-hunting trip along BC’s Highway of Tears, Paul Lacerte and his daughter Raven – members of the Carrier First Nation – were discussing the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women, and what they could do to help. “What if we could invite men to wear a moose hide patch in recognition of the need to protect women and children from violence?” they wondered. Five years and 250,000 moose hide squares later, they are about to bring their successful Moose Hide Campaign from BC and Alberta to the national level. On the eve of its October 5 launch in Ottawa, Paul and Raven speak about the journey so far…

“We were cleaning out a moose and talking about all of the murdered and missing Indigenous women. We wanted to do something, to be part of creating a safer place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous women and children,” Raven explains.

That day, Raven and her father decided to take the moose hide home, tan it, and cut it into squares that men could wear to demonstrate that they were taking a stand against violence. When men wear them, they are pledging accountability to the women and girls in their lives. Wearing a moosehide square also leads to conversations with strangers about the need to end violence. As the movement grew in BC, men began forming regular discussion circles. The BC legislature joined in, and the BC Regional Division of the RCMP has joined the campaign.

“It was powerful to have the RCMP take part”, says Paul. “Spousal abuse is not unknown in the force, and this acknowledgement, along with officers’ commitment to wear the moosehide patch, shows how seriously they take their role in reducing violence.”  Read the rest of this entry »

The round-up: the dark and light of Future Food

Beth-2014-1The past six months have provided us with a wonderful kaleidoscope of visions of future food — thought packages from a dozen leaders, thinkers and writers, published on our blog site every two weeks. I have had the privilege of knowing most of the writers for some time, and yet these pieces have revealed surprising reflections and new lessons. To wrap up the series, I revisited the blogs as a whole and offer some highlights and reflections riffing off them — quoting shamelessly with the aim of enticing readers (back) into their stories and nuggets of wisdom.

Our bloggers say that the future of food is dark and light.


Dark, because many of our current practices, culture and systems are proving to be destructive of our health, environment and communities. We see this in Indigenous communities whose traditional relationship to agriculture, land and food heritage has been disrupted, and who often suffer from food insecurity; in a seafood world mired by facelessness; in toxic junk food ads for KFC’s finger-lickin’ good nail polish; and in weather patterns which are now unpreventable, which for some farmers will be difficult or impossible to adapt to.

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Major step for social enterprise in Canada: Federal Government launches social enterprise directory

Guest blog by David LePage, Principal, Accelerating Social Impact CCC:ASI. This post originally appeared on the Accelerating Social Impact CCC website. It has been republished here with the author’s permission.

With little fanfare the Federal government has taken a major step forward in supporting the social enterprise sector – providing clarity on a definition and supporting the development of a national directory.

The directory defines social enterprise as “an enterprise that seeks to achieve social, cultural or environmental aims through the sale of goods and services. The social enterprise can be for-profit or not-for-profit but the majority of net profits must be directed to a social objective with limited distribution to shareholders and owners.”


The Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development’s definition is clearly signalling that from their perspective a social enterprise has to blend a community impact and insure the majority of profits are also reinvested in community. Rather than looking at a corporate structure, they have opted for a performance based model, which allows several different corporate forms to be included – if the purpose and the structure both align with and meet this definition.

social enterprise

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Who gets to decide the future of food?

Guest blog by Nick Saul, President & CEO, Community Food Centres Canada

Nick Saul_Blog Author ENThe first thing you notice in the ad campaign is the model’s index finger stuck suggestively in her mouth, fingernails painted in alternating shades of orange and taupe. The slogan: “Finger Lickin’ Good.” It’s an advertisement, I quickly learned, for KFC’s brand new edible nail polish, which comes in two chickeny flavours: original, and hot and spicy. I’m not afraid to admit that this toxic junk food ad nearly had me—an inveterate optimist—coming close to despair for the state of our food system.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The way we currently move food from field to table often seems hell-bent on making us sick, damaging the planet and dividing us as citizens. Fast food companies worldwide spend billions of dollars a year to hook us on fat, sugar and salt (marketers behind the edible nail polish told the New York Times the product is an attempt to “remind the younger generation” of “the great taste and good times the brand stands for.”) Corporate agricultural giants grow larger and more predatory, pushing low-impact, regional, non-chemical approaches to the sidelines. And as we see every day at Community Food Centres Canada, four million Canadians struggle simply to put food on their table.

Yet, despite all of this—despite, even, the end-is-nigh portent of chicken-flavoured nail polish—I continue to believe that the future of food doesn’t have to be so dim. A different world is possible so long as we can mobilize enough people to push for it.

The Table Community Food Centre - After School Program 2014 #2 (David Zimmerly) (1)

Of course, a paradigm shift has been brewing for some time. Farmers, chefs, home cooks, foodies, beekeepers, health care reformers and advocates for low-income people are the canaries in the coal mine, sounding the warning about the unsustainability of this bloated, inequitable and unhealthy food system. We’ve seen an explosion of farmers markets, CSAs, and 100-mile restaurants. More and more people are gardening, eating local, and working to regain lost cooking skills,

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An Emerging Community of Practice for Canadian Social Innovation Labs

Darcy Riddell_Blog Author EN

We are living at a time where some individuals seem to have tremendous influence over political events, media narratives, and even global philanthropic agendas. However, we know that individuals acting alone – no matter how powerful or charismatic they may be – cannot address the complexity of current social and ecological problems. Our long-term challenges call for comprehensive and collaborative work across sectors, because they are deeply rooted in cultural values, encoded in our institutions, and re-enacted each day through the behaviour of countless people. In the face of their systemic nature, it can be hard to know where to engage on social problems, or how to adapt when change efforts aren’t working.


Photo credit: Social Innovation Generation

Social Innovation labs offer one promising entry point for collaborative work aimed at the roots of wicked social problems. At their heart, labs offer a structure to use where no one institution or sector can solve a complex challenge alone, and where no single solution or intervention is likely to work. Labs provide a container for ongoing experimentation and learning – so new insights and interventions can be developed, and great ideas from elsewhere can be tested and adapted. When undertaken with the discipline and commitment to achieve implementation, labs can extend their impact to a system level.

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation has been funding and supporting a growing community of labs in Canada for several years (since 2012). Earlier this summer, we convened a group of lab practitioners from The Natural Step’s Energy Futures Lab, l’Institut du Nouveau Monde’s Labis, MaRS Solutions Lab, and WellAhead along with staff, to harvest lessons learned from diverse lab efforts across Canada. These labs work on issues including the acceleration of Alberta’s economic transition away from fossil fuels, the shift to sustainable food systems, the need to connect health issues to social determinants such as access to housing, and proactive approaches to stem the increase of mental health challenges in children.

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Falling into the “program” trap

Mali_Blog AuthorPerhaps you’ve heard the story about the person who falls into a hole in the street. He walks along the street, falls into a hole, and climbs out to the same spot where he started. He walks back along the street and falls into the hole again. In fact, he continues falling in the hole, climbing back out, and returning back to where he started, until finally someone shows him a parallel street, a different way to get where he’s going.

We had heard this story told in the context of addictions research, or when describing habits that are seemingly permanently fixed. It illustrates how habits and ways of being are deeply entrenched in certain ways of thinking. In reflecting on WellAhead’s past year of work, we have begun to see how we may have fallen into some of these habits ourselves.


In the research and design phase of WellAhead, one of the key challenges or ‘holes’ identified was that mental health and wellbeing was approached as a ‘program’ to be implemented in the school setting rather than as a way of being, a cultural shift. Such programs had a range of efficacy, and were costly and difficult to scale across all schools. In addition, because programs were often developed and delivered by people outside the school, they were not being integrated into school communities. There was a sense that districts and communities needed to be part of the visioning and action towards change rather than simply recipients of solutions. From this, it was hypothesized that engaging a range of stakeholders in an emergent, participatory process might be more effective than imposing a highly defined program.

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Future Food: rebuilding the middle of the food system

Jessie Radies_Blog Author_ENGuest blog by Jessie Radies, Local Food Associate, Northlands

The future of our food system depends on us and the choices we make every day. In North America, what we eat, where we buy it and what we grow, all help determine the make-up of our global food system.

There is growing collective recognition that our global food system, as it operates today, is not feeding our planet efficiently and comes at a great cost.  Regions are not encouraged to be self-reliant, farming is not financially viable with an ongoing effort to drive down the cost of production, starvation is still a reality and much of the food grown and raised is wasted before it ever gets eaten.


Globally, science and agriculture are focused on providing enough calories to feed a global population of 9 billion people by 2050.  Today we imagine this by making agriculture production efficient and low cost; having infrastructure that can transport, store and process food products and ingredients efficiently around the globe.  It also requires chemicals and GMO’s to increase annual production and protect against disease and minimize the risk of crop failure. It means varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown based on their ability to be shipped, so oranges, bananas and fresh tomatoes can be a staple in our North American diet year round and can be shipped thousands of miles before they end up on our plate.

In my lifetime our food system has changed from one that was basically local to one that is primarily global, but the emergent edge of food is hyper-local and small, made up of urban agriculture, heritage varieties and artisan products.

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Fostering Consistent Stakeholder Engagement for a Maximum Impact

Guest blog by Anna Godefroy, Director, Binners Project

Although a relatively new initiative, the Binners’ Project is often praised for its true grassroots nature and strong engagement with the community. Yet maintaining member involvement is a sustained effort for the project staff. This is a very common challenge for many community initiatives.

At its core, the Binners’ Project aims to decrease stigma surrounding binning (also called dumpster diving). Binners and staff work collaboratively to build new income-generating opportunities. We do so by fostering face-to-face interactions between binners, residents, and the community at large, in Vancouver and Montreal.

Initially a One Earth / Cities for People initiative, the Binners’ Project secured a grant in 2015/16 from the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation allowing it to test several pilot programs. In only one year, those burgeoned and we saw an influx of interest from binners and from the public. The Binners’ Project is now a project on Tides Canada’s shared platform, which supports on-the-ground efforts.

Despite the success amongst participating binners, one of the biggest challenges we face this year is relying on their steady engagement. Consistent participation and reliability is the greatest source of anxiety for our staff, as the demand from the community and clients increases.


Our community evaluation, conducted in the Spring 2016, demonstrated that members regularly involved with the Binners’ Project felt a remarkable impact on their overall wellbeing. However, most of our members lack stability in their lives, which prevents them from fully benefiting from our programs. Barriers include, but are not limited to, housing insecurity, addictions, mental health issues, physical disabilities, abuse, gender-related tensions and/or homelessness. These of course are drawbacks to consistent engagement.

Based on our two years of experience organising regular meetings and workshops, we now believe that the emphasis must be on fostering a web of interconnected individuals. Building tight network around and amongst group members is the best strategy to overcome involvement inconsistency.

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