Serving remote communities

I’ve been at Vancity for almost 10 years. In those years, I’ve worked on many exciting, innovative and impactful projects. Recently I worked on one that has meant more to me than almost any other.

Last summer, three rural and remote communities in BC lost their financial institutions. In these days of the populace being (understandably) angry at banks, we sometimes overlook the need for a community to have a local banking option. Without the presence of a local financial institution, people have to leave their communities to do their banking.

Last summer a small group of us at Vancity (including Stewart Anderson, our Community Investment Manager accountable for Aboriginal Partnerships) started talking to the ʼNa̱mǥis First Nation and the Village of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, off the coast of northern Vancouver Island. We saw that their local economic resilience was severely damaged without a local FI. People were forced to take an expensive ferry ride off-island every time they needed to do their banking (or help their elderly parents do their banking). This took up a good chunk of their productive day. It also took more money than you might guess out of the local economy. When people have to leave the island for their banking, they’re pretty likely to get their hair done, pick up their hardware and groceries, or fill up with gas while they’re in a bigger city.

Without a local banking option, fast forward, say, ten years and the community will see many businesses shutter, and the number of tourists decline. Small communities can’t afford that. Honestly, no one can.

We began working on a mutually beneficial arrangement that could sustainably support the needs of the community. In the ʼNa̱mǥis First Nation and the Village of Alert Bay, we found great partners with whom we knew we could build a strong partnership based on reciprocity – a partnership steeped in the co-operative principles.

On May 20th we opened our 59th branch on Cormorant Island, striking up an important partnership between Vancity, the ʼNa̱mǥis First Nation and the Village of Alert Bay.

What makes us think we can support a rural and remote community when others haven’t been able to? It can be summed up in one word: Intentions.

If our intentions are to put maximizing our profits above anything else and run each branch exactly the same regardless of the unique community needs in which it exists, then I would predict our success to be low. We began instead with asking our potential partners, “What do you need?” We kept our focus on the needs of the community and then brainstormed how we might serve their needs. We never lost sight of the ultimate prize, which was local economic resilience on Cormorant Island. With that in mind, we then figured out how to solve their problems while still earning a return from the arrangement.

This isn’t about a hand out. This is a hands-together model. If this was charity, then it would result in a relationship with an asymmetrical power dynamic. This would lead to failure, I am sure, especially given the horrible history of how the First Nations have been treated. It would also create the risk that if the branch lost money continuously, at some point Vancity could decide to change direction.

Time will tell if our business case was correct and whether we can run the branch and serve the needs of the community sustainably for all partners involved. I certainly believe we’ve got the right ingredients for tremendous success and support for a community that requires independent economic resilience. I know we’re going to learn a lot from doing things differently in the process.

Originally published on the CU Water Cooler.

On the spectrum.

I’ve never spoken publicly about autism.

I speak at conferences about my work and communities and co-ops and such, but my personal life has never been a source of material. Until now.

In October at the CU Water Cooler Symposium, I’ll be speaking about my experience raising a creative, talented, self-aware, anxious, sensitive and sometimes volatile boy who has gained great gifts and terrible burdens from his autism. I’ll be exploring the power that comes from focusing on a “special interest”, and how harnessing that interest can help people overcome great challenges in their lives.

For my son, his special interest is music. By the time he turned ten, he had finished three albums of original rock songs and would jump at any opportunity to play live for people. He can write and record a song in the time it takes me to write a blog post. Sometimes less. His music has an honesty and innocence that I find awe-inspiring and humbling.

He says that he owes his musical gifts to his autism – in fact his musical pseudonym is a nod to his disorder: he goes by Spectra.

I’ll be speaking about my experience with my son and his autism, and then Spectra will join me on stage to perform a few of his original songs, showing off his tremendous talent, confidence and creativity. Afterwards he and I will jointly do a Q&A with the audience to explore what it means to be autistic, and have a special interest to unlock our potential.

It will be a unique experience, and I hope a special time for all of us. Join us at the CU Water Cooler Symposium in Kansas City, Missouri this October to take part.

Originally published on the CU Water Cooler.

Launch of the Co-op Water Cooler.

We are stronger together.

Co-op Water Cooler

We co-ops are a splintered bunch. Credit Unions tend to be isolated from the rest of the co-op world, food co-ops can be distinct from housing co-ops, who don’t know the electric co-ops, who don’t really interact with worker co-ops.

And yet society needs us. We are a big part of the solution to what ails our world of growing inequality, a polluted and warming environment, lack of access to local, healthy food, and jobs that don’t pay a living wage. And to transform our society to one that starts to heal these issues, we as cooperators need to be more connected. We need to learn from each other, engage, debate, discuss, and meet up.

So I am very exited to help launch the new Co-op Water Cooler. My hope is that this site can be part of the connectivity. I look forward to all the discussions we’re going to have with cooperators far and wide.

Hello and welcome!

Guest appearance on co-op radio.

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I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been wanting to be a guest on Robin Puga‘s local radio show, Each For All for some time now. It’s a show on Vancouver’s co-op radio station about, you guessed it, co-ops.

Well tonight was my lucky night, because I was invited to be on the show as the Board Chair of Modo along with our great CEO, Nathalie Baudoin to speak about car sharing, the co-operative model and where we’re going.

It was archived for your listening pleasure, so check it out… (Note: the archive of the show has expired.)