Written by Shiva Mazrouei
Shiva Mazrouei is Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Doctors Without Borders Canada and is a passionate equity and inclusion advocate. Want to know more? Connect with Shiva.
In true millennial fashion, I have moved several times between cities for work, which had me looking for community and asking how to “build community.” In my millennial searching-for-meaning-in-life quest, questions also keep forming around how to meaningfully drive positive change and impact in community. It’s safe to say that community building has been a running theme in my head.
So when I saw that ELN was hosting ELN Rooted: 3 Ideas of Community Building, it was clear that the millennial (re: ELN & CivicAction) gods were answering my questions. From previous ELN events, I knew I was in for an evening of thought-provoking conversations, questions, and scrumptious food!
The Toronto Public Library in Parkdale served as the perfect setting for this community-centered event, where we heard from two incredible community leaders: Lindsay (Swooping Hawk) Kretschmer and Alicia Rose.
Speaking first, Lindsay (Swooping Hawk) Kretschmer, Executive Director of the Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council and current CivicAction DiverseCity Fellow, shared her principles of community engagement. Central to Lindsay’s message was a part of the Indigenous world view that all things are interconnected. She spoke about bringing people together and learning from different community leaders in order to leverage their strengths and shared concerns to drive change. Lindsay’s presentation told a story of identifying who is in your circle, getting uncomfortable, identifying how to collaborate with those outside your circle, and ensuring that no one is left behind. She also shared many practical tips, including her “Recipe for Community Building.”
Next, we heard from Alicia Rose, the current Corporate Citizenship Manger at TD and a former CivicAction DiverseCity Fellow. After years of work in the non-profit sector, Alicia transitioned to the private sector which informed her unique lens of what business community engagement can look like. Opening with the startling fact that 1 in 3 people do not feel a sense of belonging in the community where they live, Alicia spoke to what the private sector’s role in community engagement can be, beyond the usual role of “funders.” Referring to the power imbalance and relationship between the non-profit and private sectors, she challenged folks to always ask who should be at the decision-making table. To authentically engage in community as a business, Alicia recommended listing your organization’s main social gaps, then looking for ways to engage organizations working in community building beyond just supplying the funds. Seeing the nods across the room, Alicia spoke to many folks’ experiences with community building across sectors.
A delightful bonus for the evening: Abigail Moriah’s The Black Planning Project was also on display! This incredible photography exhibit features Black Canadian urban planners from across the country, and we heard from Abigail on how the lack of Black folks’ representation in urban planning spaces had led her to initiate this project.
The event hosts and ELN executives Gerri Lutaaya and Sarah Wardrope wrapped up by encouraging everyone to discuss group questions, but to also ask questions, in all forums, to continue meaningful conversations and impact in community engagement.
I left the event not only well-fed and with great energy, but with a fabulous recipe for, and new sense of what community building means to me: providing support and respect, creating and sharing resources, being invested in understanding needs, meaningful engagement, getting rooted and leaving no one behind.
Couldn’t make it? Check out what other ELNers took away from the event.