A spotlight on Agent of Change Nayeon Kim
Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. They’re filled with passion, drive, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to create a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world for all.
We’re profiling five participants from Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals — an 8-week, impact-driven course that taught 100 youth how to use the tools and tactics of social entrepreneurship to work towards the achievement of the SDGs. Nayeon’s work touches on a number of Sustainable Development Goals, namely SDG 1: No Poverty, SDG 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth, and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities.
Nayeon Kim’s voice is measured as she describes the systems that have caused (and perpetuate) poverty, how it has affected our neighbourhoods, and the gaps that need to be closed to truly address this issue. She speaks with confidence and clarity, her wit and determination to make a difference shining through.
Three years ago, Nayeon moved to Regent Park and became more and more involved in the community. The youth in the neighbourhood have always been top-of-mind for her, and she saw a gap in the work happening as part of the Regent Park Revitalization Plan: “While this billion-dollar revitalization has been going on, we haven’t been able to see a lot of jobs coming out, lives changed.”
An idea began to take root in her mind when she identified gaps that could turn into a sustainable economic opportunity in her neighbourhood: youth are struggling to find meaningful jobs in the neighbourhood, and condo buildings have struggled to find reliable and timely landscaping services in Regent Park.
“There is a huge gap, and this is an amazing opportunity, because a lot of young people get into landscaping in summer jobs,” she said.
Nayeon envisions an employment social enterprise (ESE) that would train and hire young people to provide landscaping services for buildings right in their neighbourhood in Regent Park.
For the youth who are facing barriers to employment and currently only being offered precarious employment (like fast food and retail), Nayeon’s ESE would offer more than a summer job: it’s a pathway to a long-term career.
“Landscaping is an area where you can upskill,” explained Nayeon, “which is a really important thing when you think about the future of work. Upskilling through education and experience opens doors for a lot of other opportunities.”
And their responsibilities won’t be limited to trimming trees and cutting grass: Nayeon also sees them getting involved with murals and urban agriculture.
“Food security is a huge issue across the city, especially in neighbourhoods with lower income families,” she said. “So in areas like this, through landscaping, we can think about creating more vegetation, creating community gardens, creating vertical gardens.”
The youth hired through Nayeon’s ESE will be trained and will get to shape and maintain their neighbourhood with their own hands — something that can be massively rewarding.
Community-based solutions like Nayeon’s are powerful. At the end of the day, her ESE won’t be dependent on government funding or a grant: it will actually be a sustainable business that helps create a sustainable economy within the neighbourhood it serves.
Nayeon believes that community solutions must come from residents who have lived expertise and sees the pandemic as an impetus to create systems change.
“I think [the government and social service sector] have come to a place where we recognize the importance of lived experience, but sometimes we stop at the arms-length committee level. We need to go beyond that and put residents in positions of power as partners so we can drive change that will directly impact our neighbourhoods.”
Right now, governments and social service organizations tend to see folks who live in poverty and BIPOC as service recipients. However, it’s important to acknowledge these individuals’ power, resilience, and strength. We must shift our mindset to think of them as leaders and champions who can actively create change in their own neighbourhoods.
“That’s how we create opportunities where we’re enabling residents to contribute in a way that’s going to support their own lives and also support our city.”
Nayeon joined CSI’s Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program in 2020 to improve her entrepreneurial skills and turn her vision into reality. As Nayeon continues to build her ESE, she’s looking for connections with other entrepreneurs who have built ESEs, and folks who work in housing and development within Regent Park, and a mentor who can help her strengthen her business plan. (Get in touch here!)
And as we inch closer to a post-COVID-19 world, Nayeon reflects on the changes she hopes to see.
“I want our world to be a little bit more equitable and just: a fair place for everyone. So that things you can’t control, like what you look like when you’re born, the family you’re born into — whether that is race, class, gender — don’t become a determinant for how your life is going to turn out,” she said. “Who you are is a barrier in itself, and so many people are falling behind because of it. If that continues, it comes at a cost of people’s lives being lost. […] We can’t afford to do that anymore. […] So I would love our city to be a fair place, a just place, an equitable place, where everyone gets a decent chance at a good life.”
Our Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program is designed to equip the next generation of changemakers with the skills, resources, and coaching they need to make an impact. Check out other stories from program participants here!
Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals is made possible with the support of the Government of Canada.