Inclusion is a word we use often in our social innovation sector. What does inclusion look like in practice? What are the policies, frameworks and models we need to implement and scale to build an inclusive economy as we recover from COVID-19?
That’s where the Inclusive Economy For Mid-Sized Cities Network comes in. Working across three mid-sized cities (Kingston, London and Windsor), the Inclusive Economy Network formed to connect community organizations, institutional policy makers, and local economic development innovators to scale practices that foster equity, economic stability and resilience in local economies. These practices can look like community benefit agreements, social procurement policies, and establishing social enterprises and community-owned businesses.
This summer, the network launched the SI4 Fellowship, a twelve-week program designed to support three participants – one from each of the mid-sized cities – as they work on a project in their community to develop more inclusive practices. Our Social Innovation Specialist, Jo Reynolds, along with André Vashist (who served as the fourth fellow of the SI4) facilitated weekly group meetings, mentorship sessions, and a speaker series to support the fellows as they navigate their projects. “What’s special about our first cohort is we prioritized people of racialized backgrounds. […] We told our partners: ‘anyone you recommend for this project has to be coming from a perspective that is usually underrepresented in these spaces.’ That’s been a highlight of this project so far for me,” André explored. Let’s meet the fellows, shall we?
First up, meet Vanessa! She’s working on a social procurement pilot project with Michael Clark Construction in London. What does that mean? Traditionally, when construction companies source their materials, they typically focus on product quality and cost. As Vanessa explains, in a social procurement process, a company like Michael Clark would start asking more questions, like “how are you paying your employees? How diverse is your employee base? How are you sourcing your materials?” These factors, along with cost and quality, determine who gets the contract, thereby incentivizing vendors to take on more inclusive practices.
To streamline the process, Vanessa created a questionnaire Michael and Clark Construction can give to their vendors to understand how their vendors shape up and who gets the money on the next project. It’s one small step that has the potential for huge impact. One construction company with one questionnaire could quickly become industry standard and from there, the whole market shifts.
Without experience in construction or social procurement, Vanessa says she started the project feeling imposter syndrome. A conversation with André quickly changed her mindset. He told her, “we’re not going in as experts [in the field]. We’re going in as enablers for social transformation for this organization.” Many companies don’t develop inclusive practices because they don’t have the time, money or desire to make the shift. Through the fellowship, Vanessa began the process for them. Now, the questionnaire is being tested and Michael and Clark Construction is committed to doing their part to build an inclusive economy.
Working with Keys Job Centre in Kingston, Bruna is developing a Workplace Inclusion Charter. The charter is designed for businesses and organizations of all sizes and at all stages of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. All signatories commit to develop and implement an action plan for their organizations that will improve inclusion for a particular population over the course of one year. By signing the Charter Declaration, organizations are taking the first step toward becoming more inclusive.
Bruna says many companies want to become more inclusive but don’t know how to start. The charter provides a framework. Once committed, organizations can consult with Key’s Inclusion Coaches (Bruna included) to assess how their organization can improve. Bruna says, the fellowship strengthened her work as an Inclusion Coach: “Because of the fellowship, I now know multiple [inclusive] methodologies that I didn’t know before. We had guest speakers explain to us not only the theory, but the praxis.”
Working for United Way, Anam is deep into the design process of a major multi-stakeholder project. More than fifty leading organizations in the Windsor-Essex region are working together to address childhood poverty. They’ve adopted a strategy, Cradle to Careers, that aims to transform communities beyond what a single program or initiative could achieve. With this major goal comes major process questions. That’s where Anam comes in. She is working on a decision-making process that provides direction for the more than fifty organizations to ask questions like, “How are we going to decide whether we are going to take up this work or not? Whether we are going to take up this advocacy issue or not?” Reaching consensus with so many stakeholders is a logistical feat. Her decision-making framework will ensure the project can continue moving forward by building structure into the design process.
Anam says she has learned it all comes back to the people. No matter what, through every decision, the process must remain centred on, by, and for the community. Sounds like a pretty brilliant working definition of inclusion if you ask me.