Reflections on the SFU Community Economic Development Program

Kristina Roberts is one of 22 students that recently took part in the Simon Fraser University’s Community Economic Development Certificate Program, hosted by Thrive. Kristina captures the importance of the human element in our systems, which is something that certainly gets accentuated in a living local economy.

 

Below are some thoughts on her experience. And the full article can be found on the JS Daw and Associates website. Thanks Kristina for sharing some of your learnings!

 

Reflections on the SFU Community Economic Development Program

By Kristina Roberts

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I recently completed the professional certificate program in Community Economic Development (CED) through Simon Fraser University. I initially applied for this program because I wanted to gain a deeper perspective to bring to my work here at JS Daw & Associates. I wanted to see how actions taken at the grassroots level might align with the CSR and community initiatives of our clients. Over the past five months, I have learned a lot and had a really awesome experience. I hope to share some of my learning with you!

What is CED and Why is it Important?
In modern western society, we are conditioned to believe that competition for money, financial status and material goods can fulfill our need for meaning, purpose, and relationships. Capitalism has transformed many of our relationships into services and our natural resources into products. The missing connections to nature and a sense of community have created an emotional void that people feel can only be filled through consumption. The insatiable needs and wants of consumers lead to economic growth. Economic growth has been deemed as necessary – if the economy isn’t growing, it’s dying. But economic growth isn’t always the wonderful phenomenon it’s made out to be. As the economy grows and the GDP increases, it directly correlates to an increase in environmental damage and social inequity. Why must there be a trade-off between economic prosperity and environmental/social well-being? Why does this need to be an ultimatum?

Perhaps one answer to this conundrum could be CED, which I’ve come to understand as: the ways in which we can restructure our relationships with each other and nature in order to secure long-term well-being and a sustainable future.

Practical Action: What can be done?
Michael Schuman, author of Local Dollars Local Sense, taught us that building a resilient economy was all about becoming as self-reliant as possible and maximizing the number of local jobs. He outlined the myriad of environmental and community benefits that stem from localizing the economy, such as reduced carbon emissions from transportation and increased support for local charities and events. What’s more, there is a multiplier effect — buying local keeps four times the amount of money circulating in the local economy.

Final Thoughts
Working on strategic plans for community engagement and partnership development at the organizational level can sometimes cause me to lose sight of the more human element of this work. Every individual in the program (as in life) had their own story and had overcome their own unique challenges. After 5 months in the program together, everyone felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable and authentic. This program served as a really good reminder that our economy is made up of real people.

I would highly recommend this program to anyone who wants to explore the alternatives to the dominant systems at work in our society, and the narrowly defined roles of our institutions. Exploring and testing out these alternatives is becoming increasingly critical. As our instructor for “Sustainability of People, the Planet and Places”, Sean Markey advised: if we’re going achieve a sustainable and equitable world with 8.2 billion people, we’re going to have to get weird.

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