This post originally appeared on the Local Economic Development Lab blog.
David Harris-Koblin is currently completing his Master’s degree at the School of Public Administration at UVic. David is a Project Coordinator with LEDlab, working with the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association (HxBIA) on connecting local businesses, social enterprises and non-profits.
After finishing my first year as a graduate student, I was ready to apply my theoretical knowledge to the practical world; entering my work-study term, I hit the ground running, naively expecting to implement systemic change instantaneously. But upon entering the DTES, I quickly realized that producing meaningful change is much more complicated.
This initial roadblock was in part due to the DTES’ enigmatic composition. The area’s distinct cultures and residents, colonial and indigenous histories, and contemporary political challenges are unique within Canada and the world. As a newcomer, the daily revelations of its endless paradoxes have been profound: its poor and rich, and the widening economic disparity between them; its tired infrastructure and brilliant new architecture; and the unbelievable warmth of its residents, despite the weight of the deadly crises they face. These diverse complexities limit the efficacy of any singular public policy, and necessitate an equally complex, multi-level resolution.
My work with the LEDlab serves in many ways to amend these paradoxes and help make a more equitable business culture within the DTES. Partnering with HxBIA, I am developing tools to bridge local business/property owners with social enterprises, in an effort to promote social hiring and procurement practices. In this role, I am actively trying to rewrite the narrative that these partnerships are an act of charity, instead explicating how these new relationships can remedy the current labour shortage within the DTES by providing businesses with a pool of qualified, local candidates, who slip through the current employment paradigm. By slowly taking down the walls which typically limit communication within the private sector, and unifying HxBIA’s members as a collective, my work hopes to create greater economic success for businesses and DTES residents, in addition to the resultant social good associated with employment.
Thus far, my work with LEDlab and HxBIA has been deliberate and slow moving. It relies on an iterative process which tests hypothesise, and with each setback, crafts a more realistic, and meaningful strategy. Unlike my work in academia, in which I can study at my own pace, toiling away in isolation, my work with HxBIA is inherently intersectional and collaborative. Relying on the expertise of residents, business leaders, non-profits, and city staff, the cyclical process of testing and reworking these policies has demonstrated the need for meaningful coalitions between every stakeholder.
Challenging my first instinct, the protracted process of developing a sustainable series of tools and programs for HxBIA’s membership has taught me to focus on the small, daily victories of my work. These include interactions as small as a great conversation with a business owner, a productive email chain, attending community events and celebrations, or stopping for a moment to say hello to a resident on the street. In my time as a Project Coordinator, I have witnessed HxBIA unify DTES neighbours, and support the resilience of the community in the face of prolonged hardships. Moving forward, these changes will accumulate, and hopefully coalesce, unifying a network of Vancouverites to support the exceptionality of the DTES.
You can learn more about my project here.