Com­mu­nity re­newal

Cri­sis or cre­ativ­ity?

Cape Breton Post - - BUSINESS EXTRA - David Rae Cape Bre­ton Busi­ness Ven­turer

An event held ear­lier this month, the Com­mu­nity In­no­va­tion and So­cial En­ter­prise con­fer­ence at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity (CBU) from July 8-10, war­rants a closer ex­am­i­na­tion.

At­tended by 260 peo­ple from more than seven coun­tries, this was any­thing but a dry aca­demic gath­er­ing. Linked to the well-es­tab­lished MBA in Com­mu­nity Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, the third bi­en­nial con­fer­ence brought to­gether not only aca­demic re­searchers, but so­cial en­trepreneurs and in­no­va­tors, thought-lead­ers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and man­agers from the so­cial and com­mu­nity en­ter­prise sec­tors.

The group which had trav­elled fur­thest, from the Hansalim Con­sumers Co-op­er­a­tive in South Korea, Korea’s big­gest con­sumer co-op­er­a­tive, also brought the mes­sage that an in­te­grated ap­proach to co-op­er­a­tive farm­ing, pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­bu­tion and fi­nance can work ex­tremely well, re­ward­ing pro­duc­ers fairly whilst fol­low­ing eth­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal prin­ci­ples. Com­par­isons were made with Ital­ian co-op­er­a­tives in Emilio Ro­magna and Trentino.

Guest speaker Mike Lewis ex­plored chal­leng­ing ideas on the need for re­silience in econ­omy, hous­ing, energy and re­source use to ad­dress the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion trends world­wide, to­gether with pos­si­ble so­lu­tions from a range of projects.

Vis­it­ing key­note speaker Pro­fes­sor Colin Ma­son from the Univer­sity of Glas­gow pre­sented ap­proaches to en­tre­pre­neur­ial fi­nance, which have di­rect rel­e­vance to the in­vest­ment needs of busi­ness in Nova Sco­tia.

Closer to home, many speak­ers from CBU and Cana­dian or­gan­i­sa­tions pre­sented re­search find­ings on com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment, re­fer­ring back in some cases to the pi­o­neer­ing Antigo­nish Move­ment and the work of Coady and Tomp­kins from the 1920s. Liv­ing proof that their in­spi­ra­tion con­tin­ues to carry the flame was pro­vided by Pro­fes­sor Greg MacLeod and Rankin MacSween, pres­i­dent of New Dawn.

Danny Graham led the fi­nal morn­ing’s dis­cus­sion cen­tred on the En­gage Nova Sco­tia move­ment and the fa­mil­iar chal­lenges we face in this province. His com­mit­ment to en­gag­ing peo­ple “not in the room” and out­side the cir­cle of “Al­pha male” lead­ers was sin­cere and heart­felt.

In a mem­o­rable clos­ing in­ter­ven­tion, Rankin MacSween ex­claimed “This com­mu­nity is dy­ing … but I am in­cred­i­bly op­ti­mistic!”

The ef­fect of Rankin’s decla­ma­tion was to stim­u­late con­tri­bu­tions from peo­ple at the mar­gins of the ‘of­fi­cial’ con­fer­ence – Black Nova Sco­tians, in­ter­na­tional im­mi­grants, young peo­ple from com­mu­nity projects, and very ar­tic­u­late women – that they did not see their com­mu­ni­ties were dy­ing at all, but that their projects and or­gan­i­sa­tions are trans­form­ing peo­ple, their ex­pec­ta­tions and their op­por­tu­ni­ties, present and fu­ture.

This re­ac­tion should cer­tainly give Rankin and us all cause for op­ti­mism and rea­sons to pro­vide prac­ti­cal sup­port and back­ing to com­mu­nity-based projects which are en­gag­ing peo­ple and groups who have great po­ten­tial, but who are of­ten dis­re­garded and seen to be at the mar­gins by the RAM truck-driv­ing main­stream. An ex­am­ple is the Hope Blooms pro­ject in North End Hal­i­fax, which in­volves young peo­ple ‘at risk’ in a com­mu­nity gar­den pro­ject pro­duc­ing food and ben­e­fit­ing health, well-be­ing and so­cial in­clu­sion in many ways.

So what does this mean for the main­stream Cape Bre­ton reader who did not hap­pen to be at, or even know about, this con­fer­ence?

First, peo­ple came here – and will re­turn – be­cause there is a unique fo­cus on com­mu­nity in­no­va­tion and re­newal which con­nects prac­ti­cal ap­proaches with in­no­va­tion, re­search and ed­u­ca­tion. In many ways, Cape Bre­ton and this province con­tinue to be a liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory for the in­no­va­tions and so­cial move­ments which can trans­form dy­ing into resur­gent com­mu­ni­ties.

Sec­ond, as a wise col­league re­marked: “you can al­ways sell hope!” There was plenty of hope, in­spi­ra­tion and en­cour­age­ment from peo­ple do­ing things, some big and many small, which are mak­ing many dif­fer­ences to their com­mu­ni­ties. These ideas pro­vide a counter-ar­gu­ment to the all-too-pre­vail­ing dis­course of de­cline that noth­ing can be done. Peo­ple can make a dif­fer­ence in their com­mu­ni­ties.

We should recog­nise the energy of Ge­orge Kara­phillis and his team at CBU who or­gan­ised the con­fer­ence, and the spon­sors who sup­ported it. Their chal­lenge will be to im­prove on this in 2017.

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