IN THIS ISSUE 🪧
➡️ Syrian-Canadian 🇸🇾🇨🇦 creator, Saif Shawaf, visited Dundas Square in Toronto to check on anxiety levels about Gaza
➡️ CivicAction held its “Changemakers Needed” Summit in Toronto to find solutions to the region’s biggest problems. It is held every 4 years.
➡️ An interview with Paul Taylor on how to level the playing field and who gets a seat at the table.
➡️ Spinning Forward wins New Business of the Year Award 🏆
QUOTE OF THE WEEK 📜
CivicAction brings together Changemakers across the GTHA to tackle big challenges 🧗🏽♀️
CivicAction held its “Changemakers Needed” Summit in Toronto on October 13th bringing together hundreds of diverse leaders from various sectors and industries to find solutions to the biggest challenges facing the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). Founded by David Pecaut in 2002, CivicAction's mission as a non-profit organization is to boost civic engagement and create better, more inclusive cities.
Meet people with different lived experiences yet share common values
Leslie Woo is a longtime architect, urban planner and community builder and was appointed CEO of CivicAction in 2020. She is also a senior fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Originally from Trinidad, she was named one of the top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award winners in 2023 by Canadian Immigrant Magazine, which celebrates the achievements of Canadian immigrants.
In an interview with Canadian Immigrant Magazine, she offered advice to aspiring Changemakers and city builders:
“Do not be afraid to continually build new relationships with others who are not like yourself and be curious. Find those kindred spirits who, while they may have different lived experiences or come from different industries, have common values that allow for growth.”
We're at a tipping point
Woo thinks the GTAH region is at a tipping point with a confluence of big problems converging into significant hardship and financial insecurity for the most vulnerable. There are a plethora of issues like housing, groceries, transportation, schooling and health care. In an op-ed for the Toronto Star, she wrote,
"If these challenges are left unsolved, the GTHA may experience a socio-economic shock, and see homelessness grow, social services stretched to a breaking point, seniors pushed into poverty, small businesses close and families move away. The pain will be felt disproportionately by already vulnerable communities who deserve better, and it will spread and impact us all.
Leveling the playing field. Who gets a seat at the table? 🪑
One of the the summit's themes addressed The Prosperity Gap with a session titled: "Leveling the Playing Field Accelerating Economic Mobility for Those Being Left Behind". The format included a panel discussion followed by group conversations and solutions by each participant at each table on ways to reduce the region's growing economic equality. The panelists included Paul Taylor, the former Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto and co-founder and principal consultant of Evenings and Weekends Consulting, Dani Saad, Senior Advisor for the Office of the Prime Minister, and Roselle Martino, Vice President of Public Policy for the Toronto Region Board of Trade. The panel was moderated by Emily Mills, founder of How She Hustles and the 2017 CivicAction DiverseCity Fellow.
CivicAction is still in the process of distilling key points from the summit and will share publicly soon.
One panelist, Paul Taylor made a comment that resonates with Spinning Forward's audience, which are younger marginalized people of color and content creators who are 16 to 34 years old in the Toronto region. Taylor pointed out that the most important people that we need to prioritize - those being left behind - are not at the table.
ALLIES & ADVOCATES 🌅
Paul Taylor Interview: Meeting marginalized people where they are
After the summit, Spinning Forward spoke with Paul Taylor, co-founder and principal consultant of Evenings and Weekends Consulting. The following interview is an abbreviated version.
Spinning Forward: What’s behind the statement you made in your session at the CivicAction summit? You said something to the effect that the most important people - those left behind - are not at the table. There were lots of important people there.
Taylor: Important people to me are the people who are profoundly affected by the wicked problems that we face. Those are the important people that we need to be prioritizing. And I think it requires a fundamental rethink of one, who we think is important, and two, recognizing the way that white universalism has continued to leave many of us behind.
White folks are disproportionately tasked and resourced with solution finding for issues that disproportionately racialized people, and people with disabilities have been forced to navigate. So, I think that's actually at the crux of some of this.
It's who receives the resources, who do we trust, who do we believe, who do we value in terms of being able to offer insights to combating some of the wicked problems that we face?
When I think about food insecurity, I think about the ways in which largely middle class white folks have been allowed to dictate and decide the types of interventions that are most helpful, community gardens, or even any food-based program, when really at the crux of the issue, for so many of us is systemic racism and white supremacy. Until we're willing to have real and honest conversations about the inequities caused by anti-indigeneity and racism and white supremacy, we are not going to get further ahead.
Spinning Forward: Is the solution then to invite the people to the table who have fallen behind?
Taylor: I think it's about going beyond inviting people to the table, but actually taking a step back and saying, “Wait a minute, should I be leading here? Should I be the one driving solutions? Should I be a resource to drive solutions?” Or are there other organizations or groups that are more appropriate for us to be taking our cues from? And I think that's something that doesn't happen.
Spinning Forward: Does that mean those in positions of power and influence should meet people who are struggling where they are?
Taylor: Absolutely. It's about saying the space where young people are already, where they already feel comfortable, where people with disabilities already feel comfortable, where people who are low income already feel comfortable, where people who are racialized or indigenous already feel comfortable. Those are the spaces that we should be holding up, we should be resourcing, we should be supporting as part of solution finding.
When we force people to exist on the margins, they're forced to do just that, forced to exist and find ways to exist. So it's really important, I think, to take cues from folks who are navigating the injustice and who are finding ways to persevere, those are the first folks who should be articulating what needs to change.
Spinning Forward: How do we build trust with people on the margins?
Taylor: I actually think that it's not trust that needs to be built, it's actually power that needs to move. So we need to look at things like, if you want a tangible example, looking at things like how someone goes from being a low income person to being an elected official, to occupying those spaces in decision making rooms. How someone goes from navigating food insecurity to leading a food charity or working on policy, social economic policy.
I don't think it's about ad-hoc consultations or conversations about big issues. It’s actually about moving power and recognizing where solutions exist is not going to be in this room with some of the most powerful or highest paid people in our city.
And I think it's those folks that actually have to cede some power and recognize that they don't have the answers to the issues that have been disproportionately bestowed on people that don't look like them.
Spinning Forward: Do people in positions with access and resources prefer to focus on self-preservation? They want to be inclusive but often aren’t because their reality is different.
Taylor: It's not even self-preservation, I would say. It's that folks actually don't know what they don't know. So they can't be tasked with designing supports for communities for whom they have no lived experience.
Spinning Forward: Can you describe an example where decision makers don’t know what they don’t know?
Taylor: Let's take food insecurity. Our preoccupation when it comes to food insecurity with community gardens. Community gardens are great, and perhaps leaders of food-based organizations have historically thought community gardens are an important intervention when it comes to food insecurity. It sounds like something that makes a lot of sense.
When you look at, for example, a social housing site that has community gardens, the number of plots is not equal to the number of residents. But yet those types of interventions get held up as solutions when really, I think it distracts us from when it comes to an issue like food insecurity that's really about income.
We end up being distracted by these food-based responses that folks think are what folks ought to be able to have access to because that's what they have access to, being able to garden.
Sure, yes, being able to garden is important, but not positioning it as a solution to food insecurity. There's no data that suggests having access to a community garden has any impact on food insecurity at all.
RESILIENCE HACKS 💪🏾 ✌🏽💯
The wisdom of crowds is about real diversity
James Surowiecki reminds us in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, about the positive effects of diversity and better problem solving.
But who defines diversity and what does real diversity look like at its best? Surowiecki wrote about an experiment at the University of Michigan. It involved one group that was made up of smart agents, who were intellectually endowed with "book smart" skills. The other group was characterized as "not-so-smart" who might be viewed more as less "book smart", with fewer academic credentials and letters beside their names.
Decision makers with power sometimes prefer to choose people like themselves with a similar education background. Yet, most of us have met successful “street” smart entrepreneurs and Changemakers, who didn't fit in at school or the corporate world and dropped out to build something by solving a problem.
The Michigan study found that a diverse mix of "book smart" and "street smart" people coming together always do better than a group of just “smart” intellectuals. Diverse people with different skills, intelligence, and lived experiences makes everyone in the group and society better off.
Decision makers need to get better at meeting different people in different spaces with different lived experiences where they are.
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About Spinning Forward
My name is Flavian DeLima and I'm the editor and publisher of Spinning Forward. Spinning Forward is an independent media company that publishes a newsletter and soon a podcast about how creators of color thrive in the Toronto region.
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