Innovators and entrepreneurs present bold ideas at ALT/NOW Summit to tackle widening economic inequality

Last October, Meseret Taye and Angela Bishop—two leaders from community foundations located in Vancouver and Halifax, respectively—presented their ideas to reduce rising economic inequality to an audience gathered in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s ALT/Now Economic Inequality Summit, a one-day conference that included 22 participant presenters in all, was the culmination of a rigorous, ten-month program whose ambitious purpose was to break away from old assumptions and solutions in order to foster innovative ideas that can change the way we work, live, and share resources.

In developing the program, the Banff Centre proposed two central questions: “How can we draw entrepreneurial people to work on what matters?” and “How can we act to bring new systems into being?” From January to October, both women developed their concepts and workshopped them during three separate residencies at the Banff Centre. In between those stays, they headed back home to better understand how people in their communities are experiencing inequality, on-the-ground realities they reported back to the group.

Early in the program, Taye—a Manager of Grants and Community Initiatives at Vancouver Foundation—chose to focus on childcare. Tasked by the program to articulate her concept first as a challenge statement, she asked: “How might we create affordable and accessible childcare options for working families?” By the time the came around, she had coalesced her thinking and research into a model for neighbourhood-based coop childcare. “This will address the high demand, unaffordable cost, long waitlist and inadequate childcare space challenges,” she said, explaining that the reduced expense would allow mothers in a tight financial spot to go back to work after maternity leave. Meanwhile, others who have part time jobs or work as stay-at-home parents would be able to generate or supplement incomes by caring for one or two children.

Bishop’s challenge statement was inspired more directly by her work as Executive Director at the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia: “How might we accelerate the catalytic power of philanthropy for change in communities?” Her answer, which she presented at the summit, was that older, wealthy philanthropists could benefit from linking up with Millennials. A younger generation who are just beginning their careers, she proposed, would have valuable information about where major donations could best grow new job opportunities.

During the ALT/Now Summit, Charles Leadbeater—one of the program’s advisors—synthesized all of the participants’ concepts into two main themes. “One was around the hunger for narrative,” said Laurie Edward, one of the program’s organizers, explaining that above and beyond a job, people want meaning and a purpose that ties their story into that of their community. The second theme, she said, was that everyone in a community—even the most well off—benefit from equality. “It’s better for people across the economic spectrum if resources flow more freely and there is shared prosperity generated by the economy.”

While the impact of the ideas generated at this inaugural ALT/Now Summit take effect, the Banff Centre isn’t waiting around—they’re already at work crafting a topic for the next one. And when it happens, community foundations leaders will be heading to the mountains once again.

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