Victoria Breakwater, Building an Inclusive Economy

Building an Inclusive Economy

Last fall, the Victoria Foundation and Coast Capital Savings hosted a conversation about inclusive economies and what we need to do to create one for the Capital Regional District. Moderated by Victoria mayor Lisa Helps, the panel discussed some of the concerns identified in the 2021 Vital Signs report, a comprehensive annual community check-up to measure the critical components facing the region. “Our theme for the 2021 Vital Signs report was equity and inclusion,” shared Sandra Richardson, CEO of the Victoria Foundation. “Our survey results and our secondary data show that while there are many positives in our community, there is also a lot of work still to be done, especially in coming to terms with creating a more equitable society.”

We recently connected with two of the panellists, economic innovators Christina Clarke and Narinder Dhami, to get a better understanding of what needs to be done to propel us toward an inclusive economy.


Unlocking Talent

An essential part of building an inclusive economy is making sure nobody is left behind. “The diversity of thought you get from creating an inclusive economy is invaluable and rich with innovation and possibility, and it leads to further innovation and development,” shared Christina Clarke, CEO of Songhees Development Corporation. “Talent is equally distributed across societies, but opportunity is not. With marginalized people, there’s lots of talent locked in poverty that we need to unleash. For example, a friend of mine is an Indigenous entrepreneur, but he’s trapped in a full-time job that he needs just for subsistence, a job that provides just enough to be able to live in this region. He’s trying to find the space and energy to create a business, but he doesn’t have the cushion nor opportunities that other folks might have access to. It’s time for us to realize, ‘Hey, there are people left out of this who would benefit from being included’ — because we’d all benefit from them being included too.”

“As stakeholders in the economy, we need to understand and be aware of one another’s challenges, needs, goals, and priorities. We need to talk to one another, share our stories with one another, and celebrate one another. That understanding will lead to better — and more inclusive — decision making.” — Christina Clarke, CEO, Songhees Development Corporation

Good intentions aren’t enough. “Inclusive economies make sure nobody is left behind,” said Christina. “There’s a lack of inclusion for some members of marginalized groups, and sometimes it’s self-imposed, where they don’t feel welcome in certain spaces because they don’t see themselves reflected in those spaces. We need to make a conscious effort in every space to demonstrate that it’s inclusive.”

Leveraging Our Strength of Diversity

Narinder Dhami is the executive lead and co-founder of New Power Labs, a national organization focused on growing capital for underfunded and overlooked communities. She shared her thoughts on what needs to be done to build an inclusive economy in Victoria: “As a first step, we need to build awareness and understanding of our current state and be proactive in examining ourselves and our processes — challenging the status quo because maintaining it increases inequality. We can move forward through greater understanding and alignment and by addressing the biases we all hold and that exist across our systems. Learning how we as a sector and a collective come together to support each other’s equity and inclusion journey will enable us to do more.”

“One diversity lens that tends to secure less discussion and focus is socioeconomic class. When we think about inclusion, gender representation matters, ethnic representation matters, and other types of diversity matter, but we often do not have diversity of socioeconomic class, which is detrimental to creating solutions that are successful for our full society and community.” — Narinder Dhami, executive lead and co-founder, New Power Labs

One of the biggest challenges to creating an inclusive economy is that those who hold power are not reflective of the broader Canadian community. This is apparent in the decisions being made around the needs of underrepresented communities. “Listening and bringing in diverse voices is vital,” said Narinder. “It’s not only about representation: it’s ensuring inclusion and that these diverse leaders hold power. Right now, we’re not unlocking the potential of our population in ways that are effective for prosperity and inclusivity.”

The benefits of an inclusive economy are significant. “Not only is it the morally right thing to do, but it’s the economically prosperous path forward for Canada,” said Narinder. “With our declining population, we need to leverage our strength of skilled, diverse talent to build better opportunities and enable greater economic growth.”

The next edition of the Victoria Vital Signs report will be out this fall, and we hope to see the needle moving in the right direction in terms of how our community perceives our economy. We recognize that there is a lot of work to do still, but with a solid plan and the right people, we can celebrate the progress as we march towards the goal.