Blog Post

An interview with Laura Mannix – innovation is in our sector’s DNA

By: Marco Campana
September 9, 2020

Laura Mannix is the Director of Community Development at DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society.

I spoke with Laura to talk about her work bringing social innovation culture into her organization, as well as how DIVERSECity has been able to pivot remotely. We talk about what all of that has meant for the kind of community work that they do and how it relates to newcomer and community engagement as well.

I find her journey towards innovation and how she incorporated it into her work really interesting and I think you’ll find her insights and experiences incredibly valuable.

Some themes from our conversation:

  • social innovation has to be focused on creating more more equitable communities and we need to dive into what the role of settlement is around that. That requires time and space to do that, have time for reflection, look at how social innovation values align with the sector’s, and really become equipped to think about the challenges of settlement, of our frameworks and the the entirety of what settlement is, and its impacts.
  • bringing social innovation into an immigrant and refugee-serving sector agency isn’t a “copy and paste” exercise. It’s a journey that values both new ideas as well as the experiences, ideas, approaches, and work that agency staff, newcomers, and communities bring.
  • Transforming your organization requires leadership that buys into that transformation, and gives the agency the space to do the work, prioritizing mentorship, capacity building and pathways.
  • Doing all of this means putting in the actual structures at a team level to facilitate those discussions in a systematic consistent way, so it just becomes second nature, and staff don’t feel threatened if they’re critical and open in their feedback.
  • The future of settlement work is blended. After this experience pivoting to remote work, there’s no going back. But there needs to be time and space to really look at what that means for structure, staffing, community, service, and technology infrastructure. Settlement work is always relationship-based work, and we cannot lose that. We also need to keep power, access, and vulnerability top of mind as well: “I have multiple your conversations and keep in touch with colleagues of mine that are discussing this. How do we sustain this at the moment because we know that this has disproportionately affected racialized folks and folks who work at our organizations and and, of course, the community members that we support. And so how do we then support our our teams through that and then expect them to continue to support community members through that? We’re still figuring it out.”

Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript using Otter.ai. The transcript has not been edited. It may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.

0:00
My name is Laura Mannix and I’m the Director of Community Development at diversity community resources society. And my pronouns are she her hers, and our work takes place on the ancestral traditional and unceded territories of the semi Amr katze katzie, kotlin, kotlin and musk come to us in First Nations and which is now referred to as Siri, Langley and delta. It’s a quieter right wide community. And I have the privilege of working with migrant communities. And my team provides support services that range from what what a settlement services to specialized, specialized services for more multiperiod folks that arrived, youth and community have Volunteer support services.

1:02
So a wide range of settlement services and community development work sounds like really important.

1:07
That’s it. And I think the the nuance there in particular is around the community development aspect. So really trying to look at how how we contribute to our society and and the folks that we work with, from moving it from what is traditional settlement framework, which is that recipient service, the recipient of services, to more of how do we then have supports that contribute to building more equitable and inclusive communities?

1:49
Right And I mean, this is something that in a lot of ways was the foundation of the sector. I I refer people a lot to the Canadian Council for refugees core values document from I think it’s 19 98 and all of those kinds of elements I just mentioned, are kind of there. And it seems along the way we’ve we’ve, we’ve lost a little bit of that, as a sector and in terms of even in terms of onboarding of new staff and things like that people aren’t aware of that sense of history. And and we talked about this a bit last year when you contributed to this the peace geek settlement 2.0 research and project. And, and so I want to speak a little bit more about and that was one of the things that came out in the research as well was those feelings, those sentiments, that foundation, even though people may have articulated it differently, is still very much there in the sector. In some ways, we’ve kind of come back full circle now, I think. And perhaps it’s because of social change movements, and just that sense of social justice in our communities, that settlement agencies are refining their roots in a lot of ways. And that came out pretty strongly in the report and in the conversation we had now we’ve prefaced it on innovation. And that was that was kind of the guiding question for piece cake. So I can kind of want to talk a little bit about that just around your work bringing innovation into diversity, as well as because of where we are now how your organization has been able to pivot remotely and what that’s meant for, for the kind of community work that you do and the client and community engagement as well. But maybe a little bit, because I find it really interesting about your own sort of journey towards innovation, and how you brought that into your agency and some of the experiences you had with that.

3:28
Yeah, I think that the term innovation and particularly social innovation, you know, has a particular leaning and, you know, what I what I’ve certainly began to understand as I moved through those, those learnings of social innovation is that it certainly is more it’s, it’s a space that can be a bit problematic, I would say, in in its own right, it tends To be occupied mostly by your white folks with more limited consideration around power and privilege, and appropriations of practices. So it’s really about information that needs to be reclaimed back to the communities that it was originally created by I would say, that was my first learning around moving through social innovation theory, I would say, what it did enable me to do was to actually think about that be equipped and think about the challenges of, of settlement of the framework and the the entirety of what settlement is, and its impacts. And, you know, it enabled me the space and the tools to think about the roots which is a deeply colonial framework. And it’s it steeped in structures that are not centered around the people that it’s supposed to be there for. And it doesn’t follow a strength based and asset based framework, and therefore, it’s not as effective as what it can be. And so I think if we can move beyond that, the model of that disempowerment, that that notion of the service recipient, like I mentioned before, and move into creating more more equitable communities and what the role of settlement is around that. That’s what that’s where my journey took me around social innovation and that really stems from my family’s own experience my my mother and she immigrated to Australia as from Egypt, and she’s forcibly displaced her family. And, you know, when when they arrived, it was very much about assimilation. It wasn’t about integration, it was very much, you know, the way that you would survive and succeed in Australia as, as an immigrant at that time was to be as Australian as possible to be as wide as possible. And not you know, that included not not, you know, sharing your culture and language out in public. You know, and it was about learning, you know, what it means to be Australian and so, I think that contributed a lot to some internalized shame within your in my family, and I see it with other migrant families that I know and grew up with and and it leads to a lot Have identity you know, and not to the full extent but it’s it can, it can stay within you. Even to this day, my family’s to drugs me my sister, my brother, about Mr. Plunkett and Mr. Plunkett was actually the first Australian person my family met in actually my my tattoos best workplace. And Mr. Plunkett is was her employer, you literally would teach her how to be your how to fit in more in the Australian context. And you know, I’m sorry, she would always quote but Mr. Plunkett would say, and so years later, like, I’m talking like 40 years, we’re still saying, Well, Mr. Pumpkin, and now I kind of want to say, you know, Mr. Plunkett really, really big part of what I’m saying, you know, One of the reasons why I started to do this work because I just want to see any more folks who are not from, you know, a white settler background or the community in which the country they’ve moved to ever feel like that they are less than or where

8:19
when they’re trying to create a new home in a country and so I do still see elements of that in settlement here. We have language that still is embedded in that context around you Canadians and the way that we’ve structured you know, our citizenship, your tests and courses and your immigration pathway. So there’s even though Canada is your, a wonderful place and promotes multiculturalism integration, there’s still that element though of assembly. And people still feel that way. And so when, when I start thinking about then how do we respond to that in, in settlement services, and particularly with the projects that I started to work on from from doing a social innovation certificate?

9:23
You know, one of the core principles is around, you know,

9:27
the ability to fail to test ideas, and to have a container and the ability to fail when you’re trying to innovate something in a social context. And of course, we know in the settlement sector, we don’t really have that ability to do that, especially with your government funding that we have and and some of the constraints around that. And so when we started when I started to work with my team and look at some of the leverage points within our Current settlement services to pilot a bit more of a specialized migrants centered design, I realized how deeply embedded the the framework of your, the framework of the settlement sector and when I talk about the framework, I’m talking about more of the oppressive structures about how it’s been. It’s become such a, you know, your categories of how you approach things, and how that limits people’s thought processes and ability to be creative and respond, really, to the communities that they’re working with. And so when we started to work with the teams around that, I saw that that became more of a barrier. You know, a lot of the folks that we work with have been working in the settlement sector for a really, really long time. And so how do you make that mental shift? It was, it was even hard for me to make that that mental shift to go side of that framework and to think, well, if we could actually start fresh and have something that was meaningful, what would that look like? So I realized that there was a lot of unlearning that needed to happen just even within our teams. And, and that included dismantling a lot of your existing structures such as hierarchy, who had the ability to provide input to how we did things. And so completely reframing those things. And we are, we’re still doing that. I have to say, no, it’s

11:38
a long game, isn’t it? Yeah, that’s

11:39
it. But you know, some of the things that we’ve been able to do is, you know, have community input, you know, it through any, any program or proposal that we’re moving forward with, that’s like the first step, and we have your stuff that we work with at every single level, being able to provide that input as well. And so it is complete. It’s truly responsive and meets the emerging needs that we’re seeing. And here’s some of the programs that we’ve been able to do that through our together now, which is it started as a pilot project a couple years back, but it was it was created by folks who identify sexual and gender diverse migrants or folks from that community. And you know, that wasn’t it was a very long process on how to get to the iteration of what it is now. But we see the impact because of that iterative process. And you’re a couple of the other programs that we’ve been working with along that includes in solidarity, which is a indigenous and migrant Youth Leadership project. So again, Long time to create relationships, meaningful relationships with local, indigenous community and community provide us service providers to be able to reach bridge these communities in a meaningful way and to bring in and center indigenous voices in the settlement experience as well. And we’re also we did a very similar process, trying to move forward with an anti anti racism framework for the organization, which would then also lead to us doing anti racism work within the community and how that lens would completely move through all of our support services as well. And I shouldn’t just say an anti racism framework, but anti oppression as well. So yeah, a lot of Work invested in, in innovation in the sense of not just technological innovation because we, we tend to focus more around that which we’ve done as well, I have to say and thank God because of where we are now. But I have focused more around the Yeah, the innovation of programs and, and holding community.

14:25
There’s so much I want to unpack from from everything you’ve said, but I want to start near the end where you were, you’re talking a lot about the ways you re sort of revisioning the work you do with your community. Because you mentioned a few really key things like time and space and, and just exploring and failing. And, and that’s, that’s constantly those are some of the things that constantly come up in the conversation around innovation, whether it’s technology centered or social innovation or anti oppression, innovation. There’s so many little baskets of that but but but settlement workers And Solomon agencies just feel like they don’t, they don’t have that permission to take the time and space, the rigid structures that in some ways are self imposed, because, you know, we’re, we’re just used to being told you can’t and so they there’s there’s a sense almost of a self oppression right or you’re just like okay now this is the box that I’ve been funded to fit in and we can’t really shift from that to the to the real realities of a funder that does impose that kind of rigidity in all the research we see. So how were you able to actually get out of that box in your agency with staff but also with with with upper management who, you know, is really, the whole the whole focus over the years has been okay, no, no, but we still have to tell them how many bums and chairs we’ve got, right, the outputs of our of our funding is dependent on this, not so much on that, although the quality of the outcomes is more dependent on that, that all the pieces that you’re bringing up. This is very different than just saying Turning people through the you know, the resume mill and things like that. So I’m really curious because I think that that’s the kind of question that people will ask is okay, you’re talking about a fundamental cultural shift in a settlement organization. And, and clearly, you’re still in the midst of it, but how, how, how has that sort of happened practically in some ways, with your, with your teams, with your with your upper management, even with the bore, who is probably looking down thinking, whoa, I love it, but what are we doing?

16:28
Yeah,

16:29
yeah, I think that’s such a big question. And, again, highlighting that we are still doing it and I’m sharing these justice learnings and not as not saying that we’re experts fine in many in any means. But I would have to say that, um, I think that we are taking a strong leadership role as far as some of this work goes. And and the commitment from I would say the executive leadership because Because that having that come from above is what really enables us to push this work forward. So we have a board that is committed to, like empowerment work and committed to difficult discussions around racism, equity, power privilege, and especially now considering the context we’re having this conversation, even even before the uprisings that we’re seeing with the Black Lives Matter movement and movement, sorry, and, and, and a lot of the discussions that need to be had around anti black and anti indigenous racism in the community right now. So having that as a set value, to trickle down in the organization is really key and having that investment I would also say, into capacity building for for the staff, that’s been a key one. And so, having having an I say this from a privileged position of being in an organization that is, I would say, like mid size when we look at the different settlement organizations around Canada and, and so having some resources at our disposal to provide like standardized training and capacity building for all staff around key areas, and I would say also, you know, it’s also changing the structures and approach to whether it’s the designing and implementation of programming or current programming and so practically What that looks like he’s bringing the team seem to redesign your tools and approaches in pre existing programs, which, you know, it’s just iteration we constantly try and do that and we’re being better at doing that. And again, that’s the luxury of time to be able to do that we know how busy settlement work can be. And so carving out that time, and consultants to be able to hold space for us to guide us to do those things as well has been really key for us to build out the capacity to do that. I would also say, you know, having a different form of leadership style as well. And that is also including a prioritization of your mentor ship, capacity building and pathways. leadership, and really prioritizing that for folks who have lived experience and lived expertise. Because I truly believe that you can only be truly responsive to the communities that you’re working with, if you have them represented in every single layer in your organization as well. So really having a commitment to that as well, which, again, is an investment of time and and capacity, but we see how that really how that impacts our ability to do work in such a positive way. I

20:39
think it’s useful for people to hear that that experience and and that it is it has to cross all those layers in the organization for sure. Yeah. So I’m curious as you’re on the journey, what have what have some of the impacts been and they don’t have to be tangible, right? Like I’m not talking about outcomes and outputs yet, but let’s talk about what has It looked like to shift as an organization this way. And I mean that even from the sense of, of, for the staff and their feeling of being valued, because as you described, they’re inputting more the sense of being more representative and responsive to the communities that you work with and serve. Have you started to see some, some some movement already and some 10 or some tangible or intangible kinds of results?

21:25
Yeah, I think, um, you know, one of the biggest ones is our staffs feedback around how they feel about working for an organization like diversity.

21:41
And,

21:43
and, again, you know, saying that we are still on this journey, but every time that we have move forward with an initiative

21:56
that has enabled

22:00
That has enabled staff from every level of the organization to provide strategic input around an initiative that we wish to move forward in community. I know that that has been really, really appreciated in the sense of that they recognize that their work is valued, and that their skills and expertise are valued. And because they are and I think, for a really long time, there’s been I think, some some lack of recognition of those skill sets particularly amongst like frontline staff, and your that can just be seen as far as like wages and your the compression that we’ve seen over the sector over the past couple of years. So, and again, that is something that we are always trying to address.

23:00
About just feeling valued is a huge thing. Because I know in our sector conversation that in the last few years has really come to the fore that sense of inequity and oppression even within organizations. It comes up a lot, so so that that’s a huge feeling for someone to feel that they are contributor and have potential within the organization and that they’re believed in even. And then, in terms of your shift to because you described your approach to innovation as nothing without community, right. So how, and I assume that there was always probably some of that in the way that that diversity did the work. But now that you’ve overtly reaffirmed that as a guiding value, it’s seen as he said, that’s how it comes across to me. How has that impacted the communities that you do work with? And their and their and how they relate to you as an organization? Yeah,

23:52
I would say we’re definitely as an organization and the people attached to the organization are in follow Better relationship, I would say as a result, and hopefully, you know, from from the feedback that we do receive in different forms, that there’s a level of trust there.

24:13
And also,

24:16
just from the, the success that we’ve seen in a, in a community members journey, and so the self efficacy that they that they develop, you know, too, and I, you know, I don’t want to use, like, the traditional settlement language as far as you’re reaching their settlement goals, but, you know, it’s, you know, meeting with a community member is at with their own journey and seeing that, that progression, and I think we’ve, we’ve received validation of a lot of the programs that we’ve done around that because they are so specialized. And I would say that’s certainly something that we’ve we’ve really tried to hone in on diversity is realizing that we, we do specialize programming that

25:15
that

25:18
that keeps in mind, the intersectionality of the folks that we work with, and actually then provide meets them around that their, their identity and their lived experience there. And so I think we Yeah, it we do it, we we do services better through that lens rather than the broad overview lens. And I think because we we keep getting funding and encouragement to do that. That that is is quite validating as well.

25:52
Absolutely. The issue of language. I mean, you brought it up there and I know I struggle with it. Have you been in the sector for a couple of decades you get you just get used to the language and then you start to evaluate and recognize that the language is exclusionary in a lot of ways. And we have to shift not just our thinking, but the way we speak. And you brought that up initially when it just came to the notion of social innovation as being so you know, the typical white consultant over here kind of thing. So I wonder, because I think people would be curious how, as an organization, have you crafted your own vision or version and I don’t need you to necessarily define it because it’s, you’re on the journey, but then of innovation or social or community innovation, that might be a bit different than what people are typically exposed to in that space.

26:37
Yeah, I actually think, you know, and you mentioned it before Marco, when you said, you know, there was an element already in the settlement sector, around social innovation principles or not even Social Innovation principles, but, you know, you pointed to the CCI around like the guidelines of value values, which Which I think is essentially where we’ve gotten back to. So social innovation, I feel like it is, you know, extremely useful as far as, you know, tools and thought processes and theory. But I think we always had the goods essentially there in the settlement organization. And I could see it back in, in our older programs as well at diversity. And when I think about some of the collaborative, okay, sorry, collaborative partnerships and initiatives that that we have, and so it was always there. And so I think it’s, it was just in fine tuning it and making it a bit more prominent, as far as a design style as far as how we approach moving forward with Implementation of programs, or then the process of how we then design new programs through the proposal process. So it was just, essentially, you’re taking those suggestions, and just putting it into our context. And I think we always did it at some, at some level, but it was never a cohesive. Um, you know, step by step, this is how we’re going to do this. We’re going to engage ABCD in this way. And we’re into turn it’s then going to be able to create something that will meet this this population of the community where they are right now. So sorry, I feel like that that is super high level. This is

28:54
I think, part of the you’re on the journey and I get that, that there are so few organizations that Kind of doing what you’re doing? Well, that what you’re describing is totally useful still, because, you know, we don’t want to recreate just another box, right? Yeah, that’s really important that but I think it’s just useful to hear about, like, there’s a, there’s, there’s a foundation that we have, there are elements in social innovation, they use different language, but when you start to marry them up, you start to see Oh, oh, when they say this, we use this, like, you know, I mean, I, I’m trying, I’m struggling, of course, I think of some things but like, I hear, like, all, you know, uncut, we’re doing an unconference. It’s like, Oh, so you’re doing a popular education meeting, basically, right? Because when I started in the sector, we went through, we were, you know, on boarded with popular education, techniques and approaches, which are very steeped in power structure kinds of things. And, and, and the language when you start to look it’s like, well, a actually meets see over here we just, they just use different language things. So I think that’s sort of the the tension sometimes is, is the expertise makes us in the secular field. Like, we don’t have the right language, therefore, we must not be doing it. Right.

30:03
That’s exactly right. And, you know, that’s what I found straightaway was how exclusionary the language in innovation, social innovation was in. And so when you actually break down the concepts, you’re like, Oh, actually, you know, we are doing this to an extent, but you know, we could be taking this even further. Right? And, and how do we do that? And then, when we actually implement that into, like, the real life context, we see all these repercussions that came out. And so then, essentially, what we originally intended to innovate was no longer what we’re innovating. It was another solution over here that we’re like, this is what we need to tend to fix. And so it was, it was sort of Yeah, being able to provide that that space and thought process. and equip other team members around these thought processes as well.

31:06
Yeah. And you mentioned building capacity. So I’m curious about what that looks like. Because our sector is still, in many ways. When you look at professional development pieces, it’s very skills based. And that’s super important, obviously, right? moments counseling, mental health, counseling, or just awareness. But what is it? What is building capacity in this context look like where you’re trying to essentially create a mindset?

31:29
Yeah, and that you can’t do in just a two hour, you know, webinar either. So yeah, and so that at that point, when I was first starting out with this work, I was working with my own team of about 13, folks, and so I was very lucky in the sense that we had a really great tight team and relationship and and so it was just systematic The way that we approached it, and we embedded it in, in all aspects sort of, of our team dynamic, it started off with, well, you know, if you have this feeling, and if you don’t think that we should do it this way, you know, you need to let us know. And I know that sounds really simple, but when you have really, you know, existing hierarchies, you know, and which I think all tournament organizer organizations do have and your everyone does their best to try and mitigate those. But I think that really, you know, it can sometimes it doesn’t empower folks to feel comfortable and actually saying, Well, you know, this, this makes sense. And, and knowing that, you know, folks don’t have the time or capacity to do it at an individual level. So how do you put in the actual structures at a team level, like at a meeting at facilitating those discussions, you know, in a systematic consistent way, so it just becomes second nature. And then on top of that, when when we’re looking at, you know, the leverage points are changing something within the program, then it is something more specific that you have facilitated conversations around outside of that, but it was sort of changing the culture first, but then to have those more specific conversations. And then we would actually do if we had a proposal that we were looking at to see if diversity would it would be useful for diversity to to do this work, then we would actually implement, you know, different dialogues and meetings with different teams to get inputs and we would put together Your little stripe stripe team. So we knew that there were team members that had amazing knowledge or specific skills around these different thought areas. And we would move forward with those. So there was sort of informal channels and more formal channels that we were able to do that with.

34:20
I’m curious if the staff themselves started bringing ideas to the table, outside of even that process started to feel and, again, apologies for they were empowered to walk forward and say, Listen, I’ve got an idea. Yeah. And I’d like just to put it on the table and see what you think.

34:38
Yeah, we, you know, we,

34:42
it’s sort of, it’s harder for me to say that now my current context as a director, I can say definitely from the managers that I work with, yes. And so, which is excellent. And that’s just a constant thing now, where, to the point where I’m sort of Just like can you stop questioning everything right now? Not really. I know, I get very proud and very happy when I see folks that I work with constantly questioning things. You know, that’s, that’s a good indicator. I think from a frontline perspective, there are some, but that still needs to be built out, I would say, right. Yeah. And I and I just and I think it’s, it’s for a multitude of reasons that these folks are doing so much work, you know, they have a lot of work their days of fool. And, you know, I think we still need to invest more in the capacity building to be able to do more of that and feel comfortable and in doing that, but I and I also just say that as a director, because they wouldn’t necessarily come to me directly, they would go to their managers and I’m hoping that that and I know that that Still does happen to an extent. But I couldn’t say as much as what I see with my own direct team.

36:08
Right. But it’s but it sounds like there’s there’s that sense of, you know, more openness and encouragement, or at least obviously, from the top, bring the ideas, you know, be questioning, as you say. Yeah. And that, that that’s okay in a way that it may not have been a few years ago, even at the same organization, or at least not felt okay.

36:25
Yeah. And I don’t, and it’s interesting, because I don’t ever think it wasn’t okay. I just don’t think we intentionally provided the space for folks to do that.

36:37
And that’s such an important point because there’s the there’s the there’s the capacity building, there’s the skills building, but that that space and time comes up constantly, like the ability to be able to step away from the the day to day service to reflect to think to into and to not just have that happen but as something they do on their commute home or in the evening, but actually an accurate Part of the role of settlement work is to reflect and to think about, what are we seeing? And what are we doing? And how could we do this differently or better?

37:08
That’s a space to, like, critically engage and think about these things, which we don’t get given the luxury of a lot of the time. And, and so when I talk about, you know, I was given the space during the social innovation certificate, I literally was given that luxury because outside of that, it’s very hard, you’re responding constantly, and you’re, you’re reacting, whereas you’re to take that step back and look systematically at what’s happening, then that is such a gift. And, you know, we we don’t offer that enough, I think to particularly frontline staff, and that’s something that you know, we and I say that it from diversity that we need to do more of to build that capacity for them to to step back and critically assess, although I think that the nature of the folks who work in this sector and that diversity, they’re doing it individually, constantly, I would say just a day to day interactions.

38:16
So I guess it’s almost like because you mentioned as use the word gift and luxury. And I think it’s, I guess a question of then making it just No, this is core. This is how you do your work. And the funders understand that. And the organizations understand that to do this work well, to have that kind of connection with with communities and to be iterative and failing and things like that. You need that time and space to even think through some of this stuff to step back and just, whoa, I’ve suddenly seen a pattern that if I hadn’t done this before, maybe we need to do something differently. Or maybe I need to go talk to some community members and sees this Is this right? Am I what is what I’m seeing happening? And that all takes time, right?

38:51
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Awesome.

38:56
I don’t even want to start talking about technology because I think we’ve we’ve gone down no This has been such an important conversation. And part of it is I just think, again, in the piece geeks report innovation definitely spoke a lot to technology, although it spoke to inclusion it spoke to it spoke to some of these equity issues as well. And I think that this is a really important conversation because the technology is just tools. And if you’re doing the other In my opinion, if you’re doing the openness, if you’re doing the, you know, connecting with community, the the understanding of the tools you need to use will just come sort of organically out of that, right. I mean, if I’m, if I’m talking with my community, I know whether they want me to use WhatsApp or texting or Facebook Messenger or zoom or whatever the case might be. Because we’re connecting on all of those kinds of levels. So it’s almost, it’s so much, it’s so much sort of secondary to what we’re talking about here, which is like shifting the way we even approach the way we do our work. The tools become self evident, right? I mean, that’s how I talk to people about technology anyway, if you do the strategy, right, which starts by talking with your communities and clients and asking them for their images But then you don’t have to make decisions about technology because they’re made for you. It’s evident what you should be using kind of thing. Yeah. And so I think that we don’t, we don’t think about that in the context of innovation. But it almost feels like it’s a natural byproduct that the more conversations you’re going to have, the more people will say, you know, email is great, but I’d really appreciate if you texted me. And then you start to build in those structures in your organization. Oh, maybe we should ask an intake how people want to communicate and things like that. So but it’s it starts with that shift in mindset, that shift in culture that, oh, we’re not the ones who necessarily decide we find out and then we serve kind of thing, right?

40:37
Yeah, that’s it. And I, you know, when we think about technology, and particularly in the time that we find ourselves in now, because we know that we’ve been accelerated, I would say, you know, five years in a week, when it comes to when it comes to your service delivery with technology and you know, We there’s going to be now a blended approach. That’s, that’s the future and how we’re going to be moving forward and there’s value in the sense of, we’ve seen efficiencies created from technology. And so, what I would like to see and I want, I want to make sure that like our fund is and and other, you know, settlement organizations is that, you know, with these efficiencies that we reinvest those efficiencies into building connection, because what I want to see is, is that is that we still are able to do, you know, relationship based work, and I am, that’s always a worry that when we talk about technology and remote work that that is actually going to, you know, be missing and of course, that is that is the heart of what we do here and Yeah, so that’s Yeah. When I think about technology, it’s that reinvestment.

42:07
Yeah. So I mean, I wonder, in this, it’s been sort of three months since we’ve been suddenly remote. Have you been able to, to build that value into this experiment basically, with your staff? Or to reiterate work? Yes, we’re, we’re, you know, it’s it’s essential services, it’s emergency services, but like, let’s continue to try to build those relationships.

42:29
Yeah. And they, they do it naturally. Anyway, like, I have to say, the staff and I, it’s not just a diversity. I know what every single settlement organization because of the values of the folks that work in this sector. There’s so deeply resilient and so deeply driven by relationships. And so as soon as this your this hit us, and I say, you know, it was sort of like a week was like, one day we’re like, yeah, we’re We’re going to have to start shutting down. And then the week of moving through getting every one of sites set up fully equipped, but still having them connect with all the folks that they are, you’re supporting throughout this time. And naturally, that’s that was where everyone’s thought process was. And, you know, I joke in the sense of it was any way that we could connect with these community members, whether it was you know, a, you know, a phone call carrier pigeon, WhatsApp, you know, anyway. Exactly. And it was, you know, again, your way the client was that, you know, we spent yesterday morning discussing digital iniquity, and, you know, the implications around that and we’re still trying to deal with that now, but straight off the bat, it was just, you’re making sure that The efforts, you know, especially the first three weeks, were just connecting with community members, right? And just seeing how they were and, and just responding to what we were saying through through those communications.

44:17
In some ways, I feel like because I mean, I’ve heard it described, I think it was someone from Ireland that coined the phrase, we’re not working from home, we’re at home during a pandemic trying to do work. And in some ways, it’s almost you know, I mean, again, I say this to people I forgive me for saying it, but this was almost like the best way to experiment with remote work for our sector or for human services because we weren’t just serving we were also checking in with very vulnerable populations, isolated populations. I mean, we were going through it ourselves but but the impetus wasn’t just to go Okay, I’ll do a whatsapp group. It was gonna use WhatsApp because I want to see how you’re doing. Before we even move to the resume. Let’s talk about Are you okay? Do you have food you know, or have you lost your job, you understand serve and UI benefits and an almost created the sense that technology isn’t just about, you know, transactional kind of relationships, but it can facilitate that deeper connection. And so we’ve actually started to create a model of technology mediated service delivery, that is reflective of the values of the sector is that we care. And this is the only way we can show and connect right now. But how could that translate to the way we do it in the future blended for sure, but it also means we see technology as a way to continue to care and build those relationships, which I think a lot of people didn’t see was possible before. And technology was just this cold visit kind of thing. And now it’s suddenly like, no, it’s a lifeline, right? Yeah. And so how could How will that transform the way we look at our own work in the future will be really interesting. I’m curious what what you think of that as well?

45:54
Yeah, absolutely. I think um, you know what, what you You said particularly around where we’re at as far as not just working from home, but working through a pandemic, like that is the biggest challenge. I think that we’re we’re seeing at the moment within our own teams that I know throughout the sector, you know, I have multiple your conversations and keep in touch with colleagues of mine that are discussing this is, you know, how do we sustain this at the moment because we know that, you know, this is affected disproportionately racialized folks and folks who work at our organizations and and, of course, the community members that we support. And so how do we then support our our teams through that and then expect them to continue to support community members through That. And then how, then do we look at how we create teams and culture and manage now in this remote context?

47:13
And

47:16
yeah, we’re still we’re figuring it out. But I really I appreciated the way that you framed the the technology and how we responded was the way that we could show her that. Yeah, we do care. And we are trying to connect. And I and I actually didn’t think about it that way. But that’s exactly what it was. I remember that first week that everyone was scrambling, and it was like, how do we make sure that we still stay in touch with the community members? And that was everyone’s your thought process around the entire sector? That was

47:50
absolutely clear through the little the survey that we did right off the bat. I don’t know if you saw that there was a sector survey. Yeah. And that’s that exactly that came through really clearly. How do I continue to support people who are anxious while I myself anxious? Yeah, the layers of but still thinking, but I’ve got to be the one that can I’m still that I’m still a helper. My role is still Yeah, you know, I’m here. I’m homeschooling two kids, my, my spouse just lost their job. My clients are confused and anxious. But I’ve got a role to play. And the resilience, as you described earlier was incredible in that in those initial weeks, especially,

48:31
and I would say also just coming off the negotiations to like that. Yeah, it was I kind of felt like I’d put down the pin of signing the CIA’s and then it was I looked up and it’s like, COVID, you know, and, and you think to yourself, there’s no way that we can, you know, I’m done. You know, like I’m done. I’m ready to take a holiday and it’s just amazing how We keep rising to the occasion. And, you know, like when I think about, you know, the value of what settlement does is that we, we always we do respond to community, we always respond to what is happening, and we’re, we’re always there to do it for for better or for worse. I’m not saying that we’ve always done it in, in fantastic ways. But we’ve always tried to Yeah, to adapt and pivot really quickly. And, and sometimes I sit back and think, you know, is that a good thing that we continue to rise to the occasion as well? You know, we keep setting these precedences and I just kind of think, you know,

49:51
that is a whole other conversation that could be unpacked over a few hours. Absolutely. But, but at the end of the day, I mean, I think Right, the rising to the occasion, the ability to step up in these in these extraordinary circumstances. And to shift so quickly for organizations in a lot of cases who were, who were resistant to some of the technology tools has been really impressive to see and learn from. And I think there’s a lot a few months from now coming back out as we might to come together as a sector to learn some of these lessons would be really useful and interesting.

50:26
Yeah, for sure.

50:28
Yeah. So thank you for this. This has been a conversation so much fun. Oh, my God. I’m like, my head is spinning with the innovation pieces. I’m just like, new models, new approaches. I think it’s so so, so great. So really inspiring. So thank you for sharing your experiences.

50:44
Thank you, Marco. And I feel like I haven’t given you tangible things. You know, I feel like you know, this is I’ve just been like going off into these tangents for the past hour, but hopefully you can.

50:58
No, totally, totally Like I said, For me, it’s it’s hearing the threads that all connect to our foundations as a sector and to what’s happening now. Like, I think it’s all very tangible in the end. Yeah. But it’s like you said it’s a journey. And yeah, you’re on that journey. And I think there’s there are a lot of really important pieces and but there’s a real coherence to the way you’re describing calories of diversity, for sure.

51:21
Okay.

51:22
You sharing will make someone else think and share their stuff. And together, we build something bigger, right? It’s all about sharing each other’s experiences. And I think half the time that’s that’s the challenge is again that that like, how do I reflect? And then not just reflect but share it in a way that it might that other people can then sort of learn from and share their learnings and think? Yeah, and I think, I think again, as well, there’s a lot of intimidation around that in our sector because we are, again, not seen in so many ways as experts so to share is like if I put myself out there someone might say oh my god, that’s a terrible idea. Ryan Right. Yeah. In so it’s hard as a sector for us to do that. But it’s so important. Like, I feel like I’ve learned so much in the last hour just talking through with you, that that other people are going to really benefit from. And I think that that, that, that, that courage and that that that, that inclination to share is just something that needs to become part of our culture, you know, and then and then will I be sharing? And yeah, and I’ll just build on it and all you know, again, we can fail and that’s okay. Right. Take the idea in a different direction.

52:30
So, thank you so much, Marco.

52:33
Thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you and your work. You can find more podcast episodes, wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my site that Markopoulos org. I appreciate you listening and if you have any tips, suggestions, ideas or want to be interviewed or know someone who wants to be interviewed, please drop me a line through my website, or marco@marcopolis.org Thanks again.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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