On this week’s Employee Spotlight, where we feature the staff here and what they do; we have Maddy Macnab, our Coordinator of Community Knowledge Mobilization at The Storefront.
Name: Maddy Macnab
Job Title: Coordinator, Community Knowledge Mobilization
What do you do at The Storefront?
There are two main things I do at The Storefront. One is working on strengthening how information flows in the community. The other main aspect of what I do is facilitating opportunities for the community to come together to share and exchange useful local knowledge. Through all of this, I try to create the conditions for local community builders to have easy access to information and knowledge that will help them in their community building work, and help us work together in KGO to build community-wide strategies for the neighbourhood. Sometimes, this also includes analyzing complex information and putting it into a new form to make it clear and easy to understand for everyone in the community.
Favourite quote or motto you like?
Recently, I was inspired by something Audre Lorde said: “Nothing I accept about myself can be used against me to diminish me.”
How did you come to work at The Storefront?//What did you do prior to working at The Storefront?
I come from a family that taught me the importance of showing up for my community and serving my community, so that was something I was interested in from a young age. At the same time, I come from a middle-class White settler family and so I walk with significant privilege– that means I’ve had to learn secondhand about inequities in my community, and learn to see the invisible advantages I have benefitted from. I’m thinking of one early experience as a teenager volunteering at an Out of the Cold meal program that had an impact on me: chatting with people who came to that weekly meal was one way that I began to see that Toronto, the city I grew up in and where I felt like I belonged, was not a fair city or a safe city for everyone. I wanted to do something about it, but it took me a while and a lot of false starts to figure out exactly what. I went to university, and I studied mostly history and social theory. I learned about social movements and social policies, but it was all very abstract, so I started getting involved in my community in different ways too, for example volunteering to support newcomers, helping start a grassroots arts program, and advocating with a grassroots migrant rights group. These experiences were very meaningful to me- I built strong relationships, and felt like these collectives I was a part of had a role to play in making change. I hoped I could find that same experience professionally in the nonprofit sector, so that’s the work I pursued after university. And actually, the skills and experience I gained through my community work also helped me get jobs after university, as much as if not more than what I studied in classes! I worked in various areas in the nonprofit sector including adult literacy, community-based oral history research, and settlement services over a period of about 7 years before landing at The Storefront, where I learned that the work I had been looking for this whole time had a name: community development!
What does it mean to you to be part of a Community Backbone organization?
To me, it means I can approach my work with a real generosity of spirit, which I find powerful. In my past experience in our sector, I have found it is easy to get overly focused on funder deliverables or to be confined by a particular organizational/program mandate, in ways that can sometimes come at the expense of supporting community members in the ways they really need. Having the framework and mandate of being a Community Backbone organization, I have found both grounding and freeing at the same time, as it is a framework that I feel truly puts the community first, and allows me and my colleagues to be expansive and creative and responsive in how we work with various players in the community on the priorities that they define, according to the assets that each of them bring to the table.
I recently read and loved the novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy.
What do you enjoy most about working at The Storefront?
The people, my colleagues and the community members we work with, who are kind and authentic to a fault, and welcoming in a way that allows each of us to bring our whole unique selves to the table!
What is your favourite food?
I like all kinds of food, so if I had to pick a favourite I would say…my best friend’s homemade ginger cookies.
What is a project that you are working on at The Storefront?
I am just wrapping up some awesome collaborative work we have been doing with the Toronto Public Library to distribute free home internet wifi hotspots on loan to residents in the community who need them. The hotspot program is an initiative of the Library: with 1000 hotspots to distribute across the City when their branches were closed during the pandemic, they made the smart decision to partner with community-based agencies to connect most effectively with residents who needed home internet. Digital access has been a critical issue for grassroots leaders and residents in East Scarborough during the pandemic, and something we were looking for ways we could help address: working with the library on this was the perfect opportunity. Storefront was able to do what we do best: we mobilized our local networks of grassroots leaders, residents, and community partners and by the end of the summer, we were able to connect 100 East Scarborough residents who didn’t already have home internet with these wifi hotspots. I took the lead on designing and coordinating our outreach process on this and liaised with the Library for distribution. Now we’re just wrapping up with an evaluation of the impact of the initiative. We are hearing from many residents how wifi access at home has made a big difference in their lives– for example, allowing them to get and keep jobs, doing online school/training, and keeping in touch with family and friends.
Apart from your work at The Storefront, what are some side projects or hobbies you have outside of the office?
I spend a lot of time hanging out with my dog Murphy, he is a 6 year-old retired racing greyhound. Surprisingly, he likes to snooze more than he likes to run! I also play fiddle, lately I am learning all kinds of folk tunes from around the world, but my current favourites are American Bluegrass and Old-time tunes.
If someone were looking to join the team at The Storefront, or looking for work in a role similar to yours or in the nonprofit sector in general, what advice would you have for them?
Our sector and this organization are all about people. So be prepared for the hard work of relationship-building, as well as the incredible gift of relationship that comes with that! This is the most challenging and rewarding part of the work for me.
Favourite place you’ve traveled/why or Where would you like to travel to/why?
One of my favorite places I’ve travelled to was Hawaii, where I went in 2018 with my partner, my mom, and my brother. It stuck with me because the kind of community I encountered there was vibrant, diverse, and friendly! The experience of witnessing the natural beauty of the island and seeing lots of wildlife was truly awesome and humbling. And the ocean!! Need I say more?
What is on your wish list for the next five years?
In my personal life, the top of my wish list is to keep playing and learning new music with others, work on singing and playing fiddle at the same time (easier said than done), and try writing some music of my own!
In my work at the Storefront, I hope to continue to be part of creating stronger and more dynamic networks of community builders here in East Scarborough. In practical terms, I think this will look like lots of showing up, phone calls, chats over tea or coffee, mistakes and learning, and inevitably, lots of difficult, messy, and/or uncomfortable conversations (the kind that hopefully lead to growth!). I think what happens in the next 5 years depends on us having a serious reckoning with what’s happening now: the inequities laid bare by the global pandemic, including the crisis of anti-Black racism in our city. At the same time, I have personally seen in our neighbourhood during this crisis several really heartening collaborative efforts between grassroots leaders, local agencies, and other local players that I hope we can learn from and spin into even more creative, collaborative work that puts grassroots leaders first and responds to community priorities. So, I’m thinking a lot about neighbourhood resilience. I’m hoping in my knowledge mobilization role, I can be part of making space for all of us neighbourhood players to come together to reflect and to learn together in an action-oriented way to get beyond the buzzword of “resilience” and dig into what we can do together, more or differently, to confront systemic inequities like anti-Black racism, and to strengthen our community ecosystem so everyone can thrive and better withstand shocks to the community like this one. And then, I hope in 5 years, we’ve come up with collective solutions so world-changing that I can’t even yet imagine exactly what they’ll look like!