Sowing seeds of systems change at the East Scarborough Works Symposium

On Monday, May 30th, The Storefront hosted the East Scarborough Works Symposium: Unlocking an equitable and resilient economy for Scarborough at the Guild Inn Estate. It was an exciting moment as this gathering marked East Scarborough Works’ first in-person cross-sector gathering since the start of the pandemic. We celebrated the progress we’ve made together since our last symposium in 2018 and took stock of our realities now. Most importantly, we were all there together to recommit to making positive change in the local employment ecosystem in East Scarborough by strengthening our coordinated pathway approach to local jobs for local people. 

Nearly 70 local changemakers were in attendance, amongst those included local job seekers, anchor institutions, unions, community service providers, trainers, funders and government representatives. In the weeks leading up to this day, we had also engaged 60 network players in virtual Reality Check sessions to ensure we were grounding the in-person event in our post-pandemic realities and offering a virtual way to participate. The day was facilitated by Openly, with co-facilitation from East Scarborough Storefront and local resident leaders. As The Storefront’s Director, Sahar Vermezyari, shared in her opening for the day: “You’re here today because you play a role in our local employment ecosystem. We each have a stake in solving the systemic issue of good jobs for people in East Scarborough” 

East Scarborough Works’ approach to local workforce development is guided by the Connected Community Approach to community building, which is underpinned by the 10 keys to unlocking local solutions to complex problems. It was no surprise to witness our network putting the Connected Community Approach into action at our gathering that day. Here are a few of the 10 keys we saw in action that day:

  • Prioritize Power Sharing and Equity: We recognized that we have work to do as a network on confronting anti-Black racism in the pathway, and other intersecting systemic barriers that impact East Scarborough jobseekers in their employment journeys. Moving toward actions and solutions in this area means centring local resident voices. Natasha Cole, a current participant in the Working With People in the Social Sector initiative (East Scarborough Works’ social sector employment pathway) was one of 11 local resident leaders engaged in the Symposium, and a co-facilitator of the day’s activities. Natasha shared, “I feel that it’s important for residents to be part of these types of discussions and gatherings, because we don’t always get a seat at the table, to be quite honest. And, firsthand, we have the experiences about what we experience in the workplace when it comes to racism. And we can also give input when it comes to making changes moving forward.”
  • Build on Everyone’s Strengths: As a cross-sector group all connected to the East Scarborough community ecosystem in diverse ways, we spent time reflecting on our particular roles on the aligned, supported pathway to local jobs for local people. As we shared our realities, successes and challenges, we were encouraged to explore the question: what is the particular key I hold to unlocking the pathway’s success? What is my unique role in this collective systems change effort? 
  • Learn Together: Moving from knowledge to action as a network means learning together: building a foundation of shared collective knowledge, taking action based on that knowledge, learning in the doing, adjusting as we go, and then doing it all over again. This approach to systems change takes a lot of trust, respect, and humility: the way everyone in the room connected, reflected, listened actively and shared authentically that day reflected this approach!

We heard loud and clear from participants in the room that day: we are ready to take action to deepen our work together to strengthen pathways to local jobs for local people. We also heard loud and clear as we discussed how we can better address anti-Black racism in our work, that, by “a stronger pathway,” we mean a more equitable pathway. And building a more equitable pathway means bold systems change. As people left the gathering at the end of the day, we asked everyone to commit to one next step in this work, and put their commitment card up on a map of our employment ecosystem. Here are just a few of the commitments people made that day:

“Continue to find comfort in the discomfort when addressing anti-Black racism in order to create safer, braver, work spaces for our community members” – Service Provider

“Build out meaningful and deep relationships with community partners for us to collaboratively create and implement solutions” – Policymaker

“Attend more discussions so I can be able to voice my opinion” – Local resident

“Reflect on what I heard & learned, and use it to identify barriers and improve/eliminate them” – Construction sector employer

“Challenge assumptions, ask the next question to dismantle systems that do not serve our community” – Anchor Institution

“Advocate for a living wage that allows for Black people to continue to afford to live in their community” – Workforce Development peer

Right now, the Storefront team is making sense of all the collective wisdom surfaced at the Symposium. Stay tuned for more insights in the coming months, to help us to collectively set the course for our next steps as a network and turn our commitments into reality through action. In the meantime, if you were at the event: Remember the commitment you made? Consider taking one small step to honour that commitment this week.  If you weren’t in attendance, but if you’re working like we are  on solutions to the geographic nature of poverty such as East Scarborough Works, we encourage you to reflect: Each of us holds the key to unlocking systems change – what’s yours? 

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