Not Business as Usual

Photo Credit: Zack Embree/Groundswell

Photo Credit: Zack Embree/Groundswell

“Not business as usual” never before sounded so counter-intuitively promising. That is the buzz that Groundswell is generating after the excitement of its summer events in anticipation of contributing to a new way of thinking about doing business and what it means to live together.

The alternative school and community program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is making a splash in the city’s burgeoning “new economy” movement after wrapping up its inaugural year last spring and since growing in unexpected ways, pleasantly surprising its facilitators.

A summer of buzz has helped them refine the program and spread its message, and people are coming out and noticing.

“We hosted a community discussion forum at Café Deux Soleils and an inadvertent scheduling conflict pushed it to a Saturday night,” explains Groundswell’s operations coordinator, Paola Qualizza. “But the fact that every table was occupied and people stayed after hours – on a Saturday night in summer – speaks directly to the fervour for social and economic change around which Groundswell is mobilizing.”

Describing itself as “a training network of young people starting alternatives-to-business together,” Groundswell started as an idea by co-founders Matt Hern and Gilad Babchuk to provide youth the resources for them to make a meaningful impact in their communities.

But as it emerges from the infancy of is launch year, it is ballooning into a continually growing community itself.

“It is exciting to see new projects emerge, but what is most interesting about Groundswell is to see what happens when we start putting them together, creating a supportive network and community,” says co-founder Hern.

Groundswell aids young people in starting their own non-profit organizations, co-ops, volunteer collectives, or social enterprises through an eight-month program. Part instructional and part participatory, it offers courses in skills and knowledge development from a variety of facilitators before challenging participants to then go out and create something, while Groundswell supplies the organic community support.

The core idea in the program remains its commitment to building towards a sustainable society that functions outside of strictly for-profit mentalities.

The feedback on this core idea has been overwhelmingly positive. “The variety of people we have reached through our open houses all summer is indicative of the desire for changing the status quo,” says Qualizza. “It is not just about doing something innovative, but about finding the right people for our program to make meaningful change in their lives and ours.

“That is why the quality of participants is so important to us – it is about people willing to take a different path in life to stay true to themselves.”

This is the momentum that Groundswell is seizing upon to enter its second year, in the hopes of building a sustained community as their alumni grows. “I am mostly excited to see how the community we have developed here will change into something new while staying strong and vital,” remarks first-year participant, Claire Gendron. “Not only are our projects just starting, but the mutual support we will provide for each other is also just beginning.”