Growing economic and social projects in a North Coast lab

Ecotrust Canada’s innovation lab looks to foster projects, such as a fish market, in Prince Rupert

What would a social innovation and entrepreneurial project look like in Prince Rupert?

That is exactly what Nathan Randall of Ecotrust Canada is trying to figure out with the North Coast Innovation Lab.

Through a series of interviews and data mining, he’s fine-tuning what Ecotrust’s initiative could look like and how it can add value to Prince Rupert.

“At this stage, I have been talking to various community members and leaders and talking about what’s their vision for a better Prince Rupert and what kind of projects that are already going on that have found success. But hopefully we can see some innovative and income generating activities, like a local fish market or a resource information centre, for different organizations and people in this community,” Randall said.

The idea stemmed from a three-year innovation lab, the Local Economic Development Lab (LEDlab), in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Ecotrust worked with Simon Fraser University, the City of Vancouver and community partners to stimulate economic development.

“I think of a lab as a container or a space,” said Devlin Fernandes, senior manager of programs at Ecotrust Canada. “How do you provide that container to see if projects are going to work and get them off the ground and give them the tools that they need for success instead of people operating on their own?”

In the city, they were able to trial different quick- start projects to find which ones worked. If they didn’t work, they’d move on to other projects. If they did work, the partners would put energy and support behind them.

The LEDlab in Vancouver developed 11 social enterprises and social service initiatives, offered 191 hours of strategic support to more than 60 civic and government groups and managed two public policy research projects to inform policy change.

“In the Downtown Eastside our key question was how do you generate economic development for the poorest of the poor? That’s not the question in Prince Rupert,” Fernandes said.

The Skeena Ecotrust office has been operating in Prince Rupert for eight years. The Innovation Lab is building on what the non-profit organization is already doing in the community — trying to work with people for change. While there are already groups in Prince Rupert working on economic development and social change, through Randall’s research and interviews, he’s hearing similar barriers and continued challenges with these groups.

The North Coast Innovation Lab isn’t working in a silo, but rather with existing initiatives, such as the city’s Hays 2.0 vision and Redesign Rupert.

In 2016, the City of Prince Rupert partnered with the Community Development Institute (CDI) at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), to speak with residents, collect data, and identify how to create a diversified economy and stronger community. CDI’s report was released in Dec. 2016. Since then, the biggest development on one of the community-led concepts was winning $100,000 in funding for revitalizing Mckay Street Park, which is still a work in progress.

READ MORE: Redesigning the city’s legacy

Fernandes said she sees the North Coast Innovation Lab as an action-oriented body that addresses some of the initiatives within the Redesign Rupert umbrella .

“If we bring people to Prince Rupert or if we attract Rupertites back to work in this program you may actually get people who want to come back and stay in town because now they see opportunities for themselves,” Fernandes said.

Randall began his research in the fall of 2017. By January, Fernandes said the lab is moving closer toward being put into practice with a few quick-start projects to test assumptions and start to develop relationships with partners and organizations.

For community members who would like to contribute to the project and share ideas and perspectives contact nathan@ecotrust.ca or you can pop into the 200-515 3rd Avenue, in the Capitol Theatre building.

READ MORE: McKay Street Park ready to start playground construction

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