2023 Cortes Social Profit Gathering
Article by Anastasia Avvakumova
A woven tray of fresh flowers is making its way around the circle of 50 or so participants in the Social Profit Gathering held mid-June on Cortes Island, BC. Co-organizer Manda Aufochs Gillespie (Cortes Island Community Foundation, Folk U), has kicked off the day with an address to this land that has continued to provide for human communities since time immemorial. Everyone is invited to take a colorful bloom and connect to this place by holding a piece of it. The other invitation is to co-create the day ahead, building onto the scheduled agenda with collective knowledge, ideas and experience.
The gathering is for executive directors, managers, other staff, volunteers and board members of social profits and nonprofits — defined as organizations that prioritize serving society’s wellbeing, and look at generating revenue as a secondary or absent motivation. Fittingly, the event takes place in Olatunji Hall, built for and named after Baba Olatunji, an influential Nigerian drummer who was a contemporary and colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the American civil rights movement.
The sunny morning matches the bright energy of the participants who’ve come not only from Cortes but also Quadra, Malcolm, Sonora, Reid and Pender Islands — someone affectionately dubbing this the Outer Islands assembly.
Through a show of hands, the room reveals itself to be one-third employees of a social profit, one-half are board members, two-thirds are volunteers, and a handful qualify for all three categories.
Co-organizer Andrea Fisher (Social Profit Network) joins Manda on the mic, the two sharing the history of SPN, which began with a similar in-person gathering at Linnaea Education Center in 2019 and weathered the pandemic through Zoom calls, and granting juries including the allocation of MicroGrants for Neighbours.
Next, lead facilitator Rhys-Thorvald Hansen (Hollyhock Leadership Institute) takes the group through ice breakers, where in rotating trios each person has two minutes to answer questions such as:
- When did you first feel the call to serve your community? and
- What is something that you wish the people in this community saw or understood about you?
It’s a nice opportunity for neighbors to get to know defining moments and intrinsic motivations of people they may have known in a more superficial context for years.
During a short break, the setup transforms from a huge circle to an audience in rows for Manda’s presentation on the “State of Cortes Island Social Profits.” As a small, remote community, it absolutely relies on providing for each other, she says, adding that “we are as strong as our weakest links.”
A series of graphs on the screen cycles through data gathered in 2019-2021 from the official census as well as by SPN’s own local surveys. Some of the facts land like heavy stones sinking to the bottom of a pond:
- women on Cortes earn 32% less than men, more than doubling the national average of the gender wage gap
- 47.2% of renters spend 30% or more on what little housing is available, and are therefore considered at risk of homelessness
- meanwhile, 31% of houses on Cortes are not occupied by full-time residents and number 240 homes that sit empty for most of the year
- 25% of Cortes youth live below the poverty line, compared to the provincial average of 18%
- there is no full-time childcare for any age group, and no secondary school, although the innovative Cortes Island Academy is stepping into that void
In summary, and added to by the audience, Cortes islanders face higher than average costs and lack of access to basic needs such as housing, transportation, healthy food, mental health support, education, laundry facilities, private childcare and insurance as compared to the average BC resident. The story is all too familiar to the folks who’ve traveled from the other islands.
And here’s where the strengths of the social profits come in: they are filling a critical gap in rural communities, picking up the slack on vital services like childcare, food banks, fire rescue, radio programming, post secondary education, housing, economic development, ecological monitoring, sustainability and more.
The next set of data talks about the leaders of these organizations, who, although beset by all the same problems as their communities and typically stressed out and overworked, largely experience high job satisfaction. Thank goodness for that!
Manda explains that gathering hard data is important for “telling our stories” in advocating for the community’s needs and successfully applying for funding. She also shares that these surveys actually inspired two executive directors to ask and receive better compensation for their hard work, and the local fire department volunteers have recently begun to receive extended benefits upon completing a year of service. These wins get enthusiastic applause.
After lunch in the Hollyhock restaurant, Colin Funk (Cortes Community Economic Development Association) introduced the audience to Rural Islands Economic Partnership, a network promoting economic resilience for BC’s rural islands by learning from each other’s trials and successes on shared concerns such as food resiliency, impact of tourism, and seasonal economies, to name a few. The partnership comprises 14 islands, from Salt Spring to Malcolm, and is run by 7 board members (including Colin). The partnership holds in-person conferences every few years, as well as online forums and free and ticketed events. With its Rising Tide Business Services, it aims to generate its own revenue as a true social-profit enterprise.
Next on the agenda are four breakout sessions to give participants the opportunity to hash out ideas in smaller groups.
- Housing, facilitated by Mark Vonesch (SRD regional director for Cortes Island)
This group draws at least double the numbers as the other three, and some version of “affordable housing” is repeated many times over on the Priorities sheet people later fill with the two issues they personally feel most urgently. Cortes, with a year-round population of ~1,050 people, has 100 Airbnbs, while too many people live in less-than-adequate housing and it’s nearly impossible to find a year-round rental. Mark speaks about solutions he is excited to explore, which include affordable land ownership, community-owned rental housing, an empty-home tax and incentivizing the free market to provide more rental housing. Sandra Wood (Cortes Housing Society) gives an update on the Rainbow Ridge project, which is re-applying for a BC Housing grant this year and hopes to finally break ground for 24 rental units, which already have a lengthy waitlist.
2. Climate Adaptation, facilitated by Max Thaysen (Friends of Cortes Island, alternate regional director)
This group primarily discussed the difference between mitigation (eg. lowering emissions, changing systems – often beyond our control) and adaptation (dealing with the effects of climate change, on a local and individual level).
3. Putting the FUN back in Fundraising, facilitated by Victoria Watson (Hollyhock Leadership Institute)
This group came up with great ideas for cross-organizational collaboration for fundraising avenues, and engaging the tide of summer people to the island (tourists, secondary-home owners).
4. Trailheads/Emerging topics, facilitated by Colin Funk (CCEDA)
This group discussed the strengths and opportunities on Cortes, the narratives that inform people about the island, focused tourism and possible collaboration with other islands, among other topics.
One of the last orders of business is a roundup of stellar resources, including Grant Connect – a database of available grants accessible for free via the Vancouver Island Regional Library, and announcements from the Social Profit Network:
- SPN’s official inclusion under the Cortes Island Community Foundation’s umbrella,
- SPN’s listserv, which sends out event and opportunity announcements (to join, email email@example.com),
- SPN’s upcoming sessions for EDs and managers to collaborate and seek support, for example through case-study format of challenges they are facing.
The day ended as it began, in a big circle of chairs hugging the edges of the bright wood-paneled hall. To close things off, each participant spoke a word and offered a gesture to represent it. “Connection,” “hope,” “love,” and “inspiration” echoed around the room. Rhys offered “mycelial” as her word and gesture, and officially wrapped up the event with “looking forward to seeing what grows from the seeds planted today.”
2019 Cortes Social Profit Gathering
The Cortes Island Community Foundation, and Noba Anderson, Regional Director, co-sponsored a day-long gathering with local community groups on Cortes Island, facilitated by Suzanne Fletcher. September 28th, 2019 marked the first time that the entire Cortes Social Profit (not-for-profit) sector had come together. It was a day of sharing and collective brainstorming at Linnaea Farm, on the traditional lands of the Klahoose, Homalco, Tla’amin and K’omoks First Nations. Over 50 people were present, representing over 30 organizations.
The purpose of this Social Profit Forum was information sharing and resilience building within our community. The Forum offered a shared space for representatives of local organizations to gather in the same room with a common agenda for the day – to discover the potential of collaborative thinking and harvest the actionable ideas that arose. Click the link below to read the report from the 2019 Social Profit Network Gathering.