Are you interested in building vibrant communities with strong social, economic, and environmental foundations? Then you're in the right place. Wendy Keats is an expert on community development and she shares some serious wisdom on community dynamics, conflict resolution, economic abundance, and more.
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Wendy Keats 0:00
You know, when we share these collective needs and interests, we have a vested interest in things being successful. If it's something that really is not going to affect our life, then we can easily just sit back and have an opinion on it. But we don't tend to get involved. We don't tend to take action. And I think people do need to be together to take action. I mean, there's certain things that we can all do as individuals, but really to make any actual change. We you know, we really have to work together
Stuart Murray 0:36
Welcome to episode number 10 of the connected movement podcast. I'm your host, Steve Murray. Are you disillusioned with our old outdated systems and stories? Are you tired of the growing polarization in society? So am I my aim is to engage in and unpack conversations with people from all walks of life as a means of CO creating a way forward for humanity. Today's guest is Wendy Keats. Wendy has made a career out of doing what she loves most helping people and communities thrive. Wendy has spent the last 40 years working with roughly 400 community organizations, government agencies and business owners on Community Economic Development Strategies, including community investment funds, social finance, cooperatives and social enterprises. Wendy is also very passionate about sustainability. She has been living off grid in the deep woods along the paddock Kodiak river for the last 15 years, and she helps others work towards their own self sufficiency dreams. In this episode, we dive deep into many aspects of community, and Wendy shares her amazing insights into conflict resolution, and Wendy also shares what she calls the best kept secret to save on taxes with investments. I really hope you enjoy this episode. And before we dive in a thank you to our sponsor, Karen Phytoplankton. Many daily discomforts are the result of malnourishment, you may be malnourished, if you crash in the afternoon, you have digestive issues, you get lots of headaches, have trouble sleeping, you have muscle or joint pain, have trouble concentrating and so on. The good news is the right supplementation can help with this, I have personally benefited from using Karen Phytoplankton, which has helped me find more energy in the afternoons and beat that crash. You can find Karen Phytoplankton products at Costco locations or online at the Karen project.ca. Without further ado, let's dive in.
So when the with the background and community work, and all the stuff you've done over the last many decades, like what brought you into being so passionate about working with community in the first place?
Wendy Keats 3:02
Well, I'm not sure that I chose it. You know, I've thought about that over the years. And it chose me I think I can't really remember a time when I wasn't involved in community, right from, you know, the student council in school and just starting up being engaged. And I grew up in a small community, that really that was the lifestyle. And it was, so it was just natural. And you know what its likes do when you open yourself to opportunities, they present themselves. And so it just seemed like this one flow after another that just kept leading me more and more into community until at some point in time, I realized that that was what my mother used to ask me, what is it you do again? You know, and I realized it was community development. And when I used to try to explain that to her, she just shake her head and didn't get it because even in those days, they didn't have terms for community development and community economic development. So anyhow, yeah, that was a long answer to it wasn't planned. It just happened as it should in my life.
Stuart Murray 4:18
So what was some of the the initial roles that you had taken on in terms of that community development?
Wendy Keats 4:26
So really early in my life, I was I think, in my early 20s, we'd had some really serious economic impacts in the community that I lived in. There were things like, you know, so I grew up in Dorchester, and the prison used to be a major employer. They change policies, which resulted in basically nobody from the community or practically nobody working there anymore. We had an event some industry at our cape, there was a pipe plant, there was a fertilizer plant they ended up closing, they built the Trans Canada that bypass the committee. So, in essence, what had happened in a relatively short period of time is the community had died, they moved our high school that was a major impact. We were transported to sackful the school had been, you know, what we gathered around everything happened out of the school. And so it got to the point where there was just nothing left for young people to do. And quite honestly, I'll tell you the story. I got into an argument night one night with an RCMP officer who had landed in Dorchester to break up some kids that were just gathering. Yeah, no, and they were a bit noisy and some neighbors that call but they were overly aggressive. And so you know, this argument saying, Well, what do you expect young people to do? And he's, he, in turn said, Well, what would you do? And I said, I've got lots of ideas. And long story short, that RCMP actually worked with me. And we got a grant for to do a huge summer recreation program. And he said, but you have to volunteer to manage it, like, I'll get the money for you. And I'm sure, so Stu is started from there. And you know, there was just so much excitement, enthusiasm, and I just fell in love with bringing community together and creating opportunities. And you know, from there, it just went on, I found money to build a rink for the community. And at the time, I was working in the criminal justice system, at a provincial jail, and I was called upon to work with a group of offenders. They were long term offenders at Springhill penitentiary, and started programming in the justice field. You know, and I mean, the justice field just covers so much of what's wrong with our society. And there were so many alternatives and preventative measures that we could take. So I really started to focus on you know, what are the things that we could do to prevent people from ending up in prisons that led to you know, every issue from, you know, addictions, to abuse, poverty, housing, like you name it. And so I had this rich opportunity to really be immersed, and what were some of the amazing alternatives, they were all happening at the community level. So this is a message that I think is really important, anything good in our communities, anything that adds to quality of life, health, you know, all of these things that make life worth living, are driven by community. They're not driven by government. You know, government might give some funding, but the innovation and the creativity and the passion and the volunteering, all happens at the community level. So I knew that's where I wanted to spend my life. And I was fortunate to, you know, 45 years later, I'm still doing it.
Stuart Murray 8:19
Yeah, in a supposedly retirement still rolling along. That's incredible. I love what you say about, you know, the real value and change of community comes from those at that grassroot level. And I'd love to dive in more to that. But before we do, I'm curious from your background on the justice system, and that being a really punitive model and a really a retroactive way of of bringing some kind of retributive justice to people. What were ways and effective measures that you see at the community level to help be more proactive?
Wendy Keats 8:56
Yeah. So well, you hit on something that was a also big part of my life. So while I was working in the criminal justice system, one of the things that I learned was that the system was set up to keep people apart, to not ever allow for healing to happen. And whether it was the victim or the offender, or the families or the community, everybody was left with these horrible, you know, damages that the system did not Not, not just didn't support, healing, they actively prevented it from happening. And so I got involved with the restorative justice movers movement. And I became certified as a victim offender mediator and was the founding executive director of an organization called mediating offender or victim encounters move. And we were the first restorative justice agency in Atlantic Canada. And we worked very hard. So we we actually got the system, it actually was the parole system to fund a three year pilot project where we did victim offender mediation in serious crimes. And in minor crimes. It was amazing. The things that happen when you brought people together in a very safe environment like me, no, this is obviously something that takes a lot of time, a lot of skill and a lot of people being involved. But when it happens, it is, it is just amazing, the healing that takes place all the way around. And so I was very committed to that. And I learned, what were some of the things that, you know, that prevented people from resolving conflict with each other. Because this transferred then into many other aspects of my life, like when you learn about the importance of listening and acknowledgement, and creating safe spaces for people to problem solve, and, you know, find ways to deal with the impact of things that have happened to them. It really changes all the dynamic, it changes, you know, the outcomes, it creates the kind of peaceful society that I think we all want to live in, you know, there are healing circles by indigenous people, all of these things that are very much geared to really wanting things to be different in the future, and to build and strengthen relationships. So, you know, that ended up, you know, translating into all kinds of work that I did moving forward, working with groups of people. So, whenever you work with groups of people you're going to run into conflict is basically impossible to avoid it. And it can stop a lot of things from moving forward. And this is one of the things that I was learning as I was getting into organizational development is like a lot of things really great ideas got stopped, because some kind of nano thing happened. That people, you know, became alienated. So I took a lot of the things that I had learned from restorative justice and started applying it to all aspects of my work, integrating ways to create respectful conversations, you know, acknowledging, putting things on the table in a way that allowed people to, you know, kind of dissect them and really figure out where the issues were and resolve them and and that strengthens, that creates such a solid foundation for people moving forward. And so it's, it's a little bit of magic. I think that when people go through a conflict together, and they come out it on the other side with stronger relationships, it's almost like there's no stopping them. So, yeah, so this whole notion of restorative justice, respectful conversations, good communication, creating safe spaces, are essential, I think, to really moving anything in the community forward.
Stuart Murray 13:39
Wow. Yeah. I couldn't agree more on that. And I think it's interesting, in this day and age, have a growing polarization of these of these bigger riffs that we're seeing in society that is perhaps, you know, weakening the bedrock of what community really is. And really, it's a really, it's a tough struggle. And so I think you're touching on some amazing points that are pertinent at any point in time for us to come back to and remember about how important it is that we listen to people we disagree with, rather than deepening those, the other-ring between us.
Wendy Keats 14:19
Yeah, absolutely. And you're you're absolutely right about this particular time in history. I cannot ever remember a time when we have been so divided. And at a time where it's just so crucial that we work together collectively. You know, we've got some major challenges ahead of us. And we've got the solutions again in the community didn't like the the innovation. The you know, is just amazing, but there are forces that work. Capitalism being one of them that, you know, really has has just, it's put us back years. And it really concerns me. And that's one of the things I think that is important now moving forward, is creating those spaces and those conversations, those respectful conversations, that that's what's going to make a difference. And that's what I see making a difference. So there are lots of groups that are doing that they're doing amazing things. They're really, you know, almost underground to some degree, because they've just given up on the system. They realize they can't function within it. And so they're going to do their own thing without it, and they're just moseying along. And they're doing fantastic things. And most people don't know about them. But there is this groundswell of that happening. And so it's actually it's, it's an opportunity. It's an exciting time, it can go one way or the other. Yeah, no, we either will overcome and create these new ways of working together of doing business of providing for the vulnerable people in our communities. Or Elon Musk will buy out New Brunswick. From the Irving's
Stuart Murray 16:29
Yeah, from the Irving's I think we're already we already have a lot of that influence here. It's interesting to I think you're spot on, because it's been quite frustrating to see at the governmental level, because true government ought to be an is for people, and by the people. And then what I've seen, the rhetoric for quite some time now is quite divisive, and actually sowing seeds of division amongst their own people. And, and really, when we look at the community level, our political and ideological differences become a lot less significant when we just talk about having our basic needs met, because I think we all care about having shelter over our heads and having food on our plate and having good schools in our communities and strong relationships. And so really, there's an undercurrent that connects us far more than there is that divides us in these times. And despite the political differences, and and all of these different stances that we may have that that we have tended to focus on, and that it seems like our political leaders are putting the emphasis on which are creating rifts in our society is far less significant than the fact that we all care about having strong healthy families and, and food on the plate and affordable housing for everybody. And that's where we need to shift our focus and attention to and you're right, that's happening at that grassroots community level. Yeah.
Wendy Keats 17:53
Big time. Yeah, it really is an exciting time. If you can, again, it's kind of having almost to ignore what's happening, these divisive things, because there's, especially with social media, I mean, that has so contributed to this divisive madness. I don't know how you ever overcome that, except just really focusing on the positive things that are happening. Um, you know, I'm, my philosophy has always been just keep your head down and keep moving forward one step at a time. And know that if you believe in it, you just have to keep that vision in mind, surround yourself with, you know, people that share that vision, and, and really focus on the positive and celebrate the positive. And there's just so many exciting things that that's, that's easy to do.
Stuart Murray 18:50
You're right, there are so many things happening. And when we step out of those bubbles have these these hyperpolarized environments that that actually trigger these knee jerk reactions and cause us to build our walls up and stop listening. That is is not a good starting point. And I'm curious with all of your experience in restorative justice and in conflict management, what problem solving strategies do you use or recommend to help manage conflict and change?
Wendy Keats 19:20
Yeah, so, you know, conflict is a really interesting thing. I you know, I would really like to dissect it and take a look at what are the factors that contribute to it. And so, you know, kind of boiled it down to four key elements. So, the first one is communication, poor communication or miscommunication is usually what triggers some sort of conflict or problem and that tends to lead to emotions getting involved. And so you know, if people feel they haven't been heard, or they've missed her or misrepresented, or, you know, things that have miscommunicated, then, you know, they'll start to maybe get angry or, you know, things like that. And so those motions tend to lead to assumptions. So people start making assumptions about the intentions that were behind the action or whatever. And vno those assumptions are usually based on miscommunication and some strong emotions. And so, you know, and, and from out of those assumptions, people take positions. So you know, they gotta go, I'm not staying Yeah, and that's, and that's where people start communicating in a negative way, I know this is my solution, they get locked into these positions. And they, and they try negotiating on the positions, and you can't negotiate positions, it's adversarial, it's a win lose strategy. But behind those positions are the interests and needs that people have. So those positions are based, you know, they came to be because there are certain things that people need out of, you know, that solution, my approach, and the approach that's used in interest base mediation negotiation, is to almost forget the positions and start really diving into what lies below that. And again, creating this space, you know, where you can really kind of look at, well, what is it why, why is the person taking that position, and then you start looking at, well, what are some solutions to those interests, and you, you immediately begin to find that people have such common interests. And so if you start looking at solutions that are based on common interests, then you've got people, you know, talking about things that will really work to make a difference. And that's where the relationship building happens also. So you know, when people, you know, have this opportunity for really good communication, to clarify these assumptions that they've made, which are often way off track, and to talk about what's really important in solving them, why do we need to solve this problem, what's really important, and they start to agree on things, it starts to build a new kind of a relationship, a stronger relationship. So you know, I've over simplified the process, but really, that's what I've learned is, if you look at any conflict, you will find those four elements of poor communication, strong emotions, assumptions, and positional thinking. And so if you break it down, and just, you know, kind of reverse all of those things, then you really have got something to work with.
Stuart Murray 23:01
That's wonderful. I noticed that in myself so much, that's it's often the source of a lot of pain and, and separation that I feel even in my personal conversation, where I jump to creating stories, where my mind doesn't know something. I it goes to fill in all the gaps because we're meaning making creatures. And so it's it is a biological force that is pushing us to try and create understanding, but when that standard understanding comes from us, assuming somebody else's intentions, right, it's what a terrible starting point, as far as we're never going to actually find that resolution where people and I truly believe that all parties can actually have their needs met and we can work for. Yeah, is collective understanding and collective thriving.
Wendy Keats 23:51
Well, I tell people, you know, like in doing this serious crime, victim offender, mediation problems aren't much bigger than you find in those situations. I mean, we're talking about serious things. If those folks can, you know, come to agreements and find healing, then, you know, any, anybody can do it. But, you know, just back to the whole thing, too, about, you know, how we make assumptions. When we look at, you know, how we see the world, everything is based on our own personal experience, our gender, you know, our culture, how we grew up, you know, all of these things, our age, our experiences at work, so that's the lens through which we look at things and we understand things. But this could be so completely different from someone else's, and yet we make assumptions that everybody's like us, everybody feels the same. They know that when they said that, that that was meant to blah, blah, blah, Whoa, no, actually this person was Coming from a completely different so we make this assumption we're all saying. And that's like a number one mistake. So you know, really when we have those conversations where we see all of the other sides and how other people have interpreted things and see the world, it's, it's an enriching experience, it helps us build, you know, our character. And, and as people.
Stuart Murray 25:28
It's so true. And I think that goes both ways. You know, I really like the idea of getting beyond, even if somebody is communicating an assumption that they have a view of yourself could be very triggering, and cause you to put up walls and barriers, and then all of a sudden, the communication stops that way. And so I know, an excellent personal practice is to get beyond the surface of what they're saying, and really hear them. And that goes the other way, as well as to be able to get beyond our stories and communicate what our really meet our needs are. Because so often, I find myself when I'm invulnerable or weaker states, even though I know better, I'm crafting ideas about you know, what that other person's intentions are and what they're assuming, then I'll pause, you know, and I'll sudden was like, I didn't even communicate what my needs are here. They don't even they don't even know, I'm just figuring out what my needs are. And I'm expecting them to know what goes.
Wendy Keats 26:27
Yeah, yeah. But you can be sure you've communicated your position on it? Yes. Yeah. And that's, you know, that's really the problem, when we try and talk about positions, it's just a losing game, and it actually makes things worse, people just become more entrenched in their positions. So and especially when we're vulnerable, again, just looking at emotions, you know, we also don't give enough attention to the fact that emotions are bio cycles, social reactions, you know, when we're upset, we can release as many as 60 different hormones into our bodies. And the more that these hormones are released, the more ability to be reasonable and rational decreases. I mean, it's a scientific fact, you know, because our body is flooded, and still fight or flight syndrome. And we can actually stay locked in that as you know, we continually try to figure out why that other person is wrong, what we did wrong, you know, all of these things. So we're being completely, you know, sometimes completely irrational, and we're making decisions that are really important. So again, you know, having that time and that breath, and that safe place, to just really work through some of that stuff, is the only way that, you know, we can really move forward in a way that we can come to, you know, agreements and ways of doing things that meet our interests and needs. And it's, you know, it's to me, it's always been a shame, because so few people know about this, you know, in my, you know, I've been doing mediation for about 30 years. And conflict is seen as such a horrible thing. You know, and people avoid it. Like, there's all kinds of different styles and approaches that people use to avoid, you know, having to you know, just sit down and talk to people depends on their level of comfort, growing up. So we don't teach this in schools, we don't teach anything about conflict, nobody gets to learn you, even as adults about, hey, you know what, this is just natural and normal. This is how we grow. You know, if we don't have conflict, we don't change. And now mind you, it doesn't need to get to the level that people aren't sleeping at night and so on. It does, you know, because we have this fear of it. So, you know, if, if we could, I think, as a society, help people to learn and understand more about you know, how conflicts come about their natural and normal, here are some ways we can sit down and solve them. Here's, you know, here's what leads to them and techniques that you can use, you know, these to me are things that should be taught from daycare on and I think a lot of teachers do try but it's not it's not again, it's not private virus structured system. That's not where government or anything government does is not where the real important things are going to happen. You'll come away with math skills, but they won't be able to function when in relationships. So that's my ramble. Don't get me going on that one's too.
Stuart Murray 29:57
Well, you touched on so many excellent Owens there. And I've personally been studying nonviolent communication and trying to practice that, which is, you know, very similar with this restorative this pathway and goes really hand in hand as far as techniques go. And, you know, being somebody who's grown up playing sports and grown up in, in team dynamics, so much of my life, I've, I guess I've been actually exposed to that discomfort of disagreement and working hard, you know, putting in many, many hours with certain people and having to sift through things or how to deal with loss with with groups of people or conflicts when things get really tough. And I find perhaps one aspect of that, like, I think it's really interesting to note how offended we do get and how much we try to avoid conflict and see it as an enemy and try and do anything to push it off. And instead internalize that or, you know, become passive aggressive, you have all these different qualities to that, where, you know, it's like, there's so much value in that conflict, as long as we don't attach to our personal ideas and don't take personal offense. Right, maybe there's a little space. And I'm curious, in your opinion, how does or how could conflict actually lead to meaningful change?
Wendy Keats 31:22
Yeah, so I don't think there is meaningful change, and unless there's conflict. So, you know, I guess at least, this might be a little bit off stew. But you know, I often think of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, ya know, where she, you know, really, she talks about things, things only change in a big way, when there's a shock to our system. You know, so financial crises, obviously, you know, the pandemics, but what big business and capitalists have learned how to do is to be prepared for that shock, because it's at that time, that their solutions they can get them pass through. So you know, legislation gets passed faster. You know, we've seen how many times have we seen legislation change recently, with, you know, lightning speed, new programs get offered things, you know, in response, so, you know, big corporations actually have strategies that they wait for the shocks to happen, and they slide in things in through. So I've off long said community needs to do the same thing, we need shocks are going to happen in our system, small and large. And if we're prepared with the solutions, we too, can offer up those solutions. So, you know, it's shocks to the system really are conflict. And so, you know, that's a way to, you know, be able to integrate some of this stuff, and I would love to see, and I am seeing this happen in, you know, as a result of the pandemic. So we've seen all kinds of changes that have happened that just are horrific. You know, at the government level, rights have been taken away from, you know, people that we've spent 100 years fighting for, you know, this is all of these things are happening, but at the same time, some of these really innovative things, you know, the groups had been ready, they've been developing and they've jumped entity when, you know, this happens. So it's the same conflict, you know, if you have solutions to offer people that are going to meet their needs, it's like a lifeboat, you know, they'll jump on it. Of course, I often think about cooperatives. They have, you know, 150 years of history in Canada, where they have been learning how to work together through all of these crises. And if you look at the statistics for cooperatives are twice as likely to succeed during times of crisis than other businesses are, they grow, you know, the 2008 financial crisis, they grew at six times the rate of the economy, and that is because people were working together and you know, they they built on those strengths and those shared values and their you know, collective commitments even though it you know, not everybody agreed with certain things, but they have figured out ways they have systems in place and structures in place and values and the ways that they do their work that allow for them to actually you know, really solidify during times of crisis so I think is a really good model to look at. How have they managed to do this you know, we have the old design going co op in the world right and Sussex, New Brunswick And that's actually Oh my god, I think it's, uh oh, what is it, they celebrated their 100 and 50th birthday probably a decade ago. So you know, they must be about 160 years. Imagine what they've been through over those years, but because they had collective needs, and I think that's the other thing is, you know, when we share these collective needs and interests, we have a vested interest in things being successful. If it's something that really is not going to affect our life, then we can easily just sit back and have an opinion on it. But we don't tend to get involved, we don't tend to take action. And I think people do need to be together to take action. I mean, there's certain things that we can all do as individuals, but really to make any actual change, we, you know, we really have to work together as people. So figuring out the systems that work that allow people to effectively work together I think, is just absolutely critical. It's, I call it the foundation of everything else. And I often tell a story, my my dad was a stonemason.
And I can remember so many nights, he used to come home at the, you know, we'd be having supper, and he'd be shaking his head. And he'd say, you know, these people want me to fix their house, but their foundation is crooked errors, cracked, or, you know, whatever. And like, When are people going to learn, you cannot build something solid, on a cracked Foundation. And it always struck me how in my line of work, it was exactly the same, it wasn't cement foundations, it was structural foundations. So if you didn't take the time to build a really solid foundation and processes and ways for people to, you know, work together, then it would fail. So I think that not enough attention, really gets paid to the importance of building that foundation, we get a great idea, oh, everybody's all on board. And you know, and then somebody says, Well, I thought you were supposed to do that. And well, I thought, that's the way we made decisions, because nobody's really taken that time to build that foundation. So that's, that's when things fail.
Stuart Murray 37:27
That's you raise again, some incredible points there. And I love what you say about you know, that that little conflict or big conflict, whatever that is, both internally and within community are really at the larger level, how that has the opportunity, it's inevitably going to create change, and that we can be the orchestrators in which way in which direction that change will lead. And it makes me think of that term, you know, parallel structures, this idea of, well, if we're not happy with something, we have the power to create new alternatives, we, we don't have to continue sitting back and complaining about what is or pointing the finger at, at government or any, we can actually invest our time, our energy, our resources, collective capacity towards building and creating these new systems and new structures that do serve people that do serve all individuals and can help meet all people's needs from the bottom up. And I think what you're touching on there with cooperatives is a phenomenal example of that at that community level. And I'd love for you being the executive director of the cooperative enterprise Council of New Brunswick for many, many years. Could you offer a little bit of a background for listeners on what cooperatives really are?
Wendy Keats 38:49
Sure. So they're democratic organizations. And I think that's what's most important about them. And so one member, one vote doesn't matter how many shares you might own in the cooperative decisions are made collectively, they are member driven organizations and so exists to serve the needs and meet the needs of the members. That's the whole purpose of them. It's not to make a whole bunch of money. Although it definitely has to be sustainable businesses, there's no and VNL. And they want to make, you know, certainly as much money as they can, but that money gets shared back with the member. So it's not no one big corporation, a couple of people that are benefiting and Oh, from the sweat and labor of you know, the workers. It's really about sharing the wealth amongst everyone and creating community wealth. So cooperatives are very much they they're based on a set of internationally practice principles. There's seven of them at concern for sure. Unity, you know, autonomy, you know, building a collective expertise and skills and, you know, cooperation amongst cooperatives. So cooperatives work together. You know, I often tell folks, you know, I do a lot of work with small businesses. And so, you know, if a small business is starting, and you know, they're trying to figure out how to get going, they would never contact another small business and say, Hey, can you give me your bylaws, and, you know, your, your business plan, and well, that's regular with cooperatives, you know, because the idea is, in a, I mean, healthy competition, but it really as much collaboration as as possible. So they're constantly sharing, you know, resources and working together to support one another. You know, and then this concern for community, you know, really, and and I'm going to just sort of say, also, in addition to cooperatives, you know, they're the movement has grown in social enterprise, that has been a growing movement. And so such social enterprise is all about, the reason the business is established, is to meet a need in the community. And it may not be a cooperative structure, but it all is, you know, out there also values based organizations. And so, you know, for, there's no one definition of social enterprise yet in Canada, but pretty well, except it is the idea that a minimum of 50% of the profits have to go back into addressing some issue in the community. So these are the kinds of businesses that have been developing, you know, over the years, and certainly, you know, the millennial population, it meets their values, it's, you know, things that they are much more interested in working within organizations that operate democratically that have concern for the community that, you know, do things collaboratively with others. And, you know, when they bring that innovation and their great ideas, you know, to the table, they are coming up with just some amazing businesses, you know, and when you think about our economy, which, you know, we have to have a strong economy if we want to address any of these social issues. So this is really critically important. You know, right now, and you mentioned earlier about, you know, we have the power to do things. And, you know, a big part of our power, is how we spend our money. And so if you choose to, you know, buy something from Amazon, rather than, you know, buy something from a local supplier, and maybe you pay $1, more for it from the local supplier. The reality is, you know, that only something like 4% of the money that we spend in our communities on these corporations comes back to our economy, so fewer schools, hospitals, roads, all of these things. So that extra dollar, you know, actually ends up costing you a lot more money in the end. So really supporting these these emerging businesses, you know, social enterprises, cooperatives, local, small businesses,
that is the shift that really has to happen. Spending is one piece, but investment is a is an even bigger piece, quite honestly. So I often use the example of people you know, in New Brunswick, we should shift out or send out $680 million a year just in RSP investments every year goes into Bay Street, it goes up someone 2% of that comes back to our economy. And yet we have tools, like for example, the Community Economic Development, investment, tax credit, which is really an amazing, nobody knows about it, but 100% of your investments in those remain in the economy guaranteed. And there's a phenomenal return on investment, you get a 50% tax credit on your provincial income tax from the government. So there's some tools you know, that are available, and they are starting to grow. But we we need to get more people on board spending their money that way. So we need to get them you know, supporting local business and, you know, if they've got money to invest to invest that in local businesses, rather than just you know, government, you know, this always bothers me investment drives me nuts like you know her Merida CBC thing yesterday on the discussion about, you know, the oil industry versus renewable energy and, and so on while the investment in fossil fuels, you know, trillions of dollars, the investments in renewable energy had been miniscule, and yet the renewable energy sector has taken off like it's just, and now we're starting to see shifts where, you know, groups like three fifty.org, and university students have started the whole divestment movement. So look at where is your investment going, you know, is our teachers pensions fun, supporting, you know, arms manufacturing, and tobacco companies and oil industry? Most people don't know. But they are. So people need to pay attention because that, that that money is really important to solving the problems that we have not new money, our existing money, how we spend our money is, is huge, and people just don't pay enough attention to that.
Stuart Murray 46:08
That's an excellent point. It's something that's often overlooked. But if you look even at that macro level, and see countries, you know, when America was thriving and became a global superpower, the reason a large reason why that was is because they had a lot of in house production, they were making, they were building that was, you know, making us meant something than that, that led them to be a great power. And in New Brunswick, we have such a scarcity mindset here. And yet, you know, all the while we're purchasing these products and things from from outside, where we have so many talented businesses and so much opportunity to actually redirect that with our rural landscape with these small creative communities to reinvest so much of that not only as you said, on our purchasing, but you've actually turned me on to the investing. I've always been, you know, we vote with our dollar, not just once every four years, we're voting every moment with where we direct our funds. But I, I had been actually quite ignorant to the community investment opportunities. And I'd love to hear you speak more about this community investment opportunity that you've been working on here in New Brunswick.
Wendy Keats 47:29
Yeah, it's really exciting, Stu. So just a little history, Nova Scotia has had this program called the Community Economic Development Investment Fund, CDF is the acronym for over 20 years. And what it is, is is a provincial tax credit. So it took us a long time to get over work for many years to get it to New Brunswick. And we've had here now I think, since 2016. And in short, the provincial government gives you back 50% of your investment if you invest in one of these pools of funds. And so you're kind of automatically guaranteed to get that back. Their RSP eligible so if you have RRSPs, you can self direct it, it's really simple process, you just keep your everything about your RSP as it is, you know, it just you're directing it into where you want it invest it into one of these funds. And so the it has just had a major impact in Nova Scotia and economic development creating these pools of funds that get reinvested in small businesses. So one of the best known ones in Nova Scotia would be firm works. They have raised millions of dollars, and I can't remember how many million but millions. And they have invested all of that money into 120 small businesses that operate in the local food sector. And the economic impact of that we actually did a study on it. We had the Sobeys School of Business last year, do an economic impact study on that. And when we got the results, we went back to the economist that did it and said, Oh, you've made a mistake. Like there's just no way that the impact is this big. And he said, guaranteed not only are those numbers, right, but we use extremely small, conservative data on this for every $575 that the provincial government invested through this tax credit by giving the tax credit, one full time job was created $575 is is what it took. You won't find a wage subsidy program or anything else you know that is going to To create a full time job. And the other thing is that it was primarily in rural communities. And so this is, and I guess that's another passion of mine is rural communities, they have been hardest hit, you know, for many years. And so these kinds of things that can support the development of rural communities are particularly important right now. And so anyhow, we decided, you know, long time ago that we wanted this program in New Brunswick, so we brought it here, it's a, it's operated by two government departments. So the financial and Consumer Services Commission, like on the securities end to things, and then the Department of Finance, which issues the actual tax credit, the process to get certified for this is just horrible. I mean, it's government as bureaucratic best. And so we have worked as a group of people in the Tantramar region to establish a fund, which, so it's called the grassroots CDM, vestment cooperative. Anybody wants to go to our website, you can Google that. And we went through the process of getting registered.
Last year, I think it was, and it took us well, quite honestly, it took us almost two years to get through the process, and we got approved. And it was in the middle of COVID. In July, when things were loosening up, and, you know, nobody was really interested in talking about income tax, they were finally being allowed to go camping. And so we decided we would not do a race at that period of time, we've held off on it, and we're doing education, to try to make people aware of I call it the and just did a webinar called The Best Kept tax secret in New Brunswick to explain the program. So, you know, we can raise up to $3 million a year of investment through this. And so, we will be putting we will be doing an offering in tax season this year. And so, you know, if we can get people know about it, and support it, we can raise our, our target for this race is $500,000. And so, you know, we hope to raise 500,000, and we will invest that, and then next year, we will raise a million, and then the year after that, we will raise 1.5 million. And so all of this will get invested in small businesses, and you know, we have some criteria. So for example, the businesses that we invest in must pay a living wage, you know, and they must, in some way contribute to the economic and the development of the community. So when you start putting money in, there's great ideas, but these guys, they can't go to the bank still, you know, a lot of them, you know, conventional banks and you know, other lenders, they're, you know, they can see it as risky investments, they're not on their list, you know, like, for example, in New Brunswick, try and get a, you know, try and get money for tourism, you know, Bnbs, and some of these, which have tremendous economic potential, but it's not on their list, you know, it's not an Akos list. So some of those businesses, you know, can be supported through these sorts of funds, and really make a difference. And again, our focus is on rural communities, because they're the ones that have been hardest hit, but also hold the most potential for rebuilding our economy, and also our population. Because as as well known, people are moving into New Brunswick in droves, and they're moving into the rural communities, you know, now that people are working from home, there's so much more opportunity for young people to live where they want to live and not have to worry about commuting. And it's just exploded, you know, like, Now, one of our issues that we deal with, with our moving forward cooperative, is finding housing for all of these people that want to move into our community. You know, five years ago, you couldn't sell a house in the community, you know, it's up on the market for three years, you know, now it's up for three hours. And it's sold. good problem to have. But are you seeing any action from the province on building housing in rural communities? So again, it's got to come you know, from the community and it's gotta have money, you know, that can get these things started. So that's, you know, what, what the grassroots CD is about. We also are We're trying to help provide education and support to other communities that want to do this. So I guess that's another thing I would just speak about for a moment is replication. So, you know, there's lots of really great ideas and things that are happening in the community, other other groups see it and go, Oh, if you know, we'd love to do that, too. And so a lot of the work that I do is always about documenting, preparing, guides, you know, providing some supports and mentoring and coaching to other communities. Because, you know, we don't need to learn everything from scratch and stew, you know, you know, a great example is our aquaponics project that we're doing at the Dorchester school in partnership with the moving, cooperative, moving forward, cooperative. And, you know, we will be able to produce 250 plants a week, the most nutritious, healthy plants that will all go for food, insecure families in the community, teaching students about food production, food sovereignty, you know, we've created this amazing, you know, project that can be easily replicated in any community to increase food security. So we're developing a guy, and we're setting up an aquaponics network of other people that want to do it, and we're sharing what we learn and in supporting them in moving forward. So I think that that's another piece of, you know, ways that we can help our community recover from these shocks is to take the things that are working, and to share it and to help other communities to do it. So that was a long answer to but Ben at all, it all needs money. That's the point, right? It all needs investment. And we're not getting it, from traditional lenders and so on, it's, it's, you know, but these are, there are opportunities for us to do it ourselves.
Stuart Murray 57:06
Totally. And you raise some points there, there's some staggering amounts of money and in investments that are leaving this province, and just pouring out where we could really turn that in. And also, I really liked that idea of not only having that money in the right container for that to take place. But the inspiration, the pathway, this cooperative model, is really, you know, building these things on the shoulders of giants so that we can move forward and, and speed things up together, that that's got to be key to moving forward and to go back. For anybody who's interested in this. This round of fundraising even this year, or moving forward, just if they want to know more, like, could you talk about what that might look like for say, somebody has $10,000, and they've saved up? What what might that look like if somebody takes $10,000 and wants to invest this when the opportunity comes.
Wendy Keats 58:02
So so they can invest their $10,000, and they will automatically get a tax credit from the province that they can use on their next income tax return, they will get 50% 50% credit, now they have to leave their money in for four years into in the investment. If they don't need that whole 50% credit, they can go back three years, so they only backed taxes, it can be applied to that, or they can move it forward seven years, they can spread it out. You know, we had an interesting situation here a little while ago without naming the company where a bunch of people kind of became millionaires overnight. And they're like, oh my god, we're gonna lose half of this money in taxes. And so but had they put half of that money, you know, they put $500,000 into No, excuse me, the maximum you can put is 250,000 a year so they put 250,000 here, they would have got 125,000 of that back in a tax credit and they could have applied that you know, in whatever years they want it to. So it's quite flexible in you know, how you spread your tax credit out. At the end of four years. You can sell your share or shares so depends, you know, if they're $1,000 a share, you've got 10 shares, you can sell your shares back to the cooperative and and get your $10,000 back. Now there are a higher risk investment as we talked about a little bit earlier, you know, the kinds of businesses that CDCs as the acronym for them invest in tend to be a little bit higher risk not risky because we have a team you know, they always have a team of our team is great. We have you know accountants and people that have invested in people that know, you know, the local business as well. So the you know, you do your very best to make sure that you're making good investments, but at the same time, there is a bit more risk. So you might not get your 10,000, back at the end of four years, it might be five or six years before you can sell your shares back to the cooperative. And, you know, it's really kind of as simple as that the minimum investment is $1,000. And the maximum investment is $250,000 a year. And you can do that every year. And again, you can take your RRSPs, and just self direct them. So, you know, if you've got, you know, already $40,000 In RRSPs, and you decide you want to take 10,000 of that out and invest it, you'll get 50% of that 10,000 back, and it's just money you already, you know, has sitting in a pot somewhere. So yeah, and then that money in turn, like I say, it goes into a pool, and it gets invested based on the criteria that's laid out in the offering document. So anybody that's interested in investing gets a copy of the operating document, which is extremely detailed, you know, it, it tells you everything that you need to know, in some cases, these funds will say these are the businesses that we're planning to invest in. Others might say these are the sectors that we're planning to invest in. Others may just say, you know, this is it's going into this criteria, like I mentioned earlier, pays a living wage has a solid business plan, it could be you know, any type of business, but the offering document lays that all out so that people are well aware of where their money is going. And again, as guaranteed 100% of it stays in New Brunswick.
Stuart Murray 1:01:56
That's amazing. So right away, people are getting half that pack on on their tax credit, which is, which is huge, and then can be able to get that full amount back down the road. And when I was talking to you last time, you mentioned something about potentially dividends as well as that thing.
Wendy Keats 1:02:11
Yes, yes. So if you choose to leave your money in for the more than four years, you know, just to keep your investment in the way that they're set up is the intent is to be able to start to pay dividends at some point in time. And of course, that's all dependent on the you know, profitability of the fund. But in Nova Scotia, just to go back to them because they have such a long history. You know, firm works, has paid out returns on investment for years now, like every year, another big fund in Nova Scotia is win for all and they're actually here in New Brunswick. Now, I believe they're doing a raise, they might even be doing two raises. One is for the solar installation at St. John energy. And the other I believe, is to be first nations. Don't quote me on that this is my understanding of it. But one way or another, I know they're in here, and they're starting to do stuff. And they have been in Nova Scotia for a number of years. And they have raised I think it was $11 million and invested it into wind farms. Or sorry, I said solar I met wind into wind farms. And so they have always given a return on investment. And it's you know, it's pretty comparable to what you're gonna get, you know, on on traditional investments that people are putting their money into nowadays, RRSPs and GICs and some of these other things. So that is also like it's another reason for people to keep their money in and and continue to get dividends on that.
Stuart Murray 1:03:58
When did you say for the grassroots investment fund that would be happening this year.
Wendy Keats 1:04:03
So we are in the process now of going through that whole process I mentioned earlier, we have to do the whole thing all over again. Fortunately, now we've got you know, that experience behind us. And so our goal is to be able to do a raise in like December, January, February, March and around the income tax season. We do have to get our approval. So this is all tentative planning. We're very hopeful we got it before so we don't really see a reason we wouldn't get it again. But we can't officially say anything about our raise until we've believe me this is very tightly controlled by the Commission even what we can and cannot say about it. We have put information on our website. Again, so it's grassroots.co op, C O P No hyphen, and you can find some of that including that economic impact study that we did on the Nova Scotia program, information about investors, we left our last offering document on there so that people could see what we did. It's basically the same thing, only we intend to raise more money, we realize that we hadn't set the bar high enough. So our target, I believe this year will be a minimum of $500,000.
Stuart Murray 1:05:28
Love it, I'll make sure to include that information in the show notes, too. So anybody interested can go directly on and click that link to get on to it. Great. Awesome. So I'm curious, as we shifted to the very end, what, what are some of the key principles and values that guide the work you've done and do in community?
Wendy Keats 1:05:51
Democracy, I think is probably number one. And ad is the hardest thing to do. You know, allowing for people's voices to be heard truly engaging people in things that they're interested in and building on their skills and interests. I think that's one of the mistakes that we make. Some times when we set up organizations, we just look for people to come and sit on a board or, you know, something like that. And we don't really look at what are the things that really motivate this person, and that how can we take what their passions and their skills are in using in some way in creating, you know, whatever it is that we want to create. So truly engaging people in things that they're passionate about, I think is is critically important. Again, surrounding yourself, and including people that share the vision, you know, there's a lot of naysayers out there, there's a lot of people that are going to tell you why something's not going to work, they're going to criticize you. I feel like every time you put yourself out there to do something good in the community, there's always somebody ready to try to put you down. I don't know why it just seems to be human nature. And it's pretty easy to get sucked into that. You know, that just whole rabbit hole of worrying about, you know, being attacked, especially on social media for just trying to do good. So you gotta have a little bit of a thick skin, I think, but I think it really makes a difference, to just make sure that the people that you're surrounded with, share your vision, they are passionate, they are positive. And, and just, you know, really kind of work together and try to not let you know that one or two, I I'm writing a book Sunday, it's called organizational terrorism, how one person can destroy the dreams, and many, because I have seen it over and over again, where you know, somebody's just, you know, I don't understand why, but they do. They're there. And they've destroyed so many things. So, you know, that I guess goes back a little bit to the whole conflict resolution. Things do. Just really making sure that you create this safe space for people to be creative, and passionate. And, you know, and then there there is the money thing, you know, so if you want to do something, you gotta have money. And you can start something as a small volunteer thing, but you cannot scale it up. You cannot make it grow, and it's not going to be sustainable without money, and that includes, you know, money for somebody to be paid to direct the work and to do the on the ground work. The reliance on volunteers is a real issue now. You know, I was part of the Broadbent Institute years ago that did a big initiative called the voluntary sector initiative. And, you know, we looked at the decline of volunteerism, and they were losing volunteers at the rate of 5% per year, well, that only takes 20 years before they're all gone. And now we won't lose them all because we've got passionate people that will stick around but what we're seeing is we have ageing boards. We have fewer people who are willing to volunteer their time. And that is a crisis and because we need them, so we need to find ways to to engage people in things that interests them and to bring them back into that fold and to make volunteering fun. You know, that's the way I always remembered it. No, and, you know, Girl Guides, and you know, like, we just always had fun at this stuff, you know, the youth recreation program that I talked about was the first one that I took on, oh my god, I have such great memories of that, and so to everybody that was involved. And so we have to, we have to make it fun, and we have to make it safe. And we have to make it meaningful for people. But I do think we need to really focus some attention on that, or those organizations are going to crumble. And, you know, you and I talked recently stew about an amazing one, that they're just going to close it down, because they had an ageing board of directors, and they can't get anybody else to take it on, like, what a shame, we're gonna lose, you know, so much social capital and knowledge and so on. And so, you know, putting some attention to how do we do that in this day and age young people like to volunteer differently than, you know, older people do. And I think that's another thing that is really important. Is, and we talked about divides earlier, one of the divides that really concerns me is the divide between the young and the old. Ya know, there's a bit of a blame game that goes on, you know, about baby boomers, and, you know, there's some, some language and some, you know, things that are being said, that are, you know, not helpful, I understand them. But again, those are positions we talked about earlier. And we share the same interests. So, you know, finding a way where we can bring everybody together, young, old newcomers, you know, indigenous black, I mean, we're dealing with all of these, you know, issues around equity, and on top of, you know, all of this other stuff. So that's why, again, why these, these conversations are so important in bringing people together, and helping us to see that we're all working for the same thing. So you know, how do we do it in a way that is meaningful to you, where you're coming from and that Kindles your passions and, and advances your skills, you know, so people should be able to learn things that help them in life, or need work, and so on from from those experiences. So again, I go back to the building, you know, that that strong foundation as being critically important.
Stuart Murray 1:12:43
I agree so much there, and I've found so much value, and meaning in my life through through being of service and in service. And, yeah, it speaks volumes. And but you're right, it's got to be as well finding those right places that we can be in service and creating the spaces where people are inspired to do that. So it's huge. And I'm curious what, you know, being somebody like you, who's retired and still working beyond most of what a full time art, like, what's your take on an individual's responsibility to the community?
Wendy Keats 1:13:24
Oh, gee, that's a really tough one, Stu, because I have some pretty strong feelings about it. I think we have an obligation to participate in our community. I, I get frustrated, when I see people that are sitting around doing nothing but complaining, I have a personal philosophy, if you're not doing something about it, do not complain to me about the issue, you don't have the right to complain. If you're not participating in some way, now you that can be in any way whatever, you know, works for you. But you know, and I'm think that this is one of the things that has changed over the years, I was always a fundamental of community, you know, in, in, in our history, we helped our neighbors, it was automatic, whether you like them or not. And I think we still have a lot of that. But it tends to be in a time of a crisis. And then people go back to, you know, whatever, but we need our people. We need everybody at the table, because we are not going to make it. We've got climate change. We talked about climate change. I mean, the world is a different place, and when you know our ancient structures, political and otherwise are crumbling all around us. And so what's going to happen you know, when when we really are in The Thick of climate change, I, I worry about it for my grandchildren. I don't want to be an alarmist about it. But it's, I mean, it's here, and we need to be doing things. And we are going to have a very different life, we've already had a last two years, we could have never imagined in our wildest dreams, what our life would be like the last two years, nor can we imagine what it's going to be like, you know, as climate change. So again, just that's where it goes back to the importance of really building these strong communities, strong, resilient communities. That's who we have to rely on as time goes on. And, you know, unfortunately, crisis does bring people together and more crisis will bring more people to the table. And I'm seeing that now with COVID. Like, I'm seeing some real activity of people who weren't previously engaged, who have had some things happen in their life that have driven some passions for them, and they're getting more involved. I hate that it has to be crisis. But if that's what it is, then, you know, like I said earlier with Naomi Klein, let's prepare for that we've got the solutions. We know this stuff is coming. So finding some leaders in the community, having everybody engaged at some level in helping to, you know, toward, to go towards a common vision and building community. You know, I know it sounds a little bit like utopia, but pendulums do swing. And I think we're swinging back to that way that we lived 100 years ago, where people understand they have an obligation and an expectation by everyone in the community that they do something to help.
Stuart Murray 1:16:58
I agree, I see it happening, too. And like you said, you know, in these last couple of years, be that the the supply shortages or, you know, people being frustrated with the divisive pneus of, of our political leadership of you know, whatever that trigger was, or that cause of conflict was the amount of people I'm seeing gathering for local gardening reports sharing new kinds of facilities and structures and places to gather.
So I have one last question for you. Before I do, though, is there anything else you'd like to say? Or make comment on about? Anything?
Wendy Keats 1:17:41
Well, we've covered an awful lot of stuff, Stu, I can't think of anything, I applaud you for what you're doing. This is exactly the kind of thing that I was talking about. creating spaces for conversations, you know, for people to have, and to learn about new things is, is really important. So kudos for doing that. And I guess, you know, the only thing that I would add is that, you know, I really do believe in community, it's not easy. There's, it's perhaps one of the hardest things that we do. But anything that's worth it, anything that brings us, you know, real pride and sad and sense of satisfaction, comes with, you know, a bit of hardship. But it is just amazing. You know, I've spent over 40 years of my life working in all of these kinds of social issues, and I will die a happy woman saying I spent my life well.
Stuart Murray 1:18:49
I love it. I agree from from all the work you've done, you've been a true inspiration, and a mentor to me around community development around engagement about that, that work ethic, that selfless service, to contribute to something bigger than, than yourself. And you've been a shining light and example for that and somebody that I've been happy to work with and have fun doing. I don't think we've had a phone call or we don't laugh and Exactly. That is so amazing. You're blessed to be doing this work with you, Andy, and last question for you. What is your big vision to help move humanity forward?
Wendy Keats 1:19:33
My big vision is that all of these amazing groups that are doing innovative things and wow, like you look around and it's just mind boggling. Find a way to come together. Because if they were to all come together, our problems are solved. We have power we represent the majority of people and And we we just need to be all connected together somehow and you know, with technology that is becoming more and more possible. So that's my vision for the future is that all these amazing things that are happening get resourced, you know, get together. And that we have a we have a whole new world like I, I think our system is has shown if it doesn't work, and there's no sense building on a flawed Foundation, get rid of it. Okay, I know that's extreme, but I just don't think we can fix it. I think we need these new these new systems that are out there. And, you know, maybe climate change will be that shock that happens, where we dive in, and we say Out with the old and in with the new, and the new is about community, and it's about democracy, and it's about caring for our communities and our planet.
Stuart Murray 1:21:08
I love it. Thank you so much, Wendy. You're so welcome. I hope you enjoy this episode with Wendy Keats. She has been a powerhouse in the world of community development. And I continue to learn so much from her each time I work with her or converse with her. And I hope you've been able to glean some of that information in this conversation. Once again, a big thank you to our sponsor, Karen Phytoplankton. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And you can also find me on Facebook and YouTube at the connected movement. Thanks again and see you next Monday.