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Do you ever find yourself gearing up for a big day months in advance, the day finally comes and you power through and you have a to-do list of things to do to follow up and then somehow the time just gets away from you? That’s what happened to me following the March Practitioners Gathering.

So rather than let all that completely slip away, I am going to rewind my brain to the days following the Gathering and put some thoughts down.

The Practitioners Gathering happened on March 22, 2019 at the 519 Community Centre. We were joined by 28 practitioners who brought their diverse backgrounds with them. We had folks experienced in community organizing, storytelling, teaching English, political advocacy and public policy, entrepreneurship, design and so much more.

I wanted to share a bit about why we did the event, what we got out of it and what we are doing next.

Jenn

What bugs you fuels you

In the months leading up to the Practitioners Gathering, we found ourselves repeatedly connecting with others who are working in the settlement and community organizations who told us about their experiences doing some kind of storytelling of their own. Either they had participated, led or heard of a project similar to ours but for whatever reason that project wasn’t happening now. Usually it had to do with funding ending or a staff person moving on. Like most work in the nonprofit sector, the wisdom of the work fizzled out and the work and stories that were collected seemed to have disappeared. This is not something we want to happen to our work. We want to make sure that the stories we collect live somewhere that is sustainably maintained and continue to make impact long after our funding is done. This was the first of many bugs we would find. The bugs are pain points. They are tensions in the work that drives us to want to make change.

The Practitioners Gathering was our way of seeing if what bugged us was bugging others.

Timing is everything

We knew that we weren’t the first people to attempt using storytelling with newcomers – clearly storytelling is a part of everyone’s culture, it is a part of what helps us survive, it is how we make sense of the world around us. It is storytelling that helps us connect the dots. But we have funding now, and so we wanted to use our time wisely and extend our learning. We wanted to connect with others in this time and space to see what else is happening in the sector. We wanted to lead with questions and let the conversation emerge. We knew the conversation that happened on this day, with this group of people, had never happened before and would never happen again. So we felt a huge responsibility to be in the moment and to capture what we could.

The Practitioners Gathering was the beginning of hopefully more and more meaningful conversations. We were excited by the number of new connections made, the laughter in the room, the new ideas that formed and the passion shared.

Rooted in Stories

Obviously, this project is all about stories. And as the project evolves we are constantly reminded just how important stories and storytelling is. We didn’t want to just focus on the positive and hopeful newcomer story that is often shared and expected. Instead we wanted to uncover vulnerable, raw, emotional stories that are woven throughout the newcomer community. What we found is that often stories carry both positive and negative emotions and having time to grieve the ideas of what was expected with what actually is happening is buried by pressure to carry on and send happy thoughts back home.

During the Practitioners Gathering we talked about the value of stories, the roles within storytelling, the impact of stories and the cost of sharing stories.

Moving forward

We sat with the information we learned from the Practitioners Gathering for a while and what we came to realize is that it is especially important for us to play a role in bringing people together to share ideas and connections, that we need to hold space for shared values and principles to emerge through structured and unstructured facilitation, and that we need to continue to share and find stories from newcomers to keep our work grounded. We took what we learned from the Practitioners Gathering and our expertise and turned it into a funding application for 5 years of funding from Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada. We will share more about the process of writing that application in a future post, so stay tuned.

Jennifer Chan

Jennifer Chan

Jenn has been working with nonprofits and communities for over 10 years guiding design thinking and strategic foresight processes. Jenn believes in facilitating conversations lead by the community to find pain points that drive and ground new ideas.

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