Janet Song is the Business Innovation Project Coordinator with Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab and the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce
My interest in remote northern communities began in my Economic Development Master’s program where I learned about the economic and social disparities between Canada’s north and south. As the Business Innovation Project Coordinator with Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab and the Prince Rupert & District Chamber of Commerce I thought I could make a meaningful difference in a northwestern city. Things surely have changed two-and-a-half months into the role due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the journey in investing into the future of Prince Rupert continues.
The Prince Rupert & District Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit organization that supports, connects, and advocates for the local business community.
I arrived in a time of opportunity and excitement for change in this city with the launch of an ambitious 10-year plan for the city — the Redesign Rupert initiative. The goal of my project was to foster a business culture of collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking to bolster and diversify Prince Rupert’s business community. The planning of new programs to meet the needs of the community began with understanding the local economy, the challenges, and how the Chamber can be of support.
Meeting people where they are at
My first task was to facilitate a survey of the business community made up of 250+ members.
I focused on humanizing the process of survey delivery, which involved conducting personal 15-20-minute interviews and asking key questions on challenges, how they’d like to be supported, and how the Chamber can help. I was able to cultivate relationships by conducting 72 interviews with business leaders, city staff, and active community members to better understand how the Chamber can support the local economy.
I presented key findings to the Chamber’s Board of Directors and its members at the monthly chamber luncheon. I applied the insights from the survey on how to build stronger partnerships with government representatives, social service organizations, and businesses in the Prince Rupert community.
Deeper community integration (before the pandemic)
I have been discovering the small, but mighty, tight-knit community when I found a sense of place outside of work through teaching Zumba at the Civic Centre and volunteering at community events, such as Children’s Fest. On Friday evenings, I would gather with young adults to plan weekly community nights, and I have formed strong bonds with people who live in this city.
Program pivot: Building capacity despite the unprecedented nation-wide business closures
With the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the downturn of the local economy following the government’s mandate that only essential services can operate, an “all hands on deck” approach was needed to support Prince Rupert’s businesses.
I initiated the Chamber’s weekly conference calls to help community members share resources. The goal was to connect community partner organizations, and government representatives from all levels with the business community collaborating on how to operate and be resilient at this time.
The next steps on program development for the Chamber are seemingly unclear as to when social distancing measures will draw to an end and businesses can reopen.
In the midst of uncertainty and grave concern for the future, I hold fast to the hope of a resilient community rising up. I have witnessed the collaboration of this business community like never before, of partnerships blossoming from discussions on our weekly Chamber conference calls.
From these vulnerable moments of sharing our battle scars in this crisis, we collectively learn that we are all hurting economically in this challenge, and we need each other’s support to get through this.
We are indeed better together.