Studies may have officially ended for the students participating in Simon Fraser University’s Certificate Program for Community Economic Development (SFU CED), but their real training has just begun.

The 8-month, hands-on program provides a unique learning experience for a select cohort of students seeking to build strong, local and sustainable communities. Thrive, Calgary’s community economic development network, partners with SFU to host this program in Calgary.

“There is a philosophical difference at SFU,” says program graduate and Social Innovation Challenge winner Eric Burton. “Other programs teach economic development from a government perspective…but SFU teaches that the solutions to local challenges are not outside of the community, but within.” He adds, “Community Economic Development is about creating connections, connecting ideas and connecting people. The potential is already there.”

Creating connections and bringing people together to take action seems to be a key component of the CED program.

“If I hadn’t taken the program, I would still just be talking rather than doing.” That’s the thought of Donna McBride, one of Eric’s classmates.

Donna initially enrolled in the program so she could better understand the work that her staff at Momentum were doing, but she didn’t expect the impact the program would have on her.

“In the past I always got stuck on how to move forward. But one class, called Making Change Happen, moved me forward,” says Donna. Students formed learning circles around community issues. Donna, whose son is in a wheelchair, immediately thought of the lack of emergency access to mobility aid repair services in the evenings and on weekends. The class encouraged her to reach out to people to find a solution. As a result, she connected with two community members who use wheelchairs and they formed the business The Third Wheel.

“There’s something to the idea that the solution comes from inside the group. Dom and Casey [her partners] already knew each other…my role is to help them with whatever they need to build the business. I’m there in the background,” says Donna.

Their goals are to not only provide repair services after hours, but to shape and reshape the view of people with disabilities. They were awarded $10,000 to kick start their business as part of the Social Innovation Challenge hosted during the 8-month program.

Jessica Vergata, another CED graduate echoes the sentiment of Eric and Donna. “I understood that the program wouldn’t close all the gaps, but I did know it would expose me to a network; to create a safety net so I can take enormous risks, share ideas, creativity, etc., and that’s rich.”

And take a risk is exactly what Jessica plans to do. Her idea for the Calgary Kitchen Library, a kitchen equipment-lending program, won her $3000 in the Social Innovation Challenge. She plans to stock a large selection of equipment that people may not have due to cost, storage or lack of knowledge on use. But it will be much more than just lending equipment.

Jessica’s vision is to have a hub where local suddenly becomes attainable, with local food in one location, a space to store and prepare goods, and a place to foster creativity and other social enterprises for commercial use.

As the three graduates apply their learning and launch their social ventures, they will continue to receive direct support through Thrive. Thrive is a trusted resource for community-minded residents, local leaders and entrepreneurs in building a thriving, resilient and inclusive economy for all. They provide access to quality learning and key resources to strengthen communities and transform the economic well-being of all Calgarians.

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