Like most professionals, I have many facets to my life in addition to my business. For the most part I do not discuss these here on my blog. However, I mentioned my community work recently to Christian Renard, and he suggested that I write about it.
I have had the privilege of serving as Chairman of the Board of Renaissance Sackville (RS) for the past five years. This not-for-profit organization was created 20 years ago when our town faced economic uncertainty. Several large businesses had recently closed, such as a foundry and a grocery distribution centre, leaving Mount Allison University as the only major employer. RS started as a forum to increase economic activity, including tourism.
When I joined the board, our focus had changed a bit, due to changing circumstances and our previous successes. Our current mission is: to help Sackville become a vibrant, economically and environmentally responsible, aesthetically pleasing, caring, friendly and gracious community. We receive about $50,000 annually from the Town of Sackville and get special project funding from other sources, such as Heritage Canada for the town’s 250th anniversary celebrations in 2012.
RS acts mostly as a seed funding agency for small projects that test new ideas. For example, we provided some funds to Community Forests International, an organization active in Africa and Canada, and as a direct result they are now headquartered here in Sackville, generating more economic development. Other recent examples include a bike co-op, a car share program, and a video camp for teenagers. One key aspect of our funding is that we do not expect a direct return on our investments. We believe in seeding as many ideas as possible, knowing that some will flourish and some will not, but we can learn something from each of them.
For me, one great attribute of RS is our ability to pay our beneficiaries very quickly, sometimes in less than 24 hours. The board works very well together, and in addition to our monthly meetings, we have discussions and make decisions using web-based tools. For small projects, where quite often a young person has taken the initiative, we know they cannot afford to be out of pocket for any length of time. We will even hand-deliver the cheque!
The measure of success for RS is in its aggregate work, not any specific project. Over time, we have been involved in every aspect of our community. This enables the board to make very informed decisions. We know the applicants and what they have done in the community. We do not expect short-term success. We want to make Sackville, population 5,000, a better place to live, work, and play. In the past five years, I have not come across another organization like RS that works independent of politicians and town officials, yet stays closely connected to the entire community. As a volunteer, it has been a pleasure to serve on the board of RS.
I think our operating model can be adopted by other communities in order to distribute economic and community development decision-making. I will try to add some more details and stories about Renaissance Sackville here over time, and I invite any questions, especially from other small communities. I may not be able to provide all the answers but I really think this is a much better way to grow a more resilient community for less than the cost of one full-time municipal employee. Our independence, with transparent processes, ensures we stay agile and able to test out many new projects and programs.