Five key takeaways from the Healthy Communities, Equity & Economic Recovery discussion

For communities across Canada, 2020 was an especially trying year. However, the difficulties we are all facing continue to impact community members to varying degrees. Though inequities existed in our communities prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, current challenges have amplified these differences. Given all we have learned through our past and present experiences, how can we put equity into action to create greater well-being for all community members? Staff from BC Healthy Communities and SFU’s Community Economic Development program convened to explore this topic alongside a group of Indigenous and local government staff, as well as health professionals. Here are the top five key takeaways from that discussion. 

1) An equitable recovery means the most vulnerable people, communities and businesses receive greater resources than others. 

There is an idea that during and after disasters and disruptions we are all in the same boat and we are in it together. The COVID-19 pandemic has only reaffirmed this idea as a false narrative. People are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 because of pre-existing inequities in our communities. It is important to remember people are not vulnerable because of their identity—rather, they are pushed into vulnerable conditions because of the historic and ongoing decisions and functions of our system.

To create an equitable recovery, we must first work to identify and address the root causes. Using an equity lens, and considering the procedural, distributional, structural and trans-generational aspects of equity can help policy and decision-makers to understand different impacts, illuminate different needs and develop innovative and responsive solutions with communities rather than for them. Applying an equity lens means constantly asking ourselves to look outside of our own experiences and understandings, and ensuring those most affected are included in all stages of recovery planning and implementation. 

Equity means asking: How have our institutions perpetuated vulnerable conditions for communities facing historic and ongoing marginalization? 

2) “Good recovery requires a diversity of responses, not a one-size fits all approach.

In our response efforts, a focus on root causes, inequities, or the social determinants of health often get lost. Disasters or major disruptions can be disorienting, and trying to respond as quickly as possible to improve conditions and keep our communities safe and healthy brings its own challenges. 

An equitable recovery requires a set of diverse and unique responses based on a nuanced and lived understanding of your community. 

One way to ensure we don’t get tunnel vision or fall victim to status quo response is by tying our COVID responses to our longer-term community plans and policies, especially to efforts such as affordable housing strategies, equity plans and community development plans that are already working to reduce vulnerabilities. This pairing serves to leverage the good work already done in identifying and prioritizing needs in your community and ensures you’re looking for the process to be community driven rather than top-down.

Equity asks: What are the potential unintended consequences of this response initiative? Who might be negatively impacted/burdened and how do we mitigate that? 

3) Community Economic Development is a systems approach to problem solving for community well-being that can inform economic recovery processes.  

The five principles of Community Economic Development (CED) provide a broad and holistic view of how economic development can contribute to a stable, resilient and equitable community. CED centers human flourishing and well-being, and recognizes that human and social development are essential aspects of economic development. The approach strives for diverse and inclusive processes, as well as the recognition of diverse skills, capacities and interests that support local economies. CED acknowledges that human and natural processes are interdependent. Success and impacts are evaluated across multiple bottom lines, including economic, ecological, social and cultural outcomes, and solutions are designed with the well-being of future generations in mind. 

A CED approach seeks to build off the local strengths and assets of a community by encouraging local industry and purchasing, and harnessing the diverse skills, capabilities, interests and needs of community residents. CED recognizes the importance of local institutions in bridging community needs to senior levels of decision-making, and aims to build community ownership through grassroots and participatory planning. All sectors are involved in economic development, because our economic, environmental, social, and cultural well-being are interconnected and overlapping. 

Equity asks: How do we ensure that our initiatives are considering all livelihoods, and supporting all members of our community to be healthy and well within our local economies? 

4) Local and Indigenous governments can utilize local assets and connect the dots between policies, programs and people to foster equitable economic recovery.

Although it’s not solely up to governments to respond to disasters, local and Indigenous governments play a crucial role in helping to nourish a local economy, direct resources and scale initiatives. 

Here are some examples from the webinar of actions local and Indigenous governments can take to support the equitable local economy and recovery initiatives. 

  • Develop social procurement policies
    Governments are consumers of goods and services. Indigenous and local governments and organizations can help achieve equity goals in their community by creating procurement processes that prioritize purchasing from social enterprises and other local or regional businesses working towards these social outcomes. Coastal Communities Social Procurement Initiative is a great resource establishing this process. 

  • Directly involve the community in recovery initiatives to address systemic vulnerabilities Our response and recovery initiatives need to explicitly prioritize vulnerable communities and enable individuals and organizations from these communities to lead recovery measures. The Government of Michigan’s Coronavirus Taskforce on Racial Disparities provides a model for addressing systemic inequities at the community level.  

  • Plan for Economic Resilience 

Engaging in economic resilience planning at the local and regional level creates responses that are community-driven, rather than led by more senior and further removed levels of government. SFU CED’s Community Economic Resilience planning process supports all-community approaches to resilience that strengthen local actors’ abilities to maintain well-being while adapting to constant changes. 

In each of these areas, it is important to consider how well we are connecting the dots between policies and programs and who needs to access them.

Equity asks: What are we doing to create access to programs and initiatives? Who do we need to partner with? What barriers do we need to remove? 

5) “We are in a time of ‘transformation’ at the community level, and all levels really. Allow the process to be iterative, and create space for that.” – Participant Quote 

Resilience requires all of us. Both working collaboratively and sharing knowledge across and within sectors are imperative as we identify the key measures needed for an equitable recovery. We also know no policy is perfect; there is no silver bullet answer in a system of inequity. Unintended consequences and unfair burdens can occur, and we need to make space to step back, test possible solutions and consider if the actions we are taking are having the intended impact. 

Want to learn more about how local and Indigenous governments can best approach the recovery phase of COVID-19 with an equity lens in mind? Visit our videos section to watch the recorded webinar and see the breakout room notes.

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