Francine Gurney

I have always believed that anyone can be successful if you put your mind to it and I feel the same could be said of the whole community, especially if they know what the future holds and they see their dreams come alive and everyone is working together to build a strong economy.

Tell us about your work in your community

My current role is Project Advisor at PlanIt North Inc., a small community planning consultancy located in Yellowknife, NWT. Our clients are primarily Indigenous Community Governments located in small (between 40 and 1000 people), remote (fly-in, or seasonal ice road access only), majority Indigenous communities across the NWT. Working for Indigenous Community Governments and/or their economic development arms, I work primarily on community economic development planning and business planning projects that have both community development and business components. To complete these projects, I regularly communicate with a wide range of stakeholders, including community leadership, members of the community at large, territorial and federal government agencies, and funders. Facilitation and consultation with stakeholders is also part of my role. Through my role I also provide capacity support to clients where needed, including generating funding proposals and general business support. Overall, I am quite new to my role, with less than a year under my belt, and am still rapidly learning how to effectively plan, facilitate, and communicate in a community economic development setting.

Tell us a story about a time you brought people together to improve your community.

In spring 2018, I was part of a team that organized a public consultation to inform the creation of an economic development plan. In this example, as is most often the case for me, I was working not to improve my own community, but the community of a client. The consultation took place over two, two-hour sessions and a community lunch. Due to the small size and tight-knit nature of the community, we relied on community leadership to advertise the consultation by word of mouth. This proved to be effective method as nearly half of the community attended.

The morning session consisted of a visioning exercise in which community members were asked to reflect on and discuss a set of questions related to their vision for economic development in two small groups, each with a facilitator to take notes and encourage conversation.

The lunch session was a community feast at the community hall. Food choices were made based on the desires of community leadership.

The afternoon session consisted of group discussions, each lead by a facilitator, on topics/areas identified for economic development in the community.

- although translation occurred into the local Dene Zhatie language, there may have been some hesitation from Elders to speak up;
- it is important to create space for those who do not get heard. For example, certain community members spoke more, while we suspected some were scared of speaking up;
- it is necessary to create space for organic conversations. The community lunch was the most valuable part of the day, as we were able to have one-on-one conversations in a relaxed setting. This helped us to hear from those who were hesitant to talk, and generally provided a deeper look into what we were hoping to gain.
I believe the consultation was effective, although I question whether we had lead the conversation too strongly, and whether this in turn created an outcome that was imposed, instead of brought forward.

What problems are you trying to solve?

  • Addressing capacity issues (time/expertise) that are omnipresent in small communities.
  • How to incorporate community development elements into planning while designing businesses to be self-sustaining.
  • Addressing the opinion that enterprises are on.

What do you need to learn how to do in order to solve those problems?

- As a white settler born and raised in the Northwest Territories, I need to learn how to work in a decolonizing way generally, and in a culturally appropriate way when working with Indigenous clients.
- How to build relationships that allow for effectiv

What are the most powerful questions you need to ask right now?

Currently, I work with several different communities. Thus, the more specific questions that I want to explore to influence my day to day work are found under question 3 - Problems and are more related to developing myself professionally so that I can better serve our clients and the communities they live in while working towards shifting the overall conversation around economic development away from a purely financial based point of view to one that is more holistic. Given my limited personal and professional experience in the field, and based on my experiences to date, I believe the most powerful question I need to ask right now is:  
How can we use culturally appropriate and decolonizing methods to successfully incorporate social/community development elements and ideas into community economic development and business development projects that increase benefit to the community and achieve the stated goals of the community while striving towards financial viability?

If we all worked together, what do you imagine that we could achieve in the next five to ten years?

Every community has a different opinion of what their ideal community would look like. However, many of these ideals centre around common goals. For instance, in an ideal world, communities are grounded, vibrant, healthy and connected. They are equitable, and value everyone equally, and able to care for their own. They can chart their way forward and meld tradition and innovation and live sustainably on the land they call home. Many of these ideals are shared among communities regardless of geographic location.

The first thing I imagine we could achieve in the next 3-5 years if we all worked together, and shared knowledge, is that we would be closer to achieving these ideals than we are today due simply to the fact that we would have a much larger pool of knowledge and experience to draw from when tackling the problems that are limiting communities from achieving their development goals.

Second, I imagine that we could achieve a world, or a system, where funding for community development initiatives is more stable, and long term. In the environment that I work, the funding system requires indigenous governments to spend time and effort seeking out funding for initiatives from multiple small pots of funding from various levels of government and private sources to undertake initiatives. Core funding that allows communities the time and space to implement programming that they see as necessary, and in ways in which make sense to the community, is hard to come by. By working together, we can work to achieve a system that allows funding sources to be pooled together, distributed in larger amounts, and administered by communities with greater autonomy. Not only would this allow for greater control for the communities, but it would also allow for financial stability that would help increase the capacity in communities.

Third, I imagine we can achieve a world where people have greater opportunity to live and work in their own communities, instead of having to leave to pursue employment, training, and other opportunities. When people are required to leave their homes to receive training and seek out employment, they strip their communities of the knowledge and experience they have. A brain drain of sorts occurs, and a negative feedback loop begins, when young, educated people do not see returning to their home communities as a viable option. The effects of this can include aspects of health and wellness, disconnection from traditional lands, and loss of culture. By working together, and sharing methods and experiences, we can understand where success has been achieved, understand why, and apply that to communities in which we work.