This profile of Paola Qualizza is part of a series exploring the impact of SFU Semester in Dialogue alumni on our local and global communities.
By Justin Wong
Paola Qualizza (Summer 2009) is the youngest of three daughters and considers herself a bit of a maverick in her family. The entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in the Qualizza household and Paola learned from a very early age that the “only way to make it and be satisfied with your work is when you sign your own cheques.”
“When I was a little girl I had the feeling that something in society was very broken…that the way our world worked did not necessarily better humanity. I knew I wanted to help turn this around, but I just didn’t know how.”
Qualizza’s deep roots in the small business community and desire to help people led her to Agorabora Collaborative Community Cooperative, where she serves as a Director along with Jordan Bober, the founder of a community currency called Seedstock.
Agorabora is the non-profit organization behind this community currency and has partnered with over 80 businesses in the metropolitan area of Vancouver. Through Agorabora, Qualizza and Bober are building a movement to shape the economy as if people and the planet matter, to paraphrase E.F. Schumacher.
“Seedstock is utilized to supplement the existing currency system with a currency that values the things we actually want in our community, such as the work of non-profits and community groups.”
More recently, Paola is working to create an ecosystem of ethical enterprises, co-ops and non-profits with the Groundswell community, an organization that provides mentorship on alternatives to traditional business models.
"Vancouver needs Groundswell right now: this community is addressing youth unemployment and economic injustice with practical solutions. We are giving young people the opportunity to make real social change and take control of their own livelihoods. The creativity and sense of social-purpose Groundswell harnesses is so inspiring."
Qualizza’s time in the Semester in Dialogue played an important role in allowing her to trust her own abilities.
“The Semester in Dialogue forced you to go out there to build good relationships with influential people in the community.”
As a part of her Semester in Dialogue project on local food systems, Paola connected with local farmers and food venders.
“My working group, in particular, researched the needs of food vendors and producers… This experience was a good way to learn about networking with businesses and non-profits because farmers are business people. The process of reaching out to incredibly busy people helped me to deliver worthwhile and concise messages.”
Qualizza’s self-confidence and personal drive are key assets for local economy initiatives such as Groundswell and Agorabora as they continue to help the small business and non-profit community.