Co-founder of social venture Uproot, Kevin Kimoto is graduating with a BA in Sociology and also completed a Semester in Dialogue at CityStudio.


Graduating Sociology Student Kevin Kimoto Co-founds Social Venture

June 10, 2015

Kevin Kimoto will graduate from SFU this week with a BA in Sociology. But the former Semester in Dialogue and CityStudio intern says his path to his current degree has been a winding one.  He spent the first two years of his post-secondary education at Camosun College in Victoria, taking a range of introductory courses including Psychology, Philosophy, and Political Science. However, despite this general taste of arts and social sciences, when Kimoto first transferred to SFU to pursue a university degree, he was not initially in Sociology but Kinesiology. He recalls enjoying the work in Kinesiology, working with children and coaching young athletes UBC, but he says the discipline didn’t quite address his passion and interest in thinking structurally about social problems, barriers to community inclusion, or ways of a creating larger impact on social change. This, he says, was the key to his undertaking a Sociology degree at SFU.  

Over the course of his time at SFU, Kimoto says courses like those on food security by Dr. Yildiz Atasoy, statistics with Dr. Barbara Mitchell, ethnographic methods with Dr. Sonya Luehrmann, or gender relations with Dr. Wendy Chan gave him a greater sense of how Sociology becomes relevant and deeply impactful to understanding and solving society’s most pressing challenges. He also says the iteration of SA 255 he took with adjunct Dr. Chris Atchison combined statistics with ethnography in a way that was invaluable to his learning.  “What I really liked was looking at things within quantitative and ethnographic frameworks.  I found that very valuable…What came to light, too, was that my own ethnography or storytelling is incredibly powerful. It’s been wonderful to apply my collective learning—my own lived experiences—to my classes.”

Kimoto says his experiences with SFU’s Semester in Dialogue at CityStudio were also a highlight of his time here at SFU. “CityStudio was also a supercharged, engaged experience. It gave me a lot of perspective about what my learning could actually accomplish.” Profiled in The Province newspaper in February 2014, Kimoto worked with an interdisciplinary team of student interns including, Joe Bickson (SFU School of Communications), Dayna Stein (UBC Global Resource Systems), and Brandon Burrell (SFU Business) to create a Recreational Sharing Library. Inspired by the little neighbourhood book-lending libraries that have been popping up in cities across North America over the past few years, the library includes low-cost board games and recreational equipment like flying discs (Frisbees), soccer balls, footballs, or basketballs available to people for communal use in the neighbourhood. 

Organizing the project with his teammates was an invigorating but challenging process, he recalls.  “We initially had quite a bit of disagreement.  Two people on the team felt that if borrowers didn’t return equipment that was a fault of our design of the project but myself and another teammate thought it was a sign that of the program’s success…” He explains that if one supposes that people might already have the low-value items like soccer balls, badminton or tennis rackets sitting unused in closets or garages, adding these to a lending library and having them not returned can suggest that someone else is using and finding value in them. “We felt that even if the item wasn’t returned, it shows that the item is being used:  a testimony to the success of the project.”

Kimoto says the sociological perspective of this kind of project values the ability to “create social inclusion or social connection in a way that is free-flowing, community-based, and community-driven.” In addition to reducing personal consumption—encouraging people to borrow and share equipment rather than buy their own—Kimoto goes on to explain: “Not only can you borrow the equipment but maybe another borrower would like to organize a pick-up game of soccer.  The book-lending libraries set a really good precedent for this kind of community inclusion and we wanted to contribute in a different way.”

Uproot members (L-R): Danielle Vallee, Kevin Kimoto, Joe Bickson and Dayna Stein, and Natradee Quek.

While Kimoto has been finished coursework for some time and is looking forward to graduating in June, he has been busy since January 2015 working on an offshoot of this work on the Recreational Sharing Library: a zero-waste, wood-salvaging initiative called Uproot. Propelled by Kimoto, CityStudio teammates Joe Bickson and Dayna Stien, graphic designer Danielle Vallee, and another CityStudio intern Natradee Quek, Uproot is a social venture that started as a way to reclaim wood waste and convert it into usable products. Kimoto explains that the storage box for the Recreational Sharing Library was created out of a pallet he and his team broke down and converted into a storage bin. “With Uproot, we want to increase the lifespan of lumber and divert wood waste. Vancouver has a wood waste ban, which is great, but a lot of the usable wood goes to urban recyclers where it is chipped down for mulch and what people don’t know is that so much of that wood is completely useable.”

Uproot's prototype business card made from reclaimed wood.

Vancouver’s wood waste is immense, according to Kimoto. Combined with the wood pallets they've salvaged, Uproot has recovered nearly 13 tons of wood waste from Vancouver’s housing construction industry. “We’ve made signs for The Hive—a networking hub for creating social impact and collective office space in downtown Vancouver—signage for Family Services of Greater Vancouver, pop-up shelves, a collapsible table, and prototype business cards made from reclaimed wood.” 

Having just launched their official website and working on an online gallery of their products, Kimoto says he is excited about the work he’s involved in with Uproot and that they currently have a lot of momentum. Member Dayna Stein has been working through Radius program at SFU to support their social venture, and they’ve just announced their collaboration on a floating art installation with Dot Dot Dash, Greenpeace and Northwest First Nations carver and painter Roy Henry Vickers. The installation will be constructed for Toast the Coast at Jericho Beach on June 13th, 2015, “a beachside celebration to demonstrate that our coastlines belong to people and not oil.”