Innovator Profile: David Sadler

Mark Friesen
Community Outreach Coordinator, SFU Public Square

Innovator Profiles highlight extraordinary community members that are making a difference.

David Sadler recalls what brought about his passion in civic engagement, and how all it took was a single opportunity to have his voice heard.

In an era when political pundits and civic associations struggle to engage youth in their communities, David Sadler emphasizes that engagement doesn’t necessarily require significant community resources. When it comes to youth, finding ways to tap into their energy and creativity is key. The challenge is identifying creative approaches that empower youth to implement their own projects and initiatives.

This is one of the lessons David learned in his journey to becoming the child and youth engagement coordinator for B.C.’s fastest growing municipality—the City of Surrey. David is also a graduate student in the SFU Urban Studies program, where he’s looking to explore the role that municipal policy can play in promoting a strong civil society. And if you don’t catch him in his role with the City of Surrey or at SFU, you’re likely to find him playing ultimate frisbee or geocaching.   

David recalls what brought about his passion in civic engagement, and how all it took was a single opportunity to have his voice heard. In high school, he was a founding member of the Youth Philanthropy Council with the Vancouver Foundation. This experience was formative. Although he didn’t say a word for the first year, his involvement eventually brought him out of his shell. He’s spent his years since then looking to create similar opportunities for other youth. 

After his involvement with the Vancouver Foundation, David got an opportunity to travel throughout the province talking with youth about health issues with the McCreary Centre Society. The passion and interest within the communities he visited inspired him, but he quickly uncovered his desire to work in-depth in a single community, rather than scratching the surface of public issues in multiple places. The opportunity to coordinate youth programs with the City of Surrey presented itself, and David has been there ever since.

David is quick to emphasize that acting as a facilitator is the most important aspect of his role. The youth he works with have tremendous potential to take on challenges and keen interests that can bring about positive change, with the right support; David is there to facilitate these youth to take control of their own projects, not direct them. David encourages their interests, and endeavours to get them the support they need to move forward of their own accord. One such project is the Youth Planner Project with Social Planning. This program engages youth in city planning by having them organize forums and workshops to gather feedback from young members of the public. The information gathered is fed back to city planners. A key aspect of the program is having youth organize the workshops and forums themselves, enabling youth to host events that are of interest to their peers.

In his six years with the City of Surrey, David also started a Youth Council, which continues today as the Surrey Leadership Youth Council. The Youth Council organizes an annual youth conference, the implementation of which is left largely to the members of the Youth Council themselves. The Youth Council is not meant as an advisory or representative group of youth, but, rather, an engaged group of youth who can take action and “cast a wide net” across the City of Surrey in terms of youth events and activities.

For David, despite an increasing number of youth engagement efforts across B.C., and changing perceptions around youth and engagement, there remain key challenges, such as a lack of capacity to implement suggestions, thoughts and feedback from public and youth consultation processes. He notes that we know how to ask the right questions, and even who to ask, but an ongoing challenge is how to structure an engagement process to be better at effecting change based on the feedback. He’s excited that the City of Surrey has made concerted efforts to do just that. For example, Surrey city planners have incorporated youth feedback into their Neighbourhood Concept Plans, and Community Recreation Services has implemented youth suggestions into their projects and programing.

Moving forward, David is most excited to be working with the City of Surrey to host the Cities Fit for Children Conference, a provincial forum bringing together local, municipal and regional leaders, and also the Surrey Leadership Action Conference.