This is the second in a series of Q&As with JEI fellows about the path they’ve taken to financial activism and what they’ve learned along the way. For this post, we interviewed Kristi Fairholm Mader of Scale Collaborative about what it takes to work both in and with communities—and why that’s essential to building a just economy.
JEI: What have you learned from the community organizations you work with about creating resilience and scaling impact?
KFM: We work with community leaders and organizations across Vancouver Island and Canada, and we are constantly learning from them about what it takes to create resilience and scale impact. A few themes consistently emerge across our projects:
Community knows what community needs. Organizations working on the ground are the ones that see the gaps, identify solutions, and have the deep relationships needed to get things done. Funders and wealth holders are most effective when they come from a place of curiosity and respect and offer resources in service of that deep understanding.
Resilient organizations know the value they provide. Resilient organizations have leadership that is innovative and willing to take risks, and a board that is purpose driven and forward thinking. They are unapologetic about requesting and earning the resources required.
Scaling impact is hard without abundant financial resources and capacity. In order to grow and scale, an organization needs enough time and resources to invest in staff, systems, and knowledge development. There is a gap between the deep understanding and solutions that community organizations offer and the system that could support scaling those solutions. Organizations that are able to scale their impact typically have innovative leaders who can find a way across this gulf.
JEI: Can you think of an example of community-led problem-solving that went in an unexpected direction? What did you learn from that?
KFM: We work with many organizations that are constantly pivoting to meet changing needs. One of them, Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture, gained access to a large plot of municipal land as an incubator space for young farmers. They then realized the land was so degraded that they needed to heal the soil in order to incubate farmers. This led them to further explore regenerative agriculture as a concept and practice, and to broaden their mission to help other farmers in the region learn about regenerative practices and soil health. The initial problem—young farmers needing access to land and knowledge—still exists. But the soil needs care in order for the organization to address that problem and work toward a climate-resilient community.
Every planning approach needs to include scenario and stress testing: Nothing stays the same and situations often are not what they seem once you scratch the surface. The challenge is to develop a framework that can hold planning and modeling but allow for ambiguity and inevitable changes.
JEI: Can you describe the process you use to collaborate with communities and why that is effective?
KFM: Scale Collaborative follows the principle of “go where we are invited” and works by partnering with organizations, foundations, and economic development organizations. We believe in building on what is already happening in a community—we do not want to replace or duplicate—and we are constantly looking for what is emerging.
We build our culture around a set of communication practices: Return emails quickly, reach out in person, take time for conversation, enter with curiosity, seek understanding, recognize the effort and brilliance that exists, ask how we can add to it, respect the relationships that already exist, and showcase the amazing work of others. All these practices help build trusting relationships, which are at the center of our work.
Kristi Fairholm Mader (KFM) has always worked in the social impact sector. After returning to school to complete a business degree, Kristi began exploring social enterprise and enterprising approaches to social change and founded several social enterprise initiatives, including The Cleaning Solution. In 2014, Kristi co-founded Scale Collaborative to support a thriving social change sector on Vancouver Island and beyond. Within Scale’s family of organizations, KFM is the Managing Director of Thrive Impact Fund and is currently developing a community ownership model to place more assets in the ownership and control of local non-profits. Kristi lives in Victoria, BC with her husband, 2 children and a very lazy husky.