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Ashley Proctor: The Coworking Idea Project

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Hello European Coworking Community! We’re back with another scintillating episode for Coworking Values Podcast.

And for this episode we welcome back Ashley Proctor, founder of Creative Blueprint & Coworking Canada. She talked about Movement vs Industry with us before about — how running a genuine coworking space makes entrepreneurship accessible and breaks down barriers.  With that she is known for her works with Coworking Canada, Coworking Toronto and Coworking Ontario bringing these communities together and leading them to be inclusive and diverse.

And this episode she will be delving on the Coworking Idea Project, wherein they are pushing for a more inclusive, diverse and equal coworking industry. And she will also talk about “A Just Cause for All”, a movement that aims to push for a just recovery for businesses from the pandemic.

What is the Coworking Idea Project?

The Idea Project, first, the ideas stands for inclusion diversity, equity, and accessibility. And we refer to it as the Idea Project for short, people say these things a lot in their work. 

Basically what that is the idea that we’re really proud of the movement that we’ve created collectively the Coworking movement. But we’ve watched the Global Coworking conversation directly from its core values and the core values around community, collaboration, accessibility, openness and sustainability. 

And we’re seeing that move towards more of a financial and corporate construct around the Coworking industry. In addition to that, we also exist, you know, in a world full of systemic racism and sexism and colonialism and there are so many other disparities in our society. And so these are going to be predictably found within our industry and our events in our communities as well. 

And so the folks that are working through the idea project are really committed to re-centring those connections. We want to really focus on communal care, creative collaborations, human connections, all the goodness that coworking was founded upon. 

But also, we need to make sure that we are now centring around being committed to making the publishing industry more diverse, more inclusive, more equitable and more accessible. 

So, the project is really a way for us all to come together as community organizers from around the world who are already doing work in our own local communities or for groups that are relevant to our spaces or experiences. And we’re bringing our best practices and sharing these things together so that we can accelerate.

Links

Creative Blueprint

Linktree – Creative Blueprint

A Just Recovery for All

Coworking Canada

 

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Bernie J Mitchel  0:03  

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Coworking Values podcast. I’m really excited because this is my first recording of this podcast in my 15 Minutes City, a coworking space near my house. So, I’ve manifested a coworking space near my house. That won’t mean much to most of you, but it’s a big deal.

 

Zeljko Crnjaković  0:25  

And you sound exactly the same no matter where you are. Do you know that?

 

Bernie J Mitchel  0:30  

I do know that. But it’s so exciting. It genuinely is. Where are you?

 

Zeljko Crnjaković  0:35  

I’m exactly where I have been all these times, we record the podcast at my home in my home studio, next to my lovely microphone. Let’s go to a message from our sponsor. 

This episode is brought to you by Cobot, our leading management software for coworking spaces, office hubs and flexible workspaces around the world. You know, one of the best things about Cobot is that it is produced by people who manage a coworking space and know the ins and outs of the main problems and issues bugging coworking managers. So, if you want more time for your co-workers and community, check out Cobot at cobot.me and take your coworking management to the next level.

 And that was Cobot. So, Bernie, what do we have for today?

 

Bernie J Mitchel  1:41  

This is like having Lou Reed on your podcast or I can’t think of anything else. It’s Ashley. make this joke actually that she’s only just joined coworking and some people believe it. But what are you known for? And what would you like to be known for? 

 

Ashley  1:57  

Oh, great question. I believe I am known for my work in coworking in Canada. And I hope that I am known for my work with collectives and bringing people together. Leaving things better than we found them.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  2:13  

You are definitely known for that. There are a couple of things we need to get through today. Because I’ve been saying come on our podcast for a long time now. And I’ve left it like 48 hours before your event which we’ll get to later. And also, there’s the Idea project which is very connected to what we’re doing here in the European Coworking Assembly. So, can you just riff on that for a little bit because it is so important, and we  are really supporting it.

 

Ashley  2:48  

So, the Coworking Idea Project, first of all, Idea stands for inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility and we refer to it as the idea project for short, because we say these things a lot in our work. Basically, what that is, is the idea that we’re really proud of the movement that we’ve created, collectively the coworking movement, but we’ve watched the global coworking conversation drift from its core values and the core values around community, collaboration, accessibility, openness, and sustainability. And we’re seeing that move towards more of a financial and a corporate sort of construct around coworking in the industry. In addition to that, we also exist in a world full of systemic racism, and sexism, and colonialism, and there are so many other disparities in our society. And so, these are going to be predictably found within our industry and our events, in our communities as well. And so, the folks that are working through the Idea project are really committed to re-centrering those connections. We want to really focus on communal care, creative collaborations, human connections, all of the goodness that coworking was founded upon, but also really make sure that we are now centering around being committed to making the coworking industry more diverse, or inclusive, more equitable, and more accessible.

So, the project is really a way for us all to come together as community organizers from around the world, who are already doing work in our local communities, or for groups that are relevant to our spaces, or our own lived experiences. And we’re bringing our best practices and sharing these things together so that we can accelerate. So, through my company Creative Blueprint, we started talking to organizations in the coworking industry and asking them what they’re doing to address these issues around inclusion and diversity and accessibility and what they’re working on and what they’re creating. And many of them came back with the same kind of feedback. It was really interesting from the large organizations and conferences to the smaller independently run spaces or specialized spaces. They all said that they agree with the initiative in principle to make the coworking movement more accessible and diverse and inclusive, but they also felt really overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issue. And they didn’t know where to start or where to best invest their time or resources. And it’s understandable with everything that people are going through with this pandemic, and really trying to either get back on their feet or hold on to a space for their community or take care of their community members in whatever form that might be right now. People are struggling already and the idea of taking on additional work that might be new or scary or unknown, was overwhelming to some. And people were really excited about the idea of a collaborative effort as well because things seem to be easier to tackle with many hands. So, the way that the organization can really help is by providing a safe or a neutral space to do and host some of us work for the movement for the industry. It’s also an organization that we would like to use to issue challenges. So, industry wide calls to action and each month in 2021, we’re going to begin issuing challenges to the coworking industry, operators, and event producers, asking them to really step up and work with us to learn more, and to do better in our communities.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  6:22  

That way of chunking it down works really well for people we spoke to in London, because at first, I was like, how’s this going to work. There are a lot of online communities I’m part of, and we do things in a 90-day three-month basis, or we have monthly challenges and stuff like that. And that helped us. I mean, I don’t know what it is yet. But that helped us roadmap it out. we just have to think about the next month because there’s so much information out there about this. And it is really important. Like in London, every time there’s a coworking conference by anybody, it’s just mainly white men. And every line-up in all the coworking conferences, we all know around the world are just predominantly white males and it’s something, for a long time, we wanted to sort out and so a collective kind of push on doing that is very welcome. Can you say a bit about December because in December we’ll have an event? Can you say how that’s going to work? 

 

Ashley  7:34  

The Idea Project, we’re meeting as a group on December 9, and it’s really an open public event to anyone in or related to the coworking industry, whether it be event producers, or space operators, or community managers, or even members who are interested in making the coworking movement more inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible. We come together, and we’re really just talking about action items, and next steps, and who would like to be part of that organizing team because this is not my project by any means. I’m responsible right now for helping to facilitate these conversations and to act as a connector within the coworking industry, but my role will diminish over time in our collaborative leadership, and that facilitation will really be visibly unintentionally modelled. So, we’re looking for folks who really want to help drive this forward as well. There are so many other activists and advocates that have come before us and other people in the industry and in diversity and inclusion work who are doing incredible work already. And we really want to work with them, and engage them, and bring them into our booth. So, that’s that event coming up. Again, like I said, it’s open to the public.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  8:45  

Can you explain a little bit how you laid the path from that, because it’s not like you suddenly woke up this morning and said, let’s have an event in December, there’s been a lot of configuration beforehand, which I think is important too.

 

Ashley  8:57  

Yes. And honestly, it’s around the collective gathering, I build collectives, I like to organize people and try to provide solutions to problems with collaborative and democratic engagement, and collaborative leadership. So, this is something I think I am now known for. And so, it’s a bit easier for me to reach out to folks and say, this isn’t my project, but I really want you to be a part of the team. And I’d love for you to show up  and be involved in whatever way that makes the most sense for you in your organization. And I use this reference a lot. But it’s really important to me, and I feel like it is like a choir. And if we’re all working towards these goals, we need to be able to take a breath and to take a break, but the note will carry on if other choir members keep singing. And so, when we do this work collectively, we allow ourselves the room and the space to think about our own wellness and self-care and to be able to prevent burnout by stepping back in what we need to do for our communities and for ourselves and our families, and then stepping back into the work and re-engaging with our communities on that social impact level.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  10:10  

How do we forget about minorities in coworking and events? Because we had a podcast earlier on with Tash, around this. And then Alex Hillman spoke about this earlier on. So, it comes up a lot about how we invite people, but what’s your take on that at the moment?

 

Ashley  10:34  

I know I exist in certain circles and so I’m basing this on my own perspective and experience. I think that we built this movement on those core values of diversity and inclusivity. And we’ve known for a very long time that the really good community focused, community led spaces and coworking are diverse, they are inclusive, or they’re working really hard to be. And those could be spaces, events, conferences, organizations, you can tell if that feeling of belonging, of welcomeness when you walk into a space that we all talk about. It’s something that brings us together that’s beyond coworking, we might not have coworking in common anymore. Some of us are closing our spaces or changing our roles in the coworking industry. But we still believe in that principle that a good community is collaborative, and open, and accessible, and diverse, and inclusive, and sustainable. It’s really about gathering around those values. And it really frustrates me that what gets attention in the industry is the We Work, it’s the male dominated, tech focused, growth focused frat house feeling coworking vibe that so many people hear about. And because of that, they miss out on the real, genuine spirit of coworking. I get frustrated that coworking is misrepresented in the books that are coming out. And that many leaders in the industry allow this to continue, that we’re misunderstood. It’s an opportunity really, for us to challenge the status quo. So, you get to do this in your community or in your organization. And I’m choosing to do that in my mind. And I hope that there are others out there that are choosing for it to be different as well.

 

Zeljko Crnjaković  12:13  

Let’s move on to the fact that you didn’t mention at the beginning that Ashley’s coming on this podcast, from Canada. And what she just touched base on is that we are all in the pandemic and some of us are closing down their spaces or starting their spaces. And everything will be different once we get through this. Whatever this crisis situation. Let’s just say so Ashley, you’re involved in something else that’s called Just Recovery or Just Recovery for all? Can you tell us something more about that?

 

Ashley  12:56  

Yes. So, Just Recovery is not my project. But it’s something I’m really proud of in Canada, and I think is being modelled and will be modelled in future projects to come. Just Recovery project is basically the statement, I mean, we’re building a movement for Just Recovery and in Canada, hundreds and hundreds of organizations have endorsed these collective principles of Just Recovery. And by signing on, they’re really committing to consider and to use, and consult and use these principles in their policy creation moving forward. And so, the principles for Just Recovery, I’ll go through them quickly so you can understand: to put people’s health and wellbeing first no exceptions, to strengthen the social safety net and provide relief directly to people, to prioritize the needs of workers and communities, to build resilience, to prevent future crises, to build solidarity and equity across communities, generations, and borders, and in Canada to uphold indigenous rights and work in partnership with indigenous peoples. 

And I think that this is really important as a model again, and we’re seeing this across Canada and a lot of our collaborative work. We’re known for collaboration in Canada, but this is also a shift that we’re seeing in Canada in terms of doing nothing is no longer an option. And so, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re definitely a part of the problem. And that’s the vibe that we have here in Canada right now. I think it’s a really incredible opportunity for these organizations who are led by really passionate and driven young leaders. They lead diverse, inclusive ,and accessible local community led organizations, and they have nothing to lose. And that’s that perfect storm in Canada.

 

Zeljko Crnjaković  14:43  

Did this movement and Idea start recently, or is it something that’s been evolving for quite some time and has just formed around the situation? And where is it now?

 

Ashley  14:59  

It’s really formed around the pandemic. And we’ve decided collectively that we can’t go back to business as usual after this pandemic, and that this movement for Just Recovery puts people first. And that’s a shift that we’re dedicated to in Canada. And so, these organizations are not just social impact, or social innovation, or social enterprises or non-profits. There are many organizations, and for-profit companies that understand this is the only way forward having seen this and experienced directly. And many of us are still experiencing as small business owners, as local community organizers. So, many of us are in the middle of it. The only thing we know coming out of the other side is that we don’t want to go back.

And I even think that the name Just Recovery and the build back better may even be misleading in the sense of, there’s no going back. I mean, we have yet to experience true gender equality as a society, we’ve yet to experience life without racism or discrimination. And we’ve yet to exist in a system without oppression. So, I’m convinced that we could live to experience it, but only if we start demanding better and doing that collectively. And as Bernie was saying, that’s how we got changed in the coworking industry as well. We just decided that’s not acceptable behaviour anymore. That is not acceptable representation of the industry, or what we’re trying to achieve, or not acceptable way to program a panel. We just don’t accept it. And I think that’s the new vibe. And the tone that I’m really loving about the work that we’re doing these days in Canada.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  16:31  

I think as we run around talking to people, particularly when George Ford got murdered, and we came to light every month here in London, from March till the end of August, we had two calls every week. And then George Ford’s murder happened in the middle of it. And people who I didn’t think had a position on this said, I’ve been thinking about this for ages and said, I’ve been on courses about anti-racism because I thought it was important, but I never knew whether I could say it here or not. And it seemed a bit weird that the Coworking Assembly was somewhere that you might not be sure about whether to say whether you were anti-racist or not and that seemed odd. And for long even before this we’ve done things with Nexus and Cobot here in London around cultural appropriation where Tara from Canada came over and talked about indigenous people and things like that. And we’ve always taken part in events at Coworking Europe around inclusion, diversity, and equality. And it really saddened me this year, where a lot of these events have been online. And there’s been this huge move around. If you have an event online, there’s no excuse to have an all-male panel talking about real estate. Another thing that broke my heart even before COVID was someone who’s quite prominent, a female that’s quite prominent in the coworking industry was invited to head up a panel, a real estate conference in London about coworking, and she was like, Oh, yeah, this would be great, and they said it would be good to have a woman and she thought that was it. And then she got slipped an invoice for, I think it was like 1500 pounds for the privilege of leading a panel, a real estate conference on coworking. So, then it became like a sponsored appearance rather than being valued for what she is. And I just think it’s shit really. And I would hope to all you conference organizers out there next year, we see gender, panellist, and race. 

 

Ashley  18:52  

Yeah, I think it’s really just about diversity in general because we’re talking about perspectives of different ages, races, abilities, lived experience, location, all of these things. And so, it’s not necessarily visually obvious. But if you’re getting a diverse variety of perspectives, that’s what we need to learn. We don’t learn from ourselves; we learn from each other.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  19:15  

That’s what I wanted to say.

 

Ashley  19:16  

The other thing I’d like to mention around conference organizing, so, I’ve challenged myself to see if I could pull a conference together in two weeks that was diverse and gender balanced and representative of different perspectives across the country, in and out of coworking in the typical sense. And so that’s really what coworking Canada is all about this year. It’s a small taste of the normal event. Typically, our Canadian gathering is in person, but moving forward for the next foreseeable future because of the pandemic restrictions, we’ll be gathering online to continue our work as a collective. But this event that’s coming up, December 2 is really designed to bring folks together from all different perspectives and experiences across Canada and coworking, and to see what we might be able to do collaboratively together, and how we might be able to support each other. And I think it would be a great example for folks who are maybe looking to learn how they might be able to do that at their event, and what that might look like to try it out.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  20:16  

So, I can come to Canada without coming to Canada?

 

Ashley  20:18  

The best part of this pandemic is making these events more accessible, because it’s now normal to gather online. And I’ve been hoping for this for a long time, because now we can have folks from all across the country and outside of the country join at a very accessible price or free of charge, and really be able to share speakers from around the world and best practices as well.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  20:42  

That’s one of the things I’ve loved about COVID. I’ve really missed not meeting up in real life and in all our coworking camps and stuff like that. I’ve never been more deeply connected to everyone around the globe as a result of this. So that’s a great thing. Where can we go for tickets?

 

Ashley  21:03  

If you’re looking for Coworking Canada, go to coworkingcanada.com. And if you’re looking for any kind of updates on the Idea Project, or any of the other projects I mentioned, or I’m working on you can find them on my website on creativeblueprint.ca.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  21:17  

Do you have a social media account?

 

Ashley  21:20  

Oh, there are so many of them. Again, if you go to creativeblueprint.ca you can find everything.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  21:30  

Great. And just shout out again where the Idea Project is. And with all of these things, we’ll put links in the show notes, ladies, and gentlemen.

 

Ashley  21:39  

Yeah, there’ll be a zoom registration link for the Idea Project, and you can find more information currently on creativeblueprint.ca, but you’ll find it eventually on so coworking.org.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  21:50  

Brilliant. Zeljko, any final words for our listeners?

 

Zeljko Crnjaković  21:58  

Check out the websites that we’re going to have within the links of the episode and definitely  read through them.

 

Bernie J Mitchel  22:07  

One of those websites will be coworkingassembly.eu and sort of hang around there for much shorter than I’d like to have as an experienced marketer. And then a pop up will come up and you can put your email address in there and we send all the blogs and not all the blogs because you never stopped reading but blogs, podcasts, news, and events from around the Coworking Europe universe. Thanks very much for your time today Ashley. Cheers Zeljko and be careful out there, ladies and gentlemen, it is a jungle.




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