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The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how interconnected we are and how important a strong social fabric is to community resilience. It has also revealed just how different our day-to-day experiences are and how vulnerable many people are in our communities. A parallel societal awakening about equity, racism, and systemic barriers have further heightened the urgency of building more inclusive communities and organizations in a country that has long prided itself on its respect for diversity.

In many ways, Alberta has made important progress over the last few years on increasing the representation of new and diverse voices. But there is a long way to go still to make this a place where everyone truly feels like they belong. While more people now say the right words when it comes to building an inclusive society, the deeds are still often lacking. The face of power in our province remains stubbornly familiar. The boards of directors at our largest companies are still mostly comprised of white men. Leadership teams in our largest organizations and businesses remain stubbornly homogenous in thinking, education, and backgrounds, which ends up concentrating power, access, and influence among those same communities and constituencies. Our elected officials, public servants, and policy makers still do not fully reflect the diversity of our communities.

That has to change. If diversity is a strength, as so many people now rightly say, then we need to start flexing that muscle more frequently.

Inclusion must mean more than just hearing from everyone. It has to mean creating authentic feedback loops, where those who participate are shown that their ideas have been taken into real and genuine consideration. It also means asking questions like: who is missing at the decision table? Who does this benefit? And who does it leave out?
It has to mean that box-ticking is replaced by box-building, and that efforts to expand our conversations are an ongoing and permanent reality.

It also has to mean creating spaces where those who are not in the majority, and who may not possess as much power or privilege, feel fully able to participate and contribute and share their ideas and energy. Systemic barriers, both visible and invisible, need to be removed. And those who do possess that power and privilege have to do more than just acknowledge it — they have to channel it into a renewed focus on listening and learning. All of this can begin at the grassroots level, where community-building can be most effective, and where things like partisanship and politics have far less purchase.

Ultimately, building an inclusive social fabric extends to the stories we tell ourselves, about our province and about each other. If we see Alberta as home to only one kind of story, that effectively excludes anyone who doesn’t see themselves in it. Instead, we need to expand our narrative boundaries, and develop a shared story that includes and involves as many people as possible from all walks of life and ways of living.

The Possibility: We can build a society in which everyone feels able to participate and contribute — and that their contributions are appreciated.

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