16 May 30Network Snapshots – Alex Mitchell
Meet Alex: The Community Collaborator
Solid Waste Management. You lose most people’s attention with that topic, but for Alex, it opened up a new passion for thinking about how to deal with some of the most common challenges in our cities. When Alex was a middle school kid in Abbotsford BC she took up the cause of recycling in schools- ultimately leading to the implementation of a district wide recycling program.
Since then, the common thread in all of Alex’s work is the idea of building common ground. She believes that any with issue, no matter how messy or complex, a good leader can find a piece of common ground and bring people together. Whether it was bringing the desires of local students together with the needs of administrators, to working at the international level on advancing climate change policy, to what she does today in engaging citizens in their cities, Alex thrives on bringing people together.
Alex approaches community engagement from a grounded perspective – merging professional public participation techniques with current social trends and lived experiences. In order to engage youth, she believes that there is immense opportunity for institutions and governments to go beyond consultation with their communities towards collaboration.
Alex was drawn to the 30Network for the “opportunity to work through the meaty concept of civic engagement and public participation with a diverse group of local thinkers. The research shows that diverse groups often have rockier starts, but they tend to produce better and more meaningful results!”.
To Alex, “civic engagement can mean reciprocal connection between community members and institutions, where institutions are open to the feedback of citizens and cities are actively utilizing those ideas which drives a greater sense of ownership for people”.
She sees a challenge with civic engagement in that, “The current expectations that local governments have for how people should engage is often out of step with how people actually want to engage. Alternately, citizens sometimes face a knowledge gap in knowing which level of government they should access.” There is also concern around meaningful engagement and what that looks like at the ground level in communities: “people want to see where their input goes. Even when engagement between citizens and governments occurs, cities have to show how that input was used”.
Alex emphasizes the importance of engaging youth in city-shaping is because half the world’s population is under 30! “Our governments need to consider youth voices when creating policy by including youth in the process. By involving youth in processes, this embeds youth in the policy that underpins their community and builds ownership ” when it comes to shaping and building our cities.
Alex holds a Public Affairs role in local government and loves how every day is different whether she is leading issues management, engaging with stakeholders, working with media, or finding new ways for her organization to embrace innovation. Prior to that she worked on economic development for the City of Surrey and the City of Abbotsford – developing new programs to help businesses grow and expand.
Alex is simultaneously completing her MBA at Simon Fraser University.
Some of Alex’s favourite neighbourhoods and communities in Metro Vancouver are in East Van – but she was adamant about her love for Abbotsford. “I wish more people in Metro Vancouver could celebrate the immense growth and vibrancy of the Fraser Valley. It’s important to broaden our scope across the region because innovation is happening all across the British Columbia, not only in Vancouver.”
Alex is involved in lots of other interesting projects. She is most proud of Abbotsford’s Plan 200K Initiative where the city is laying the foundations for a population of 200 thousand residents. She has been leading much of the communications and engagement for the 18 major projects that are will prepare Abbotsford for growth – everything from infrastructure needs to housing affordability.
We asked Alex what she would do if she was Mayor for a day … Given what ignited her passion for cities it wasn’t surprising that she said she’d look at solid waste management and would want to tackle what we do with our garbage….With this young innovator, it all comes back to what ignited her passion for cities.
We are really excited to have this community champion as part of our 30 this year!
Written by Claire Crowther of CityHive