The last six months as part of the Kingston Community Fund Design team have challenged and delighted me. This project is about democratizing wealth and shifting resources in Kingston. So at its core, the project is also about shifting power. As the first stage of the design process wraps, I’d like to share some reflections about my experience and perspective about power through the design process.
The Kingston community fund pilot will redistribute $150K to people and groups whose ideas will benefit our community and who would otherwise struggle to receive traditional funding. The funding will be awarded in a multistep process that the design team is creating. I believe that moving resources and their distribution into the hands of the community is shifting power and could transform the city.
As one of eighteen community members designing the fund, I am reflecting on the power we have. This group is composed of people who have all expressed a desire to build community. We have been learning and making choices together with careful facilitation by Micah, Hélène, and Aja of the Good Work Institute.
We are sharing power through collaboration and compromise. We have to accept that not all of our ideas will make the cut, that change can be painful or slow or fast, that it can feel different to each of us. We come to this work as ambassadors from our own life experiences.
We carry our families, our friends, our relatives, our allies, our ancestors, our neighbors, our coworkers into the space. We invoke them in our imaginations of how the fund might work and who it might benefit. How do we make space for many opinions and personal priorities in the room? How do we listen?
As a group, we agree more power and resources should be in the hands of folks who have not historically been granted as much power (e.g. BIPOC folks, LGBTQI+ folks, immigrants and undocumented folks, youth, etc.).
Are we representative of who we hope the funding will most directly benefit? Maybe not, but there are folks from many different identity groups working together, and I take some comfort in my belief that the people who show up are the right people to do the work. This belief was instilled in me at some point in the last seven years, in a rehearsal, workshop, or meeting room, I cannot remember (I send out profound gratitude to those who had this idea and shared it with me). This concept has allowed me to relax my expectations about who shows up, and to trust the knowledge and compassion everyone can offer.
So, if we have shown up, then we are the right people to do this work. The work might be a little different than we expected based on who is in the room, but we are the right people.
Still, the idea that the design team may not be a representative group has popped up over and over again during the last six months, both personally and in conversation with the group. It begs a question I am still struggling to articulate about shifting power. The question has to do with “progressive politics” and self-determination of a group. The question also has to do with the distinction between charity, gifts, and sharing. I think it is about belonging. “Kingston” comprises many communities, many groups. How can the structure of this Kingston community fund support inclusion and self determination of Kingston’s many communities and at the same time help bring these groups together in a way that expands a sense of solidarity in the community? How can it broaden who is in community with each other here?
I hope this work will truly lift up and empower many more people who call Kingston home. And I recognize that despite our intentions, some choices we make could keep power and funding moving in more usual circles. That is one big risk, and there are others. For example, we risk not reaching a diverse population when we inform people the fund is open; the application process could feel too intimidating for some people; the fund could give resources to a project that doesn’t come to fruition as planned; etc. How will we communicate the risks we take in our design to try and build something transformative? How will the project evolve to address mistakes we will inevitably make in this pilot?
This project has revealed so many challenges in how to design new systems in the face of entrenched, powerful old systems. This first fund is a pilot, and it is limited. The problems we hope the fund can address are huge; we know that $150,000 will not solve every problem in Kingston. But this experiment, and whatever comes later, offers an opportunity to try and shift the way things work.
We hope that no matter the outcomes of the projects funded by this pilot, we will learn more, both through success and mistakes, about how to keep working towards new systems effectively. We’re asking ourselves and each other to put some more breathing room around things we think are “the way it is”. While all of this can be challenging, every bit feels welcome to me. I stretch. I find hope for change. I find new friends. I find excitement about the city we can help co-create, a city where everyone is invited to thrive together.