Last December, Kindred Credit Union announced the 2023 Kindred Charitable Fund recipients. A total of $100,000 was awarded to organizations that actively inspired peaceful, just, and prosperous communities under the themes of community food security, financial empowerment, indigenous justice and reconciliation, and safe and affordable housing.
One of the Charitable Fund recipients was Leadership Waterloo Region (LWR). Created in 2000, LWR is a social profit organization that encourages, empowers, and equips current and future leaders to unleash positive change in their communities. They run an experiential leadership program known as the Community Leadership Development (CORE) Program. Since 2019, LWR has partnered with the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) at the University of Waterloo, and Wellbeing Waterloo Region (WWR) to develop the impact of the group project, known as the Affordable Housing Innovation Lab.
Over a four-year period, the Affordable Housing Innovation Lab utilized the leadership development, systems knowledge, and lived experience of the program participants “to take on a wicked problem, in the mathematical sense,” according to Diane Wiles, the CEO of LWR. They worked to raise the level of learning and broader community, and economic development impact of the group project work. In these four years of the Affordable Housing Lab, they have identified 24 individual solutions, involving over 100 organizations in the community, the majority of which are non-profits.
The intention was to create tools that could be used by anyone in the community. It began in the first year with the development of a Systems Map of all the organizations in Waterloo Region that work within the affordable housing space. In the second year, they mapped the actors – the key players – working in the sector. Last year, they mapped all of the systemic barriers that people are facing in trying to access affordable housing, such as racism, disability, and language barriers. In this fourth and final year, they are mapping the gaps in the system, as defined by those with lived experience.
The Affordable Housing Innovation Lab utilizes an asset-based community development model where they believe that everyone has assets, whether that’s knowledge, skills, or connections, that help move the project forward. Diane Wiles adds that, “through COVID, affordable housing really moved to the top of the agenda, and is now part of the dinner table conversation of many families.” This has resulted in participants coming to the program with an interest and passion to seek out solutions to the housing crisis.
Leadership Waterloo Region, through the Affordable Housing Innovation Lab, has empowered community leaders to come up with creative solutions to a pressing social problem. However, it is in that spirit of problem-solving that the magic happens. In fact, Diane Wiles states that she is “constantly inspired by how many people wake up everyday choosing to do good things, choosing to make a difference,” to unleash positive change in their communities.
However, with sustainable funding continuing to be an insurmountable issue, the Board of Leadership Waterloo Region has made the difficult decision to close current operations for LWR in June of 2023. According to Jackie Lauer, Board Chair of LWR, “We are proud of the impact we have made in our community and beyond. Though Leadership Waterloo Region’s chapter is coming to a close, we are comforted by the idea that ours is one of so many that make up the story of our amazing community, supported by our passionate and talented network of alumni. We look forward to continuing to read and participate in that story along with you in the future!”
Kindred’s gift to the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab will ensure that Leadership Waterloo Region can finish their project with the proper involvement of individuals with lived experience.