Community Conversations

A Critical Look at Diversity and Inclusion in Alberta's Social Innovation Efforts: Part 2 - Contemporary Realities

BY SONI DASMOHAPATRA

This is the second blog of a three - part series I am writing for ABSI Connect on the topic of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA). This blog invites practitioners to consider different frameworks and analyses that can be applied when designing social innovation solutions for contemporary realities.

Find the first blog of the three-part series here.


A CRITICAL LOOK AT DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN ALBERTA'S SOCIAL INNOVATION EFFORTS: PART 2 - Contemporary Realities

First, I am going to define key frameworks and practices to provide scaffolding and suggestions as to how social innovation practitioners can implement IDEA in design development.

The Frameworks

Anti-Oppression Practice: “There are certain groups in our society and communities that hold power over others based on their membership in those groups. Anti-Oppression seeks to recognize the oppression that exists in our society and attempts to mitigate its effects and eventually equalize the power imbalance in our communities.” Quote from the Anti-Violence Project.

Intersectionality: Twenty-eight years ago, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in her academic paper as a way to help explain the oppression of African American women. Crenshaw defines intersectionality; “as a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times, that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.” Crenshaw’s term is now at the forefront of international conversations about racial justice, identity politics, and policing—and over the years has helped shape legal discussions in Canadian society and  law. This term has become a key definition in understanding how IDEA manifests in Alberta. *To learn more about Crenshaw’s term in today’s discussions, visit the website here.

Human Rights Based Approach: At the heart of a human rights-based approach (HRBA) is the recognition that inequality and marginalization deny people their human rights. Human rights are inherent to all human beings, regardless of grounds such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. Human rights are civil, political, economic, social and cultural; they are universal, inalienable, indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. *This definition has been taken from the following Government of Canada website.


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Current State of Human Rights Protections in Alberta

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was established as legislation in 1982 and is only 37 years old. The Charter is meant to be a legislative and policy tool to uphold the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion, as outlined in section 15.  However, there are many challenges that have been presented in the implementation of the charter in legal, political, social, economic and cultural processes which have not led to positive remedies for individuals and communities who have experienced discrimination.  Many communities still face extreme discrimination and lack of access to resources, social justice and spaces that are truly based in equal power sharing relationships. As a province, Alberta does not have a distinct Accessibility Act. Protection legislations for LGBTQ2S communities were introduced to the Alberta Human Rights Act in 2015, and age discrimination in 2018. *The Alberta Human RIghts Act can be found here.

Systemic Thinking and Exclusion

As a born and bred Edmontonian who has returned from spending the last twenty years in Toronto, I am now back home. The landscape of Edmonton has changed drastically from expansive urban sprawl, to the addition of the ice district in downtown. The food scene has expanded to offer new and unique gastronomical delights. The demographics of the city have changed. The diversity of Edmonton’s residents has expanded, the population is young, and multiple generations are negotiating space, place and life. There are more communities of colour and larger urban Indigenous populations have emerged in different locations across the city. These are all positive shifts in the placement of Edmonton’s promise to attract and expand social, economic, and cultural growth in the city.

However, some things have not changed that are holding Edmonton and Alberta back. As a city and a province, we are shackled to the economic boom and bust cycle of the oil and gas industry. According to a recent report, “The Best and Worst places to be Women in Canada, 2019”, Edmonton ranked #25 out of a total of 26 cities. Women in Edmonton are under-represented in political spaces and organizational leadership positions. As a city, Edmonton has one of the highest rates of domestic violence across Canada.

Microaggressions continue to be experienced by Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) Albertans in sectors of employment, housing, healthcare and education. Certain communities continue to experience dehumanizing treatment as a result of institutional ideologies and structures; examples of this are reflected in the research and recommendations documented in “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.”

Edmonton and other Albertan cities are part of the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination. Which has now been renamed the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities for Inclusion. Changing the name of the national coalition to inclusion and removing racism eliminates the true purpose of the coalition and candy coats the difficult work of unpacking racism by stating that inclusion is the baseline to start from,  which is not the case. On this national committee there is only one person of colour and one Indigenous person, everyone one else on the committee is white. The three representatives from Alberta on this committee are all white. How do these committee members report, represent and create spaces for anti-racism solutions if they themselves have white privilege and have never experienced racism? Have these members been consulting with BIPOC in Alberta to bring issues of racism to the forefront? Committees designed like this further create experiences of exclusion rather than inclusion.

Racism Free Edmonton was established by the City of Edmonton in 2007 as an expression of the city’s commitment to action.  Despite the positive efforts of the City’s leadership in addressing racism, many Edmontonians and Albertans find it difficult to name experiences of individual racism and provide solutions to systemic racism which are embedded in organizational structures and practices. 

What do these frameworks mean for us today?

Through an anti-oppression, intersectionality, and human rights lens I would like to encourage design practitioners to examine how memory, built space, economic, political and social considerations influence diverse people to be engaged or disengaged in civic action.

Do BIPOC intersectional communities in Alberta currently have individual or collective power, resources and legitimacy to influence and  lead systemic change? This is the challenge that Albertans face. A critical question for designers to ask is; “How is power distributed so that equity can take root and grow.”

Can the Alberta Social Innovation network be a meeting place for these considerations to be safely addressed, discussed to evolve into solutions? Can ABSI Connect be the conduit to build the capacity of diverse BIPOC communities and educate the majority of Albertans to engage in critical systems thinking to deconstruct the power that exists in white-centric societies, in order to transform negative experiences of excluded peoples and communities in Alberta? Can Alberta move to systems that value, respect and implement equity? If this is established is there a realistic possibility that can lead to future states of equality?

Building A Tool Kit for Alberta Social Innovation Designers 

The learning tool below, from COCo, is a great visual to understand the complex nature of the manifestation of systemic racism in Albertan legislation, policies, programs and individual instances that translate into racist and discriminatory behaviours of some Albertans today.

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Another key component to understanding racism is understanding the terminology that surrounds it. This infographic was created by the Centre for Race and Culture to outline said critical terminology.

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IDEA Q & A

The following quote by Dafina-Lazarus Stewart provides context and a series of critical questions for consideration in order to apply various methods that can deconstruct power to ensure that practices of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility are implemented in social innovation design development. 

Diversity asks, “Who’s in the room?” Equity responds: “Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?”

Inclusion asks, “Has everyone’s ideas been heard?” Justice responds, “Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?”

Diversity asks, “How many more of [pick any minoritized identity] group do we have this year than last?” Equity responds, “What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?”

Inclusion asks, “Is this environment safe for everyone to feel like they belong?” Justice challenges, “Whose safety is being sacrificed and minimized to allow others to be comfortable maintaining dehumanizing views?”

Source from Inside Higher Ed

Stay tuned in August for the last blog in this series!


Soni Dasmohapatra was born and raised in the South Side of Edmonton. After completing her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Alberta, she moved to Toronto. Soni was involved in supporting social innovation, and philanthropy work at the community level with organizations such as the City of Toronto, United Way Toronto, Laidlaw and Maytree Foundations. Soni also worked as a senior project manager with the Government of Ontario and as a consultant with the United Nations. Since returning to Edmonton she has worked with the Government of Alberta, and is core team member at the Edmonton ShiftLab 1.0. As a recent Masters in Public Administration graduate, Soni is keen to map Alberta’s ecosystems to find, contribute and create spaces of social innovation. To connect with Soni you can email her at sonidas@icloud.com or find her on LinkedIn.

Do you have a story, idea, or insight you’d like to share with the ABSI Connect community? Did this guest blog post spark reflections or ideas you’d like to chat about? Let us know!