Changemaker Spotlight: Ashley Arden

What are some of the most impactful changes you’ve made in your community?

ashleyI love helping other organizations and grassroots initiatives be more effective through my work at Stonehouse, but it’s my volunteer work as Chair of the Eka Cooperative that makes me most proud. At Eka, we work with indigenous refugee communities in East Vancouver – like the Montagnard from the Central Highlands of Vietnam – who are being driven into downward assimilation by increasingly restricted government-funded services. Whether it is literacy classes, science & myth dialogues, a traditional music program, indigenous mentorship with local First Nations or a women’s weaving collective, we promote social cohesion through what we call cooperative-culturalism, a community-based, dialogic approach that creates space for both cultural continuity and dynamic integration. It’s all about making creative use of the resources we have in our community to welcome and support the successful integration of vulnerable communities without demanding assimilation.

Who or what inspires you?

Ethnobotanist and National Geographic explorer Wade Davis is chief among my pantheon.

“Other peoples aren’t failed attempts at being us. They’re not failed attempts to keep up with the pace of history. They’re not failed attempts to be modern. On the contrary, they are, by definition, unique answers to a fundamental question: what does it mean to be human and alive? And when the peoples of the world answer that question, they do so in more than 7,000 different voices, and those voices become our collective repertoire for dealing with the challenges that will confront us as a species.”

I was a young teenager when I discovered his ability to capture in mere words the deep practical and poetic beauty of human diversity. Wade opened my mind to the value of working to understand the way other people see the world. Seriously. Watch his Ted Talk.

What was your a-ha moment to get you in the work you are doing now?

Burnt-out, frustrated and swimming against a swelling tide of mediocrity and complacency, I realized that I’d cast myself into a Sisyphean existence in a big environmental non-profit. I decided to just stop pushing the boulder up the hill and direct my energy towards more creative projects with people who inspire me and are similarly driven and committed to making real change. What did I learn? It’s true. Go build it. They’ll come.

What’s your dream or vision for the future? If you were mayor what would an ideal city look like to you?

My family’s from southern Italy, so it’s not surprising that my Vancouver would be a patchwork of slower, warmer, closer-knit communities. Life would be not just environmentally sustainable, but socially sustainable. And to get there, I’d prescribe a nutritious stew of guaranteed basic income, living wage and wealth taxation to temper economic inequality and free people from the crush of unnecessary work. Having the time to be a Changemaker shouldn’t be a luxury reserved for the well-off.

What’s your secret in making change happen?

Letting go of control. Empowering people to make the change they want is always more effective than trying to dictate change to people. It also forces you to challenge your own assumptions and try to understand the real barriers to change people face.

What is a changemaker in your eyes?

Changemakers are hummingbirds. They are driven by a primal craze for the sweet nectar of realizing humanity’s glittering potential.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a future Changemaker wanting to make change what would that be?

Dive in! Obsessing over the perfect plan will leave you stuck. When you see work that needs to be done, roll up your sleeves and get dirty! Good strategy is important, but there’s no magic formula. The best way to learn what works is to try with an open heart and open mind.

Why are you attending Changemakers Night Out?

Cross-pollination, insights and inspiration! Bringing people together around making change? It’s genius. It’s easy to feel isolated and overwhelmed when you are toiling away, taking on your little corner of the world. This is the first event I’ve been to in Vancouver that has managed to strike the right balance between work & play and been able to convene such a broad spectrum of leaders.

What is your spirit animal?

The fiesty and daring Fire Tiger! (Although, my Mandarin teacher told me some Chinese couples avoid having children in Tiger years for fear of having a daughter… I wonder why?)