If you’re an Albertan, you probably know that the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) is not only the province’s second largest municipality by area, it is also one of the fastest growing industrial areas in Canada, thanks to oil sands development.
Social Prosperity has recruited 50 people from the Wood Buffalo and Waterloo regions to implement community initiatives and develop capacity in a range of areas. Photo credit: Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo.
If you’re not an Albertan, or you live in one of the many North American communities struggling to cope with the continuing economic recession, you may be surprised to learn that rapid growth is not always an unqualified good.
Resource booms, like what the RMWB has endured for much of the past decade, impose a host of strains on cities and their people. Workers and families flood in, increasing demand for everything from water and housing to roads and schools. In the RWMB, for example, population has increased 80 percent since 2000 and 32 percent of its residents are under the age of 25.
Well into what could become a second decade of boom times, the RMWB and its federal and provincial government counterparts are much better prepared. New schools are being built, key roads upgraded, and land released for new housing (which has to be done carefully, to avoid depressing market values of surrounding neighbourhoods.).
So what key lesson has been learned from the last decade? Having politicians and industry throw money at grand infrastructure projects, however necessary, only addresses part of the problem. It’s equally important to harness the people and energy of the community itself, specifically its non-profit and volunteer organizations. Doing so is especially important when a community is going through rapid change, as residents tend to feel that their city is something that’s happening to them rather than with them, let alone for them.
To help support the kind of change that the community wants and has itself inspired, Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo (SPWB), formerly known as the Wood Buffalo Community Building Project, was launched. SPWB builds on the municipality’s existing plan for community development (Envision Wood Buffalo) and works with community leaders to build capacity in the non-profit sector by collaborating with social innovation experts from the Waterloo, Ontario region.
The goal is to write and implement a change agenda that will build non-profit and social capacity for the long term, and stimulate innovation by linking the great “doers and thinkers” of both RMWB and the Waterloo region.
Wood Buffalo community leaders have already recruited 50 people from these two regions to implement community initiatives and develop capacity in a range of areas, including arts and culture, social planning, and shared space for non-profits.
This community capacity initiative builds on the RMWB’s strong foundation of altruism and giving back. Earlier this year, United Way announced that the RMWB was the most giving community in Canada, raising $65 per individual in 2010, the highest per capita donation in the country. Moreover, the RMWB has been the highest giver for five consecutive years.
We have high hopes that SPWB will make a real contribution to the RMWB’s social growth as it manages the further economic activity brought by oil sands development.