Cathy Gilbert

My connection to the Inclusive Leadership Cooperative goes back almost a decade.  Our family moved to the Cowichan Valley from the Nanaimo area in the summer of 2012.   At the time our four youngest children included three BIPOC children. Perhaps because of this visible diversity in our family (or maybe just knowing we would love the connection) a local friend suggested I bring the kids to the Multicultural Leadership Group.  This was an amazing after school weekly gathering held at a church hall, and hosted by the Cowichan Intercultural Society from 2002 to 2012.   We soon became regular attenders and it was one of the most welcoming elements of our new community.  It was multicultural and multigenerational and we did indeed find a home there.   

Attending an Inclusive Leadership Cooperative week-end gathering was hugely inspiring. I (usually along with a couple of my kids) attended events at the Cowichan Lake Education Centre and at OUR Ecovillage.  Getting together in these weekend events, sharing food, education and experiential activities was a powerful way to connect and learn from one another.  Although dates seem a blur to me now (the aged brain not being what is was), I find myself in a photo of the Annual General Meeting of the Inclusive Leadership Cooperative in August of 2014, and  eventually I joined the Board of Directors.  The vision and mission of the organization aligned with mine and I was grateful to have found them and be part, in a small way, of something with such potential for changing lives and beyond.  

To give context to my life, I spent a year in the Cote d’Ivoire in 1976/77, living and working in a diverse community. I came home with strong views on the injustices of the world (my parents lived in a 4 bedroom house with a pool and ate meat every day – this was in distinct contrast to how I had lived in Africa) and there is no doubt this experience was foundational in my desire to live differently.  

Fast forward and I married and my partner and I became parents to birth children as well as adopting from the foster care system. Becoming parents is a learning curve for most folks; adopting children with diverse heritage, experiences and needs proved an even bigger one.  

I know that we learned as we went along: to quote Maya Angelou “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”    

Along the way sometimes when the system didn’t provide what was needed for our kids we helped make it happen.  An example of this is the Coco Cafe in Cedar, BC.  The Coco Cafe is the direct result of the efforts of some local families who started meeting in 2004.  We were seeking opportunities for our children with disabilities who were quickly becoming adults to have supportive work environments in our community.  Eventually, in 2011 the Coco Cafe opened in Cedar, as a cooperative with the goal of providing socialization and work opportunities for our adult children with developmental disabilities.  The Cafe is still alive and well, meeting original goals as well as being a hub in the community for people to come for coffee and a meal as well as expanding to do catering all over the central Island.  Being a small part of the creation of this social enterprise makes me recall that famous Margaret Mead quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

Being able to effect change in the world, whether in your own family, neighbourhood, town, country or even across the world is an incredible gift.  

The Inclusive Leadership Cooperative offers that opportunity to those who are willing to participate and learn. Sadly the pandemic has put a halt to face to face gatherings which are indeed incredible ways to share our experiences with one another.  Hopefully these will be able to resume in the future.  

Meanwhile, those who have not already taken the online Discover Your Inclusive Leadership Potential can do so at any time.  It’s a great way to learn and you can do it from anywhere.  

Just imagine if we can, our world(s) as more inclusive and connected.  Believe it if you can.