A woman stands to speak, while others look on

April 25-27: 2023 RIEP Forum

The first Rural Islands Economic Partnership (RIEP) Forum was held on Pender Island during 2019. They were forced to hold virtual events after COVID hit, but the 2023 RIEP Forum is an in-person event that will be held on Gabriola Island, April 25-27.

“This is a flagship event for the 18 plus rural islands of BC. The reach is from Bowen Island to Malcolm Island to Salt Spring to Gabriola, to Cortes, and Quadra. Our motto is, ‘No one island can be resilient alone, and together we’re stronger and better,’” explained Francine Carlin, Chair and Interim Executive Director of the Rural Islands Economic Partnership.

Image credit: The ‘Rural Islands’ in RIEP: Bowen, Broughton Archipelago, Cormorant, Cortes, Denman, Gabriola, Galiano, Gambier, Hornby, Lasqueti, Malcolm, Mayne, Pender, Penelakut, Quadra, Salt Spring, Saturna, Texada and Thetis – courtesy RIEP website

Kate Maddigan was one of the half dozen Cortes Island residents who attended the 2019 RIEP forum and will be returning with 3 other members of CCEDA (Cortes Community Economic Development Association) this year.

KM: “Here on Cortes, we meet a lot of our community needs through nonprofits, and those are the people on the ground. We don’t have municipal government support. We have the SRD (Strathcona Regional District), but it’s fairly limited. I just really love listening to people from the other islands which have the same issues that we do.”

Cortes Island Regional Director Mark Vonesch was invited, but it’s unlikely he’ll be able to attend.

KM: “It’s too bad Mark couldn’t join us, Noba (Anderson) did go in 2019, but we can get him involved in some of the online events.

FC: “I said to him, let’s have a Cortes area delegation meet with you, and talk about what’s really needed from a Regional District perspective.” 

“We realize people are traveling from all across BC to come to this event. Many are arriving on Monday night. Some are coming Tuesday morning to register, have lunch, and then the actual formal program starting with a welcome from First Nations at 1:00 PM.” 

“We have an opening session around the model of ‘Donut Economics,’ which is recognizing that we need to have  ecological and social justice in order to achieve our ability to live on the island, and on the planet in a regenerative and sustainable way. Our speaker is Ben Geselbracht, the Nanaimo City Counselor who brought Donut Economics into Nanaimo.”

Carlin said Nanaimo was the first city in Canada to use Donut Economics as a lens for their decision making around climate adaptation and economic investments.

The first evening will conclude with a Sarah Osborne concert.

FC: “Wednesday is a very heavy day.  We call it the un-conference conference because it’s not your typical ‘talking heads.’ It is plenaries, that are all interactive panels which engages the audiences with a Q&A.”

“We are really proud to have Vancity as the presenting sponsor and led by Michelle Laviolette, Director of Indigenous banking. Vancity was very excited about RIEP because RIEP represents the intersectionality of climate adaptation, reconciliation, and economic capacity building from a regenerative lens. We have panels that are being  sponsored by them around housing lessons learned across the islands, working with Indigenous businesses through the lens of reconciliation and the economics of climate change.” 

“We also have interactive panels on arts vitality,  travel as a force for good , circular economy success, government services related to the Island Coastal Economic Trust and the BC Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation.”

“It’s a very full packed schedule, and one that is also networking and connecting with Islanders across BC. In terms of just the general ambience of the program, it’s basically a grassroots event.  There’s hardly any corporate or any government presenters. It’s all the people who are on the ground doing the work.”

“We had some money from the government, but I raised over $30,000 to help people come to this. So that we could come together and continue to grow and build the connections across the islands through an organization like RIEP.” 

“All of us, except Bowen Island, are within Regional Districts who had this service related to the islands on the corner of their desk. What we had is an organization that’s trying to move through the noise that surround addressing the needs and challenges facing the rural Islands, because what we had is a fractured government. At the regional and provincial level, there was no vision for the islands.” 

“RIEP is a social enterprise that’s founded on the concept of leveraging economies of scale to achieve cost effective services related to first digital marketing and digital solutions. Now we’re moving on to grants resourcing, financial planning, IT support, human resources support, bookkeeping, et cetera, as a way to meet the basic needs and services that the islands aren’t receiving.” 

“The first Rural Islands Economic Forum was held in 2019. We realized we didn’t have a united voice, so we gathered together on Pender Island.  In January of 2020, we formed the Rural Islands Economic Partnership Society.  We’ve been very successful over the past three and a half years since that time to build United Voice for the rural islands around shared services and advocacy.”  

Link to the 12 videos of Explore BC Rural Islands

“Last year we were fortunate to be able to receive a Co-op Marketing Grant from Destination BC, which enabled us to put on a program called Explore BC Rural Islands, which Cortes, Quadra, Gabriola, Hornby and  Cormorant Island were involved in. We had filming, interviews of locals. The theme was conservation and respectful visitation. The way of creating a collaborative approach with the residents as well as with visitors, to have a year-round economy for the islands. To have programs that are carbon neutral, light on the land,  and support the local businesses who need to have a year-round economy. It showed the strength of these five islands, which don’t have a destination marketing association (the Southern Gulf Islands and Bowen Island do have one).”

KM: “It’s so much fun to really think about what challenges we’re facing here on Cortes, come together and learn from other people because we all faced similar challenges on these islands.”

“I would love to go to Hornby.”

“I connected with people on Salt Spring about tourism: ‘How do we have visitors come here without wrecking the island.’”

“I always like to look at Gabriola. They’re always so innovative and they’re doing things that are really pioneering. They actually have  a commons there. They have a soup kitchen, community gardens, the Salish Sea Renewable Energy Co-op , the Gertie Community Bus, and just so many great ideas.” 

“I really want to learn from others about how we can help local entrepreneurs more.”

FC: ”We’re moving forward with (the slogan) ‘Connect, Reflect, and Act.’ The act portion of the conference is very critical because we’re not just leaving with, ‘oh, we had a good time.’ It’s about resolutions around housing, around climate adaptation, around reconciliation with the Indigenous communities, around food resilience. We’re putting resolutions together and we’re taking them to the news media, to government at all levels. We’re here to make some noise, and to get some things done.”

KM: “I hope that there will be some last minute registrants from Cortes. If you have any questions about the event,  please reach out to me and I’d be happy to fill you in and give you any details that would  enable you to attend, because it’ll be really great.” 

FC: “The Rural Islands Economic Forum 2023 is being held on Gabriola Island at the Haven Retreat Centre, starting at 1:00 PM on April 25th, which is Tuesday, and concluding at noon on April 27th.”

Top image credit: Interaction from the 2019 RIEP Forum – courtesy RIEP

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