With restrictions lifting and the threat of COVID-19 fading into the category of rarely contracted communicable disease, we’re all ready to get back to “new” normal. But what is normal? Can we get back to the life we enjoyed before social distancing, variants of concern and never-ending Zoom meetings? Do we want to?
Businesses have led exciting new innovations and systemic changes in the last 450 odd days. It’s time to bring that drive to change and improve into all aspects of our world so that the second-half of 2021 will be much different than it was before 2020. I truly believe in many ways we’re much better off. The crisis of a pandemic has forced us to reexamine our values and revealed systemic dysfunction that had been easy to ignore when times were good.
We need to do a better job of providing a safe community for all. The Chamber has long advocated on behalf of businesses for policies and investments needed for all of us to feel safe at our jobs and in our homes. This really is a foundation for a functional and thriving community. When COVID-19 erupted, the issues around homelessness, mental health and addiction were exposed like never before. People who were out of sight in shelters and alleyways were suddenly in full view. We needed compassion for those in despair, resolve for those who sought to prey on the vulnerable and practicality for finding solutions to a lack of housing and services at the root of so many issues. The darkest days are now behind us, and downtown Victoria is undeniably safer and well-poised for a powerful economic rebound.
We’ve also experienced a reckoning that forced us to question the narratives we have as a country and a community. Discrimination and bigotry — forced into the light during the pandemic — are no longer acceptable. Period. The question now is how do we do more than pay lip-service to ensure we really are inclusive? At The Chamber, we’re creating a new Committee for the Advancement of Diversity and Inclusion (CADI). It will consist of members who represent voices that are underrepresented and will guide our vision to be the “region’s most diverse and influential business association.”
We have also added two words to the end of our mission statement so it now reads “working together to build good business and great community for all.” This includes doing more to achieve reconciliation with Indigenous people. The Chamber has had a strong relationship with local First Nations for years, and, to be frank, we are angry and ashamed of the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada. As a business organization that dates back to 1863, we are interwoven in the history of our region. Without doubt, chambers of commerce bore witness and participated in the suppression of Indigenous peoples and heinous efforts to destroy their culture. We have publicly acknowledged this and are committed to do better. A Chamber task force led by Indigenous representation is one way we can ensure real changes are made. We have also invited all First Nations businesses and Indigenous entrepreneurs to join The Chamber and be part of the work we do on behalf of the region.
There has never been a more important time for us as a Chamber and for all businesses to join together to be part of the solution. There has also never been a better time to grow your business and connections, and joining your local Chamber is an effective way to accomplish that. Connecting people, connecting businesses, together we will build good business and great community — for all.
Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
This column was originally published in the July edition of the Business Examiner