“Embracing Hope, Taking Action, and Transforming the World” is a heck of a slogan. And for some people, it exists purely in the realm of the aspirational.
Not so for Gabriola Island resident Fay Weller. Those three sentiments comprise the sub-title of her 2018 book Changemakers with co-author Mary Wilson, and they represent her personal commitment to facing the global challenges that we all recognize are actually part of our daily lives, and of our communities.
Just a decade ago, not too long after having relocated to Gabriola from urban life and a government job in Victoria, Fay embarked on her PhD (which ultimately led to her book). She decided to focus on her core interests, particularly the innovations needed to address the pressing need for sustainable solutions in transportation and transit, in food security, in building systems…
“There are lots of challenges!” Fay remarks, with a knowing laugh. And as it turns out, the solutions she unearthed during her research weren’t what stood out the most. “I interviewed people on all the different islands, and I got to know what was happening. It was quite lovely to feel the energy around being able to respond innovatively to some of the environmental and social issues.”
“I think it's very much about personally sharing stories. Being in person you can sit and have conversations at coffee, at lunch. You hear someone speak about something and you can have a follow-up conversation with them after the fact.”
Following the completion of her PhD, Fay jumped into action almost immediately, co-founding a non-profit society called Island Futures, with the goal of sustaining both the interpersonal and the inter-island engagement. Perhaps transforming the world was not on the agenda for Fay and her Island Futures cohorts, but transforming their corner world was certainly within their grasp.
“We called it ‘inter-island connections’. We met with other island representatives at Montague Harbour for three years running, speaking about innovative sustainability initiatives. But we didn’t have a lot of money to do it.”
They did, however, have the principles to model their values for the purpose of inspiring and eventually enacting long-term change. Fay recalls being part of a group of Gabriolans heading down to Pender Island by boat for the first RIEP Forum in 2019, just to avoid using fossil fuels.
Reflecting today on that first Forum event, Fay recalls how happy she was that a separate organization was ready to step forward and focus on in-person collaboration for these very same topics of resilience and regenerative practices. “The inter-island connections idea had been in my head for a long time, and I was doing a lot of work to make it happen, so I was really glad someone else did it! I've always felt that was needed, because we do have very similar issues, and also innovations,” Faye says.
“We initiated the BC Community Bus Coalition before the 2019 Forum to lobby for fair subsidization for community bus systems. Gabriola had a bus, Pender had a bus, Galiano had a bus. We were expanding it to include others who were trying out buses. That's the kind of thing that can happen at the Forum.”
Fay spoke on a Climate Change panel at the 2023 RIEP Forum on Gabriola Island this past April, just as one of Island Futures’ many spin-off projects, Sustainable Gabriola, was preparing to wrap up a full year of change-focused programming through Gabriola Climate 12•12•12. For each of 12 months beginning September 2022, Sustainable Gabriola presented 12 ‘wicked’ problems related to climate change, and engaged the island community to find at least 12 local solutions, drawn from Gabriolans’ collective wisdom and experience.
“We're now moving to the next step, which is Action Teams—to start making a lot of those brainstorming ideas actually happen.”
It’s a project representing where Fay and the Gabriola Island community itself is at…and also how RIEP members are working hard to transform their islands for the good of all of BC’s rural islands.
“We’re a network, rather than an organization,” Fay said. “That's a big part of it for me - the trading of ideas and information across the islands.”