Jennifer DeCoste

Social Innovator

Life.School.House

Jennifer successfully balances a feminine/masculine leadership style, working with teams to explore evolving structures and systems. Her work focuses on building greater resiliency, intuitive leadership, and the placement of collaboration ahead of competition.

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My father really likes buying lottery tickets when the grand prize is huge. He always tells us, "When I win this one, I'm going to give each of you X (a varying percentage of the total winnings depending on his mood), and then X to other family members, X to this group/charity, and then we will all take a big trip." He hasn't won a dime yet, but in this and many other ways he has taught me that the feeling of true wealth comes from sharing what you have with those you love.

This stayed with me throughout my career in entrepreneurship, private and public sector positions. Most recently I've spent much of my time travelling across the province to meet in coffee shops and at the kitchen tables to interview and mentor under strong leaders in Nova Scotia, from Yarmouth to North Sydney. Some of their names you would certainly recognize, others you would never hear tell of outside their own small towns despite the impact they are having locally. As I travelled, I began to gather a sense of just how many ideas there are in action right now that are building true "wealth" into our communities. Makerspaces, Angel Investors, Farm Shares and truly community-minded public officials who go above expectations for very little recognition. These people and programs are highly effective at building community, creating economic opportunities, and reimagining food security, but as I travelled I noticed that quite often the “do-ers” in our province are woefully under resourced while some of the well funded initiatives are often much less effective.

In December 2017, I decided that I wanted to see what kind of effort it would take to change this reality without getting caught up in any red tape. I started by committing 6 months of my own time on a volunteer basis to different organizations I believed could have greater provincial impact if they were encouraged and resourced. In the last few months I have been witness to a groundswell of community led initiatives, new and ongoing, that are breaking ground in NS. Organic networks are formed/forming and I have been fortunate enough to be able to spend quality time in conversations about aspirations, barriers, passions, with strong and committed Nova Scotians.

What are you most proud of professionally? And who or why?

With zero funding and a goal of increasing trust in community, creating safe space to try new things and to spend meaningful time with neighbours, I launched an adult folk school called Life.School.House (www.lifeschoolhouse.com) in February 2018.

I have opened up my own home, at no charge, to bring in facilitators of arts and traditional skills to share in small group workshops. The events are 100% non-monetary to create barrier-free access to education. Each participant brings bartered items for the facilitator, to exchange for the knowledge shared. Each class fills usually within an hour of posting and we have had classes with more than 20 people on a waitlist! Our dream is to expand this concept across the province, supporting others who want to use their own residential space to teach and learn together building stronger and interconnected neighbourhoods in small scale Folk School Hubs.

What was your greatest stage of growth?  What made it a shift for you? 

Wealth is truly about just having what you need, when you need it. No more, no less, for everyone. I've seen the barter and sharing economies play a significant role in shifting the narrative on wealth as communities of connected do-ers support each other far differently than I've ever seen before in more traditional exchanges.

What's your favourite or most read book or podcast?

Have you read 'Emergent Strategy' yet?

"We are socialized to come up with ideas in isolation and compete with them, to have the BEST idea and get rewarded for it. But if we want a world that works for more people, we have to get into the practice of ideating together, letting others as close as possible into the intimate space where ideas are born."

Who's inspired you, directly or indirectly? How have they inspired you?

My children and their friends who have always accepted the diversity of people and ideas that are in constant flow around them. They are growing up witness to the strength we have found in investing whole-heartedly in our community and I have already seen examples of how these future leaders will take that baton and run it further than we can even imagine.

 

What would you have done differently?

Absolutely everything has played a part in informing my journey - I wouldn't and couldn't change a thing.

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facilitator, speaker, motivator, mentor, connector, convenor, do-er, community leader, host

Jennifer DeCoste