Leading By Walking Around – Community Listening Tour 1.0

Below is a first-person blog post from CFNL’s Executive Director, Nicole Dawe, about her recent travels around the island of Newfoundland as part of her work for the foundation. 

Many people shared a lot of wisdom with me when I stepped into this role as Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was my first time in a role like this, and it also brought me and my family over 5,000 kilometres from Calgary back home to Newfoundland and Labrador. I’m so grateful for all of the support and kindness that was a vital part of me and my family making this big transition. 

One piece of advice that stuck with me was from a dear friend and mentor, Ken Lima-Coelho – Lead By Walking Around. Essentially, this means getting out of your office and prioritizing spending time with the people who bring things to life in your organization and community. This resonated with how I’d seen members of my family show up in the community and the stories I’d heard of CFNL’s founder and its Honorary Chair, Dr. Peter Roberts, spending time at kitchen tables in the areas he worked in. The tricky part about bringing this to life is I was now striving to steward an organization that served a province over 400,000 square kilometres in size with many communities along our 29,000 kilometres of coastline. 

Enter Community Listening Tour 1.0. 

The community listening tour would be a chance to spend time in communities across the province, getting to know the people and places in a way you just can’t over Zoom. 

In addition to struggling with the geography of this place, I have the added privilege of being a Mom to a four-year-old and a partner to my husband, too. We landed on the West Coast and the Great Northern Peninsula for the first Community Listening Tour. My partner spent his childhood and teenage years in these areas but hadn’t returned in almost two decades. This meant it would be a fulfilling trip for us as a family and him, as we knew he would have to inevitably act as the lead parent while we were on the road. This was important for all of us as we tried to find the dance between me being able to get out and about to meet with people doing magical things in communities across the province and our family’s priorities and needs. 

We set off in June for three weeks, travelling to the other side of our wonderful island. 

What I loved

This place and the people who call it home. This place is stunning. Each community has so much of its own sense of itself, and you can only really get that by being there in person. So many community folks give so much of themselves to make magic happen in their community. I learned so many things, including that West Coast lobster tastes different than the lobster from the Burin Peninsula that I usually ate. They are both amazing and have been shaped by the different places and waters they call home (what a wise lesson from Lobsters). Time spent with community folks was especially lovely if we could spend time outside or eating together (usually seafood) and sharing stories of what brought us to our work and what we’re excited or anxious about right now. 

Living, working and playing as a family. By going as a family, we got to experience these places in a different way than if I’d gone on my own. We got to experience and connect with people at playgrounds, in libraries and on beaches. I can more deeply appreciate stories, grant applications, reporting, etc., from spending time there, and I deepened or sparked relationships that will allow us to welcome more people representing more places and perspectives into CFNL’s work. I also didn’t have to feel split between spending time with my daughter and partner and doing the work I love, which is forever a tension I’m trying to balance. 

What I learned

People are holding a lot. Whether people were staff or volunteers, one thing I heard from nearly everyone is that they are anxious about how this work keeps going. Whether it’s insufficient or inconsistent financial resources or being able to support staff and volunteers to do this work in a sustainable way, a lot of community folks are being asked to hold a lot even after they held so much during the height of the pandemic. 

We need to tell fuller stories. Once you turn north from Deer Lake, you’re on the Viking Trail, the name of the highway that heads up the Great Northern Peninsula. Though Vikings are something very unique on the northernmost end of this highway, this part of our province has an immense amount of history over many millennia that doesn’t feel as prominently told as the story of these Viking visitors who only stayed for a few decades. From thousands of years of many Indigenous communities living in these areas to the substantial French presence that has shaped these communities and is still very present today, the people, place and creatures that make up this part of the province have always had an immense amount of diversity, and it would be wonderful to see this more represented in how we name things and the stories we tell ourselves and that end up in our education system. 

I’m trying to have these Community Listening Tours as an ongoing part of my work. You can expect to see me spending time in other places, and I’m always open to invites or ideas on when to visit. 

Thank you to the many people who helped to make this happen. From folks who opened up time in their schedule with me for wonderful conversation to others who spent the time to suggest who I might add to my list of connections, and especially to my family for always making space in our lives for adventures like this. 

Thank you to our fund holders in these areas and the following organizations for welcoming me into their community.