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Newcomers Help Build for Economic Vitality

Q+A with the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria

Moving to a new city is never easy, but it’s especially challenging for those from other countries. Fortunately, the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) is there for immigrants as they work to build their lives here.

ICA supports the full integration of newcomer immigrants and refugees into the social, economic and civic life of the region by providing the tools, connections and resources — including translation, interpretation, English classes, mentoring and job search assistance — for welcoming, supportive new beginnings.

Along with assisting newcomers to settle in their new community, ICA plays an integral role in combating racism, offering community development workshops on anti-racism, multiculturalism, diversity awareness, immigration, and human rights, in addition to building cultural connections through community arts initiatives.

Chief Executive Officer Jean McRae tells us how their work contributes to a robust, vibrant economy.

Why did you join South Island Prosperity Partnership? 

SIPP brings together community leaders and decision makers. It is a place where we can work together to accomplish a bright future for everyone. We have so many forward-looking leaders in all walks of our community life, and I believe cross pollination from the various sectors brings out the creative ideas that will distinguish us from the pack. Being part of that was hugely appealing to me.

What do you see as key to growing a resilient, robust economic future for our region?  

A key driver of prosperity in our country and region with our aging demographics is a younger, more diverse workforce to fill key labour gaps at all levels and to connect our products and services to international markets. I see diversity throughout the region as key to our economic, social and civic success.

What is our region’s secret sauce when it comes to competing internationally to attract quality talent, businesses with household sustaining jobs, and investment? 

It’s beautiful here and it’s both small enough to have livable neighbourhoods accessible to unparalleled natural settings and big enough to have a robust diverse economy so people can afford to live here. We know that for newcomers, key drivers are safe communities, good schools and postsecondary opportunities for their children, available healthcare services, housing, and employment or business opportunities. And, it doesn’t hurt to have the best climate in Canada.

To compete we need to make sure we communicate what we have to offer.

What are you most excited about in terms of your own organization’s plans and potential? 

Canada has set aggressive immigration targets to help fuel COVID-19 recovery and ICA will need to grow to support those newcomers. This will include all classes of immigrants including refugees and we’re looking forward to working with all our partners and community sponsors to connect these newcomers to the community and opportunities here. COVID-19 has forced us to advance our blended (face-to-face and virtual) service delivery model so we are excited to be ableto reach out to people living throughout the CRD.

The big news is that ICA is moving downtown in 2022. Renovations of the new space are under way and this will bring our services under one roof and a significant benefit to our clients. One of the things our staff likes best about working for ICA is the energy that diversity generates, so being able to come together physically is very welcome – especially so after following COVID-19 protocols.

What’s one thing about your organization you really want people to know that they probably don’t know? 

We are celebrating ICA’s fiftieth year of serving our community. In that time we have touched the lives of more than 80,000 newcomers, as well as the many staff and thousands of volunteers. It is so wonderful to run into former clients and their children and learn how successful they have been. We’ve contributed to cherished community memories through producing FolkFest (1971-2006) and Luminara (2000-2010). ICA was formed in 1971 by ethnic community members wanting to eliminate racism by sharing their cultures through FolkFest. We are still doing that work fifty years later.

What challenges are you most invested in helping our community overcome and why? 

Making this place a racism free zone. ICA and the Greater Victoria Local Immigration Partnership recently released, Racism in Greater Victoria: A Community Report. It makes it clear that white folks see little racism but Indigenous people and people of colour experience the impacts of racism on a regular basis in our community and it negatively affects their sense of safety and wellbeing. If we want to attract and keep diverse employees and businesses, we need to work together to be an actively anti-racist community.

What lessons have most profoundly impacted you since the pandemic sent shockwaves through our community and economy? 

We have seen the most vulnerable made more vulnerable, the isolated become more isolated. Newcomers – many of them temporary workers — fill many essential front-line roles in our society. Maybe we should be finding ways for them to immigrate permanently as they are filling roles that are so vital to all of us.

We have learned that we are adaptable and have collectively learned many new skills to support both our clients and staff. Doing things differently has in some ways allowed us to reach more people, be more environmentally responsible, and to recognize the importance of our interdependence and relationships.

When you envision the South Island region in 2040, what will have changed? What does our future look like? 

People from all backgrounds will feel welcome and safe here. We will increase our working age population. We will attract diverse newcomers to help fuel our thriving cultural and business community. Young people will want to stay and make their careers and raise their families here.