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EPISODE 046 – How to Rebuild A More Just and Inclusive Economy

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In today’s episode Yamila shares: 

  • What we can learn from Afro-Indigenous futurism and other ways of imagining futures to rebuild more just and inclusive economies
  • Why diversity and inclusion policies alone won’t work
  • How she is building a purpose-driven social enterprise.

Yamila asks a really beautiful question within this episode and it is “How am I becoming a good ancestor today?” When we think about building just and inclusive communities are we really thinking about what we are leaving behind for future generations? 

You can click the podcast player above to listen now, or keep scrolling to read the full transcription!

Hello, my name is Yamilla. Thank you so much for connecting and listening to this conversation. I am grateful to be able to record and share this podcast episode with you from the traditional unseeded and sacred territory of the  Songhees, Esquimalt and Lekwungen people. I’m grateful to be able to live, grow and play on the territories, especially as I continue to grow as an entrepreneur, as an activist, as a sister, a caregiver, and all the other identities that I carry. I was born and raised in what we know today as a Dominican Republic. And the Caribbean, as many of you might know it, and my ancestry is of African descent, and Spanish. 

When I look at both my mom and my dad’s ancestry, and I look back at our lineage and our relationships, it’s interesting for me to find so many relatable concepts to the territories I’m living on right now. And this is where I’m hoping I can shine a light for you. And as I speak, I will be bringing a social justice lens, but also the lens of a financial educator, which is a lot of the work I’ve done has been with women, with communities towards healing our relationship with money, but also understanding how to navigate the financial system. I can’t work in the financial system or through the system without acknowledging that historically, most of the communities that we work with, have been disenfranchised, have been negatively impacted by colonization by the systems that we’ve established. And that is why I wanted to host this conversation today, for it to be a moment where we can ask ourselves some questions and figure out ways to move forward while acknowledging and honoring our cultural ancestry. What does that even have to do with everything I’m mentioning and this is, I think, where a bit of my background will make sense. But I came to what we know today as Victoria, British Columbia, about seven years ago to study at the University of Victoria. And when I was in university, I got really interested in other subjects around diversity, inclusion, equity, but also finances and sciences, I had a quite diverse interest in different topics. And what I realized, though, is you know, when I wanted to dive into something more deeper, like how business works, and I would attend events and go to spaces that had been curated for, I guess people traditionally, in these spaces, I didn’t feel welcome. And I didn’t feel like I fit in. In fact, I feel like I had to dress differently, wear makeup and do certain things, or may be speaking certain ways. And I found myself actually observing more and more often, so I could duplicate what I was seeing. Because I didn’t want to stand out or to be considered different.

And when I look back at my experiences of wanting to blend in and not wanting to look different, I have to ask myself, why was that my experience in the first place? What was in place that didn’t allow somebody like myself to feel free enough or comfortable enough to self identify or to share my values or share my stories. And I think we understand today, when we look at the challenges and the problems we’re facing the mental health crisis, the financial crisis, the environmental crisis, the decisions we’ve made up to this point, which have led to spaces like those ones that I experienced at first. Those are not the decisions that are going to move our communities forward. In fact, those are not the decisions that will help strengthen communities to have been historically oppressed and disenfranchised. And the reason I say this with conviction, is because and I welcome you please argue, when we look at history, and when we look at politically, systemically, even legally, the decisions that have been made up to this point, we need to ask ourselves, who have they been made for? Who are they benefiting? Who made them?

And when I say that we need to create spaces and give more room for different worldviews to come and work together. I don’t mean about being exclusive. I mean about when we’re looking at solving today’s challenges, you know, as a co-founder, think this will make sense to you as an entrepreneur. I am a co founder of two companies. One of them is the Nyoka Design Labs, it is a social enterprise and we focus on solving social and environmental challenges through our solutions, and we leverage sustainable bio technologies, products and land based knowledge to really create solutions that are on its own asking themselves questions like, is this solution regenerative in essence? Is it regenerative off the land where it’s going to end on. And when we look at our flow of materials, we follow what is called a circular economic process, and the circular economy model actually, where we look at the waste that we generate throughout our whole system. And we ask ourselves, how can we reduce this waste or completely eliminate it, acknowledging that there’s no such thing as waste, but everything is a resource. And that’s a change in mindset, already, that we can start to implement in the work that we do and how we relate not just with our businesses, but with our communities. There’s no such thing as waste. But there’s the opportunity to rebuild something stronger. And there’s the opportunity to innovate with different perspectives. And that’s why it is so important that as we rebuild our communities, after the pandemic, as we rebuild more just and inclusive communities, we look at the intersectionality. You know, we look at how women have been, in many cases excluded from obtaining certain positions in the workplace. What are those barriers that limit women from achieving true financial independence, financial wellness? And we also need to be wary of what are those stories of financial freedom that are shared with us by the media.

I’ll tell you my financial freedom story, or at least my understanding of it. But when I was with my coach, and I was looking at my personal finances with my partner, the question came forward, what is your definition of financial freedom? And for us, and for me, I understood that it meant that I choose to work because I love the work that I do. But I never have to sacrifice my community’s impact, my positive impact in the community because of work, or because of not having the financial means to achieve this. And that’s where I realized that ultimately, we needed to shift the questions that we were asking. And we needed to shift the ideas of what it means to be wealthy. What it means to be in a leadership position, what it means to be a business owner, because those same spaces where I didn’t feel welcome at first, why did I not feel welcome in them? And how would other people feel, other people with ideas that will strengthen our communities, our local economies? And again, we’ll be achieving our goal of advancing justice, and equity.

And so here’s the question I want to bring forth to you the work that you’re doing, and you don’t need to answer right away. But I invite you to take this question with you, and carry it throughout the next part of the podcast. But what you’re doing, does it support the creation of pathways where impacted communities can be beneficiaries?

Let me break it down a bit differently. I want to bring the example of my other social enterprise where I’m supporting through our impact model and this one is called Afro Hub Marketspace. And through Afro Hub, we were looking at the disparities and the barriers that more specifically black founders, and indigenous founders as well, what barriers are they facing that are not allowing them to have equitable access to services in the entrepreneurial ecosystem? Because we already know, there’s resources everywhere, but why aren’t people benefiting from those resources? Why, what is it? Is it a knowledge gap? Is it culturally? Is it that sense of not belonging? And so we had to go into our communities and we have to ask the questions, and we needed to ask people, how can we make sure that you benefit from our actions? And as we build our own economic and resilience and financial independence, how can we bring our communities with us? And sometimes we need to take it down a step, even a step back and say, ‘What are those communities that I relate with?’ You know, sometimes we haven’t been taught to think in that way. And I feel very blessed that I can say I am part of the global Indigenous community and I’m an Indigenous citizen. I’m a citizen of the world and alongside I am also part of smaller communities, especially on this territory, part of that community of Black leaders of women, part of the queer community, among other things. And so when I bring, and I think about those communities, and I consult, and I ask, what I am doing today is supporting the strengthening of those communities.

And that takes me to my net spark where, again, I’m starting from a place where I’ve experienced what it feels to be excluded. And so it is now mine, I feel it’s my duty, it is my responsibility to make sure that those conditions are not duplicated. Again, as I am building support and services, and my own resilience, my own version of resilience, right, I need to make sure I don’t duplicate the same actions that drove me to feel unwelcomed. And I think that’s where a lot of us fall short, including myself, where because we’ve been taught to think and operate from a certain perspective, in many cases, rooted in colonialism in notions of division rather than unity, we continue perpetuating the same actions. And this is where I invite you to ask yourself the next question where it is so important for us to pull from our traditional knowledge, and our ancestors and the people that came before us. And when I mean before, I really want you to think about and I invite myself, as I do this, I am thinking back about my ancestors who came from Africa as well. And when I look back at my history, there are signs of potential because, unfortunately, I can’t identify fully what’s my heritage, but I see traces of the Gerouva people. And I can ask myself, how can I reconnect with that part of my ancestry? But what can I learn, that’s going to help me build more just and inclusive societies today? Because I know that what has been done to this point, when I think about colonization, and separation and segregation, that’s not what I want to continue fostering. And when I look at how that shows up in myself, I look at anti-Blackness, I look at notions of how things should work and how they should not. And really the whole process of decolonizing myself, especially as I step up into more positions of leadership and power, and influence, which by the way, we all have influence. When you think about yourself, whether you’re an auntie, a mom, a leader in your respective field, even if you are even if you feel like you have no you hold no power, there is somebody looking up to you. And this is where we need to ask ourselves, how do I make sure that I don’t perpetuate those same notions that create a more division between our communities? And others? Where is that sense of otherness even coming from.

And this is where I want to link it back to how we relate with each other. How we relate with our own sense of spirituality, our own mental, physical well being or financial will mean because especially as women, our history with money, you know, and as I work with women, as a financial educator, as a coach, I see so much pain and pain that usually arises from our, from us operating from a space of scarcity. And again, I have to go back to this system and ask ourselves, why is it that so many people are getting paid below the living wage, but I can’t just blame the system? Because it is also up to us to understand and to learn and to identify, and to unlearn what are those habits and operating beliefs that are also pulling us back from having healthy relationships with money and from actually leveraging money as a tool that is going to help us achieve maybe that impact that we want to see in our communities. And I’ll give you an example. I was having a call from one of my coworkers who was also my friend and a mentor for me. And we were talking about how we needed to plan in our midterm to long term goals, creating a foundation that would specifically give back to our local communities in the Caribbean, and more specifically a foundation towards helping young girls access entrepreneurial education and opportunities. Because the drive and the talent is there but are the opportunities there. I don’t see that. And it’s the same stories when we go to marginalized communities. When you look at what is waiting our communities down, and where, you know, the sense of being a strong Black woman, I don’t want to be known as a strong black woman anymore. Because my strength also comes from trauma and resilience, resilience, I had to come up because I had no choice. And so when my friend and I were talking, and we said, You know what, let’s create a budget. And let’s see how much money we are going to need to actually have a strong impact in our communities and to help girls and young girls connect to those resources in a way that is safe, that honors their cultural ancestry. And that doesn’t teach them that they have to change themselves to fading the spaces, but that the spaces are unlimited, and that their culture is welcome. Just like yours, you are listening to this.

And I tell you, when I think about my entrepreneurial journey, and when I think about what I can learn from my ancestry and Afro-indigenous futurism, it’s way more than just understanding the history of colonization. It’s about looking at our ancestry, our knowledge, our relationship with the land, and I will tell you, right now, everybody has ancestors, not everybody recognizes or is aware of those, maybe relationships, yet, they haven’t awakened to that. But I want to ask you, and invite you to imagine with me, because that’s it. When we speak about Afro-indigenous futurism, really, is it about how we are preserving language through storytelling, is that how we’re pushing for our own narratives, to rise above other narratives, which might portray negative images and stereotypical images of what it means to be a Black woman who leads, an Indigenous woman who leads,  a queer person who leads. And of course, I only speak about those because those are my closest identities.

But I invite you to listen, and to engage with me, as I look at what it means to to pull from Afro-indigenous futurism and pull it and bring it to my work to the work that I do, as I teach people how to manage and how to live better relationships, and how to live with their money, right. But also, as I lead in my businesses, and lead a community, which hasn’t been an easy journey.

And I wonder if you’re also asking yourself these questions, then this might be helpful for you. I invite you to not just focus on understanding the history of going isolation, I invite you to take a step further, because it’s not just about grading policies, or writing papers or doing a blog post of how you acknowledge racism and discrimination and what you’re planning to do with it. You know, it’s beyond a mere understanding of the history of colonization, but addressing how a system of supremacy, superiority and privilege has taken our own mindsets has shifted the way we relate with each other. From colorism to anti-Blackness to White guilt, from privilege to access, and deciding who has access. And for me, it’s a process of learning and unlearning and cultivating a sense of agency and reconnecting with my ancestral roots. But hey, here’s the question, What if you can’t reconnect? What if you don’t have a path or a knowledge keeper or an elder? And I think that’s where our communities come and play? And it goes back to my previous question, Who is your community? What is your community? 

What pain collectively, what is your community experiencing? And when I look back at many of the communities of women that I’ve had the privilege to work with, there’s a lot of pain again, around building and reclaiming our own agency, whether that is through our financial well being or our spiritual or mental. And really, I share this to get you thinking and to ask yourself, whatever you’re doing today, as a starting point, how will it support the creation of pathways where impacted communities can be the beneficiaries of what you’re doing?

And that’s where we can close the loop. This is where a circular economy comes into play. This is where you create spaces for somebody like myself to pull from my ancestral knowledge and from knowledge that is not necessarily documented in books, but knowledge that you’ll learn through experience through stories. And this is where you create spaces for people that will build a path to our futures, you know, to advancing things like this, or sustainable development goals. This is where you create spaces for more social enterprises to thrive, because inherently our values when it comes to building community wealth, redistributing wealth, in my case, it’s about building capacity. And it has to come from all of us working together, and asking those tough questions, and designing systems around those questions. And when you think about the work you’re doing today, and the work we are doing today, who will benefit from this? And that’s where I invite us to think about the seven generations that will come after us. And if not seven, think about one thing about your children, your grandchildren, which can be easier to imagine and ultimately, ask yourselves and I heard this, it was one of my best friends who shared this question, actually. She said, How am I becoming a good ancestor today?

And that’s my closing question for you. If you want to connect, I invite you to reach out and connect with me on social media, find me on LinkedIn, Instagram, find it and let’s continue this conversation. And let’s continue asking questions. And let’s keep learning because ultimately, this is a step towards building more just an equitable and financially receiving communities.

Thank you.

Would you like to connect with Yamila? You can find her online at https://afrohubmarket.ca/

and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/yamilafrp or https://www.instagram.com/afrohubmarket

Yamila Franco

Yamila Franco

As a proud Afro-Indigenous womxn, Yamila is the co-founder of 2 social enterprises, community leader and advocate. Through her work, she brings an intersectional lens and leadership practices to foster sustainable, inclusive innovation opportunities and to advance the participation of groups systemically excluded from STEM and entrepreneurship. Yamila is the co-founder of AfroHub Market, a social enterprise supporting the global community of entrepreneurs of Indigenous and African Descent by focusing on business sustainability and helping them access new markets. She is also the Co-founder of a clean tech social enterprise with the mission of addressing social and environmental challenges by innovating radical, regenerative technologies following a circular economy model. Earlier this year Yamila was awarded the Representation, Engagement, Participation Youth Award by HERE in Canada due to her leadership, advocacy, and anti-racism work in the community and was a recipient of both the regional and national 2020 Startup Canada Canada Export Challenge. "I am grateful to live, work and learn on unceded, Lekwungen Territories''

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