Q & A Kelowna

Conversation with Myrna Stark-Leader and Krista Mallory

The Connector Program began in Kelowna in 2017. The Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission (COEDC) recognized that a number of newcomers who were beginning their positions in the Okanagan region had spouses who were also looking for work. They brought the Connector program into the region to fill this gap – but soon discovered the program was so much more. We checked in with the Program Coordinator Myrna Stark-Leader and Executive Director of COEDC, Krista Mallory, to ask about the Connector Program in their community, and the impact it has had, and is having, in the Okanagan.

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Alida Campbell

Interview by Alida Campbell.

Alida manages the National Connector Program and continues to be inspired by the stories of connection and growth that participants share across the country.
Alida

Alida:

How does the Connector Program bring value to your organization?

Myrna

Myrna:

The Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission is all about creating opportunities to help maintain and grow existing businesses, as well as encouraging new ones, sharing information or other things that help make the process easier. The Connector Program fits in so nicely. The program adds new people to our talent pool and to the reasons why someone or why a business would (re)locate here. It also helps people settle into the community, encouraging them to stay and work here. It means people don’t have to start from scratch upon arrival. We can share a lot of information very quickly.

Krista

Krista:

The Connector Program fits into several of our pillars, and is most important for fostering a vibrant workforce – but it also helps us grow sustainably. It helps businesses connect and access talent as they grow. Each pillar requires a strong workforce, and the Connector Program helps accomplish that. The Connector program is also something tangible we can do to see results in workforce development. A lot of the work in this area is intangible, so it’s good to have feel good stories, and see the impact.

Alida

Alida:

It's great to see how the program not only fits nicely, but brings benefits to your organization as a whole. What about the community you serve? How is this program making a difference in your community?

Myrna

Myrna:

For Connectees, it’s a way to break into a community and professional network to help meet people in their work sector. It expedites the networking process. It helps open doors that otherwise can be challenging to open. It provides information crucial to their success in the community. Background information about things like work culture can be so helpful. It’s like the iceberg example, sometimes what seems simple on the surface has a lot going on underneath. The Connector Program helps a person see what’s there without having to spend tons of time trying to figure things out alone. The Connector Program gives this community an advantage over those that don’t have it because it helps people stay here. We need people in the workforce and they need connections to stay, particularly with big cities like Vancouver so close. The program is an essential part of making the Central Okanagan a more attractive place to build a career, to live, to build a business etc. Another bonus is that The Connector Program also helps create networks of friends and personal relationships, key to feeling at home in a place.

Krista

Krista:

I see retention of people, I see employers growing their businesses because recent hires are bringing their spouses and partners, who are also looking for work, and help to fill labour gaps. This program helps talented, smart, students, newcomers and young professionals connect to the network here much faster, and less painfully. Outside of the workforce, it helps build a culture of being open to connecting and building networks. People who previously have not seen themselves as connectors, have been approached by the coordinator see that they can give their time, and they do know people. They learn that is feels good to be involved and share their knowledge – and they might start to do this outside of the program too, and this really does begin to build a vibrant, welcoming and inclusive community.

Alida

Alida:

Wow, it’s really making a positive impact in the area. It’s always so rewarding when we can directly see how our work is affecting others. Myrna, what does it mean to you, to be able to help people in this way?

Myrna

Myrna:

Well, I’m a grad of the program so first it helped me find work in the sector I wanted to work in. I love being able to help others by sharing tips that helped me when I moved here, making their life easier by helping them grow their business and personal contacts. I’ve always felt my purpose in life is sharing stories or information to help people. Being part of the Connector Program allows me to do that. I think it’s one of the most direct ways to have an impact in my community. I’ve also made friends through the program, really great people!

Alida

Alida:

Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me today. One final question I have is for you, Krista – with everything you have learned, can you offer words of advice to other communities? What might you say to another community who might be thinking about a Connector Program?

Krista

Krista:

In so many communities this connecting is happening anyways, so it’s worth the dedication of time and resources to formalize the process and help people who wouldn’t normally have access to these networks where it’s happening organically to get into it. It doesn’t have to be large or small, it doesn’t have to look exactly like another community, it can be scaled to the size you need it to be, to make it work for your community. So go for it.

Alida

Alida:

Thanks so much to you both, I appreciate your time, and your dedication to the program and to helping make your community more diverse and inclusive.