00:14 MONIQUE BLOUGH, HOST:
Welcome to this episode of the Responsible Disruption Podcast. My name is Monique Blough, Project Director of the Social Impact Lab Alberta. In this episode of responsible Disruption, we are exploring the impact of the digital social experience. And today I have the pleasure of speaking with an expert in the field, Alka Merlin. Alka is the Director of Communications and External Relations at Immigrant Services Calgary. After immigrating to Canada in 2013 in search of a better life, Alka witnessed first-hand the inequalities faced by immigrants in Calgary, which sparked her passion for helping newcomers build better futures in their new homeland before joining Immigrant Services Calgary as the director of Communications and external relations. Alka provided strategic and operational guidance to organizations across a variety of industries, including real estate in which she supported the development and management of a €41 million dollar project financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Most recently, she led external communications and helped fund raise over $45 million annually for a Calgary chapter of an international fundraising organization, Welcome, Alka. And thanks for joining.
01:24 ALKA MERLIN, GUEST:
Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
01:27 MONIQUE: We always like to start these podcasts to learn a little bit more about our guests and I think it's really important to start in understanding your journey and what inspired you to work in the social sector, particularly when we think about immigrants and refugees.
01:42 ALKA: Yeah. Thanks for the question. So as my bio said, I moved here in 2013. I worked first as a temporary foreign worker and so I basically had to work a job no Canadian wanted to do in order to get my permanent residence and once I got my permanent residence, I was able to now work anywhere in Calgary or Canada. And so I started applying for jobs absolutely everywhere, and I did not get a single interview. So I talked to a couple of friends of mine who were Canadian. One of them works in HR, the other one as a recruiter. I asked them to review my resume and my cover letters, and they said, oh, these are perfect, but your name is a problem. And the fact that you're not a native English speaker is a problem and I felt like somebody punched me in the gut and I didn't actually understand what they were talking about and then I realized this is a whole beast that I was unaware of before immigrating to Canada. That you move here under the idea that, well, the government asked you to come based on your educational experience, your professional background. And what you can contribute to Canada not only for the economy, but also for the social landscape. But it turns out that when you come here... Well, what I thought is you're here on your own and your professional work experience, your previous professional work experience does not matter. Your education does not matter, and you kind of have to start from the bottom and work your way to the top. I was younger, if you will. That wasn't a problem for me. Unfortunately, there are a lot of newcomers who just don't have that luxury when they move here with their kids. They will take any job in order to be able to pay their bills and make sure that their kids have clothing and food. But I used to write a lot of autobiographical satirical posts on Facebook, and somebody that I had met through a friend would read them religiously. Apparently, I found out later and the job came up at United Way, and this was many, many years ago, and it was a communications and marketing assistant role. My first question is, well, what is United Way? Because social services... so I'm originally from Croatia and social services work very differently there. And nonprofits work very differently. So nonprofits in Canada, I mean, obviously they span very different budgets. You have nonprofits that have barely $1,000,000 a year to the ones that have over $100 million a year. In Croatia, it's very different. So in Croatia, when you would tell somebody, I work for a non for profit, it basically means you're barely making ends meet. And so for me, at first I thought this is interesting. I don't know how I'm going to pay my bills. And then I realize that's actually not how social services work in Canada.
Then the idea that I could do something that would positively impact somebody's life instead of just positively impacting the bottom line of a company was really impactful. And I just thought this is exactly want what I want to do, especially because when I came here, even though in a lot of ways I was on my own. I met some fantastic people. I made some great friends. I built a community around myself and regardless of all the things that Canada might not be doing right, it's doing a lot of things well, and I think in a way I wanted to give back to Canada the same way that it gave to me. It gave me an opportunity to build a good life. It gave me an opportunity to do what I needed to do to be happy and that's just not something Croatia doesn't, or at least didn't at the time, have what I needed in order to build a life that I wanted for myself. So then I applied for the job at United Way and I did ask my friend, is there even any point in me applying? Because honestly, I can't even get an interview. And she said, well, I can get you to interview. I cannot get you the job, but I can get you an interview. And I just said I just want an interview. I just want somebody to open the door for me. I'll do everything else. And so she did. She talked to the hiring manager and they invited me in for an interview and I came, it was late in the afternoon and the next morning I got a phone call from HR offering me the job. And that's the start of my journey here in a professional field, if you will. And then about four and a half years later, I had a recruiter reach out to me for this role at Immigrant Services Calgary. And at first I thought, I don't know if you're talking to the right person. And so I had a preliminary conversation with her. And at first I wasn't sure, do I want to go to a small agency? I'm not interested in the status quo. I want to change things. I want to move things. I want to make an impact one way or another. And and then I started talking to different people at Immigrant Services Calgary. And I just thought, oh, this is what they're trying to do with the gateway initiative, the way that they're trying to innovate and transform that sector, not alone. It's a partnership. But working with the federal government to really improve settlement services and access to settlement services for immigrants and refugees in Canada. It blew my mind. I think there were about four or four or five interviews, and with every interview I started getting more and more inspired. And I said, Oh yeah, this is absolutely what I want to do because I experienced first-hand what it was like working as a temporary foreign worker here in Calgary. And I'll say Calgary, I can't speak for the rest of Canada. And it was not a joyride. So I think it's no secret that temporary foreign workers are exploited. And we I say we because I was one of them go through a lot of different things in hopes that we will get our permanent residence and then be given that chance to build a life that we want and and we think we deserve, because we work hard, we contribute to the economy, we contribute to the community.
07:43 MONIQUE: Thank you so much for sharing that. A couple of things really stuck out for me is, #1 is feeling like you're part of a community and having people around you to support you, that speaks a lot to I imagine many people that come here that that don't have someone else to support them, and then how do they build that community and where do they find those supports? And then the other one, there was a couple others. One was also trusting in your strengths. You really picked up on that, that you finally when you found your space, you started to trust in your own abilities and have people that believed in you. And I think that makes, obviously, certainly a big difference in how you were able to succeed. And then the shift of mindset, I thought it was interesting that you talked about what it means to live in Croatia and be surrounded or know what nonprofit sector looks like there. But then in Canada, the nonprofit sector and the differences and and how challenging it must be to even be able to shift that thinking so that you can be open to opportunities here that you might not have considered at home. So thank you for sharing that with us. I really loved also, the talk of your journey, because when you spoke about Gateway and that's really what we want to talk about today, we want to spend some time talking about what we are referring to as the digital social experience and the work that Immigrant Services Calgary, so I'll refer to them sometime as ISC during this session this morning, but that ISC really created an opportunity to do something different. I think they recognize this sense of community. This need to support refugees, immigrants, individuals dealing with, like you said, temporary foreign work that are being exploited, so before we jump though deep into Gateway, I think it would be great for our listeners to have a better understanding of what we mean when we say digital social experience? Why don't we start by describing or maybe asking you Alka how you would describe the digital social experience?
09:40 ALKA: I think for me, it's about the interactions that we have on digital platforms that meet some sort of psychological needs that we may have. So if you're like thinking about, for example, social media. Connecting with friends, connecting with family, connecting with, I don't know, your middle school crush, or your elementary school teacher who hasn't seen or heard from you in 20 years? It's about meeting strangers because I have met folks who are now my friends on social media, and social media is just one example of that, but I think that's what it is. I think you're searching for that connection or for that something that's going to meet an immediate need that you have right now. And sometimes it's connection, sometimes it's security, sometimes it's support, sometimes it's shopping online for a pair of shoes that you like. It's an experience that you have on a digital platform.
10:49 MONIQUE: And it sounds like. Also, what I'm hearing from you is there's elements for why those digital social experiences are really important for us today. The notion of finding supports. We talked a bit earlier about creating community or connecting to people like you said the teacher or building friendships. Are there other things that come to mind for you around why these social experiences are so important to us today?
11:17 ALKA: I think this feels a little redundant say, but I think the world has changed considerably even in the last 20 years. And so the way that we approached work, the way that we approach community, our neighborhoods, the way that we interact with folks on the street, our neighbors, that has all shifted considerably. Now we can say that technology plays a part in this because we are conversing with people online instead of going next door, knocking on our neighbors door and having a coffee with them. I can't deny that that is part of it, but I think the other part of it is that we live at a faster pace. Everything is faster, quicker. We don't have time, right? So we are or we think we don't have time. We convince ourselves that we don't have time. We don't have time for that coffee. We don't have time to meet our neighbors because everything is go, go, go. And so I think picking up whether it's your phone or your iPad or laptop or whoever it is, picking it up and saying, OK, well, I just, I need somebody to make me feel better right now. I think that's the crux of it. I think it's how can I have an immediate need that I need met right now and who can help me meet that need. And sometimes it's yourself. For me, sometimes it's looking at videos of elephants and and puppies on Instagram, but other times it's having conversations with different people. And so even that ability because it's of course you pay for your phone, you pay for your Internet. But the fact that I can pick up my phone and chat with a friend back in Croatia, whether it's a phone call or a chat, a message, and let's say it doesn't cost me anything, but that allows me to feel connected with her that I feel heard that she feels heard, that we feel like we're in the same room together, even though we're 8000 kilometers away. I think that really speaks to why digital social experiences play a vital role in our everyday lives.
13:23 MONIQUE: Yeah, that's great. Thanks for offering that definition and a bit more insight. I think this is a great segue to really talk about like when you said we think about connecting like who can I connect to who's going to be there to support me in a time of need, and I think that is really why that ISC is trying to do with Gateway, and you talked about how when you're going through your interview process. That gateway inspired you. And so why don't we spend a bit of time talking about that and I'm just going to provide a bit of a background for our listeners. So Immigrant Services Calgary developed a digital tool called Gateway and it really acts as a personal guide to help newcomers through their unique journey. I'd like to hear now from Alka, in your own words, what is Gateway and how is it responding to the needs of immigrants and refugees coming to Calgary?
14:18 ALKA: The idea behind Gateway isn't new so it's not something that Immigrant Services Calgary came up with. We are just the ones that went ahead and put forward a proposal to the federal government and said we want to try to do this and they said OK, fine, we're going to invest a little bit of money into this pilot project and see where it takes us. So the way the settlement services work for newcomers and when I mean settlement services, I mean those are programs and services that help newcomers. So immigrants and refugees settle better in Canada. So it's everything from taking English language classes to learning about how the healthcare system work. About government benefits, about learning about the Canadian workplace and so those are all services that the federal government funds and the reason why they do that is because they want to help newcomers settle better and faster. So instead of them doing them it on their own, they're doing that with the support of settlement services and the federal government funds over 500 settlement agencies across Canada. In Calgary specifically, and this is an issue in other parts of Canada as well. But we have a lot of fantastic settlement service agencies that do a lot of great work. But the problem is there are a lot of us. And a lot of the programs that we have are duplicated. And so when a newcomer comes to Calgary, they're not necessarily sure of which agency to go to meet the need that they have, whether it's an immediate need or long term need. And So what happens for a lot of newcomers is they'll knock on different doors and then the different agencies will start referring them to different agencies and say, oh, no, we don't do that here. You have to go somewhere else. And so that means you're knocking on maybe 10 different doors to get the support that you need. So it's an incredibly frustrating experience for newcomers, especially because what this means is every time you go to a different agency, you have to retell your story of what you need, why you needed, what your priorities are, what your goals are. So you have to go through that intake process all over again for them to create a plan for you if you will. And so that you can get the support that you need. And so our pitch to the federal government and we did this with after engaging with some of our key partners in the Community. Our pitch to the federal government is what if there was a single point of entry for all newcomers in Calgary, so they come to one agency, that agency does what's called the needs assessment. And then that agency refers the person to the services and the community that really best fits their needs. And so we pitched this to the government and they said, OK, we'll give it a try, we'll see how it goes. This is a huge undertaking, because of course, ISC is the longest standing newcomer serving agency in Calgary. So we've been operating since 1977, initially under a different name. And there are a lot of other fantastic other agencies in Calgary that have been around for... just last night I was at the 35th anniversary gala for the Immigrant Education Society. And so now these are all partners that we engaged in Gateway because we wanted to get their feedback. We wanted to get their thoughts around, how would this work. But the number one thing that was in everybody's mind is if you guys are doing needs assessment, does that mean that we get less funding? And so this is where agencies start competing against each other for the money.
But we all had an agreement that the whole goal behind the Gateway initiative is that it's a collaboration. It's really a joint effort to ensure that newcomers are connected to the actual services that they need in the communities that they need that will support them to settle better and faster. And so we all agreed about that. We all agreed on the fact that we need to be client centric and that we are going to divide up the different programs and services that we offer. So Immigrant Services Calgary actually off boarded over 10 different programs, some of them we shut down, some of them we basically off boarded to our partner agencies because we wanted to focus on things that we thought we could be subject matter experts in. Just like our partner agencies are subject matter experts in different things. So we have the Center for Newcomers, they have fantastic programming for the LGBTQ community. The Immigrant Education Society you have fantastic English language class, mental health supports. The Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth that does fantastic work with immigrant newcomer and youth. And so how do we divide up the work and ensure that we're tapping into our expertise and leveraging the expertise of our partner agencies to ensure that the supports the newcomers get are the absolute best supports that they can get in our city, and obviously being that it was this was in when we pitched it was 2019. It was launched in 2020 and then the Gateway system, the platform Salesforce went live in September of 2021. Now technology is a finicky little thing. And so there's continuous improvements that need to be made. There are things that we're constantly working on. But what it allows us to do is upload over 2000 different services from across Calgary that newcomers can access. So by coming through Gateway and getting their needs assessment done through Gateway, we co-build with them what's called a gateway personalized plan. And that plan connects them to the services that they need. One of the things that we ask folks is not only what are your needs and your priorities, because obviously everybody focuses on needs and priorities. We also asked them what are your dreams and your goals and one of the things that we realized with newcomers and this is something that we're trying to change in their own mindset is we have a lot of parents that come through our doors and they move to Canada to provide a better life for their children. So their primary focus, really their only focus is their children. So they'll say my kid needs this, this, this and this and we'll say, OK, fantastic, we're going to refer you to this agency for this. You need to go to the school to sign them up for this. The English language classes are here, so we make sure they understand what they need to do and then this is where they think the conversation stops. So we asked them, OK, but what are your dreams and your goals? And there's always a pause and a long pause because they haven't thought about it. And they said no, no, I have a job, it's fine. So we'll ask them. OK, so it says here that you are, for example, you were a civil engineer with 15 years of experience back in your home country. And right now you're working maybe as an Uber driver. Would you like to consider stepping outside of that comfort zone of I'm providing for my family and go back to what you were doing in your home country. So challenging yourself to do something more for yourself. Because ultimately, when you're happier, your kids are happier. The children of immigrants, they see how much their parents sacrifice for them. And while it makes them more resilient and it makes them go getters and they're really out there. If you look at the Canadian landscape right now and what the children of immigrants are doing, it's inspirational, it's fantastic. But what we want is to make sure that their parents are also taken care of.
So that's the crux of Gateway. And that's something that we're doing a little bit differently because there are, like I said, a lot of programs and services in Calgary, they can meet the different needs of the different populations that we serve, whether they're immigrants or refugees or temporary foreign workers. So the way that the Gateway platform works is we build this personalized plan. Now within the Gateway platform, like I said, we right now have over 80 signed partners. So these are agencies and they're not only social services agencies, they're also corporations that we can refer clients to. And then outside of the 80 signed partners, we have an additional 50 or 60 non signed partners. So that would be organizations or entities for example like Alberta Health Services because sometimes their clients need health support and so we can also refer them to Alberta Health Services. And so within the platform, what our gateway newcomer planners do is based on the answers that the client has provided they're looking at the myriad of supports and services that are on there and they figure out OK, how can I make sure that I'm connecting you to the right one? And so one example I always give is say you have a single mother who wants to improve her English language skills because she doesn't want to work as a housekeeper anymore. She wants to get a professional job. But she's a single mom. She has nowhere to leave her kids, so we say, OK, this is what we're gonna do. We're gonna find you English language classes in your community so you don't have to take a bus for an hour and a half with your children. And we're going to make sure that the agency that's providing those English language courses also has a child minding area. So that's where you can leave your kids for an hour while you're doing your class. Your kids are taking care of, they play with other kids. They have fun and you're working towards a better future for yourself and ultimately a better future for your kids. And so the platform allows us to do that. So it allows us to scan all the different programs and services and then refer the clients to that service. What it does for our partners. And there are different types of partnerships. But what it allows our partners is they also log into the same system. And they already have the information about the client. They have that referral so that when that client goes to that agency and they say hi, my name is Mariam and I'm here for my English language class. They don't have to go through the entire intake again. They just say, OK, hi, Miriam. Nice to meet you. Please wait here. The class will begin in 5 minutes. And I mean that's a very oversimplified example, but that's what it allows us and it also allows the different agencies to communicate with each other over the platform. So we can say in real time, OK, parents are taking their courses, they've done their workshops, they've done their things. But one of the kids is struggling with XYZ we can then refer them. We say OK, we're going to go back because this kid needs additional support. How can we then connect them to that other support that they need whatever it may be. Just to provide a little bit of context, the way that this worked before was over e-mail. So agencies would be emailing each other. We have this client, we have this, sometimes it would be an excel sheet when it's on a digital platform it just makes things a lot easier for everyone, and it's in real time.
25:54 MONIQUE: Yeah, I think that's amazing. I mean, goodness, not just real time, but you have basically a repository of potentially services and programs that you may not have known about before. It really sounds like Gateways answering not only a human centered need, but operating in a way that many of our other sectors are struggling with when people are trying to access services, we know that we are seeing challenges at a systems level because we don't operate as a system. And so it becomes a difficult story for someone that's trying to access mental health services but needs to tell their story again and again and again, and the way you've described Gateway, providing this personalized plan having all these partners, I think it sounds like an amazing initiative that's really answering, I think you called it client centric and in the lab we always talk about working from a human centered place and that's exactly what you're doing. I feel like we could talk a lot about, at some point, I'd love to learn about the partners and how did you go about doing this and how did you choose them? I imagine we'd have lots of lessons we could learn from ISC on how you were able to do that. I would like to dig in a little bit around understanding, how do you know that it's been a success?
27:18 ALKA: So that's a good question. So what we've built into the process, if you will, for Gateway and for the way that we approach these intakes is we send... so right after a we see a client and they receive their personalized plan. After their appointments, we send them as survey. And so we ask them a few questions. How do we do? What can we improve? Do we meet your needs and things like that? So we are constantly communicating with clients that way because we want to ensure that they're meeting their needs. We're also doing the same thing with partners. So if our partners are not happy, we're not happy. It's very clear. So we need to ensure that our partners are happy because it really is a community collaboration. It cannot work with just ISC and so surveys is one thing. The other thing that we have is something called a what we use to analyze it is something called a Net Promoter score. I guess the easiest way to say it is it's a single question that we ask of our clients or our partners about how happy they were with their services, or rather how willing would they be to recommend us to whether it's a different partner or a client or family friend or whatever it is. So the Net Promoter scores are... it's just a quick check in. But really, what you're looking at because you have qualitative data, you have quantitative data and when you're dealing with human beings, yes, that is important. And I mark you as seven out of 10 or whatever it is, sure. But what we want to know is what does that mean and why? I'll give one example because of the overall lack of funding in settlement services, if you will, or rather, it's not that there's a lack of funding it's that there isn't sufficient funding based on the sheer number of newcomers that are arriving in Calgary. And we saw this very much with the influx of the Ukrainian evacuees last year. We suddenly received tens of thousands of people coming in that we weren't necessarily ready for. Of course, the services and the programs were there, but you're looking at a much higher number of folks that you have to support, which means a lot of overtime, which means a lot of working hours, which means not enough staff. And so what we wanted to know is, OK, we know because a lot of the feedback that we would get and this isn't only us. A lot of our partners got the same thing is like, well the wait lists are too long. When we get feedback like that, it's easier for us to then go to our funders and say this is the feedback that we're receiving from clients right now. They're waiting way too long to get the services that they need and we use language assessments and language classes as one of those examples, because at its absolute worst, clients were waiting anywhere up to 55 days to just get a language assessment and then anywhere from 6 to 9 months just to start their first English language class. Which means you could be in Canada for a year without stepping foot into the English language class, even though you've done everything you can do there just simply aren't enough classes for you. Some of the information that we would receive like what do we define as success? Our success is making sure that we have done everything that we can do as an agency and as a collaborative to ensure that we're meeting the needs of our clients.
There are some things that are outside of our control. If we don't have enough classes, we don't have enough classes and this is the other thing our staff and when I say “our”, it’s really across the sector, they get a lot of training about how to deal with... because you're dealing with folks, for some people, if they're economic immigrants, they've come here with a little bit of money in the bank. And they have more resources than somebody who may have escaped war and is here as a refugee. Now government assisted refugees are supported in a way that other refugees aren't, including refugee claimants. So if you're a refugee claimant and you don't have access to those supports, somebody telling you that you have to wait a year before you even access your first English language class, it's an incredibly frustrating experience for them, and we feel for them. Part of our success is knowing that one our staff is trained to handle situations, emotional situations for folks who are... it's not that they're having a bad day. It's the fact that they see the light at the end of the tunnel, but there's roadblocks standing in that tunnel that's preventing them from reaching that light. When we look at our success, we want to make sure that our staff is trained to support our clients, but also that our staff is taking care of themselves. When we look at our partners, we're making sure that the referrals that we made to the different partner agencies are actually meeting the needs of those clients. But we also hear back from our partners as well, so are the clients that we're sending them, can they actually provide the support that they need? And this is where that partnership, that collaboration, that honesty, that transparency is imperative for you to be able to say this is a complex situation. This is a complex case and we think we should actually refer this person to another agency, but then also talking to the clients and having those brutal conversations with the clients who may say I accessed this program and it did not meet my need and it did not meet my expectations, and I was not happy about it. And so we have to go back and we say have to say, OK, it's a learning for us for sure. But we also have to make sure how do we rectify that. So we'll find another program that might meet their needs a little bit better. And then the other part of that is also talking to those partners and saying, hey, can we give you a little bit of feedback about what we've heard? And we asked for that same feedback. Like I said, the surveys that we send out to our partners work in the same way; we asked for that same feedback as well. How can Immigrant Services Calgary improve the way that we work. How can we improve the way that we communicate? How can the Gateway system work better? How can the Gateway processes work better and so I think it's just it's a constant conversation and I think that's the crux of it.
33:48 MONIQUE: Yeah. That's great. Thanks for sharing that. I think really understanding that you are talking to everybody that's basically touching gateway in some way, the partners, your clients, your staff. It speaks to ISC's ability to balance the business need around the Net Promoter score, but also the human need and how you're responding to that and that feedback loop. So that's exciting. So when we think about Gateway, what is Gateway look like or maybe even what do you think the digital social experiences might look like five years from now?
34:25 ALKA: Well, one of the things that we are exploring is... so a few years ago we launched what was called the Welcome to Alberta App. Now, I want to be clear. We are, like I said, we're a small social service agency in Calgary, we are not developers. We are not a tech company, but we decided that there was a gap in the market and we wanted to fill that gap. It is brilliant and also crazy if you think about it and so about a year or so ago, we started talking to an organization called Peacegeeks out of BC, and they also had, I think it was called the Arival app or something like that for newcomers in BC. There was a little bit of replication there, but not so much because what we did with the Welcome to Alberta app, we also built a welcome to Saskatchewan app with a partner agency in Saskatchewan and then we said what are we doing? We can't do this. We don't have the resources. We don't have... Why do we have this app? And so we approached Peacegeeks and what they did is they revamped their app. They renamed it the Welcome to Canada app. So we provided them with a lot of the content and the content over there is everything from, what is the weather like? It's everything that you need to know about Calgary or Alberta before moving here. And so they took that information and then they incorporated that into their app and they did that with other different cities and different provinces across Canada. And I think they're building on it even more now, because our idea was, once you decide, OK, I want to go to Canada. There's the immigration side of things. And so obviously the government is responsible for that. So you're going through that immigration process, but how do we ensure that you're actually aware of what you're coming into before you even step foot on a plane and so what do the pre arrival services look like for you and what can you learn and do before you even get on a plane so that when you come here we shorten the amount of time that we're onboarding you. So if you can fill out some paperwork online, if you can do a few orientation information sessions to learn, like hey, sometimes it's -35 here.
36:49 MONIQUE: You get shocked if you don't do that. [Laughs]
36:50 ALKA: Yeah, exactly. So this is how the school system works. This is how the healthcare system works. All of those things you can learn those things; we can teach you those things before you even come to Canada. So then when you come into Canada, you're not, I don't want to say wasting your time because it's never a waste of time to learn something, but you're spending less time learning about Canada or Calgary and you're spending more time integrating yourself into the society, finding the job that you want, training or upskilling yourself, improving your English language so you can build that life that you had envisioned for yourself when you first decided. OK, I want to move to Canada. And so we're looking at this is something that we've been chatting with. But I mean, this is something the federal government is looking at as well. And again, we do not want to get into the app space. We are not developers, but as settlement agencies, we can definitely inform that content and we can definitely offer those programs and services and ensure that what's on a digital platform is actually meeting the needs of the newcomers that are coming here. Because we have been doing this for over 40 years and most of the staff in newcomer serving agencies are actually newcomers themselves, so they've gone through that journey. They understand the challenges, they understand the opportunities and they know what types of supports individuals might need. And so you're looking at pre arrival. Then you're looking at arrival. Now you're here. What does that look like? And then what does the check-in look like a year from now or three years from now? Because the idea behind Gateway was also not just let's say, offloading clients to other agencies and saying good luck. It's also checking in because sometimes your plans change and sometimes your priorities change. So how do we ensure that we're once again meeting your needs and ensuring that you can meet the goals or reach the goals that you've set out for yourself.
38:45 MONIQUE: Thank you for sharing that with us. It's in the work that we do and I know the work that you're doing and the experiences you're having, we need to address challenges that exist from... we've talked about client centric or human centric, but with the individuals that are living these experiences every day and so the fact that individuals that work at ISC have also experienced this firsthand means that you can see the challenges and the struggles that are immigrants, refugees or new Canadians are experiencing when they're here. I think it's fascinating that you've also managed to connect with an organization in BC and also know your skills and what you're good at, and also create space for others to be able to lean in and help. And I think that's such an important message for us just in the sector overall is what are we really good at? What are others good at like you talked about subject matter expertise and then how do we team up to actually be able to create the best experiences for people that are coming to this wonderful country in this great province. I love that story. Thank you for sharing that. I think this is probably a really good time to ask you if there's anything else you want to share with our listeners. Any final thoughts, Alka?
40:02 ALKA: This is what I always tell people because they'll say well, newcomers or immigrants and refugees, they should just come here and they just need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get stuff done. It takes a lot to sell everything you own, pack up your entire life and move to another city, country, continent, which is what most of us did. We moved to different continent, so it takes a lot of resilience it takes a lot of courage and that's what we come with here and we turn that into hard work and perseverance and wanting to build Canada into the country that Canada envisions itself to be, because Canada itself has goals. And so we're really here to contribute in our own way. And when we say contribute to the economy, obviously we contribute tremendously to the GDP, but we're also talking about our communities. We're also talking about the diversity in the communities because there is beauty and the diversity. And when we talk about it, we're not only talking about race or gender. We're also talking about diversity of thought because for me, one of the biggest things joining Immigrant Services Calgary, is my team I had at one point, I had seven different nationalities on my communications team. And I think it was 4 different continents and so my way is not necessarily the right way. And so to get opinions and feedback and insights from people who think differently, who approach problems differently, who approach life differently and communication differently, has been so enlightening and so eye opening. And it allows us to do better work. It allows us to push ourselves and so that's what newcomers contribute to Canada. And for us, the biggest issue I think has been... obviously we're funded by three levels of government, but it's also how do we find donors? How do we find individuals who understand the contributions that newcomers make, but also understand that if you set a newcomer up for success at the beginning of their journey, they will inevitably be able to contribute more, and if you're looking at it purely from an economic standpoint, do you get more income taxes from a civil engineer that's working at Tim Horton's for whatever it is, $16-18 an hour? Or do you get more income taxes if that civil engineer is working as a civil engineer in his field in Calgary. And then look at his or her spending power. Look at how much they're contributing to the economy that way. So providing those initial supports, that initial help at the start of their journey can torpedo them into a much brighter future. And in that way, allow them to contribute back to the economy and the community and the safety and the security of the community times ten and so I think that's really important. And then the other thing that I would say, if there are any newcomers listening to this, when I moved here, I thought, well, I speak fluent English, I'm educated, I have a professional background. I don't need settlement services. Settlement services are for people who maybe don't speak the language or don't understand the systems and that was probably the most ignorant and naive thing I've ever done, because let me tell you, when I ended up in the ER once with a kidney infection, I stood around for about 20 minutes waiting for a nurse to come so that I can sign my paperwork. And she finally came around and she said, why are you still here? And I said, well, I have to sign my paperwork. She said there's no paperwork. Just go home. And I thought what? And then I realized had I gone through an orientation information session at a settlement agency within my first second week, I would have learned the way the healthcare system works. I would have learned the way the post-secondary system works. I would have learned all those things and within a month here I would understand the way that different systems work, but I thought I don't need that. I can Google, I can find things out for myself. Why? Don't spend time Googling and researching things when you can access a service that will allow you to learn those things quicker so then you can continue building those building blocks, if you will, to the future that you want. So I would just say that. Have a little bit of humility. Don't be me. Access those services and for others, understand the importance of contributing to organizations that offer these really vital services, not only to the newcomers. But also to the future of our communities.
44:54 MONIQUE: Wonderful. Thanks, Alka. I really appreciate that you took the time to join us today on this podcast. I appreciate that you've shared some valuable insights with us as we consider this intersection of digital social experiences and the social sector. I think it's exciting for our audience to think about how Gateway as a digital social experience brings humanity to the process. Think of digital tools as often not having a human element to it. But I think Gateway seems to have been able to do that and really reduce some of the barriers we can all learn from ISC's experience in this journey, so thank you. For those of you joining us, it's always a pleasure to bring a guest like Alka on Responsible Disruption. And we thank you for taking the time to listen and for choosing us to fill some of the time in your day.
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