Putting Whistler’s social capital to work 

Whistler has been likened to a Petri dish, a bowl in the mountains where innovative planning experiments have poked and prodded into shape a world class resort town.

And true to this analogy, yet another project is percolating in the lab – Whistler as a demonstration Learning Community.

On Tuesday, May 1 a group of Whistler representatives from the civic, educational, health, economic, public and community sectors gathered at municipal hall with one of the few experts in this country on the subject of Learning Communities, Dr. Ron Faris from Victoria.

The group was due to strike a steering committee Tuesday and embark on the developmental stage of the journey toward becoming a sustainable Learning Community – a way of meeting the future head on.

Human Resources Development Canada is putting $25,000 toward this first phase and the municipality has retained Faris for the work. HRDC will cost-share up to $100,000 per year for the subsequent three years of the process, to a maximum of $300,000.

But for the uninitiated, what exactly is a Learning Community?

As Bob Kusch, who is stickhandling the project for Whistler said, it is one of the most difficult things he has tried to explain in his life.

Faris said a Learning Community is when the concept of lifelong learning is applied to a neighbourhood, a village, a town, a city or a region. The process taps into, and uses, all the learning resources – the knowledge, skills and attitudes – of five key sectors: the civic, the public, the economic, the education and the voluntary or community sector.

It identifies and puts to use a community’s social capital, making it proactive instead of reactive to change.

It’s an assets-based approach, said Faris. And those assets are, among other things, the social and intellectual capital of the community. "They are the talents, the abilities to trust, the networking and the shared values."

The goal is to build that stock of capital and use it to better prepare a community for a knowledge-based economy and society.

"And all we know about a knowledge-based economy and society, in a sense, is that it is going to be ever-rapidly changing," said Faris. "And it is not just in the future, it is now. There is no reason to believe it is going to slow down at all because we have got these major drivers of change; globalization and the increased use of information and communications technologies and, thirdly just the explosion of knowledge in the areas of science and technologies," he noted. "For example, we have learned more in five years in areas like bio-chemistry than we had in the previous 50,000 years."

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