Not business as usual: Groundswell finds grassroots economic alternatives

By now, the headlines are numbingly familiar: Too many young people are, to put it lightly, broke and lonely. Youth employment hasn’t kept pace with the rest of the (fitfully) recovering economy in many places, and it’s a hoary cliché that modern, urban life is a recipe for social disconnection.Groundswell: Grassroots Economic Alternatives

But a pair of Vancouver educators and social entrepreneurs are changing that with Groundswell, billed on its website as “a new project that tackles head-on the economic insecurity, social disconnection and precarity so many young people are facing today,” through the exploration of “grassroots economic alternatives.”

It’s a mission that is especially relevant for young Vancouverites. According to the Vancouver Foundation’s Connections and Engagement Survey, which the Groundswell website cites, 33 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds “feel alone more than they would like to be,” compared with 24 per cent of 35- to 44-year-olds.

Gilad Babchuk and Matt Hern co-founded the program, which officially launched in September. Babchuk, who moved to Canada from Israel in 2011, was “named one of the 50 most influential people in the field of education in Israel” in 2009 by Ha’aretz daily, according to the Groundswell website, while Hern is a writer and academic as well as a notable community organizer in Vancouver, having “an alternative community school, an intercultural youth exchange program, the Purple Thistle Centre and Car-Free Vancouver Day.”

Babchuk describes the program as  an “alternative business school.”

The website puts it another way: “Inspired by Mondragon, the Bologna co-ops, the autonomista movement in Argentina and much else, we’re building a lasting community of enterprises,” it says, drawing a connection from Groundswell to other co-operative and worker-managed businesses worldwide and throughout history.

The eight- to nine-month program is split into two semesters, says Babchuk. Currently, he notes, the program’s content is more focused on personal exploration, with its participants working toward getting their projects off the ground in the next year. While there are a diversity of courses in the program, covering subject matter including the dynamics of social change, the workings of the economy (both as it is and as it could be) ,and creative thinking, the program is structured by “three interweaving threads” – personal, professional and project development.

Guest speakers and community nights knit together each weekly course, and at the end of the program next year, around May, there will be a presentation, where the projects are shown to community members and investors alike.

And ultimately, these activities are what Groundswell is all about – building a “lasting community” through outreach. The entire program is designed to encourage what Babchuk describes as “an ecosystem of collaboration,” an environment that fosters the sort of social improvement that Groundswell’s participants seek.

And that’s Groundswell’s raison d’etre. “You need to develop an entire system, not just focus on individual projects,” Babchuk said.

For more information about Groundswell and contact info, visit

Chris Yee

Kwantlen journalism student and man-about-town, scouring every nook and cranny for morsels of emerging local culture.

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