Three alumni of the program look back
This program, widely known in the Montreal ecosystem for supporting seed-phase projects, has contributed in recent years to the emergence of many initiatives led by individuals, collectives, or NPOs.
Our Director of Capacity Building and Incubation, Hugo Steben, spoke with three Civic Incubator alumni. Together, they look back on the program, discuss the lessons that are still with them today in the different spheres of their lives, and imagine what each of their projects might look like today had they not had the opportunity to participate in the Civic Incubator.
From lived experience to wanting to take action
Even if they had the Civic Incubator’s support in common, each of the three alumni became aware of socio-environmental challenges through a different path.
Alexandre Landry discovered the social impact his studies in architecture could have on underprivileged communities while on a student exchange in the United States. This experience strongly influenced his conceiving of L’Ensemble (which he developed during the 2021 cohort) and his desire to explore scenarios of solidarity-based urban densification.
For Yoann Dhion, who’d already become aware of ecological questions, the goal was to amplify his impact beyond his own virtuous daily habits (and those of his peers) on the toxic effects of environmental pollution. After learning about the concept of Japanese mini-forests, he created HYF Forêts Urbaines (as part of the 2021 cohort) to develop indigenous, fast-growing micro-forests in Montreal.
Céline-Audrey Beauregard actively took part in numerous projects in her home neighbourhood of Verdun, where she participated in the citizen movement Demain Verdun (itself incubated by Emmanuelle Falaise in the Civic Incubator’s 2018 cohort). In this borough, where dramatic changes threaten the social fabric, she imagined redeveloping the top floor of the Éthel parking lot and pursued this project as a member of the 2019 cohort, with the aim of creating an inclusive space accessible to the local population.
No matter your level of familiarity with the social-innovation approach, all backgrounds are valued at the Civic Incubator. Whether professional, theoretical, militant, or experiential, the participants’ knowledge enriches each cohort and strengthens the capacity for action of these change-makers.
Detaching ourselves from the solution to prioritize impact
During the course of the Civic Incubator, the coaches seek to help project leaders establish a global vision of their project’s desired impact, in large part by challenging the solution they’re envisioning through the identifying of blind spots. Sometimes certain realizations can steer initiatives in an entirely different—and more productive—direction.
Hugo: Today, your projects are at different stages of deployment, but they have in common the fact that they have evolved—in form, target audience, or approach—both during and after the program. What was this evolution like for you?
Yoann: We arrived at the Civic Incubator as a pair, Grégory and I, with the idea of locally implementing the Japanese mini-forest concept. We had in mind a very classic entrepreneurial blueprint, and we envisioned creating a company without asking ourselves too many questions about its structure. It was in redefining the project—its targeted impact, its value proposition, and, by extension, other potential partners—we came up with the NPO model. We’d always seen ourselves as working from a stereotypical idea of “business,” or for-profit entrepreneurship, and it was a challenge to get away from that.
Hugo: I remember that process well. When you first came to the Civic Incubator, you talked a lot about micro-forests as vectors for carbon capture. Then we began to question the value of a forest in the city. By identifying the numerous advantages—such as savings on infrastructure, the social impact of the return of biodiversity, the connection with living things, the reduction of heat islands, etc.—we opened up a whole new field of possibilities in the project’s conception.
Céline-Audrey: Ariane—the other half of our pair—and I began the program with an NPO already in place, as well as with funding and support from the City to launch activities within the Éthel parking lot. But we were still working on articulating the core elements of the project—its programming, orientation, and mission. Thanks to the support of the Civic Incubator, we not only addressed issues of inclusion, diversity, and equity in the programming, but also went much further in our projection of the impacts of this kind of initiative, positive as well as negative, on the neighbourhood. We didn’t want to simply replicate redevelopments in other neighbourhoods without incorporating Verdun’s identity into the project or surveying the people affected by it. Taking a step back and making time to talk to the population, door-to-door, provided us with important and legitimate considerations to bring to our stakeholders in order to convince them to start over with a blank slate!
Alexandre: While my intentions were clear when I joined the group, the solution wasn’t. In any case, that’s what the various workshop exercises revealed to me. I realized that the project I was embarking on had to fit into an ecosystem that was super complex. My understanding was progressively fine tuned, and everything began to fall into place, with clarity, through a process of separating components that were too intertwined. Each one needed to take shape through its own pathway. Thanks to these insights, L’Ensemble was well underway by the time I left the Civic Incubator, but I felt I still needed coaching. The hours offered post-cohort were infinitely useful when my project had to evolve to respond to existing problems around housing. Now, in the form of an NPO, we’re headed towards another clientele—municipalities—and we’re running a pilot project outside Montreal, in the Brome-Missisquoi region, where a deployment opportunity has arisen.
In their feedback, all of the winners frequently mention how enriching and transformative the program was. What they learned from the Civic Incubator has supported them in their personal and professional lives, and in their other projects, where social impact and innovation will be central from now on. For Céline-Audrey, this means getting back to basics in her new career as a borough councillor, and always questioning the overall impact of a project. For Alexandre, these new skills support him in his architectural practice, which he now applies to the social problems of the built environment in each of his mandates.
Photo credit: Youssef Shoufan
What if they hadn't taken part in the Civic Incubator?
Hugo: And if you hadn’t participated in the Civic Incubator program, can you imagine what would have become of your project?
Yoann: I don’t think we’d be where we are today if the Civic Incubator team hadn’t provided us with so many contacts. That was a major catalyst for us. They also helped us to develop our critical mindset with regard to the documentation we had gathered on the micro-forest concept, and to define a solution in which we could recognize ourselves. Today, the project is up and running. It’s on track. Even if we only devote a few hours a week alongside our full-time jobs, we already have two plantations, a third in progress, and other projects for next year. It’s solid, and we’re pursuing our mission enthusiastically!
Alexandre: I look back at all the ground we’ve covered, and all the things I’ve learned, and I have the impression that without the Civic Incubator there’d be nothing concrete today, no project. Yes, there was the spark of a somewhat abstract idea, an idealistic vision, but without MIS that vision would never have become reality. If I could speak to the “me” who began the project, I would congratulate him on having made the right decision in joining the program. I discovered invaluable tools and support there, in particular the resilience component, which helped me on a personal level to pursue the project by myself during the cohort and to stay the course afterwards.
Céline-Audrey: Imagine taking a plant that loves shade and placing it in direct sunlight. It’s important to take into account the environment you’re inserting yourself into. That’s how I see things with the Éthel project. If we hadn’t taken a step back during the support process, the project would have gone forward with blind spots, and without taking into consideration the economic and residential consequences on the most vulnerable populations. The Civic Incubator equipped me to analyze the impact… and taught me patience too! Given the complexity of the ecosystem, this project will keep evolving, meeting with obstacles at various stages, and taking time to unfold. I have to get used to that. It won’t be less beautiful or less important in the end just because the road is longer than for other initiatives. The important thing is to keep dreaming and keep moving forward.
Read other news
- Civic incubator,
- Cohort 2022,
“Thanks to our project, young people will be able to create links between themselves and their peers. They will become actors in their neighborhoods and ambassadors for bike culture in…
- Civic incubator,
- Cohort 2022,
One in four Montréalers is an immigrant, according to Statistics Canada. The city is home to over 120 cultural communities from all five continents.