It was billed as the Pillar Nonprofit Network’s annual general meeting (AGM), but it turned out to be an energetic 15th birthday party.
Taking place on April 27 at Goodwill Industries on Horton Street, the AGM saw the typical business undertaken — the election of board members, the discussion of financial matters — but all that was under the canopy of shiny hats, party favours, and a recognition of the change that Pillar has helped engineer since it was first launched.
Perhaps nobody among the 150-plus people in attendance was more moved by the direction of the meeting than Willy Van Klooster.
Van Klooster, one of Pillar’s founding voices, said he “absolutely marvels” at what the organization has been able to accomplish.
“We had big dreams 15 years ago. We wanted to see significant things happen. But not infrequently, things happened I just could have never imagined,” he said. “Fifteen years ago, collaboration was an idea. Today, it’s happening.”
One thing Van Klooster said the people around that original Pillar table could never have imagined was the creation of Innovation Works.
A collaborative, community hub (located at 201 King St.), Innovation Works is a 32,000 sq. ft. space that is being renovated with the goal of bringing together socially minded innovators dedicated to positively transforming the future of London.
Michelle Baldwin, Pillar’s executive director, has seen that change happen first-hand over her 15 years with the organization — first as a volunteer, and for the past nine years in an official capacity.
The AGM offered an opportunity for her to reflect on the past, think about the present, but also contemplate how to best move forward and celebrate the community’s potential.
“That’s why we picked the birthday party theme; we wanted to say a thank you to the network, but it’s also the chance to reflect on how much more we have left to do,” Baldwin said. ”We have a lot coming in 2016. I feel we’re trying to set the conditions for collaboration and change. Now, it’s as a community, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
This is a big year for Pillar, Baldwin said, with the opening of Innovation Works this summer and the upcoming solutions lab, which is a two-day problem solving workshop set for May 31 to June 1 at Brescia University College.
Looking back on her time with Pillar, Baldwin said she sees how the community has built relationships, “strengthened human connections,” and created an atmosphere where collaboration can happen.
This has been especially true, she adds, since the economic recession began in 2008 and many in the community began to realize people couldn’t keep doing things the same old way as years gone by.
For Kate Graham, board chair, the AGM actually offered more than just the chance to have a party.
The day proved, she said, that Londoners “love pushing the envelop and thinking big” in an effort to support one another.
With everything the organization has going on this year, including the 10th edition of the Pillar Community Innovation Awards, Graham said she believes Londoners have heard the message of collaboration.
“I never cease to be amazed that in the events we do out in the community, the level of response and engagement is phenomenal,” she said. “London is a collaborative and engaged city and that is no more true than in the non-profit sector.”