I was lucky enough to sit down with Ashley Proctor, Executive Director of 312 Main and Executive Producer of GCUC Canada, at CU Asia 2018 in Penang. In this interview, Ashley offers amazing insight on working with the broader community, making a lasting impact, and learning from failure.
Ashley's CV is filled to the brim with more coworking experience than seems humanly possible. She is one of the few people in the world that can say their entire career has been in the coworking industry, including founding/co-founding coworking spaces Creative Blueprint in 2006 and Foundery in 2011.
As one of the most authentic voices for coworking on the planet, Ashley represents the coworking values at GCUC Canada and speaks at coworking and non-coworking events worldwide. At 312 Main, a 100,000 sq ft redevelopment project turned social innovation center, she is working with the entire community to catalyze change in Canada's poorest postal code. If you're still not impressed, Ashley also founded COHIP, Canada's largest insurance program for freelancers and entrepreneurs!
What is clear from my interview with Ashley, and from getting to know her over the last few months, is that Ashley is the real deal. This interview is filled with quality tips on working with the broader community, making a lasting impact, and learning from failure.
Below are some of the most important highlights from the interview.
Let's face it, terms such a "coworking," "social impact," and "community building" have been relegated to the buzzword bin. In a world where these words have minimal meaning due to overuse and misuse, it's more important than ever to pay more than lip service to the terminology we put on our websites and talk about in public.
As Executive Director of 312 Main, Ashley has learned first hand what it takes to practice what you preach. Making a real impact is challenging and requires commitment. It’s often uncomfortable. In Ashley's case, it's meant getting deeply involved with the local neighborhood in Canada's poorest postal code, which is in the midst of a harrowing opioid crisis.
"This neighborhood is typically written off as a place to avoid. Tourists would be told to avoid the area," explains Ashley. "And yet, it really has the most potential of all the neighborhoods to have some meaningful and significant impact." Ashley goes on to explain that the purpose of the space is to provide a community hub where people can go to get help, resources, make connections, learn something, and grow something that's theirs.
What's truly amazing is that the team at 312 Main is committed to change from within the neighborhood and to preventing gentrification. "We're not bringing anything to this community. What we're trying to do is to build this with the community, not for it. And to empower the people that are already doing good work."
To an outsider, it might seem like Ashley is the bold and brave captain, sailing headfirst into the unknown world of real neighborhood impact. It certainly did to me. However, while she is undoubtedly brave and bold, she would characterize it differently.
From Ashley's perspective, she's not steering the ship. Rather, the group of people on board are intentionally value aligned. 312 Main curates it's members by requiring each to submit a 2-pager explaining who they are, what they are up to, and why they want to be a part of the 312 Main community. This process ensures that the community of members is diverse and committed to the positive development of the neighborhood, not merely into looking hip.
Because their values are aligned, the community at 312 Main, as well as Ashley's former coworking communities, are deeply connected to one another and actually collaborate on meaningful and impactful projects.
In reference to Ashley's community building talk during the Coworking Academy, we discussed the importance of Rule #9, which is that your coworkers emulate you. Ever wonder why your members walk into the space, don’t say "hello" to anybody, and get into their work without socializing? It’s likely because you or your team act the same way when you walk in for the day.
Ashley also points out that you attract members similar to yourself. Older founders don't typically attract younger members and vice versa. If you're into art and food and culture, you'll likely attract members who are also into those things.
And much more, but you'll have to watch to find out!
I hope you love this conversation with Ashley as much as I loved having it.
Marketing Director, founder at Coworking Insights, coworking maven, digital nomad, lover of wine & tacos.