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Making Communities Healthy

Urban Systems

3. Good Health and Well-Being 7. Affordable and Clean Energy 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 10. Reduced Inequalities 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

Overview

Urban Systems is a professional consulting firm that focuses on the importance of building safe and sustainable communities. Urban Systems has two subsidiaries to facilitate its innovations; Urban Matters and the Urban Systems Foundation. As an organization, they work with various partners to volunteer their time, efforts, and resources into creating prosperous communities both within Canada and abroad. Last year alone, through their volunteers, the company was able to put its energy, creativity, and passion into 77 projects across 53 organizations. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG) that is best aligned with their business innovation is #11; sustainable cities and communities.

Authors

Kate D'Albertanson

Kate D'Albertanson

Courtney McKay

Courtney McKay

Hannah MacDonald

Hannah MacDonald

Hannah MacDonald

Hannah MacDonald

School

St. Francis Xavier University

St. Francis Xavier University

Professor

Brad Long

Brad Long

Innovation

Urban Systems is a family-centered organization, with CEO Martin Bell sharing; “Urban systems were created with some family sustainability and flexible workplace attributes in mind”. In efforts to address societal issues, Urban Systems developed a subsidiary known as Urban Matters CCC to expand its corporate social responsibility. Urban Matters CCC (the CCC standing for “community contribution company”) was developed to create new opportunities and outcomes in social and community service sectors. As an organization, they act as an innovation hub working with citizens, governments, non-for-profits, communities, and more to address complex social issues. As a social enterprise, they can mitigate and facilitate interactions between partner organizations to address social issues such as suicide epidemics, homelessness, climate change, and poverty. Urban Systems’ home location is in Kelowna, British Columbia, but they have projects currently operating in multiple Canadian provinces, such as Alberta and Manitoba, in addition to various international locations. As a CCC, Urban Matters can reinvest 60% of its profits back into innovative community support programs and ventures that address major social issues. By having institutional and financial independence they have the directive, flexibility, and agility to address complex social issues despite the potential uncertainty in this line of work.


Making Communities Healthy

Inspiration

Urban Systems is a family centered organization, with CEO Martin Bell sharing; “Urban systems was created with some family sustainability and flexible workplace attributes in mind”. Since the original establishment of the company, it has further evolved through the addition of the Urban Systems Foundation, as well as Urban Matters. Mr. Bell commented on the introduction of Urban Matters, stating; “we built Urban Matters CCC with community sustainability on more complex social issues and community determinants of health in mind”, and that they were inspired to launch the Urban Systems Foundation to “help underprivileged youth”. These motivators align with the UN SDG #3; Good Health and Wellbeing. When we asked Mr. Bell if any of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) influenced the organization in particular, he noted that “it’s not one goal or something that drives us more than the others'', but rather, “it [is] more about the community determinants of health.” As a leader, Mr. Bell is inspired by the motivation and passion of his growing team. He notes that “seeing them learn about business and how to build it sustainably [as well as] being motivated to give back is really powerful.” Mr. Bell is also motivated to share his knowledge with his team through action, sharing; “I think it's cool to be able to share what it takes to build a medium sized company with people, but it is also cool that they can see their work translating to impact. I think that has been really amazing.” The outcomes from the community involvement that Urban Systems undertakes continue to inspire the founders to deepen their CSR initiatives both on a personal level and within their organization.


Overall impact

When viewing the overall impact of Urban Systems and its subsidiaries, we can begin by looking at the actions and accomplishments of the organization from the past year. As mentioned above, the company has put forth their passion, dedication and work ethic to create 77 projects across 53 organizations in 2021. Urban Matters places an emphasis on innovation, as they “create new ways to approach systemic issues” (https://www.urbanmatters.ca). In our interview with Martin Bell, he explains that the company has a primary focus on the community determinants of health, monitoring the work they are doing and measuring it across the different impacts. The overall influence of the organization is portrayed in their efforts to build safe, sustainable and prosperous communities. Examples of this can be seen in their Emergency Shelter Plan, Indigenous Peer Navigation and Cultural Mentorship initiatives in Kelowna, BC. As these initiatives aim to support people experiencing homelessness and poverty, as well as those who have lived or who are living with the experience of substance use, Urban Matters and the City of Kelowna’s Social Development Team worked alongside one another to create mentorship in navigating services within the community and addressing these issues (https://www.urbanmatters.ca). Urban Matters' efforts are far-reaching, and they are not limited to a particular sector. Their initiatives extend to any communities facing complex social problems.

Setting out what the team was aiming to do as well as seeing the visible alterations of the consulting firm's efforts and their projects come to fruition is the biggest measure for Urban Matters. Martin Bell notes that the company looks at things tangibly, and through “seeing the effects of our work as we operate on impacting communities”, it displays the influence of their innovative efforts. In the short term, the organization is committed to the projects they oversee that address complex social issues. They work alongside a number of groups to enhance the communities around them as well as act as intermediaries between “the world of systems and people who live in these systems” (https://www.urbanmatters.ca). As an ever growing and evolving organization, Martin Bell relays that Urban Matters is attracting more like minded individuals who are motivated and purpose driven that are passionate about making a change. This is evident in the Kelowna initiatives, as they teamed up with other committed community partners and stakeholders who hold the same interest in developing plans of actions to address these issues and remove barriers to accessing culturally safe services (https://www.urbanmatters.ca).


Business benefit

Urban Systems is the parent company to Urban Matters, and it has been recognized and awarded as being one of the Best Workplaces in Canada fifteen times. Urban Matters, as its subsidiary, follows in its footprints. Being that Urban Matters is a purpose driven company that is continuously giving back to communities and providing resources to address social issues, their impacts are notable and admirable. Martin Bell shares in the interview that “helping communities with and through communities, rather than being strictly focused on shareholder wealth or building the biggest monuments definitely attracts a certain kind of people”. Individuals are able to come to Urban Matters and use a platform that enables them to make a difference in areas they are passionate about, rather than just do what they are told. Urban Matters was established with roots of generosity, and Martin says that the members of the firm collectively realized how fortunate they were, so they wanted to “pay that forward among areas of our work, the company, staff as well as the community”. He adds that most of the motivation for their work comes from their own ethics which has induced them in taking action towards their innovative efforts.

Martin adds that “you have to have a culture of people who believe in having an impact, and I think it has to start from that. A company can stand for something and have purpose, but you want to attract people who really believe in those things personally and will invest themselves fully”. Their highly innovative and strategic perspectives have garnered great success for the firm and through their Community Contribution Company (CCC) structure, they have been able to reinvest their profits for additional work in other communities. Through this, Urban Matters displays their genuity of leading with the initiative to create change as well as the alignment of the UN SDG Number 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities with their business innovation.


Social and environmental benefit

The innovative efforts made by Urban Systems and their subsidiaries are beneficial to society in several ways. Urban Matters “create[s] new ways to approach systemic issues”, addressing that the existing systems are no longer benefiting those in need (https://www.urbanmatters.ca). Through the reinvestment of profits, the organization prioritizes community betterment. Their team listens and responds to those with lived experience to better inform their work and ensure that their efforts will be tailored to the groups/individuals that they serve. The team identifies themselves as “allies that uplift the voices of everyone”, noting that they are “respectful learners, eager to listen to everyone irrespective of their gender, sexuality, identity, social class, or ethnicity” (https://www.urbanmatters.ca). In publicly expressing their acceptance of individuals regardless of their gender or sexual identity, the organization is working to meet the UN SDG #5; Gender Equality. They emphasize that they strive to create positive change through their actions that is beneficial to members of society at large, rather than targeting the needs of few. Some of the various initiatives that the company has led in benefit of society include the Affordable Housing Strategy (Abbotsford, BC), the Indigenous Peer Navigation and Cultural Mentorship program (Kelowna, BC), Community Emergency Shelter Planning (Kelowna, BC), Social Needs Assessment (Nanaimo, BC) and Economic Development Planning (N’quatqua First Nation, BC). The housing, shelter, and development planning projects relate to the UN SDG #9; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. Further, in offering support for minority groups, the organization is also workings towards meeting UN SDG #10, which focuses on the reduction of inequalities.

Urban Systems prioritizes environmentally beneficial actions in all of their projects, however there have been a few specific instances that combined not only social benefits, but also environmental. In 2019, Urban Systems collaborated with Kanaka Bar Indian Band to focus on climate change and self sufficiency. The Kanaka Bar Indian Band have been living on this land for over 7000 years, however colonization, climate change, and rapid changes have truly impacted their traditional way of life. With this in mind, Urban Systems worked with the community to find ways for them to become self-sufficient but also recognizing the resources and power that come from natural resources like water. This particular project serves as an example of how the organization is working towards the UN SDG #7; Affordable and Clean Energy. Within this project Urban Systems and Kanaka Bar Indian Band worked in partnership to find an equilibrium between social and environmental issues. Urban Systems has also worked on projects where responsible land development was the key focus, such as “Planning In The Parkland” a project based in Manitoba’s pristine grasslands. For this project, Urban Systems worked in partnership with the local community to develop 16 municipalities while maintaining the natural beauty and value in Manitoba’s grasslands.


Interview

Martin Bell, CEO

Photo of interviewee

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Urban Systems

Urban Systems

Kelowna, CA

Business Website: https://urbansystems.ca

Year Founded: 1975

Number of Employees: 501 to 1000

Urban Systems is a professional consulting firm that is based in Kelowna, British Columbia. As a team, they are committed to creating and supporting sustainable communities. Their efforts to build safe, sustainable and prosperous communities exist at both National and Global capacities.