2015 IW Winners

Sault Ste. Marie | Executive of the Year

Dr. Gayle Broad

Dr. Gayle Broad

Dr. Gayle Broad had spent the bulk of her career as a community development worker when community-based research sparked her interest.

An opportunity to conduct research as a direct response to community need, instead of just studying ideas in theory, meant finding tangible answers to pressing issues for communities in the North.

“I don’t sit in my ivory tower and decide I want to research this,” she said. “They’re real-life issues that people from the community are bringing to us and saying we need research done.”

As research director at the NORDIK Institute in Sault Ste. Marie, which Broad helped establish, she has guided research projects on transportation — she’s been involved in the ongoing struggle to secure a passenger rail line between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst — improving the downtown core, food security and local agribusiness, community resilience, and place-based tourism.

Broad believes some of the institute’s most influential and important work is in the area of the social economy, populated by co-operatives, non-profit organizations, and social enterprises.

“People have a perception that it’s these great big projects coming in from somewhere else that generate the most wealth for a region, but in fact it’s the small, locally owned businesses and co-operatively owned businesses,” she said. “That social economy generates the most wealth within a region, and so that’s an area that I find particularly close to my heart.”

For Broad, creating resilient, sustainable communities is intrinsically tied to the nurturing and caring role that women have traditionally held in society. And, so, for her, this role is played out through the research she oversees.

The First Nations ideology of the seven generations — the idea that current decisions must be considered for their impact on seven generations into the future — influences how Broad views her work.

“Women are very connected to the lifecycle and I think, from a First Nations perspective, women have this responsibility for the water,” she said. “For me, that goes beyond the water to the whole concept of we need a clean environment to raise healthy people, and if we can’t provide people with the basic necessities of life, then we can’t sustain ourselves.”

She is seeing the impact of NORDIK’s mandate. The institute’s work in the agrifood sector, which includes everything from funding farmers’ tile drainage projects to developing a guide to local producers, has been particularly successful.

And that area of study continues to expand: “We’re working with some First Nation communities that are really looking at non-timber forest products, including foods, and naturally growing foods,” Broad said.

Eco-tourism is one area in which Broad sees future study and development. From the arts to cultural experiences to wilderness experiences, she believes the North can capitalize on its natural assets.

She also sees promise in community forestry and believes the North needs to start lobbying government to consider establishing local harvesting practices, rather than “continuing to allow our forests to be decimated by large multinationals.”

“Really, we need to review the economics of resourcebased industries, because most of that money goes out of the region and doesn’t stay here,” she said. “We need to really start looking at ways of keeping that wealth here and sustaining it over the long term.”

NORDIK has completed 80 pieces of research since its inception in 2006, but Broad remains humble about her role in it all, crediting the support of her family and her team at NORDIK for making their research current, relevant and significant to the North.

“There are just so many people that contribute to making a success of NORDIK’s work, and I just get to put my name on the letterhead.” IW

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