Comment: VIATEC'S Dan Gunn on seeing silver linings

A commentary by the CEO of the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council. 

Every morning, I watch our prime minister update the nation on Canada’s COVID-19 response. “Save lives by staying apart,” he pleads. That’s the least we can do.

He goes on to say: “Everything we face will be directly linked to how people behave today.”

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I think we all know that this applies at the national level as well as at the street level of our neighbourhoods and community.

Physical distancing is imperative to getting through this and it has its side-effects.

Like many of you, my grandparents, great aunts and uncles endured monumental shared suffering due to the Great Depression and world wars. As I grew up, they went out of their way to help me understand how hard those days were and how it shaped them.

Nothing brings people together like an external threat. We are all making sacrifices and it can be tough, but I can’t help but see some silver linings. The bonding power of shared suffering leads to a greater sense of unity. While we are physically apart, we are more together as a species, a nation and as a community.

I’ve never been closer to my friends, neighbours and family. I’m having long conversations with my neighbours, I’m on the phone with my parents every few days and I’m logging many hours of video conferencing with friends, colleagues and peers every day. Compassion and empathy seem to be at an all-time high.

As with the generations before us, this moment right now is shaping us. I spend a lot of time pondering what influence these weeks and months will have on nations, societies and our communities going forward. We are all doing things quite differently today and it will be fascinating to see what changes will stick and what needles will move.

How much more will we work remotely in the years and decades to come? How often and far will people travel? How supportive of the concept of Universal Basic Income will we be? Will the short-term environmental benefits change our future behaviour?

We love imagining a better future in my line of work, but help is needed now.

I work with local tech companies. Switching to working remotely is likely easier for our sector than any other. We are already using video conferencing, chat channels and other platforms and have the right hardware to get connected quickly. We are fortunate to be built to adapt how we work, but I don’t think any organization was built to endure this type of uncertainty.

While some companies are enjoying an increase in demand for their tools and products, most are still trying to figure things out. Sales and business developments have been turned on their heads, orders are being cancelled or slowed, our governments announce new supports daily and tech leaders are trying to assess how many staff they can hold onto and for how long.

This uncertainty is challenging for our sector, but much tougher for many.

At VIATEC, we are inspired by the Rapid Relief Fund that the Victoria Foundation, the Jawl Foundation and Times Colonist kicked off, and we are proud of those tech leaders that came to the table to offer hundreds of thousands of matching dollars to encourage donations.

Thanks to the generous support of our members, the VIATEC Foundation had a busy year, contributing $300,000 to the Food Rescue Project in partnership with the Victoria Foundation, and another $130,000 in support for the Mustard Seed Food Bank, the Gender Equity Fund, the Greater Victoria Public Library, Junior Achievement of British Columbia and the Independent Media Producers Network Society.

We have $10,000 left in our fund, and today, we are committing it all to the Rapid Relief Fund. Soon, we will set out on another campaign to replenish the fund.

The VIATEC Awards is our biggest fundraising event each year. We recently had to reschedule to Dec. 10 and you better believe that we plan to leverage what we expect will be a very memorable night as a platform to enable and encourage the tech community to do what it can to help those in the community that need it most.

In the meantime, VIATEC, as owner of Fort Tectoria, has waived the rent for the 25 startups that call our building home. We are deferring all membership renewals for at least three months, and we’ve made our online job board free during the crisis to help connect people with jobs.

It is not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but, for a small not-for-profit like ours, it is consequential and difficult — and the least we can do.

My elders imprinted on me what it was like to go through the hardest of times. I’m certain we will all be telling tales of this one to our future generations and, when we do, I hope we all can point to how we gave.

While we are apart, let’s come together. Give if you can.

HOW TO DONATE

Tax receipts will be issued. If you are open to receiving your tax receipt by PDF, please include an email address with your donation.

• Online: RapidReliefFund.ca

• Phone: 250-381-5532

• Mail: Send cheques (made out to the Victoria Foundation) to RapidRelief Fund, Victoria Foundation, 200-703 Broughton St., Victoria V8W 1E2

The Rapid Relief Fund was created by the Victoria Foundation, the Jawl Foundation, and the Times Colonist to help people in need as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. CHEK Television, Coast Outdoor Advertising and Black Press are helping to boost awareness. Every dollar received from donations goes out as grants to the community.

Donations are being distributed through the Victoria Foundation.

victoriafoundation.bc.ca/rapid-relief-fund-disbursements

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