Juicy Butterflies – GCUC 2017

The Global Coworking Unconference Conference hit Vancouver October 4-6, 2017, and Big City Hippie Maddy got to take it all in!

Here is my recap on a whirlwind of 3 juicy days full of hope, inspiration, tears, hugs, learning, community, and all things coworking…


Day One started off with registration, coffee, and snacks at 312 Main (provided by The Network Hub). We were welcomed to the Unceded Territories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam First Nations by Chamiya, who got us out of our seats, busting moves as wild Coast Salish animals: Eagles, Salmon, Ravens, and Wolves!


We heard from Liz Elam of GCUC Global, and Executive Producer of GCUC Canada Ashley Proctor. A wonderful new project that went live that very morning called Check Yo Mate was shared with us, as a direct action we can take to help break the stigma around Mental Health, and participate in the prevention of isolation, loneliness, depression, and more. The premise is simple – on December 21st every year (and really, daily and weekly), text or call a friend to check in and ask them if they are doing okay. Chances are, they could use a few moments to feel connected, loved, and that they belong. Use #CheckYoMate to spread the word globally. Many are adept at hiding their pain, and you might not be aware that your friend, coworker, or loved one is suffering in silence. This movement was inspired by the bright light of Bennet John Roesch, a member who was facing mental health issues unknown to his coworking family. The loss of Bennett was felt deeply, and Check Yo Mate was created to help spark conversation, and to hopefully keep stars like Bennett shining. I did not know Bennett – however,  the emotional response in the room upon hearing this story was palpable, as the bereaved who treasured Bennett had an opportunity to share their loss and love, bringing tears of empathy to room. May Bennett rest in peace.

The unflappable Ashley Proctor of GCUC and 312 Main (any many other rad things) and her team shared the vision of 312 Main, Vancouver’s Centre for Social & Economic Innovation – a labour of love 5 years in the making.

We started off with a panel on Coworking Coast to Coast featuring Christine Andrews, Charlotte Kirby, Melissa Hope, Shannon Richards and Jess Steinbach. This female-strong crew talked about the movement across Canada, including niche spaces, such as for architecture, and for women. They touched on the uniqueness of coworking spaces, and how those businesses and communities differ from larger coworking brands.

Break for Bingo Networking! We had bingo style cards with questions, and the goal was to find 20 people who could each answer a “question” for the chance to win an iPad! We had fun, and it was challenging. I think I only got about 10 filled out…

After that fun break, Jocelyn Macdougall got us impassioned on the subject of Modern Convening. She touched on coworking as building community through a feeling of belonging, being heard, being engaged, being reflected. She talked about shifting privilege, and how bringing your whole self means bringing your best self. I found her ode to coworking insightful, honest, vulnerable, and inviting. It got me to reflect on my own community, and the diversity within it. Thank you Jocelyn!

The Future of Work panel took the stage, featuring Jennifer McRae, Devon Carr, Humaira Hamid, and Liz Elam. This is a favourite topic of mine, as we see our societies shifting into more and more precarious contract/freelance work, and as data aggregates to show us how dissatisfied workers are with their employers and jobs. This fact-filled team shared about the 4th Industrial Revolution, and that The World Economic Forum has shown a prediction of a shift from hard skills to soft skills as being the most valuable in the workforce come 2020. That power is shifting back to the people as the demand for coworking grows, that BC is the most entrepreneurial province in Canada, and that 98% of businesses in BC are small. Go ahead – co it!

“It’s a renaissance across all systems … a new way of being, if you have the eyes to see it” – Jennifer McRae

Lunch Break Yas! A delicious lunch catered by the Potluck Cafe Society (heyo – another awesome social enterprise) sponsored by Vancity (where I bank!) was fabulous!

Data + Trends was up after lunch, presented by Carsten Foerstch of DeskMag who shared that word of mouth is still the leader in marketing, and to design with users in mind (awellness aspects often get overlooked, such as comfortable ergonomic chairs, facing a wall, and having less noise) – yay wellness win!

Tony Bacigalupo presented on the joys of Attracting & Retaining Members. You’ve gotta be an awesome space to attract and retain. Program-driven spaces have much better engagement and retention rates. Put yourself in your member’s pants and ask “why should I put on pants today and come visit you?” The answer: ‘cause it’s Taco Tuesday!

A Members Panel reflected on what led them to coworking, and the best & worst of it all. They all agreed that working from home was a major fail, that coworking changed their lives, and that people were the best, but also the worst. Oh, and food days. Tony was right on that.​​​

Community Engagement with Vanessa Richards was truly wonderful, as she invited us to shape our breath into music. She led us through  group songs such as “The Saints” and “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen. Thank you Vanessa for this inspire-ation!

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” – Leonard Cohen

Iris Kavanaugh and Laura Shook Guzman shared Making Herstory: Women Who Cowork Change the World. They celebrated women around the world who have shaped this movement, and who have reclaimed their time. Check out Women Who Cowork to join this feminine wave – #thefutureisfemale

Representing The Global Village, Natanel Orea of Mexico relayed that there are 13.5 million freelancers in Mexico, and only 75 coworking spaces! His space Coworking Nest is a zero waste and solar powered! All the feels for this #sustainabilityISwellness model 🙂

Diversity Our Strength helmed by Mara Falstein, Nigel Mojica, Pat Christie, and Denise Brennan touched on how we can use the diversity in the coworking space to build resilience, humility, and a more just society. Mark Friesen ended our day by asking us to think about Coworking an as Emergent Democracy, and to consider what it would look like if “we” set the agenda instead of responding to a predetermined agenda.

“What if we got to decide what to decide?” – Mark Friesen

The Juicy Crew headed off for a revolving sunset reception at the Top of Vancouver, excited about the day two unconference – democracy in action!

Day two started with coffee and equality, as delegates shared topics they wanted to discuss, and then votes were placed. The variety of topics was amazing! We broke off into the sessions we wanted to join, transforming from students into teachers, as we shared our thoughts, emotions, learning, and lived experiences in a round table setting. I personally attended sessions on Reconciliation, Conflict Management, Precarious Workers, Space Design + User Experience, and Mental Health + Wellness. The first and last sessions could have been a whole day, with the amount of healing that is required. In Reconciliation, we recognized that trust is the ultimate accelerator, and that we want this conversation and authentic action to continue. In Mental Health + Wellness, it was clear that coworking spaces are serving their communities, but are lacking in resources to care for themselves, and to cope with traumatic events. There is a need for wellness practitioners to be a part of member packages. As a wee plug here, I have started a community photo project – Joy Bundling – as a way to create and celebrate intentional space for self love. Join in on the greatest revolution of all – loving yourself.

“How You Love Yourself is How You Teach Others to Love You” – Rupi Kaur

GCUC Canada, The Urban Workers Project, and The Coworking BC Collective co-hosted a rad after party held at Creative Coworkers – including live music, and a VR machine! We danced and laughed and bonded. The somehow woke up for 9 am tours.

Yay walking tours (organized by The Coworking BC Collective) of rad collaborative spaces in Van! I hit SPACE, Maker Labs, 312 Main, and The Amp. All four of these spaces were unique in their community offerings, collaborative approaches, and mindful management. I loved being a tourist in my own town, and walking through the East Van & Gastown neighborhoods with fresh eyes. I encourage you to visit these spaces to witness the future of work & society in living colour.








Thank you GCUC for a wonderful event, and your commitment to integrity. My only notes are that the venue was a tad chilly (it was a construction zone after all), that zero waste initiatives be made known (The Binners Project was hired to sort waste each day – another social enterprise in Vancouver!), that zero emissions be a priority, and that comfortable/ergonomic chairs were needed. Chairs were provided by Turnstone, and I’m sure many found them to be just fine, but my picky ergonomic-centric brain and body did not 😉

“We catalyze; we metamorphize; reborn as juicy butterflies”


I left this unconference with a newfound hope for society moving forward, and that when we connect and collaborate, we can truly change the world. We need not wait for any “leader”, for we lead ourselves.

xx Big City Hippie Maddy

About BigCityHippies

A collective of enlightened individuals sharing with their communities.

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