Essay submitted by Jamil Mahmood
Executive Director, Main Street Project
Thinking about what Winnipeg should be in 100 years is an act of creative visioning, but it also necessitates painful reflection on our failures to build a city that raises all people up.
We all have a vested interest in our city. The thing I have always loved about Winnipeg is that none of the challenges are unsolvable. We know the solutions, we just haven’t made the right investments to reach them.
Winnipeg is the place I call home; I always have and always will, no matter where I end up.
I grew up in East Kildonan. In that working-class neighbourhood, I saw the city from the perspective of a child who played ball hockey in the streets. I grew up in a side-by-side across from a housing complex. On the other side of the housing complex was a huge field – the edge of the city, I thought. I didn’t know there was city beyond where I lived. Today, Winnipeg is fully connected from East Kildonan to Transcona – developed, expanded, sprawled.
Once I was in my teens, I spent time going to punk shows, eating at Mondragon, and volunteering with Food Not Bombs. It brought me into the core of the city and that is where I fell in love with Winnipeg. There is a vibrancy at our core; the mix of the arts community, the people who call the streets home, and those who choose to live downtown, make up this interesting tapestry of a community.
As I studied at the University of Winnipeg, I ventured into the Central and West End neighbourhoods. I learned about the people, the food, the life of our city; it led me to get involved in community development and dedicate my career to building community and not-for-profits.
I want Winnipeg in 100 years to be a progressive, people-centred city.
We build infrastructure that celebrates our city but also addresses the challenges of colonization, trauma, and the effects the colonial systems have had on our people in Winnipeg.
We build a social structure that prioritizes people over profits. We measure our success on how our most vulnerable thrive in our city. We build a city that knows we can’t be great until we provide housing, mental health supports, addiction supports, and love to all of our people.
We build communities that are living and dynamic families and we support each other.
Winnipeggers impress with their kindness, passion, and willingness to help. If we channel that generosity into all our communities, our city can build on connections and relationships to be the best city in Canada.
I believe philanthropy has a role to play. Until we can change government and systems to make appropriate investments into our communities, we need philanthropy to fill those gaps; to make the investments in the future of our city and our people. I hope philanthropy becomes the change agent needed to reshape how we view our social systems and health care, treat those experiencing vulnerability, and leverage the transformation we need to see.
I want Winnipeg in 100 years to be a city that has embraced the fact we are only as amazing as the systems we build to support our most vulnerable. We can move beyond band-aid approaches to address root causes. This is a choice, and it’s one that the generous Winnipeg I know and love, can make.
Jamil Mahmood (he/his) received a Bachelor’s Degree in International Development studies from the University of Winnipeg. At that time, Jamil was active in grassroot activism including Food Not Bombs, which was informed by his work in Pakistan with landless peoples setting up non-formal education schools and in Ecuador running a shelter for youth.
At the Spence Neighbourhood Association, Jamil began as a community garden worker and transitioned into a permanent role developing innovative inner-city youth programs before becoming Executive Director. He has been Chair of the Gang Action Interagency Network for the last eight years and was instrumental in developing a gang strategy for the City of Winnipeg. Five years ago, Jamil began working as a harm reduction Outreach Worker. In January 2021, Jamil started as Executive Director of Main Street Project.
Jamil believes strongly in community-led development, social justice, harm reduction and empowerment. In Jamil’s spare time, he serves as Chair of Rainbow Trout Music Festival.