Keren Tang

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Keren Tang, MSc ‘14, is the 2020 recipient of the Early Career Alumni Award which recognizes the outstanding contributions of a School of Public Health alumnus(a) within 10 years of receiving their graduate degree.

What has your journey been since you left the School of Public Health?

When I first arrived in Edmonton to study public health, I hardly knew anyone. Very quickly, I became involved in projects in and outside of school, forming networks that ranged from the Yellowknives Dene First Nations community up north, to cycling advocacy, river valley conservation and newcomer immigrants.

After I graduated from the School of Public Health, I went through the contact list I’d built during my studies and set up coffee meetings with everyone I had met over the past two years, and people they recommended, picking their brains about their own careers.  After about 30 of these coffees, one of them turned into a job! I’ve been building relationships with diverse groups ever since. My professional and personal interests often intersect in unexpected ways that lead to new opportunities. I also benefited from strong mentorship across everything I have done and endeavor to pay it forward.

How has your public health education helped you accomplish and do great things?

My thesis work was transformative. It built upon previous community organizing experience and provided a participatory research framework, which validated my lifelong thoughts and beliefs on community engagement being essential to change. I now apply the language, theory, and methodology of this framework to everything I do.

Currently, you’re working for the McConnell Foundation as a Participatory City Development Manager. What does a day in your life look like?

I am working on Participatory Canada, a national vision for a new kind of social infrastructure that is inspired by the Participatory City initiative in London, UK. Currently, we are testing the model in three Canadian cities, trying to understand the feasibility of implementing a people-centred approach at the street and neighbourhood level in communities across the country.

On a day-to-day basis, I interact with community partners who design prototypes to engage residents through practical, everyday activities. Although this has been a challenge during COVID, we are moving forward with meaningful neighbourhood-level conversations. I also work with many other Canadian and international colleagues to develop evaluation frameworks to understand what it takes to scale the local efforts. I’m working to create branding for a new entity stewarding participatory social infrastructure in Canada, and strategizing on partnership development and mobilizing political and funding support. Internally, I get to connect with colleagues across McConnell to ensure alignment, mutually inspire, build culture, and generate new ideas.

Where do you see the most impact of your work now?

Connecting people who otherwise wouldn’t connect.  For example, as a board member of the Edmonton Community Foundation, I focus on community engagement and building knowledge of networks that can enhance diversity and make the work more equitable. I help connect the foundation with communities who haven’t yet heard about it. I helped set up the Edmonton Chinese Cultural Legacy Fund to diversify the donor base and ensure the promotion of Chinese culture and heritage. This year, I also helped form a partnership between ATB Financial and the McConnell Foundation to support small businesses, seeding a conversation for long-term collaboration. These kinds of relationship building help to break down silos, ignite new ideas, and reach diverse community voices.

Which of your achievements are you most proud of?

Many things stand out, but I am most proud of:

  • My health promotion thesis fieldwork up north, partnering with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation community to understand traditional physical activity and wellness and support subsequent local programming. The year-round visits to the community were incredibly memorable: the northern lights, dog sledding, fishing, and beading. Above all, the people stand out. I treasure the relationships and friendships I developed with community members. Their relentless support steadily moved the project along and left deep impressions on me.
  • The Recover initiative at the City of Edmonton that aimed to improve urban wellness in the downtown core and Strathcona area. In this role, I saw how complex initiatives and policies affect the most vulnerable Edmontonians. Recover evolved significantly over the past few years, but I was proud of the lessons generated from this work and being part of a team that engaged Edmontonians in a different way using design and prototyping methods.
  • My 2017 city council bid where I entered the race as a first-time candidate running against a seasoned incumbent, taking on an austerity-based outlook with a social determinant of health and participatory approach to campaigning. In the end, I didn’t win the election, but I came in a strong second. And I loved every minute of it.

How do you hope to continue doing great things?

In Decolonizing Wealth (2018), Edgar Villaneuva advocates for the position that money can be used as medicine to heal the racial wealth gap. I am inspired by this and hope to continue to do great things in this area: connecting private and public investment dollars into spaces where it normally doesn’t enter, and leveraging money and wealth to amplify public good, for example by creating sandboxes for experimentation, imagination, and impact.  

My experiences working with communities have shown me first-hand the realities of broken systems, and the deep disconnect between these realities and political decision-making powers. I want to be a better bridge and influence greater change in the social determinants of health by having a voice at the table.

Participation on Humanity Rising

HR!Day160 City & Community as Living Systems with Consciousness, Culture & Complex Adaptive Dynamics

Day 162 - Generate Ideas To Enable You To Use Tensions in Your City & Community To Best Mutually Serve You Both