Why Leverage Technology to Combat Homelessness? Ample Labs Board of Directors Feature

What does it mean to empower individuals facing homelessness with technology? What is the intersection of technology, human-centered design, and government relations in our work? Here is a look at our journey and the nuances of Ample Labs’ work through the lens of our dedicated Board of Directors.

But first, how did we begin?

Before Ample Labs was an official tech non-profit, it started as a series of focus groups at the Fred Victor Centre. That is where two of our board members met, and our founder CG began her work.

“I met CG at Fred Victor where I was working as the director of fundraising. She was looking to do co-design sessions with our homeless population and introduced me to design thinking. I was so impressed by her passion, I’ve been following her work all these years.” -Dagmar Schroeder, Communications Manager at Stella’s Place and Ample Labs Board of Directors member

“I attended the focus group session hosted by CG and folks at Fred Victor a few years ago. They are incredibly well done! They help people draw out their opinions, thoughts, and feelings in an accessible way. I deeply respect how before there was a product, CG and the team were focused on building with the community and getting feedback from the start.” -Lisa Durnford, Legal Specialist on Ample Labs Board of Directors

That was just the beginning. Over the years, we’ve gotten tremendous support in the form of partnerships and volunteers from the community. Here is a personal and professional volunteering story from the Chair of our board, Franklin Garrigues.

On volunteering with his daughter:

“I volunteered with my 16-year-old daughter in a Chalmers Tour street walk with Ample Labs. We were promoting Chalmers to social service agencies in Toronto. In the end, she said she couldn’t believe there were so many people who are homeless. She realized it’s not just a few neighbourhoods, but everywhere. Most of the time we just don’t look. That’s the reality, it’s everywhere. Us realizing this together was a very real and important moment.”

On leading the TD x Ample partnership:

I was blown away by the support the TD team had in putting volunteer hours toward Ample Labs. At our first lunch and learn, we had over 150 participants in the call. Over the next six months, we have over 500 volunteers involved. People want to help and use their skill set for good. They are inspired by the vision and CG.”

Our board is full of folks with a variety of backgrounds, ranging from tech to NGOs, finance to government relations! Many have personal stories from working with individuals in need. Keep reading to learn more about the individuals on our board and their diverse insights on tech for homelessness.

Official Q&A with Ample Labs Board of Directors

1. What motivates you to support technology that serves individuals facing homelessness?

Dagmar Schroeder (Fundraising Specialist):

Background: Nonprofit Communications (Marketing Manager at Stella’s Place)

Fun fact: Dagmar loves heights and the outdoors

“When I was working at Fred Victor, many individuals sleeping in the shelter told me they spent hours on the phone seeking help. It’s humiliating to tell someone on the phone about your situation and wait for an hour. If they have a cellphone to call a hotline, why not make the process easier with mobile technology? With Chalmers, it’s anonymous, quick, and real-time. Ample Labs increases the independence and dignity of homeless populations.”

Lisa Durnford (Legal Specialist):

Background: Housing Rights and the LGBTQ+ Tech Community

Fun fact: Lisa’s favourite animal is the penguin

“My experience is in practicing housing law in Toronto legal clinics. I worked closely with individuals facing eviction and experiencing homelessness. It’s disheartening to know that many folks simply don’t know what their rights are and where to get help. This kind of information should be easy for them to find. That’s why I want to support Ample Labs in getting Chalmers and this information to the hands of as many folks as possible.”

Franklin Garrigues (Chair):

Background: Business Strategy and People Management (VP of Digital Channel at TD)

Fun fact: Franklin is an avid camper and goes every summer with his family

“The problem of homelessness isn’t going away. It’s growing and we need more innovative solutions. I met CG after doing a homeless street assessment that opened my eyes. After taking the time to look around and really see people, I realized just how many people are affected in Toronto. The number is even bigger for individuals at risk. The traditional non-profit world isn’t as equipped as it should be in using technology to tackle homelessness, so I saw the opportunity to help.

Ali Asaria (Start-up Expert):

Background: Tech Start-ups and Growth (CEO of Tulip)

Fun fact: Ali likes to make art with computers for fun and has a robot that watercolours.

“I believe technology has the power to change everything in the world. Most of the efforts of technology has been on business enterprises rather than systemic issues. I’m excited to support a team that is applying technology to one of the world’s biggest problems. I believe the dedication of CG and her team is a big reason for Chalmers’ success. I used to work with CG at Tulip, and everybody loved working with her. When she wanted to put her full-time efforts into Ample Labs, we were sad to lose her but supportive of her mission.”

Sugan Mannavarajan (Community Builder):

Background: Policy & Partnerships

Fun Fact: Sugan lived in the Canadian Arctic for 5 years and highly recommends it.

“I’m a strong advocate that cities can capitalize on ‘tech for good’; digital tools can empower inclusive communities and resilient economies. What attracts me to Ample Labs is their approach to scaleable social innovation. Chalmers applies a tech lens to navigate community services in times of distress. With this app, we can give a richer human experience and gain greater insights for evidence based decision making. I believe this digital solution should be the standard for the future of all our cities.”

Andres Perez-Vilarino (Treasurer):

Background: Finance and LGBTQ+ Community (Senior Accountant at EY)

Fun fact: Andres was a part of the University of Waterloo Model G20

“I’ve always been drawn to community involvement especially in LGBTQ+ causes. LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in homelessness which is a problem people don’t know about. People also don’t realize a large part of homelessness is invisible. By the eyes of the public, you’re either homeless or you’re not. We need more solutions geared towards the invisible homeless populations and really understanding their needs, especially with COVID-19 and rent spikes.

Shawn Fulham (Vice-President):

Background: Government Partnerships (Client Development at PwC Products)
Fun fact: Shawn likes to snowboard in Tremblant and kitesurf in Lake Simcoe

“I have always been passionate about working on audacious tech solutions for the greater good. When I caught wind of Ample Labs, I knew this is something I wanted to be a part of! Chalmers is helping some of our most vulnerable populations find and take advantage of life altering resources. The hidden homeless are called hidden for a reason and now municipalities have a way to connect with these groups. I’m incredibly excited to be working with this passionate team and our governments and municipal partners.”

Charles McCarragher (Technology and Commercialization Strategy):

Background: Legal consulting (Vice President at TD)
Fun fact: Charles to loves cook, especially the fresh salmon he catches in Lake Ontario

“It’s an untapped opportunity, and a reflection of change in people and behaviour. Collectively, we’ve become more comfortable interacting with technology and it is natural to engage people in a way they are already comfortable with. Back in undergrad, I was in a public affairs program and became involved in alternative ways of supporting marginalized populations. It’s made me much more aware of the challenges people in society face. Ample Labs is a great blend of technology and social good based on research.”

2. What are some insights you bring to Ample Labs, and what are insights you’ve learned?

Dagmar Schroeder (Fundraising Specialist):

“2020 has been a huge lesson in seeing our blindspots as a society. I’m humbled to be a part of such a dedicated, high caliber board tackling this problem throughout it all. My expertise is in fundraising for nonprofits with a background in supporting low-income families as well as marginalized populations. Because I don’t have any background in technology, it’s fascinating to learn from the technology experts on the board and hear what’s possible. It also blows me away the sophistication of the work the user research team is doing.”

Lisa Durnford (Legal Specialist):

“The way I contribute is with my legal hat on, especially in risk and compliance. Every organization needs to look at risk mitigation for long term strategic planning. One of the most important things I learned is how vital data and accessibility is in order to fuel solutions like Chalmers. The next is the educational campaigns Ample Labs have on folks experiencing homelessness, the stories, stats and user research — it’s all been enlightening!

Franklin Garrigues (Chair):

“As chair of the board, I spend time with CG and the leadership team on their strategy and next steps. In the beginning of the year, there were many questions arising on challenges around how to help our population during COVID-19, as well as how Ample Labs can thrive. Despite those challenges, we are now operating in more cities than before and expanding to the U.S., which we will share more about at the AGM.”

Ali Asaria (Start-up Expert):

“My background is in technological innovation and scaling startups for growth. Chalmers is going well and surpassing expectations, the next phase is to go out there and ask for more support to scale for even greater impact. What CG has taught all of us is that the best software is made when you’re close to the users. Success isn’t just cool technology but listening and talking to the people it serves. ”

Sugan Mannavarajan (Community Builder):

“I look at how we can work with business and community allies in new and dynamic ways. My background has been in federal housing, business, and non-profits but I think of myself as a community builder and a futurist. I build people up and help them network but I don’t identify as just the title of my job in housing policy. I am relatively new to the board and look forward to supporting CG and the team, as well as learning from the journey.”

Andres Perez-Vilarino (Treasurer):

“My role in finance is to make sure we use these numbers to build a path moving forward. I help Ample Labs run sustainably. My background is in Ernst & Young, so the public sector is new to me and I’m learning quite a bit. When I first started, I was surprised to learn how common cell phone use is in homeless populations. People transitioning in or out of homelessness tend to be overlooked but the access to technology can play a key role in finding critical services.”

Shawn Fulham (Government relations):

“I work closely with CG and Todd on strategy with the municipal, provincial, and federal government. With any startup, there’s a threshold you need to pass. Ample Labs is now at a place where we can truly scale for impact, and it’s incredible seeing us go from a passion project to a fully fleshed out team.”

Charles McCarragher (Technology and Commercialization Strategy):

“I’ve shared with the Ample team a diversity of thought around commercialization opportunities. For many traditional non-profits, they rely on crowdfunding and fundraising, but Ample Labs has the opportunity to generate their own revenue by licensing Chalmers that will go back into the mission. Through Ample Labs, I’ve learned about hidden homelessness, and the importance of delivering impact before people cross that bridge of becoming chronically homeless.

3. Where do you see Ample Labs going in the future?

Dagmar Schroeder (Fundraising Specialist):

I would like to see Ample Labs sustainably funded so we can invest in the solution, the employees and impact research. Impact research will help us share what our technology is achieving and what users get out of the service. We are already going international. Once we get charitable status and attract donations, we can do even more. It’s hugely rewarding being a part of the board and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Lisa Durnford (Legal Specialist):

Chalmers is extremely valuable and needs to be in the hands of more people. I’m here to support getting the message and app out to as many people as possible. I love the approach Ample Labs has taken to educate the wider community, growing our audience and the number of cities that Chalmers is in. All the campaigns in telling the story of hidden homeless individuals, public campaigns with the couch in Yonge and Dundas square are all really important.

Franklin Garrigues (Chair):

The long-term goal is to reduce homelessness. We are helping people on the cusp or new to homelessness and supporting them from going further down the funnel into chronic homelessness. We want to improve mental health and tackle the systemic issues that youth face. Ample Labs is in a good space right now where we’re growing in new cities and the footprint of Chalmers will be even more far-reaching by this time next year. We’re still in our early stage and I’m here to support operations in any way possible.

Ali Asaria (Start-up Expert):

“Prior to Ample, I made the assumption that the problems Chalmers solved were already addressed. Unfortunately, it isn’t. While Ample Labs is expanding, there is still a large population of folks left without support. The next step for us is to continue to scale for impact. Ample Labs is a great example of a nonprofit with a startup mode, and I’d like to prove this model works. More nonprofits and social issues need innovation.

Sugan Mannavarajan (Community Builder):

“To help individuals in distress navigate complex systems is powerful. I want to see Chalmers standardized, adopted across Canada and the impact measured so more leaders understand it’s value. Connecting people in need with services is vital, and I would love to see more community leaders understand the role of technology in social issues.

Andres Perez-Vilarino (Treasurer):

“It’s time for us to grow and expand sustainably. We need to manage growth, but going forward we want to help more people be aware of Chalmers. I think for being out just a year and a half, we’ve had massive success. The plan right now is to expand to new countries and regions, and continue getting the message out to more institutions, services and cities.”

Shawn Fulham (Government relations):

“I would like to see Ample Labs take over Canada. I know we’re in 50% of Ontario and going to the U.S. Seeing Chalmers around the world would be great. The holy grail of where Ample Labs could go is to get recognition from the United Nations or an international organization to champion us. The impact we make is just beginning.”

Charles McCarragher (Technology and Commercialization Strategy):

“Ample Labs is on a good path of growth, working with municipalities and supporting them in their efforts. The challenge we face is to prioritize the efforts into what has the most impact. I help Ample manage those decisions and hopefully provide meaningful advice to support CG and the team. It’s been a challenging time for non-profits in 2020 and the fact that Ample is where it is, I want to acknowledge and congratulate the team.”

Thank you to our dedicated board of directors for supporting our mission!

Our volunteer board brings a wealth of experience and expertise, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. To conclude, here are a few stories and parting thoughts from Sugan Mannavarajan, a community builder and futurist who helped create Canada’s first $56B affordable housing project:

“When I did my first affordable housing project, a 16-year-old with a baby girl came up to me. A politician was doing the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but she said she heard I was doing a lot of the work behind it. She told me she had been living in a crack house and that this initiative has been the only thing that’s given her hope in a long time. I remember her face so clearly and I think about it all the time. It’s the faces that drive my work, not the numbers.

I remember meeting another individual, and his story was so impactful. I don’t remember his name but he was clearly educated by the way he spoke. He said he had an MBA from Schulich, and when I asked him how he got to this point in his life, he told me: ‘My brother was having an affair with my wife for the last ten years. When I found out, I became depressed and started hitting the pub. I missed work, lost my job and couldn’t pay my mortgage. Without an address, I can’t get a job. I’m part of the cycle now. This is my community now.’

Everyone spirals down from time to time, and you need someone to help you get out. You need tools, not being told to wait on a call. You might not even know what you need. When you think about someone fleeing domestic violence and understanding what is going on in their head, this is where Ample Labs and Chalmers can make a difference in someone’s experience. What does their experience look like? How do we change that experience?”

For more updates on the Ample Labs journey 👉 sign up for our monthly newsletter!

We are currently hiring! 👉 check out our positions here
Looking for partnership opportunities? 👉 Email cg@amplelabs.co

ample Labs is a social enterprise empowering those of us facing homelessness with technology. 👉 https://www.amplelabs.co