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Elizabeth Fisher is holding space for women entrepreneurs—and their most important stakeholders.
Like most co-working spaces, East Vancouver’s OneSpace has plenty of amenities for a working professional: hotdesks and private offices, meeting rooms and airy networking spaces, a lush array of leafy green plants. There’s one big difference, however: as you’re typing away, you might also notice playful pitter-patter (and the occasional pounce) coming from upstairs, where the community’s youngest members spend their days.
Local entrepreneur Elizabeth Fisher dreamed up this space—where mothers can reserve time to focus on their careers while their kids are cared for on site—from a far less supportive place: a cramped coat closet under the stairs in her rented basement suite.
“I had no community,” Fisher says of 2016, the year she launched her first nonprofit organization while surrounded by winter wear and all the demands of new motherhood. “I had no access to other moms. I had no access to entrepreneurs. I felt like I was doing it completely alone and it was hard—it really affected my mental health.”
Plus, she had a terrible time finding affordable care for her son.
Just months after incorporating her nonprofit, Fisher learned she was pregnant. Her son arrived just as she began facilitating programs for local at-risk youth. “He grew up in a lot of the places we were doing programs,” she says, “but there were times when I needed childcare.”
Unfortunately for Fisher, and for tens of thousands of Vancouver parents, a shortage of licenced, affordable childcare spaces has plagued this city, (not to mention the province and the entire country) for generations. In 1970, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women urged the federal government to prioritize the implementation of a high-quality universal childcare system in order to help Canadian women obtain social and economic equality. More than 50 years later, B.C. and the majority of the country remain in the early stages of rolling out a universal $10-a-day plan.
At the end of 2021, Vancouver’s existing childcare system met the needs of just 24 percent of families with children three and under; 45 percent of families with children ages three to five; and 39 percent of families with children ages five and up, according to the city’s most recently published estimates.
Back when $10-a-day childcare was just a limited pilot program, Fisher jumped on a rare opening at an in-home daycare in her neighbourhood, but the price tag was unsustainable. “I was paying $1,200 a month, thinking, ‘I don’t need this much care.’”
Just four years into the juggle, with another baby on the way, Fisher made the tough decision to call it quits. She shuttered her nonprofit and took a leave in order to focus on welcoming her second child.
All the while, Fisher says, she kept returning to the same thought: Why doesn’t Vancouver have a co-working space that provides everything a working parent needs in one place?
In 2018, she got the push she needed to make her dream workspace a reality. While attending a gendered investing conference downtown, she casually mentioned her idea for a co-working space with childcare to a powerhouse female lawyer in attendance.
The response was immediate, Fisher recalls: “Are you doing it soon? Here’s my card. Call me when you do this.”
That was all the market research she needed. While businesses fled the city in droves at the start of the pandemic, Fisher made her way in. She scored a reasonable lease on a warehouse just a few blocks from her home and spent the rest of 2020 prepping the space for both adult and pint-sized members.
Parenthood is not a pre-requisite for joining OneSpace. However, members with children ages 10 months to five years can take advantage of the onsite Children’s Atelier space. Staffed by early childhood educators, the program offers four-hour childminding sessions for as little as $14 per hour. Single-hour bookings range from $20 to $25 per hour.
Fisher also wanted to create a space that’s geared to women by its very design. A self-proclaimed introvert, Fisher says that many women don’t feel comfortable in traditional co-working spaces that prioritize open seating and networking. “I don’t like walking through a space and feeling like I’m being watched by a bunch of people. In a co-working space by men for men, that’s what it feels like.”
Instead, Fisher’s OneSpace aims to offer a work-from-home vibe. “Everyone has their own nook. Everyone has their own desk.” But there are also distinct spaces to gather—or take a much-needed break. “I will sometimes deliberately sit out in the open and watch TV shows, just to be like, ‘This is okay,’” Fisher says. “Radical permission to give yourself whatever you need.”
While she aims to expand to new locations in the future, Fisher says she has no illusions about single-handedly solving the city’s childcare shortage. “I think a really big part of empowering moms is giving them choice, and making that choice accessible,” she says. “We can’t be a full-time daycare, but we’re providing another option, another choice. It won’t work for everyone, but it’s one more option.”
On the heels of the space’s second anniversary, the community has grown to include women—and some men—working in a wide range of fields: videography and photography, architecture, law, physical and mental well-being.
Still, figuring out how to draw women out of isolation, especially post-pandemic, has been a challenge. “As moms, we don’t allow ourselves to prioritize ourselves—and prioritize community connection. So if we can get by working from home, we try to get by working from home,” Fisher says. “But you can get by a lot better here because you can chat to other moms; you can have a way broader range of support.”