In the four days I spent at the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Shapers conference, I learned that most cities have similar problems: funding challenges, old and troubled infrastructure, poverty. While there, I learned from these leaders about how they’re solving those problems, so we might apply the best ideas here, and talking about how Edmonton is solving these problems, so that they can take what we’ve been doing back to their cities.
The work of the Global Shapers program is for promising young leaders to undertake scalable projects that make a local impact in their city, and then share the lessons learned and best practices with peers across the globe at the World Economic Forum. Projects include using financial literacy education as a way to reduce poverty in Chicago; the New York group is working on a program that connects moving companies with food banks to help with logistics.
More importantly, I had the opportunity to tell Edmonton’s story. Internationally, we have pockets of recognition out there – some people know about our Fringe Festival, that we have outstanding medical research facilities, a great school system and that we host thousands of international students, among other things. But for the most part, we have an entire world ready to listen to what’s happening in our city. And, as we all know, Edmonton has a lot to tell the world.
I talked to people from Ukraine, India, the US and China about our exceptional waste management system. I took questions about the oilsands from at least 10 countries and challenged their misconceptions in the process. Talking to a teacher from Belize, I connected him with an Edmonton NGO, Literacy Without Borders, that is doing some great work in his country. I had the chance talk to David Aikman, who oversees the Global Shapers project, about Edmonton’s Next Gen initiative, and discussed the possibility of making it a broader initiative in other cities.
I also had a chance to learn about what other cities are doing and how they are dealing with similar problems. The rep from Austin and I hit it off immediately, discussing infill policy, developing LRT and the importance of arts and festivals to a city’s identity. At the end of one conversation, I gave him my Edmonton Fringe Festival sunglasses.
A major highlight for me came when talking to Josh Carpenter from the Oxford hub, who lit up when I said I was from Edmonton and then went on to tell me how exceptional Edmonton’s schools are. Our education system is a source of pride for our city, but it was thrilling to see how far our reputation had travelled in that area.
Telling Edmonton’s story — nationally and internationally, even within our own borders — isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s essential. But, quite frankly, it isn’t something that we do very well. Despite all the fantastic progress our city has made in the last six years, we haven’t shared our successes with the world the way we should. At last year’s economic development consultation, The Way We Prosper, this was one of our business leaders’ most pressing concerns.
We can’t fall back on clichés any longer, or apologize, or make excuses – we need to address this problem head on if we want to continue to grow as a globally competitive city. I think Make Something Edmonton and EEDC will help begin to solve that problem, but we need to keep asking ourselves if we’re telling the right story for the right moment.
But our mayor and councillors can’t be our only ambassadors – and I’m certainly not advocating that we send the mayor and council on never-ending international junkets. We have extraordinary people in this city that can do that work for us since they are already out in the world. All of our business, cultural, sport, and non-profit leaders need to be armed with a unified, compelling story to tell about Edmonton, in their own words, whether they’re on Jasper Avenue or in Toronto, Lisbon, Beijing, or Perth. Why is it essential? To attract talent, investment, and attention. But it’s also an emotional matter, a way to put our pride into words.
And, again, no tax dollars were harmed on this trip. Now, that’s enough international work. It’s time to get hyper-local and check out the Fringe.
[This post is a follow up from this earlier post on the subject.]