Monday, September 26, 2011

Everything’s Gone Green

Three days in Vancouver.  Three days to sprint from meeting to meeting, with such an array of people.  Mayors, city administrators, port authorities, immigrant settlement organizations.  We visited the Insite supervised injection site in the Downtown East side.  It affected me on so many levels, I am still trying to make sense of it.

What struck me most about this visit?  First, the language of green is everywhere.  It was a key element of almost every organization we encountered.  Vancouver has a goal to be the greenest city on earth by 2020.  When even the Port Authority has it as a major element of their strategic plan, you know that something is happening. 

Second, there really does seem to be an emerging consensus that the most effective way to deal with homelessness is to provide housing.  Sounds obvious, yet when I think back to our visit in January to Calgary, there was quite a debate going on.  Do we increase funding and support to shelters, or do we invest in supportive housing?  Certainly, in BC the view appears to be that housing is the way to go.  Virtually everyone we met with spoke with passion and conviction about this, and there are ambitious plans in place to provide the housing needed.  Surrey has already gone quite far in this area, and Victoria is moving quickly.  And there is a very ambitious plan to provide many more units in the downtown east side of Vancouver.
This leg of our journey truly highlighted for me the richness and diversity of leadership types.  From directive, take-charge types, to others who were typical of the “leading from behind” school, to others who favoured a collaborative, team-based approach.  Different styles for different circumstances.   There was a constant, though.  They were completely present.  They were passionate and determined.  They were committed.  So, dare I say it?  I wonder whether we grow those kinds of leaders in the public service.  We are pretty risk-averse, and we do not reward people who deviate too far from our public service norm.  I know that we have lots of talented people, but are we as great as we could be?  When we hire someone, do we ask ourselves, “is this someone who wants to make Canada better?” What would happen if everyone did that?

It makes me wonder what kind of leader I am, and what do I need to do to be a better one?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

If this is Tueday....where am I?

Finally have arrived in Vancouver, where we have the luxury of three nights in the same hotel!  Since Sunday, it has been a hullabaloo of activity, with very little sleep and a bewildering array of meetings.

We arrived late Sunday at our hotel in Victoria, and had to check out the next morning, because we had to go straight from our last meeting to the airport for a flight to Kelowna.  We met with the Chief Constable for Victoria, who talked about the importance of being rooted in the community, and the positive difference that the police can make.  We then had a couple of meetings with some amazingly impressive deputy ministers from the province....incidentally, both women.  They were each very different from the other, but clearly impressive leaders.  And they are driving a major change initiative through the province....really focused on two things:  driving greater efficiency and focus in the public service, and re-orienting programs and service delivery to be about citizen service and open government.  It took my breath away.  And I was  bit envious, since their entire public service is 21,000 people, and as they pointed out, that is a good size to undertake the kind of change they seek.  Much much harder to do in a huge, decentralized organization such as ours.

We also met with the mayor....and it brought back fond memories of my time working on the cities file.  Mayors are fascinating people.  They work so closely with their citizens, and I have never met a mayor who was not passionate about their work.  He was quite candid in saying that  he thinks he has the best job in the world. He is a pragmatic idealist, who clearly loves his city (and really, what's not to love about Victoria?  it is a gorgeous city with an excellent quality of life).

Our flight to Kelowna required a layover at Vancouver's airport, and with the incredible delay in getting our luggage, we did not arrive at the hotel till 9 pm....only to find that my "accessible" room had not been readied for me.  I was still on Ottawa time, and had had about 5 hours sleep the previous night, and by the time my room was ready it was 11, and we had a 4 a.m. wake up call.  Oh, I do love to sleep, and really need at least 6 hours to feel human.  I lose a lot of brain cells without a good sleep.  

That being said, we had a series of meetings in Kelowna that were superb....from the Chief of the extremely successful Osoyoos band, who told us about his formula....which is quite simple: focus on economic development and achieving full employment on the reserve, and many of the other problems can be fixed.  It was frustrating to not have time to visit a bit longer on the reserve, because I felt there was so much to learn there.

Our afternoon took us back to Kelowna for meetings with people involved in building the high tech sector....such a refreshing set of visits with people full of ideas, and the infrastructure to make things happen.  

Okay....can we talk weather and location?  It is GORGEOUS! Mountains, vineyards, orchards, the's no wonder people flock here to retire.  But the focus now is to attract young entrepreneurs, to diversify the economy, and take advantage of the fantastic location.

Stay tuned for more....Vancouver is proving to be a very rich and rewarding visit!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

so I forgot my toothbrush and we got fogged in.....

It was obviously my fault.  Despite warnings that Cape Dorset gets a lot of fog, and there is always a risk that planes can't land, I went with the weather forecast....sunny, with a 30% chance of fog.  A calculated risk.  When we got to the Iqaluit airport we were warned that our outbound plane might not be able to land, but at the last minute we got the green light and off we went to this tiny hamlet, and mecca for Inuit art.  It has the highest number of artists per capita in canada.  
We were so graciously received. I want to give a shout out to Olayuk Akesuk, former MLA and Cabinet Minister for the Territory, who is now the CAO for the hamlet....and an amazing man.  Deeply rooted in his culture, but very savvy about the Southern world and its ways.  He organized a wonderful day for us, with meetings with the Deputy Mayor, members of the local RCMP detachment. And he arranged for the one accessible van, used to transport disabled school kids and elders around the community, to be available to take me around.  We had a brief driving tour of the community, which is beautifully situated among spectacular rocky hills, and the water.  Very picturesque....except for the very large and very visible dump just on the outskirts of the community.

The highlight for me was the lunch at the community centre.  Understand that this is a very remote community and food is not easy to ship in.  But we were treated to a lovely lunch of arctic char soup and bannock.  And then two young girls from the local high school treated us to a throat singing performance, and it was so good it may the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  It is an intricate art form and quite mesmerizing.

We had a crash course in the community....formed some 60 years ago when the nomadic peoples of the region were "relocated" to this hamlet, to make it easier for government officials to manage them, and the fur trade. The arrival of alcohol has had a tremendous effect on the community.  According to the RCMP, 90% of the crime can be attributed to drinking, including some rampant domestic violence.  There is also a lot of teen pregnancy, and we saw lots of young mothers carrying their babies on their backs, in their traditional coats.

But it is also a hotbed of creativity. In the 60s, James Houston arrived in town with a create a community of carvers and print makers.  Until then, carving had been for personal use and often very utilitarian.  Since then, the Dorset Artists Coop has become world famous for the quality of its work, many of which are in galleries, including the National Gallery in Ottawa, and some of which are available to rent through the Canada Council Art Bank (I know, because I have a couple of gorgeous modern sculptures in my office).  We were so excited to visit the studio, however it was bereft of both artists and art on the day of our visit.  No artists were on-site that day, and most of the art had been packed for shipment to their affiliated gallery in Toronto.  There were a few pieces left, and we descended on them like hungry art wolves.  I did pick up a lovely print, and one of my colleagues, Helena acquired a spectacular piece of sculpture.

We headed back to the airport with our loot only to hear our plane fly by overhead, and then be told that the pilot had opted not to land, given the poor visibility.  Hard to take, but easy to understand given the recent terrible First Air crash in Nunavut.  Fortunately, there was room at the "nice" hotel, and even though we had to double bunk, we were pleased to have beds!  Dinner was whatever we could find at the convenience store, which, fortunately, also stocked toothbrushes and toothpaste....hooray!

A few of us were able to get on a noon flight out the next day on a different airline that had three seats available....and we were thrilled to get to back to Iqaluit. Our colleagues spent their afternoon making more purchases of art (the hotel owner, who is a going concern and currently building two additional hotels in the community) has turned her home into a gallery where hotel guests can spend even more money (our hotel bill was $275....per person!) on some lovely pieces of art.  

Now, we are back in Iqaluit.  It is our last day, and we will have an opportunity to review what we have learned and try to understand what it means for Canada, for the public service, and for us as stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

leadership through laughter

we spent yesterday afternoon at the elders' kammuk  - - their community centre.  It was a beautiful introduction into the special relationship that the Inuit have with their elders.  They are respected and the goal is to ensure their participation.  We discovered the Inuit love of games....many involving simple competitions that anyone can play...often using a pair of dice.  But some of the games were designed to hone skills - - such as the game with a small object suspended from the ceiling, pierced with holes.  Participants were handed sticks with sharpened points, and the goal was to successfully penetrate the small hole in the middle of object.  The game was designed to develop harpoon skills. One of our members proved particularly adept at this....and I wonder how he might capitalize on this new-found talent in his daily life as a senior public servant!

We were treated to some amazing Inuit legends told by a master storyteller from Greenland.  Inuit myths (at least the 3 we heard) are dark and disturbingly beautiful.  I heard a new version of the Sedna legend...the goddess who rules the waters and the animals of the water, with her long tangled hair, and chopped off hands.  

We had a demonstration of Inuit carving by a master carver (outside, my feet froze!) He showed us the evolution of the tools used by the Inuit, and the various types of stone used.  His work was beautiful.

But what impressed me most was the absolute inclusion of the elders.  The respect shown them, and their absolute joy in participating was such a marked contrast to our "southern" Canadian approach.  Here, the community had built a beautiful building, overlooking the bay, sun-filled and practical, and it was a place of welcome. 

Afterwards, we went to the cultural centre, for an overview of the Inuit artistic tradition, which is a rich one.  The belief is that everyone has creative talent, and that it just requires practice and an openness to learning.  And we had a brief opportunity to contribute to the local economy at their gallery gift shop.  I did my best!

a new northern journey begins

September 13, 2011

Well, it is time to start up again.  Here I am, heading north to Iqaluit, capitol of Nunavut.  It is the last chapter of our leadership adventure.  Now, I don’t want to suggest that there is no learning that happens between our travels…it is simply that being away from your day-to-day world makes you more open and sensitive to new experiences.  I find myself in constant “receive” mode.  I am so looking forward to this trip. I last visited Iqaluit in the summer of 2006, as part of consultations on infrastructure.  It was just an overnight trip, but I was eager to return.

So stay tuned….this promises to be another great adventure!

Monday, May 16, 2011

incredible india!

What can I say?  I think I am falling in love!  Yes, it is noisy.  Yes, it is crowded.  Yes, there is poverty.  But it is spectacularly beautiful.  You can smell the fragrant flowering trees in the breeze.  They are a remarkably handsome population.  They dress beautifully.  They are gracious and kind.  They are amazing entrepreneurs.
Maybe it is Bengalore that is causing me to swoon.  From our arrival (at 1:30 a.m.!) at their new, lovely international airport, to our walk to the cars in the soft night air, to our spectacular greeting at the hotel (ITC Windsor), we are having a rich experience. I was greeted with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers and when I asked for a vase in which to keep them, the charming man asked whether I would give him permission to take them away, and put them in an arrangement.  Which they did. Below is the photo. 

Our first day was supposed to be more touristy, and we had lined up a visit to an ashram about 45 minutes from our hotel.  Just before leaving, we were advised that the spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravishankar, was present and would be available for a private audience.  What a treat!  It is a lovely location, and there were thousands of people milling about, waiting for the open-air session with the guru.  He was very charming, and spoke to us about his leadership model, which is really about facilitating others.  At the same time, he acknowledged that he had been driven from a very young age by a vision of a world without violence and without stress, and he has dedicated his life to that vision. And he now has a presence in many countries, and a separate foundation dedicated to world peace.  We started with a meditation session, which was all about stilling the loud voices and listening to oneself.  I could sense the scepticism of my colleagues, and was trying hard to suspend my own tendency to judgement.  The guru's followers seemed a very happy group of people, dedicated to their cause.  They are doing a lot of good work with the rural poor in India, and with prisoners and at-risk youth in many countries.  They have no religious affiliation...they are promoting an approach to meditation with the goal of a more harmonious world.  Who knows?

We also met a beautiful elephant named Indrani, who let me pat her trunk.

  And we visited the ayurvedic university he has set up where he had a brief tour of the facilities.  We finished up in the magical temple…a bit like a rounded wedding cake, all white and pink (for lotus blossoms) and gold, and with breathtaking views in every direction.  

And the food here in Bengalore!  Oh my.  Even trying to stick to vegetarian food here, I can feel my waist expanding. 

So looking forward to the rest of our meetings.  What a great start!

Of consensus and state capitalism

Our brief visit to Oslo was very intriguing.  It is the richest country on earth, blessed with a huge supply of oil and gas.  It also has a very industrialized past in shipping and fishing, with an excellent labour force. As one of our speakers noted, “we are about the sea…underneath it, in it, and on it”.
They are a fascinating example of a socially progressive country trying to deal with massive wealth (a sovereign wealth fund valued at 500B).  They are managing this wealth cautiously…NOT using it to lower taxes, or invest in mega infrastructure.  Rather, they are using it as a rainy day fund, investing it much as pension funds are invested…cautiously and for the longer term. 
It is a country that has been remarkably cohesive.  There is a social contract that everyone…government, business and labour…adheres to.  Their systems seem designed to keep things moving forward carefully and sustainably.  I was surprised by the consistency of messaging from the variety of people with whom we met.  Being a small country, they put enormous emphasis on the rule of law, and international frameworks.  They are also adamant about the importance of evidence-based decision-making and the importance of science.  There were concerns that advocates have supplanted hard science (this in respect to oil and gas development).

The degree of consensus was impressive.  At one point, however, I found myself asking whether it was too good to be true? 

The downside was accessibility.  Full marks to our wonderful hotel, the Continental,  however the same could not be said for every place we visited.  One ministry, housed in the former Gestapo headquarters, did not have accessible washrooms…and most of the existing ones were accessed via a flight of stairs!  And many of the shops in the downtown were completely inaccessible.  It appears that older buildings are not required to accommodate wheeled people.  That meant that I spent no money at all on purchases.  And I could not understand how a society so given to social cohesion and so unbelievably wealthy, would not have universal access.  Disappointing.