A tour of two states
IT WAS IN LATE MAY that 120 mid-career professionals from more than 22 countries met for the first time in Ottawa to embark on the Caribbean-Canada Emerging Leaders’ Dialogue (CCELD).
We were told that it would be an intensive two-week leadership development conference, expected to provide a unique learning experience for the selectees from the private sector, government, labour and civil society.
The criteria included the fact that we were seen as proven energetic leaders identified as a having a vision and a future focus and who had demonstrated strong personal values. We were also identified as having potential for senior leadership positions and expected to make a continuing contribution in the years to come.
We met in Ottawa for a few days before separating into ten groups to visit one of ten Canadian cities and then one of ten Caribbean countries.
I was assigned to Group 10 comprising two group co-chairs, Gershan Major, of the Bahamas and Ruby Patrickson, of Toronto. Canada. The other members of the group were Collin Francis and Dalia King, of Trinidad, Sonia Boddie, St Kitts-Nevis, Eric Leukert, Wendy Luther and Commander Bill Quinn, of Canada, Natalio Wheatley, of British Virgin Islands, Duane Noel, of Grenada and Richard Green.
Group 10 toured Montreal and Dominican Republic (DR) – primarily Santo Domingo and Bonaire.
The Montreal tour was comprehensive as it covered in depth organizations from the NGO, private, government and labour sectors. In contrast, we met only with private and government organizations in the DR and this may have been because the tour included a weekend, thus making it difficult to add more site visits to the itinerary.
The team was particularly impacted by the juxtaposition of Montreal and the Dominican Republic. Montreal has a history of an active social and government involvement, which lends to the development of strong processes and regulatory frameworks, advancing and funding a variety of interests.
For example, the arts, the underprivileged, the city’s infrastructure. However, this social spending has led to increasing deficits and high personal taxes.
In sharp contrast, I found that the Dominican Republic is challenged by a large population with little representation, where even the country’s history reflects the priority of foreign interests over social progress.
There were four leadership themes emerging from our various visits. The first was motivation for leadership where it was found that leaders in both cities emerged and evolved when there was a need.
A fine example of this was my visit to the YMCAs, of Quebec, which were established to cater to the needs of people in Montreal. It was also clear that there are varying motivations that inspire leadership, as was showcased in Montreal in the establishment of a circus school to provide professionals for Cirque du Soleil and other circuses in the city.
In the DR, there was the example of a coal mining company leading major reforestation efforts to ensure that lands were protected following mining operations.
The second theme was situational leadership which examined the ability of leaders in both countries to achieve their goals within different frameworks and in some cases their decision making involved huge tradeoffs.
During my travels, I witnessed imbalances between private and public sector interests which underscored the need for checks and balances and which served as our third theme.
What was observed highlighted the importance of institutional accountability, transparency and legal and regulatory frameworks. It was also clear that civil society and the individual had played a major role in ensuring accountability and the effectiveness of leadership.
The fourth theme examined the challenges to organizational leadership in both countries. One such challenge is the global concern of aging demographics which is having a significant impact on migration and immigration policies of government specifically in Quebec which has Canada’s most aged population.
I also saw the significant need to adequately identify, prepare and release the next cadre of leaders for organisations and countries based on knowledge and capacity and not gender, race or ethnicity. It was felt that knowledge transfer was critical for institutional strengthening and sustainability.
During the tour, I also recognized that gender equality and work/life balance continues to be a major challenge for both genders in seeking to focus on life-enriching activities and passions while avidly pursuing career or academic goals. Raising families and attempting to balance one’s career without negatively impacting or sacrificing either remained an area of debate that members of our group grapple with.
Another challenge to organizational leadership that was cited is the fact that globalization demands education and linguistic capacity for 21st century competitiveness. It is widely recognized that today’s demands are global.
Therefore knowledge based economies require a global response, where effective communication and expanded linguistic capacities are no longer a choice but a necessity. The need to build upon multiple language skills beginning at the primary school level all the way to tertiary is a must.
I experienced this first hand as we travelled from French to Spanish speaking communities, and was sometimes lost in the translations!
When the groups reconvened in Barbados, we all agreed that it was definitely a life changing experience and pledged our support to ensure that more professionals benefited from such exchanges.