Sunday, 6 October 2013


The past few days at the inaugural Georgetown Conference (Theme: Rural Redefined) have inspired me.

This was no ordinary gathering. "Doers and producers" in the four Atlantic Canadian Provinces -- Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador --  representing communities as small as about 100, assembled to share success stories. Patron sponsor, Newspapers Atlantic, deliberately hand-picked delegates after an application process. They wanted people who were making a difference in their rural community. They also wanted a right mix of gender, geography, experience and background. They got it right. They also deliberately went out of their way to ensure this was not a government-sponsored or a government directed event. The effort was to showcase and bring together the activist grassroots community. I could have counted the number of elected officials on two fingers or so.

Much of the Georgetown Conference was recorded, archived and will made available online. My views, below, just touch the highlights as I saw the conference.

My first inspiration came from the conference's very first presenter, Zita Cobb out of Fogo Island, NL, and founder of Shorefast Foundation. She has turned people's perception of rural, outport communities on its head. Yes, the people in the community can leave to explore the world, come back, and make a difference. Her signature legacy, in my view, is her Fogo Island Inn designed by Norwegian architect Todd Saunders.

Following Zita was a fellow Newfoundlander, the effervescent Donna Butt, artistic Director of the Rising Tide Theatre in Trinity, NL.  Her presentation resonated with me because I had experienced an outdoor play in Trinity a few years ago with an overnight stay at the Fishers Loft that was so memorable the details remain crystal clear. The whole community it seems has become part of a remarkable tourist attraction on the arts.

Well, the keynote speaker for "Challenges to Rural Community" had to be another highlight. Doug Griffiths, MLA from Wainwright, Alberta, gave an entertaining, educational and powerful presentation.  He co-authored the book "13 Ways to Kill Your Community". But it wasn't doom and gloom. It was a clarion call to get our act together and look out for those things we need to fix or avoid to improve our quality of rural place. His credibility rated high as he personally visited hundreds of communities to seek out what ails them, in order to understand rural issues -- problems and successes.

John Bragg, from the Bragg Group, Collingwood NS, and Barry Kyle, from Industrial Rubber Co., Bathurst NB and Labrador City NL gave their success story (with struggles along the way). They spoke about the importance and value of people to create vibrant communities and businesses. They spoke about reaching out beyond our borders, to the world's markets, to become competitive and be at the leading edge in their field.

Definitely, hands-down favourite presenter with the crowd was the no-nonsense, "kick in the pants" inspirational mayor from Yarmouth NS,  Mayor Pam Mood.

Sometimes it requires a strong character to deal with a community crisis (see blog post on Chemainus, British Columbia). Heavens knows the Town of Yarmouth has had its share. But this did not deter Mayor Mood from turning things on its ear. Her "All Hands on Deck" program inspired the town to collaborate and make a fundamental shift in attitude -- a first step to create a viable and vibrant community. I highly recommend her as a keynote speaker to other towns facing an attitude and cannot-do mindset. She did. You can.


Media celebrity Shaun Majumder, actor and founder of "The Gathering" and the "Burlington Business Initiative", Burlington NL moderated the most important (in my view) final session of the conference with our next generation entrepreneurs:
Nick MacGregor, MacLellan's Brook NS
Brendan ("B-man") Curran, Alberry Plains PEI
Maxime ("Baby Steps") Gauvin, NB
Melissa Jackson, St John's NL and New Glasgow NS

Each entrepreneur gave their story and their views on what needed to be done to deal with youth out migration. The session ended with a discussion on Majumder-inspired projects and community-involved revitalization of home town, Burlington NL -- such as Majumder Manor.

I would apply to attend another Georgetown Conference. But I realise that to be accepted this would require that I continue to work hard to be a "doer" or "producer". Georgetown is no place for slackers, dreamers or spectators. I guess that's what I liked about this Georgetown Conference. Unlike other conferences I have attended, where delegates return home and the event quickly becomes history, these delegates will take home the ideas they freely shared in Georgetown and re-jig their work back home to become even more effective in building vibrant rural communities.

A representative from British Columbia, stood up at the end went to the stage and told everyone, "we need a Georgetown Conference in the Kootenays. Nova Scotians looked to Kentville, Yarmouth or Cape Breton for a Georgetown Conference. Someone yelled out "we need one in Africa". Majumder pointed to his compatriot from Trinity and said we need a Georgetown Conference in Trinity, Newfoundland and Labrador. The Georgetown Conference is not over yet -- not by a long shot.

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