We are not alone - Lynn Hennigar
From the opening 20/20 sessions to the final wrap up the Georgetown Conference 2.0 was both an empowering and challenging conference. It opened with the compelling, and in some cases heartbreaking, personal stories of people leading change in this area.
Bassem Alataalah a newcomer to PEI from Syria was a highlight for me. Bassem had the courage to educate all of us on what Syria was before the conflict and the damage the conflict has inflicted. He reminded us that he didn’t choose to leave a good life and that all he’s asking for from us is a chance at a new one. Bassem’s revelation that it takes 365 days to get a driver’s license in PEI, where little or no public transportation makes driving a necessity, was just one example of the significant challenges newcomers face.
I was surprised and heartened by the many conversations around municipal government change and amalgamation. Our whole region is struggling with this. Municipal leaders, who understand the unsustainability of the current system, are working on how to engage the public so they too will understand the needs and benefits of working together. We were incredibly lucky to have a number of people from Pictou County attempt who could help us understand what went wrong and to learn from their mistakes.
My only disappointment came from speaker Doug Griffiths. While Mr Griffiths book, “13 Ways to Kill Your Community” is a great read, in his presentation, even after attending Bassem’s presentation, Mr. Griffiths continued to perpetuate the myth that our newcomers should just be grateful to be here - when really we should be grateful for the opportunity to welcome them.
Overall – The big message was we’re all struggling with the same issues, people don’t want to change anywhere, attitudes are a problem throughout the region and we’re not alone.
You couldn’t help but be inspired by this room full of change makers. Even those from Pictou County who arrived defeated gained strength from the room to begin talking about next steps and how to move forward in spite of their setback.
The issues and problems we face across this region are the same – more importantly though there is a growing group of people willing and dedicated to making the change needed to move us to prosperity.
Watch the presentations from Bassem Alataalah, a Syrian refugee living in rural PEI and Amanda Hill from Pictou County. Both participated in the 20 x 20 Speaker Series on the first day of the conference.
The second day of the conference began with a keynote from Chef Michael Smith. Michael lives in PEI and is one of Canada’s best-known chefs. He is a passionate advocate for simple, sustainable home cooking and an inspiration for families creating their own healthy food lifestyle. He’s also the host of Chef Michael’s Kitchen, Chef at Home and Chef Abroad seen on Food Network Canada.
He spoke to the group about challenges and opportunities on leading change in the region and asked the group these five key questions:
Participants then led the conference by holding conversations that were important to them.
What courageous conversations now will improve our solutions moving forward?
13 Ways to kill your communityThe day ended with the second keynote speaker, Doug Griffiths. Doug has two degrees but he has long said the best education he ever received was growing up on the farm. It taught him practical lessons about life and built in him a strong work ethic.
Concerned about the future of rural communities, he ran and won his first election to become the sixth youngest person to ever serve in the Alberta Legislature.
Doug took the group through the steps of his book, 13 Ways to Kill a Community. He told the group if you do not deal with these issues in your community it will become obsolete.
Two years ago the Georgetown Conference, held in Georgetown, Prince Edward Island was the catalyst for many Atlantic Canadian communities to jumpstart grassroots efforts at tackling the demographic and economic challenges impacting rural sustainability.
The follow up, Georgetown 2.0, Solutions, was held this past June 2-4, 2016. Passionate and inspiring leaders from across the Atlantic Region attended to identify and work through real issues in their communities.
NOWLC will be presenting a three-week series highlighting the conversations and learning coming out of Georgetown 2.0, including stories from those who attended from Luneneburg County.
We hope you enjoy the series and send your thoughts and comments along via the comment section at the bottom of this blog or to our email address at email@example.com
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE - Elspeth McLean-Wile
Georgetown 2.0 was a good opportunity to recharge the batteries by surrounding oneself with enthusiastic people committed to working to improve the prosperity of communities across Atlantic Canada.
At every opportunity I was able to easily slip into rich conversations with other participants who were involved in business or community projects that are or can contribute to a more vibrant economy… the couple from Newfoundland starting up a 400 head sheep farm. Step #1, clear 80 acres of forest to create pasture land!
In the world of agriculture today, there are not many starting at this significant size. Their backgrounds are not agriculture – food service and business! They will bring a very different perspective to the farming community.
Then there was the young man from eastern PEI who is dreams of opening a microbrewery and restaurant by May 2017. He needs a financing package valued at $1.5 million. He asked the group on options for financing and how he can get community investors. He got lots of ideas and input.
I could not help but sympathize with the folks from Pictou County who arrived just days after the plebiscite on amalgamation of four municipal units in the county. Three young women, the MacConnell sisters, shared their experiences working on the “YES” campaign. Lisa MacDougall, the Chief Operating Officer for New Glasgow, shared stories of hostile public meetings. Residents were pitted against each other in ways many had never seen before.
I was most interested in learning why there was such hostility around a realistic and inevitable discussion. What lessons can our community learn about how we approach these discussions and how to include public input that contributes to improving the outcomes? Clearly, the broad community needs to be party to all aspects of amalgamation proposal building. These discussions need to start at the grassroots with citizens and build up. Many of our elected officials appear afraid to bring these discussions to open forums and take the time to insure public understanding and knowledge of the implications of amalgamation. The public meetings in Pictou County appear to have come too late in the process to allay the fear of higher taxes, loss of representation and community identity. There reis plenty for the residents of Lunenburg County to consider as our councillors toy with the notion of amalgamation.
Rural communities across the region share many similar experiences with depopulation, loss of infrastructure and challenging economics. There were lots of conversations about the inability of government to change the “tide of demise”; that tide will only turn when ordinary citizens lead the change, community by community.
The conference this year had a strong focus on participant participation. This became evident on day one, when the conference began with the 20 x 20 speaker series. A showcase of participants from across the region sharing their stories of triumphs and challenges of getting change done. One of the participant speakers was Darrin Mitchell of Trout River Industries. He tells his remarkable story of starting up a business in rural PEI that now has global reach. "I told people we were awesome and then had to prove it!" Check out the video below
The group identified forces impacting their solution building.
Day one closed with the questions summarizing people's current reality.
Tina Hennigar is the population growth coordinator for NOW Lunenburg County.