Challenging the region of Northwestern Ontario

More than 150 people from Northwestern Ontario told government what we can do—and how they can help—during the “Innovation Summit” meeting, organized by FedNor, on June 6 in Thunder Bay.
I was one of eight facilitators, who had the task of guiding participants through a day of hard and fast work. We also had the pleasure of listening to some excellent points on innovation by Louise Paquette, director general of FedNor, and Confederation College president Pat Lang.
I pass them along here.
FedNor recently has published two policy papers—“Achieving Excellence” and “Knowledge Matters.” With reference to those, Paquette threw out four challenges:
•Know and build on your strengths.
•Develop your capacity deliberately.
•Set goals that are demanding yet attainable.
•Create something new—more than once!
Paquette also gave us some catch words that are useful to keep in mind and on which to take action. They are all part of innovation:
•Investment; and, most of all,
•“I will work on this!”
She also reminded us of this wise saying—“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”
Lang also threw out four challenges:
•Our aboriginal population must be productively involved.
•We must bridge the gap between the I.T. haves and have-nots.
•We must improve our education performance (fewer people here finish high school, fewer have trade certification, and fewer have university degrees than the provincial average). We must come to rank above that average!
•We must reduce unemployment, which also is higher than the provincial average.
Then Lang encouraged further innovation by citing a number of examples of original, successful projects already going on in the region. She described eight areas in which good things are happening:
1. New businesses based on science, engineering, and technology.
2. The best and brightest can find work right here in the region.
3. We have some amazing young entrepreneurs.
4. Our environment inspires businesses and services uniquely suited to this region—in some cases with technology from elsewhere adapted to our conditions.
5. We are tackling old problems in new ways.
6. We are seeking and applying innovation in low-tech as well as high-tech applications.
7. Our post-secondary institutions are in the midst of exciting new projects.
8. We are taking positive steps to include our aboriginal population in post-secondary offerings, with curriculum suited to their culture and to bridging cultures.
I was impressed with Pat Lang’s very real examples. They take too long to record here, but you can contact her to get them.
Meanwhile, for which points can you find examples in your community? If you are one of the people doing innovative things, great. Don’t stop. If you find one or more examples, great. Don’t belittle them or be envious. Support them and be encouraged yourself.
That’s tending your own and the region’s future.
Linda Wiens is president of Quetico Centre near Atikokan and executive director of the Prairie Crossing Institute in Chicago; as well as an educator, facilitator, and planning consultant.