Listening First: A Lesson From My Past

There have been a handful of times throughout my life where my hardest learned lessons have been the most important. One example I’ve often reflected back on took place in the fall of 2018. As the founder and VP of Innovate Edmonton, I was leading the charge and pushing forward the concept of a new Innovation Hub in our downtown.

The idea was simple, provide an environment to house companies at all stages of growth and enable better access to key networks, investors, programming, and support. It was intended to increase growth both in that sector and for Edmonton’s economy as a whole. By centralizing a physical space for startups it would create collisions of ideas and projects, ignite collaborations, and support organizations as they scale-up. This wasn’t a new idea, rather it was a best practice that had been employed by leading tech cities around the world (think MaRS in Toronto). 

To say I was excited about this project would be an understatement. There was a group of us that saw this as a means of giving Edmonton an even stronger footing in the global innovation and tech sphere. We committed to involving the already strong local tech community as we took strides to secure a building and further build out our plans. 

Unfortunately, we had charged ahead when we should have stopped, expanded the group we were consulting, and tested the idea more broadly. We were well down the path when we began to hear that there was a major disconnect between our vision of this Innovation Hub and what Edmonton’s emerging tech community felt they needed most. Upon reflection, we had allowed our own perceptions to guide decisions that would affect an entire community. While we did bring groups in for consultation, it was well after the project was in motion.

We stopped the work immediately. We realized we needed to reset and recommit to meaningful and broad community engagement so that our actions would align with the tech community’s self-identified priorities and needs.

Out of this true engagement came the YEG Innovation Compass Action Plan representing the efforts of hundreds, if not thousands, of passionate voices who believe deeply in the potential of Edmonton’s tech-innovation ecosystem. After many studies, meetings, public hearings, media articles, and engagements, our entrepreneurial community and the organizations that support it were unified and ready to act. 

Stepping back and slowing down made our whole team, myself included, grow immensely. Transformative and sustainable change cannot, and should not be determined by a single person, entity, or even a small number of organizations. Instead we must be committed to listening and incorporating the voices of all affected. This experience had a profound and lasting impact on me and continues to reinforce my commitment to servant leadership and my belief in the power of collective action. 

It’s this mindset that must guide us to collaboratively and collectively build a prosperous future for our city where all Edmontonians feel valued and hopeful. This is why I’ve spent the past few months talking to as many Edmontonians as possible. And my commitment doesn’t end there. I will continue to listen to every voice, including yours, throughout my campaign. I want to hear about your experiences, how the City can work better for you, and what you envision for our future. I need to understand your lived experiences and hear from experts on a wide range of issues that affect our city. I value every perspective and I’m committed to weaving this collective wisdom into a meaningful plan, so that together we can build an even better Edmonton.


Yours in partnership,

Cheryll Signature