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Former Calgary mayor speaks to MBAs on building better communities

Mar 22, 2023

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Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi addresses students as part of the MBA Capstone project speaker series

“In this increasingly fractured and divided world, we are all part of the tapestry that builds community.”

On March 16, former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi addressed the MBA Class of ’23 as the final guest among a series of speakers to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing our communities and the role smart infrastructure can play. To close out the academic year, MBAs took part in a Capstone project course centring around building resilient, intelligent infrastructure for cities.

Assistant Professor and Director of the Lawrence National Centre for Policy & Management Romel Mostafa introduced Nenshi as the “charismatic leader of community building.”

Nenshi opened his talk with full transparency, stating he would be focusing less on ideas around building smart infrastructure and more on the broader question, what is our role as business leaders in our communities moving forward?

Speaking in the Indigenous languages of Calgary and surrounding areas, Nenshi said, “’Greetings to all my relations.’ The phrase reminds us that, in this increasingly fractured and divided world, we are all part of the tapestry that builds community.”

In October 2021, during the transition stage for Calgary’s incoming mayor, Nenshi was honoured with a ceremonial headdress by the aboriginal elders from the Treaty Seven territory. An elder told Nenshi that the direct translation does not actually mean headdress, but “war bonnet,” and that Nenshi was being acclaimed as a warrior. “It means you are fighting our battle,” the elder had said. “You are embodying the spirit of warrior – a warrior for a better community, a warrior for justice and for change.”

Nenshi shared the story with the MBAs to instill a sense of being a warrior. “Every single one of us holds the power to make a better community,” he said.

Collective responsibility

Nenshi moved on to stress the significance of land acknowledgments today as being not just statements about the past, but as a reminder of our collective responsibility to create better communities.

“In addition to being a statement about where we have come from, it’s a statement about who we are today,” he said. “But much more important, it’s an intentional statement about the community we’re trying to build in the future. The future we are going to build together is a future that is based on where we have come from collectively, whether our families have been here for a generation or for thousands of years. We are all signatories to those treaties, which means we are all required to build a world that is better than the one we have today.”

A wet clay moment

Sharing a rather daunting hypothesis that our societies are currently facing at least five simultaneous crises, Nenshi expressed a belief that, “the fact we are facing these crises at the same time means we are living in an extraordinary moment in human history – a moment of extraordinary creativity. It is a moment where we have the opportunity to shape our future. And the question is, are we willing to take that opportunity?”

Nenshi referred to this window of opportunity for our future leaders as a wet clay moment. “The clay is wet and can be molded. But here’s the thing about wet clay – it hardens fast.” As Ivey MBAs are nearing a new chapter in their lives and entering the work force, Nenshi reminded them of their incredibly powerful position to make real change “before the clay hardens.”

Nenshi then delved into each of the five crises facing today’s society, expressing the sense of urgency around a range of issues from creating mentally healthy and safe communities and building greener, smarter cities, to tackling income inequity and addressing systemic racism.

The five crises facing today’s society:

  1. Public Health
  2. Mental Health and Addiction
  3. Economic Justice
  4. Environmental Crisis
  5. Reckoning the concept of Equity

Nenshi left the class with a positive call to action to show empathy and love for one’s community and the people within it. “Love is the basis on which we get to build something better,” he said.

Teasing that he was about to read “the most important MBA book there is,” Nenshi closed his talk by reading Love the World by Todd Parr – a children’s book celebrating love, respect, peace, and unity.

Throughout the week students heard from a number of distinguished industry professionals and public policy experts who delivered engaging sessions for Ivey students, faculty and staff, including:

  • Karli Farrow, CEO, Trillium Health Partners
  • Hari Suthan, EVP, Advanced Utility
  • Kelly Gillis, Deputy Minister, Infrastructure and Communities 
  • Ramtin Attar, CEO, Promise Robotics
  • Salim Teja, Partner, Radical Ventures
  • John Hewie, Chief National Security Officer, Microsoft Canada
  • Mahmood Nanji, Power Corporation of Canada Policy Fellow, Lawrence National Centre

The Lawrence National Centre for Policy & Management formally thanks Naheed Nenshi and all the guest speakers who joined Ivey throughout the week as the MBA Class of ’23 marked its last academic milestone with the MBA Capstone project.

The Capstone project requires each student group to develop an actionable idea to address a key community challenge. Students are assigned a policy focus area, including healthcare, housing, energy and connectivity. The top four teams will be invited to Toronto to present their actionable ideas to the executives of Infrastructure Ontario.

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