Tapping into grass roots sentiment difficult for LEAD group 

The majority of LEAD participants in a study of three Canadian communities, found they could only scratch the surface of the local communities they visited.

In late August last year more than 170 people from 30 countries gathered in Vancouver for a Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) workshop to discuss the increasing globalization of Canadian communities, and the challenges they face.

The group then split up to conduct separate case studies in three Canadian "communities." The Squamish-Whistler corridor was one of these. Yellowknife and environs and Clayoquot Sound were the others.

The challenges faced by Yellowknife due to the recent diamond rush, by Clayoquot Sound due to the recent battles over clearcutting and fishing moratoriums, and by Whistler and Squamish due to rivalry between forestry and tourism were to be the focus of discussions.

These communities are not alone, said Julia Marton-Lefevre, executive director of LEAD International last year.

"Through the case studies, we can try to understand the forces at work here in Canada while asking a question that applies to many places in the world: How can people profit from being a part of the global economy while maintaining environmental practices that will sustain development in the future?"

LEAD associates were told that while tourism was the key industry in Whistler, Squamish was exploring the potential for combining forestry with tourism and recreation economies.

The Elaho conflict was highlighted and sustainable development of towns was a point of discussion in the communities of Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and Mount Currie as well as with the Squamish Nation.

The goal for LEAD participants in the 11-day session was to talk to local community members including Aboriginal representatives, corporations with activities in the area, governments and other stakeholders. They were then encouraged to reflect on how the regional Canadian experience applied to situations in their home countries.

Participants, however, were divided when asked to rate their Canadian experience. LEAD has posted the general impressions of the participants who visited the three areas. Some praised LEAD for the choice of sites which they deemed aptly suited to the session’s objectives.

The majority, however, expressed disappointment with the site visits.

"The main rationale for this disappointment is that many of the conversations between the (LEAD) associates and the local communities never fully penetrated into the local communities themselves, but rather were mediated and potentially skewed by representatives of those communities," reads the evaluation.

"In short, the direct form of communicative action necessitated by the stakeholder dialogue process seems to have been bureaucratically subverted as not enough dialogue with the Aboriginals themselves transpired. This criticism does not invalidate the sincerity or competence of these representatives, but rather focuses on the impossibility of consensus building in the absence of community input."

But overall, the Canadian experience was deemed a success and is summed up by a Nigerian representative’s comment: "The session was indeed very remarkable. LEAD deserves kudos for creating a highly successful session.  The rest is now up to us to apply the knowledge and skills acquired during the two years of this program."

LEAD runs a two-year training program where graduates go on to join a global network of LEAD fellows. The program provides opportunities for mid-career professionals from around the world to enhance their skills as leaders for sustainable development in their respective professions and communities.

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