Jacky Leung & Alex Shipton of the Crossroads Conference
It was a pleasant surprise for me to receive an email a few weeks ago from a young Killarney High School student asking me to help facilitate a student discussion on Vancouver's economy. First, Jacky Leung was a Killarney kid, and I've always had a soft spot for my old Eastside Alma Mater. It was only going to take up one Saturday afternoon for me at most, and I might learn something in the process.
I had no idea what to expect despite a pretty good website and conference materials emailed to me. What I learned in my conversations with the grade 12, 11 and even grade ten kids attending the Crossroads Conference at UBC last weekend is that there is a powerful and earnest desire among Vancouver's youth to build a great city of the future.
The Crossroads Conference is described by the volunteer organizers as follows:
The Crossroads Conference is a fresh and unique approach to the current social, environmental and economic problems in the City of Vancouver.
Delegates will have the opportunity to be introduced to the issues facing Vancouver today. Our conference will bring together students to engage in meaningful dialogue with the top business, political, and academic leaders who are regionally and internationally acclaimed.
There were a number of respected members of the community from politics, business and academia also attending, some of whom were friends and acquaintances. The conference's opening remarks were supplied by Vancouver City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth, and a keynote speech was given by publisher and author Peter Legge. The facilitators ran the gamut, from NDP MLA Shane Simpson and Park Commissioner Loretta Woodcock, to CityCaucus.com's own Erin Airton, Michael Geller and former City Councillor B.C. Lee. While not in attendance, the conference has also assembled a very impressive honourary board of advisors, also from all walks of life.
The conference was broken out into three areas, social, economic and environmental. There were up to 250 student delegates from Vancouver-area schools. The event was coordinated by a group of student volunteers during a period of nearly 12 months over emails between the organizers.
As Jacky candidly put it in his wrap up speech to the participants, "We had a lot of arguments over email."
Interestingly, the main marketing for the event was through a Facebook group. Jacky and his team look forward to creating another event in 2010.
In our economic roundtable discussions I heard things that helped me understand some of the challenges our region still faces when it comes to keeping our best and brightest here. A young woman in grade eleven of Korean descent told me point blank that she thinks Vancouver is "too small" for her personal goals, and plans to move to a larger metropolitan area, perhaps even to the USA. You used to hear this all the time from student-aged locals during the 80s and 90s, but not so much in recent years.
Another young fellow talked about going back to Taiwan to establish a business, but to keep his connections to British Columbia alive and eventually moving back. Two other young men, both in grade 12, had their eyes on politics someday, and soon.
I asked everyone at my table if they planned to vote, and all were very enthusiastic about becoming a part of the democratic system. This kind if info bucked my own theory that young people couldn't care less about elections and voting.
We surveyed the room on a few items and judging by the show of hands, I learned that Metro Vancouver has some unique and important advantages. First, nearly everyone in the room spoke more than one language. Second, over two thirds of the participants in our session plan to start their own businesses. Third, they think that there is much to do to make our city and region "more fun." One can only imagine the opportunities for creativity, trade and enterprise between Vancouver and the corners of the globe this group will encounter.
Too often we kick the heck out of the young generation. We certainly don't understand that they are just as engaged and enthusiastic about our city's future as older folk with busy lives and careers. I have to congratulate Mr. Leung and his dedicated circle for creating the Crossroads Conference. It is a true signal of the great prospects that lay ahead for Vancouver's movers and shakers.