Young people constitute a vital force in our society and everyone wins when we nurture, enhance and leverage their full potential, says Governor General Michaëlle Jean. She says this is the reason she has dedicated so much time and energy to engage youth from every corner of the country in a dialogue on building a stronger, more prosperous and more harmonious Canada.
“We live in a country of many possibilities and our history reflects the very triumph of hope over adversity,” the Governor General said in her keynote address at the Canadian Club of Toronto-hosted DiverseCity event at the Sheraton Centre Hotel. “During several of my youth dialogues, many youth have reminded me that even today some people are rejected because they are indigenous.
“And, it is important to listen carefully as young people invite us to follow their lead by embracing diversity in all sectors of society…It is then and only then that we unleash the full potential of our country. To me, investing in diversity makes sense. It makes good business sense.”
Jean, who became Canada’s 27th governor general in September 2005, says having people from diverse backgrounds in senior management positions can confer better access to lucrative local and international networks and markets. She also added that maintaining a plurality of perspectives and life experiences in an organization can boost creative and innovative output.
“Employing a greater number of people from diverse backgrounds can help to raise the overall consumption power of a broader proportion of the Canadian population,” she said. “It is simple. Saying yes to diversity is saying yes to modernity, to opportunity and to the very future of our country.
“But saying no carries a higher price. For each time social exclusion closes a door, another door is opened to desolation, frustration and despair. We have only to look at our streets, to some of our neighbourhoods or “hoods” or to some of our more isolated rural and northern communities to encounter a youth who has lost faith in society, adrift and sinking…If anything, the existence of criminal youth gangs and juvenile prostitution testifies to organized crime’s determination to prey on feelings of powerlessness and solitude.
“And this can shatter dreams, bring explosions of violence and even scare capital and investment away. So we cannot afford to be indifferent nor can we risk turning a blind eye. This does entail welcoming diversity with open arms at all levels of our institutions.”
The Maytree Foundation and the Toronto City Summit Alliance established DiverseCity to accelerate prosperity for a new and more diverse group of leaders. Recognizing that visible minorities are under-represented in leadership roles in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the initiative aims to identify 1,000 new diverse leaders and introduce them to positions of power and influence by the end of 2012.
Several private sector executives attended last week’s event and Jean challenged them to become mentors and provide access to their business networks.
“We need more support from the private sector,” she said. “We need corporate executives to visit and teach us. We need more scholarships. We have a lot to offer, but we need professionals to help us hone our skills and expand our knowledge…Realize that in the long run, the new relationships you are forging will pay off exponentially because empowering youth, enhancing diversity and investing in our communities make sense.”
As part of the DiverseCity initiative, 27 rising city builders deeply committed to developing themselves into better leaders are participating in a one year Fellows program.
“It connects us to existing leaders and I have found it very useful so far,” said Jamaican Canadian Association member Adaoma Patterson who is a specialist with Peel’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Committee.
The 27 Fellows work in a wide range of fields, including the environment, arts, health, human resources and law. They speak 18 languages and have experience living and working in nearly 20 countries.