How Atlantic Canada became the most attractive place to work and live

I’d like to take you on a quick tour. It’s 2030 and Atlantic Canada has become the most attractive place in the world to live and work. It’s the best place to turn an idea into reality, all generations are supported and have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to society, and people are still buzzing about how remarkable it was that we were able to create such a successful economy based on 3 basic pillars – people, planet and profit – after the difficult times only 15 years previous.

15 years – it seems so long, and yet such a short period of time. As a reference point, you’ll have seen almost 4 complete election cycles. Lots of time, and yet it’s still hard to see ourselves and our future, though we know it’s an extremely important exercise.

I recently met a few people who consider themselves ‘futurists’ and I gotta say I love that title. People who design the future, which is why you’re here today. One of the examples of someone who I believe is creating the future is Elon Musk. In particular, I’m fascinated by Tesla – their mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport. And they’re well on their way to doing that.

So how can we take the lessons from Tesla or others into answering a question like, how did Atlantic Canada become the most attractive place in the world to live and work?

Drilling down into that question – what are the pieces of making a mission like that happen?

I can’t in good conscience ask all young Atlantic Canadians to stay here. Seeing the world and learning new approaches is hugely important. It’s been correlated with openness to new ideas.

What I can say though, is, that if you stay, or leave and come back, there is tremendous potential here. I’ve said it before – I think one of our competitive advantages for youth is our interconnectedness.  We definitely don’t talk about that enough – that people are willing to talk to you here, if you’re willing to do your homework and reach out for advice. While there may be less overall opportunities here, there really are countless opportunities for you to make your own luck.

The bottom line is that we need young people here – we need people to stay, and we also need newcomers – whether they’re coming from somewhere else in Canada, whether they’re refugees or whether they’re immigrants.

Why? The stats speak for themselves. In New Brunswick, for instance:

  • There are currently 130,000 youth between ages of 15 – 29 – that’s just under 20% of our population,
  • In the last 5 years, we’ve seen a net loss of almost 10,000 youth (15,000 moved here, and 24,600 left),
  • and we have second oldest population in Canada with a median age of 45.

Having looked at those grim statistics, how do we change the narrative around what is possible here?

I recently read a great article called ‘The Rural Brain Drain’ (thanks to Matt Campbell for the recommendation) that was based on over a year of research profiling a rural community in Iowa. Having driven through rural Iowa this past summer, I think that there are a lot of similarities between there and NB. The researchers found young people fit into 4 main categories, and I’d be curious to know which category you see yourselves fitting into:

  • Seekers: those who will leave no matter what – they seek adventure in the world and will do find it.
  • Stayers: those who stay, for whatever reason.
  • Achievers: those who excel in school and encouraged to leave because the narrative is one that says one can never achieve if you stay.
  • Returners: those, who leave, learn new things and come back.

I think this is relevant for Atlantic Canada. Our narrative is one that we’re a sinking ship, and if you’re going to succeed, you’d better get out here. At the same time, we know that if there are no young people here, we really will sink. How can we change this narrative? What is at the root of it?

My role in building a better Atlantic Canada for youth is through 21inc. 21inc was founded 10 years ago, partially in response to what you are discussing today – unprecedented levels of youth outmigration. We work to accelerate youth leadership – to deepen and broaden peoples networks, to bring them to see awesome people and initiatives in their back yard and to give them concrete skills to lead.

I realize this certainly does not get to any answers – yet. What I hope to keep working on it is thinking about our current reality, and what opportunities that presents.

Playing to our strengths

My first op-ed, on the power of our network in Atlantic Canada, featured in the Chronicle Herald on February 1st, 2016.


I chose to stay and build my career in Atlantic Canada. Some of you reading this may have also made that decision – I had my own reasons, and I’m sure you had yours. Some of you may have left and come back, and others may have come here for the first time. No matter how you found your way here, I’m happy that you’re reading this today because it means you care about this place, and I think that is the best possible point from which we can start this chat.

I’ve just taken the role of executive director with an incredible organization: 21inc. 21inc was founded 10 years ago in response to youth leaving the region in unprecedented numbers. Our goal is to accelerate leadership – to have high-potential young people take positions of leadership and influence earlier in their careers so that they can stay, and help shape our future. A decade later, we’re still working on this. In chatting with one of the founders about what has changed in the last 10 years, he said that we’re way more connected today than we were then. I think that’s great news. I spend my days thinking about what that could mean for the next 10 years.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what accelerating leadership looks like. In chatting with people about the organization, almost everyone I’ve spoken with has said: ‘the power of 21inc is the network’. They’ve said that a region-wide network of like-minded peers to both support and challenge them has positively impacted their lives. And that’s been true for me – I’ve had years when it felt like I everyone I knew left Atlantic Canada. Finding 21inc in 2012 meant that I now have a network of diverse and thoughtful people to call across Atlantic Canada.

I’ve been asked: is a network an outcome? Yes, I believe it is. I recently watched this great TEDx talk by Robert Waldinger. He has the distinct privilege of leading the 75-year long Harvard research study on happiness. Guess what they found as the key factor in longevity and happiness? The quality of our relationships. I was simultaneously surprised at the simplicity of it, and then wasn’t surprised at all.

So, why stay in Atlantic Canada? I think one of our competitive advantages for youth – and others – is our interconnectedness. In my career, I’ve realized that anyone I need to talk to is only one or two calls away (whether it be a CEO, a deputy minister, or a musician). I think we don’t talk about that enough – that people are willing to talk to you here, if you’re willing to do your homework and reach out for advice. There are countless opportunities for you to ‘make your own luck’. My goal over the next few years is to make 21inc the place where people in our region can turn to when they move (or stay) here, when they want to chat about ideas, be challenged or supported – basically, to increase our interconnectedness and the quality of our relationships.

I’m writing this from my little house in Fredericton, N.B. in a neighbourhood where people stop to say hi and help you shovel your driveway. I feel so lucky to live here. While my home is in Fredericton, I truly feel like a resident of the Atlantic Provinces. Our challenges look much the same. We’re all in this together. Let’s celebrate and leverage our interconnectedness and build better outcomes together. Over the next several months, I’ll be bringing together members of our network with senior leaders across the region to stimulate innovation and build stronger cross-generational relationships. If you think you or your organization could benefit from feedback from a network of 250+ well-connected emerging leaders from across sectors, I invite you to reach out to