I reacted emotionally when I heard that Emerging Leaders was on the brink. I got angry and I judged and then I took some time to reflect on what impact they have had on me and on our city.
I remember being there the day Emerging Leaders came out to the public, wandering around The Arts Project packed with youth and ideas. My skin was tingling with the energy in the place. I remember thinking that this was the future of London, right here, right now.
Of course the cocktail crew was there to network and be “seen”, they always are but there was something else too, people on the fringes of the room, people listening intently to conversations, people thoughtfully sharing their vision for the future of London. You could pick them out if you looked. People who deeply cared about London and were willing to put skin in the game.
What’s happened in the intervening years has been remarkable; a citizen renaissance.
Was what happened in the room that day the start of something? No, probably not. Was it a catalyst for what followed? Absolutely. Not a doubt in my mind.
Here’s how it impacted me that day … I advocated hard for our company to support an initiative called Ambassador London and we worked our asses off for it. Ambassador London was a great idea that failed spectacularly and showed me all the ways that silos, personal interest and politics have failed this city for so long. So I held a ChangeCamp to examine that stuff. It was the most terrifying thing imaginable for me but it had some very tangible results. That led me to lead a failed voter mobilization initiative called Hack the Vote where I met many amazing people (some of which are leading this city today). That led to another ChangeCamp, a citizen engagement initiative called CitizenCorps, 20 Pints & Politics meetups and now to a grassroots engagement initiative around our history and heritage.
Anyone who has been inspired to action by anything that I’ve done owes that to Emerging Leaders.
How many others were inspired to action because of Emerging Leaders? How many others donned the mantle of leadership either as a direct result of EL or of the environment that they continue to nurture to this day?
I’ll forget the community stuff for a minute and look at it purely from a business perspective. We’re starving for tech talent in this city. Neither the City of London nor the LEDC have any holistic, ongoing initiatives to attract and retain the demographic that is quite literally the lifeblood of the exploding digital media sector in this city. There are hundreds of tech jobs unfilled today and large companies are cannibalizing the smaller firms right this second. $70,000 isn’t a THE solution but is that small investment for the only initiative we have in the pipe too much to ask?
The mission of EL, the attraction and retention and engagement of our youth, is no simple task and EL isn’t the only ingredient required for success but it is a critical part and the success or failure of such a complicated task is not easily measured (no matter what chart you throw at me).
Some will argue that this could be folded into other organizations to which I counter that this isn’t a part time job for a subcommittee that meets on a bi-monthly basis. I can’t think of another group that would be willing to be such an outspoken, unflinching advocate. Not one. I can’t think of another that can inspire and speak to this demographic on their terms. Not one. Who’s enthusiastically and unabashedly putting their career on the line for the future? Where are the people putting skin in the game?
Is EL perfect? Far from it. The ED (a friend of mine) is maybe a bit too polarizing, the current board is largely ineffective and many people should have seen this financial crisis coming. It’s still valuable, it’s still fixable and letting 9 years of incredibly hard, inspiring work die for those shortcomings?
The current cry to “pull the plug and we’ll pick up the pieces afterwards” seems incredibly shortsighted and completely dismissive of what the organization has done for this city.
So how forward? I’m not the best guy to ask but my gut reaction is that the organization needs a stronger board with more advocates – everyone needs to be active. The organization needs better balance – if everyone’s agreeing on everything then a bunch of those people are redundant. And if you have an outspoken ED then you need a strong board chair that can work with that and balance that out*. Finally, they should set SMART (Specific, Measurable,
Attainable Ambitious, Realistic, Time-Bound) goals and report on them annually (they may have these already but I couldn’t find them). Not everything that can be measured is of value but there needs to be a good mix of tangible and intangible outcomes.
While the energy that we had in that room 9 years ago will almost certainly never be recaptured in the same way, Emerging Leaders continues to to be the oxygen that will allow out future leaders to grow. It’s worth a small investment and it’s worth fighting for. I encourage you to write, call or tweet your Councillor and Mayor Matt Brown to voice your support for this important organization.
* I can speak from first hand experience here because David and Josh bring a great deal of balance to our business partnership.