Schools, Governments and Business Must Build Smart Communities

By Kluge, Holger | Canadian Speeches, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Schools, Governments and Business Must Build Smart Communities


Kluge, Holger, Canadian Speeches


President, Personal and Commercial Bank, CIBC

Universities, colleges, governments and business are called on to tackle together a set of problems confronting Canadian society: a serious shortage of qualified employees and chronic high unemployment: a continuing brain drain; the increasing difficulty of paying for an evermore imperative higher education. Speech to the Corporate Higher Education Forum, Montreal, Quebec, October 20, 1997.

I'd like to begin my remarks on business and smart communities by quoting from a letter to one of our branch managers written by a young boy who wanted to work for CIBC.

"Dear Mr. Koch: I want to be a security guard. I know a security guard needs to be friendly and not shoot everybody who comes into the bank. You know, more crimes are happening each day. I hear a bank was hit and $40,000 was stolen. Do you want the same thing to happen to you? The more security the better."

"I'm the security guard you want to hire. I'm very good at acrobatics and martial arts, and have good hand-eye co-ordination. I never get tired until 12:00 a.m. at night. And I'm not trigger happy."

"The reason you should hire me is because I'm very trustworthy and very kind to others -- as long as they are nice to me... Sincerely Josh."

Josh's letter is the result of a partnership CIBC has with a local elementary school in Winnipeg to help fifth graders develop career-related skills. Working with CIBC, the school created a real branch, staffed by students, to introduce grade-schoolers to the world of financial services.

I have focussed on this initiative because I think it's a good example of a smart community -- even though it doesn't rely heavily on fibre optics, computer networks and other aspects of advanced communications that we normally associate with the movement.

These technologies are important because they enable communities to participate in an increasingly inter-connected knowledge economy and reap the material and social rewards that go with it.

But technology is only part of the equation. Smart communities, like the Winnipeg example, are also about human co-operation, dialogue, and mutual understanding.

They're about different institutions, people, and sectors working together to address common problems and challenges brought on by globalization, technology, and the profound shift from an industrial to a knowledge-based economy.

Throughout North America and the world, we're seeing the emergence of these bright, collaborative communities -- Singapore, with its intelligent island project, and San Diego's "City of the Future," to name two well-known cases.

Canadian examples include smart cities like Waterloo and Calgary; smart regions like the Silicon Valley North area around Ottawa; smart towns like Coburg, Ontario; smart volunteer networks like the Alberta youth employment initiative, Career: the Next Generation; and smart provinces like New Brunswick, which has turned itself into a destination point for call centres.

Montreal is another example... According to a Price-Waterhouse survey, Montreal now has the highest ratio of high tech employment-to-population of any North American city and is ranked 9th on the continent in the number of large high-tech companies located here.

I take great comfort in these and similar examples. For me, they represent a strong and promising foundation on which to build a truly intelligent country -- competitive, prosperous, humane and rich with opportunity.

But a foundation is not a house. And we face challenges in building that house.

Challenges like child poverty, homelessness and unemployment, especially among young people. Almost 900,000 youth between ages 15 and 29 are unemployed or underemployed. In the face of such numbers, can any community, region or nation truly call itself "smart?"

Challenges too like our chronic shortage of qualified workers. …

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