In 2007, a variety of groups in New Brunswick interested in the viability and success of the province got together to create a plan for sustainable economic renewal. Faced with massive emigration, erosion of their natural resource-based economy, and poor academic standings, New Brunswick was ready for change. “Maritime provinces are at a crossroads”, commented Donald Savoie in the Telegraph Journal on May 7, 2007; “We can sit by, make political noises about the state of our economy and see our population continue to drift away, or we can define an ambitious and overriding goal and pursue it with all the energy that we can muster.”
- “Self sufficiency in 20 years” was chosen as the overriding vision, and three major strategies were selected to achieve it:
- Restructure natural resource-based businesses according to long-term stewardship instead of short-term exploitation
- Attract businesses from outside the province by providing tax incentives, skilled workers, a welcoming climate, and sufficient infrastructure
- Help more entrepreneurs succeed at building large, solid businesses
Entrepreneurship was picked as the centerpiece for obvious reasons: Transformation of natural resource-based businesses will take a long time and a lot of experimentation. Imported businesses do not have local roots, and therefore no loyalty to the host province; they tend to move according to market conditions. Entrepreneurs born and raised in New Brunswick, however, are attached to their home and have a stake in its future. By enhancing entrepreneurial support and boosting leadership capacity, the province can build a robust economy, independent of outside decision-makers and finite natural resources.
Hothouses and Pipelines
To succeed with the plan meant borrowing approaches from the world of sports, namely “hothouses” and “pipelines.”
Hothouse strategies are focused on the short term and concerned with issues such as: who can compete in the next Olympic Games and what will it take to get them ready?
Pipeline strategies are focused on the long term, and concerned with issues such as: increasing fitness levels in the overall population, stimulating widespread interest in sports, and building competitive capacity over time.
In the case of leadership development, hothouse approaches such as succession planning groom the next crop of executives, while pipeline strategies such as leadership education in schools groom the next generation of leaders.
New Brunswick decided to hothouse high potential entrepreneurs running businesses established five to eight years ago and ready to “bust out and go big.” A province-wide needs analysis was conducted and entrepreneurs identified four areas where assistance was needed: financing, networking, innovation, and education.
In education, businessperson and philanthropist Wallace McCain donated funds to create an Institute mandated to “help entrepreneurs develop the understanding, tools, and relationships needed to grow their businesses.”
Fifteen high potential entrepreneurs were selected as the first cohort, which began in July 2008. Spread over a year, the curriculum includes topics such as Change and Innovation, Strategic Planning, Building and Managing Human Capital. Participants meet once a month and benefit from the expertise of a wide range of professionals, academics, and executives from all over the country.
Other developmental and support strategies are also being used. Members of the New Brunswick Business Council, for example, have volunteered to serve as mentors. Paul Johnson, CEO of Quantum 5X Systems from London, Ont., was named an executive in residence for the Wallace McCain Institute; participants can draw from his experience on a continuous and personal basis.
The province is also determined to build a “leadership pipeline” by totally revamping the curriculum from elementary school to university, injecting a heavy dose of entrepreneurial and leadership components, as well as beefing up computer and business literacy.
This educational strategy will be complemented by business start-up competitions at the elementary level, entrepreneurship boot camps at the secondary level, and university incubation labs to help entrepreneurs test and fine tune their ideas.
Students will also be exposed to entrepreneur role models and mentors in schools. Currently, pilots are being conducted in elementary schools: students start businesses with a small budget, and make them prosper with skills they learn.
This historic initiative is a stellar example of large-scale systems thinking. For instance, a roundtable is planned for November to align the various stakeholders. This is organizational development at its best.