This month the Alberta Government announced an allocation of $70 million in support of The Peter Lougheed Leadership Initiative, $35 million of which will support the creation of the Peter Lougheed Leadership Institute at the Banff Centre.
The new project is reflective of a newfound focus, spearheaded, in part, by its relatively new president and visionary, Jeff Melanson. No question, it’s exciting times for the Centre, a phenomenal and most unique place.
Nestled intimately within the heart-stopping beauty of the Rockies and espousing a simple yet profound mission of ‘inspiring creativity’, over 8,000 artists, leaders, and researchers from across Canada and around the world converge upon the Banff Centre every year to take part in its multidisciplinary programming.
At its heart is a focus on the arts, bringing together an inspired hodgepodge of world-class musicians, sculptors, dancers, actors and others and giving them the support they need to climb to their creative heights. But the Centre offers a lot more than that. From commissioning and producing new creative works to training opportunities, professional development workshops, advancing new research and live events and conferences, it’s not hard to see why the Banff Centre calls itself the “largest arts and creativity incubator on the planet.”
Professional Development Centre, Mount Rundle in background. Credit: Donald Lee
The Centre also has a history of fostering and transforming great leaders, thanks to a host of leadership development programs. Building on that historic reputation, the aforementioned Peter Lougheed Leadership Institute was created with the belief that a different type of leader and a different definition of leadership is required in the 21st century. The hope is that the Institute’s programming will enable the development of current and emerging leaders focused on building strong communities and influencing positive change at a system-wide level.
With the far-reaching mountains our backdrop, I recently spoke with Jeff Melanson about the inspiration behind the Institute and other new initiatives at the Centre. He explained that after a number of years focused on profitable programing, the Centre felt it lost some of its differentiator, its uniqueness in terms of value-add. “A couple of years ago, the board said we either have to make money or create something really compelling,” he recalls. “Generally, I feel if you create something compelling, the money part takes care of itself.”
Jeff Melanson, president, The Banff Centre. Credit: Laura Vanags
So they asked themselves what they could bring to the table that was totally different from what was already out there and that would make the most of their unique space – including these breathtaking mountains that surround them and the indigenous history, so fundamental to their programming.
And thus began a number of new steps. Providing an inspirational environment for leaders and drawing upon collaborative thinking and cutting-edge creative and business practices, the leadership institute expects to attract exceptional current and future talent. “In terms of curriculum, we thought we could add more value by doing values-based business design,” Melanson offers. Concepts like triple bottom line, innovation (“everyone’s using the word but not everyone gets it”) and disruptive innovation would all play a role in the conversation.
“Is there a way to create something different that still presumes re-invention,” is the underlying question, he adds. “What we can do uniquely is our own variation on design thinking, taking a concept that’s popular but looking at all disciplines with the Banff Centre,” he offers. “So we’re experimenting with that.”
It’s part of this idea of sharing best practices across disciplines, a focus that Jerry McGrath, director of innovation and program partnerships for leadership development can certainly get behind. “Jeff [Melanson] asked us to transform what we do which was exciting,” he shares of the time the president first arrived at Banff a couple of years ago. “Now we’re being asked to support diverse objectives that are better aligned with where and who we are.”
At the core of his work, he adds, is a need to integrate or bring together people with strongly held values about the world they want to live in, who want to create something new and are seeking diverse perspectives. “It’s a return to mid-80s,” he says. “We’re making connections between groups who wouldn’t normally connect and identify interesting working best practices.”
Melanson acknowledges there already are a number of great learning and leadership centres in Canada and around the world. So, when it comes to its focus on social innovation, for example, “we are playing with the idea that there is no global aggregator for best practices of social innovation, an institution that could specialize in case studies, study best practice models and work with large scale funders,” he explains. “We think that we may be able to be that space, as a curator of best practices.”
Keep in mind, the Banff Centre was founded in 1933 to have social relevance and to contribute on a national and global level. The Peter Lougheed Leadership Institute is intended to build on that legacy and then take it a step further with leadership development. But this bold new step is only one of many for Melanson. Other visionary ideas includes a broadcast centre, new residences, chalets and studios and a theatre building in downtown Banff. “My mentor taught me that if you have four great ideas, do them all,” he laughs. Still, it’s not surprising that funding may be a challenge—one less weighty I’m sure after the government’s recent announcement.
Either way, the man doesn’t seem phased – at least not about the finances. “If you have a big idea, you can raise money. But, creating something that’s compelling, meaningful and that speaks to people and then having people who can co-create and take it to next level, that’s hard,” he says. Then Melanson, who is two years into a ten-year commitment at the Centre, adds with a grin, “But you may want to ask me again in eight years.”
Elisa Birnbaum is the co-founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of SEE Change Magazine, and works as a freelance journalist, producer and communications consultant. She is also the president of Elle Communications.