Home Regular Contributors Cheryll Watson Where Did Our Community Leaders Go?

Where Did Our Community Leaders Go?

Cheryll Watson

Years ago, I committed to being an active “do-er” in this city and for a long time, I believed Edmonton was a city of can-do, get-involved and get-it-done leaders. Recently, I have been reflecting on how this seems to be a shrinking cohort.  

One of our city’s greatest people-powered impacts began on January 16, 1981. A group of like-minded individuals came together to create the Edmonton Gleaners Association, more commonly known as Edmonton’s Food Bank – and Canada’s first food bank was born! 

The Edmonton Elks are a shining example of community spirit and resilience. Founded by a group of leaders who got together and said, “let’s do this,” the team epitomizes what it means to build something greater than oneself (despite their current win record). 

On a more personal note, five years ago the innovation and technology ecosystem rallied together to form the Edmonton Advisory Council on Startups (EACOS). As ecosystem volunteers and for the greater good of their community, this group dug into the issues on growth, alignment and how taxpayer dollars were being spent. I was vice president of Innovate Edmonton at the time and let me tell you, this group was engaged, active and made an impact!  

Now, as our city struggles to get off its back foot, when the call to action within our communities is as urgent as it is compelling, there seems to be only a small group of people raising their hands to help lead us to better times. I believe Edmonton is at a crossroads where the narrative of passivity and/or the expanding expectations of what government should be doing threatens to overshadow the spirit of collective engagement and community empowerment. If we do not move from a culture of complacency to one of proactive involvement and meaningful contribution, what will we become as a city?  

The challenge of apathy versus action, of tearing down versus building up, is huge. In today’s landscape, it is all too easy to find ourselves entrenched in debates, divided by our differences rather than united by our shared beliefs and aspirations.  

Community activism should not be met with skepticism. It should be embraced with enthusiasm. As leaders, one of our core mandates is to celebrate and recognize the capacity to effect change, to be a force for good. 

So, what can we do to turn this vision into reality? The answer lies not in grand gestures or rhetoric, but in the simple yet profound act of taking ownership of our communities. It is about rolling up our sleeves, stepping out of our comfort zones, and actively engaging with the issues that matter most to us.  

Whether it’s volunteering, mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs through organizations like Junior Achievement (also an organization founded and funded by community), or simply lending a helping hand to a neighbour in need, there are countless ways to make a difference within our city. If you’re currently doing this, keep it up! You are part of a small group these days and your work matters.  

As we look to the future, let us reembrace our history and roots of community creation; a culture of action and empowerment. It is only through our collective efforts that we can truly affect impactful change, and our city needs it now more than ever.