Column: Dream Big to Tackle Challenges

My column this week in The StarPhoenix

When business writer and consultant Jim Collins wrote the book, Built to Last, he introduced the term BHAG into the lexicon.

The Big Hairy Audacious Goals are organizational changing objectives that change how businesses operates.

One of the best examples was General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch declaring that all GE business units need to be first or second in their field and, if they are not, they were to be fixed or sold. His decision shaped GE for a decade and made it into one of America’s most profitable businesses.

BHAGs are not just about making money. They are used to bring about societal change as well.

By their very nature, most social problems are overwhelming. From 1994 to 2006, Calgary had the fastest growing homeless population in Canada. Families with full-time employment were living in shelters because they couldn’t find places to rent. Where does one start when there are thousands of people with nowhere to call home?

In Calgary, a bunch of business leaders, driven by their own convictions and a love for their city, started a process that created the 10 Year Plan to Eliminate Homelessness. They formed the Calgary Homelessness Foundation and pushed the provincial government to get behind the vision.

Their "housing first" approach has been so effective that the federal Conservative government is spending $110 million over five years to help homeless people with mental health issues in five cities. Halfway through, it’s been a tremendous success, both in housing some of the country’s hardest to house people and in keeping them housed.

In Saskatoon, we tend to think of big goals in terms of staging events such as the Brier or the World Junior Hockey Championships.

However, a quick walk through Royal University Hospital shows the Siemens Transport ER Consultation Room and the PotashCorp MRI Centre; across the river at City Hospital is SaskTel’s MRI Suite.

Those represent big donations. Every year there are millions of dollars in smaller donations to the hospital foundations across Saskatchewan by individuals like you and me, who have decided to take on cancer, improve emergency rooms or help with some other form of care. We wouldn’t donate if we didn’t see the need and if we didn’t think it would make a difference.

It doesn’t stop with the hospitals. Cameco was a big part of the recent expansion campaigns of the Saskatoon Friendship Inn, which provides an important part of Saskatoon’s social safety net. Meanwhile, the Friendship Inn and the Saskatoon Food Bank rely on thousands of individuals and small businesses for support that helps the two agencies serve thousands of clients each and every week.

What we have in common is the belief that we can make a difference and improve the lives of people in our city.

Despite the generosity of a lot of people in Saskatoon who donate time and money, there is still much to be done. Some neighbourhood community associations are nonexistent or barely functional; many minor sports teams need coaches; those who’ve fallen between the cracks of social safety nets are living in substandard conditions or are spending nights on the streets.

While the current warmer weather makes for pleasant afternoons, I wouldn’t want to be spending the night outdoors. Recent visits to the food bank and the Friendship Inn showed that hunger is still a major problem for single people as wells as entire families.

Where does the solution start? For decades in Saskatchewan we waited for the government to act. History shows that we’ve become impatient and are increasingly taking matters into our own hands. While we may look back fondly at an era when Big Government took care of us, the combination of leaner governments, more complex problems, a more conservative culture and changing expectations means those days are done.

We will have to solve our own problems. Whether those are large in scale, such as homelessness, or tackling inner city computer literacy issues, as a local charity called Repurposed Labs is doing, it’s increasingly clear that it will be up to citizens to tackle more and more problems.

It can be done, but it’s going to take a lot of BHAGs, time, and money. We all make resolutions for ourselves in the new year, but what we really need is a commitment from more people to dream big goals for our city. It’s a resolution worth keeping.

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