Former U.S. president and Economic Club of Canada CEO discuss the economy, climate change and the future of work.
Barack Obama and Rhiannon Rosalind started 2020 by addressing the current state of the economy, while encouraging a change to the status quo.
The pair spoke at the first of a series of events aimed at discussing work and the new economy.
The event had over 6,000 people in attendance, largely thanks to outreach from sponsors like Ryerson for increased ticket accessibility.
For every ticket sold, another was given away to a young leader. And half the audience was represented by individuals under 30.
Rosalind, a Ryerson alumna, and her team at the Economic Club of Canada organized the event to “champion inclusivity and change” in the modern financial environment.
Partnered with The Global Institution for Conscious Economics, Create Fate and a number of other sponsors, part one of The Future of Work and the New Economy series debuted at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Jan. 23.
The event was a medley of musical performances, spoken word poetry and speeches from notable leaders such as Sophie Trudeau, Zahid Salman and a handful of others. The speaker that drew the most attention, of course, was former U.S. president Barack Obama.
Drawing on his time in the White House, Obama shared the importance of surrounding oneself with a strong multi-disciplinary team and cited the benefits of having a good sense of one’s own identity and values.
Obama noted that it is essential to analyze what is important to accomplish creatively, while also re-assessing our intentions.
The former president explained that tasks such as simple administration work are already being replaced by automation.
“Anything that is (…) repeatable, some machine is going to do that and that’s not just blue-collar work,” Obama said.
He mentioned that at the root of the new economy is a necessary focus on climate change and a push towards renewable energy.
However, Obama did caution the green movement, noting that developing countries are only now emerging from an industrial revolution, making the demand for renewable energy practices more difficult to fulfil.
Rosalind said that when she reflects on her time at Ryerson, she thinks it was the human element that was instrumental to her success. She said that networking events and connections made with colleagues during her undergrad have led her down the path she is on today.
“We are in an age of the machine and automation, but what we need to come back to is the human element and creativity. That is a big part of [the new economy],” said Rosalind.
In 2008, a networking event led to her being hired into an entry level position by the Economic Club of Canada’s precursor, the Economic Club of Toronto. Rosalind has since risen through the ranks, becoming the CEO and president and rebranding the organization into its present-day name. She founded the Jr. Economic Club of Canada in the same year.
She later joined the Ryerson board of governors, noting that staying connected to her alma mater in an oversight role would help maintain her connection to the university and its students.
Rosalind said she is proud of the Economic Club of Canada’s all-female, millennial executive team and how it affects the organization’s goals.
“If young people recognize their power and don’t just give in, don’t just be desperate to just get to work, but actually be mindful about how they want to leave their impression, we will change the system,” she says.
She says that when the club decided to focus on promoting more conscious economic practices, this would influence conversations across the country about the future of work and how it can be changed to benefit workers, their companies and the land they inhabit.
Through this, their main focus shifted to what Rosalind calls the “four pillars of people, planet, profit and creativity.”
“In order to have more creativity, more innovation in our labour force we need to rebalance the way we interact with each other and the planet,” she said.
Rosalind and Obama brought up the idea of “indigenizing the economy,” a mind, body, and spiritual connection among each other and to the land. Rosalind encouraged others to push towards making more eco-friendly decisions.
She says this is motivated by a greater inclusion of people of colour and younger generations in the discussion around policy reform.
“In order to restructure the system, the most valuable players are the people who haven’t been taken by [the traditional academic] system. So those who are still in education now or haven’t yet entered, have values and ideas that help transform our labour market,” said Rosalind.
“For young people, it’s recognizing their unique power, in this situation which I don’t think a lot of people realize.”
“The economic conversations are important, and it’s vital to have them,” said Jeffrey Overall, an co-organizer of the series. The founder of The Global Institution for Conscious Economics continued by saying, “But if you’re having [conversations] with people that should be in the room and are not…they don’t have the same impact.”
Obama represents the pursuit of adding black voices to the financial conversation, according to Overall.
“We wanted to celebrate that with the black community in particular, so it was invaluable to have his representation there,” Overall said.
It was also important for youth to be at the table because they do not have a say in the political system, Overall said.
Kiana “rookz” Eastmond, the founder and director of Sandbox Studios, pioneered Create Fate. She collaborated with Adidas to give away 500 tickets to young leaders in the city. Students also had the opportunity to apply for tickets free of charge on the Economic Club of Canada’s website.
Other organizations, companies and community leaders, allocated hundreds of tickets so that their communities would be reflected in the conversation.
Community-focused organizations such as How She Hustles, the CEE Centre For Young Black Professionals and members of Young Women Empowerment were represented in the audience.
Among them were nine students from Ryerson University’s Leadership Lab. The lab gives students the opportunity to meet and converse with global and community leaders while challenging present civic issues.
“It was a great feeling to see people of colour in high spaces like this, specifically, where everyone is in professional or developing careers,” said Habel Abdi, a second-year business technology student at Ryerson, who attended the event. “That was the biggest thing for me, just seeing a lot of people’s colour in places where you often don’t see them.”
Cristal Hines, a fifth-year social work student, said that it was an honour to be one of the students selected.
“I was looking forward to hearing about the intersection of economics and mental health, specifically as it pertains to the community and beyond,” she said. She added that she was interested in having deeper conversations about economic consciousness.
“I was really looking for a moderator who was going to centre the conversation on both his experiences [and] his identity cohesively, because the audience was predominantly black from my vantage point,” Hines said.
“I think it would have been a really unique conversation to sit with another person of colour…particularly a black person, to be able to address the complexities of navigating politics, and also the economy and what that means to black communities,” she added.
Although Hines did not get everything she had expected, she said she was still left inspired.
“I’m definitely going to be more intentional [in treating] economics as a catalyst for how we talk about other issues like social justice,” she said.
“It was a great feeling to see people of colour in high spaces like this, specifically, where everyone is in professional or developing careers,” said Habel Abdi, a second-year business technology student at Ryerson, who attended the event. “That was the biggest thing for me, just seeing (them) in places where you often don’t see them.”
Milad Moghaddas, a fourth-year entrepreneurship student, said that he plans on carrying on the leadership points he learned from Obama’s speech in regard to leading with empathy and integrity while maintaining a strong team.
“I think storytelling is very powerful,” said Moghaddas. “When you have individuals who… endured against significant barriers [and] adversities, and knowing that they overcame it and having the opportunity to hear how they overcame it, it serves as a stronger fuel.”