At the 2013 Georgetown Conference: Rural Redefined, more than 250 community leaders, volunteers and activists took part in a conference in that Prince Edward Island village. Participants from across rural Atlantic Canada exchanged information about challenges faced by rural communities networked, in an atmosphere free of political, bureaucratic or urban presences.
That successful weekend venture was the first of a planned three conferences, with the second one, Georgetown Conference 2.0: Solutions, scheduled for June 4th to 6th. At this conference Inverness County will again be represented.
One person committed to taking part in the conference is Melanie Beaton, project coordinator currently working on the Inverness Facade Program. Melanie has been deeply involved in community coordination and projects for the municipality, giving her the kind of rural perspective that is welcomed at Georgetown.
One of the appealing aspects of Georgetown 2.0 is that the conference is loosely enough structured that participants will be setting the agenda. It was one of the conference attractions that appealed to Melanie Beaton.
“I like that the Georgetown Conference agenda is participatory and largely determined by those attending. Conversation interests me when you are speaking about topics that are relevant and have meaning to those around you. Well facilitated conversation is one of our most valuable tools.”
At the 2013 Georgetown Conference, numerous Inverness County representatives attended including Councillor Jim Mustard, one of just two political participants, but Mustard was chosen not for his current position but his history of community involvement and action. Whether he will be free of pressing municipal commitments in order to re-attend this year is still not clear. However, from his experience at the first conference, he had brought back a concept of community engagement that will be exercising its third Inverness Engaged conference in Waycobah May 13th to 14th.
“Georgetown let us see what a good opportunity for local communities to have inspiring relationships. Georgetown was just that,” Mustard explained. “With Inverness Engaged we are trying to bring communities with wide diversity together to make better decisions at all levels, and not leave it to the few to be making those decisions.”
Melanie Beaton agrees that Inverness Engaged has much to offer local social and economic development. “In response to the increasing complexity in the problems we face, we have to find new solutions. With the unique variables that exist there is no one recipe. There are best practices and for certain there is a lot of trial and error, but out of those trials and tribulations, if properly reflected on, can come some deep learning.”
Clearly, the Georgetown lesson is already bearing fruit in Inverness County.
Georgetown organizers hope that the second conference will bring participants closer together, sharing experiences, challenges, opportunities, and learning from each other, since all participants will have in common the rural experience, an experience that gets little attention, support, or even respect from many people whose lives are removed from the rural experience.
It is an experience that Melanie Beaton hopes feeds her own passion for finding new ways to make rural living and decision- making more inclusive. “I am becoming increasingly passionate about a redefined leadership that shares skills and taps into and invites out the resource, potential and leadership in others. Effective leadership can mean creating an environment that allows us to build on each other’s knowledge. We know we all want to see our area prosper and ourselves working more effectively together. We are home to some of the hardest working and most generous people I have met while volunteering.”
For Georgetown 2.0, co- chaired by Derek Key, PEI, and Tim Merry, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, the conference hopes to offer participants like Melanie an opportunity to mine the minds of other Atlantic Canadians who are dealing with similar issues, similar challenges.
“Georgetown 1 showed the overwhelming desire of communities to take the lead in deciding their own future. We’ve seen the results in communities in all four Atlantic provinces. We are going to build on that,”says Derek Key. “Indeed Georgetown 2.0 promises to be a conference unlike any other.
Tim Merry of Mahone Bay brings his unique ability to focus participants on the opportunity change can bring as Nova Scotia co- chair,“WewantGeorgetown 2.0 to be about solutions. We want to empower the participants to leave with a plan for wherever they call home.”
To achieve this delegates will be challenged to identify the issues and potential solutions for their communities. Delegates will dictate the majority of the conference agenda.
Guest speakers at the Georgetown Conference 2.0: Solutions will include:
Chef Michael Smith:
one of Canada’s best- known chefs, a passionate advocate for simple, sustainable home cooking and an inspiration for families creating their own healthy food lifestyle. He’s the host of Chef Michael’s Kitchen, Chef at Home and Chef Abroad seen on Food Network Canada, Global and in more than 100 other countries. He’s a judge on Chopped Canada and travelled the world for his innovative web series Lentil Hunter. Chef Michael and his wife Chastity have recently realized a dream and purchased The Inn at Bay Fortune in Prince Edward Island.
Doug Griffiths: Doug retired from politics in January 2015, after 13 years of service, to resume his longtime passion for helping communities find ways to be prosperous and enduring. In his best- selling book, 13 Ways to Kill Your Community, Doug identifies challenges and opportunities that all of our communities face.
Other guests and provincial co-chairs are Zita Cobb, CEO of the Shorefast Foundation, a registered Canadian charity, and founder and Innkeeper of the Fogo Island Inn. New Brunswick co-chair is Nadine Duguay who has worked in community economic development, as well as the nonprofit and private sectors and has experienced the world through cultural exchanges.
For Melanie Beaton, an opportunity to participate in a conference designed to address the challenges and opportunities that exist in rural Atlantic Canada is an opportunity from which we can all benefit, as we have benefited from the first Georgetown Conference.
One of the issues Melanie will be wanting to discuss is “the way funding is distributed, especially rurally, helps ensure our demise as we operate in isolation, draw our boundaries, and compete for the same dollars. The culture of busyness also works against us as we remain unable to focus on either the quality of the individual or the quality of our communities…The busyness holds us all in a precarious state – a race to the bottom.”
For any readers who feel that they would like to attend the Georgetown Conference 2.0, applications can be had by visiting http:// thegeorgetownconference. ca/.
The number of participants is limited, so apply soon.