Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Renaissance in Public Thought

There are a few people in this world whose work I admire so thoroughly that they are virtually my personal heroes. These individuals keep popping up in my blog in one way or another, and one of them is Jim Balsillie. For a while now I've felt badly about my references to Balsillie (who I like to call Jimbo) because I've only ever written, rather frivolously, about his attempt to buy southern Ontario an NHL team. The idea of the billionaire CEO of our local mega-company (BlackBerry-making RIM) trying to bring the NHL back to the bastion of hockey was so delightful and wonderful that I couldn't even take the idea seriously... and, as it turned out, neither could the NHL. (But we greatly appreciate his effort, all the same.)

However, I'm no hockey fan and my admiration for Balsillie comes from his other philanthropic work. I live practically next door to the think tank he founded, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), and I attend every public lecture I can get to. CIGI provides fabulous public lectures by scholars and diplomats on a wide range of public policy/foreign policy topics. Their noon hour series even throws in a free lunch. Frequently the lecturer will admonish the audience to spread the word about the topic under discussion, and frequently I write a blog entry about it. (For outreach outside of Waterloo, Balsillie also founded the Canadian International Council and the worldwide research exchange institute, IGLOO.)

CIGI, like the Waterloo-based theoretical physics think tank (Perimeter Institute) founded by Balsillie's RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, has made public outreach a major part of its mandate. Not an afterthought - not some pamphlets or a banner - but a fundamental, first or second priority goal. And both institutions have put their incredible intellectual and creative resources to the task.

In an interview earlier this winter, Balsillie described his work to foster public debate: "We are off-the-charts blessed in prosperity and maturity and resources and quality of life. We have never been smarter, we have never been richer, we have never been technologically more advanced, and it's not just all about buying another car or buying another property. ...I'm thinking that there's going to be a renaissance."


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