05/14/2010 07:47 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Build A Liveable City

This week's column was inspired by a remarkable fact. By 2030, the U.S. "will be dominated by 10 megalopolitan areas..." says Joel Kotkin, author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He includes New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Miami on the list.

I adore city life (Green Acres fans?), but recognize that living and working together in close quarters presents huge challenges - and that it's not going to get any easier as we continue to grow and welcome people from around the world. As a New Radical, I'd add that the opportunities to do good are going to increase, too (New Radicals are men and women like you and me who've found ways to put the skills acquired in their careers to work on the world's greatest challenges - for more, please see archived articles.)

Recently, I sat down with someone who's taken on the challenge of making one particular city exceptionally liveable. Her name is Julia Deans, and she's CEO of the Toronto City Summit Alliance (TCSA). This is an edited version of our conversation.

Julia Moulden: Julia, let's start with how you came to this role.

Julia Deans: I always knew that I wanted to be in public service so instead of just taking a law degree, I earned a graduate degree in public policy at the same time. I started off in a fairly conventional legal career in a big Canadian law firm, including practicing in Hong Kong. After that, I had an opportunity to set up the Southeast Asian operation of an international recruitment firm. In 2001, my family returned to Canada. I volunteered for a few years, and it was through this that I met the founding chair of the TCSA, David Pecaut. David asked me to help lead the organization.

JM: What appealed to you?

JD: The ability to work with some of the finest people in Toronto. No matter the sector, we attract the most interesting, engaged, passionate people.

JM: TCSA has lots of irons in the fire, and I want to talk about some of your projects, but let's begin with your mission.

JD: To galvanize leaders from all different sectors to surface and drive new responses to the social, economic, and environmental challenges facing the Toronto region.

JM: And how does your mandate and approach set you apart from existing civic-minded organizations?

JD: Right from the beginning, we recognized that social, economic, and environmental issues are connected. And that leaders from across the sectors - business, government, nonprofits - need to work together to address them. Our first project, for instance, was the Tourism Recovery Initiative, launched in 2003 when we had SARS in Toronto. We brought together people from across the community to work together and get Toronto's tourism back on track. An investment of $11 million earned about $80 million in benefits.

JM: Tell me how TCSA works.

JD: We develop and support projects such as the Toronto Region Research Alliance, which unites government, technology companies, educational and financial institutions to attract major investments and research in the region. Luminato is another example - an international arts festival that capitalizes on Toronto's strong cultural and tourism assets and attracts a million visitors each year. There's the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, which helps skilled immigrants get their first work experience in Toronto, developed in partnership with the Maytree Foundation. And then there is the Toronto Summit, which brings together 600 or so leaders from across all the sectors into the same room and gets them thinking together about the issues. The next summit is in February, and working groups have already been holding roundtables and preparing foundational papers. [For more about the full range of projects, see the Toronto City Summit Alliance site.]

JM: Sounds like you're well prepared for the summit. Are there ever surprises?

JD: Yes! Each year we head into it with a pretty good idea of what will be discussed, and some sense of what we might come away with. But there are always surprises. Last time, we knew that diversity was on everyone's mind. But were delighted that the DiverseCity idea emerged from those meetings.

JM: DiverseCity?

JD: It's a project we've developed in partnership with Maytree. Our goal is to create concrete, practical, and measurable initiatives to help diversify the leadership of all institutions, public and private. Because diverse leadership improves financial and organizational performance, increases our capacity to link to international markets, and strengthens our society. [Watch for the second DiverseCity Counts report, released on June 10th.]

JM: Sounds like TCSA is an incubator. Do people also approach you?

JD: Yes, just yesterday my team and I met with 25 arts and culture leaders from across the Toronto region who came to us. As we listened, it became clear that each of their organizations was tackling the same issues - how to broaden their audience, how to better market themselves, how to lobby government - and that it made sense to help them find a way to work together.

JM: You've got a lot on your plate, Julia. Do you have a huge staff?

JD: No, we're a tiny team. But we do have a huge group of dedicated and passionate volunteers. We're led by an 11-person board and a 55-person steering committee, and more than 6,000 people have been involved in TCSA projects.

JM: Do you ever get all of these people together?

JD: Yes! The summit is a great opportunity to do that. But we also held our first Civic Family Reunion, to help these fantastic people meet one another and see that Luminato is connected to DiverseCity is connected to the Toronto Region Research Alliance.

JM: And now TCSA has a new chair. [After a long illness, David Pecaut died in December, 2009.]

JD: Yes, the wonderful John Tory chose to become chair of the TCSA instead of running for mayor of Toronto - a real credit to the thousands of volunteers who are working on these initiatives. He's got a strong business background, a deep social conscience, and is very committed. And like David, he works really, really hard.

JM: Is hard work an essential ingredient?

JD: Yes! When people contact me and say that they'd like to create a City Summit Alliance in their region, I tell them that they'll need strong leaders who will roll up their shirtsleeves and work. Figureheads just don't cut it.

TCSA depends on thousands of volunteers - many of whom come with the blessing of their organization. If you're thinking about how to make the case to your employer about why volunteerism is important (or if you're an organization keen to become a New Radical Innovator), you'll find the latest Deloitte Volunteer Impact Survey interesting. See what others are doing, what they value, and what's working. The survey is part of Deloitte's commitment to building the business case for, and advancing the dialogue about, corporate skills-based volunteerism and pro bono work. In addition to research on strategic community development, Deloitte has its own program; I'll be writing about that in a future post. Please share your thoughts and experiences with us by commenting below. As always, I invite you to email me directly: julia (that familiar symbol) wearethenewradicals (punctuation) (suffix).

Julia Moulden is on tour, talking about the New Radicals. She writes speeches for visionary leaders. And her new book - on boomers and meaningful work - will be published in 2011.