Leaf Initiative sprouts home-grown success stories

If you’ve been in the industry long enough, you’ll know the names: James Gosling, Jeff Skoll, Denzil Doyle.

For others in the business community, however, Canada’s IT success stories may not have been told well enough. That’s the thinking behind The Leaf Initiative, a Web site which officially launched Wednesday by a non-profit group of the same name.

The site profiles Gosling (who created Java for Sun Microsystems), Skoll (eBay’s first employee and president) along with more than 20 others. New entrants will be added monthly by a small staff of volunteers, lead by Toronto-based consultant Michael Lewkowitz.

Lewkowitz spoke with Computing Canada Wednesday to explain the Leaf Initiative took root.

CC: What inspired the site?

ML: I’d had some discussions with some colleagues of mine back in early 2000. At the time, a lot of people were talking about having to go to the U.S. to start new economy or dot-com firms. I started speaking to people like Jeff Skoll and ideas started bouncing around where we said, “”Hey, there are Canadians who are doing this sort of stuff. There are Canadians who are being incredibly successful in the new economy.”” We kind of started creating a little bit of a list and then it just struck us that we’ve just got to let people know about it.

CC: How will you market the Leaf Initiative to change those perceptions?

ML: We’re looking to build as many partnerships as we can. Initially we started with the Leafy Awards back in December 2000 to really hit home. We’ve since then built out this archive of stories online.

CC: Are you primarily looking at individuals, or will it include companies and projects as well?

ML: The focus to date has been individuals — to get the stories of individual Canadians and recognize their achievements. The reason being is that there’s a lot of Canadians who have moved around the world and have made significant impact as Canadians in different places. It can often get lost within the realm of big company.

CC: Some of the initial choices are well-known names, but how will you make your selections in the future?

ML: We haven’t run into a shortage yet. We’ll address that hurdle if we get to it, I guess, but we keep hearing great stories all the time and we don’t have enough people writing to do the stories we’re getting. It’s all about trying to get as many people out there writing as possible.

CC: If several of the people profiled on the site have been successful only after joining an American firm, how does that help fight perceptions about doing business here?

ML: I look at Canada as consisting as not just a physical country but the people who are Canadian themselves. That’s one of our greatest strengths: the ability to integrate and work with other cultures and in other communities. That’s something we’re trying to recognize. Just because they’re not living in Canada doesn’t mean they’re not Canadian. That’s a new definition that we’re working towards, but it’s definitely something we want to support. Ultimately their success represents Canada as a successful country.

CC: There have been a couple of events to promote local success stories, like the Technology Walk of Fame that Julian Wharton is launching. Will you be partnering with them as well?

ML: We started working closely together with them from the earlier days and you’ll notice that they’re recognized on the site as well. They’ve continued to run their events every year — I know they had another Gigathon event this year — and it’s been a really tough time for organizations, particularly non-profit, to continue to get funding and keep their events going. We’re always trying to find who else is out there doing it, and ultimately we’d like to see all these success stories coming together in one location.

CC: You say you haven’t had a hard time coming up with success stories, but will that change given that it’s such a tough time in the industry overall?

ML: A success story doesn’t mean that someone has won financially. Success stories is really about an ultimate impact — a contribution to the sense of the new economy. I think it’s important to recognize, particularly in the Canadian culture, the people who have gone out there, taken risks and created new things. That’s one of the things we like to do. People have shied away and said, “”Oh, don’t put that person up there,”” or “”what if they’re not successful in a year?”” Quite frankly, if they’re not successful in a year, I still think that they’re had an impact and had a contribution. If it was relevant at one point, hopefully it should have maintained its relevancy.

Comment: [email protected]

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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