“Study hard, don’t do drugs and marry someone nice.” Doug Griffiths’ junior high school career, where such advice is the pat answer to how to have a successful life, fueled a fire in him to discover how communities, in their everyday actions often thwart their own goals.
Griffiths recent book, 13 Ways to Kill your Community is considered to be an inspiration many including municipal leaders.
From Coronation, Alta. this rancher, teacher and former MLA with an Honours Degree in philosophy proved to be an entertaining, hard-hitting truth teller, as last week, Griffiths, spoke to a crowd of about 150 people in Virden’s TOGP hall.
Virden Community Chamber of Commerce brought him to town. From southwest Manitoba, business people and citizens, many representatives of economic development boards, chambers of commerce and municipal councils, attended to hear what they might be doing wrong and to get inspiration to build their community.
Griffiths gave many examples of communities who plucked success out of the ashes of failure. He stated, “The biggest work we do in communities is to change the mindset.” He has worked with hundreds of communities across north America and he offered resources, some of them free, through contacting his staff at 13 Ways Inc.
While living near three rural Alberta communities, he noticed, “All three of the communities I was involved in were dying. Young people were leaving, businesses were closing, main street was in disrepair. Nothing was going well and I realized we need to do something, so I started to talk to anybody who would listen to me about the need for a rural community development strategy in the province.”
Then, while an MLA he was commissioned to study rural development. In a report called Land of Opportunity, covering health care, education, water, infrastructure, housing and more, he wrote that
“the federal, provincial and municipal governments had to be active partners in helping communities be successful; but it was not up to them. It was up to people in the community….”
He said his first epiphany came when, as a junior high teacher, he talked with students about what their lives might look like when they’re 45, and the everyday steps to a failed life or a fulfilled life.
He said it’s not a lot different with communities that find themselves failing. “Every single [community] had hopes and dreams and goals for their community, but every single one of them … did things every single day, that traded away what they wanted most for what was easy and convenient and pleasurable, now.”
Mark and Jill Humphries immigrated from the UK to Canada about 15 years ago.Humphries said Griffiths described what they experienced, “as immigrants to the area, with a strange accent, with some different ideas.”
He said they endured a strong tone of skepticism about their new business, built near Kola. Westwood Ranch Garden Centre with exotic animals and a thriving greenhouse went on to win the 2014 Westman Tourism Award.
As a Wallace-Woodworth councillor, Humphries said more people should have been there to hear this message “that could inspire a full community.”
Griffiths broached the topic of a move away from oil energy to other forms, but cautioned that our dependence upon petroleum products is woven throughout the 21st century way of life.
Humphries picked up on that, “We’re being bombarded with the green and climate change… we’ve got to try and protect the oil, because we’re always going to need oil.”
Nancy Smith, Hamiota Economic Development Officer and board member/business man David Rawlings attended.
Smith said from the presentation she realized that the promotional slogan ‘Move to Hamiota, it is a vibrant and safe community,’ is a generic tag that many communities wear. She said they need, instead, to think about “what makes us unique and build on that!” She also grabbed onto Griffiths mindset, “anything is possible.”
Wallace-Woodworth Councillor Barb Stambuski said, “I think we have all thought about some of the 13 ways… but when it is so blatantly, but humorously, explained to you, we all can relate to our own communities.
Stambuski agreed with Griffiths’ take action premise and said, “We cannot take future development for granted. We can’t just say ‘we are open for business’. We have to show it through our development plans, our zoning and even through tax incentives and marketing.”
Judy Wells, sales rep for Deloraine Times & Star and with the Deloraine Chamber of Commerce had read the book and knew Griffiths’ presentation would be disruptive to mindsets.
“I have been aware of the need for regional cooperation for a long time now because of working with Corner Pocket Publishing for over 20 years – four separate newspapers under one ownership. We were encouraged from the get-go to work together and help each other.
“Deloraine Chamber, like many others, has had its ups and downs. We are in the midst of regrouping right now. For quite a few years Chamber got caught up in being event planners… our focus now is to support our membership and promote them as best as possible.”
She wants people to strongly support the Shop Local strategy and to see empty storefronts filled with new businesses in Deloraine.
“I still think the biggest challenge is people’s attitudes. There has to be a shift in mind-set from ‘We can’t.’ and ‘We’re done.’ to ‘We can.’ and ‘We’re reinventing ourselves’.”
Virden mayor, Murray Wright said Griffiths’ wisdom “would work in any community. We have discussed some of the items already prior to this presentation and plan on implementing them in our community.”
A proponent of attracting business and families to Virden, he said, “At the present time we are working on several new businesses that have showed interest in moving to our community.”
In the question period, someone asked Griffiths for a positive answer when negative voices are spreading doubt and distrust. His answer, “You have to build real connections to be a real community and you need to find the mavens, good positive people, who will spread the word.”
Griffiths message was a fearless voice seeking to dispel backstabbing attitudes, fear of each other, fear of competition. He assured, “Like my grandpa always said, ‘If you come up with a really good idea, don’t worry about someone stealing it, you’ll have to shove it down their throat.’”