In the lead up to July 1st, we’re profiling five Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area city builders, past and present, who have not only made significant positive impact in our communities, but have challenged us to be better civic-minded, inclusive, and collaborative individuals. Today we take a brief look at David Pecaut, the original founder of the Toronto City Summit Alliance, now CivicAction, and one of Toronto’s best known civic and business leaders.
David Pecaut fell in love with Toronto when he first arrived here in 1981. An American ex-pat originally from Sioux City, Iowa, Pecaut had time to explore the city while waiting for his permit to work in Canada. From Toronto’s “ocean-sized lake” and ravines to its overall “diversity, fluidity, and political openness,” a deep respect and affection for his adopted hometown developed within Pecaut. This would be the foundation of a tenacious effort to build Toronto’s collective civic leadership.
A successful consultant by trade, Pecaut was best known professionally for his time with the Boston Consulting Group, opening its first Canadian office. But the catalyst for his volunteer and civic leadership would come from his mother, who near death in 1997, reminded him that it would be his contributions to his family and community that would have lasting impact.
The most amazing thing that struck me at every turn was how many people from all walks of life in this city were passionately concerned with making it a great city.
David Pecaut, 2009
David saw Toronto as a city full of conveners, entrepreneurs, and consensus drivers—a city of people willing to cross boundaries and work together. Through the Toronto City Summit Alliance, now CivicAction, Pecaut helped drive the creation of multiple landmark Toronto projects including the Toronto Region Research Alliance, Greening Greater Toronto, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, the Emerging Leaders Network, and Luminato. Motivated by Pecaut’s relentless attitude and conviction, over 6,000 people volunteered their time and effort in these projects.
In an email to friends and close colleagues shortly before his death in 2009 at the age of 54, Pecaut laid out his vision for Toronto. He insisted that global rankings were a distraction from a greater city building effort and Toronto’s bourgeoning collective leadership scene. In his final message, David wrote:
We can be a city where collective leadership is the norm. A city where civic entrepreneurs are everywhere and the process of bringing all the parts of civil society together to solve a problem is really how the city defines its uniqueness – a city where this quality is the essence of what makes Toronto so special.
His words still ring true today.
As we take time to pause and reflect on our nation, David Pecaut’s relentless spirit and love for the diversity of our region is a key leadership example for our current and emerging city builders. As we move forward, his ideals of collective leadership and crossing barriers are more relevant than ever.
Follow us on Twitter to find see who we’ll profile next. Also, stay tuned with our Emerging Leaders Network on July 30th, as we ask our entire network to shout-out emerging leaders who’ll shape the future of our nation.