Creative Calgary Congress — Exploring ways that the arts and artists can play a leadership role in making Calgary a more curious, compassionate and creative place for all citizens.

The Business Guys — Avnish Mehta and Court Ellingson

What do we mean by shared prosperity?

Creative Economy — What Does it Take to Create Shared Prosperity

What is shared prosperity?

Avnish Mehta is born and raised in Calgary and loves this city. He is an entrepreneur through and through. He currently owns and operates a presentation and public speaking consulting firm based in Calgary with clients all over the world called Stand and Command.

Court Ellingson joined Calgary Economic Development in 2014 as a Project Manager and Economic Strategist. He works with government, non-profit and the private sector on the implementation of Building on our Energy: The 10 Year Economic Strategy for Calgary.


Our idea is to think about shared prosperity and what that means. What are you bringing to a shared prosperity relationship? And what do you require in return in order for those relationships to be ignited and become alive? How do we know what is the right thing to do in order for us to have shared prosperity?

This is about observation and not judgement. About recognizing that where we are today is where we are, based on everything that we’ve done up to this point, and that we’re going to be different from the moment that this sentence ends to this afternoon to the end of the day and beyond.

We are in the midst of an economic downturn but there are many interesting things happening in Calgary right now. People are starting robotics companies, others are engaged in nanotechnology. Some people want to start digital media strategies, innovation centres, are working on health care breakthroughs, grappling with how we’re going to adapt in today’s construction industry, and how to move out of coal and into renewables. Every single one of us in engaged in great conversations and every single one of us brings something to the table.

We like to see things through this lens of abundance. Each of us brings something to the table and we need to recognize and value that.

Participants and Activators share a laugh | Photo: Calgary Arts Development

Open Session #1

The room is packed. We can barely fit. We are loving the structured unstructured-ness of the day. We are going to go from the macro to the messy middle.

In order to have shared prosperity, in relationship to abundance, we want to start by determining values. Some days some values percolate to the top and are stronger than others.

What are some of those values that come to the surface? These make up the structure to govern how you (and communities) think. Value eventually turns into virtue.

We feel a connection, like neighbours, with people who come from the same place. When we find valuable gifts on or in our land and community, those radiate out from us and help us engage with others. They help us make social change and dig into something like shared prosperity. There is beauty in community and shared experience.

We are trying to create a home of no obligation. Those who show up are the right people to show up at that time. The choices we make are the ones we are meant to make. Whether there are obligations set for us or not, it is really about choice and choosing. We have the ability to choose and decide what we want to explore and how, and with that comes incredible responsibility — there is no opting out. The idea of shared prosperity is “What do we have to reconcile to make things happen?”

Sometimes in shared prosperity, there is no benefit to the self, and only benefit to others, and that in itself is part of sharing prosperity. Maybe there is an inherent benefit in living in a no obligation space.


What rules of engagement do we have for ourselves?

What do we think about when we talk about prosperity? Is there a new way to understand it? How do we need to rethink that notion of prosperity/wealth/riches? There is a shift in values.

When we think of prosperity, there are moments of true emotional movement. Look at the contribution given by a group like Dancing Parkinson’s YYC — it shows what is possible through real and true dedication, and how lives are enriched. There are different ways of creating prosperity that has nothing to do with money or wealth. It can be about experience. Prosperity can also mean welfare — doing well.

For people who don’t share values or virtue, for those who think “What’s in it for me?” How can we bring them into the sharing way of life? Or how can we understand how they see the world? Us vs Them mentality.

The election of Trump has heightened for all of us as Canadians the question: what are our values? We don’t want to go that route. We don’t want to live in or give into fear. Divisiveness is entrenched in a place like Alberta, where there are very specific different kinds of values such as urban vs rural, energy vs environment, and so forth. How do we encourage less divisiveness?

When we want to reconcile with Indigenous peoples, we must also reconcile our own values and determine what we need to do to get to shared prosperity. The minute we become divisive, nothing can be shared.

There is this idea of Indigenizing the colonizers, the academic system, etc. Reciprocity is about partnerships. Cowboy Smithx said that treaty is about right relationships. Some people enter partnerships without bringing the value of reciprocity, without true sharing.

It’s not just about artists going into businesses or inspiring audiences or going into galleries — artists are also inspired by elements outside of the arts. Culture grows in the middle spaces between silos. In the spaces on the Venn Diagram where the circles intersect.

Start with Value

Value first, pricing later. Focusing on the value forces you to understand what should actually happen. If you start with pricing, creativity and value stops.

When the economy softens, we hope that we can have better conversations about value beyond economic value. Sponsorships can offer a reciprocity of value — an exchange of the value of authenticity between corporation and community partner. We said earlier that value can turn into virtue. When a partnership is based on a reciprocity of value, there can become virtuous cycle. Finance is a part of it, but it’s larger than that. What you are offering and exchanging with the audience is a value statement.

From a public sector perspective, taxpayer is a more damaging label than citizen — because it reduces everything to the transactional. The collective and the citizenry is about choices, about sharing, about the collective obligation to share what we have. Tax is not a bad word. You see all this angst about raising taxes, but if we frame it a different way, citizens would see the value they are getting as opposed to the taxes they are paying.

There is an ongoing narrative about doom and gloom in our city, but there are riches and prosperity and value and experience beyond the consumerist construct. There is responsibility to shift the conversation about what we have as opposed to what we have lost.

One of the conversations about innovation is about where and how to create places for collision. We need to create safe places for these kinds of conversations to flourish.

There is value in service. There are those who have worked for minimum wage and those who have not. Service is about how you value the other person.

It is through conversations like this that we can seek to understand the values of those who are not like us, those who are in tandem with us, and those who are like us.

Knowledge, Purpose and Shared Meaning

Colin Jackson mentioned that when people lose their jobs, they lose their purpose in life. Is there a general purposelessness inherent to our society? Can culture and art play more of a role in creating purpose? If you have to move industries, do you have to create a new purpose?

Generally speaking, everyone will say “I want to make money to take care of my family”, but there are so many different ways that people define or achieve that value statement.

And the definition of purpose shifts from generation to generation — is there an optimism to youth that slowly dissolves? How do we mesh the generations who are leaving the workforce with those who are entering it? How can we share knowledge to continue prospering?

There is a danger — when you push people into silos (millennials, baby boomers etc.) the divisiveness becomes part of society.

Developing knowledge isn’t just about formal education — it comes with time. We have to value all of the different ways that people develop knowledge.

We have to be vigilant about calling our politicians out and about whom we elect to become politicians. How do we reconcile strong disagreements with the concept that everyone’s voice is valued?

What is it about Alberta as a province that creates a ‘shared’ perspective on things like taxes?

There is an interesting book about divisiveness you may want to check out, called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics by Jonathan Haidt.

We need to identify what values are shared. It is really hard to have a conversation when there is no middle ground. It’s a clash of armies. “Judo Chop” instead of clashing head on and you suddenly create a space. If you find you’re stuck in Us vs Them you can’t identify shared values until you can see the space between.

There is a privilege in being invited to a space where you can feel safe to find the middle ground, to have a dialogue.

The Process vs the Answer

When doing work, there are four outcomes: Correct work/correct answer; incorrect work/correct answer; incorrect work/incorrect answer; correct work/incorrect answer. If you don’t know how the person is approaching the work you will not understand how they got to the answer. If we can speak about the process of the work rather than the answer, we’ll be able to get to greater shared value. It’s like in school when you get more points if you show your work.

Students hate showing their work. But as educators do research in innovating the school system they are shifting from knowledge to innovation. As Jim Dewald explained, defaulting to known answers can be reductive, whereas the process of creative thinking or entrepreneurial thinking can lead to new discoveries. Kids knowing facts is an asset, but it is not the only asset.

So often we speak from the perspective of certainty, but if we step away from being certain, we are better able to understand, or reach a new answer. We can use the technique of appreciative inquiry. How many times do we say the answer not having done the work? Is it knowledge if we got there without doing the work?

We need to reframe our shared definitions of knowledge, how we work, values, and shared prosperity.

Illustration: Sam Hester

Open Session #2

We are still digesting the last session. Our intent was to start out by reflecting on what was learned so far today — using values as a governance model for how we engage, and using that engagement as a starting point in discussing shared prosperity.

One of the things that came out of the first session conversation was that we often seem to have this sense of certainty about the answer — we stand in this place of certainty. But it’s how we got there that is most important — that is what brings us to the middle ground.

Reflecting on the Cree story that Brian Calliou shared with us, where the Creator chose to put the gifts is the most difficult place to get to — the heart, it’s the journey inward that allows us to understand.

Our values are our governance structure, but which ones dominate at any given time is the most interesting part. Values are constantly being reprioritized — do we have clarity on which one is the influencer when we have to engage?

Your virtues are your lived values. Where are we in terms of actually living our values?

Sometimes obligation trumps choice. We have to find the messy middle between how we as a group or individual operate against the needs and choices of others.

What does shared prosperity look like for you, for us, for our country, for our planet?

There is some foundational brevity and understanding around the thought of lifting others up in order to lift an entire community up. The measure of your society is how you treat the most vulnerable and marginalized. The more successful everyone is, the more successful the society is — a rising tide lifts all boats. When our neighbours succeed, we all succeed. This seems to be a foundational aspect of shared prosperity.

How do we create opportunities for learning? How do we provide space for our children to learn how to create a prosperous, vibrant link to community?

Is there a difference between personal and professional values? We often live in a combined world.

Authenticity, respect, trust, and connectivity help raise the shared value of prosperity. If you really listen and hear others, it gives you greater opportunity to connect, engage, and create a shared understanding and experience of prosperity. We need to approach things with a sense of equality, creating the same set of rules for everyone. Who is going to lead everyone? Do you need to establish an environment where leadership is shared? There is a right to access and a right to experience.

But the right to access and experience can be at odds with sustainability, because variables such as financial costs or logistical costs may put sustainability at risk. However, if the guiding principles are based on shared values, then people will always find a way to manifest their core values regardless of circumstance.

Integrity is living by your values rather than by personal gain. It can be hard to get to the crux of one’s core values but it’s worth the effort. If we, as a city, could determine five shared core values, we could move forward even though people may manifest those values in a variety of diverse ways.

A full house for Open Session #2 | Photo: Calgary Arts Development

Putting Values First

Conversations about how to achieve shared prosperity are happening around the globe. For example, The New Economy movement and The Common Cause Foundation are looking at ways of bringing forth principles of shared values and resources.

There are basically 10 commonly held values, and the question is the context in which we use them. There are two groups — Independence and Interdependence. The work towards shared prosperity is in driving people towards manifesting the values that are aligned with interdependence.

What helps is using children as the filter for the importance of values, grounding our values in creating the world we want for our kids.

We believe in the concept of teaching values, but we have to remember that not all values that are being taught are positive. Some create the divisiveness that is being experienced in our world.

Where do the elements of competition, risk and failure come in? These elements are often inherent in the room. Some ideas take priority over others, the conversation is not always equal, and at some point a community or organization is going to have to make decisions. Some ideas will be valued over the others.

We can say everyone is equal, but there are not equal opportunities for everyone and not everyone is treated the same. We treat people differently based on how well we know them, their age, their occupation. Not all systems have the capacity to operate on a consensus basis (organizations, communities, families).

Would it be helpful if we brought it back to values? For example, the questions we ask in hiring committees are more likely about behaviours and skills, not values. Perhaps that’s because there is a concern that different people would articulate or manifest their common values in different ways. Then you can lose the fact that different people are, in fact, speaking about the same values. Could you make the argument that there is a right and wrong way of manifesting values?

What is Prosperity and How do we Achieve it?

How do you define prosperity? Wealth? Riches? Economy? The way we measure economy by GDP is a false marker — there is more to prosperity than material wealth.

How do we identify the values that best move the community toward a shared prosperity? On a short- and long-term basis? Look at the boom and bust cycle of the Calgary economy — framing everything around the economy can skew the meaning of true prosperity and lead to short-term thinking.

There are some interesting books that focus on this idea of putting values first.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about starting with values and the fewer the values you focus on, the easier they are to enact.

Meritocracy, theoretically, is fine, but it assumes equality as a starting point, and it assumes that the arbiter of equality is effectively able to judge merit.

Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters by John Maxwell.

How do we define leadership? According to Peter Block, leaders are tasked with three things: Convening people, asking the right questions, and listening. Leadership is enabling others to achieve purpose under conditions of uncertainty. Leadership is action, and everyone can act. When we abdicate our duty to act to our leaders, then we release all accountability.

Some people are taught values by the companies they work for. There is a lot of work the individual must do to determine their own values. The arts help us connect to what our personal values are. An economic downturn can be an opportunity to make decisions and choices based on our values and not on those given to us by large corporations.

Resilience — it is important to learn how to overcome failure.

Are we defining the terms we use in a common way? What are the parameters we are all working with, which are influenced by every variable in our life? Do we know how to share what these definitions are with each other?

The phrase shared prosperity is used in the economic plan for Calgary, perhaps without knowing exactly what it means. Mount Royal University has an Institute of Community Prosperity — these are phrases that themselves do not yet have a common definition.

Comments from Court at the End of the Day

We were surprised by the number of people who came to our sessions and, for me, what those people take away from those sessions is far more important than anything I would have to say.

For those of you who were not in our sessions, we talked about shared prosperity, including shared and common understanding or common definitions. We talked about how we often come to a place already sort of having a certain answer in mind, but what’s more important is the process of how we got to that answer. We had lots of conversation about shared and common values, how it is that we come to hold those values, and what it means for us when we start engaging with others about things like shared prosperity.

Avnish Mehta

Born and raised in Calgary and Avnish loves this city.

He is an entrepreneur through and through. He currently owns and operates a presentation and public speaking consulting firm based in Calgary with clients all over the world called Stand and Command.

He is a Beer Baron with the Village Brewery, an advisor to Goodpin, and a part of the executive team at an Edmonton-based tech start-up called Accent Free.

More than anything else, Avnish loves to be able to contribute back to his community. He is currently a volunteer Board member with the Calgary Public Library, Vice President of the Alberta Library Trustee Association, a member of the Fundraising Committee with Calgary Folk Music Society, and a member of the Community Relations Council at Bow Valley College.

Avnish believes is it all about getting better. No matter where we start, we want to move towards, better and better.

Court Ellingson

Court joined Calgary Economic Development in 2014 as a Project Manager and Economic Strategist. He works with government, non-profit and the private sector on the implementation of Building on our Energy: The 10 Year Economic Strategy for Calgary.

From 2008 to 2014 Court worked in community economic development as a Senior Consultant with Millier Dickinson Blais (now MDB Insight) after working in Indonesia for six years as a Country Program Manager with CUSO International.

In addition to holding a Bachelor of Commerce, Court is currently working on his Masters in Economic Development. Through his role implementing Building on our Energy, Court is a member of the Stewardship Group with imagineCALGARY, participated in the Thrive Community Economic Development Network and sits on the implementation committee for Enough for All, Calgary’s poverty reduction strategy.

About the Creative Calgary Congress

Calgary Arts Development produced the first Arts Champions Congress in 2011 as a meeting place for people who make Calgary’s arts sector a vibrant and exciting place to work and our city a great place to live.

Renamed the Creative Calgary Congress in 2014, it returned on November 22, 2016 as a place to share ideas and explore ways that the arts and artists can play a leadership role in making Calgary a more curious, compassionate and creative place for all citizens.

Learn more about the day and add your voice