Want to start a movement? Go rent a bus. 21inc & the drive to change New Brunswick

Written by Lisa Hrabluk

Best-selling author. Award-winning journalist. Purpose-led entrepreneur. Find me hanging out where culture, people and ideas collide.

October 24, 2014

The original 21 Leaders at Old Government House in 2005.


Today I’ll be hanging out with some of my favourite people; the latest group to join 21inc.

It is an amazing thing to watch one of your ideas take flight. Eleven years ago when John McLaughlin and I set out on our crazy adventure, we didn’t know where we would end up – or who would join us.

After all, who were we to start this conversation? A university president and a journalist; not your typical power couple.

We knew if we were going to do this, we’d have to build our network one person at a time.

Or as it turns out, in groups of 21.

April 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of the first 21 Leaders for the 21st Century province-wide tour.

In a way, the 21 Leaders tour is an early example of citizen journalism because it was an exercise in gathering and telling stories in the hope that we would glean some insight into our province and how to move it forward.

I designed that original tour to mimic my experiences as a journalist with the Telegraph-Journal.

While at the paper, I had noticed something interesting when I would go to interview senior executives and people who others in the community regarded as power players: they were just as interested to hear what I knew, as I was in hearing from them.

My interviews and chats were always two-way information exchanges and that got me thinking.

Even in a small place like New Brunswick, with its tight social and business circles, few people ventured outside their self-defined circles.

That limited their ability to widen their perspectives and try to understand a different point of view.

For me, this was a big problem because as a journalist I was one of the fortunate few who did know a lot of people and I was amazed, once you got past the surface differences, how they all shared one important trait: a fierce pride in their home, mixed with the heartbreak that something was being lost.

So many people I interviewed knew we had to change the conversation but had little faith in New Brunswick’s government or media to do that.

The problem was, they didn’t know how many other people shared their point of view.

As I was thinking about that from my newsroom desk, John McLaughlin was coming to the same conclusion.

After becoming UNB’s president, John set out on a tour of the province, visiting communities and listening to what people had to say about the province and how it needed to change.

When we started talking to each other we discovered we both shared something special; a deep faith in the people of New Brunswick to drive change.

We believed then, as we believe now, that transformational change is driven by new people exploring new ideas.

To get that started, we took a group of young people between the ages of 20 and 35 from business, the arts, government, and social development, stuck them on a bus and drove them around the province, introducing them to interesting people at every stop – and then talking about it as they rode New Brunswick’s highways and back roads.

That first tour concluded with a powerful evening at Old Government House with then-Lieutenant Governor Herménégilde Chiasson.

In that room, New Brunswick’s self-imposed divisions – of language, geography, occupation, race, age and gender – went silent, replaced by the participants’ realization that New Brunswick’s success must be a collaborative effort.

For John and I, it remains a powerful experience.

Today, 21inc. is going strong, with a network of over 200 alumni in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland.

Proof that for an idea to grow, it needs to be shared.

Which means we need to reach beyond our usual circles and welcome new people in.

It’ll change your perspective and if you’re lucky, it’ll change you.

And then we’ll change New Brunswick.


Lisa Hrabluk is the founder of Wicked Ideas. Follow her on Twitter @lisahrabluk.


About our e-book; John and I think of it as a working document, designed to get you thinking and prompt you to join us – in person and online – to expand upon the ideas in this e-book and to add your own ideas to the mix.

But we don’t just want to sit around talking – we want to identify a new cadre of community leaders who will step up and lead the charge for change.

We know who some of you are – and we’re excited to meet more of you and to hear what you’re doing.

So let us know what you think. Post your thoughts on any of our posts. You can also follow us on Facebook at  or on Twitter.



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