The fuel of FUEL: co-creating a movement

Photo of Sarah Dickinson
Article by: Sarah Dickinson
The fuel of FUEL: co-creating a movement

“This is the space we play in,—the city itself is our biggest project.” Jane Cox and Sarah Dickinson consider the convergence of people, world events, and creative call-to-arms in Vancouver, the first FUEL gathering.


Vancouver is “movement-ripe,” says Jane Cox, founder and principal at Cause and Affect. It could be that the city is an innovative orbit that draws people into it—or it could be that innovative people congregate and set the tone. Either way, Vancouver is rich with a constant flow of ideas and idealism, says Cox—it’s just a matter of how to harness that flow. Or, better put: to unharness it.


In the summer of 2013, Cox was invited by Vantage Point and the City of Vancouver to deliver a keynote on the future of leadership. The venue? A Forum for Vancouver’s Not-for-Profit Leaders that connected 150 leaders from Vancouver’s cultural and social sectors—representing one of the first shared-mission gatherings of big thinkers from vastly different mandates and sectors.


In her talk, Cox broke down the provocations that ultimately led to the creation of FUEL, the forum ‘for leaders, entrepreneurs, designers and engaged citizens to co-create a better world’: Thinking big now means something very different than what it did in the past. There’s no longer such a thing as the sole charismatic visionary. Keeping information close for ones’ own bottom line is no longer the path to power—sharing information is.


The FUEL event bucks the tendency to divide a wealth of ideas and makers into silos that don’t talk to each other across fields. It collects innovators from every possible angle into one room to look at one another as the assets of a city, and of the world. It poses the question: how can we reconfigure these assets to an ultimately greater effect?


“We have everything we need to make a truly progressive Vancouver—for our way of life here, to reflect this conscious sensibility,” says Cox. “I don’t want to live in a place that’s just …livable. I want to live in a place that’s intellectual and lively. A place that runs with its own ideas.”


To host an event to inspire this kind of action, her collaborator Sarah Dickinson, co-founder and Director of THNK, the School of Creative Leadership will conduct a day-long workshop with the aim to bring new resources and the rigor of innovative leadership to all the good intentions that are already here.


“Events such as TED are interesting diversions—stimulating monologues that touch down in the city to inspire us. But they’re gone the next day,” says Dickinson. “They don’t perpetuate a continued conversation. FUEL exists to not only broadcast but apply our wealth of innovators.”


Not surprisingly, the first annual event on creative leadership and co-creation will require the creative leadership and co-creation of Cox and Dickinson.


“Our vision, values and beliefs are aligned—making it happen is something of an experiment,” says Cox. “This is the exciting part! Relative to the typical world of conferences and gatherings, we are trying a lot of new things. The audience and participants will help shape the dialogue and our role is listen, curate and design what happens next...moving ideas into action is the goal.”


By gathering together a cross-section of people who may think their skillsets and mandates are divergent, FUEL seeks to remove a mass of blinders to address issues of food, technology, design and sustainability across government, businesses, universities, not-for-profits, entrepreneurs, generations and ethnic groups.


“It would be such a great outcome if the city said, ‘Hey, we’re coming up with a healthy city strategy, and we see a new wellness app over there, and then a non-profit appears that has a local food campaign—why not work together?’” says Dickinson. “Everything begins with imperfect movement. This city is so full of good intentions. What it needs now is more people who are willing to work together but they need to be connected first.”


The two event organizers are experiencing the very openness that this kind of collaboration espouses. Though their visions and goals are well-aligned, the path to bringing it all to fruition is loosely defined—intentionally so. What do the people orchestrating FUEL hope to achieve? Cox doesn’t hesitate:


“We want designers to consider government, and entrepreneurs to consider design, and non-profits to consider technology, and technologists to consider charity. In Vancouver, we have everything we need except for cross-pollination. We are not interested in being another design conference that gets designers talking about design or a sustainability conference that gets all the ‘green’ folks.  We want to get people jamming in atypical ways to solve challenges with a broader perspective."


At the next FUEL event—‘The Future of Urbanity, the Environment & our Lifestyle’ on May 29 & 30, 2014—panel discussions, workshops, and un-conference style sessions will encourage participation, plot our collective future across Food, Design, Sustainability and Technology to ignite the culture of Vancouver. It’s a living lab to reconsider the way we live, work, and lead. Join us.


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