By Chris Chipello
For a 25-year-old student, Jordan Isenberg has built quite a resume.
He has earned a BSc in biology and an MSc in ocular pathology at McGill. Along the way, he studied eye parasites in Brazil, served as a UN technical advisor on climate change to the Republic of Guatemala, and developed economic models to reduce carbon emissions by discouraging tropical deforestation. Those models figured in the 2009 Copenhagen accord on climate change.
Now into the second year of McGill’s joint MD/MBA program, Isenberg already has completed his MBA work at Desautels – including a thesis on reducing hospital greenhouse-gas emissions – and has moved on to the four-year program of medical studies, with an eye to eventually practicing emergency medicine.
So it’s not all that surprising that he was one of 17 outstanding young Canadians selected last spring as Action Canada fellows for 2011-2012. The 11-month program, funded through private and public support, seeks to enhance participants’ leadership skills and enrich their understanding of the country through a series of working conferences in communities across Canada.
For Isenberg, who grew up in Montreal, the fellowship has provided some eye-opening experiences. Over the past seven months, he and the other fellows have met with community leaders and stakeholders to learn about business and economic-development issues and concerns in places from British Columbia to Labrador.
In June, for example, the group met the day after the Stanley Cup riots with Vancouver city council members, condo developers and housing-group activists – all in the same room – to discuss questions facing the city. They also walked around the Downtown Eastside and saw projects underway in that area, known for high rates of poverty and drug use.
More recently, the fellows visited Labrador, staying in Goose Bay for a couple of nights before flying on to the northernmost town of Nain. They met with stakeholders ranging from a church choir group and Inuit leaders to representatives of mining giant Alcan.
Isenberg was part of a panel that “tried to take a pulse of the state of mining” in Labrador. It proved to be a challenging exercise. “I’m used to making presentations, and building cases and making recommendations,” Isenberg says. “I’m not used to listening, observing and engaging on a really grassroots level, especially in a new place, which was the hardest part … Aboriginal issues are something I’ve heard a lot about,” having worked in central America, but in the Labrador case “I really felt embarrassed not knowing much about” the issues.
As part of the Action Canada program, Isenberg is also working on a year-long group project examining the effects of rising energy prices on Canadians.
An underlying goal of the program is to form a network whose members will support each other in making Canada better. “The people I’ve gotten to know and work with are some of the most intelligent, interesting, caring people I’ve ever had the opportunity to call my friends,” Isenberg says.
One lesson from his experiences so far: “There are two things that kind of move history. One is people, and the other is ideas. And together, there’s very little that people and ideas can’t change.”