Leaders Alliance Summit

Closing Remarks for the Leaders Alliance Summit

May 5, 2018

Chers amis et McGillois, 

Thank you for being with us, and sharing your wisdom, energy and vision. Some of you travelled from far away, from California, London, Geneva and even Shanghai.

Thank you to our sponsors, la Banque Nationale et La Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec, for investing in the future of our University and in our collective future.  And a special thanks to the students who served as panelists, speakers and ambassadors.

As we conclude this Leaders Alliance, my hope is that each of us will retain the enthusiasm, collaboration and connections fostered here.

In less than 1,000 days, McGill will turn 200 years old.

McGill has achieved great things:

  • The monumental contributions to medicine made by Sir William Osler, Dr. Maude Abbott and Dr. Wilder Penfield.
  • The groundbreaking research in atomic physics of Sir Ernest Rutherford, and John Humphrey’s timeless work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • The development of the world’s first effective treatment for AIDS.

And our stars today, of whom I will mention just three:

  • Vicky Kaspi, who is bringing new light to our understanding of the universe;
  • Isabelle Daunais, who explores how novels illuminate our world and our histories in unique ways;
  • And Alan Evans, who is leading our Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives initiative.

These – and thousands more accomplishments – have set the stage for McGill’s third century.


We are here today because we are convinced that McGill needs to aim high and continue to be a leader in an increasingly complex world. 

We are fortunate to be located in a city that brings together people from all cultures and all continents.

We are privileged to be able to attract brilliant people, from here and across the world:

  • Indigenous students, proudly representing a wide diversity of nations situated all across Canada, from coast to coast to coast
  • Quebec’s francophones and anglophones, whose families have roots going back to hundreds of years
  • Immigrants to Canada and their children
  • Students from over 150 countries
  • And professors from the best universities worldwide

This diverse community has one thing in common: its members thrive on challenge.

At McGill, they are inspired to think differently, to challenge their assumptions, to explore beyond the current frontiers of knowledge.

As we enter our third century, we need to nurture and support their aspirations to be among those people who will shape the world.

Globalization, emerging technologies, and rapid social transformations are creating a climate of uncertainty. We need to nurture people who can turn uncertainty into opportunity, who can open the way to a deeper understanding of humanity and to a better society, a better planet.


 Four themes have crystallized over the course of this summit:

  1. Opportunities that open doors
  2. Research that changes lives
  3. Innovation that drives progress
  4. Education that shapes future-ready students

So how will McGill address these themes?

Let’s start with the first one: opportunities that open doors.

Many people face inequality and insecurity. Major transformations in the world of work, from increased automation, for example, threaten to widen the gap between rich and poor.

I have been privileged to be part of discussions aimed at building inclusive societies that benefit all citizens – both at the World Economic Forum and as a member of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth here in Canada.

Education is always part of the equation as one of the biggest drivers for social and economic mobility.

At McGill, we have learned to contribute to an inclusive world by making excellence and accessibility core elements of our vision, through initiatives like the MasterCard Foundation Scholars, the Loran Scholars and our own bursary program.  

Building a McGill that reflects the world’s diversity is a key goal for us.

In our third century, we want to ensure that our doors are kept wide open to all students with talent, commitment and ambitions, regardless of their economic and social background. 


Which brings us to our second theme: research that changes lives.

We start by asking, “Where can McGill research make the greatest contributions?”

We believe that we can have an impact on society:

  • By turning the vast quantities of information about the brain into the knowledge we need to treat neurological disorders
  • By unravelling the complex challenge of environmental sustainability
    and creating the means to heal our planet
  • By calibrating our immune system to fight infectious diseases that ravage populations across borders
  • By optimizing food production to make nutritious food available to all.

All of these goals rest, first and foremost, on a deep understanding of humans and of societies. Through our Max Bell School of Public Policy, we are creating bridges among scientists, policymakers and communities.

And all of these goals can be advanced by harnessing new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, for the social good.

These areas are marked by their complexity, and require diverse expertise.

In our third century, McGill will embrace new research partnerships and new approaches,
whether collaborative, multidisciplinary, data-based, community-based, or an approach no one has thought of yet.

Only then can we ensure that our research excellence will serve society to the greatest extent possible.



Our third theme is innovation that drives progress.

The Honourable Kevin Lynch, former clerk of the Privy Council and a tireless advocate for innovation in Canada, once said, “Innovation has got to be baked into what you do.”

Indeed, innovation has to be no less pervasive in our universities than in business.

McGill aims to support the full spectrum of innovation – from inspiring bold thinking to training students how to bring their ideas to the world.

That means:

  • support for pilot programs
  • dedicated space for innovation
  • an expansion of the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship
  • and weaving social and commercial entrepreneurship into programs across our campuses.

Fostering innovation also requires deeper partnerships with industry, to help us translate innovations into impact.

We also need to be bold – to experiment with radically new ways of doing things.

The Tanenbaum Open Science Institute is one such experiment. As Dr. Guy Rouleau, the Director of the MNI, observes, no one has been able to offer new treatments for common neurological diseases in decades, because “we don’t understand how the brain works.”

To accelerate progress, researchers are foregoing the protection of intellectual property
and making their findings and data openly available.

Bold new ideas, brilliant people who embrace challenge, and engaged partners – McGill has all the ingredients to become a hotbed of entrepreneurship and creative innovation.

In our third century, we will strengthen our culture, tools, and partnerships to supercharge McGill’s capacity to turn ideas into impact.


Our fourth, and last theme, is education that shapes future-ready students.

The most important question before us as we move into our next century is:

How do we prepare students to succeed and thrive in a world where change is the only constant?

As the global labour market undergoes massive change, the students graduating from our universities will be the people at the helm.

They must be both job-ready and future-ready.

Transferable skills, such as digital literacy, critical thinking, collaboration, and “emotional intelligence,” are required for the changing world of work. So are work-integrated learning experiences, whether through field studies, internships or community work. 

But first and foremost, preparing students to be future-ready stems from a challenging, interactive campus environment, one that ignites their curiosity and creativity
to inspire them to dive deeper – an environment that hones their leadership capacity
and prepares them to take risks.

That learning environment must help them explore their great capacity for learning,
in order to prepare for a future that will constantly offer them new opportunities and new challenges.

And in a globally connected world, being “future-ready” means being comfortable with diversity, ready to embrace new experiences and to truly listen, in order to lead and serve with compassion and understanding.

The most important outcome that students can take away from their McGill education is confidence – a confidence in their own ability to learn and acquire new skills.

This is the path forward for McGill.


For nearly 200 years, McGill’s students and staff have worked together with alumni and other leaders for the good of McGill and for the good of society.

When Principal Dawson arrived at McGill in 1855, he found a jumble of unfinished buildings
and cows grazing on the weeds. Members of the new Graduates Society rolled up their sleeves to beautify the campus, and captains of industry donated the funds to build first-class facilities for teaching and research.

When the University opened up its doors to women in 1884, again Principal Dawson worked hand in hand with the leaders of Montreal society.

When World War I began, McGill’s Dean of Medicine pulled together alumni, students and staff to equip and operate the McGill Field Hospital in France.

This is the community to which we all belong – a community that has changed the lives of millions of people for the better.


While we are proud of our past, we are looking to our future.

When I returned to my alma mater as Principal, I talked to many people at McGill. Their vision was for a university that was more open, connected and purposeful. 

We are committed to being that university: a community whose excellence serves the most profound needs of society, a place that mirrors the diversity of the world, an institution open to change and innovation.

This is what McGill must strive for in its third century.


To achieve this vision, we need your help.

We, here in this room, have an unprecedented opportunity to shape McGill – and, through it, the world.

Every person in this room is a leader. Every one of us possesses powerful insights and connections that we can use to help the University have a greater impact on the world.

McGill needs your guidance and your wisdom – to mentor the next generation of leaders,
to advise our Faculties, to open doors to students and to help build partnerships.

Most of all, we need you to be part of our team, to be champions for McGill. 

When I think of what we can achieve, I am reminded of Enlightenment Now, the latest book by Steven Pinker, McGill alumnus and Harvard Professor, where he says:

We will never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one. But there is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing.

Together, we can have an impact on a global scale.

We can help our world flourish.

Together, we can build McGill’s third century.

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