The Transformational Canadians program celebrates 25 living citizens who have made a difference by immeasurably improving the lives of others. Readers were invited to nominate Canadians who fit this description. Over several weeks, a panel of six judges will select 25 Transformational Canadians from among the nominees.
Nominations remain open until November 26. Submit yours today.
Wendy Cukier, long-time activist, has been selected as one of 25 Transformational Canadians.
Wendy Cukier teaches at a business school, so she understands economic imperatives - and the importance of innovation and prosperity. But for the associate dean of Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management, what matters most is preserving core Canadian values around safety, equity and respect for human rights.
"I firmly believe that one of the things that will continue to attract wealth to Canada and immigrants to Canada and investments to Canada and so on rests on our quality of life," Prof. Cukier says. "That is really the most precious thing that we all have to continue to work on."
An expert in emerging technologies, Prof. Cukier has spent two decades championing workplace diversity and gun control. The unifying themes of her work are innovation and change processes, says the co-author of 2002's Innovation Nation: Canadian Leadership From Java to Jurassic Park. After spending her early career with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Communications, Prof. Cukier became a consultant to organizations such as the Palo Alto, California-based Institute for the Future.
Horrified by the 1989 Montreal massacre of 14 female students at the hands of gunman Marc Lépine, the St. Catharines, Ont., native co-founded the Coalition for Gun Control. The coalition lobbied the Conservative government to introduce Bill C-17, which tightened firearms restrictions. It then pressured the Liberals to bring in Bill C-68, the 1995 legislation that required all Canadian gun owners to obtain a licence and register their weapons.
The coalition now represents some 300 groups, from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Paediatric Society to the Canadian Labour Congress. Besides serving as president, Prof. Cukier was a founding member of the London-based International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).
Hounded by the gun lobby, she says her daughter is the biggest reason for her firearms activism. "A huge amount of my motivation comes from the fact that I am a parent and I am so moved by the experiences of the families who have lost children to gun violence," explains the 1999 Meritorious Service Cross recipient.
When the right organizations didn't exist, Prof. Cukier has invented them herself - frequently in a male-dominated environment. "One of the reactions I often get from people is, 'You did what?'" she says, crediting her parents with instilling that activist spirit. "So many people care as much as I do about many of these issues, but they don't feel they can make a difference."
At Ryerson, Prof. Cukier - whose three graduate degrees include a PhD in management science - developed the MBA program. In 1999, she founded the school's Diversity Institute, a research-based agency that collaborates with government, industry and other partners to improve workplace diversity practices.
Prof. Cukier and her colleagues focus on the business case for diversity and inclusion. "That, for me, is a really important lens to bring to the discussion, which is how does this tie to meeting the needs of your customers or your clients?" she says. "How does this tie to innovation, how does this tie to attracting the best and brightest?"
The bedrock of innovation is skilled human capital, Prof. Cukier says. Beyond technological capacity, she argues, the innovator's skill set includes being able to think unconventionally and translate great ideas into products and services that change people's lives. "It has to do with creating a sort of entrepreneurial, risk-taking, challenge-the-status-quo orientation."
Describing her outlook on Canadian technological innovation as "glass half-full, glass half-empty", Prof. Cukier fears that this country may have lost some of its edge. Like gun control or gender equality, she says, innovation is a continuous process that calls for integrated strategies. "If you're not continually moving forward, you're going to be surpassed by other nations which are."
Prof. Cukier is also concerned that after some notable advances, Canada is stalling on diversity and gun control. As two examples, she points to the employment gap between immigrants and native-born Canadians - and the Harper government's failed attempts to kill the long-gun registry.
"You make progress, but if you're not vigilant, you run the risk that some of those gains will be reversed," Dr. Cukier warns. "People are starting to recognize that that is actually a real possibility on many of these fronts."
Wendy Cukier on the importance of teamwork
One thing that is critical from my point of view is recognizing that you can't be a leader without followers. And so teamwork is absolutely essential. I'm a bit resistant to great man - and I use that in quotation marks - theories of change where people think, 'This person did X, this person did Y.' Because any changes that you really examine or unpack are invariably the combination of a variety of individuals, and a variety of factors and circumstances, as much as agency.