Through the revival of the prestigious Hearn Lecture, Toronto’s Local Network volunteers have reinvigorated their community and helped get the IET on the map in Canada.
The IET Toronto Local Network (LN) pulled off a real coup this summer by bringing the prestigious Hearn Lecture back to life after a 15-year hiatus. Not only that, they managed to go from concept to event in just eight months. The lecture was held in the middle of the Communities Community America (CC-A) Volunteer Conference this August, which also played host to the region’s Present Around The World (PATW) final. Over 100 members and guests attended, including representatives from Engineers Canada, Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE), local universities as well as IET deputy president Naomi Climer and IET chief executive and secretary Nigel Fine.
Invited lecturer Kim Allen, CEO of Engineers Canada, discussed how the work of Canada’s professional engineers benefits society and the importance of public recognition. His lecture examined broad acceptance of self-regulation, engineering and public policy, global engineering, global mobility, and engineering models and best practices with a focus on public accountability.
Feedback was hugely positive with many feeling that the event did a lot to raise awareness of the IET brand across the Americas.
The original Hearn Lecture series came to an end in 1998 after a lukewarm reception, with feedback indicating a need to review the format and focus of future events.
Over the years local volunteers have tried to revive it. However, its return has been plagued with issues.
“In 2000 a subcommittee was formed to review the format of the event and looked to change and improve its relevance, attractiveness and format. It gave a recommendation to the [LN] committee to have a Hearn lecture in the new format. However, the Hearn Trust funds didn’t generate enough interest to have a Hearn lecture at that time,” explains George Chelvanayagam, Toronto LN committee member.
“[Then] in 2001 we had problems obtaining liability insurance for a planned event,” he continues. “This was owing to a visitor at a similar US event getting injured and attempting to sue. It was thought that a similar circumstance could happen here in Canada and as such insurance was set at $1,000 for a three-hour event. Although the money was found the event had to be cancelled because there wasn’t enough time to write up the policy in two or three days.”
At this point the Toronto Branch stopped organising events. Although things went quiet, the local community hadn’t given up and after the Institution became the IET things slowly came together. Another revival attempt failed due to lack of interest in 2005, but the volunteers kept trying, with the pieces finally coming together this year.
“The initial and continuing driving force to reviving the Hearn Lecture was George. In his discussions with me over recent years, he had often remarked that the Toronto LN was in need of something grand to revitalise and raise its general awareness, and the Hearn Lecture could fulfil that need,” says LN committee member Jim McConnach.
“We had a new chairman of the Network in Tony Cutner and through his volunteering experiences with other Networks, both in the UK and elsewhere, he brought new life and ideas to the committee. When he heard of the history of the Hearn Lecture and its potential as a grand and prestigious event, he backed the idea whole-heartedly.
“The timing more or less set itself,” Jim continues. “Plans for the CC-A Volunteer Conference and PATW final were already underway and we could ‘piggyback’ on this with the fantastic help of Community relationship manager Ann Nann. Holding the Hearn Lecture [then] assured an audience of young and vibrant engineering undergrads and postgrads and also alleviated funding concerns.”
Jim had met Kim through his volunteering experience and thought he’d be the perfect lecturer for this event, so it was great news when he readily accepted. They now had a lecturer, date and venue. The organising committee, made up of Jim, George, Ann, Tony, webmaster Jenny Yu and committee member Nizam Hazim, all took on responsibilities that made the event the success that it was.
This event has truly reinvigorated the Network and done a lot to raise the profile of both the LN and IET in the region. “I overheard someone say ‘well that put Toronto on the radar’,” says Tony.
One way it’s raised the profile is through publicity and also building relationships with other professional organisations in the region, as Tony highlights.
“Never in my imagination would I have thought the IET would be featured in the OSPE magazine,” he says. “Also due to resource pressures we teamed up with other institutions such as the IMechE [Institution of Mechanical Engineers], CIBSE [Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers] and the BCS [Chartered Institute for IT]. Step one of a marketing campaign is to get your name known, and this has been one hell of an ice breaker!”
Tony and his committee plan to keep the momentum going and hope that the new and growing relationships will help them to get more sponsorship and hold more LN events. The committee work so well together. Tony sums it up: “[Volunteering is] hard work for sure, but enjoyment never comes easy, it makes good friends.”
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