After taking 6 Degrees from a one-man team to a multinational event, Alain Pescador moves on
“One of the characteristics of 6 Degrees is its mix of ages and backgrounds and people of different walks of life doing different things, nationally and internationally,” said Charlie Foran, CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), at a farewell party for 6 Degrees Director Alain Pescador. “That was only possible because Alain saw right away that was the only way to curate this space. It’s become a signature of what we do. There’s no explaining that gift but Alain has it and brought it to 6 Degrees.”
To date, 6 Degrees has convened influential events in Toronto, The Hague, and Vancouver and has hosted conversations on inclusion in the realms of entrepreneurship, youth employment, and education. Ministers, mayors, and princes have conversed with students, retirees, artists, and academics at our forums. Underway are plans for events in Calgary, St. Gallen, and Berlin, in addition to our annual 6 Degrees Citizen Space in Toronto.
So it might be hard to imagine that it all began just three years ago, when Alain was hired by the ICC to develop the program with nothing more—or less—than an ambition to create the “Davos of Citizenship.”
“I didn’t have a desk,” he says of his first days. “I sat at the entrance of the ICC next to some couches.”
He also didn’t have a team, working instead with CEO Charlie Foran and ICC Co-Chairs John Ralston Saul and The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson to build a brand and a plan for something that would be unique in the world.
He would begin by breaking some rules. “I knew it had to be something very fresh and young looking,” explains Alain. “My way of looking at 6 Degrees was that it couldn’t be a boring, academic-looking event – not of the elite.” One manifestation of that vision was inspired by a talk he saw at Davos and is a signature characteristic of 6 Degrees – the 360 in-the-round sessions that break down the space typically dividing “expert” from “audience.” The circle became our place of conversation. It also became the pink and blue “alarm” mark of 6 Degrees, demanding immediate attention to an issue, and also recognizing the importance of Indigenous practice and symbology to our Canadian perspective.
“6 Degrees has become something far greater than we were envisioning from the beginning,” Alain says, reflecting on his tenure during his last week at the ICC. “I think it’s very clear that we’re the right thing to be doing, the right thing to have for Canada, for the world. We’re really spearheading a movement that will grow to impress anyone who gets to experience it.”
He describes one of 6 Degrees’ early successes – being invited to The Hague, Netherlands by Deputy Mayor Rabin Baldewsingh, an immigrant himself. Suddenly 6 Degrees was reimagined: no longer just an annual Toronto-based event, but one that could travel and share Canadian practices while learning from other models. Being invited to the progressive city known for international diplomacy during a contentious election year in which an anti-immigrant, populist narrative was gaining traction was illustrative of 6 Degrees’ value and practical potential. Baldewsingh has told 6 Degrees that the conversations at 6 Degrees led to policy changes in the Netherlands, and has said that the conversations continued long after amongst attendees, academics and civil society groups in his country.
“Through our event I feel like attendees can … reflect on how they think about serious world issues and compare themselves to other progressive countries,” said Alain.
In his role of finding people who are creating more inclusive societies, Alain has met a multitude of impressive change-makers. One he remains connected to is Regina Catrambone, a speaker at 6 Degrees Citizen Space 2017. Well before the conversation on the refugee crisis escalated in 2014 with the photograph of young Alan Kurdi lying on a Turkish beach, Catrambone and her husband were successful Italian entrepreneurs who recognized there were serious migration issues on the Mediterranean that were not being addressed. They invested in a fleet of boats and created an NGO that would support and rescue those fleeing the Middle East and North Africa seeking a better life. Today, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) has reached 80,000 people, including Rohingya in Bangladesh.
While an incredible initiative, Alain says their story is “not an exception to the rule.”
“People around the world are doing the same and it’s important to hear from them. Reading about them is not enough. We need to ask them questions and engage with them and build partnerships with them to find sustainable solutions to the issue we’re talking about.”
Alain will now continue to build partnerships, but in a different context. He will be returning to his native Mexico to consult on projects positioning Mexico as a place to visit, to hold gatherings, and to invest in–a place that “deserves recognizable standing in the world.”
He vows to forever be a part of 6 Degrees and perhaps even to bring it to the global south for the first time. So is 6 Degrees Mexico City next? “I hope so,” he says.