How to give back to Canada? By launching a new kind of business!

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” —Bill Gates

For those of you who know me, you know I love Canada. After all, that’s why my wife and I moved to Vancouver a decade ago from a lovely place like Barcelona, Spain. You also probably know that I’m passionate about giving back, not in the traditional sense of volunteering time, or charities, but about supporting others do more, learn, and the like; sort of a non-stop mentoring attitude. I have faith in each person’s ability to reach their own potential, and I’ll do everything I can to help that person get there.

Over the past decade, I worked in countless major projects across Canada while employed by a Fortune 500 company. It was an incredible honour and responsibility – but one thing I proud myself of is about the fact that I’ve been able to support Canada to develop further on quite diverse areas such as critical Infrastructure (YVR airport, port terminals, power plants, wastewater plants, hospitals, etc), resources (potash, copper, gold, grain, etc), commercial buildings and obviously residential buildings. Despite all the work done, there’s so much more to do.

I recently launched my own business, a Strategic & Major Projects Advisory service targeting private companies, municipalities, and First Nations in Western Canada. My primary goal is to help Canada develop the necessary infrastructure to support the needs of its citizens, by supporting mid-size organizations if and/or when they embark in the risky business of developing a major project.

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”—Sir Winston Churchill

Over the years, I’ve been involved at different levels in numerous projects. Large or small, I’ve seen the pains of project owners struggling to make sense of how to approach such developments. The list of questions and unknowns they face is large and complex:

  • How to clearly define the project,
  • How to structure the project governance,
  • Which procurement model is best,
  • How to minimize risk,
  • How to avoid cost overruns and delays.

There are other major concerns, not in any particular order, such as how to gain social license, how to get the necessary funding, how to gain and maintain good relationships with key stakeholders and regulators, achieve political support, etc. The many unknowns are what typically keeps project owners awake at night.

Don’t blame them. Project owners are typically very skilled business people, capable CAO’s on mid-sized municipalities, or First Nations Chiefs with limited or no large-project experience. Their business is to run their own business, or provide to their constituents, not to be an expert on project development or execution. Unfortunately, when these organizations embark themselves in these large developments driven by a defined need, they tend to lack the in-house expertise and do a trial-and-error approach. Worse of all, the regulators in charge of approving or financing these projects sometimes end up getting involved in the project itself trying to support these organizations, even when it’s not in their mandate to do so.

In the other hand, multi-billion developments get all the love. They enjoy backing from Governments, necessary funding to execute, and large and experienced government departments and large private organizations that ensure all the checks and balances are in place. Although from time to time, some of these projects go sideways, in most cases they get executed quite well. Where the trouble resides is in the mid-to-low-tier layer, where project owners do not have the in-house expertise, where funding in either non-existing, or must go through a maze of layers and due diligence to get it, and where the fees of large organizations make their engagement simply too costly. And there are hundreds if not thousands of such projects only across Canada under development right now.

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Government initiatives such as PartnershipsBC or P3 Canada are good first steps, although I believe there is a lot more to do. On higher levels, there are many other folks such as our friends at the World Economic Forum working on what the Future of Construction will look like. I applaud these efforts, although I believe a critical component of this future is our ability to develop supporting mechanisms for these lower-level entities in dire need of support. Remember, the need is global, not only limited to Canada; communities across the globe struggle with these same challenges, from the remote corners of Africa developing projects funded by the World Bank or the Gates Foundation, to small communities in the mid-West of the USA. Limited expertise, know-how, access to information, are all limiting factors for remote communities that make access to this desired goal so hard. We should aim to make something as complex as an infrastructure or a commercial development a relatively simple process with well-defined parameters, constraints, and steps.

If we want to ensure a prosperous future for Canada, the industrial fabric, the local governments, and aboriginal communities must be able to execute large projects successfully, either by themselves, or have easy-to-access and reasonably-priced expertise to support them in their own developments. My goal is to support these organizations structuring the initial phases of large projects; develop business cases to support funding requests, engaging with key stakeholders including regulators, developing the critical governance structure to execute, and guiding them through the maze of key decisions during initial phases of the projects.

My hope is that the organizations I work with will become self-sufficient in the short-to-mid term, by sharing knowledge, develop best practices, etc, and ensuring these are made available to all for free. Soon, I will publish a free Project Development Guide for Project Owners – if you’d like to collaborate, please get in touch. Stay tuned for updates!

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David Oliver is an accomplished global professional that currently serves clients guiding strategic decisions on capital projects across Canada. If you’d like to get in touch, feel free to use the contact information on this site.