Notes from CGI: Pioneers are everywhere

One of my favorite things about working at Udemy is being part of helping people realize dreams for themselves – no matter how big or small those dreams may be. We think everyone learning, teaching or training on Udemy is an explorer, and the most important step is the first one. Our “people” are the ones out there looking for something better for themselves and their families. They believe in themselves and their employees enough to invest time and money in learning something new.

I spent the past few days with another group of explorers at the Clinton Foundation’s CGI America annual gathering. This year’s event was in Denver, super fitting when you consider the city’s history and the hearty pioneering folks who built a city in the Rockies.

Former President Bill Clinton kicked off the event with the theme of all-stakeholder decision-making. He spoke about the need to get everyone at the table – even when messy – to get the best solutions to meet real challenges. True to form, it was the most diverse professional gathering I’ve ever attended with nearly equal representation from the public, private and nonprofit/NGO sectors.

The conversations at the event were frequently messy – not everyone’s agendas matched up perfectly, and the language used was so different that it was sometimes difficult to understand each other. Despite that, clear themes emerged. People can be extraordinary resourceful, and virtually everyone wants to feel like they’re making forward progress – in multiple facets of their lives. These themes felt so universal and so familiar to what we talk about every day at Udemy.

Living and working in a place that’s virtually synonymous with entrepreneurship (San Francisco), I also realized how narrowly some of us in technology define innovation. I was most blown away by the level of innovation happening in places like Detroit and Buffalo, cities so radically transformed (gutted really) by decades of globalization and relentless shifts in technology. Leaders and everyday people in these places were ready for radical measures. But, it turns out that radical measures start with a series of small steps.

The people re-settling Detroit are not unlike the old homesteaders who bet on themselves and their families and actualized a bigger, better future. All of these small, individual actions are adding up to something truly massive.