The Global Leadership Network’s premier two-day leadership event of the year has been held annually in August for the last 25+ years. Recognized as one of the largest leadership events of its kind, The Global Leadership Summit (GLS) brings leaders and aspiring leaders together from around the world. Through the GLS, many of these leaders gain something far more than leadership insights—they find encouragement not only in their own leadership, but they are also able to build into their teams doing important work in the world. This is exactly the case for Ken McLeod, CEO of the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, now the largest youth music program in Canada.
In 2022, Ken was confronted with a serendipitous opportunity to show the world what kids were capable of through music when an unfortunate car commercial came out earlier in the year. In the commercial, a youth orchestra is surrounding the car while they play poorly; the windows roll up to highlight the sound reduction. In poor taste, the commercial did not demonstrate kids’ infinite talent, and this definitely hit a nerve with Ken McLeod. “I remember the very first time I saw it,” said Ken. “I understood it was intended to be lighthearted tongue-and-cheek, and they didn’t intentionally set out to demean and diminish young people and their talent. Then every time I saw it, it was like a stone in my shoe.”
The New Brunswick Youth Orchestra has become the largest youth music program in Canada with over 1,000 children and youth in the program. “I see young people, music, talent, performance excellence, and promise,” Ken continued. “I felt like we needed to do something to stand up for our kids and the capacity they have in their life to achieve great things.” And do something he did.
In a period of ten days, they created this video to highlight the infinite talent of kids…but didn’t anticipate the global reach it would soon have. Check it out!
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After posting the video on YouTube, it got 1,000 views in the first day and as of now it has 124,789 views (August 2022). It’s also been covered by mainstream media in every province in Canada and picked up by influencers in Australia and the UK. “Our motivation in doing this was to wave the flag for kids in talent and performance excellence,” said Ken. “Our motto is that our kids can perform on any stage, anywhere.”
Music in the orchestra is an exquisite tool to bring about social change and social development for kids that are left out.
One testament to this motto is what happened five days after they video was posted. Ken received an email from a producer for a festival at Carnegie Hall, where they invite four orchestras to perform by audition. Honoring the video as an audition submission, the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra is playing at Carnegie Hall in 2023! “To have this opportunity is incredible!” exclaimed Ken. “Artists in their entire lifetime don’t have a chance to play on one of the most famous stages in the world.”
One of the most exciting things about the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra is the opportunity that kids now have who, 13 years ago, wouldn’t have been able to afford being part of such a program. This became Ken’s new mission—to give opportunity to kids who’ve been left out. “What that means is kids from families who otherwise would have been left out and left behind will be the ones walking on the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City in June of 2023!” exclaimed Ken. “What I’ve noticed is how beneficial these experiences are for young people.
“What I know better today than I have ever before is that too many of our kids are left out and left behind in our society. One in five children in New Brunswick lives below the poverty line—that is devastating in their life and their future. Music in the orchestra is an exquisite tool to bring about social change and social development for kids that are left out. They’re learning the values and gaining the attributes they need not just to be successful in an orchestra but have a successful life.”
I’m convinced we will change the child poverty rate in New Brunswick for the first time in three decades.
Because of this vision, kids are finishing school and some of the students have even gone on to study astrophysics, medicine, and even win international prizes in music. “It’s wonderful to see this!” exclaimed Ken. “Our kids have great capacity and potential as human beings and it’s devastating and shameful when they’re left out. But we can do something about it!”
Ken and his team are creating a plan for the next chapter which includes doubling the size of the orchestra to 2,400. “I’m convinced we will change the child poverty rate in New Brunswick for the first time in three decades,” said Ken.
With a great passion and The Global Leadership Summit providing a wind in his sails, Ken is pursuing this vision with full force. “For me the Summit is like a mirror,” Ken explained. “It helps me to stop and see things I haven’t been open to seeing otherwise. I also always gain really good tips and tools that I can share with my team. We have 70 full-time employees now, so it’s important to demonstrate vision, leadership, trust, and confidence in our team. We’ve got important goals to meet and important work to do in the society.”