IdeaCity: Summer Camp for Big Kids

Games and giveaways, communal experiences, incredible late-night conversations, physical activities, great food and drink, and a recurring sense of being at a family reunion. There’s a reason I’ve been calling IdeaCity Toronto’s greatest #summercamp experience for the three years that I’ve been attending. 


For those of you who haven’t heard of IdeaCity, let me share with you that there is no other place where for three days you simultaneously feed your soul, feed your mind and feed your body so heartily. 

During each of the three days of the conference, the audience hears from speakers broken into themed sessions that cross many realms and perspectives. They are artists, creatives, artisans, practitioners, technologists, cultural anthropologists, activists, critics, performers, idealogues, and pundits. These are people who introduce you to concepts, theories, points of view and experiences that you’d likely never considered before, or maybe even heard of. 

Strategically timed conversation breaks allow attendees to mingle with the speakers, past and present, and each day culminates in the kind of party that most people dream of attending. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who’s as accomplished at throwing a party as Moses Znaimer and his crew from ZoomerMedia are.

KSD's favourite camp mate: Jennifer Marron, Community Manager at MaRS Discovery District and moi... :)

KSD's favourite camp mate: Jennifer Marron, Community Manager at MaRS Discovery District and moi... :)


Those are the logistics, but it says little about the IdeaCity experience. 

It takes me a few days usually to really, truly process my three days at IdeaCity, and that’s because the IdeaCity experience is the antithesis of the droll industry conference or the Toronto club scene. No one’s sizing each other up, checking each other out, or looking for your title before they’ll engage with you. Everyone, famous, not famous, or infamous, is simply so happy to be there. For those of us who are lucky enough to return year after year, the utter glee that you see on the faces along with recognition from the past year’s experience is palpable. 

Old & new friends meet at IdeaCity: Sylvia Kocsondy, Senior Director, Learning and Development, Technology & Operations at CIBC (and one of KSD's favourite bosses ever!)

Old & new friends meet at IdeaCity: Sylvia Kocsondy, Senior Director, Learning and Development, Technology & Operations at CIBC (and one of KSD's favourite bosses ever!)


And everyone plays, too. Stretch breaks, like this year’s led by Jaysea Devoe, the youngest certified yogi in North America (you have to know that your audience gets sleepy after lunch) are when we get too close, and accidentally bump into each other, and try tree pose in heels, all through laughs and giggles, because we all choose to participate, and be silly, and be in the moment. And nothing beats a sing-a-long with JT Carter on the shuttle bus. 


But it’s the low barrier to conversation that is probably one of the most discerning elements of the IdeaCity experience. You not only get to hear from people who support or challenge your worldview, but they’ll engage in intimate and lively conversation, or depending on your point of view, debate, during the conversation breaks and parties, which just reinforces how amazing this world is.  


The default when you’re in line for your delicious piped-on-site cannoli from Holy Cannoli, or a glass of wine from the Stratus Winery is to turn to your queue mate and say, “Hi, my name’s Karen, what brought you here?” and the answer is more often than not one that will surprise you. You cannot make any assumptions about anyone who attends IdeaCity. Right beside you could be one of the country’s leading constitutional attorneys, a global leader in advocacy, a world-changing activist, a research prodigy, or a Lord. People who are changing the world, and who are happy to share in your world with you at the same time. It is a shared experience of community and camaraderie, and the attendees also have incredible stories of their own to share. 

There’s definitely the opportunity for gushing and #fangirl moments too. Like this year, when I recognized Edward Burtynsky (who spoke in 2014), and then met and chatted with both Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Nicholas Carr and digital culture commentator Andrew Keen. Getting to tell Rick Smolan that my kids, after they saw his film Tracks, thought I was suuuuuper cool because I had met him in 2014 and 2013. These are some of those moments that connect us as parents, as people… as humans. 


So, why does this particular event resonate so much for me, personally? It’s the bridging of the worlds that are online to the offline, precisely the same idea that drives our company: it’s all about the connections. 

And that’s the whole point of IdeaCity. It’s the connections. It’s closing the gap between icons and audience, thought leaders and supporters, and world changers and those that will take up their causes. And when I was able to thank Moses with a kiss on the cheek, it reminds me that no matter how famous, successful or seemingly inaccessible people are, we can create these full circle experiences, in both life and in work. 


KSD is our resident elephant hunter and passionate shift disturber. An intrapreneur, she tackles silos, old-school conventions, and comfort zones by curating dialogues and communities. She’s an FSE, the anointed Twitter Queen of #StratfordON, and business designer whose three-letter moniker (she likes to think) is reminiscent of RBG, and she hopes one day to have as great an impact as her.


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