Consulate General’s Alia Dedhar: Innovation requires human connection
Alia Dedhar is the Innovation Team Lead at the Consulate General of Canada in New York City. Plainly, she helps Canadian startups get access to NYC markets, and with her experience in the Foreign Service she brings a unique perspective on Canada, Toronto, and Canadian tech. Read on to see her global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
I got involved by fluke. I went to Queen’s University to study economics, and after graduating joined the Foreign Service.
I started in Ottawa, working on the “Invest in Canada” program. After that assignment, I worked on European Union commercial relations in Ottawa before moving to DC on assignment to help homeland security, defense, and infrastructure business development.
It was not until I got my current post as an innovation team lead in NYC that I formally entered the “tech” world, but I brought my experience in international relations, business development, and attracting investments to the job.
The New York City post in particular was appealing because of its focus on advancing the Canadian Technology Accelerator initiative. They needed someone from outside the innovation ecosystem to bring new ideas and new energy into the program in order to support Canadian startups solving big problems.
Now, in my role I offer business development support – being the ‘eyes and ears on the ground’ – for Canadian companies to identify new growth opportunities using the NYC ecosystem.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
I’d first recommend someone either fly into – or go visit – Pearson airport. One of the things I didn’t realize I missed until I flew into Pearson is the diversity of Canada. You really see it when you land at Pearson, something I noticed on my first trip back to Canada after my Washington assignment a few years ago, and it’s only grown since then.
We’d sit there for a bit, Tim Hortons in hand, people watching.
Canada is so unique for its diversity and everyone knows that, but seeing it in Toronto can make you fall in love with the city, especially given how crucial diversity is for business.
The tech scene in Toronto, as well, has grown from relatively disconnected to a large, collaborative community, and I would want to show that off by touring someone around MaRS, the Ryerson DMZ, or a similar tech hub in the city.
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
Coming from a foreign service perspective, being outside of Toronto and Canada helping Canadian companies do business, I notice that there is a lot of attention and curiosity around Canada as a whole. People hear about our politics, our tech, and especially our emerging technology advances such as AI.
There are cool technologies and innovative companies coming out of Canada. Everyone sees Canada so positively right now, and we need to ride on the momentum of the ‘honeymoon phase’ we have with the rest of the world.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
My global idea is to make sure we focus on humanity while building tech so we don’t lose social and personal relationships. We can’t get carried away and consumed by tech.
I love how tech is transforming the world, but I also worry that if we lose the humanity in tech we will start creating tech for tech’s sake and disrupting for disruption’s sake, which takes us further away from the idea that we should create tech to solve human problems.
Human, face-to-face interaction and collaboration prompts a lot more feelings than you could ever get from tech, which also contributes to identifying the feelings, problems, and nuances that help build innovative technologies.
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
The world needs to know that the buzz going on about Toronto and Southern Ontario is growing and that we are doing some cool things here. I’d also bring up to Toronto that the world knows some cool things are happening, so capture that energy.
We may not be huge yet, but it’s growing. Keep Toronto on your radar.