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Leadership Wood Buffalo

Jennifer Kennett
BY Jennifer Kennett
(1 Vote)

Quite a few years back, I would say about eight years or so, I started to make a list of people who I admired, and who I aspired to be like.

The list included some obvious celebrities and influential speakers, but also quite a few local people as well. I made a point to reach out to these people in some way or another. Some I met in person and developed a personal connection with, others I connected with electronically either through emails or through Facebook and I would follow their journeys in a different way. As I followed along the lives of these local influencers, I started to notice a common thread - a lot of them referred to a local program they had been a part of called “Leadership Wood Buffalo.” When I first heard of Leadership Wood Buffalo, I was in an entirely different position than I am now: I was a new mom, in a career that I enjoyed but wasn’t sure if it was “long-term” and unsure of whether the timing was right. I put Leadership Wood Buffalo as a bucket list item and knew that one day I would make my way into the program.

In 2017, I found myself at a crossroads again. I was now a mom of two kids, working back in Human Resources (a field I thoroughly enjoy but didn’t love) and my employment was temporary. I had no idea where I was going to go next or what I could possibly do. One day, when doing a mindless scroll through social media, I saw an advertisement that helped me change my life: “Leadership Wood Buffalo is now accepting applicants for their 2017/2018 program!”  I thought, “Why not? What do I have to lose?” I submitted my application that evening. I had plenty of opportunities to question my decision throughout the process.  Was now really the time to start doing this?  Do I even have the time needed for personal development? (Spoiler: the answer to both of those is ALWAYS yes). The day that I got the acceptance letter into the program, I had pretty much run out of excuses and the only path to go on was forward.

Now, the biggest question that I had left, and maybe the question that you are asking, was, “What exactly IS Leadership Wood Buffalo?” While I had spent so long admiring people who had come out of the program, I never really stopped to learn what the program was all about. When I would ask graduates about it, the responses were along the lines of: “It changed my life!” “It was transformational” – but I still had no idea what the program would be like.

In its most simple definition, Leadership Wood Buffalo is a community leadership development program helping to build leadership capacity in our community. Yes, that’s the simple version. The reality is much more complex.

Leadership Wood Buffalo came into existence back in the early 2000s. It was the brainchild of several community leaders who felt as though the weight of the community rested on their shoulders. These leaders had been supporting the community for so long, were ready for new experiences and adventures, but they didn’t feel like there were many leaders waiting on the sidelines to take over those roles. They realized that individuals may be leaders in their own organizations, but they wanted to develop those leaders further and help embed them in the community and strengthen the social fabric of Wood Buffalo. That’s how the Leadership Wood Buffalo program was born.

Since its inception in 2006, Leadership Wood Buffalo has seen 237 participants from various sectors in the community. Participants who have become entrenched in the community. We have seen participants move on to high level leadership positions, become municipal councilors, and many have been recognized as part of Your McMurray Magazine’s Top 50 Under 50.

Each year, Leadership Wood Buffalo opens with a retreat. In the past few years, aside for one, the retreat has taken place at Christina Lake Lodge. By getting away from the day-to-day grind and into the beautiful landscape of Christina Lake, it allows participants to truly immerse themselves in the program. Often, those in the cohort do not know each other before the retreat and these two days are a quick opportunity to bond. Cohorts vary from a minimum of 10 participants to a maximum of 24, and time is spent at the retreat learning about themselves and their own strengths, as well as the strengths of the other cohort members.

Towards the end of the retreat, the cohort then separates into Action Project Groups where they focus on a community-based project. These projects have varied in complexity over the years, with one of the most notable being TedX Fort McMurray. Once the retreat has wrapped, the cohort then meets for monthly scheduled learning days where they dive deeper into their personal leadership development and connect with various community members and influencers.

Connecting to the community, for me, was one of the best parts of the program. Leadership Wood Buffalo connects various sectors within the community and allows participants to expand their network. Not only did I build incredible relationships with fellow members of my cohort, but I was able to connect with members of the community that I may not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

My experience was invaluable. Every learning day, I threw myself deeper into the learnings and the lessons. I learned more about myself than I ever knew possible. I started to understand my strengths and what I bring to the table, I was able to identify areas that I needed to focus on in order to grow, and I felt my passion for my community grow. As our learning days were coming to an end, so was my temporary employment contract. However, I was no longer terrified. Through the connections I had made, and the confidence I had gained, I was able to gain employment in the social profit sector. I no longer wondered what I wanted to do with my life – I now knew what my purpose was and where I needed to be.

I know that everyone won’t have the same experience that I did, nor will everyone who enters into the program be looking for that level of development or change, but I have been so fortunate to be able to witness the growth of other participants.

You see, since graduating Leadership Wood Buffalo myself, I have become one of the co-facilitators for the program. The 2019/2020 Cohort was the first group of participants that I have led, and watching these extraordinary leaders develop has been such an incredible opportunity. I can’t wait to see what they continue to do for themselves and for the Wood Buffalo region!


Recruitment for the 2020/2021 Leadership Wood Buffalo Cohort is now open! For further details on how to apply for the program or for program dates, visit or email