Gathering of Friends


On September 24, 2011 Maria Baier wrote the following:

About a year ago, I was invited by Vern Swaback to discuss his plans for a new Foundation. He had assembled a group of interesting people all seated around a table, where we had a full vetting of the idea. Some of it was brutal in its honesty, but the kind of talk good friends must sometimes have about “big ideas”. I left wondering what would become of Vern’s concepts. I figured the conversation lead to consternation and all progress had stopped. I regretted that very much because I occasionally think there is great value in trying not to just “think outside the box”, but to sometimes think as if there were no “box”. It is particularly important to do so on matters that can change the course of our shared destiny.

Much to my astonishment and pleasure, about a month ago, Vern informed me of the success of the Foundation’s first global challenge. I could only think how amazing it was that not only had progress been made, but Round One was over and done with! Wow! How often does it happen that a “big idea” becomes reality? Vern asked if I would be willing to introduce the first place team.

Seeing the result of the student competition was the kind of experience that restores one’s faith that the next generation is filled with extraordinary individuals who think long about how we keep not only the “place” in good health, but also our “humanity”. It was also a very poignant education in just how global we have really become. The first place award was called “Autonomous City”. One of the team’s members attends the University of Toronto, and two attend Harvard. As a testament to the new world of technology, the full team had never met in person until they arrived in Phoenix. By way of file sharing and Skyping, they developed a vision of communities that truly would change the world, and they did so with beautiful and intelligent thoughts and drawings. Their presentation was inspiring and maybe even a little intoxicating.

- Maria Baier, who was then the Arizona State Land Commissioner is now CEO of the Sonoran Institute