Adam Sweet’s family had never been west of New Brunswick until they moved to Wetaskiwin from Nova Scotia in 1981. Now in his 30s, that family predilection to follow opportunity wherever it leads has resulted in an impressive list of places Sweet has worked in or visited, including a two-year deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan as a member of a civilian reconstruction team. Add a stint in Ottawa working for a number of MPs in communication roles, as well as an internship in Washington, D.C., and you have a man who – in his words – “allows space for serendipity”.
Lucky for Edmontonians, it has taken him back to this city, where Sweet, among his many professional and personal roles, is now chief of staff at Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC).
To say that he is Edmonton’s biggest fan is no exaggeration. Sweet invests his time and energy selling Edmonton to the world, but also to his fellow Edmontonians. He says that we still don’t know how to talk about ourselves, but the opportunity to “help shape the city” was a big reason for his return.
“I’ve lived in so many places, and it’s just different here,” he says. “There’s no real hierarchy. The city is open, inventive, cooperative; there’s an entrepreneurial spirit to get stuff done.”
“The city is open, inventive, cooperative; there’s an entrepreneurial spirit to get stuff done.”
Having racked up a considerable number of achievements and experiences in a relatively short time (Sweet was named one of Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2014), the Alumni Horizon Award recipient had no real plan when he began a bachelor of arts program at the University of Alberta.
Lacking direction and burdened with an overloaded curricular and extracurricular schedule, Sweet says the first two years were challenging, making him question whether or not he had made the right choice. In his third year, however, things started to click. He credits two political science professors — Thomas Keating, and in particular, Greg Anderson — with giving his studies focus and meaning.
“Without question, everything I’ve done has been because of the International Political Economy course I took with Greg Anderson,” he says. “He opened my mind to all kinds of things. He used to give us so much to read, but it was great! He’s a mentor, he’s a guru; he was the turning point in my academic career for sure.”
It was Anderson who recommended that Sweet take up an internship at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. between his third and fourth year. In 2007, following the completion of his degree in political science, (with a minor in economics, and a certificate in globalization and governance!), Sweet relocated to Ottawa, where he worked in a variety of communication roles on Parliament Hill.
In 2008, he was headhunted to join the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) reconstruction team – initially for a few weeks – but remained in Afghanistan over three tours of duty. (Sweet has been upfront about his own struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and has spoken publicly about the need for deployed civilians to be better prepared for the trauma of war.)
“In Kandahar, the biggest thing was the realization that it’s not about the physical infrastructure, it’s about the people who actually enable the transformation,” he says. “People have to first believe they have an opportunity to build their community, and once they have that belief – and that’s really hard to get – they’ll start acting that way and take ownership, helping others around them and achieving their goals. The results further reinforce this belief and a virtuous cycle will take over. Belief goes to actions, [which] goes to results.”
“People have to first believe they have an opportunity to build their community.”
Returning to Ottawa in 2011, Sweet worked for Peter Kent, then-Environment Minister, until moving to Edmonton in 2013 to manage the Northern Initiatives project for the EEDC. Alongside this work, Sweet took on a number of volunteer gigs, including the University of Alberta Senate – where he is now vice-chair; serving on the Community Service-Learning advisory board and heading the Daylight Millcreek initiative. He also mentors students through the Peter Lougheed Leadership College — a role he takes very seriously, meeting up to five students a month to trade experiences over coffee.
A thread running through all his endeavours is his commitment to building community, whether that’s finding ways for Kandaharis to work together effectively, advancing Edmonton’s national and global positioning, or helping the next generation of leaders succeed.
The future looks very bright for Sweet, but the self-proclaimed science fiction nerd has a lot of ideas about where that path might lead — including political office. For now, however, he is keeping his options open.
“Stay tuned. Same bat time, same bat channel – in the immortal words of Adam West.”
You are invited to see Adam Sweet accept his honour at the 2017 Alumni Awards ceremony on Monday, September 25 at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.
Know another inspiring UAlberta grad? Nominate them for a 2018 Alumni Award. Deadline is Dec 15, 2017. Visit uab.ca/AlumniAwards