In 1930, the first Commonwealth Games were held in Hamilton. Today, Louis Frapporti is leading efforts to usher their return to the city for their centenary with an innovative plan and coalition of partners dedicated to expanding the community impact of this transformational event and leaving a legacy of sustainable social benefit.
The former managing partner of Gowling WLG’s Hamilton office sat down for a Q&A session to talk about what has made chairing the Hamilton Commonwealth Games Bid Corporation such a revelatory and rewarding experience and what all lawyers might gain from taking a more “holistic and humanistic” view of their purpose and value.
How did you get involved in the Commonwealth Games bid – what about it piqued your interest, what is your role, and how has your firm supported your involvement?
My introduction to the bid arose as a result of my efforts in Hamilton, as the managing partner of Gowling WLG’s Hamilton office, to develop relationships with municipal, educational and civic leaders so as to better understand and support their work to build the community by promoting the city and its key institutions to our national and global network of relationships. As a consequence, a group of community leaders who had resolved to return the Games to Hamilton in 2030 for their centenary (they were first held in Hamilton in 1930) sought out my help to move the effort along.
I knew nothing about the Commonwealth Sporting Movement or the Games’ history before our first meeting. What I came to learn not only altered my understanding of the role such an initiative can play in positively impacting a community – or a region – it changed my life. The Commonwealth Games Federation mission and vision is to build “peaceful, sustainable and prosperous communities” among its 72 nations and territories, leveraging the power of sport through the creation of “transformational partnerships.” Having come to understand the potential impact in and beyond our community such an initiative could have if focussed on community-building, I led the creation of the Games’ legacy and social impact strategy and then gravitated to the role of chair of the bid’s board. At every step of the way our firm’s national leadership has been supportive and encouraging of my involvement.
What are some of the behind-the-scenes considerations for planning such an event and extending and amplifying its impact beyond the games that most would be surprised to know?
That multi-sport Games share many of the same challenges as failed businesses such as Blockbuster or Kodak. Multi-national sport organizations, whether the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, are all experiencing the same profound commercial ‘disruption’ that many industries face in their evolution. Their structure, cost and value proposition, being so dependant on government subsidization in the face of increasing societal need, has resulted in fewer and fewer communities expressing interest – or having the ability – to justify their continued existence. And, so, the most absorbing aspect of my involvement in this project has been the opportunity to innovate the historic Games’ model itself by finding a way to reduce its cost to government while materially increasing and expanding its social impact. Not an easy problem to solve. And this, rather than creating a sport and venue program, has occupied all of my time and much of our organizations’ efforts.
What type of partnerships are you pursuing that would heighten the social impact of bringing the Commonwealth Games to Hamilton?
One of the initial insights that came from the collision of the Games’ innovation challenge and my work in the community as a facilitator of interaction between municipal government, educational and research institutions, and the private sector, is that the traditional Games’ stakeholder group of bid proponent, franchise rights-holder (in this case the Games Federation) and government, needed to be fundamentally altered in a way that would advance the objectives of reducing government cost while expanding impact. Not surprisingly, I gravitated immediately to elevating the role of educational and research institutions (colleges and universities) along with the private and not-for-profit sector as architects and agents of impact that they are already purposed to and to re-enforcing their connections to each other and to government through the Games. What is most exciting is that this stakeholder group continues to expand. Most notably with the inclusion of Indigenous Nations as key partners.
If the bid is successful, what is your vision of the legacy of this event?
Above all else, creating a new model or approach to such initiatives in which they are no longer seen as a sporting event in time, but rather, as a sustainable movement that can catalyse significant measurable positive social benefit primarily resourced and advanced by a new coalition of stakeholders leaving government to a supporting role.
With your expansive legal experience and expertise, you obviously lend a great deal of leadership and skill to this project. Would you say you’ve discovered nascent talents or learned anything new in undertaking this work? What has been the most rewarding aspect for you?
I’m not sure that much of my legal expertise or experience has been of value to be honest. If anything, the direction of benefit has been the reverse in that this effort has re-enforced my view that a law firm – heck any business – that sees ‘doing good’ in their community as central to their business vision and mission, rather than a philanthropic imposition, will benefit immeasurably commercially. Put simply: doing good is good business. Personally, my involvement, while absorbing, has actually been unsettling and humbling. Our efforts to focus the initiative around our most marginalized and disadvantaged community members have allowed me the blessing of innumerable conversations with people and groups that I would not normally engage with in my work. Beyond a much deeper appreciation for the profound challenges so many face – only worsened by the pandemic – the diversity of experiences and perspectives and the fundamental decency of people, which is so often obscured or worsened by social media, has left me a different person.
The law can be an insular profession in which people keep their heads down. Would you say that is owing to inertia or by design – and how do you see it and the role of the lawyer evolving?
Where to begin? Leaving aside the pathologies of the profession for a moment which include increasing mental illness and attrition, the causes are many and varied and often involve considerations that are not unique to law but to our culture generally. And I don’t see them as easily solvable. Indeed, I’ve become quite pessimistic about the profession’s capacity to fundamentally alter its current trajectory. But what I would say is this: So much of the profession’s focus around disruption is about technology; concern over the commodification of legal services, outsourcing/insourcing, etc. While these may well be challenges to the historic business model and the profession’s current vested interests, they generally tend to make legal services more accessible and less costly to clients! And that’s a good thing. And this points to a deeper truth and greater opportunity. We should aspire to a more holistic and humanistic perspective on our purpose and value – attributes which a computer program will never supplant. After all, the pandemic has only re-enforced our need for meaningful, trusting, caring human interaction and relationship. And, so, perhaps a future in which we are able to more effectively prioritize and incent those outcomes will present itself.
What advice would you give to a new lawyer who is looking for greater meaning in their work or more opportunity to give back to their own community?
None. Other than hurry! Because they have already arrived at an insight of inestimable value. The advice I would presume to give to law firms and lawyers is to those who feel that they cannot ‘succeed’ in law in the traditional sense by spending material time ‘pursuing meaning’ or ‘giving back to their community’. I would humbly offer that these objectives are not binary. The latter does not detract from the former! Quite the opposite. Beyond our intuitive appreciation for the fact that a single-minded focus on hourly output is unhealthy, prioritizing our communities and pivoting to a relational view of our role rather than a transactional one, will only strengthen our businesses in the appreciation, loyalty and engagement of our clients and in the satisfaction one derives from that way of engaging with the world.