Applications are now open for our 2019 Brookfields Emerging Leader of the Year Award. The recipient will attend the 2019 ICMA Conference in Memphis, Tennessee.

2018 Brookfields Emerging Leader of the Year, Matt Keil, Senior Projects Engineer Water and Waste Services at Southland District Council, reflects on his experience at the ICMA Conference in Baltimore, US.

"My learnings commenced from the moment I set foot on US soil in Houston TX, as a first time traveller to the United States and someone who resides in a small provincial New Zealand town. After 20 hours of travel, recovering from jet lag was not an option. My objective was to experience and learn as much as time could allow during my time stateside.

Firstly, I took a tour of Baltimore city. My first observation was that the native Baltimorean people have been through some very challenging times, not only as individuals but as a community. I admired their resilience, humility, character and authenticity. Many had minimal possessions but were very content, happy and friendly.

At the ICMA Conference I enjoyed speaking to a large audience of young American graduates seeking employment within the US local government sector. I spoke of the importance of building a strong foundation to one's career within local government and the importance of professional reputation.

The keynote speakers drew large crowds. I was impressed with a keynote from Greg Bell on the topic of unleashing the potential of teams and individuals. Greg spoke on the importance of bringing your "A-game" to work every day, and the importance of being a courageous leader. He used a metaphor he called "watering the bamboo" which resonated with me. It typically takes bamboo four to five years to even break the surface from a seedling, but when it does, growth is accelerated at a rate of up to 90 ft in 90 days. This was the message I had for the group of young American graduates. When growth occurs it continues.

Baltimore native, Wes Moore, delivered a closing keynote speech that really touched the hearts of the delegates. Titled 'Celebration of Service: Evolve, Adapt, Inspire', it began with a turbulent story of growing up in Baltimore and later the Bronx, where he reached a crossroads in his life and made a decision that changed his life. He joined a military academy in Pennsylvania at the age of 13 and eventually becoming a Captain with 82 nd Rangers and undertaking prolonged tours of Iraq and the Middle East.

He went on to serve as Head of Security for Condoleezza Rice (ex-US Secretary of State), and is now Chief Executive of the Robin Hood Foundation, New York City's largest poverty-fighting organisation.

Wes's message was clear - lead your cities/district areas, operate within your workplace with 'purpose' and always give back to those less fortunate than yourself and to remember 'your duty to serve your communities is of greater responsibility than only serving yourself'.

These were traits evidently seen first-hand during my tour of Baltimore prior to the commencement of the conference and a humbling experience.

Local government has some unique complexities in the US, and there were plenty of discussions around issues such as the emergency management response to tornados, and crime prevention and homicide reduction within cities, as the police chief reports to the city manager.

My key learning was around the importance of continuing to build strong stakeholder relationships and taking others along on the journey, being a courageous leader who operates at a consistently high level of diligence, and developing a culture where we actively 'water the bamboo'".

Find out more at