Jean-François Barsoum has over 20 years of experience at IBM where his focus is on understanding and communicating the societal and environmental impacts of technology. He was part of the core team that built the smart city concepts in the early 2000s. Currently, his main objective is to communicate and popularise climate change solutions, smart city innovations, and the potential impacts of new mobility – such as the emergence of autonomous vehicles. In 2008, he was selected by Al Gore's Climate Project to be trained by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He later joined the board of directors of the Canadian branch of Mr. Gore's Foundation for Climate change education and became Chair in 2020. He regularly advises start-ups in incubators and accelerators, and is seeding research collaborations with several Canadian universities, notably in quantum computing. He chairs the disruptive technology committee of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Quebec Smart Transportation experts’ committee; is vice chair of the board at the Canadian Water Network. He is also part of the committee overseeing the application of the Quebec Policy on Sustainable Mobility, helps Femmessor support woman-owned and operated start-ups, and has advised the Commissioner of the Environment of Canada on cleantech policy.
Why did you join the climate movement/what pushed you to become interested in climate change issues?
As with many parents, it became "personal" once my children were born. That's when I went from concerned citizen, to seeking to be involved in the movement and contributing to its success.
What is one achievement you are proud of?
As with many parents (yes, I know, that's how I started the last answer!) it's hard not to answer "my kids". To be more specific though, I'd add that their environmental conscience is more developed than mine was at their age. I don't know if I can take credit for that, but it's something I'm proud of, nonetheless. On the professional side, I've also contributed to changing some longstanding policy stances by business organizations, and those are much more environmentally friendly now than they had been in the past. There is still work to do, but there is real progress being made every day.
What was your most iconic/memorable Act of Leadership?
I've had the chance to speak to the necessity of climate change leadership to premiers and mayors -- and getting engagement from them is very rewarding
What are some climate change initiatives you are currently taking part in?
I'm part of an oversight committee reviewing how the government of Quebec is achieving is targets for sustainable mobility, as well as being vice-chair of the Canadian Water Network -- which participates in several water policy and research domains. That is an area that was first affected by climate change and will continue to prove to be one of its principal area of consequences.
What do you think is the most effective way for people to take climate action?
All the time but subtly; at work, at home, and in the various groups you belong to or volunteer with, try to work the relevance of climate change into your conversations. You don't have to be "in your face" about it -- that approach doesn't work with everyone. Get people to realize it by themselves by underlining the evidence, so that they can make the link.
What is a fun fact about yourself?
I met a New York City mafia don and a Yankees pitcher in a restaurant; my friends and I had to leave the restaurant in a hurry. I don't know how much more I should say about that.