Where I fit in the box of crayons....

Do you ever get that feeling like there's more out there? That's the feeling that brought me to beyond borders. The global community is growing, and I have not yet become a part of it. I want to be a contributing citizen to the global community through participation and action. Over the years, I have developed an appreciation for diversity and difference, and look for other ways that people are doing things. There’s a whole world out there beyond our North American perspective that has the potential to change the way I see things, and to change my life. Gahndi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I think we should not only find the change within ourselves, but also take part in the change we want to see in the world. I hope that Beyond Borders will offer a medium in which I can be the change I want to see in the world, and also take part in that change.

Monday, March 29, 2010

" we are not thinking ourselves into new ways of acting, we are acting ourselves into new ways of thinking!"

Dear Joanne, and Beyond Borders mates,
I'm very sorry that I missed the final class today, but I have to say it was well worth it. (here comes a LONG post, so get comfy, it's well worth it! I'll give you the coles notes version...)

Today I attended a conference in Cambridge called Venture 4 Change, put on by the folks of Capacity Waterloo . The conference was a mind blowing experience premised on the idea of bringing social innovators together in the name of uniting business and social innovation and change and especially of collaboration. (please pay special attention to the green text as they are links and can help to give you more information and insight)

The day began (with a wonderful breakfast and) with a really neat address from Tony Pigott of JWT (the marketing company responsible for branding and marketing Walmart's greener business model, STAND Canada, Tim Hortons etc). Tony spoke about how social venture can brand themselves and use marketing to get their message out and do more of the wonderful things that they do already. Tony is also the co-founder of BrandAid which is assisting developing world artisans build market power and bring their art to market in the interest of making money to sustain their businesses and communities. The brand aid website (linked above) includes micro-sites for all of the artisan communities that they are affiliated with. Check out this webisode (scroll down beyond Jan 17) for an introduction to one of their affiliates in Haiti: Croix des Bouquets-Fire Iron Art. Tony really hammered the point about building emotional capital and telling people your story. This is a helpful concept for us as beyond borders students looking to fundraise, or to do good things when we return from our placements. It is also helpful for me as I embark on growing Cookies with a Cause into something large, and a venture with the ability to increase the “good deed potential”. I want to share with you two very salient points of this opening address: 1) The artisan master from Croix des Bouquets said “if this is marketing, poverty needs marketing” illuminating that we need to open up space for poverty to be “showcased (if you will) in order to capture attention and much needed aid. The second salient point came from Tony's closing remarks – someone said “Canadians are the only people to take moderation to and extreme” and tony rebutted that this is no time to be modest. Canadians have so much to offer in the realm of social innovation especially to the global south. We need to recognize our assets, be confident in them, and use them for good in our global village.

The next even was a really neat panel discussion with a twist. They called it a “kitchen table discussion” where the panellists sat around a round table to facilitate discussion rather than a linear table that feels really top down and preachy. The topic of discussion was whether social ventures were a trend, or a way of the future. The 6 panellists hailed from a variety of backgrounds including youth programs, environmental programs and such. There were a few key points that came out of this segment of the day: 1)we need to do things with passion, and allow others the opportunity to engage in things that they are passionate about – give them something they believe in. This is close to my heart as I believe that this is the way that education and academia should be moving (I commented on this in a previous post). An education model that gives space to passion necessarily creates space for commitment and drive, and in turn excellence. 2) from this idea is that idea that we need to couple passion and leadership to be effective in effecting change. We, as young people, are the leaders and innovators of the future, so we need to figure out what we are passionate about and lead the initiatives that assist in those areas. 3) we must remember that the unsung heroes are the ones that are making a difference on a day to day basis. This does not mean Bono and U2; this means you doing the right things and good things in your daily life. This might mean finding a way to incorporate meaningful work as part of your job or career so that you are making a daily difference. 4) the final point that is a little bit cutesy, but definitely important: being driven vs being delusional. We must wither strike a careful balance between our dreams and reality, and if not, then err on the side of driven. The key here is to start small with real, measurable goals, and then move on – don't lose your drive to delusional ideas of unattainable results. The panellists were Julie McDowell of ClearlySo, Steve Cordes from YOU, Tina Venema of Philanthrokidz, John Colangeli CEO of Lutherwood, Peter Katona of Foodlink and Bruce Taylor founder of Enviro Stewards (Dave – this is of particular note to you, look them up, and talk to me if you're interested – this project screams your name) Each of the organizations are doing some effing cool stuff, and are worth a look.

Lunch was great (although I was a little bit surprised that their lunch buffet did not include a vegitarian option...), and the Lunch speaker was great (Sam Purdy, national director of the ReStore/Habitat for Humanity) but I am conscious of the length of this post, and so I will move on to other things.

After lunch we had something called “interactive open space session”. Topics were suggested and participants were free to move to which ever table topic they were most interested in. I suggested one of the chosen topics “ how do we engage the 'young ones' in social change. How do we user in the next generation of social innovators”. This discussion was rich and full. We discussed youth culture and how it can be connected to social venture and social innovation. There were 3 main points to our discussion and conclusions 1) delivering opportunities to youth, creating the opportunities and making youth aware that they exist. It is not that young people do not WANT to get involved, it is usually that they are unsure HOW to get involved. 2) Mentoring is infinitely important, and is a way to pass the torch. Mentoring can either be from field veterans, or even peer to peer. This gives young people and entrance into the field, and provides them with a guide to help navigate and find their place. 3) Communication is the missing link between social organizations and the young populations. This is how the field of social innovation can make youth aware of the opportunities, as well as match up young people with suitable mentors. Communication opens up space for dialogue, dialogue makes space to discuss need, and that is the crux of getting people involved. One thing that was said was really congruent with the work I am doing with kids is that we need to give young people ownership of their causes and initiatives. We need to help them get involved and then get out of their way so they can involve themselves as they see fit this will lead to meaningful involvement as a way of life, and not a chore.

The final part of the day (well, before the free booze came out) was spent listening to Jerry Greenfield tell the story of how Ben and Jerry's came about, and how they applied a radical business model that was built on the foundation of their core values of community and giving back. Some highlights – they introduces a business model that looks at financial statements as well as social statements to assess their business success, and giving back 7.5% of their pretax revenues to the Ben and Jerry's foundation – most business foundations only see a maximum of 1% of pretax revenues!!! these guys are amazing! And they learned to make ice cream through a $5 correspondence course that they split between the two of them! I spent as much time telling Felix the story as I did listening to the story. I wont re tell it here but please visit these links for more information on how Ben and Jerry's makes a difference: Ben and Jerry's, Wikipedia, Lecturer profile, Interview, Dough boy campaign, . OH, and one more important thing the Ben and Jerry's compay has announced that they are going fair trade: their ice cream (every flavour in every country, for the rest of time) will be 100% fair trade by 2013!!

Here's what I left the conference with: I had a mind blowing day. I was able to tell my story (well, stories, as I went to the conference wearing 3 hats: BB student, Cookies with a Cause, and my newly named youth program Youth4Change) and network with 150+ people who are kindred spirits and soul mates. The main theme of the conference, for me, was collaboration and bringing together like minds and like ideas to begin to create a network of people who are all connected in reaching the same goal. We were, in effect, breaking down the conventions of the old silo model. Instead of preaching, we were bringing the choir together. One of the round table panellists (John Colangeli) commented that people are not your strongest asset (for an organization), the RIGHT people are your strongest asset – I was in a room full of the RIGHT people. We were a bunch of people that are interested in sustainable capitalism. I participated in, and left this (AMAZING) conference with a similar feeling to other conference that I attend: with excited heart palpitations, and a heightened sense of vigour and (social change oriented) potency. There are others out there who are doing incredible things; people that care, people that “get it”. Today I networked like I have never networked before (PS Cat I met your friend Amanda from the women's centre, she's lovely, I'd love to keep in touch with her, can you connect us?!) I stole peoples brains (in the form of business cards and promises of future networking gatherings), gathered ideas, and re affirmed for myself that this, the cross roads between venture, innovation and change is really and truly where I belong.

There was a part of me today that was sad that I will be leaving for Ukraine in 1 month. I shared this with a fellow participant and she introduced me to the concept of “non doing” - she explained it as the time that we are NOT busy doing things to make sure things are going well the time that we allow the universe or cosmos to catch up with were we are at and give it the time and space to take it's own course. Sometimes the most powerful things that happen to us are the things that we didn't necessarily plan or control for. I am going to hold on to this little nugget, as I think it'll come in handy for me!

And perhaps you too....

PS I'll post some pictures when I upload them

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Thats so gay is so yesterday"

I am in a program that operates from a social justice framework, and includes the practices of inclusion, anti oppression and acceptance….. Most of the time.

In class (Beyond Borders) we have talked about the idea of some people being “Justice Seekers” with a focus on social justice, and calling out injustices where ever possible. This is me! I strongly identify with this role. I can remember in grade school trying to get the other kids to stop saying “retarded” because it hurt other people’s feelings, and even asking the other kids not to swing on the branches of the trees because the trees didn’t like it. Working from an anti oppression frame work informs so much of what I do on a daily basis. Being committed to anti oppression and social justice is (usually) what keeps me so busy – I have trouble saying no to helping out where help is needed.

I think that my final acceptance of traveling to the Ukraine to work with girls with disabilities rested on the idea that this is a population that is severely marginalized, and part mf my role as volunteer is also advocate [insert (highly egotistical) vision of social justice superhero flying in to save the day]. As I’ve mentioned, I have trouble turning down a request to help where help is needed.

Sometimes I fell like no one REALLY cares about social justice, and I tire myself out fighting to educate others as to why this is so important. I think this is the reason why I feel so at home in the SMF program (and Beyond borders for that matter): it is a place where there are like minded people who are interested in fighting for similar causes, and are as committed to justice as I am (some even more so).

Case in point: yesterday Carm Desantis’ SMF 208 family therapy class hosted an Anti oppressive therapy model symposium in the St Jerome’s Cafeteria. Carm really encourages her students to identify their preconceptions, and biases and not just ignore them, or stifle them, but address them and confront them in order to move beyond them. It was invigorating to see 100+ students grappling with the issue of Anti-oppression, and working from a framework they may be unfamiliar with. I think this is a wonderful class to have at a 200 level as it introduces students to the framework, and helps them climb inside and get comfortable using it, and I think it is something that stays with them as they move through the rest of their careers inside the academic institution, as well as out side of it.

With all the feel good stuff out of the way, I do have a bit of a bone to pick. Some times I feel like there are people who are “inclusive” because it is expected of them (in their academic setting) rather than because that’s what they believe in. Like someone who in classroom setting will laboriously make sure their language is inclusive, but write something like “yo guy, I look so gay” on a picture on facebook, or tell you they have a “retarded amount of home work”. There have been occasions where people slip up in classes as well – sitting through 10 research proposal presentation where all of the groups didn’t want to look at same sex participants because they “just weren’t interested in that population” (what’s worse is when they refer to them as “the gays” hahahah), or saying that anal sex is disgusting during a presentation on healthy sex. These are some pretty blatant examples; there is a plethora of others that are more covert, and more indicative of the system of oppression and discrimination that we operate within.

Let me bring you back to the Anti Oppressive Therapy Model Symposium. Each student group was supposed to watch a movie, identify oppression within the movie, and develop a therapy model that was anti oppressive. These students talk a lot about shedding their biases and preconceptions and addressing the client needs from a place of acceptance and non judgment. This is wonderful in theory, but as we walked around we identified several groups whose biggest oversight was putting this into practice. Example: one group asked us to discuss characteristics of the stereotypical man. When we hesitated, one group member prompted my colleague by saying “think of a characteristic of your ideal man, a man you would want to go on a date with”. EEK heteronormativity!!!! What this group member did not realize is that my colleague is a lesbian, and has no use for an ideal man that she would want to date; her comment reduced her sexual orientation to non-existent. There were many other examples of this happening at various groups (I won’t go through them all) which is shocking considering that nearly every group talked about identifying their biases, and checking their judgments “at the door” (so to speak).

Through these situations I always come away having had a really neat experience of multiple personalities: I’m black if you say nigger, I have a disability if you call something retarded, I’m multi ethnic if you use a racial slur, and I’m as gay and out as Harvey Milk if you’re being heteronormative (well 56% anyways hahahah). Dominique de Menil said “What should move us to action is human dignity: the inalienable dignity of the oppressed, but also the dignity of each of us. We lose dignity if we tolerate the intolerable.” I find myself so committed to protecting the right to justice and inclusion of others that I take any form of slight or oppression against anyone so personally.

What I think am saying here (or more what I’m on about) is that we need to adopt anti oppression and social justice into our lives as a fundamental practice, rather than just a frame work to dabble in. Bj Rye has a poster up that says “a newspaper can’t be gay, but your best friend can be” and encourages people to explore how destructive language can be (please check out the thinkb4youspeak website) (also comment if you’re interested in hearing about how HORRIBLE the history of the word “faggot” is and I’ll post something, I just don’t want to take up and MORE space in this post).

Here’s my final though for today: we live in a world of difference. Where each person is very different from every other person and that this is what the makes the world GOOD not BAD. Many of us wouldn’t dream of calling a black person a nigger, or beating someone up because they are gay – we have moved away from such blatant and overt marginalization – we would, however, perhaps make the mistake of assuming that someone (or more specifically assuming that EVERYONE) is hetero sexual. which is just as damaging. We are all racisit, and all sexist, and all homophobic, but it is how we deal with these things that matters. We need to be aware of these things, and these tiny little small biases that exist and leak out, and in so doing have the potential to do a world of harm.

"If you're thinking about being my baby it don't matter if your black or white"

*love (Everyone) *

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same. - Anne Frank

I have to admit I have brain block this week. I have sat down on a number of occasions to write this blog post (due 3 days ago) but the ideas have just not been flowing. I wonder if it has anything to do with the deadly cocktail of March madness (end of term crunch) and a wonderfully wicked sickness?! Regardless, it's not often that I have nothing to say, so it's a bit jarring.

Tonight, as I was scraping at the bottom of the barrel for ideas, I decided to write about diversity through the lens of a party I went to last night.

Yesterday was hectic. It was the opening day for my chorus and our Spring Fling 2010. We sang through 3 full shows over the day (exhausting!) and then after that Felix and I rushed across town to an annual Fundraiser Party.

A few months ago I was horrified to arrive at the realization that one of my close relatives lives a life that embodies everything I despise about Western living. Like a perverted poster child: this family lives in the suburbs, married, owns their home, and exists comfortably in the upper middle class with his 2.5 kids (well, 2 kids) and a pet. They drive 2 large SUVs, they own a large boat and a jet ski, there’s a TV in every room of the house, they have all the toys. They are Costco members (but prefer Sam's club); they shop at Wal-Mart, they are proud to be consumers, and exercise their pride by consuming... more. (Please don't mistake this description for me not loving my relatives. I adore this family deeply... but just hear me out...)

When I was younger I loved going to this house because of all the "stuff", but as I got older and more socially aware, I was also aware of an increasing dis-ease I felt when visiting. It was around Christmas that I was finally able to name where that dis-ease stemmed from - they live the life, with the values, I fight so hard to counteract within our Western society!

I took some comfort in the fact that it was their life style causing the dis-ease, and not them. It was comforting to find that being opposed to their lifestyle and values didn't change the way I felt about them even a little bit.

Last night was a big night for them. They had over 100 people at their house; they had a brewery sponsor, media coverage of the party the whole 9 yards. They have been hosting this party for 10 years always for the purpose of raising money for children's charities. they now raise money for cancer.

It runs in the family, we are all at our happiest when hosting others and making them happy. These relative was no exception last night. they were alight with a glow of happiness (and drunkenness) it was their glowing smiles that lead me to a strange sense of understanding, like I reconciled my opposition to their lifestyle.

I realized, as Anne frank so eloquently put it, that we all live with the objective of being happy, and that our lives are all different, and therefore our happinesses are all different. My Rlatives draw their happiness from the people around them and although their lifestyle is very different (understatement of the century) than mine, they find their own ways to give back to the cosmos: like by being a good neighbor and friend, lending a hand when one is needed, raising money for cancer etc.

Sometimes I find that I get frustrated (and perhaps a wee bit preachy) when people don't see how problematic their lifestyles can be for the rest of humanity (like a millionaire cousin who spent $9million rebuilding a house but didn't bother to include ANY green technologies, not even solar panels... GRR). I don't think that I give enough space for people making a difference in their own ways.

I was going to call this post "it takes all types" because that was the conclusion of my reflection on this topic - it does take all types, but with that being said, it is helpful to remember that we are all working towards the same goal of happiness no matter how we define it to ourselves. I am most happy when facilitating the happiness of others, and I think I Have to pay more attention to how others derive their truest happiness to complete that symbiotic relationship. I have found a new confidence in Anne Frank's words "our lives are all different and yet the same".

(I promise to be more on time and less bottom of the barrel next week)