Maudie – the Genius and Life of Painter Maud Lewis

When then President Richard Nixon commissioned two paintings from Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis she agreed provided that he pay in advance. Ms Lewis didn’t know who he was. Which is not surprising since her world existed within a sixty-mile … Read More

Solution Based Activists Start Your Engines

It’s election season in British Columbia and in a number of other places – Nova Scotia, Britain, South Korea and France. Which is a timely reminder that a particularly good time for activists to present their policy solutions is immediately after … Read More

Simply Irresistible

Black Beauty remains one of the most popular novels ever written. Anna Sewell’s  “autobiography of a horse” is estimated to have sold nearly as many copies (40-50 million) as the complete works of Charles Dickens (50 million.) Not bad for … Read More

We Believe: Manifestos, Creeds and other Declarations

Manifestos, creeds and declarations are making a comeback. The Leap Manifesto – A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another continues to make waves. Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s controversial manifesto presents fifteen suggestions for raising a … Read More

Forget Your Perfect Offering

Forget your perfect offering, advised Leonard Cohen. There will always be another shiny concept or tool so much better than the ones you currently use. And consultants, who describe a perfect world within reach should you decide to hire them. … Read More

P(reaching) Beyond the Choir

The real choice isn’t between preaching to your choir or preaching to the choir that is competing with you. That’s one minority group, coalition or movement preaching past another minority group, coalition or movement. Your messages are pretty well scripted … Read More

Axing Alarming Adverbs – The LY Pledge

Toni Morrison, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner started it – The LY Pledge – to lessen the unbearably excessive use of adverbs in political debate. Morrison’s adverb usage rate is the lowest of any of the world’s greatest writers, including Hemingway. Her … Read More

The Lakehead of Democracy

When I was growing up there were a couple of small sized cities at the head of Lake Superior named Port Arthur and Fort Williams. Everyone referred to them affectionately as the “Lakehead.” Including the people who lived there. The … Read More

Stash Your Plan in the Cutlery Drawer

Imagine a restaurant review that focused exclusively on the cutlery on the table. “What about the meal?” you would ask. Indeed. Knives and forks aren’t the meal. They are merely a means to a hopefully delicious end. Sadly in the … Read More

Take a Leap – Take a Bold Leap

The formal system not working for you? Ensnared in its lethargy? Drifting in the momentum of its outmoded approach? Then take a leap. Not onto what exists. Wrestling once more with its inefficiencies. Trying to make a silk’s purse out … Read More

Shannen’s Dream

Sadly, Shannen Koostachin will never make the list of the greatest women in Canada. Not because she wouldn’t deserve it – she led one of the biggest youth-led children’s rights campaigns in Canada – but because she died in a … Read More

It’s Good to be Lost

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was to not make any decisions. Not because I didn’t want to but because I didn’t know what I was dealing with. It was a disorienting experience. I had come from … Read More

What a meeting between a PM and a Prez can teach you about advancing your agenda

Especially when you are meeting for the first time with people who are distracted by their own priorities and indifferent to yours. Whose worldview appears different than yours. Whose behavior you may abhor. Who have considerably more power than you … Read More

Tough Love

Here’s a little Valentine’s essay for all the caring change-makers out there, especially those whose efforts are ignored or misunderstood. Marrying love with justice isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes an open heart to fall in love with … Read More

Careful, shaming spreads

In Prince Edward Island where I spent many a happy summer, the Island went silent on Sundays, especially in the morning and particularly if you were Catholic. Everyone was at church. Or at least they should have been. No one … Read More

The Math of Advocacy

A critical feature of advocacy, whether on behalf of individuals or to advance public policy, is to maintain momentum especially when you have been going uphill far too long. Momentum signals to the folks in the system you are dealing … Read More

Have a Little Faith

That thing that happened to the south of us? Smart, caring people are dealing with it. In fact, they have been dealing with it for some time. David Bornstein has been covering it. John McKnight has been inspiring it. Along … Read More

The Splendour and Isolation of Martin Luther King Jr.

I remember the shock of seeing Martin Luther King Jr’s tomb for the first time. I had just emerged from the King Center on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta not too far from where he once lived and preached. Inside oozed … Read More

Flight of the “Ordinaries”

My regular walk takes me along a dyke beside a fen that should not be there. It exists because one neighbour called another. She happened to be a Mom with a new baby and rushed with her babe in arms … Read More

Peace You Can Count On

In early October 2016, thousands of Jewish and Arab women began a two week March of Hope walking from the banks of the Jordan River near Jericho, to Jerusalem. Their purpose – a viable peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. … Read More


This post isn’t about the alarming number of British Columbians who are dying of drug overdoses. It is about those who didn’t die because of the angels who saved their lives. These angels, there’s no other word for them, rapidly … Read More

The New Underground Railroad

I’ve written previously about a world class innovation by Canadian citizens that inspired a new approach to refugee sponsorship. This social innovation emerged in the 1970’s because the Canadian government couldn’t keep pace with the groundswell of Canadians who wanted … Read More


Behind successful change-makers are people: who bubble with enthusiasm for the idea you want to explore who say, “Why not?” and offer another dozen reasons why you should try it who see the majesty in what you are proposing who … Read More

If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It

“My name is Liz and I have Down syndrome.” She strode onto the stage without notes, without preparation, and seemingly without a care. A hundred pairs of eyes were anticipating her spoken word poetry performance. A recipe for disaster. A … Read More

Artist in Residence

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing what happens when non-profit and social change-oriented groups hook up with artists on specific projects. The results include: New perspectives on challenges that have resisted previous efforts Solutions people wouldn’t have otherwise have thought … Read More

The Social Finance Deal that Keeps on Giving

Take two geniuses. The one, Bob Williams, who many consider to be the “social, environmental and economic architect” of modern British Columbia. The other, internationally renowned architect, Bing Thom. Present them with a high-rise mall in decline in an area … Read More

Meditations for Mindful Impact

What worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the present. What works in the present won’t necessarily work in the future. What will work in the future depends on the past. EH! An obsession with ‘present mindedness’ wipes out concerns … Read More

I See Your Margaret Mead and Raise you Ten.

That’s a quote from a recent Margaret Atwood interview. She then went on to propose a qualifier to that famous Margaret Mead quote. You know the one “Never doubt that a small group of people…” Here is Ms. Atwood’s proviso: … Read More

Have Patience Policy Analysts, Souls are Stirring

Momentum is building to reduce poverty. Multiple strands and strategies are evident: fair wage, minimum wage, welfare reform, financial literacy, Cities Reducing Poverty When Mayors Lead, affordable housing, economic development, enshrining social and economic rights in our Charter and more… … Read More

30th Anniversary of the Other ‘Persons’ Case

Here’s a story about cultural impact that too few people know about. The “Eve” Supreme Court ruling which is on a par with the original, “Persons” case. Imagine being a young woman who society moves swiftly by. A society, if it … Read More

Tale of Two Cities

I moved to Halifax lured by its legendary bluenose charm. I expected to spend my evenings with Haligonians from every walk of life singing and dancing to live fiddle music at my local pub. I visited Portland because everybody knows … Read More

Pilot Infatuation

Former Canadian Minister of Health, Monique Bégin once lamented that Canada is a country of perpetual pilot projects. She was referring to the fact that we can’t seem to get off the pilot project treadmill. Perhaps we are perfectionists. Maybe we … Read More

The Force That Bounces the World

This may be the easiest assignment Vickie and I have ever had. The good folks at the Plan and Tamarack Institutes have asked us to host a webinar series on the ingenuity of people with disabilities and their families. Easy, because innovation is … Read More

Political Boldness Requires Strong Movements

Q. What do you do when a government you didn’t vote for, or don’t like, lives up to its promises? A. Nurture and strengthen the movement(s) you are part of. Q. What do you do when a government you voted … Read More

Transforming Capitalism versus Democratizing the Economy

There is a hardy breed of activists who have set themselves the rather lofty goal of civilizing capitalism. This renaissance of capitalism will be achieved by reinventing businesses and corporations, transforming markets, recreating Wall Street, and humanizing investments. Capitalism’s purpose, … Read More

The Plot Thickens

Ever heard of a wicked problem? It’s a challenge that has no borders and attracts as many unanswerable questions as solutions. There are a lot of wicked problems out there. They are tough, stubborn, deep. And their roots are intertwined … Read More

Goosebumps Never Lie

The Guess Who had it right. Unless people are shakin’ all over, your issue, campaign or movement will sputter. If you want to rally more than the usual suspects get spines tingling. That means having a bold vision that cuts … Read More

Words Matter – Theirs and Ours

“The beautiful word begets the beautiful deed,” wrote Thomas Mann. This is a lesson I, along with many others, struggle with. Our advocacy words don’t always live up to our advocacy ideals. Somehow we think we can denigrate, ridicule, shame … Read More

Indigenous Wisdom and Peacemaking

The following piece is adapted from a blog essay I wrote for Social Innovation Exchange (SIX). SIX is a global curator of social innovation. They are issuing a series of blogs on peacemaking in advance of their annual Summit which … Read More

A Marriage of Playground and Podium

On the surface it wasn’t a match made in heaven, a Quebec ethicist and a former Olympic athlete. One committed to participation in sport for the sheer joy of it. The other focused on athletic competition with a laser focus … Read More

Enterprising Slums and Favelas

One of my more embarrassing gaffes occurred while walking through the Nairobi neighbourhood of Kibera. Kibera is home to two and a half million people and is often described as the biggest slum in Africa. My escort was a woman … Read More

Breathing Love into Zika

As the world’s gaze is fixated on Brazil’s Olympic and Paralympic games I’m struck by another gaze. The look of love by parents as they fuss over their babies infected by the Zika virus. This is in contrast to the … Read More

Reading Brazil

The glass is also half full in Brazil. Ingenuity and insight in the face of adversity abound. So don’t be dismayed or overwhelmed by the proliferation of tales from the half empty glass. Of course, serious, longstanding challenges exist. But … Read More

Beyond the Olympics/Paralympics – 5 World Class Brazilian Social Movements

There is a lot to learn from Brazil’s social movements. Its citizens have been largely left to their own devices to deal with 500 years of pillaging and the resultant inequity and disparity. Brazil is so much more than the … Read More

The Long Now of Impact

Impact can be assessed programmatically or culturally. It can be measured with statistics and numbers or by chronicling shifts in habits, beliefs and values. It can also be gauged using the clock of the long now. That’s what the former … Read More

Many are cold… but few are frozen

Those words by the exquisite writer Anne Michaels provide a glimpse into the source of Canada’s ingenuity. You can’t understand Canada without understanding that you are never very far from winter here. Our  ingenuity comes from snow, ice and a harsh … Read More

It’s Not Easy Being Seen

As a cyclist I have come to realize that community organizers, social entrepreneurs and innovators share a common fear with bike riders – NOT BEING SEEN. The result of not being seen are derailments, detours and other disasters. They undermine … Read More

I Shall Not Hate

This is a good time to remember how much we can learn from the peacemakers among us. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish In 2008 during an Israeli air strike, two rockets smashed into the bedroom of Dr. Abuelaish’s daughters at their Gaza … Read More

ABCD is the new E=mc2

I’ve been a community organizer for most of my life. I only began to understand what I could be doing after hearing John McKnight speak about Asset Based Community Development. (ABCD) This led to a lifelong friendship with John and … Read More

Drive a stake through it

As satisfying as your new project or initiative is, there is no rule that states it has to continue. In its current form at least. Not everything is useful forever. Including organizations and coalitions. At some point, you will reach … Read More