Welcome

After decades of community organizing I've learned that extraordinary acts are not reserved for the special few and that everyone’s actions are necessary to transform our world. The vast majority of people want to make the world a better place. Magnificence occurs when we sprinkle our work with beauty and love. I am optimistic about what we can do together. ~ Al

Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation

book-cover-mockupImpact explores the difference between short term success and lasting impact.

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Ready to Improve Your Impact?

Between them Vickie Cammack and Al Etmanski have successfully launched numerous social enterprises, organizations, social purpose businesses, coalitions, advocacy and funding initiatives.
There is no mistake they haven’t made and few scenarios they haven’t experienced.

Along the way they have observed six deep patterns of change-making which are described in Al’s book, Impact. They are keen to share their experience with groups ready to think and act like a movement.

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Words – A Matter of Love and Death

Words are fascinating. They convey both meaning and misunderstanding. The more exact their meaning the more useful they are. The Inuit people who live in Northern Canada, for example, have at least 50 words for snow and ice. They have … Read More

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The Face of the “Other”

I wrote recently about the importance of making face-to-face connection a priority if you want to make the world a better place. This shifts the focus of social activism, innovation and entrepreneurship from something abstract or statistically verifiable to something … Read More

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Systems Change Won’t Happen Without a Resurrection of the Ordinary

Systems change is code for dealing with root causes, not symptoms. For widespread, as opposed to, piecemeal reform. For transforming our structures of governance and commerce. For dealing with all aspects of a particular challenge – from its origins to … Read More

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Don’t Leap so Far Ahead of The Parade You Can’t Hear the Band

Are you a leaper or a grinder? Are you inclined to leap over the day-to-day messes and frustrations of social and environmental challenges, to demonstrate your solution for a better future, and to pull the present towards you? Or do … Read More

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History’s Omission – Caregivers

History isn’t only written by the victors. It’s also written by the unmindful. At least if you are a caregiver. Historians have consigned who they are and what they do to nothingness. Can you imagine discovering, inventing, negotiating, politicking, conquering, … Read More

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Jean Vanier – Bearer of the Beams of Love

Jean Vanier is a Canadian philosopher, theologian and peacemaker who shines his light on the practical steps that anyone can take to make the world a better place. His wisdom is cultivated from soil that is a thousand joys and … Read More

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Tend to your Garden of Values

The ideas and values that shaped Canada grew from rocky soil, long cold winters, clouds of mosquitoes, dense stands of timber and volumes of water. Ideas about getting along and helping each other out. About appreciating our modest place amidst … Read More

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Working with the Status Quo not Against It

Sooner or later you will have to stop challenging the status quo and start working with it. Why? Because at best challenging the status quo only pries the door open. Then comes the much more difficult work. Which is walking … Read More

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Artists Aren’t Ahead of Their Time

Alchemy is on full display in King Arthur’s Night a brand new theatre production conceived by actor Niall McNeil. And co-written by him and Marcus Youssef an award-winning playwright and actor. And what a swirl of desires, darkness, wit and whimsy … Read More

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Caring is the Common Ground of Democracy

Barrack Obama, in a thoughtful reflective conversation with my favourite American writer Marilynne Robinson, said that his biggest frustration as a politician was not being able to close the gap between the basic decency and essential goodness of the American … Read More

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Tender Loving Rage

If this was Calcutta you’d think Mother Teresa. If it was a place by the river in old Montreal, you’d think Suzanne who shows you how to act amidst the garbage and the flowers. In Vancouver, think Ann Livingston. Until … Read More

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The Hidden Geniuses Who Always Figure Things Out

There is a special class of geniuses who has a unique capacity to turn adversity into creativity when they love. Their reaction to a seemingly impossible challenge or obstacle is inevitably,  “We’ll figure something out.” This has led, for example, … Read More

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Angels

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

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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

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Percolators

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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