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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What to do when the door to the status quo opens slightly

There are times when you manage to open the door to the status quo ever so slightly. By status quo, I refer to those organizations and institutions (foundations, big budget non-profits, universities, government ministries, health systems, police departments and so on) … Read More

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I Felt Your Outrage

I felt your outrage. It exploded full blast. Catching me sitting at the back of the room. Unaware. Me, who neither shares your experience or your identity. Me, who you accuse of privilege. Who can never be one of you. Why … Read More

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First Leap, Bold; Second Leap, Wild

That first bold leap usually lands you right at the front of the status quo but not very far ahead of it. That’s because you are carrying the lethargy of the past and the momentum of outmoded approaches on your … Read More

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Making Peace with the Unforgivable

On November 11th we are asked to remember those who gave their lives fighting for peace. How could we not forget? Armed conflict, brutality, violence, torture, abuse and killing continue. We’re exposed to it daily. Most of us indirectly through … Read More

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Hitting the Key Notes of Your Time – Learning from Margaret Atwood and Gabrielle Roy

People are inherently story driven. Therefore an important aptitude of successful movements and change-making efforts is aligning with the powerful and shifting cultural stories that are already out there. You can, of course, learn about storytelling, narrative principles and effective … Read More

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Wild Rose, Wild Mind

Innovations from Alberta have broken many of the molds that have trapped Canadians within the momentum of outmoded approaches. Think Chief Crowfoot, think the Famous Five and the Persons case. Think its predecessor, the United Farm Women of Alberta. Think … Read More

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The Injustice of Acting Boldly

What do Cindy Blackstock, Martin Luther King Jr., Barb Goode (disability leader), Emily Murphy, Nelly McClung (plus other members of the Famous Five), Cicely Saunders (founder of hospice), Malala Yousafzai, Muhammad Yunus, Ann Livingston (co-founder VANDU), Rachel Carson, Chief  Big … Read More

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From a Stretch to a Leap – Collaborating With the Enemy

The promise of Adam Kahane’s latest book Collaborating With the Enemy is a stretch for me. First, there’s my preference for collaborations that I’m in charge of and partnerships that report to me! Then there’s my tendency to slam my … Read More

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Inspector Gamache’s Recipe for Boldness

Dear Reader – After a stimulating working vacation in Australia I’m bursting with new content. To make up for my silence these past few weeks I will publish on Mondays as well as my usual Thursdays for the next little while. … Read More

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You can Learn a lot about SociaI Innovation by paying attention to the World of Disability

It is no surprise innovations abound in the world of disability. They comprise the largest minority group in the world, 1.2 Billion. When you factor in parents, siblings, other relatives as well as friends and caring professionals the minority tilts … Read More

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Are You a Collector or a Converter?

Are you constantly on the alert for the “next big thing” or “one more thing?” Do you have thousands of names in your data base? Is your bookshelf brimming with the latest books from your chosen field? Do you pride … Read More

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Time for a Charter of Human Obligations

I count myself among those Canadians in awe of anything written by Simone Weil, the French philosopher, mystic and political activist. The philosopher/theologian, George Grant (Lament for a Nation) put Weil beside the four gospels as his highest moral authority. … Read More

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American Tune

I posted the following piece in September 2012 before the US Presidential election. It was a riff on Paul Simon’s 1973 song American Tune. American Tune was itself a riff on a JS Bach hymn from St. Mathew’s Passion. Simon’s … Read More

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Sarah Palin and Naomi Klein have at least One Thing in Common

The belief that caring brings out the best in people. My mother’s stroke was a really formative moment in my life and I think because of it I have been attuned to seeing other expressions of that. When I started … Read More

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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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