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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Rant: It's The Culture, Stupid!

For those who enjoy my writing when I'm feeling testy, buckle in.
What do Rob Ford, Jian Ghomeshi, Chris Mazza, Dean del Mastro, Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, etc. have in common?
They're all individuals.  They've all come from positions of privilege.  Each has engaged in socially unacceptable behaviour, and largely gotten away with it - despite there always being people who knew they were engaging in inappropriate behavior.
Each one was enabled by folk who saw the personal advantage in looking the other way at bad stuff so as to benefit from the good stuff which largely was about profit and political wins.
What about Michael Zehaf Bibeau, Sammy Yatim, Ashley Smith, etc?
These were individuals who's lives unraveled without appropriate interventions, largely because folk like this have no money nor political power and, as a result, are seen as societal problems to be swept under the carpet or kicked down the field.  It was their own responsibility to get their act together, right?  And yet they didn't, and ended up losing their lives and scarring the nation in the process.
What of all the people in Community Housing, angry and helpless at the poor state of their lives but without resources or confidence or brand to do anything much about it?  Or the marginalized youth enticed by crime because it offers them community, money and power in ways the rest of society actively denies, unless they "hustle"?  Or those who are enticed by radicalism because they're angry and have no internal mechanisms for self-regulation?
Of course, you can't talk about any of these groups without talking about the folk with money and power who like it that way, who find it convenient to reference the wonders of a laissez-faire capitalist system that embraces the Horatio Alger myth.  There is zero responsibility for those who have been successful (or had success handed to them) to do anything empowering for others; that's a bit too much like rewarding failure.
People have to want to succeed under the current model, and hey, it's the job of those at the top to make it hard for others to compete with them, like the card game asshole, because that's how you make sure the toughest players rise to the top, right?
Yet when this model produces criminals at the top who cause harm to others (with the support of enablers) and does nothing to stop criminals at other levels (because there's insufficient intervention on the way up) we ended up with increased polarization, marginalization, need for crime/punishment intervention, which costs losts, leads to increased marginalization and polarization, and it just spirals from there.
The comfortable elite look at their stats and say "hey, my spreadsheet says jobs are recovering and the economy is moving, so it's business as usual."  Meanwhile, underground economies grow; there are more and more begging on subways or practicing the little cons we're more used to seeing on the streets and transportation grid in countries like Ecuador or Bolivia.  There are more undisclosed deals around housing repairs, property sales, etc., that are untaxed, unregulated and potentially dangerous.
This is to say nothing of the growing underground labour market - people unable to get jobs the old-fashioned way have no choice but to find cash where they can, sometimes from employers content to work off the grid.
That means less tax dollars, less safety, more bitterness.
I've written about all this before - slowly, painfully, the dots are starting to connect for the people with clout enough to do something about it.
The race is on - not between us and competitors, but between our own entrenched belief that responsibility is someone else's problem and the burning platform of our ignorance.
We are not strangers, we are not silos, we are not independent.  We are part of a greater whole - until we recognize that and act accordingly, the cancer of social decline will spread.
Forget the nuts and bolts of the economy; focus instead on the organic connectivity of our societal system and the environments we create that are fuelling illness.
It's the culture, stupid.


Friday 31 October 2014

Fracking with the Opposition

At the recent Toronto Global Forum, some Big Oil folk were talking about how to better engaged with people and, you know, the aboriginal population.  I made some suggestions about getting away from their surgery-offering mentality and start thinking about communities from a well-being perspective. 
It may be that, with trust built and mutual understanding established, these executives can focus on the low-risk of their delivery models.  Or, communities and companies may come up with alternative solutions.
The key point I made was not to assume your "opposition" was anti-money or anti-development; unless those executives would be comfortable having a massive pipeline run right through their living room, they should be able to see this as a human issue.
They can take my advice and go the behavioural economics route - or, they can take Berman's advice and start a war.  Those always end up being cheaper in the long run, don't they?
Remember, folks, that in the days of the Internet, everyone's dirt is up for grabs - just look at what's happening to Jian Ghomeshi. 
You can't take personal risk out of war, so be damned sure you're prepared to live with the consequences if you're going all in.

Do Endorsements Matter?

Evil Grey Man retweeted
Our responsibility is to be proper role models for younger males + be part of the solution.
"Evil Grey Man" is Neil Gaiman, an author perhaps best known for his work on Sandman.  He's a massively successful individual with a huge following of diehard fans.
Which, I can only imagine, is why the comment that I made above on twitter keeps being retweeted by a whole host of people I don't know.  I wrote interesting commentary and will occasionally get a few hits, but I've never had one line re-circulated so many times.
The quality of the line isn't the issue here - it's no more or less substantial than anything else I write, and people don't pay near as much attention.  Had I been retweeted by someone else, or by no one else participating in the #BeenRapedNeverReported thread, I don't think I'd have gotten the same response.
What matters is that Neil Himself retweeted me. 
First - this was a generous act of his, whether intentional or not.  Celebrities are like cars compared to the pedestrian population of everyone else; every move they make has more power behind it than those of the majority.  The reverse is true of people like Ghomeshi who clearly seems to have used his power to drive roughshod over whoever was in his way or to his liking.
Second - a guy with as little need to engage has done so anyway.  That means he cares and, when people see that someone they admire cares about something, they're going to be paying closer attention to.  That matters.
I work in politics; on campaigns and when policies are rolled out, a ton of energy gets spent on finding third-party endorsers to add some clout to an issue or a brand.  I've seen great candidates with amazing endorsements go nowhere, and solid candidates with no big names behind them but a great deal of community clout do well.
What's the lesson in all this?
For now, it seems to me less that you've got a big name attached to yours and more that they demonstrably believe in what you do enough to support it.  This means a given audience - theirs, primarily - needs to know that said celebrity is already committed to the cause and sees you as a conduit for their beliefs.
How this applies to politics is an interesting matter; if you're running in a specific Ward or Riding, odds aren't great that a plurality of voters are Neil Gaiman fans.  You need to find endorsements that are relevant to your audience.
Which, ultimately, means that you need to know who your audience is and already be engaged about the issues that matter to them. 
It's not about a short term sales job, then, which politics tends to be - it's about having a clear why and earning support because of it.


Thursday 30 October 2014

Enabling Entitlement: What Rob Ford and Jian Ghomeshi Have In Common

Both men have their supporters and detractors.  Both have their strengths and weaknesses.  Both have been accused of doing awful things, unlawful things and both have played the victim card in their defense.
Perhaps they're both vengeful, too.  It's not uncommon with successful people; they make their way up as much through cults of personality and fear as through actual talent.  Employment lines are bursting at the seams with talented people of less dynamic personality.
We could add Mike Duffy or Patrick Brazeau to the list; people accused of doing bad things who, it turns out, did so with the support and enablement of countless others who at the very least had an inkling as to the misdeeds or potential misdeeds of the people in the middle.
As the Ghomeshi story slowly turns from one strictly about him, his accusers and defining who's the victim, we're also seeing a growing interest in the culture around these people that allowed for these sad affairs to develop.
How is it we constantly end up in the same place?  How is it the Nigel Wrights and Michael Sonas of the world keep popping up?  Why do Chris Mazza-like stories keep emerging from the kept back-rooms of the nation?
It's not that difficult to understand, conceptually, but incredibly difficult to process.
The problem is us. 
We have a laissez-faire culture that encourages and rewards those who hustle, break boundaries and deliver results.  It's easier to just give them some resources and let them run than to be more proactive ourselves. 
It's far easier to be reactive to that which we don't like (crime and punishment) than it is to proactively work at delivering what we do like (committing sociology).
We have a laissez-faire society that rewards and enables the kinds of people who do things we don't like, but are willing to ignore so long as we can avoid responsibility.  It's easier that way.
We are enablers of entitlement.  And the entitled like it that way.  They will perhaps get mad at those who aren't hustlers, aren't catalysts, but at the same time they aren't interested in the competition. 
Consider the surface scratched, but we have a long, long way to go before we reach the bottom of the rabbit hole.

Why @JohnToryTO should hire @MorganBaskinTO

 John Tory is a smart man with a background in managing big organizations.  One of the keys to any form of successful leadership is recognizing one's own strengths and weaknesses and building teams that fill out your capacity.
It's clear this is what John Tory has in mind as he builds his team.  It's also clear that he's not slacking off on the political acuity side, as he's made a point of saying he hopes to find ways to include his main rivals for the Mayor's chair, Doug Ford and Olivia Chow.
 While John Tory is a good man with right intent, he's decidedly old-school and upper-class.  His approach to management is equally grounded in a old-world, top-town mentality - this was reflected in past comments about the need for women employees to hustle more and his difficulty in accepting the concept of white privilege.
These aren't abject human failings on Tory's part so much as they are limitations.  We can't truly know what we can't experience - it's why the smartest urban planners in the world often neglect design-thinking pieces around accessibility, navigability, etc.  It's why we have a representative democracy in the first place.
John Tory has done a great deal of good for a great many communities, but he doesn't necessarily understand their day-to-day reality or have the capacity to see the world through their point of view. 
This is especially true of millennials. Of course, he's not alone in this - baby boomer managers and employers from every sector are struggling to recruit and retain millenials.
The problem they are facing is one of culture change.  Once at the forefront of social change, babyboomers have become the establishment.  They fundamentally don't get the priorities of today's youth; they have trouble seeing the modern forms of interaction and ideation that millenials practice as anything other than a lack of discipline.
This shouldn't be a problem for Tory - he's smart enough to recognize what he doesn't know and fill out his team with supportive players.
Which is where Morgan Baskin comes in.
If you haven't heard of Morgan Baskin, she's the 19 year-old who ran for Mayor.  Put it another way - she's a millennial that understands the motivations of modern youth who was gutsy and tenacious enough to hustle in an old-school way John Tory would be familiar with.  She also happens to be wicked-smart, well-versed on issues and an effective communicator.
As a result of having run for office, Morgan has amassed an impressive network of supporters and partners who rightly recognize her as a young leader to watch.  She also has an insider's familiarity with the political process that few youth - including those weaned on partisan politics and youth forums - can match.
Right now, Morgan is weighing her options of what to do next, which school to go to, where to dedicate her focus post-election.  Among the options she is considering is study in either public policy or urban studies.  She remains passionately committed to systems change in Toronto. 
Who better to lead or at least advise John Tory's youth employment/civic engagement push? 
Hiring Morgan in some capacity (ie, a paid position) would be a smart move on the part of Team Tory.  She can do the job, she can communicate Tory's message (and bring the message of youth back to him) and beyond that, it's good optics. 
A big challenge old guard employers/policy makers face is that they are seen as tokenizing youth rather than taking them seriously.  Giving a millennial a significant, paid role on his team with a clear mandate is a great way for Tory to send the message to Toronto's youth that he's serious.
Would Morgan be interested, though?
Morgan's nobody's pasty; she wouldn't take on a token position, nor would she be content to be a one-way messenger.  Morgan is a quintessential millennial; she's diplomatic, but not willing to push messages she doesn't believe in.  Engagement, not sales, is her focus.
If Tory were to consider adding Morgan to his team, he'd have to make sure the position offered was one she could relate to, grow in and find fulfilment through.  That's just the way it is with millenials.
I think it would be a great match; Tory would gain a fresh face, powerful communicator and a bridge to millenials.  Morgan would have a great opportunity to hone her skills, build her brand and facilitate the kind of change she knows is required. 
Plus, doing so would be a clear, early indication that Team Tory is serious about doing a better job engaging the City's youth.  Figuring out how to bring Morgan on to his team would also be a useful exercise in millennial engagement for Tory himself. 
Introductions made - I look forward to seeing what happens next.


Wednesday 29 October 2014

Ghomeshi Culture

What he said:
Taken on its own, without context, without prior knowledge, it's not a bad piece of writing.  It's definitively his take on the story.  He hits the right broadband social cues; he's been a public figure, he's interviewed big names, he has credibility.  There's even a mention of civic pride and love of country, perhaps a subtle reference to his post-Ottawa Shooting radio essay.
It's just one man's side of the story, though, and not the only one.
One man full of bluster, confidence and media credibility positioning himself as a champion of sexual freedom and a countering force to the notion of the state or employer (in his case, both) having any role in the bedrooms of the nation.
The stories emerging, though, aren't limited to the bedroom.  They're not the sole providence of jilted exes, either.  There is more that's going on here.
Thing is, it seems like there has always been more going on here.
This is troubling to me because of what is says about the broader culture - something not unique to Jian Ghomeshi, but something deep within the fabric of our social conduct.
If people knew about Jian and sat back, waiting for him to slip up or whispered quiet warnings to potential recipients of his edged affections, why wasn't more done to remove the threat he presented?
He was powerful, to those less so - that means he couldn't be beaten, he could destroy you or in some cases, perhaps the boost he could provide a career made the risks worthwhile.  After all, work comes first, right?  We tell youth that getting a good job and establishing a solid career path matters more than anything else, don't we? 

To those who he answered to, he was a star; he brought in the audience and therefore, the money.  Without something headline-making that presented a clear and present danger to the corporate brand and bottom line, whatever happened beyond his professional performance was someone else's concern.
How often does this story play out with abusive employers, manipulative Big Names, devious backroom operators?  There are more than a few renditions of I knew about Jian in political circles that people know but don't talk about, because it's inconvenient.  The same is true of media circles, of business circles, etc. 
We choose not to see, we choose not to hear because we don't want to be responsible.
Or, the personal advantages are too great/the risk of personal disadvantages to high to speak out.
We can bring in whistleblower legislation - how well is that working these days?  We can talk about one-off sensitivity training or tougher penalties, but we all know that those only apply to those who are either dumb enough to get caught or not influential enough to be above the law.
How many black youth in Toronto have been arrested for a fraction of the actions committed by outgoing mayor Rob Ford?
I step back and I look at what's playing out from a broader perspective, and this is what I see: a great deal of attention being placed on a symptom almost as a release that enables us to continue avoiding the disease.
Everyone will know about Jian.  Everyone does know someone like Jian.  It's a matter of time before yet another powerful individual uses the resources at their disposal and the trust their public position has garnered them (because you must be authentic if you're on TV, right?) to defend against an outed wrong.
We'll react again, just as we're doing now - lining up to defend whoever we feel is the victim, because of what that means to us.
Ghomeshi isn't the problem.  Whatever his pattern of behavior, it could have been course-corrected to be more pro-social without someone impeding his individuality.  What behavioural cues manifested themselves when he was at school, or at home?  How did his proclivities start to become entrenched and overlooked during his rise to fame? 

But then the same principle applies to every abuser of every kind in our society, no matter where they rest on the social hierarchy. 
Yet that's a bit too much like accepting responsibility, a bit like suggesting self-restraint or emotional-regulation are part of the broader solution.  We're not there yet.
The problem is the culture in which people like Ghomeshi are able to rise to power and have that power protect them from the law, from responsibility, from consequence.

Patronizing Citizen Richard

There really isn't anyone that I know of on the Canadian (or any) landscape quite like Richard.
He's pretense-free, which is rare.  He's thoroughly committed to his ideals, of which he's not at the centre - we are.  Richard has a code of ethics that he follows, religiously, because be believes integrity matters.  Richard is open, a natural communicator, great at breaking down complex issues and ridiculously committed to making a difference.
Best part is, Richard does what he does because he believes in it.  He's not after profit, even to his own detriment sometimes.  This doesn't mean he's got trouble securing funding or donations for projects - #OGT14 is proof of that.  It means that you never need worry about him being inefficient with resources.
What that means is he's the kind of public servant we'd love to have more of.
It's kinda hard to save the world on an empty stomach, though, so Richard is looking for support to do what he does.  To be clear - his services aren't for sale; he believes that they're valuable enough that someone out there will surely be willing to pay for them.
Richard isn't looking for an employer, an investor or a sponsor - he wants a patron.  Consider him a civic engagement artist.
I'm going to invest in Richard - he's earned it and besides, I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.  Whatever it may be, it's something Canada will benefit from.
Check him out, folks - this is community art like you've never seen before.  We need more like him.

Andray Domise: Inspirational Leadership

Politics is a competitive sport.  The way most political operatives look at it, you win or you lose - you win, have a long-term plan to win, or you're a loser.
I don't share this view. 
I've worked with a lot of politicians on a lot of campaigns - some who won accomplished nothing, and many who lost influenced the public conversation in significant ways.  I've also spent a lot of time working in backrooms and boardrooms, on the ground and in community centres.  What I've learned is that being in office isn't everything; change comes in many forms. If you can see the big picture, you can see how the pieces fit together and when you can do that - you can change everything.
You can't do this, however, if you put yourself first.  Leaders never put themselves first.  Which is why they never quit and why the change they catalyze extends far beyond whatever position or title they gain.
Andray Domise has inspired youth over the course of the just-completed campaign.  That matters.  What matters more is the fact that he won't stop here.  Andray's unwavering commitment to his community and all our communities, to the youth who thought he was mayor and even the Torontonians who subjected him to racism.
Toronto needs leaders who put the community first.  Whether they win office or not, they get informed, they engage and they make a difference.  These aren't cautionary tales, they're inspirations.  We're lucky to have leaders like this; I will continue to do all I can to support them.

Forward, Toronto

Embedded image permalinkRemember that video Team Doug Ford took from Why Should I Care? wherein Tory talks about road tolls?  When you watch the whole thing, you see that the substance of what he said then mirrors his quote posted above
While I question some of the choices he's made and wonder if he fully understands the challenge he's presented for himself, I have no doubt that John Tory's intentions are pure.  Tory is an aspiring post-partisan; he's seen up close and personal the divisions that partisanship can create and the limitations fixed ideologies place on our ability to understand and solve our structural socio-economic woes.
Unless you're a die-hard partisan, you want John Tory to succeed as mayor.  This is our city, and he will be our Chief Magistrate.  Holding him, Council and the public service to account is part of our role as people of Toronto, but it doesn't end there - we need to bring our ideas to the table and be a working part of the solution.
In that vein, I would encourage Tory to look beyond the sweaters of partisanship and actively wade in to the different communities of the City, too.  He needs to be engaging directly with the people of Etobicoke, and Regent Park, and Alexandra Park in their spaces, in formats comfortable to them.
The same goes for the city's social entrepreneurs, CSR leaders, etc.  This doesn't mean the odd powwow with the Ilse Treurnichts or Tonya Surmans of the world (though they're definitely worth engaging with) - it means creating regular opportunities to engage the Andrew Dos, Bianca Wylies and Shilbee Kims of the world as part of the solution-generation process.
Tory should also tap into some of the talent and visions of some of the candidates who didn't make it into cabinet.
Alex Mazer's work with Better Budget TO is astounding and, with the full partnership of Team Tory, can have an even greater impact.
Andray Domise's vision for Techsdale is great and needs to be implemented; it also fits in nicely with the visions of other community leaders for Youth Entrepreneurship hubs possibly based out of underused TCHC/TPL spaces in Toronto's NIAs.  Then, of course, there's Toronto Youth Cabinet's Chloe-Marie Brown and her three big policy ideas for 2015.
Alejandra Bravo continues to make a difference among Toronto's New Canadian communities, empowering more civic engagement and literacy.
Removing Barriers for “At-Risk” Youth
On the civic literacy side, we go full circle back to Why Should I Care?  Terri Chu has done an amazing job developing one of the most important forums for dialogue in the city.  Rather than pitting opposing perspectives against one another, new ideas and information are shared through conversation. Instead of exploring a battleground, common ground emerges.
Wouldn't it be great if we had more WSICs throughout the city?  Or if the City (Mayor and Councilors, City Planners, etc.) engaged in regular forums like this to engage, inform and hear from local communities?
Getting informed and getting engaged are crucial, but we need to go even further.  To really make a difference, people - all people - need to be an active part of the decision-making process.  That's what Reset Toronto has been hinting at; it's also what Toronto's Open Community, which represents a variety of sectors and communities, has been trying to promote.
Last night, I had the privilege to be part of TGIFTuesday, a policy kitchen conversation which brought a mixed group of people together to craft some policy actions to bring to Council.  Partners included Social Innovation Generation, the Centre for Social Innovation, Swerhun and Toronto Youth Cabinet.  The new Council will be getting a white paper based on the ideas generated there and there will also be a video in the near future. 

We're all committed to doing more of these and in more communities throughout town - it would be awesome to hold such events at local entrepreneur centres/community catalyst hubs.
All of this is breaking new ground, doing things differently and embracing the idea of iterative development.  In short, it's risky, it's a bit messy - but it's doing exactly what Tory want to see, which is breaking down silos and bringing people together.
We all need to take off team sweaters from left to right, but we also need to be comfortable engaging both above and below our social strata.  Tory's political advisors will probably discourage this - it goes against the political mentality of picking fights and reaching strictly for low-hanging fruit - but it's what the city both needs and deserves and, I believe, what John Tory ultimately stands for.
The Mayor-elect is welcome to join our conversations, events and hacks whenever he has the time.  We're happy to work with anyone committed to the same cause of building an informed, engaged and empowered society.
After all, the only way to move forward is to do it together.

Why Toronto Should Care About TGIFTuesday

No, Ford Nation is not dead.  If anything, given the way wealth has increasingly aggregated in a narrow corridor in the middle of town, it could be realistically assumed it could grow between 2014 and 2018.
There's lots that could happen between now and then, but we could very realistically see a Ford or similar populist win that vote by pushing just the right buttons.
So, a valid question becomes how might we inoculate NIAs against simplistic, hateful populism?  There is an answer, though it flies in the face of much conventional wisdom.
Empower people to get informed, get engaged and make a difference, and they will make wise choices.  This means empowering all those who benefit the least from the economy, those that provide the lowest labour costs but the highest tax challenges with equity.
Which is what Why Should I Care does.
And what TGIFTuesday and from a different angle, Where Worlds Collide does.  It's a fundamental belief of the Open Community, as well.
The goal should not be to destroy the careers of the Fords - there will always be other populists in the wings.  The goal shouldn't be to more tightly control the narrative for "those people" either - that fuels the problem.
Empowerment, equitable accesses, etc. 
That's the only way forward.