Tag Archives: interesting people

Someday I hope to give a speech this good

Just listened again (for possibly the 3rd or 4th time) to Clay Shirky’s speech on software, community and how we can do big things with love.


Listen to the talk.

It’s short, there are lots of references to software programs that you probably won’t know – and don’t need to know. Underlying this is one of the greatest explanations why much of what we thought was solid is dying and what we believe is ephemeral is thriving.

It does mean that the ability to aggregate non-financial motivations, to get people together outside of managerial culture and for reasons other than the profit motive has received a huge comparative advantage. It also means that many of the future commercial opportunities are going be inextricably intertwined with that type of work and those types of groups.


So in February, during the online discussion with Granatstein and Axworthy, when I picked up on the Canada25 Middle to Model Power thread and argued that:

“As a country we may appear adrift, but, as individuals, Canadians are more effectively and successfully engaged than ever. Quietly, we’ve transitioned from a middle power — a plucky country whose government prevented conflicts and ensured stability — to a model power — a country whose plucky citizens innovate solutions to new global challenges.”

and that

“In an era where technology enables individuals to self-organize, deploy resources, or simply get involved, Canadians have jumped at the opportunity.”

These women – profiled by the Globe & Mail – pretty much refer exactly to what I was talking about.

They are making their own foreign policy – and power to them.


Some of you may remember that last August James Wright – Governor on the Board of McGill, Executive Director of the Sauve Scholars and all round great person was suddenly killed in a tragic accident. After posting an obituary literally hundreds upon hundreds of people visit my site from every continent – usually after googling “Jim Wright.” It was a testament to how, around the world, one man had impacted so many lives.

For those who knew Jim, a new scholarship – the James Wright Memorial Scholarship – has been established in his honour. I beleive more details will emerge but you can read about it and donate towards it here.

Take it, and make it better…

Here is why I love the internet. It allows anyone to take their idea or research and share it with the rest of us. In this case Johnny Lee shows us how $250 worth of gear can enable us to create something people have been trying for decades to get right. Better still, he shared the code so others could do it too – and even build on his work.

Everything about this video is great. From the idea, to Johnny’s presentation style (which is clear to the non-expert) as well as his casually humour and charming delivery.

It will be interesting to see how Nintendo reacts to this and Johnny’s other innovations.

Sony both set the bar and wrote the book on how to alienate your customers when it launched lawsuits against the owners of its digital AIBO dog (pictured right) who offered up software hacks that allowed the digital pet to do (cool) new things.

So far my google research shows they’ve been silent. This is at least one step up from Sony.

NHL Players put global warming on ice

My friend Karel Mayrand, who is possibly one of the smartest and nicest people on the planet, has been doing everything he can to save the planet since I met him in 2005.

Most recently, his organization, Planetair has been selected as the exclusive supplier of carbon offsets for the NHLPA carbon neutral challenge, in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation.

Perhaps our government, which is busy in Bali embarrassing Canada and Canadians by doing everything it can to sabotage the negotiations on Climate Change, should look to our hockey stars to see which way the winds of change are blowing. Isn’t Stephen Harper writing a book about hockey? I suspect that this particular initiative won’t make the final draft.

The NHLPA carbon neutral challenge lists the hockey players who have registered. Check it out to see if your favourite player has signed up.

Before I looked I knew Trevor Linden – my favourite player and the most stand up guy in the league would be on the list. I was not disappointed. When/if he ever retires (hopefully many seasons from now) Vancouver city council should give him the keys to the city. His been tireless in supporting Vancouver through numerous charities and, as a person, is pure class.

In Memoriam of Jim Wright

The start of fall has been a particularly tough this year. Yesterday I was informed that James Wright had passed away in a terrible accident.

Many of you – especially outside Montreal – will never have heard of Jim. This fact is not a reflection on Jim’s impact on those around him, but is rather a reflection of his understated nature. Simply put, Jim was an extraordinary person. A man who relentlessly gave his time, his energy and himself to others and yet, despite his innumerable achievements, always kept a surprisingly low profile.

Indeed, this low-key diminutive style regularly caught me off guard. Everywhere I turned in Montreal I would inevitably discover that regardless the cause or group, Jim somehow seemed to be involved. The breadth of his volunteer activities are too numerous to name. Heather Munroe-Blum – the Principal of McGill – listed a few in her press release:

Jim was a graduate of McGill (BA ’65) and Université Laval law school. In 1969, he joined the law firm of Martineau Walker (now Fasken Martineau) where he worked for 30 years. From 1977 to 1979 he was the deputy director of the Compliance Branch of The Foreign Investment Review Agency. In 1999, he was appointed executive director of EPOC Montreal, an organization that provides job training for disadvantaged young adults. In 2003, he was appointed director of the Sauvé Scholars Foundation, which provides one-year study fellowships at McGill to young leaders from around the world. From 1991-99, Jim served the City of Westmount as a councillor. He also served as president of the Wexford Foundation and the University Club of Montreal.

jim wrightAnd yet even this list fails to capture of all Jim’s activities – such as his role as a Board Member (and I believe, one time president?) of Volunteer Canada and a Governor on the Board of McGill University.

But the list of volunteer activities – while revealing – fails to capture what made Jim so impressive. What defined Jim’s was his optimism and compassion, traits made evident by the manner in which he and his family opened up their home and their lives to those they helped. Many Canadians opt to dedicate their lives to public service but I’ve yet to meet one who did it with Jim’s warmth, openness, and giving nature.

This was how I got to know and love Jim. Those of us fortunate enough to become Sauvé scholars were generally outsiders to the Montreal community. This was true for me, a Canadian, but even more so for my fellow scholars who hailed from far away places such as China, Nepal, Bhutan, South Africa, Iran and Pakistan. Jim’s connections within McGill and throughout the Montreal community enabled the program to run smoothly and maximized the opportunities available to us scholars.

More importantly however, Jim made Montreal our home, not simply by his work as the program’s Executive Director but by literally opening up his own home and life to us. All the scholars (and their friends) regularly visited the Wright’s house for parties, dinners and other get togethers. Indeed, more than one Sauvé Scholar took up temporary residence in the Wright house to bridge between their time as a Scholar and their subsequent job.

For myself, my time at Sauvé house saw Jim and I’s relationship evolve from that of charge, to adviser, to mentor and then friend. I return annually to the house, both to connect with the new scholars and seek advice from Jim on my next steps. And I am not unique in this. There are now over 60 Sauvé Scholars spanning the globe. For some Jim continued to be a good friend, for others, especially those who remained in Montreal, he also continued to serve as a source of community and advice. One such scholar, Meriem Maza, was visiting the Wright’s at their cottage and was also tragically killed in the accident.

Saturday was a dark day for me personally, I remain full of disbelief, frustration and sadness, trying to feel glad that I at least knew Jim, and that I have him as a model to aspire to.

Saturday was also a dark day for the Sauvé Community and for Montreal more broadly. We lost a founding spoke in our network – the man whose compassion and work helped bind us together as a community. Equally tragic, we lost one of our peers, a bright and established talent who was our fellow scholar. In the emails that have floated through the Sauvé community so many have referred to Jim as their father in Montreal, others, who studied with Meriem, refer to her as a sister. These are voids no one will be able fill.

2005 Fellow and Jim

Jim with the 2004-05 Sauve Scholars

Keeping the internet free

For those worried (or not yet worried, but who should be) about maintaining the internet as a open platform upon which anyone can participate and attract an audience, please let me point you to David Weinberger’s most recent ramblings on the subject.

He makes a strong case for why companies that provide us with internet access may have to be regulated.

I recently discovered Weinberger while listening to am interview on his newest book “Everything is Miscellaneously.” Great stuff. Vancouver Public Library has been kind enough to hook me up with his other books as well… (these libraries, they are amazing! Did you know you can read a book without buying it? Crazy.)

He also maintains a blog, for those who are curious.

More on the Public Policy Forum Dinner

Eric Reguly of the G&M won this year’s journalism award and gave a great speech on the failure of Canada’s business leaders to compete for global capital. He asserted that, after the British threw capital at us in the 19th century, and the American’s threw capital at us in the 20th, Canadians have become complacent. Having not been compelled to compete for capital in the previous two centuries, 21st Canadian business leaders now retreat and sell their businesses when confronted with the need for more capital. Worse still, some simply transform themselves into declining income trusts, abandoning even the pretense of a future as well as the needed hard work necessary to attract capital. His speech was angry, impassioned, and offered an interesting analysis.

The only counter argument I can think of is the notion that Canada is a grower of small and medium sized businesses. And that it is okay that we sell off our larger companies because we are constantly new ones to replace them. I’m not confident this is the case, and it would only make sense if the funds from sold businesses are used to help grow new ones. Sadly, the state of venture capital in this country seems to indicate otherwise…

Interestingly, journalists seem to always kill at PPF testimonial dinner. Last year Chantal Hebert gave a good speech which you can download a PDF version of here.

[tags]public policy forum, journalism[/tags]

Congratulations to Engineers Without Borders

Since they are too humble to say it (it’s not even on their webpage!) fellow Canada25 alum Parker Mitchell and fellow ActionCanada alum George Roter won the Public Policy Forum’s prestigious Young Leaders Award for founding and then growing Engineers Without Borders (EWB) into the successful organization it is today.

I’d encourage anyone not familiar with EWB to check out their webpage. They are an amazing organization that exemplifies how ordinary Canadians are empowering themselves to take action and help make the world a better place. When we talked about empowered Canadians in From Middle to Model Power, these engineers are a perfect case study.

If you are already familiar with EWB I strongly encourage you to donate money to them by clicking here.

Finally, I’m embarrassed to admit that back in the dwindling days of the Martin administration, just after the International Policy Statement was released (anyone remember that?) Parker bet me an expensive bottle of whiskey (single malt – but brand yet to be determined) that Canada would begin contributing 0.7% of its GDP in overseas development assistance by 2012. It’s a bet that I took, not because I wanted to be right, but because I knew it was a good bet. However, to ensure good karma… Parker, if I win, I’ll donate double of whatever the bottles costs to EWB. And of course, we’ll drink it all together. In one sitting.

[tags]EWB, engineers without borders, public policy forum, NGO[/tags]

A remarkable man passes on…

This weekend Sandra Martin of the Globe and Mail published this article/obituary on my grandfather, Israel Halperin (I’ve put a PDF version here in case the G&M link goes dead). As some of you already know my grandfather passed away on March 8 at age 96. He was a remarkable man, a fact attested to by the article’s summary:

“He was a brilliant mathematician and an influential Cold War peace activist who saved the likes of the dissident, Anatoly Shcharansky, from a Soviet labour camp, reports SANDRA MARTIN. Before all that could happen, though, he bravely and resolutely faced down espionage charges in the Gouzenko Affair of 1945.”

For those who pay attention to this blogs’ reading, this fact may clear up tit accounts for why I read Gordon Lunan’s autobiography “Redhanded: Inside the Spy Ring that Changed the World” (Gordon Lunan was the Canadian foreign affairs officer who ‘operated’ the spy ring for the Soviets in which my grandfather was alleged to have been involved). What makes the book remarkable is how it tracks the complete breakdown of law and order – and specifically the gross violations of Habeas Corpus – made possible by the use of the War Measures act, even after the war had ended. For those who believe that the mishandling of the Arar case is something new in Canadian history, my grandfather’s case offers a possible counter point…

[tags]Israel Halperin, Gouzenko, Canadian history, cold war, Arar[/tags]