Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Running for Vancouver School Board

Today I announced my decision to seek a Vision Vancouver nomination for Vancouver School Board:

I have a passion for public education that stems from watching my parents struggle to send me and my sister to Crofton House, university, and grad school on working class salaries. They came to Canada as immigrants from the Caribbean - my mother as a live-in maid and my father with $200 and a Bible. Neither had finished high school and they didn't feel confident navigating the school system on their own.

Parents should have confidence that the public school system will support all students, regardless of background.

I first ran for Vancouver School Board in 2002. Vision Vancouver didn't exist then, and I ran with the NPA. But the NPA is no longer a centrist party. It has moved sharply to the right on policy issues, won't take a strong advocacy stand for students, and does not offer the voice for Vancouver's schools that we need in a climate of provincial cut-backs.

Vancouver schools need trustees who are willing to stand up for students, stand up for teachers, and protect the role of education in equipping young people to become active community-builders.

I don't have confidence in the NPA's willingness to advocate for Vancouver schools. That's why I joined Vision Vancouver and support its consistent progressive record.

I bring 15 years experience in policy and advocacy communications. I've served in government, private sector, and public interest organisations as:
  • Co-Chair of the West End Mayor's Advisory Committee
  • Legislative Assistant to federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh
  • Account Director with a leading global public affairs firm
  • Advisor to the Doctors Without Borders Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines
Vancouver voters can be confident in my ability to represent their interests, negotiate with the province, and form strong ties with the stakeholders of our education system.

Friday, October 29, 2010

back from Haiti

People keep asking me how my trip to Haiti went. The truth is it was overwhelming.

Earlier this month I went with seven other volunteers to Jacmel, Haiti for a two-week mission trip designed to support the work of a Canadian-led NGO that funds an orphanage and 56 schools in the country.

We didn’t have a lot of details before we left, but our team was comprised of 3 leaders from the construction industry, a woodworker with electrical experience, and four of us with various contributory skills like the ability to speak French, to work well with children, to lead teams, and experience working in developing countries.

We went with our church, whose pastor has known the head of the NGO for 30 years, and so we were readily plugged in to, not just a local NGO network, but also a network of churches and pastors on the ground.

We started each day with devotions. Much like the daily assemblies of my high school days, there was a reading, discussion, and if energy was lagging, maybe some singing. None of us knew each other before the trip. We slept doubled up and in bunks, ate meals together, sweated in the sun together, talked about spouses back home.

There were some Lord of the Flies moments. Some struggling to determine who the alphas were, who would follow, who could be trusted as a lone wolf. There were days when sexual tension kinda wrecked the flow. There were breakthrough moments when people were brought to tears. There were angry moments when we lashed out about how much more work there was to be done.

In short, we were a microcosm of the relief effort as a whole.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It suffered an earthquake on January 12, 2010 that left up to 300,000 people dead. A similar number were injured and 1.5 million people were displaced, left homeless, and are living in tent cities now.

To put the damage into perspective, community leader Rachel Decoste reminded me that it took two years to clear the debris from the twin towers in Manhattan.

"And that's just two buildings - in the richest country in the world, using the most sophisticated equipment. We are almost ten years on from September 11th and they still haven't rebuilt."

The reconstruction in Haiti will take decades.

Our team got houses ready for future mission workers; we erected tents to be used as a school; we spent time in the orphanage where the kids’ desperation to be held was palpable and crushing. We sorted through container shipments of donations and delivered supplies to classrooms and kids.

But our biggest successes came in connecting to individual people.

There was the young adult we befriended who relied on that trust to reveal a health problem. We raised money to pay for surgery that got scheduled the same week. There were kids we met that we could help with homework or tell about how opportunities for education had opened doors for our parents or ourselves. There were congregants on Sunday who came forward asking for prayer. There was the relief worker we connected with and helped re-buoy after burnout.

As a black ‘Caribbean-Canadian’ who speaks French travelling with a group of mainly white anglophones, I sometimes felt I was on a different trip than everyone else. Of course as a policy wonk as opposed to construction expert, I could expect no less.

Such contradictions have followed me on visits to developing countries and in work with development organisations before. The gaps between advocacy at the systemic level and relief work on the ground never stop being frustrating.

But there is a restorative power that can’t be denied in building bridges - person to person, smile to smile.

* post updated Nov 26 with news clip above

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

politics, marketing, activism - find a tribe & lead it

Compare entrepreneur and blogger Seth Godin speaking below about the re-emergence of tribes with my own thoughts on the rise of the tribe here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

at least one canadian not afraid to shine

I recently put my townhouse on the market, hoping to take advantage of stable prices in Ottawa and dropping prices in Vancouver in order to get back into the West coast real estate game. My agents sent a team of advisors, snapping photos, debating wall colour and moving furniture, and subtly transformed the house. The shifting of couches, lamps and bookshelves was the single biggest improvement to the look and feel of my home. I had left pieces too close to walls, too hidden in corners – which is so typically Canadian.

Tucking into corners is what all three pillars of Canadian society habitually do.

Distracted by the precariousness of minority Parliaments, the federal government has failed to advance a forward-looking agenda for the country, risking irrelevance on the world stage and domestically. Canadian businesses also avoid the innovation and entrepreneurial approach it would take to develop global brands. And too many civil society organisations are hampered by both anti-advocacy legislation and lack of lobbying savvy to translate their public policy aspirations to legislative reality.

So when we come across a Canadian who not only demonstrates an ambitious agenda, but has also taken steps to secure the support base necessary to institute his agenda, props must be given.

Jeffrey Turnbull is one such Canadian.

Dr. Turnbull is the incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association, poised to be confirmed into the position this July. Unlike Preston Manning – and the outgoing CMA president – Dr. Turnbull opposes two-tier healthcare. What’s more, he became the nominee following a campaign that emphasised the need to restructure Canada's health-care system to ensure equal access to poor, rural and aboriginal Canadians.
Dr. Turnbull’s views are based on experience: he was awarded the Order of Canada for his work with Ottawa's homeless and his achievements as a medical educator.
His views are also practical. In the age of globalisation, disease knows no borders; health crises in one country result in refugee crises for their neighbours and businesses rely on global supply chains to fuel economies in industrialised nations and poor. In this context, promoting good health, preventing illness, and building and supporting strong health systems are not luxury programs – they are essential strategies for national governments. 

The increasing interconnectedness of the global community means that wealthy nations must contribute towards health programs in high-burden countries and communities as an investment that will pay future dividends for overall. 

Here’s hoping Dr. Turnbull’s practical compassion sets an example for Canadians across the board.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

we - the people - won.

There are a lot of pundits speculating on the significance of the Obama win for African-Americans and for race relations in the USA. I think they’re missing the larger point.

What’s historic about this election is not just the colour of President Obama’s skin, but the scope of his values and the focus-on-the-positive approach he took to his campaign. A new paradigm has been struck.

When you consider the West’s strongest archetypes, and even heroes from the modern age, rarely does a person of principle win out over an evil-doer with dirty tricks. The Torah tells us that the Israelites were chosen to be a light unto the world. To be a living embodiment of God’s teachings. But they were enslaved, spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and then their leader was denied entrance to the Promised Land.

Jesus taught his disciples to turn the other cheek. To embrace generosity over greed. And that the greatest of the commandments is to love, love, love. He was betrayed by one of his inner circle, nailed to a piece of wood, and hung out in public until he died.

Joan of Arc led France to victory in a series of battles against England and its expansionist ambitions. She was captured, tried by an ecclesiastical court, and burned at the stake at 19.

Ghandi fought tyranny, colonization, class, race, and religious persecution through a disciplined campaign of non-violence and said the search for God is the same as the search for truth. He was assassinated by a fellow-Hindu. Martin Luther King was assassinated for his racial and economic equality campaigning. And just as Malcolm X began calling for a more inclusive approach to the Nation of Islam’s civil rights movement, he, too, was murdered by one his own.

And so the idea of a political candidate who dismisses smears and negative attacks from his opponents by invoking Jay Z’s “brush your shoulder off” shouldn't have inspired too much hope. Leading a two-year campaign based on the politics of inclusion, a resolve to advance ideas over attacks, We over They - well, given our cultural references and our history, a campaign like that shouldn't really have worked.

Hillary Clinton was not alone in her assessment that, generally speaking, when you can’t beat 'em, you’ll probably have to join 'em.

Many of us had succumbed to the idea that the path to governance requires a certain collusion with special-interests funders, negative campaigners, and the support of those media-recognized leaders from the most powerful demographic groups who have crowned US presidents in the past.

Obama’s two-year assertion that individual citizens, anonymous voters, and everyday residents could fund, mobilize, and transform the actual political process was an unlikely strategy in light of the examples from our past.

And so the historic significance I’m taking from this election is not just that a majority of Americans voted for a black man.

It’s that after decades of insiders – women’s groups, labour leaders, social justice lobbies, sitting politicians, the private sector, and more – telling us that we wouldn't be able to achieve political power unless we learned to play like the Big Boys, President Obama has come along to tell us that:

Yes We Can.