The Importance Of Having A Personal Vision

31 Aug

Around five years ago, my previous company was in the midst of tackling the challenge of growing from a small to a medium sized company.  During that period, I spent a lot of time trying to convince people that it was crucial for us to have a company vision.  How else would we know which of the many opportunities that came our way we should take and which ones we should let pass us by?  How else could we be proactive instead of reactive?

After a couple of years of me banging the ‘vision drum,’ a friend asked me “well what’s your personal vision.”  My personal vision?  The question caught me off guard.  My friend persisted – “isn’t having a personal vision more important than having a vision for the consulting firm you work for?”

As I pondered this question, it occurred to me that I had always been very comfortable with change in my professional life and very scared of change in my personal life.  Could it be that this was because I didn’t have a guide to help me decide which of the many personal opportunities that came my way fit and which did not?

So I researched personal visions and I found a few methods to help with articulation – like writing your own eulogy or the speech you want to hear on your 64th birthday.  After playing with a main articulation for a while, I started thinking about how my main statement would manifest itself in different parts of my life – with my family, friends, work, hobbies, etc…  And then I worked on developing 5 year and 1 year goals based on my vision.  Finally, I developed a daily planning spreadsheet so that I could start keeping track and ensuring that I was investing my time and energy in alignment with my vision and goals.

As a result of this investment in my vision and goals, I have become much more comfortable with change in my personal life and I have lately taken several big steps – like leaving my cushy and well paid career of 14 years to join EWB, moving to Toronto, and most recently buying my first place!!! 

That’s right – the deal just closed today and I am now the proud owner of a condo in downtown Toronto.   My next step is to get it painted and get my furniture shipped out.  Hopefully I will be moved in within a couple of weeks.


My place is right in the heart of downtown Toronto and is only about 1km from the office.  It also includes access to a massive 30,000 square foot super club facility that has a full basketball court, squash court, pool, bowling alley, gym, etc… 

DSC04426 DSC04427 (Note that the furniture is the previous owner’s and will not be staying)

To all of my friends who bet this day would never happen, time to pay up! 😉


If An EWBer Were To Get Elected…

21 Aug

I hate to say admit it, but I am not that knowledgeable about Canadian politics.   Growing up on the west coast and being bombarded with US television, Canadian politics has always seemed a bit boring and distant to me.  Since joining the EWB National Office and learning more about our advocacy work, however,  I have become increasingly excited about Canadian politics and the potential for our involvement to help drive significant change.  

So I asked some of my coworkers for political book suggestions.  I assumed that they would direct me to some big boring history books, but their first suggestions turned out to be two humorous novels entitled ‘The Best Laid Plans’ and ‘The High Road’ by a local writer names Terry Fallis.

The novels are about an old Scottish Mechanical Engineering Professor from the University of Ottawa who accidentally gets elected to parliament when he makes a deal with a young ex-Liberal party speech writer-turned-English Professor in order to avoid teaching first year English for Engineers.  Once elected, the Professor and his young political tutor tumble into a series of mishaps and adventures  that demonstrate how an engineer’s logical mindset can be powerful in the world of politics.

In addition to learning a bit about Canadian politics, I highly recommend these novels for the following reasons:

  • They are really funny.  I even laughed out loud a few times!
  • Many of the situations in the book highlight the Global Engineering mindset (GE is an EWB program designed to encourage engineers to become more globally responsible).  Note that the author actually graduated with an engineering degree before going into politics and then marketing/public relations.
  • The Engineering Professor builds a hovercraft and what engineer doesn’t love hovercrafts?
  • At one point, the Engineer/MP is asked to lead an investigation into a bridge failure that leads to conclusions about investment in infrastructure.  The conclusions he reaches have significant parallels to EWB’s Ghanaian Government & Rural Infrastructure (G&RI) and Malawi Water/Sanitation work.
  • Like me, the author is a fan of Mark Twain (who is quoted in the book) and John Irving (who has clearly influenced his writing style).

This week’s focus on political advocacy is appropriate given that three of the four EWB Social Change Fellows who are wrapping up their summer internships at the office this week all spent a significant amount of time furthering our advocacy work.


Duncan and Erin (on the left) were both part of our advocacy team for their entire placement.  Daniel (second from the right) was focused on Fair Trade and other parts of our Canadian Programs, but he also contributed significantly to our advocacy work.  Menel (on the right) helped to support our Africa Programs over the past four months.

We had a celebration for all four of the SCFs on Thursday because Duncan had to finish up early so that he can get down to Harvard where he is starting law school next month.  Erin and Menel will be leaving after this coming week; however, Daniel has just signed on for another year at the office.

I was incredibly impressed with this group of SCFs.  They all contributed enormously and underwent significant personal growth.  We can expect great things from all of them in the future.   Who knows – maybe one of them will eventually even get elected to parliament…

Our Nation’s Capital

9 Aug

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Last weekend I travelled to Ottawa for the third time in the last twelve months.  On each of my visits, I’ve enjoyed the atmosphere of energy and engagement in the city. Things may not always move fast, but the people and organizations who have chosen Ottawa as a home are here for a reason.  They see potential and they are working towards it.

Our 2012 National EWB Conference will take place here in January and the primary purpose of my trip was to meet with Clement (the conference Chair) and the directors of the conference team.   I am excited to be directly involved in the conference this year, serving as a link between the conference team and national office, as I know what an amazing impact EWB conferences have.  I believe that having the conference in our nation’s capital greatly enhances it’s potential.


It was a happy coincidence that EWB’s advocacy team was running a Bootcamp in Ottawa on the weekend and I was able to join them for a tour of the parliament buildings.  My favorite part of the tour was the library (pictured above), which is absolutely breathtaking.  

The Advocacy Bootcamp brought together chapter leaders from across Canada to sharpen their advocacy skills.  In addition to joining the group for the tour of parliament, I also sat in on a session led by Ian Smillie, who is one of EWB’s favorite development experts and the author of several books including Freedom From Want.

Ian shared his experiences as part of a team that advocated to put in place and enforce the Kimberlite Process, which is a global certification system intended to halt the traffic of ‘conflict diamonds.’  Given the global reach of this successful system, I was surprised to learn that the core team responsible for putting it in place consisted of only a handful of people armed with just a fax machine.  I was also surprised to learn that the majority of the heavy lifting took place during the enforcement phase, which extended long after the more obvious goals of establishing the standards and securing initial agreements had been completed.  Once again proving that it is all in the follow through!


On the left above are the attendees of the Advocacy Bootcamp and on the right is Ian Smillie leading his session in a classroom at the University of Ottawa.  Although I only had the opportunity to attend this one session, it was clear from what I saw and the feedback I heard from the attendees that the national office advocacy team (James, Ian,  Erin and Duncan, who was the lead organizer of the bootcamp) did an amazing job.

One of the unexpected highlights of the trip was MosAika, an impressive multi-media light show about Canadian history and identity projected onto the Parliament buildings at night (ongoing during the summer).   The picture on the right at the top of my blog post shows center block of the parliament building lit up by the light show.

Before leaving for Ottawa last week, I had a chance to connect with the Pro Fellows who were in town for their final pre-departure training before going overseas for 4 months on the same type of placement that I embarked on exactly one year ago today.  Chatting with this year’s group of six volunteers from across the country reminded me of how intense my pre-departure training had been.   I am really excited for the experiences they are going to have over the next few months.


One of the Pro Fellows, Lyndsey Hannigan, has done a great job of introducing all of the Pro Fellows in her blog, so check it out if you’d like to learn more about these amazing leaders:

It’s All In The Follow Through…

1 Aug

…and mine hasn’t always been that great!  Like many of my coworkers, I love the idea generation process, which typically involves filling up whiteboards and flipchart paper with smatterings of scribbled notes and post-it wallpapering to capture ideas that range from the utterly absurd to the undeniably brilliant.

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However, I’m not always the greatest when it comes to following through and executing on the resulting ideas.  It’s not that I dislike seeing things through, it’s just that I have a bit of a tendency to over extend myself because I keep getting excited about new ideas.  Often I don’t even have enough time to transcribe the brainstormed notes before my next meeting, which is why I wind-up with a camera phone full of shots like the ones above.

I was in the process of procrastinating from transcribing the shots above earlier this week when I came across this interesting article in my Twitter feed titled “The Best Strategy for Innovation: Knowing Your Limits.”  The tweet was by Fast Company and it linked to this article on their website:  This quote from the article caught my eye:

“…as Mark Zuckerberg (apocryphally) said to the Winkelvoss twins, ‘If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you would’ve invented Facebook.’  In other words, coming up with the right idea — even if it’s a brilliant one, straight from the whiteboards of a high-profile design consultancy — means nothing without the ability to make it real.”

This was just the extra push I needed to buckle down and complete my transcription.  Thankfully it was a relatively quiet week in the office for me, which made it easier for me to stay focused and shift from transcription right into grinding away at execution plans for the ideas, which were mostly born out of our recent office retreat. 

The week was punctuated by the send-off party for the Fall 2011 Africa Program Staff (APS) group (the party is pictured below, although I only managed to capture Rebecca and Lauren from the APS group in the shot – along with recently returned APS Brian Venne).


The Fall 2011 APS group includes: Rebecca Peel, Brian McGee, Lauren Dodds, Alex Joyce, David Taylor, Sierra Vercillo, Ibrahim Nambiema, and Ashley Meek.  Each of them will all be spending a year or more overseas.  Also included in the training session were two representatives from TransCanada Pipeline (Dominique Dagenais and Marielle Flottat), who represent our first ever direct corporate-partnership short term volunteers.  Please join me in wishing them all safe travels and best of luck!

We Would Really Appreciate Your Help

25 Jul

We’ve identified recruitment of the key staff positions listed below as one of our biggest priorities to allow us to increase the amount of awesomeness that EWB is able to generate.  There are a broad range of positions available that could be filled by a broad range of individuals: from students to quasi-retirees, engineers to non-engineers, experienced EWBers to newbies, entrepreneurs to managers…

So we would really appreciate it if you would: 

  • Forward this post to anyone you think might be interest in the the positions listed below and any of your contacts who have access to significant networks of potential candidates.  
  • Throw your own hat into the ring!  After four years of volunteering with EWB, I just started full time at the National Office a little over a month ago and I’ve been having a blast.

Who wouldn’t want to join a team like this?  (a ‘lip-dub’ music video shot in one take during a break at our recent office retreat)


1. Director of Operations (full time) a process oriented person with a talent for managing and organizing others.  The successful candidate will be capable of simplifying complex problems into steps and then supporting  a team to achieve them.  Ideally someone with professional operational experience at a senior level and the ability to think strategically.  Likely an ESTJ or ISTJ (we currently don’t have any in the office!)

2. Director of Fundraising (full time) – a person who enjoys the hunt, but who is also capable of managing a team in the office and acting as a change leader within the broader organization in order to help evolve our fundraising culture.  The successful candidate will enjoy networking and building relationships, but will balance this with strength in strategy and execution.  Demonstrated success in fundraising or corporate marketing/sales is required.

3. Director of Canadian Programs (full time)a person with a good balance of strategic, executing and relationship strengths and experience. The successful candidate will be responsible for taking a broad view of all our Canadian programs (advocacy, global engineering, fair trade, member learning, youth engagement), establishing linkages between broad objectives and daily activities, assigning resources, and then supporting a team to achieve clear objectives.


4. Junior Fellow Program Manager (1 year min. contract) the Junior Fellow program gives approximately 40 students from our University Chapters the chance to spend 3.5 months working in Africa with our program teams, contributing to our strategies aimed at creating opportunity for Dorothy. The successful candidate will be responsible for administering this program.  They will have a strong track record of investing in people and likely will have already spent time overseas with EWB.


5. Business Development Services Team Leada 2+ year Africa based opportunity for an individual with a mixture of entrepreneurial and management skills who already has significant overseas experience. This is a senior role that will involve setting strategy, building a team, establishing and nurturing local relationships, and direct liaison with the EWB national office.

6. Business Development Services Africa Program Staff (APS)short (6 month) and longer term (1+ year) Africa based opportunity to help facilitate the growth of local businesses in Africa as part of our BDS team.


7. Conference 2012 Director of Content (6m internship) – a skilled organizer and communicator who is adept at simplifying and prioritizing tasks.  Someone with significant EWB experience, preferably with both our Canadian and African programs.  Open to a wide range of experience levels and life situations.  Could be full or part time depending on the candidate.  Ottawa or Toronto based is preferred, but not required.


8. Hockey Puck Entrepreneurwe have partnered with a marketing company to start a for-profit social venture to sell Fairly Traded Hockey Pucks that are made from socially responsible African rubber and manufactured in Canada. We are through the initial feasibility stages of the project and we are looking for a socially-minded entrepreneur to help us take this business from its current pilot stage to a profitable and high social impact business. In this position, you will take over the work completed to date and become the principle driver of the venture.

Click here to learn more about all of the open positions.     

After Multiple Retreats, It’s Time To Advance!

18 Jul


We held our EWB summer Office Retreat last week.  It was the third in a succession of retreats for me over the past two and a half weeks, starting with the 75 person Eastern Regional Retreat and with the 4 person Executive Retreat in between. Each one was incredibly interesting and valuable in it’s own way. 


Ashley volunteered her family’s cottage in Fenelon Falls for the retreat.  It was originally established by her great grandfather and it was the perfect venue for the retreat.  We alternated indoor/outdoor sessions, with breakout groups often gathering under the shade of trees on lawns.  I managed a swim in the lake each morning and in between pretty much every session.  Now I know why everyone is so excited about cottage country!

The beautiful setting did not distract us from the task at hand.  The retreat was a collaborative affair where everyone pitched in to help design, support or run different sessions based on their strengths and interests.  Some of the highlights from my perspective included:

  • Amazing conversation around our personal strengths—some which we may be over weighted towards  and others that are underrepresented and/or underappreciated in the office.  To assist in this activity, we utilized the Myers-Briggs assessment and a tool called the Strength Finder.
  • Using the analytical skills of the group to dive deep and ask tough questions about some of our persistent complaints and challenges, which led to ideas for change interventions to address root causes.
  • A great session on prioritization that got us thinking about whether we have really been treating our priorities like priorities.
  • Rapid prototyping to come up with creative solutions to some of the big root causes, including prioritization and coordination across teams
  • Collaborative discussion contributing to our ongoing Vision / Purpose statement process, at the end of which one person commented that the session had left them feeling much more connected to the process.

    IMG_20110714_130638  IMG-20110715-00022

    We had a reasonable amount of time for fun too, including an attempt at filming a lip-dub video (music video shot in one take) and a ‘Ward-down’ at the campfire one night.  Ward is one of our communications team members.  He had to rush home after the retreat to get married on Saturday.  As he’s not the greatest at taking a compliment, we decided that for a bachelor party we would modify our weekly office ‘Wine-Down’  tradition where we cheers people for their contributions that week into a 100% Ward focused affair.  The exercise had the desired effect, which was to make Ward as uncomfortable as possible.  Although it was great fun, I was so tired that I started to dose off midway through, as the above picture attests.


    After resting up on Friday night, Colette and I rode our bikes up Don Valley to the Evergreen Brick Works, which is an old brick factory that has been converted into a farmer’s market and hub of learning about sustainability issues. 

    For 100 years, this site manufactured many of the bricks that built Toronto.  In the pictures about, I am standing by a brick pressing machine (left) and the drying ovens for the bricks (right).  It was an interesting and relaxing way to cap off yet another amazing week. 

    Recharged and ready to dive into the next week, it’s finally time to advance and turn all of the amazing ideas from the past few weeks of retreats into reality!

    An Opportunity To Put Another EWBer to Work for a Day!

    12 Jul

    Some of you may recall how last summer I offered the opportunity to ‘put me to work for a day’ for the low-low price of $50/day to help fundraise for my EWB placement in Ghana last year.  Your response was overwhelming and I had to add more days plus allow some people to give me challenges without specific days associated with them in order to accommodate the $7,500 that poured in!

    Although I was truly touched by the monetary support, it turned out that the opportunity to connect people to my experiences through the emails I sent to each of my sponsors (see the pdfs in the sidebar of this blog) and the new experiences that resulted from your challenges turned out to be far more inspiring and profound.

    This summer, one of the volunteers that the Vancouver professional chapter is sending overseas is my friend Mark Ware.  He has decided to offer you the same opportunity to ‘put him to work for a day’ – this time in Malawi working with EWB’s Water and Sanitation team.

    PS – go easy with your challenges, he’s only a PhD in Molecular Biology!

    Our other amazing professional volunteer from Vancouver this year is Lindsey Hannigan.  She is also a good friend of mine and she is going to be an amazing addition to EWB’s Agricultural Value Chain (AVC) team in Ghana.   You can support her placement here and, although she hasn’t formerly offered to sell individual days on her blog, I know she’s always up for a good challenge. 🙂