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Craig Kielburger at the Global Youth Assembly

Craig Kielburger at the Global Youth Assembly

Craig Kielburger at the Global Youth Assembly

I’m currently attending the Global Youth Assembly, a conference promoting the advancement of peace and human rights. Hosted by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights in Edmonton, the Assembly brings together youth from around the world for a 4-day gathering.

Thursday afternoon featured a keynote address from Craig Kielburger, founder of Free The Children, which was one of the main reasons I chose to attend the conference.

At the age of 12, inspired by a story of a child in India sold into slavery who escaped and became an activist (edit: Pakistan – thanks for clarifying, Azima), Kielburger founded the organization along with his older brother Marc, who currently serves as its Executive Director. Over the past decade and a half, the group has expanded from its beginnings – in Craig’s words, 12 12-year olds – to an organization with over 1 million youth involved, and working in 45 different countries. The Kielburgers also launched the Me to We brand, which offers volunteer trips, speaking engagements, leadership training, a clothing line, and produces books and music. This was referred to as part of a new model for non-profits; a different way to raise funds to support their initiatives, and to engage people in their everyday life. While perhaps not practical for every non-profit, it is an interesting model that could work in some form (likely on a smaller scale) for other groups.

Craig Kielburger Speaks at the Global Youth Assembly

Craig Kielburger Speaks at the Global Youth Assembly

Kielburger was speaking on leadership, mostly from his experiences around the world and those of many of the people he has met. He is a very talented speaker, and very expressive. When he speaks, Craig’s total passion for and conviction in the work he is doing becomes readily apparent. That, and an incredible work ethic, appears to be what helps him continue to strive and succeed. When relaying various stories, he appeared close to tears at times, and at the end of his speech, took a short break, appearing to be emotionally spent. Very few people could do the kind of work he does, and this level of passion is necessary – it’s rare to find.

Following an overview of his story and the development of Free the Children and Me to We, Craig covered a number of statistics that illustrated the challenges being faced by developing countries. A few of the stats he mentioned (h/t @getinvolvedca):

• 113 million children between the ages of 5-11 have never set foot in a classroom.
• 42% of aid provided to Africa is ‘tied aid’. 14% goes to debt servicing. Only 2% is unrestricted aid.
• The money spent on ice cream (just in Europe), along with cosmetics and perfume (worldwide) is enough to stop extreme poverty and epidemic HIV/AIDS.

Map of the World Shows Where People are Living in Extreme Poverty

Map of the World Shows Where People are Living in Extreme Poverty

He also showed slides illustrating things such as the level of people living below $1/day worldwide (seen above), which provided important context to his speech, before ending with more inspiring stories of people he has met through his work.

While his life story and work is inspiring, I found the real value in the more concrete aspects of the speech, such as the statistics and some of the more defined concepts he talked about. I understand the role of the keynote is often more to provide inspiration than to convey concrete strategies and tactics, and he certainly provided lots of that. What I found most interesting were two anecdotes.

The first was the idea of the “minga”. You can read the full story here, but to quote:

That night we asked the village chief what had happened. She explained that a minga is a call to action – a coming together of community for the benefit of all.

Our translator asked us what this was called in English. Volunteer work? Not exactly. Missionary work? Not quite. We thought it was something like a barn-raising, but you don’t see too many of those along Yonge St.

After some struggle, we concluded that a minga is like a riot, but for good. That was the best we could do.

It’s interesting that we don’t have a word or concept akin to this in our culture.

The second was an anecdote he shared from a conversation with President Bill Clinton. Clinton, who has been active in world affairs through his foundation, talked about the challenges elected officials face. In his words, they are given by the public a ‘bandwidth’ in which to operate. That is to say, there is a limited space that covers what the public is ready for and willing to accept in terms of public policy. A talented politician can move the public along to expand the bandwidth of acceptable actions a little bit, but the public will not stand for anything much beyond that. Try, and you’re likely to be pushed out of office. Private citizens working for change don’t face these constraints. Kielburger relayed this story in response to a question about how to influence government and make foreign aid a greater priority. His argument, quite correctly in my opinion, is that the public needs to demonstrate that this is a deal-breaker, and/or something they are willing to accept.

I thought a lot about this afterwards. The dearth of quality candidates and representatives in politics is often lamented. Further, declining interest and participation in politics is often pointed to as a sign of apathy. What if we’re looking at it the wrong way? What if politics is the problem? More specifically, what if the structure and constraints that people encounter is turning them off, and that instead of being disengaged people are simply focusing their efforts in areas they feel they can actually affect change?

Regardless of the answer to that question, the salient point is that if you are passionate about something, politics is not necessarily the right avenue. Nor is starting your own group or volunteering in the community. For me, the real takeaway from this story is that there are different strategies that will work best for different goals. Often we take the easiest, most obvious, or most recently observed route. The real challenge for us is to figure out how, and through what avenue, we can best pursue the change we want to see.

That for me is the real inspiration of Craig Kielburger’s story. Discovering your passion, and discovering how to really affect change.

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Calgary Folk Fest 2009: I Came for The Decemberists, and Stayed for Glen Campbell

I traveled down to Calgary this past weekend for the Friday and Saturday shows at the Calgary Folk Festival. I had never been before, but given the opportunity to get away for a few days, catch up with friends, and see a killer lineup led by The Decemberists, I couldn’t miss the opportunity.

I posted some pics on Flickr and will be adding a few video clips throughout the week on YouTube. Here are some thoughts on the acts I caught and general impressions of the festival.

The Festival

The crowd at Calgary Folk Fest on Friday night

The crowd at Calgary Folk Fest on Friday night


Folk Fest is held every year on Prince’s Island Park on the Bow River just north of the Eau Claire market. It’s a great location, both picturesque and convenient; it’s a 5-10 minute walk from the nearest C-Train station. It’s a 4-day festival – Thursday and Friday evenings, then spanning the daytime and evening on Saturday and Sunday.

The Amenities
There was a good variety of food vendors, both in number and in types of food offered; I had no issues finding gluten-free food to eat. I ate souvlaki from a greek food vendor both days in addition to butter chicken from SunTerra on Saturday. They had a centrally-located beer gardens so patrons could still enjoy the musical acts. They also had a number of vendor booths offering everything from merchandise to home made crafts, and a number of local non-profits were present as well; I had a great chat with a couple of people from CivicCamp Calgary. Last but not least, being able to duck away for a few minutes to sit on the rocks by the Bow River is a joy that few other music festivals can offer.

Friday Performers
I only paid close attention to the final two acts of the evening – Arrested Development and The Decemberists.

Arrested Development put on a fun upbeat set. I remember their hits from the early-mid 1990s, as did most of the crowd judging by the reaction to songs such as “Tennessee” and “Mr. Wendell”. They also played a good rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”.

The Decemberists were the main reason I made the trip, and they did not disappoint. From the start of the set with ‘The Hazards of Love 1’ to their encore performance of ‘Sons & Daughters’, they brought their A-game, playing with energy and rarely taking a moment to rest between songs.

The Decemberists Headline Calgary Folk Fest on Friday

The Decemberists Headline Calgary Folk Fest on Friday

Every song they played but ‘Sons & Daughters’ was off their latest album, The Hazards of Love, and much of the set followed the same sequence as the album. I’ve listened to the album about a dozen times (according to my iTunes) and think it’s fairly good, but not on par with ‘The Crane Wife’ or even some of the songs on the internet-only ‘Always the Bridesmaid’ EPs. This set gave me a new appreciation for the album as a whole work; the songs fit together well as a whole, they’re not just a collection of independent works. While I had gone in hoping to hear some of my favourite songs (such as ‘O Valencia’, ‘Yankee Bayonet’, ‘O New England’ and ‘A Record Year for the Rainfall’, to name four), the set they put on was so well done I have no complaints about the show. In the future, I’ll take any opportunity I can get to see them live.

Saturday Performers
I spent the morning and early afternoon at The Glenbow Museum (which will be the subject of a future blog post), then rushed to the festival in time for an afternoon session featuring Justin Rutledge, Sarah Harmer, Steven Page, and The Good Lovelies. I skipped the remaining afternoon sessions in order to visit vendors and have a coffee on the banks of the Bow River before returning for the mainstage acts. I didn’t watch Justin Adams or Alejandro Escovedo, and I paid enough attention to Bellowhead to notice they play an upbeat calypso style, but not to comment any further.

Afternoon Session: Justin Rutledge, Sarah Harmer, Steven Page, The Good Lovelies
The seating area was packed for this session, and with good reason. Harmer and Page are two of the biggest names at the festivals, and Rutledge likely earned himself a lot of fans with his Thursday mainstage performance (I heard good reviews). Rutledge was the host and opened with ‘A Penny for the Band’ off of his latest album, Man Descending. Each of the four performers then took turns and played three songs each. Highlights included a couple of new Harmer songs, one called ‘The City’, which she also played on her mainstage set, and another one that I can’t track down the name of (video of it coming soon). Page played a mix of old and new, with his final song being the BNL hit ‘Jane’, which delighted the crowd, myself included. The Lovelies are a trio featuring two guitarists and a banjo player. They were the least recognized of the four performers, but were a fun group to listen to.

Mainstage Performers
Steven Page performed a solo set, just him on acoustic guitar. Like his mini-set on the sidestage, he played a mix of new songs and classic BNL hits. He was very engaging with the crowd between songs, and a touch self-depricating too; one anecdote began with “This hasn’t been the best year for me…”. Some of the highlights included strong performances of ‘The Old Apartment’, ‘Jane’, and to close the set, ‘Brian Wilson’. Lowlight was the absence of ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time’ from the set.

73 years young, Glen Campbell made his way to Calgary Folk Fest, and I couldn’t miss what might be my only opportunity to see him perform live. I’ve been a fan since first hearing ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ in my teen years.

Glen Campbell plays Calgary Folk Fest

Glen Campbell plays Calgary Folk Fest

Campbell and his much younger band took the stage and opened with ‘Gentle on my Mind’, then ran through a set that included most of his classics (‘Galveston’, ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’, ‘Wichita Lineman’, and ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’), a surprise appearance by his daughter, who sang one song by herself then did a duet with her dad (a cover of a Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash song), and a handful of other cover songs – two that appear on his latest album ‘Meet Glen Campbell’ (‘Walls’ by Tom Petty and ‘All I Want is You’ by U2), a Hank Williams song, and a couple of great instrumentals (Classical Gas and the William Tell Overture). Much of the crowd was on its feet by the time he closed with ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. Campbell is clearly talented as a showman, and it’s no surprise he’s still drawing great reactions after 40-plus years in the industry.

Sarah Harmer at Calgary Folk Fest on Saturday

Sarah Harmer at Calgary Folk Fest on Saturday

Sarah Harmer was the Saturday headline, and was for me, the surprise of the festival. I’ve always liked her stuff when I’ve heard it, but never listened to her much. Accompanied by a full band, she played a fantastic set, and definitely has me keen to listen to her full catalogue (I listened to I’m a Mountain on the drive to Jasper today). Her set was a mix of standards such as ‘Silver Road’ and ‘Escarpment Blues’, with a handful of new songs mixed in. Next to the two acts I came to see, she was without a doubt my favourite perfomer.

Overall Impressions
Suffice to say, I had a blast at Calgary Folk Fest. I almost always attend festivals for performers I want to see, rather than for the experience itself. That being said, even outside of the performances, the Festival was a great experience; there’s a good chance I’ll head down again next year given a decent lineup (and they have had good headliners for the past few years). If I have a criticism, it’s that they had too many headliners (about 5 or 6 each night I was there). I would much prefer they focus on fewer acts and give them a longer set to play. But I’m nitpicking. All in all, it was a great weekend at Folk Fest, and I might even do it again next year.

Trying to Win the West: Michael Ignatieff’s Town Hall in Edmonton

Ignatieff speaks at town hall meeting in Edmonton. June 30, 2009

Ignatieff speaks at town hall meeting in Edmonton. June 30, 2009

Last night, I attended Michael Ignatieff’s town hall meeting in Edmonton. He’s spending June 30 and July 1 here, and according to his intro at last night’s event, he has a packed schedule including meetings with various cultural and community groups, and participation in the Silly Summer parade on Canada Day.

Ignatieff had visited Edmonton once already since becoming leader in December, and in his introduction they made a point of mentioning that he has spent much time in the west since becoming an MP three years ago. The town hall was well attended; easily a few hundred in attendance, might have even pushed the 600 mark as noted here.

Shot of the crowd at Michael Ignatieff's Town Hall in Edmonton. June 30, 2009

Shot of the crowd at Michael Ignatieff's Town Hall in Edmonton. June 30, 2009

He led off by talking about his vision for Canada. As luck would have it, I was intending to ask him about his vision, though within the structure of a short paragraph length vision statement, similar to a non-profit or a corporation, rather than an extended statement that he gave.

What is his vision? He wants Canada to be:
– The most educated country. This starts with an investment in early learning and child-care. It means a huge investment in post-secondary education, and an investment in literacy at the adult level.
– The healthiest country. A healthy populace is necessary for being competitive and productive. He wants to focus on a national strategy for health prevention and promotion.
– The most competitive and most productive country, which means the most efficient users of energy. We need to get as green as we can as fast as we can.
– The most international country. This is where our future lies. We can use new Canadians as a bridge to the markets of the world.

On the last point, he noted that at any given time, there are about 2.7 million Canadians living and working abroad, of which he used to be one. He also counted Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux among them, and then he stated, “Since Stephen Harper can’t criticize Sidney Crosby, I guess he has to come after me”. It was a pretty good way of making light of the “Just Visiting” ads.

A questions and answer period of about 45 minutes followed. I really wish it lasted about half an hour longer, and not just because I didn’t get to ask the other question I’d come up with. A couple of moments that stood out for me:

– When asked about backing off from a carbon tax, he offered that Canadians rejected the green shift, and he doesn’t feel it’s prudent to add another burden on to people during the recession (points for not saying “tough economic times”). This was, for me, the only low point of the evening. Though he said we need to find other ways to promote the environment and clean energy, it nonetheless seems somewhat at odds with his statement a few minutes before about the need to “get as green as we can as fast as we can”.
– When asked about the manufacturing of asbestos in Canada that is then shipped to India, he gave a thoughtful, balanced answer, both condemning the practice, but also stressing the need to show respect for the workers manufacturing it, and the need to help them transition to other industries, likening this to how we have dealt with tobacco farmers.

Overall, I found him to be smart and engaging. The town hall format works to highlight his strengths; he didn’t come across as very charismatic, which leads me to wonder how he’ll do on the stump in a 5-week campaign.

A few more observations on the political end:

– This was much better organized than the Stephane Dion town hall I attended at the University of Alberta shortly before the 2008 election. For one, they were actually signing up new members and gathering contact information from everyone who attended. This is a necessary step to building up their potential supporter list.
– Following on this, I’m still not sure how they intend to translate these efforts into votes, and eventually seats in Alberta. The info sheet I submitted didn’t have a spot to list my riding, so I’m wondering if I’ll just get put on a general Liberal Party email list. The party is definitely improving on the organizational side, as evidenced by their dramatically increased fundraising totals so far this year. I’m interested in seeing if or how they follow up on the town hall with voter outreach efforts.
– I was struck by the lack of new faces, not amongst the crowd, which appeared to be a pretty diverse group, but among the Liberals featured in the program. Aside from recognizing provincial party leader David Swann, MLAs Hugh McDonald and Laurie Blakeman (along with City Councillor Ben Henderson), the prominent Liberals pointed out were all former MLAs and MPs, or Senators (I did see 2008 provincial candidates Nancy Cavanaugh and Dawitt Isaac, but they weren’t recognized).
– The program featured Senators Tommy Banks, Grant Mitchell, and Claudette Tardif. While all three Senators continue to make great contributions, the Liberal Party could also really use some new faces in Alberta, especially some who are likely to run for and hopefully win elected office.
– On the previous point, I understand the challenge in that they don’t have candidates of record yet, but what the Liberal Party could use is a Linda Duncan or Josee Verner. Duncan, after placing 2nd in the 2006 campaign in Edmonton-Strathcona, never stopped campaigning. She was featured prominently in NDP events, benefited from ten percenters coming into her riding, and eventually won her seat in 2008. Verner achieved the highest support of any Conservative candidate in Quebec in the 2004 election, and while she didn’t win her seat she was nonetheless appointed to the shadow cabinet to give it a Quebec presence. Ignatieff should consider those approaches with 1-2 candidates in targeted ridings.

Though I wasn’t a big fan when he first entered politics, I’ve grown to like Ignatieff over the past few years. I find him to be thoughtful, conciliatory, and forward thinking, which are all good qualities in a leader. Last night, he addressed one of my two concerns, which had to do with his vision for Canada. I think he hit on most of the important broad issues we’re going to be facing in the coming decades. The other concern is “does he have the skills and the team to implement the vision?” That can only be answered should he form government, though he has demonstrated a critical thinking and thoughtfulness that leads me to believe he could be a good Prime Minister, given the opportunity.

Michael Ignatieff speaking to media after town hall meeting in Edmonton. June 30, 2009

Michael Ignatieff speaking to media after town hall meeting in Edmonton. June 30, 2009

So what did I take away from this? While not inspired, I am encouraged by some of his comments, but also by his willingness to make efforts in Western Canada, and to face voters in a town hall format. This is a really encouraging thing if you are a supporter. But regardless of your leanings, it’s encouraging to see this type of outreach from the leader of a party, and more of these efforts and events from party leaders and prominent figures would be a good thing for our country. Given that it’s Canada Day, this seems like a good note to end on.

Thursday morning update: Daveberta’s recap of the event is worth a read.