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Management Lessons from a Stanley Cup Champion

The Los Angeles Kings haven’t won the Stanley Cup yet, but they almost assuredly will. They’re up 3-0 in the best of seven final, and can clinch on home ice tonight.

The Kings are finishing up an incredible run. While they underachieved earlier in the season, they still entered the playoffs as the 8th seed in the west (their goal differential was 6th, so not far off what they probably merited). They are, so far, 15-2 in the playoffs. As this article notes, only the ’88 Oilers went 16-2; the only other team to lose 2 games in the playoffs was the vaunted ’77 Montreal Canadiens, though the then-shorter playoffs meant they only needed to win 12 games to secure the Cup. If the Kings lose tonight and win in Game 5? They’d equal the ’81 Islanders and ’85 Oilers, who both went 15-3 (when the first round was best-of-5). Their playoff run puts them in the company of the best teams from hockey’s most memorable dynasties of the past 35 years.

While the Kings’ run is certainly in part the benefit of a hot streak at the perfect time, their success is well-earned. There are a few lessons all of us can take from the Kings and apply to our respective organizations.

New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings 2.17.11
Flickr/Matthew D. Britt

Mine for Talent in Unconventional Places
The process of assembling this team has taken years – in particular, many successful drafts, but the 2005 draft would be the single most pivotal event. There, the Kings acquired both leading scorer Anze Kopitar and star netminer Jonathan Quick. Neither fits the profile of a conventional star. Kopitar, the top-ranked European skater, fell to the 11th pick. While he played in Sweden, he is from Slovenia, and was the first player from that country to play in the NHL. Quick came from the American prep school system (and, at 6’1, is slightly undersized for a goalie today), before playing at UMass-Amherst. While that has produced many successful pros, it does not enjoy the reputation of the Canadian leagues, or the higher profile American colleges. Kopitar was chosen 11th and Quick 72nd; both probably fell to where they did in part because of their pedigree, but have outperformed many chosen ahead of them with more conventional backgrounds.

Be Aggressive in Going for Your Goal
The Kings spent years acquiring (primarily young) talent, building one of the best groups of young players , both at the NHL level, and at the minor league and amateur levels. In the past 18 months, they began using some of this talent to build a team that could contend immediately. Key personnel like Dustin Penner, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter were all acquired in exchange for future draft picks, or recent high draft picks (and highly-regarded young players/prospects) like Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Schenn, Colton Teubert, and Jack Johnson. The Kings’ success in acquiring talent put them in a position to add the right pieces to flesh out a Stanley Cup contender. While in other industries you won’t have the benefit of trading talent (imagine if you could draft the best grads out of school!), but you can take to heart the lesson of timing – going above scope, or paying extra, to attract the right talent for the right initiative at the right time.

When Underperforming, Identify a Problem and Act Decisively
The Kings were struggling early in the season, and General Manager Dean Lombardi quickly replaced Head Coach Terry Murray, known for a laid-back style, with the more aggressive Darryl Sutter. Players credit Sutter with changing the environment.

A change in leadership isn’t an automatic benefit to a struggling organization, and can often make things worse. In this instance, the Kings correctly surmised that they had the right players to win, but needed a change in one specific role.

Show Your Personality, and Have Fun
One of the highlights of the Kings’ run has been following their entertaining Twitter account. Their social media activity has garnered many accolades, and with good reason. They’ve injected personality and fun into what is normally a staid, matter of fact activity – the corporate social media account. This has helped get the club attention, and I’d bet convert some fans, over the course of the past two months. People respond to personality, and fun, and the Kings have done a great job engaging and growing their audience.

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Management Lessons from Canada’s 41st Election

The 41st Canadian general election took place one year ago today, heralding significant changes to the political landscape. Looking back, there are lessons in the results of that night that we can all apply to our organization.

Jack Layton in Edmonton I
Flickr/Dave Cournoyer

Challenge the Conventional Wisdom
For decades, everyone’s believed that the road to a majority government went through Quebec. Prior to his return to federal politics, Stephen Harper (and long-time advisor Tom Flanagan) advocated three sisters theory to conservative success in Canada – western populists, Ontario tories, and soft nationalists in Quebec. After failing to make a breakthrough in Quebec in successive elections, the Conservatives refocused their efforts elsewhere, and finally earned their majority with very little Quebec representation – a previously unheard of concept in Canadian politics.

Identify Your Core Audience/Market, and Focus on them Relentlessly
Building on the previous point, the Conservatives identified the voters needed to produce a minimum winning coalition, and zeroed in on earning their support. In particular, they focused on multicultural communities as a growth market, and their efforts have paid off in recent years.

Change Can Happen Suddenly, but Comes After A Lot of Groundwork
The NDP’s historic result came in large part due to a breakthrough in Quebec, winning 59 of 75 seats – up from the 1 they won in 2008. That breakthrough came in a 2007 by-election, after years of hard work. Since his election as leader in 2003, Jack Layton worked to build the party in Quebec – reasoning that the socially progressive base of voters in Quebec were a natural audience for the party. Results were slow coming, but in 2011, the tipping point was reached, and the party earned a major breakthrough that they’re looking to solidify under Layton’s successor Thomas Mulcair – the MP first elected in that 2007 by-election.

Don’t Take Anything for Granted
In their years as Canada’s natural governing party, Liberals seemed to grow in to the expectation that in the rare instances they’d lose – voters would come back to them in due course. Their grassroots had atrophied, and they lost a clear message to take to the voters. When supplanted by a more charismatic centre-left leader, and party with an appealing message, they lost big – having lost much of the core support they could once fall back on. Voters abandoned them for Jack Layton and the NDP, leaving the once-proud party with a long, difficult road back to success.

Without Diversification, You’re Vulnerable
The Bloc Quebecois had won a plurality (or majority) of the seats in Quebec in every election since 1993. From their roots as a sovereigntist party, they had settled in nicely to the role of looking out solely for Quebec’s interests in parliament – effectively acting as an interest group. When Quebec voters got tired of this message, the Bloc had nothing to fall back on. They were nearly wiped out – surviving with only 4 seats – down from 47 last election – as voters embraced ‘le bon Jack’.

What Drafting Quarterbacks Can Teach Us About Picking Good Leaders

The 2012 NFL Draft took place over the past few days. The first selection in the draft is often a Quarterback (4 years in a row now, and 12 of the past 15), and players available at this position receive disproportionate attention from both teams and viewers. It makes sense, as it’s rare for a team to win a Super Bowl without an elite QB. Teams often overvalue QBs in the draft – 3-4 usually go in the first round; roughly half of which become average starters (never mind stars). Compared to many other sports, football (when a team is on offense) sees a hierarchical structure where there is a position that is the natural leader. The QB often has to call plays at the line, or make adjustments when seeing the defense. He’s the only skill player to handle the ball on every play.

A Quarterback is colloquially called a “field general”, and as the nickname indicates, there are parallels to the leader of any organization. Picking both can be problematic, but there are lessons from drafting QBs that can apply to any organization. These lessons are especially important for smaller organizations such as non-profits, where the (opportunity) cost of making a mistake is magnified.

What Makes a Great Quarterback or Leader?
During the first round on Thursday, I tweeted about how the top two picks, Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, scored high in number of college starts and pass completion percentage, which are both usually good indicators of pro success.

Writer John Lopez elaborates on this, with his 26/27/60 rule. What this means is a QB prospect who scores a 26 on the Wonderlic aptitude test (administered to prospects), starts at least 27 college games (just over 2 full seasons), and completes 60% of his passes stands a good chance of success in the pros. I’d suggest the 60% threshold needs to be raised as college offenses use more and more short, high percentage passes, but the principle is sound.

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck, first overall pick and likely success story.
Flickr/Michael Li

Each one of these points to key attribute:

Aptitude and Willingness to Learn
There is learning on the job in every position; a willingness and ability to acknowledge this and work to address this is essential. In a sense, it’s self-awareness (or humility) – the ability to recognize that you still have lots to learn, regardless of accolades or success.

Relevant Leadership Experience

An easy trap to get in to is confuse types of experience, assuming that people can progress linearly from one level (or type of job) to another and produce a similar quality of work. A better way to look at it is how relevant previous experience is to the role in question. You can see this in politics, where many politicians are successful chief executives at more than one level of government (while many legislators struggle to become good executives, for example). Number of starts for QBs captures this; playing QB at one level is usually pretty similar to playing QB at the next one up (unless you run the option offense).

Decision-Making Ability
It’s not enough to have similar experience; it’s important to have demonstrated success. Completion percentage is the easiest way to measure this for a QB. Did they complete the pass they were trying to make?

The 2012 QB Class and What We Can Learn
Six QBs were selected in the first three rounds. Each one points to an archetype of the type of person people often tab to be a leader, for better or worse:

The Supreme Talent
Andrew Luck is just a damn good QB. A three-year starter who completed 2/3 of his passes (and scored highest on the Wonderlic in this group), you have little reason to worry about his success.

The only knock on Luck has been that he’s more cerebral than charismatic. Yet, with people like this in any line of work, there’s no reason to believe they won’t succeed. Nothing in their history suggests otherwise. Luck will be a good QB, and any leader who hits the key metrics in their field the way Luck does in his will similarly be a good bet to succeed.

The Charismatic Leader
Robert Griffin III meets most of the qualifications on paper. His wonderlic score is slightly below average (not a huge detriment), but he’s a three-year starter (over 35 career starts) and completed 2/3 of his passes. Also, every report says that his teammates love him. He’s a charismatic guy who can rally and motivate them.

RG3 will likely be a success, as most charismatic leaders are. Whatever they may be lacking themselves, they can rally others to do. The key to identifying people like RG3 (as opposed to The Projection, which is covered later), is to look for a demonstrated track record of success, irrespective of their charisma. Get both, and you’ve likely got a strong leader who will do well.

The Natural Talent
Ryan Tannehill came to Texas A&M as a wide receiver, played his first two seasons there, then moved to QB. He started just over 20 games, and his completion percentage is in the low 60s.

He has a good wonderlic score (34), meaning he’s a better bet than most to put in the work to become good at his new role. It’s easy to think he can make it as as QB with all his given talent, but the odds are against it. Yet, if he doesn’t make it at QB, he can probably succeed in another role. That’s the thing with natural talents; they’ll be good at more than just one thing.

The Late Bloomer
Brandon Weeden tried his hand at baseball, and when that didn’t work out, went to Oklahoma State and became a record-setting QB. Now, he’ll turn 29 as a rookie, 6-8 years older than most of his peers. He’s a tough call, since he’s just at the threshold for wonderlic and starts, but his completion percentage is just under 70%.

His biggest disadvantage, as with all late bloomers, is the clock. Certainly he was successful in college, but he’s already at the age when most QBs peak. His learning and adjustment curve has to be quick, or the team that drafted him is likely to see a positive return for only a few short seasons, if at all.

The Projection

Brock Osweiler just looks like a star quarterback. At 6’7 and 242 pounds, you can just see him standing tall in the pocket, evading on-coming pass rushers before throwing perfect spirals to speedy wide receivers. Even though he only has slightly more than one season’s experience as a starter, and completed just over 60% of his passes, it’s easy to say that with all his natural physical talent, he just needs time to develop.

Except, history says he probably won’t. In fact, you’ll probably invest a lot of time in someone like this because you just know they should succeed. But they won’t, and you’ll be disappointed. It’s easy to get seduced by people who just seem like they should be good leaders, whether it’s because they’re charismatic and likeable, or they just exude the aura of leadership or success. More often than not, they won’t live up to expectations. In large part, it’s because they never have to change. Someone else will give them a chance because they project the same things.

My guess? Brock Osweiler is a bust. But in spite of his inexperience, and average completion percentage and wonderlic, he’ll keep getting chances.

The Steady Type
Nick Foles, taken 88th by the Philadelphia Eagles, is not expected to be a star – never mind start – any time soon. Nevertheless, I would be shocked if he’s the first one of the six out of the league. Foles started over 30 games and completed 2/3 of his passes for a middling Arizona team.

Many strong leaders will never wow you, they just get things done. Whether it’s through judicious (if cautious) decision-making or motivating and empowering their staff, they do a good, if not spectacular, job.. My guess is this is how Foles will play when he gets the chance. In football, these types of QBs are called “Game Managers”. They’ll never win you a game on your own, but they usually won’t blow it either.

When identifying leaders, it’s important to be thorough, and look for what is really important. If you’re in a position to do so for an organization, you could probably relate to NFL front offices.

Why FDR Still Matters

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, was born 130 years ago on Monday. He was inaugurated in early 1933, while the Great Depression was still near his depth. He died in office 12 years later, with the Second World War still underway, early in his unprecedented (and now impossible) 4th consecutive term.

(Though there was no rule against it, it was a convention that no one would seek a third term as president, stemming from George Washington’s farewell address where he cautioned that no president should serve more than two terms. The unrest in Europe, then the United States’ effort in World War II served as FDR’s justification for his third and fourth terms. Congress later passed the 22nd amendment, formally limiting a president to two terms).

FDR

It goes without saying that, due to the events that transpired throughout his presidency, FDR is one of the most important presidents. It’s also my estimation that he is the greatest president of the post-reconstruction era (1865-present). While he was by no means perfect, and his administration had several notable failings, he is a historical figure I look up to, and find inspiration from several of his words and deeds.

While the great recession hasn’t reached the depths of the great depression, the economic struggles and instability make the lessons even more relevant today. Here are some of the things I think we can all learn from the 32nd President of the United States:

One of a Leader’s First Tasks is to Install Confidence
Taking office at the nadir of the Great Depression, one of FDR’s great tasks was to restore hope, and belief that things would get better. His fireside chats, and his famous words that there is “nothing to fear but fear itself” were critical steps, if not tangible, steps forward.

Don’t Be Afraid to Innovate, and Push for Change
The early years of FDR’s tenure were notable for several innovate social support and economic programs as part of the New Deal. This ranged from supporting large infrastructure works such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, to more targeted projects through the Works Progress Administration, to policy such as the Glass-Steagall Act. His administration demonstrated that government isn’t inherently a problem, and can be a force for good.

If You’re in a Privileged Position, Do Good
FDR was part of America’s upper class, and while that background and standing no doubt helped him achieve the positions of authority he did, he used his office to help the less fortunate, in many ways creating the modern welfare state in America.

It’s a lesson I think about every day in some small way. Whatever privilege I have, be it economic, social, intellectual, or otherwise, I should be doing something in some way to use the advantages I have to help others.

Great Depression
One of my favourite parts of the FDR memorial in Washington: a powerful statue of men waiting in line outside (what I remember to be) a soup kitchen.

130 years after his birth, and nearly 67 years after his death, America’s longest serving president is still an inspiration.

What It Takes to Win: Management Lessons from the NFL’s Final Four

While I enjoy watching sports for the competitions themselves, I also believe there lessons we can learn from them. In particular, as I’ve progressed in my career, and have had the opportunity to take leadership roles in various initiatives, I’ve paid more and more attention to how successful teams and individuals operate off the field. There are some excellent books that cover the management styles of teams or individuals (I recommend starting with Moneyball, The Extra 2%, The Education of a Coach, and the Soccernomics chapter on Olympique Lyon’s approach to the transfer market).

Like many people, I’m looking forward to the NFL’s Championship Sunday tomorrow. There are four strong, interesting teams competing for spots in the Super Bowl. They’ve all taken different roads to success, but they all have things they can teach us. Here are some of the key lessons I think we can take away from each team:

New England Patriots
Strong, Stable Leadership is Key
Head Coach Bill Belichick joined the club in 1999, and Quarterback Tom Brady took over as the starter midway through 2001. Since then, neither has relinquished his spot, and their stability has led the Patriots to 3 Super Bowls, another appearance in the final. In that time, they’ve only missed the playoffs twice (one of those years, Brady was knocked out for the season in the first game).

The Belichick-Brady partnership has transcended turnover on and off the field, and allowed the team to persevere through some bad drafts in the middle of the 2000s, and loss of other key personnel. For any organization, strong leadership is key to success in an ever-changing environment.

It’s Important to Adapt
In the early 2000s, New England built their teams around defense, focusing on ball control (running, short passes) while on offense. Later, as Brady matured, they shifted to a more aggressive passing style – still throwing short but adding a greater focus on the deep ball. Whatever the impetus, the Patriots were not content to assume what had worked in the past would work again in the future. Lots of organizations, after periods of success, are content to rest on their laurels, and that’s where they usually fall behind.

(Football-specific digression: because they won 3 Super Bowls from 2001-04, and have won none – and only appeared in one since – it’s easy to write off the past several years as a less successful approach. This is where luck and the law of averages come in. The Patriots won those 3 Super Bowls by 3 points each, 2 of them on the last play of the game. They made the first one by getting a controversial – albeit correct – call on the famous Tuck Rule play to go their way. Since then, the Super Bowl they lost was by 3 points in a game that could have gone either way. No Helmet Catch (which I refuse to look up and link to because of the bad memories), or if Brady’s bomb to Moss a few plays after NYG went ahead is a few inches closer to his target, and they might win). Also, they lost a close AFC Championship game to Indianapolis – after holding a huge halftime lead – the previous season, and had they moved on, would have been heavily favoured to beat Chicago. Point is, they probably should have about 3 Super Bowl wins in this era, but a few breaks or lucky/unlucky bounces is the reason they all came early on, not later).

Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Chance on Talented People with Problems…
Through the years, Belichick has taken on talented players with off-field issues. Some, like Rodney Harrison and Corey Dillon, contributed to championship teams. Others, like Randy Moss, had good runs of success before becoming headaches. And some, like OchoCinco and Albert Haynesworth, haven’t contributed much.

…But Have a Short Leash, and Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Ties
While Harrison enjoyed a long tenure, Moss had a great first year, but less than 2 years later, the Pats cut ties in the middle of a season once he became a distraction. And OchoCinco and Haynesworth rarely played this past season. It’s one thing to take a chance, but it’s critical to know when to let go, and to not feel compelled to keep giving them more chances.

Baltimore Ravens
Create an Identity, and Keep it Strong
Gang Tackle

The talent on offense has come and gone, but the D has been the Ravens’ identity for 15 years. Think of the team, and you think of charismatic, ferocious leader Ray Lewis, hard-hitting, ball-hawk free safety Ed Reed, or any number of big, bruising lineman and linebackers that have suited up in purple over the years.

The Ravens play defense, they hit, and they’ll make you hurt. Can you sum up your organization (and it’s identity) that succinctly?

Also, does your organization have a leader who dances to ‘Hot in Herre’ by Nelly to finish the pre-game intros?

Always Recruit New Talent, and Don’t Be Afraid to Let People Go
Every team in the NFL, due to the salary cap, sees a lot of turnover, the key is how they respond. Baltimore has turned over its roster several times (except for their core leaders), and rarely misses a beat due to the excellent work they do uncovering talent in the draft. This is particularly relevant for non-profits or small organizations on fixed budgets (like salary cap-limited NFL teams), who will likely lose talent to higher-paying competitors. Strong work identifying young, up and coming replacements can ensure continued success.

San Francisco Giants 49ers
Talent Needs an Environment Where it Can Succeed
After being drafted first overall, Alex Smith has struggled for much of his career. Many, including myself, wrote him off. But can you place the blame entirely on a quarterback who went through 3 head coaches, and 7 offensive coordinators in his first 7 seasons? Young talent needs to be nurtured, and under head coach (and former QB) Jim Harbaugh, San Fran is finally starting to see the fruits of Smith’s potential.

A Leadership Change Can Bring Quick Results
The aforementioned Harbaugh took over as head coach this season, and with few major moves, doubled the team’s win total from 2010. A successful leader like Harbaugh can rally people and get a lot more out of them with few other changes.

New York Giants
Build On Your Strengths
For the past number of years, the Giants’ strong point has been their ferocious pass rush, and they keep building on it. Justin Tuck was drafted when Osi Umenyora and Michael Strahan were well-entrenched as the starting defensive ends. When Strahan retired, Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Canty were brought in not long afterwards, despite the line not appearing to be a major need. This talented, deep group of pass rush continues to fuel much of the team’s success, giving it a competitive advantage in almost every game.

If You Want Talent, Go the Extra Mile to Get It
Drafting 4th overall in 2004, the Giants had no chance at consensus first overall choice Eli Manning. But when he expressed refusal to play in San Diego (who drafted him), the Giants swooped in, trading that pick, an additional one, and next year’s first rounder to get Eli. A steep price, considering they took a QB for San Diego (Phillip Rivers) in that spot (also, Ben Roethlisberger went 7 picks later), but the Giants targeted Eli, and did what they had to in order to acquire him.

Don’t Panic in Times of Trouble
The Giants are one of the most mercurial teams I’ve ever followed, in any sport. In any given week, it looks like they could either quit on their coach, Tom Coughlin, or beat any team they face. Despite this, management has stuck with the coach despite conflicts, and some collapses on the field. With one Super Bowl win to his record, and a team playing like a favourite to win a second this year, it appears to be the right choice.

Global Youth Assembly 2009: In Review

Over the past few days, I blogged about Craig Kielburger, the Apathy is Boring panel on politics, and Governor General Michaelle Jean at the Global Youth Assembly. I have also posted photos on Flickr and a video of the Governor General showing off her dance moves. Now, to wrap up, here are thoughts from sessions I haven’t already covered, as well as some general thoughts about the conference.

Workshops
I attended a few excellent workshops, and a couple of less impressive ones. I’ll skip over the latter, and comment on the former.

On Thursday afternoon I attended a talk by John Siebert, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares. This was by far the most informative session I attended. Titled ‘Is Canada Still in the Peace Business?’, Siebert spoke about the changing nature of Canada’s foreign involvement from its latter 20th century tradition of peacekeeping to a practice he calls “peacebuilding”. Peacebuilding combines aspect of combat and peacekeeping, and reflects the nature of the conflicts we find our troops in.

The trend away from peacekeeping is prevalent throughout the west since 9/11. To put it in perspective, worldwide military spending in 2007 is estimated to be $1.3 trillion (US). The UN peacekeeping budget for that year was $6.8 billion, a fraction of what it was a decade ago.

On the Canadian front, our spending on UN peace operations has dropped an astonishing 90% this decade, from a high of $94 million in 2000/01 to $8.5 million in 2006/07 – Canada’s military spending in 2007 was $18.5 billion. Now, this is not to diminish our current contribution to the UN. We contribute a number of high-expertise personnel to UN operations on a regular basis.

Focusing on broader trends, Siebert also noted that the number of conflicts worldwide has dropped 40% since the mid-1990s. He attributes a lot of this to development aid, which he sees as reducing several of the factors that contribute to conflict. Overall, this was informative and engaging; I learned a lot about Canada’s current role in the world.

Delegates at the Global Youth Assembly 2009

Delegates at the Global Youth Assembly 2009

The first of two workshops on Saturday focused on campaign organizing. This was the most interactive of all the sessions I attended, which I greatly enjoyed. Led by Erin Harrison of the Canadian Labour Congress and Angelo Dicaro of the Canadian Autoworkers Union, the session intended to teach delegates the nuts and bolts of why and how we run campaigns. The crux of the workshop was a case study – the audience was given an issue, then split into groups. Each group was assigned a different aspect of the campaign, and asked to come up with a plan for how to handle it. While only given 10-15 minutes, it was an interesting exercise to come up with ideas, in particular because we didn’t know what the other groups were working on (this apparently happens regularly when organizing large-scale campaigns). This session was both informative and fun.

The second workshop, led by a Katherine Walhaven of TakingITGlobal, was about using Web 2.0 for social change. I’m familiar with the concepts of Web 2.0, and most of the material that was presented. It was, however, helpful to see a handful of successful Web 2.0 examples from the non-profit world, and to hear the ideas of the other delegates who were present, in particular how they use social media and some of the opportunities and downsides they see to it.

By and large I enjoyed the workshop sessions I participated in. There were a number of others I was interested in, but they unfortunately conflicted with these sessions. Ideally at future conferences, more sessions would be offered in more than one timeslot.

Keynote Sessions
I missed the Thursday and Friday morning keynote sessions on account of other commitments, but I caught all four keynote sessions on Saturday.

Josh Thome of 4Real and Liz Evans of the Portland Hotel Society

Josh Thome of 4Real and Liz Evans of the Portland Hotel Society

Saturday morning started with a session about 4Real, hosted by producer Josh Thome. 4Real is a television show that matches celebrities with community activists, taking them around the world to participate in the activists’ work. Thome talked about the show and showed clips from a few episodes, and covered his own history in activism as well. He was followed by two of the activists profiled on 4Real, Alyssa Dawamana Macy of NVision out of the United States and Liz Evans of the Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver, BC, who talked about their respective work. Aside from getting to watch clips of 4Real (which is a fantastic show, and likely a subject of a future blog post), I enjoyed Josh talking about the use of media to promote causes and involvement. He also promoted 4Real Flow, a tool to raise money for your favourite causes through the web.

After lunch, Dev Aujla spoke. Dev created his own non-profit, Dream Now, that helps other young leaders achieve their goals. Having seen him speak at a previous leadership conference, I was familiar with Dev’s work. On top of an overview of Dream Now, he provided a lot of valuable advice – in particular about the importance of asking questions, and about making a habit of working for change. His session had more of a “how-to” approach than the others, which made it incredibly valuable.

Ocean Robbins closed out Saturday afternoon. An activist since his teenage years, Ocean traced his (and his family’s) roots in various causes. Ocean has focused his work on environmental causes. He talked about what he sees as the biggest problem of our time, the notion that ‘we live separate from each other, and from the earth’. He also argued against materialism, saying that ‘by living more simply, we may find ourselves richer’.

Mariatu Kamara at the Global Youth Assembly 2009.

Mariatu Kamara at the Global Youth Assembly 2009.

Saturday night featured an Ethical Fashion Show. The real highlight, however, was a keynote address by Mariatu Kamara, a 23 year-old refugee from Sierra Leone. Kamara is an activist for peace, children, and women. She is also a victim of the diamond wards. At the age of 12, still living in her native country, she was kidnapped by rebel soldiers, who then cut off both her hands. She eventually escaped, found her way to Canada a few years later, and is now a college student, published author, and founder of a charitable foundation. Her incredible journey in overcoming hardship is inspiring.

Closing Thoughts
Overall, I had a great experience at the GYA; it has given me a lot to think about, and a lot of ideas and experiences to draw on going forward. I got to know some interesting people, I participated in some really engaging workshops, and I listened to some inspiring speakers. The speakers and presenters were awesome, and the delegates were as well – as evidenced by the talent they showed off at a couple of open mic sessions.

Global Youth Assembly 2009 delegates having fun in between sessions.

Global Youth Assembly 2009 delegates having fun in between sessions.

In my experience, the most valuable part of a conference is always the informal interaction with other delegates outside of the sessions. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a lot of this time. Since it was in Edmonton, I wasn’t staying at the hotel with most of the other delegates, and I had a few other commitments over the three days, which meant I didn’t have much time to spend at the conference outside of the sessions. I definitely missed being fully immersed in the conference, which for me is always one of the best parts. On top of this, much of the informal time during the days was taken up by sessions running over time.

The third installment of this conference is scheduled for 2011, and will be held in Winnipeg – the first time it’s outside of Edmonton. I’ll be right on the cusp of the advertised age range (depending on which days they pick for the conference), but I hope to be involved in some capacity. This is a great initiative, and I’ll continue to support it and be involved however I can; I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to do so as well.

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.