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As we approach Canada Day of our 150th year of Confederation, I am compelled to share my personal reflections on where our country is headed, how the lessons of history (positive or negative) are shaping our future journey and the contribution we, as Canadians, can make to our world. Beyond celebration, our nation urgently needs our care and attention. As a result, I am sharing my own journey in the form of a call to action.

Over four years ago, I received a call join a group helping to build programs to shape our Canadian sense as a “Smart and Caring Nation”, inspired by His Excellency Governor General David Johnston.  My love of our country has been inexorably shaped and enhanced through extended periods of living and working abroad. The opportunity to serve Canada and to collaborate with an unbelievably talented group of leaders, made it a no-brainer for me to accept this call. Since then, in many varied groupings, conversations about Canada and nation-building were convened at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the Deloitte Greenhouse, Wasan Island and more. Although not apparent from the core group shown below, a diverse and impactful group of individual leaders, first nations, national and local institutions, and many change makers from the charitable and NGO sector coalesced to help shape and expand this initiative. I am eternally thankful for the leadership of David Johnston and   Community Foundations of Canada,  for their leadership in starting these conversations. My investment of time and money has been returned many times over in my own knowledge and engagement.

Those early conversations helped to architect and propel grassroots activities around Canada 150 at a time when our federal government hadn’t yet climbed onboard the “150 bandwagon”.  Although our path was initially unclear, and the group moving in several directions, eventually it became clear that the combination of passionate people inspired by a visionary challenge to create a “Smart and Caring Nation” unleashed many amazing initiatives. Some of the key Canada 150 themes started to emerge:

  • Youth Engagement – Millennials (and now, Generation Z) are the best educated generation of Canadians who are passionate and “issues”-driven, yet often fail to engage with the formal political process. Canada 150 is a great way to harness that energy and enthusiasm to shape our governance for the next generation.
  • Reconciliation with our Indigenous People – Canada has a sad record in our treatment of Indigenous People whose territory European settlers colonized and, without whom, our modern country would not have been built. The December 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report chaired by Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, painted a shocking portrait of the misguided and brutal “Indian Residential School System” previously almost unknown to most Canadians, even many in the First Nations community. Although Canada’s 150th birthday strikes a dissonant chord for many Indigenous people, it remains a unique opportunity to learn from past mistakes and to start building a better future together. In spite of the challenges raised by celebrating years of neglect and mis-treatment, I can only hope that  we can find a way forward to a brighter future for all (Indigenous and non-indigenous) people in Canada.
  • Diversity and Inclusion has become of paramount importance in our increasingly diverse country. Ensuring that everyone “belongs” and can contribute to our common future, is a key priority. Furthermore, we must arrest our growing Inequality before it unleashes the destructive and divisive social forces we see in other countries.
  • Environmental Challenges  – for many, particularly the youth, Climate Change and other environmental challenges caused by the impact of humanity on a finite planet, have gone from theoretical to becoming an “existential” crisis threatening our future wellbeing. I continue to work with others to explore ways to address what seems to be an intractable problem, not just at a government policy level but even more importantly at the grassroots level to engage ordinary Canadians.

Once these high level priorities were identified, many participants contributed to shaping thinking, leading to great initiatives such as the Alliance 150 to increase collaboration and partnership among organizations. And, as Federal and Provincial governments got onboard, these earlier efforts were foundational, setting the agenda for much of the current governmental and NGO work for Canada’s 150th. As we closed in on 2017, I channelled my focus to advising a number of national Canada 150 Signature Initiatives, such as Canada C3 and Canada 150 in our local communities, that directly descends from those early conversations.

As an Ambassador for the Canada C3 expedition, I am excited to see this project’s ambitions surpassed on all its major themes of Reconciliation, Youth Engagement, Inclusion & Diversity and Environmental Stewardship. Watch this nation building exercise grow during the Expedition as it reaches the majority of Canadians. I will use my time on Leg 7 of Canada C3, later this summer, to learn, engage and reflect collaboratively regarding our major Canadian challenges and opportunities.


What started with a request for me to make a gift of time and money, ended up as truly a life-changing gift back to me, and all those involved.

My biggest take away from this process, is that it is important for Canadians, individually and collectively, to work on nation building. Unsurprisingly, David Johnston said it best in a letter “What Will Your Gift Be?”, from his recent book The Idea of Canada – Letters to a NationNote that the proceeds from this wise work are directed to building the Rideau Hall Foundation which is another legacy of our current Governor General. In that letter:

“Each Canadian has the power within him or her to give something special to our country and help build that country we dream of. Big or small, complex or simple — it doesn’t matter what Canadians give. The gift each Canadian chooses is as unique as the person who shares that fit. .. young people in our country have a special responsibility to lead our country’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation.”

People around the world look to Canada as a bastion of democracy, decency and safety, buttressed by our reputation for being obsessively obsequious and our pioneering of international peacekeeping. As times change, our national role and aspirations also need to change. Just as we are no longer the extension to Victorian Great Britain of a 100 years ago, our post World War II Cold War era identity  also needs to be re-imagined. What will Canada look like for our bicentennial in 2067? 2017 represents a unique and timely opportunity for us to all participate in shaping our common future.

Canada seems to be such a safe and peaceful country. Yet, present and historical events show that the veneer of civil society that we all hold dear and take for granted, can be fragile indeed. I am still struck by a story told by that master story teller, David Johnston. He reflected on The Ukrainian Pioneer, a 6 panel masterpiece by Canadian artist William Kurelek. Reflecting a life journey familiar to so many Canadians, the work chronicles a Ukrainian villager fleeing Josef Stalin’s genocidal famine of 1932-1933  (Holomodor) [See No. 1] who comes to forge a new life amid the relative tranquility and plenty of the Canadian prairies. However, barely visible in the background of the last idyllic panel The Ukrainian Pioneer, No. 6 (1976) is a mushroom cloud. Kurelek wanted to remind us that the veneer of civil society is thin and needs constant care and protection.

In 2017, many forces threaten the comfortable status quo that we expect from Canadian society. Those who are privileged to lead, indeed everyone, must take these forces seriously. Mass alienation and discontent with our current civil order represents a real cry for change. However, many times those grasping for change latch onto leaders whose seductive rhetoric proves ultimately destructive of the enviable civil society we have built over 150 years here in Canada.

A country is, indeed, the product of the collective hopes, dreams and ideals of its citizens. As John F Kennedy famously said,

“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

Yet, sometimes our daily news feeds chronicle the disturbing forces that appear to denigrate all that Canadians hold dear, such as:

  • a new move to put “drawbridges up”, instead of embracing the global world order,
  • a pervasive failure to question “fake news”, “alternate facts” and dismissal of reasoned analysis rather than encouragement of intelligent debate and problem solving, and
  • a  shift in political discourse from a “narrative of hope”, to one that lacks civility, grace or higher purpose.

The more I travel and engage with global thought leaders, I learn that Canada is becoming the last bastion of a better way in the world. As a result, I believe those key Canada 150 themes of Reconciliation; Inclusion; Youth Engagement and Environmental Stewardship have escalated in importance from nice to have to social imperatives.

For individual Canadians, using 2017 as a springboard towards a “Smart and Caring” Nation in 2067, there are innumerable ways to make a difference with some combination of the trinity of “wealth“, “wisdom” and “work” focused on civic, social and cultural needs:

  • Volunteering to give back through a cause is vitally important to you, whether in your neighbourhood, nationally or internationally. A great example is the CANADA150FOR150 Volunteer Challenge
  • Donating to a cause that will help move the needle. Consider your local community first and your local Community Foundation may be a great place to start for new ideas and approaches, or
  • If you identify an unmet need in our society, consider starting a new Social Enterprise

Besides being amongst the most fulfilling work you will do in your life, your civic engagement will continue to help shape and grow the wonderful social and cultural fabric of this wonderful country we call Canada.

I have been inspired to continually re-think my gift to Canada, and now see it more of a journey than a destination. Stay tuned …

What is your gift to Canada? Are you prepared to do your part?

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CBC-Fort McMurray Fire May2016

CBC News

CityNews - Goderich Tornado Aug 2011

CityNews

The Telegraph - Yorkshire Flooding

The Telegraph

Even though a life-long environmentalist, looking at the world through my children’s eyes drives home how pressing, and enormous, is the card we have dealt them. That legacy of unprecedented global climate change, leaves little choice between measures to achieve a rapid reversal of climate change or living with global apocalypse.

Personally, I vote for reversal, as one expects would most rational people. However, getting there requires a complete re-think of our lives, and our communities. In my daily life, I see huge opportunities.

From Central to Middle of Nowhere (West Field)

From Central to Middle of Nowhere (West Field)

Having grown up in Listowel, Ontario, I recently attended the closing ceremony for the Central Public School which will be replaced by North Perth Westfield Elementary School – the difference in the names, previously “Central” to the new “West field” says it all and is illustrated in this map.

Although we all spent time reminiscing about memories and a proud history comprising at least 3 school buildings on the “Central” site, the issue I raise isn’t about heritage. The new school will necessitate a school bus ride for essentially all students. Unlike Central, where most students walked or biked to school, that option will be closed to all but a handful.

Listowel Public School Since 1877Beyond contributing to our climate change crisis, childhood obesity has doubled in the last 30 years (Reference: Centers for Disease Control), mostly as a result of less healthy eating and lack of physical activity. In an age where Physical Literacy and promoting active lifestyles has moved to the top of our agenda, school location should be seen as a contributor to the solution instead of being a major part of the culprit.

Near Elora, Centre Wellington District High School went through a similar “de-centralizing” exercise a few years ago. Groves Memorial Community Hospital is slated to move from its central location near downtown Fergus to a “green field” site (note the prevalence of the word “field” in these decisions) in land between the built up areas of Fergus and Elora. It is notable that the founder of Groves, none other than Abraham Groves was a social innovator of the previous century, who as a doctor pioneering surgical sterilization, did the first successful appendectomy in North America, created hydro power and phone service all to drive change in his home community. I am sure that if Groves were alive today, he would be promoting walkability and carbon footprint reduction.

Urban cores, and small town downtowns, continue to struggle with the appearance of big box stores on the periphery of communities. In addition to often devastating effect on once vibrant centres of community activity, this trend further exacerbates more driving and less walking. Not a good combination.

How do these choices in pubic infrastructure relate to the apocalyptic images of destruction at the top of this post? Climate change is very real with the effects more and more visible, and traumatic as each year passes. Events like the recent Fort McMurray fire, Goderich Tornado in 2011 and severe flooding in the UK can all be  traced to the dramatic changes in global climate unfolding over the last few years. The steady, yet gradual increase in the earth’s temperature, leads to greater volatility and severity of weather events. We all know the depressing reality that, horrible as these are, things are going to get worse before they get better.

We used to call the buildup in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, driven by human activity powered by a reliance on fossil fuels such as oil and coal, Global Warming. It has been rebranded as climate change to reflect the reality that, although the average temperature increases, the main effect is to increase weather volatility. This volatility translates into extreme climate-related events with increasing frequency. Globally, climate change may lead to famines, mass migrations and wars of unprecedented scale and attendant misery.

Faced with this stark reality, you would expect a universal call for governments and public institutions to provide leadership to address climate change?

You would think not, but recent experiences have been been vividly frustrating in showing that, in fact, our public institutions have a long way to go. How are we, as citizens, able to do our part in these circumstances?

First it helps to break down such a massive problem into its constituent parts. To start, let’s quantify the effect that our transportation has on GHG reduction. From data compiled, ironically, by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, transportation is the biggest single sector contributing to Greenhouse Gas emissions, closely followed by Oil and Natural Gas producing industries. Further, Canada has a much poorer record in this regard than other rich nations.CAPP Canadian Carbon Breakdown

We live in an era when people care deeply about the well-being of future generations. Residential homebuyers are increasingly prioritizing Walkability Scores, which include access to nearby schools in home buying decisions. No generation is more concerned than the Millenials, who have internalized the legacy that climate change will seriously and adversely impact them during their lifetimes. A major way to reverse GHG emissions growth is to tackle personal transportation – to work, schools, hospitals, leisure and shopping.

Collectively, the “M.U.S.H. Sector” (publicly funded organizations like Municipalities, Universities, Schools and Hospitals) has a huge opportunity to take leadership in our current war on carbon. While we might believe that leadership must start at the top with government, without grassroots calls for change the political cost can be too high. (See: CBC News: Politicians Are Green Until They’re Intimidated by the Electoral Price) The challenge will be to empower ordinary folk to drive a climate positive future by taking such thinking from the realm of environmentalists and making it mainstream.

We urgently need an optimistic call to action that citizens can easily embrace. I am working with people that the Elora Environment Centre, an NGO leading innovation and action on the environment, to repackage the Climate Change narrative from one that leaves people powerless, frustrated and even guilt-ridden. We aim to find ways to re-boot the climate change narrative, and unleash a crowdsourced solution coming from the grass roots. Stay tuned. Our planet and our children are counting on it!

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Go East Young Startup!

by Randall on March 8, 2016 · 1 comment

CAMP Group Great Wall L1040087

 

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

“千里之行,始於足下”

Laozi c.580 BCE

Building on 19th Century US westward expansion (“Go West Young Man”), much of the current innovation in technology has been West Coast focused, particularly in California’s Silicon Valley, which has for more than 50 years been an intellectual epicentre of the technology world.

Source: Wall Street Pit

Source: Wall Street Pit

Over my long tenure in the vanguard of technology trends, I have witnessed a tectonic shift in this comfortable, yet outdated, world order. Today the best and brightest innovators and entrepreneurs must also look east, especially to China, to fully embrace global reality of the 21st Century.

Many of you might be wondering about the slowing growth rates in China? Like many aspects of China, there are many perplexing contradictions that are beyond the scope of this post. It is certainly true that Chinese infrastructure investments and some manufacturing has been overbuilt. Not so in the technology industry. The difference is that there is a huge gap as  the Chinese population increasingly moves to middle class status and the country needs to solve some huge issues (e.g. environmental issues around air quality). As a result, ICT, Green Technology, Life Sciences and other knowledge-based businesses continue to provide huge upside opportunities.

There is no question that China is a complex and difficult market to access. Knowing this, how can Canadian entrepreneurs master the new globalization landscape? Read on …

In 2015, my assistance was requested from an innovative group of investors and social entrepreneurs to pilot a new program, called CAMP (short for China Angel Mentorship Program) aimed at forging new international linkages tied to the momentum of startups. By identifying some of the best Canadian startup entrepreneurs, investing in them and helping them to engage with China, this program has the opportunity to drive a whole new generation of engagement between China and Canada, in the fast moving world of startups, technology and innovation.

CAMP is created and led by Liu Zhishuo (Peter Liu), Wang Tong (Tony Wang), Liu Yingna (Angela Liu), Zhang Yi Chin and Yang Jun (Alan Yang), all very savvy strategists and investors who aspire to “cross-border ecosystem building” between China and Canada. They work in Canada through CCAA (China Canada Angels Alliance) which made 23 investments in 2015 and in China through River Capital which made 50 investments in 2015. Since, as a westerner, you may not know these leaders (pictured below in Beijing), I will provide some background and context.

Peter and Angela Liu at CAMP Beijing 2015Angela, Tony and Yi Qin at CAMP Beijing 2015
 

I was asked to help this core group from CCAA to help find a pivotal group of Canadian mentors, who were able to assist CCAA to shape the CAMP program and ensure that the most qualified cadre of startups were selected to fill the 2015 cohort. Many of us, including Aron Solomon, Peter Evans, Benton Leong, Chris Flood and yours truly were in Beijing to also assist in the work that was much more focused on the Chinese mentor group, many of whom are indicated at this link.

Canadian CAMP Mentors Helping Startup Liftoff

Aron, Peter, Randall and Benton Plotting Startup Lift-off

Now let’s turn to the CAMP framework. As a uniquely conceived variant of the classical “startup accelerator”, CAMP involves CCAA, along with the Canadian mentors, selecting the 10 best Canadian startups (initially restricted to Ontario) who are uniquely engaged with:

  • an up to $200,000 equity investment
  • a detailed orientation session in Canada to build the groundwork for the best China experience
  • matchmaking with one or more mentors in China, who are chosen specifically for each company based on market and need.
  • an intensive 2 week immersion in Beijing, including many company visits, one-on-one meetings and a demo day in front of top Chinese investors
  • an 18 month post Beijing engagement with the chosen mentor to provide targeted assistance while the company grows and expands.
CAMP cohort visits Tencent Nov 2015

CAMP group visits Tencent: Just one of many onsite visits

Because this was a first iteration, many companies had no idea of what to expect. Many were a bit sceptical, but being true entrepreneurs, they took the plunge. I can say that each and every startup from the first 2015 cohort of CAMP found the immersive experience in Beijing to be an exhaustingly intensive experience, but one that was profound and life-changing. The level of access to high level networks (“guanxi”) was extraordinary. That, coupled with the strategic insight of the CAMP organizers, and matched mentors, elevated the experience in Beijing.

Based on the inaugural CAMP, the organizers are committed to making the second cohort in 2016 even better. That call for the best startups will open up in the coming weeks. Until then, you might ask: why should you pay attention to CAMP and what sets it apart?

Access and Understanding: First of all, although China is a huge and growing market, it is very difficult for most companies, not the least a young startup, to properly engage with it. It is a complex market, fraught with pitfalls and unknown territory, from language, customs and even different regulation. CAMP provides personal connections (guanxi) through the mentors, and a degree of wisdom not likely to be available anywhere else. No company should consider China without a strong relationship with a trusted guide and mentor.

Canada-China Engagement: I firmly believe that CAMP has the potential to open up very senior intergovernmental engagement between China and Canada, but through the lens of building the new economy via innovative startups. Yet, startups have not historically been a major focus for governments at the national, provincial or regional level. I firmly believe that CAMP  has sown the seeds that may increase bi-literal impact.

Huge Market Gaps: The unprecedented growth and transformation of China over the last quarter century has created huge demand and huge needs. Much has been written about that. But, less obvious, is that there are many companies in China looking for unique international opportunities. It is as challenging for them to engage outside China as it is for a Canadian company to understand China.

Growth Hacking: Perhaps the number one reason that startups go to California is to tap into the “growth hacking” expertise, an area in which Silicon Valley continues to be a world-beating innovator. Less well known in the west is that a new generation of Chinese tech firms, particularly in B2C and mobile, has taken growth hacking skills and strategies into hyperdrive. Surprising as it might seem, these may well make Silicon Valley growth vectors look tame by comparison. Every CAMP participant will have a unique opportunity to tap into this expertise.

Whether you are a startup with world-beating ambition or an tech ecosystem leader looking for future opportunities, stay tuned for the launch of the CAMP website, which will be accompanied by a call to find the 10 best startups Canada has to offer.


L1040562 RH Chop TranspaarentRandall (郝狼盾)
Looking east and savouring the journey..

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Middlebrook Prize on the Move

by Randall on September 10, 2015 · 0 comments

MPfYCC Website HeaderThe Middlebrook Prize for Young Canadian Curators has named Adam Barbu as its third winner and is moving up to a whole new level. Founded in 2012 by John Kissick and me, with initial investments from Middlebrook Social Innovation Fund, to support and mobilize Canadian creative talent, the Prize aims to inspire positive social change through creativity and connectedness in a time of unprecedented economic, environmental, social, and cultural challenges.

Middlebrook Prize CubeIn our 3rd year, some exciting changes are afoot as we see our vision for the Prize unfold.

First of all, the Prize has a new home in our partner gallery, the recently re-branded Art Gallery of GuelphLed by Dawn Owen, the gallery provides a compelling new venue to host the Prize exhibition and to mentor the winner.

Secondly, the Prize now has a physical form and a visual identity as befits an increasingly important Canadian cultural icon. Designed by the immensely talented and award winning creative director, Chris Duchaine, our new visual identity reflects the knowledge integration inherent in modern curating interpreted with the most modern design principles. Paying homage to the “White Cube” abstraction of the  idealized art gallery, it also references the forces that are breaking down that cube and moving curation firmly into the future, perhaps embracing new ideas like the Ultra Contemporary Art Movement.

Hear Chris discuss his design:

Middlebrook Prize Cube Net AnimiatedTo accompany the design, Chris selected the recently designed LL Circular font by Laurenz Brunner from Lineto in Switzerland. The font manages to be “geometric without being cold” and timeless while modern.

And, finally, the Prize now has a permanent online home with a website at MiddlebrookPrize.ca to properly highlight the accomplishments of this growing group of young opinion leaders in the arts world. To acknowledge that growing influence, the winners comprise an expert centre, using the cloud-based service ExpertFile to highlight the developing oeuvre of our cadre of winners. To further encourage the growth of this network of leaders, Katherine Dennis, the 2013 Middlebrook Prize winner, was a member of the selection jury for the 2015 Prize. We extend a special thanks to Kendra Martin for managing the design and implementation of our web presence.

In keeping with 6 words in the Prize name, (hence the “cube” in the visual design), we’ve chosen a playfully “cubic” hashtag of #MPfYCCStay tuned for more exciting developments, but do check out Adam’s exhibition opening on September 17th and the Middlebrook Prize Award Day on October 24th.

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General

Management and Succession Planning of Angel Portfolios

August 27, 2015
How Can Angels Structure Their Portfolios Better?

[Note: this blog post also appears on the NACO Canada guest blog by Randall Howard]

Angel portfolio management remains surprisingly primitive. Many Angels have built up substantial portfolios over time, yet few give much thought to ongoing management of these valuable assets. The many various spreadsheets, documents, share certificates, warrants, emails and other essential documents are

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Business Strategy

Snapshot of the ACA Summit 2015

May 30, 2015

In mid-April, I attended the 10th annual ACA Summit hosted by Angel Capital Association in San Diego. With about 600 people in attendance from dozens of countries, it was an excellent chance to get tuned into the latest trends happening in angel world at large.

And since Angel Investing is now a global phenomenon, it is interesting to note that ACA Summit can have two faces.

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Business Strategy

Top 25 Waterloo Technology Acquisitions – Wisdom from the Data

February 8, 2015

The acquisition of MKS by PTC in 2011, caused me to reflect a bit on what good acquisitions might look like and what they might teach us about building (sometimes elusive) long term shareholder value. As a result, over the last 6 months, I’ve progressively assembled a collection on the most significant acquisitions in the Waterloo area. To my knowledge,

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Design

The Downside of Meeting Requests

January 4, 2015

“Expectation is the mother of all frustration.” – Antonio Banderas

Meeting requests are an amazing invention. Pioneered, and standardized, almost 20 years ago by companies like Microsoft (as part of Outlook/Exchange), Novell (Groupwise) and Lotus (now part of IBM Lotus Notes) this innovation had great promise to automate an essential, yet completely routine, aspect of modern life.

The ascendency of meeting request usage,

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General

Fall Of The Wall – 25 Years Later

November 9, 2014

A mere 25 years ago, the Fall of the Berlin Wall rent the “Iron Curtain” asunder, a re-ordering of western civilization possibly unparallelled since the fall of the Roman Empire.

25 years and 15 days ago, almost by happenstance, I drove the Berlin Corridor, travelled via Freidrichstraße Station behind the Berlin Wall and witnessed an exhausted and bankrupt regime about to collapse.

Today the

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Business Strategy

Canadian Angel of the Year Award

October 3, 2014

At the NACO Summit in Québec City, it was truly humbling to receive the Canadian Angel of the Year Award. I see this partly as a calling to be an ambassador to continue to help raise the Angel bar in Canada in the coming years. I wish to thank all those kind colleagues who, unbeknownst to me, wrote letters of nomination. Also,

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