Mountain Rider’s Alliance Gaining Momentum with ESPN Article

November 8, 2010

A collaborative movement for positivity in the ski industry, Mountain Rider’s Alliance (MRA) is gaining traction and moving forward in creating a viable product.

Sparking the interest of ESPN editors, MRA was featured in an interesting article, “Dreaming of a New Ski Area.” As quoted by author Devon O’Neil in the onset of the piece, co-founder Jamie Schectman is thinking big, “I want to partner with the United Nations. I want to have a family that’s currently in Afghanistan come to one of our ski areas and see how we’re running things and then go back to Afghanistan and start one of their own [ski areas] in collaboration with us. How’s that for ambitious?”

Well, in my humble opinion it may be ambitious, but it is also thinking positively…something that may just be a little lacking in our current state of world affairs. We need collaboration that is based on forward-thinking ideologies of peace and that all deserve a great life.

Not to mention that now is the time for us all to work together for a common good. Maybe skiers and snowboarders will help show us the way?


Joyful Collaboration and Smiles Created Around the World by Clowns Without Borders

June 3, 2010

One vital aspect to positive collaboration is having fun with the project.

A non-profit bringing joy to thousands around the world is taking this concept to an entirely higher level.

photo courtesy of Clowns Without Borders

Clowns Without Borders is a band of humorous performers making it their mission to bring smiles to the faces of those that need it most…the children of desperate and dire situations. Like those youngsters growing up in Haiti, Guatemala, or Burma.

I was able to get a moment of time with one of the founders of Clowns Without Borders and active humor provider, Moshe Cohen. Extremely busy and rushing off to his next set of joy creation, his answers were brief but thought provoking. Here is what he had to say…

SM: What inspired you to become a clown?

MC: I discovered that I was funny as a performer and that inspired me. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a clown, I like to think of it more as clowning, as a verb, as an action, something I do.

SM: As an original member of the Clowns Without Borders movement, what were key factors in it moving from a dream to the amazing organization that it is today?

MC: I don’t think it was ever a dream, it has always been a reality. It was a response to an enthusiastic reception, and the understanding that followed of the appreciation for bringing reasons for laughter and joyous expression in places of crisis.

SM: What inspired you to help develop the United States division of Clowns Without Borders?

MC: As I was involved in the movement, and the only person from the US doing shows, I discussed with Spain (Tortell Poltrona founded Payasos Sin Fronteras in 1993) about being their representative in the United States. That morphed a year later into starting the US chapter.

SM: Having been in the business for over 25 years now, have you seen any of the children that you helped in the beginning of your career as adults?

MC: A few here in California, however if you are talking about CWB, not directly.

SM: Please share a particular story that helped you believe in the power of collaboration.

MC: The most immediate is the work that I did last year in Myanmar (Burma).

There were artists from France, Belgium, Sweden (including an Australian who lives in Sweden) , myself from the US, and from Myanmar. Three shows were created to tour the delta area where the Nargis cyclone hit in 2008 creating a devastation on the order of the recent earthquake in Haiti. There was great collaboration in that each show involved Myanmar and Western artsists. The show I was involved in was with Kalle and Dave (SW-Aust.) and three Myanmar artists: May, Teto and Emié. We created our show in a day and a half, and performed it about 20 times over three weeks.

photo courtesy of Clowns Without Borders

SM: What have the children taught you?

MC: A lot! Humility, patience, never give up!

SM: In addition to donations, you also accept “In-Kind” offerings. Have you had any interesting (off-the-wall, but very beneficial) gifts?

MC: I just picked up some juggling equipment destined for Haiti from the Renegades in Santa Cruz. They are showing us how to make juggling clubs with simple dowels and 1 liter coke bottles and a few screws and tape. They have supplied us with the dowels and the hardware, and we plan to build the clubs with the kids from Foyer Lakay in Port au Prince, some of whom are already excellent jugglers.

SM: How do the clowns create their acts?

MC: Ohhh, sooo many ways.

photo courtesy of Alain Laferté

SM: What is your favorite aspect to collaboration?

MC: The synergistic energies that swirl, the sense of enthusiasm it generates amongst participants, and the occasional sense of harmony when things are working just right.

SM: What is your vision for the future of Clowns Without Borders?

MC: I am liking what is happening in the increased communication and collaboration internationally between the various Clowns Without Borders chapters. That has been my vision for a long time and it is slowly being realized. Of course, ideally, as Tortell says, “Clowns without Borders would disappear because there are no more wars.”

Thank you Moshe Cohen and the others involved with Clowns Without Borders for spreading joy around the world.


Can We Really Be Happy at Work? Chief Happiness Officer Alexander Kjerulf and Denmark Say YES!

March 24, 2010

One of the great aspects of collaboration is that the organization that is created is usually also a place that provides an inspiring place of employment.

And there is nothing like enjoyment on the job to help people perform their best.

An aspect already applied in some countries around the world — like Denmark, for example — having fun in the work place is a concept that is slowly gaining steam. In fact the Pepperdine University has created a program that teaches the fact that happiness is a key factor in the success of a business.

For me, that bit of revelation did not come until I was a boss myself. I owned a housecleaning business in Lake Tahoe, California. It didn’t take long before I realized that if I allowed my employees to feel valued, have fun and have freedom to do the job as they felt best my clients were the ones that ended up reaping the benefits. And I was getting to be a part of a happy atmosphere in the workplace, something that I had wished for as an employee.

Another person that is helping to spread the word about this concept, is world’s leading expert in “working happiness” (an actual dictionary word in Dutch culture), Chief Happiness Officer Alexander Kjerulf.

Speaker, happiness consultant and author of the book, “Happy Hour is 9 to 5“, Kjerulf is truly spreading the word of activating one’s own happiness one job site at a time. I got a chance to pick his brain about maintaining a positive outlook when it came to working. What he had to say was quite exciting…

EH: What helped you to realize that it is possible, and important, to have happiness at work?

AK: Two things: First of all, happiness is a personal value of mine and my main career goal has always been to do work that I like.

Secondly, it helps a lot to be from Denmark where the idea of happiness at work is so ingrained and commonplace, that there is even a word for it in the dictionary: Arbejdsglæde (which translates literally as workhappiness).

EH: What prompted to you to take the concept to a larger audience?

AK: That’s simple: Seeing so many people who are unhappy at work – yet stay at jobs they hate for years or decades. Considering how much of our loves we spend at work, we should all find work that we enjoy. Unfortunately, happiness at work is still the exception rather than the rule for most people.

Also, I’ve tried being unhappy at work myself and it was the worst time of my life.

EH: Your book on the subject, “Happy Hour is 9 to 5″, is a new concept for many in the corporate world. Was the message difficult for some to digest?

AK: I’ve met remarkably little resistance, though some people do need some time to get used to the idea, that it’s even possible to be happy at work. It’s just never dawned on them that you can get paid, have a career AND enjoy yourself.

EH: What factors are most important in finding happiness in the workplace?

AK: I think there are two things we need to be happy at work.

1: Results
We need to know that we are good at our jobs, that we contribute value and that we make a difference.

2: Relationships
We need nice people around us – good bosses, friendly co-workers, cheerful customers.

EH: How can this methodology apply to a person wanting to create their own business?

AK: The same things apply to entrepreneurs: You need results and relationships. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs work alone and find it hard to have great relationships at work.

Also, many business founders have an expectation, that starting a business will be hard. They expect to have to slog through problems, conflicts, overwork and challenges. And of course, when that’s what you expect, that’s what you tend to get.

My advice to entrepreneurs is: You’re in charge – why not create a business you actually want to work in. Because when you’re happy you’re much more effective at everything you do.

EH: One of your blog posts discusses how it is not necessarily a good thing to believe that the customer is always correct. Could you share a personal experience with us where you stood up for yourself in a business situation?

AK: It was only my second job out of university, working as a software developer for a small consulting company in Copenhagen, but this experience taught me vital lessons.

I was 26 years old, dressed in a suit and tie that still felt like a halloween costume to me, having meetings with the customer’s VP of finance, trying to find out exactly what the IT system we were developing for their new factory should be capable of.

The customer was in France, and I regularly flew down there from Copenhagen for work and meetings, landing in Basel, an airport situated so you can exit into Germany, France or Switzerland, depending on which exit you choose. As one of my colleagues found out to his cost when he accidentally exited on the Swiss side rather than the French and ended up paying Swiss taxi rates for the trip to the customer’s factory rather than French.

Now here’s the problem: At every single meeting, the customer changes the specs for the system. First they want this, then they want that. First they want it in this way, then in that way. Meanwhile, I’m quietly going crazy.

Of course I never show it, oh no, I play the consummate professional, capable of dealing with everything. And of course the customer is always right – right? So I coolly explain to them that “this is different than what you said at our last meeting and implementing the change will be costly”. They just say “sure, but that’s what we want”.

And then, finally, I lose it at a meeting. They introduce change number 2883 (by my loose reckoning), once again going back on what they’ve told me previously, and I snap. I actually pound the table with my fist, snap my folder shut and say through clenched teeth “No. This can’t go on. This system will never get off the ground if you keep changing your mind at every meeting. We need to make decisions and stick to them”. Then we take a break.

During the break I’m standing alone drinking a cup of coffee, thinking “well, that’s the end of this project for me”. I feel really embarrassed for having lost my cool in that way.

So what happens next is totally unexpected for me: They start treating me much better. All the time I’d tried to play the cool professional – that didn’t really fly with them. But when I got mad, and showed it, I showed them some of the real me. I showed them that I was human, and that there were things I wouldn’t put up with.

From that point on, they respected me more and they trusted me completely. I became the guy they went to first and work on the system became much more smooth. Go figure!

EH: How has happiness at work helped other aspects of your life?

AK: It helps in every aspect.

Being happy at work:
Give you more energy
Makes you more creative
Makes you more likable
Makes you more generous
Makes you more friendly
Makes you more open to other people

In fact, being happy at work makes you happier in life. And being happy makes you a better person!

EH: Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream is a company that was built on a foundation of values-based, happiness-invoking business practices. They believe that it is the reason that their company succeeded. What other corporations do you know that founded their business model on happiness and became successful?

AK: The most famous example is probably Southwest Airlines. I wrote a blog post where I share a couple of videos that help exhibit Southwest’s business approach towards happiness, but basically their priority is:

1: Employees
2: Customers
3: Shareholders.

This is the way it has to be.

Their former president Colleen Barrett once said:
“The most important priority that we have is our employees… I spend 85% of my time on employees and on delivering proactive customer service to our employees… They in turn spend their life trying to assure that the second most important customer to us, ie. the passenger feels good.”

EH: What advice can you give a person that has a difficult boss?

AK: My advice is to try to correct the boss’ behavior. Many bosses don’t intend to be bad, but they haven’t realized that they’re getting their people down. Tell them – and give them a chance to improve.

Of course, some bosses don’t give a damn. If you work for a boss like that – get the hell out.

EH: Do have any last words of inspiration for activating happiness?

AK: Yes: Choose to be happy at work. In fact, make happiness at work your number one career goal – put it before salary, perks, titles, anything.

Not only will that make you happier at work, it will also make you happier in life AND it will make you more successful at work because happy people are better at everything they do.

Choosing to be happy at work won’t magically make you happy – you still have to make the effort to ensure that you have great results and great relationships at work. But it all has to start with that simple choice.


The Water School is Saving the Future One Child at a Time

March 3, 2010

photos courtesy of Bob Dell

One of my favorite examples of collaboration is soon to transpire. The Kili2010, as I mentioned before,  was brought to my attention via a friend from childhood, Andy Shirey. He, as well as others, are participating in a benefit climb to help bring awareness and funding to The Water School.

An inspiring non-profit, The Water School, is based on an easy-to-use water cleansing system that is saving thousands of lives around the planet. And the entire concept was started by the collaboration between a scientist and businessman.

Interested in learning more about the life-saving operation, which is involved in urgent situations throughout the world, including Haiti, I was lucky enough to virtually sit down with one of the founders, Bob Dell, and find out more about this amazing organization. Here’s what he had to say…

EoC: How did the original concept of The Water School come about?

BD: Fraser Edwards and I had collaborated on clean water projects together in East Africa for approximately six years and realized that the largest component of our work was “education”. Many NGOs were drilling wells or providing other sources of water. Some were introducing complex systems to treat contaminated water. Relatively few however, were providing a knowledge base and teaching the beneficiaries to use local skills and resources to meet their own clean water needs on a sustainable basis. The Water School was born out of this need.

typical drinking water
source in rural areas where The Water School works

The moment Bob Dell realized the children were drinking
water from a swamp loaded with animal fecal matter. It inspired him to do
this work.

EoC: As the non-profit was started by you and Fraser, collaboration was involved from the beginning. In what ways did working together help The Water School become what it is today?

BD: Fraser had many years of experience in implementing community development programs in East Africa and I had over 40 years experience in water and waste water treatment processes in Canada. We were able to leverage each others experience to find simple, inexpensive and sustainable systems like solar disinfection to treat contaminated water and also implement partnerships that were already in place in local communities. By teaching the educated level of the community and in turn taking the programs to the schools, students are made aware of the importance of health, sanitation and clean drinking water. They are also shown the tools they already have available to clean their water and are then able to take this information home and teach their families.

This is one of Bob’s favorite photos. A lot of
these children are orphans without clean drinking water (The Water School was able to
change that). A very moving experience for Bob, the kids thought his name was Bobba which means father, and they
didn’t want to leave.

EoC: How did your background in business assist the development of the non-profit?

BD: Fraser came from an entrepreneurial business background in Western Canada before moving into overseas work. I was President and owner of a consulting and research laboratory in Ontario before deciding to retire and help children in developing countries get clean water. Both of us realized that an NGO must be run in a business-like and accountable fashion to its donors and that local ownership of implementation programs was quintessential to success.

EoC: What is the most important personality trait for positive collaboration, in your opinion?

BD: It is certainly important to let go of ego. No one yet has the perfect answer and it is important to listen and learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Even though the implementation model has been very successful, The Water School recognizes that each culture is different and the teaching and support process in any new area must be linked closely to those on the ground that understand the cultural differences.

EoC: The Water School is assisting Haiti with water issues after the devastating earthquakes. In what ways is this situation more challenging?

BD: Most areas that we work in are poverty stricken and so was Haiti before the earthquake (we were already planning an implementation program before it happened). The infrastructure of the country has been devastated (90% of the schools have been destroyed). Our challenge is to work with individuals in Haiti like Dr. Bibiana MacLeod who can deal with the trauma and the structural damage and still inspire people to take ownership of their own problems including clean drinking water.

EoC: One of the basic principles of The Water School is to work with the children first, and the adults learn through them. What have you learned about collaboration from the kids that you are working with?

BD: When we first decided to take the solar disinfection program to the children, we were told that drinking water from a bottle was not part of the culture and the children would not do it. To the contrary, the children embraced the concept and thought it was fun. In fact, they taught us some things about culture and have taken the lead in delivering the knowledge of safe drinking water to their families. Nothing inspires a mother more than a previously sick child that is now healthy.

Anne, the first mother to embrace The Water School process, has changed the lives of her children and taught it to her neighbors. She has been responsible for saving many lives in her community.

EoC: What is your biggest obstacle in advancing the positivity that The Water School is creating?

BD: Our solar disinfection process is simple and that has been the foundation of its success. We still have people who do not believe that such a simple process can work but several hundred thousand people in the areas we have worked in will disagree. Our biggest obstacle is having people (at the user end and the donor end) believe that simple does work.

The Water School purification process in action

EoC: Please share an experience that came from the positivity created by The Water School.

BD: In Kisoro, Uganda, there is a hospital that was built 20 years ago specifically to treat patient dysentery from contaminated water. Close to 20% of children under the age of five at that time died from water borne disease. Over the years, the hospital had grown to include wings for maternity, HIV/AIDS, malaria, etc but the dysentery wing remained. As we introduced our clean water programs in this area beginning in 2001, the water borne disease cases dropped dramatically on an annual basis and in the summer of 2007, the dysentery wing of the hospital was closed. It is now a nurse’s residence.

The Dysentery Wing turned Nurses Residence

EoC: In addition to funding, are there other ways that people can become involved?

BD: We do need funding to expand our programs but there are other needs. People who have traveled to our projects in Africa have returned home and become advocates. They are spreading the word to others within their organizations, schools, churches, etc. We see a growing need for teachers and educational experts in a volunteer capacity as we take our program to other NGOs and help them take it to the field.

children hauling contaminated water 4 kilometers before The Water School helped them have another option

EoC: What would you say to those contemplating creating a collaborative non-profit organization?

BD: First and foremost, develop a deep passion and a vision for helping those in need to get safe drinking water. We have been driven by this since the beginning. Second, learn what works and doesn’t work. Many NGOs are well intentioned but not knowledgeable. This wastes resources and time. Above all else, The Water School is about sharing knowledge.

EoC: Where do you see The Water School in the future?

BD: We have expanded dramatically in the past three years. Water School programs are now running in Uganda, Kenya and Sudan. We will be introducing the program in Haiti, Cameroon and Bolivia in the coming months. Our plan is to utilize the Internet to the maximum extent to deliver our knowledge on providing simple clean drinking water. We have our teacher’s training manual on our website in three languages and three more are ready. Our hope is to have it translated and available on the web in as many languages as there are different children in need of safe drinking water.

These are kids whose health, school
attendance and school marks changed dramatically with clean water. Do
you think they will let their children die from contaminated drinking
water?


Raising 5 Disabled Children Brings Lessons of Cooperation

February 24, 2010

The first time I read her blog “Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities” I was inspired.

Not only because she is helping children in need, as that is one of my lifelong passions. Not only because she so eloquently let’s us into her life via her blog. But also because she is a living example of positive collaboration.

Lindsey Peterson is the mom of five bright and beautiful children. The only slight difference is they all have disabilities. Her family, which includes both adopted and not, is one of love. It is a chosen path of helping others have a better life…with a few moments of frustration, sibling rivalry and temper tantrums thrown in.

Her story intrigued me. Reading through her entertaining entries, I knew I wanted to talk to this woman of inspiration more. She was kind enough to sit down with me, virtually of course. Here is what she had to share…

EH: Had you always wanted a large family?

LP: I never really thought about having a large family. I only knew that it felt good to help people. My whole life I’d volunteered at various places to be with people. I have been volunteering with a recreational group of adults with disabilities for more than 35 years. They are wonderful friends and THEY inspire me to be a better person. Adding to our own family became a natural extension of that. If I could have that happiness on the twice a week this group met, why not have it every day in my life? It was FUN to raise kids. Plus, I am not the best housekeeper, so my rationalization was that if I have 5 kids to take care of, washing the floor does not have a priority. I’d much rather take care of kids than clean!!

EH: What inspired you to adopt initially?

LP: When I was pregnant, I desperately wanted a daughter because my mother and I had such a great relationship. I had a difficult labor, (I had actually fallen down the stairs before the birth and bent my tailbone in, so the only way the baby could come out was by bending it back out again, and that took FOREVER!) When my son was born, bless him, I was SO disappointed. The very day he was born I decided to adopt because that would be the only way I could guarantee a daughter. My husband, of course, didn’t agree so readily and attributed my decision to adopt based on the long labor I had just been through! Then, as it turned out, my son had hereditary blindness. Problem solved. Because it was hereditary, my husband did not want to risk having another biological child, so he agreed to adoption. We chose Guatemala because the adoption agency we chose sponsored an orphanage there so we knew the children were well cared for. Our son Francis was 2 when we adopted our daughter, Dinora. We have the CUTEST picture of her sitting in the infant seat and Francis holding her head in one hand so he could find her mouth to feed her bottle with the other hand. He loved her as though she were a fuzzy pet.

EH: What was the initial reaction of your birth children when they learned that you would be adopting?

LP: Francis was glad to have Dinora initially, although as she grew she became the aggressive one and would jump on him and tackle him from an early age. Fortunately she was pretty loud and had heavy footsteps, so he could hear her coming and get out of the way.

After a few years with Dinora, we decided we wanted more children, but could not afford another international adoption, (which can be VERY expensive.) I knew a friend who did foster care and was able to adopt the first baby she fostered. GREAT, I thought, you could have a child for FREE! Little did I know, but soon learned, was that most foster children do not end up being adopted by their foster families. We ended up having 14 foster babies before we were able to adopt Steven. We were all careful not to get toooooooo attached to the babies because chances were they would go to live with a family member or, heaven forbid in some cases, be returned to their birth parents. I had to look at it like we were doing a good thing and giving these babies a head start in life but I prevented myself from getting attached. Besides, I LOVED babies, and I’d much rather play with a baby than wash the floor. We did only take male babies because Dinora herself expressed extreme jealousy if we were to consider a girl.

By the time Steven was adopted, he had already lived with us for 3 years and the permanent transition was easy. Then we had another foster boy we planned to adopt. We had him from birth to age 3. His grandmother had tried to get custody, but because she was 76 years old they had denied it. We were in the middle of the adoption process when the court reversed their decision and decided to let the grandmother adopt him. She turned out to be a lovely woman and we invited the her, (from Puerto Rico) to come and stay with us during the adoption process to ease the transition. We still have contact with them and he visits with us every summer. However, because we had thought he was going to be our son, we had become attached, and his leaving was the most devastating thing that ever happened to our family. Although I wanted more children, we didn’t want to go the normal foster care route. So, we took in a 3 year old who had been in 5 foster homes and was currently in a nursing home for children with AIDS. He had been born HIV positive, but, as happens frequently, his mother’s HIV antibodies left his system and he became HIV negative. Because of his HIV status and the fact he had been in foster care for 3 years, AND the fact that his birth mother had 6 other children removed from her and they were living in foster homes because there was no family to claim them, they could pretty much guarantee we would be able to adopt him if we took him in as a foster child, and we ended up doing this.His name was Angel. My other children accepted Angel automatically, (they were used to babies in the house anyway.) The funny thing was, Angel did NOT, (nor has he EVER,) accepted THEM! He has always been intensely jealous and he often tells me he wishes he were our only child!

We thought we were done adopting, but then a call came in requesting we take in a 7 year old girl who was profoundly deaf. (They called because I know American Sign Language.) It was supposed to be on a temporary basis, but when she was 10 we ended up adopting her. Dinora was, and still is, resentful because she wants to be the only daughter. She was in college at the time, and my feeling was she wasn’t even living with us, but she has never accepted Marie fully. Angel and Steven hated her, as only brothers can hate their little sisters.

EH: How is their acceptance today with their adopted brothers and sisters?

LP: Francis loves them all. He was the first child and had his special time as an only child, plus he is now 27 and does not live at home. He especially enjoys using American Sign Language with Marie. The other children have a tolerance for one another but are not especially close. The whole family has learned sign language and we use it regularly at meals and any time we talk. Well, MOST of us use it all the time. Angel take special delight in talking without signing on purpose so Marie does not know what he is talking about!

EH: What is your biggest challenge in raising children with special needs?

Honestly, my biggest challenge was in learning not to care what other people think. I have always been that way to some extent, but when you have a child with Asperger’s syndrome having a meltdown on an airplane for 2 hours, it would be enough to make most parents crazy. (Even my husband went to hide in the back of the plane.) We have had the ambulance at our house many times and my children have had to be restrained many times, especially may daughter Marie who has serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to early childhood abuse. She has a history of flipping out and hitting, spitting, biting and so forth. (She reminds me of when Helen Keller was under the table when the family was first eating.) She looks like a wild animal, glaring eyes, messy hair, no concept of what is going on around her. It has been a learning process, but I have learned to calm myself during their most dramatic episodes. Now I am so calm I make sure I bring my “hospital purse” with me that has a bottle of diet coke and a large print book to read for those long emergency room visits!

EH: Where do you find the most support?

LP: Support…support…what’s that? My basic support is spiritual. Just me and God. Calming. I do not generally share my problems with others, so most of my friends and work acquaintances do not know the extent of their problems. This is the main reason doing the blog is so therapeutic.

EH: Can you share a story of how your adopted children have brought joy into your life?

LP: Oh, there are too many stories to share!!!!!! Watching Marie, who is profoundly deaf, learn to dance by feeling the vibrations of the base on the wood floor. Being at DInora’s college graduation with honors despite numerous psychiatric problems plaguing her through her 4 years there. Seeing Steven’s eyes light up when he is crouching on the ground in the woods trying to catch a snake, and his sheer delight when he catches it! Watching Angel mingle with the elderly at a nursing home, dispensing hugs and complements. Knowing Francis lives a wonderful and full life despite blindness because of the way we have raised him, (especially looking at the picture he sent me while skiing in the Swiss Alps with the caption “See, Mom, no trees!” because he knows I was always petrified he would ski into a tree!) They all spend time volunteering and helping others which proves to them that their disabilities are NOT disabling. Every day of their lives bring joy into my life, even the “bad” days. I am thankful that I have found them and that they have found me, and I am so proud of the many obstacles they have overcome.

EH: What aspects to your personality have developed from assisting children in need?

LP: My personality has been the same since childhood and living with a brother who is severely multiply disabled. I learned to accept everyone and to believe in the value of all human life. I think back to that old Sunday School picture “God Don’t Make Junk”. I have always helped others, even in elementary school. It is the part of my personality that led to the development of our family in the first place.

EH: If a genie granted you one wish, what would that be?

LP: Oh, of course I would say “World Peace”, but that would sound corny. I think a practical wish would be for people to develop more tolerance towards each other and to learn to love one another despite our differences. Less selfishness and more selflessness.

EH: What is the most important way that we can help others, in your opinion?

LP: It is important to respect the dignity of others. That means saying hello to the developmentally disabled man in the grocery store. Smiling at the mother who has a baby with deformities and telling her she has a beautiful child, (because, honestly, to HER, that child is beautiful!) Helping the person next to you who is deaf who is trying to get his point across at the store service counter, (grab a paper and pencil.) If people have time, I strongly encourage volunteering. It can be as simple as visiting a nursing home to play cards with a resident, serving a meal at a homeless shelter, or gathering clothes for those in need. If everyone in the world just did one little thing to help others, there would be a huge ripple effect that would improve the world.


Birthright Unplugged Founded on Collaboration for Peace between Israel and Palestine

February 22, 2010

The constant battles and destruction between the war-torn countries of Israel and Palestine seems to be a myriad of calamity with no resolution. Deaths, bombings and continual fighting between cultures have created a land full of disaster and sadness. But there are two American women that are making a change for the better.

Let me introduce you to Hannah Mermelstein and Dunyah Alwan…the creators, and current, as well as past, directors of Birthright Unplugged (Hannah left the organization to pursue additional aspirations in 2009). These two Jewish women worked together to creat an agency that is a tool for peace in an, otherwise, dangerous area.

Hannah (left) and Dunya (right) take a break from harvesting olives with an Israeli and a Palestinian woman. Fall 2003, from the Birthright Unplugged website.

Birthright Unplugged has different programs that develop understanding, friendship and peace through one-on-one contact. The main focus is to bring the youth of Palestine into Israel so that they may see the land of their ancestors and to bring Westerners into Palestine so that they may meet, firsthand, the loving people of this land of refugee camps.

I was able to talk with Hannah and Dunyah and learn what their inspirations, aspirations and insight is on the constant battles between the two countries that have been laid to waste by vicious wars. Continue reading to learn more from women working on the front lines of peace.

EoC: How was Birthright Unplugged created?

D&H: Dunya and I started our West Bank work with a human rights organization called the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS). Through IWPS we did several delegations for a variety of people – journalists, activist groups, European diplomats, etc. The predominant request we heard from Palestinian friends and colleagues was to share stories of daily life and struggle in our own communities. As people with quite a bit of experience in the West Bank, we decided to begin bringing more people to hear Palestinian voices and then return to share them at home. We were each leading separate delegations in the summer of 2004. Dunya mentioned to Hannah that her aunt was on a Jewish educators’ trip that refused to set foot in Palestinian communities in the West Bank even after Dunya invited them and offered to host them. Hannah was not surprised, and told Dunya about Birthright Israel and other such opportunities for Jewish people to go on Zionist trips to Israel without any regard for Palestinian life and experience. This conversation led to the beginning of Birthright Unplugged. As people with Jewish backgrounds, with a knowledge of and access to Palestinian communities, we felt it important to offer a travel opportunity with a human rights and activist framing for Jewish people and others. At the same time, we conceived of a complimentary program for Palestinian children living in refugee camps, and six months later we implemented that one as well.

EoC: Why did you choose the name Birthright Unplugged?

D&H: We were trying to unplug, or take the power out of, the concept of a Jewish birthright to a land that Palestinian people are indigenous to and were expelled from. This concept is basic to us and the symbolic value of our programs is just as important as the actual value. We are not able to, nor do we want to, work with hundreds of thousands of people through our programs, but we want as many people as possible to hear about them and to begin to question concepts of birthright. Having a name like “Birthright Unplugged” is the best way to do that.

EoC: What are the ages of the Birthright Unplugged participants?

D&H: While most participants are in their 20s, we have had participants range in age from 12-70.

EoC: How do you find Palestinians that will do home stays?

D&H: Hospitality is a core value for Palestinian and Arab communities and there is a plethora of families who are happy to host international people regardless of nationality and religion.

For both Unplugged and Re-Plugged (the Palestinian youth program), we work with organizations we know and these organizations set up the homestays for the groups.

EoC: Have your clients remained in contact with their Palestinian hosts?

D&H: Many of our participants have remained in contact with their hosts. Some have stayed longer in the region and have gone back to visit their hosts or stay with them again. Others keep in touch via e-mail and via gifts sent through us to the families each time we go.

EoC: What are the ages of the Palestinian children that go on tour with you?

D&H: The children who travel with us on Re-Plugged are generally 10-15 years old. All are under 16, because at age 16, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip receive Israeli-issued ID cards, which Israel uses to control their movement. Until that age, Palestinians through a loophole, have somewhat more freedom of movement. We use our privilege as international passport-holders to accompany the children to Jerusalem, the sea, and their ancestral villages.

EoC: How did you become in contact with them?

D&H: We work in partnership with at least one organization in each refugee camp where we work. Most of the organizations we either know through our other work in Palestine or through friends. The organizations then pick the children to participate.

EoC: Are their parents supportive or worried about them going into Israel?

D&H: Parents and children have been both excited and worried about their trip with us. We designed the trip based on the desire we had heard from refugee communities about the places they long to visit, so the journey is incredibly moving for all involved. At the same time, parents have concerns about their children being out for two full days and one overnight, about possibly being attacked by Israelis, and about cultural differences they might experience. The local organizations that the kids work with have the trust of the families and the fact that we are working with the organizations usually helps quell any concerns.

EoC: What would you say is the biggest difference between the youths of Israel and Palestine?

D&H: We do not work with Israeli youth so cannot speak to that issue. We do, however, work with Palestinians children from West Bank refugee camps and Palestinian children from cooperating organizations inside Israel. Even among these communities the children experience cultural differences based on where they grew up and the different systems and laws imposed on each community. The Israeli government works to disconnect Palestinian communities from each other, and part of our Re-Plugged program brings them back together.

EoC: Have you seen a change in your clients? If so, how?

D&H: Our Re-Plugged participants have consistently moving experiences with us and express themselves through photography exhibits and writing after their trip. I am not sure we can speak about change in them, however, because we do not know them very well before we work with them and we are only in the camp a few times with them after the trip. Our partner organizations in the camp, who have relationships with these children and whose work our program works to strengthen, could answer this question better.

Our Unplugged participants have also been deeply moved by their experience, and many have had radical changes in perspective, understanding, politics, and motivation as a result of our trip. We have seen these changes in the six short days of our trip, and we have also watched our alumnae’s work develop and strengthen over time after their experience with us.

EoC: In your opinion, what other things need to take place, other than Birthright Unplugged, that will help to create peace between the Palestinians and Israel?

D&H: Palestinian voices must be included in any conversations about their future, and in the worldwide (and particularly Western) discourse about Palestine/Israel. More people need to understand the situation in terms of occupation, colonization, and basic denial of human rights, rather than as a conflict with two equal sides. Refugees (a majority of the Palestinian population) must have their historical experiences valued and their rights fulfilled. Birthright Unplugged tries in a small way to contribute to all of these paths towards justice, without which there can be no peace.

EoC: How can we become more involved?

D&H: There is an indigenous call from Palestinian civil society for the international community to engage in boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until Israel honors Palestinian basic human rights. The movement is growing around the world and some divestment campaigns have already seen success. Joining a local group or starting your own is one way to become involved.

People can also read, write, plan actions, give talks, visit Palestine, individually boycott Israel, incorporate Palestine into teaching curricula, and much more.

As for people becoming more involved in Birthright Unplugged in particular, we are looking for venues for our Re-Plugged exhibit to travel. We are also always raising money to keep our programs running – our fundraising happens on a very grassroots level and all support is welcome and appreciated.

There will only be change in these countries filled with death and destruction through understanding, peace and love. As Martin Luther King once said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” Dunyah and Hannah are making steps towards these imperative teaching tools of serenity by doing exactly that.

Please visit http://www.birthrightunplugged.com for more information.


Collaborative Wiki JASecon Facilitator, Bernard Marszalek, Talks Shop

February 15, 2010

From housing issues to cultural appreciation, JASecon is a collaborative movement inspiring a better tomorrow.

Originally born out of the need for good produce in a low-income housing neighborhood of Oakland, California, the San Fransisco bay Wiki is helping grassroots projects succeed. Specializing in bring people together, JASecon is, “an informal grouping of folks active in the social justice and worker co-op communities. Our goal is to facilitate communication amongst the activists developing economic alternatives in a variety of arenas.”

A member of the inspiring group, Bernard Marszalek, was kind enough to answer some questions focused on the importance of collaboration. Here’s what he had to say…

EC: What was the spark that set the people of West Oakland into activating a collaborative betterment of life and the creation of JASecon?

BM: The JASecon project developed from a discussion at a December (2007) NoBAWC meeting where the limitations of the Green Festival of 2007 was generally recognized as becoming too commercial and irrelevant for the Network to participate in. For several years some of the cooperatives (I always mean the worker co-ops in the SF area… most of which are members of the Network) tried to encourage more coop participation in the green festival for marketing and outreach (the political side) to the larger community. But participation peaked in 2005 and began to decline since then, partly because of the expense and partly because the coops where lost within the hugeness of the event and so had little impact.

The idea was thrown out at that meeting that Network should have its own festival. That idea was discussed through the beginning of 2008 and in the summer the idea of extending the invitation to the large community of non-profits and volunteer groups, etc., that contributed to the economy surfaced. The Network had discussed an outreach to folks working in other areas of the economy under other organizational forms for some time and this idea of pulling folks together to talk about collaboration on some level seemed right. A critical mass of projects was apparent but not much communication between projects was happening.

The Network already was a template for that kind of collaboration amongst the co-ops and it was a natural model for expanding the Network informally. The Network called a meeting for Oct 2008 to discuss this idea and you will find the “Call” on the JASecon wiki.

At that meeting 30 groups were represented from all areas of the emerging economy: non-profit advocacy groups, a dance collective, a local on-line journalist project, clothing designer, bakery with farm that grew the ingredients for their pies and employed kids from la raza to both work in the store and on the farm (one of my fav projects), an advocate of free-exchange, and many more, with seven co-ops represented. After four hours of getting acquainted and discussing what folks could get behind the idea of a “trade fair” got everybody excited.

The idea was to present to the public what was somewhat hidden from public view – people working on a rich diversity of projects that taken together demonstrated that “another world is possible” to use the phrase from the World Social Forums.

I think with this background you can better appreciate the content on the wiki.

EC: Where are you seeing the largest growth in collaborative movements?

BM: Latin America is way ahead of the world in terms of the Solidarity Economy. I know that the recuperated factories in Argentina have as an aim more collaboration to sustain them beyond organizational assistance to economic alliances. I mean this is the aim of all our work – to create synergies of economic relationships between alternative economic projects.

EC: What components are vital to a cooperative business idea succeeding?

BM: Besides the same components of any business succeeding: excellent plan and financing the level of agreement among the parties creating the co-op and the community support.

EC: In your opinion, what is the key factor of taking an alternative business dream, such as a cooperative, to reality?

BM: The commitment of those who have the dream. The reason I have a dim view of the whole idea of social entrepreneurship is that it is based on the illusion of one person with a great idea. Sometimes that works, but most often a sustainable project requires getting others on board… and of course one person might play an excellent role in sparking an idea, the project won’t succeed unless that person can find a crew to work with.

Charisma can charm others, but collaboration is so much more satisfying for all involved and prefigures what I like to think of as a “society of friends.” Mondragon adopts this approach. They encourage collaboration because they know that any project they support must use the talents of more than one person and will thrive if the origins are based on peer relationships, not hierarchical ones.

EC: Do you believe that collaborative business practices will eventually become the norm?

BM: What’s the alternative? Avatar? I think that the research I just wrote about that gives scientific verification to the old belief that people are naturally cooperative is one of the building blocks to a worldview that is developing. This empathetic worldview is evident in the amazing support for the people of Haiti.

EC: You wrote in response to the Conference of Parties at Copenhagen (COP-15) that, “Given the crisis we face, and the institutional inability of the oligarchy to respond in a meaningful way, as witnessed in Copenhagen, we have no choice but to create true cooperative and democratic communities to sustain us in our fight for “system change.” What can we as individuals do to help create cooperative and democratic communities?

BM: You know I think tons of people are working towards these ends but never conceptualize what they may be doing in their lives as related to the larger, global issues. I think the first step is for that realization to sink in. Specifically, and here I am speaking about the cooperative ski area business model you and your husband are activating, you are steps down the road to creating livable communities. It seems now that you are searching for both grounding in a clear way to conceive of what you want to do and for a venue… a community of peers to work with. My heartfelt appreciation of the worthiness of your intentions and my best wishes that they can be realized with others.

Thank you Bernard for sharing your knowledge and time for the good of collaboration…and your kind words in regards to the ski area cooperative movement.



Global Collaboration Creating a Foodie Paradise in Argentina

January 25, 2010

While doing research for a  restaurant guide that I wrote for the city of Bariloche, Argentina, I was lucky enough to get to know some of the owners of the great dining experiences around town.

One of those eateries, Butterfly, impressed me in a collaborative sense…

You see, an Irishman, German and Argentine came together to create one of the best restaurants in the Lakes District of Patagonia. Chef Ed, a Michelin-trained culinary artist is a gifted creator of designer dishes with flair. The house sommelier is the happy-go-lucky German, Sebi, whose smile and knowledge about accommodating wines are worth the trip alone. And then there is the beautiful, enchanting and welcoming host, Coni, that offers the much-needed female touch.

Chef Ed sat down with me and let us in on what it is like to have a culinary masterpiece dining experience in the northern gateway city of Patagonia, and more importantly, what it is like to have an elegant example of global collaboration. Here is what he had to say…

SM: What do you feel is the premier aspect of Butterfly?

Chef Ed: The Concept. In Butterfly we serve a 7 course tasting menu every day, prepared daily with the best ingredients the market has to offer. The evening in Butterfly is a special occasion and we never do re-sits. The table is yours for the evening. It’s for people who love food and wine like we do and we want you to feel special. If you leave a top class restaurant and they didn’t make you feel special you may as well have stayed at home and cooked a steak with a good bottle of wine.

SM: With the three different cultures coming together for Butterfly, what do you feel is the major difference between Butterfly and other fine dining restaurants in Argentina?

Chef Ed: Everything in Butterfly is done with love, it actually has nothing to with different cultures. We are three people from different cultures who all happen to be very like-minded in how we want Butterfly to be. The three of us do just about everything and we do it all with love. I cook with love, Coni prepares the restaurant, greets our guests and serves with love, Sebi chooses our wine menu, and even waters the garden with love.

SM: What would you consider to be your signature dish?

Chef Ed: I’m always asked and I never know what to say. I always think I should just lie and say “Creme Brulee with lavender ice-cream” or “Bouillabaisse au Paupillotte”, but I just can’t lie about food. I have no Signature dish, I get bored too easily to cook the same thing over and over again. Also I love to be inspired by what the market has to offer or what my regular guests ask me for, as opposed to what I want to cook.

SM: Where do you find the majority of your ingredients?

Chef Ed: With meat I am blessed in Argentina (and with lamb even more so in the Patagonia). And believe it or not I have also been blessed with great fish, 1000km from the coast! My fish is shipped fresh twice a week from Buenos Aires, they only send me what is good and most of the time I get fresher fish here than when I cooked in Ireland. Other products have been a little more complicated. Fresh vanilla beans have been shipped from Madagascar to my house in Ireland and then been smuggled halfway across the world to Bariloche. Every time friends or family visit us we have a shopping list for them. Noilly Prat, Midleton Very Rare whiskey, Italian Saffron, Sebi’s wine collection, etc.

SM: How has the involvement of three cultures helped with creating Butterfly?

Chef Ed: I think we all balance each other out very well. Sebi is German and keeps everything well organized. Coni the Argentinian keeps everything more in context and keeps us all sane. As for me the Irishman, I try to get everyone drunk regularly.

SM: What is your favorite memory from creating the restaurant?

Chef Ed: We opened the restaurant a month before Sebi arrived, as he was finishing up his job in Switzerland. Coni and I did everything on our own and we were counting the minutes to his arrival. He arrived in a Taxi in the middle of lunch service with the terrace full. After a 12 second welcome and having traveled for 40 hours he was put straight to washing dishes and helping me in the kitchen. He was even pleased with the welcome he got, he expected nothing less!

SM: Do you have any suggestions for guests planning to visit Butterfly?

Chef Ed: Skip lunch and ring ahead!

SM: Is there a particular time of year that is better than others to visit Butterfly?

Chef Ed: May and November are without a doubt the worst time to visit Butterfly as we are closed. As for the best time, I would recommend a warm summer evening, arriving early to enjoy a drink on the terrace before dinner. I never get bored of the terrace or the view we have of the lake Nahuel Huapi.

SM: What are the advantages to creating a fine dining experience in Bariloche?

Chef Ed: Bariloche has the great advantage of being incredible the whole year round. It is one of the very few places in the world with a fantastic ski area for winter and everything you could possibly imagine for summer. Mountains, lakes, snow, sun, restaurants, nightlife, rafting, trekking, climbing, etc. The list is endless. For the restaurant it gives us the chance to have two strong seasons every year. In Bariloche we have the best of both worlds!

SM: What are your favorite flavors of food to play with?

Chef Ed: There is just too much good stuff. Garlic, lemon rind, vanilla, dried tomatoes, chilli, smoked trout, hazelnuts, saffron, basil, lemongrass, sage, nutmeg, lavender, potatoes, salt, coriander seeds, coriander plant, sole, onions, eggs, sweetbreads, prawn shells, ox-tail, brie, osso bucco, baby squid… I have no idea where to start on which are my favorite. I go through phases. I dried a load of tomatoes recently so I’m on a dried tomato buzz at the moment (Dried tomatoes with confied garlic, or olives, or basil, or candied lemon rind, or all of the above).  With cheese, smoked trout or in risotto with roasted almonds and fillet of sole. In a few weeks it will be something else, I’m particularly curious about the new Peruvian/Japanese fusion movement and have recently got my hands on the Nobu cookbook to see what it’s all about. So that will probably be my next buzz.

Thanks to Coni, Seb and Chef Ed for working together to create one of the best restaurants in Patagonia…if not Argentina.


Marty Frost, Founder of Canadian Co-op Development Company, Devco, Talks Cooperatives

January 8, 2010

Activating a dream business idea can be a bit intimidating. It takes a lot of belief in self, perseverance and tenacity.

This is no different with a cooperative, except that there are more personalities involved (which can be a great asset).

Well, for those living in British Columbia, Canada, there is another helping hand. Enter Devco. A workers co-op developed to assist those thinking about creating a cooperative idea, groups that have already moved forward, and established co-ops, Devco is a one-stop shop. Everything from offering assistance with the business plan to providing organizational training to build group capacity for co-op implementation and management is under the Devco roof.

One of the founders, Marty Frost, sat down with me (virtually that is) and let me pick his brain about collaboration.

Marty at the helm

Growing up in a small farming community, Marty was introduced to the collaborative mindset at an early age. This unknowingly gave him the backbone of what later become a lifetime career. His inspiring intelligence about the art of working together for the community-good and load of experience, ideas, and interesting information makes him, in my opinion, a powerful asset to global collaboration.

Not to mention, his enthusiasm is contagious. It confirms to me that working together truly is the wave of the future.

Here’s what he had to say…

EoC: What is your background with cooperatives?

MF: Although I served as a director on the credit union in Kentville, Nova Scotia before moving to the west coast, most of my co-op activity took place after my family moved to British Columbia in 1978.

At that time in Vancouver there was a thriving and active “new” co-op community, and joining that community felt like coming home – no small claim for a boy from the Maritimes!

By the end of the first week, I was a member of the food co-op and the local credit union. In March 1979 I went to work for a workers’ co-op, where I stayed as a member-worker for 17 years. In 1983 I was a founding member of my housing co-op, where I stayed for 13 years, and in 1996 with some colleagues founded Devco, a workers’ cooperative of co-op development and training consultants. Along the way I got involved in the greater co-op movement both provincially and nationally, and was even privileged to do some international work in Indonesia, China and Mongolia.

EoC: Were you cooperative as a child growing up?

MF: Of course, I was a model of cooperation!! No, seriously, I was the only boy in a fairly traditional farming family in Prince Edward Island. With four sisters, I was pretty much spoiled by the attention. It was also a pretty basic farm, and there were real imperatives driving the work and so on.

So, if I didn’t want to do the barn chores, it wasn’t just a case of my dad getting upset, it was a case of the cows and horses not getting milked, fed and watered. If the wood didn’t get cut and split, we didn’t have enough wood to heat the house in the winter.

Not a lot of room for rebellion or lack of cooperation there!

In our community, too, the local farmers did a lot of stuff together. Usually when it was time to cut the hay, all the farmers would just sort of start at one end of the road, and take in the hay from all the farms. Lots of farmers didn’t have all the equipment they needed, but that wasn’t a problem, since another of the farmers would just bring his along. My family owned (along with another family a couple of miles away) the first hay baler on our road, and the first mechanical hay rake. That was a bit of a boon to the whole group of farmers. Same thing when it was time to cut the firewood. Our tractor usually drove the sawmill for everyone.

I doubt any of us saw it as “cooperation”, it was just the way things got done.

EoC: What role do you feel collaboration plays in cooperatives?

MF: Collaboration, in our terms cooperation, is at the heart of the co-op system.

A co-op does not come into being unless a number of people agree to collaborate under a set of common principles and agreements to meet a defined common need. Co-ops themselves collaborate in federations and through business arrangements with one another, again to address common needs. All co-ops in the world are organized on the same set of 7 co-op principles, or values. Among these are a commitment to equal democratic control by all members, and a commitment to collaboration with other co-operatives.

EoC: In what ways are you seeing Canadian cooperatives incorporating collaborative aspects to their business models?

MF: The Canadian cooperative system is a tiered system. At the top (or the bottom, depending on your point of view) of the system are the individual co-ops. Each of these is a collaboration of members, as I described above, committed to the co-op values, and agreeing to work together to meet a common need, based on equality and democratic process.

From time to time a number of these co-ops will get together to form a federation of co-ops with similar structures, and again with a common need, which the federation is designed to meet. These federations of co-ops have banded together to form the Canadian Cooperative Association (CCA), again, democratically controlled, and directed by its members, to meet needs beyond the scope of the individual federations. The francophone co-ops in Canada have a similar apex organization, called the Conseil Canadien des Cooperatives et de Mutualite (CCCM). Historically the two worked somewhat separately, but for the past 10 years or so have worked more and more closely, collaborating on their government relations and sector strategies and so on, to the strengthening of both!

Co-ops work together on a market level as well. A good example would be the co-op stores of Co-op Atlantic carrying JustUs coffee products. JustUs is a workers’ co-op in Nova Scotia. Cooperators Insurance Group, the largest mutual insurance company in Canada is 100% owned by cooperatives. They maintain two funds of $500 thousand each, one is given out as grants for the formation of new cooperatives, the other for grants to community development projects.

EoC: Do you feel with 20-somethings entering the job world, with their extensive knowledge of technology, texting, instant information exchange and a broader mindset of collaboration, that this will have an impact on cooperatives?

MF: I hope so.

Back in the 70’s, that I describe above, it was the 20-somethings who created all that stir in Vancouver. And when I look around now, I feel safe in saying that it was us, the 20-somethings using the co-op model, that started the natural foods industry in Canada, now a multi-billion dollar industry. The credit union we started back then is still alive and thriving, with almost $50 million in assets! The manager is one of the 20-somethings that started it.

The technology revolution is a system of tools, and yes, I think that they give us power that we’ve never had before to communicate and mobilize people. At the core, though, there has to be a set of values that drives and steers that power.

Does that exist among 20-somethings today? And if so, is it a positive set of values?

I do some reading (and writing) about the concept of social capital – the sort of underlying set of activities that people do together that gives a community cohesion, and with that a certain strength. The thing is that it has a bright side, as seen in countless positive community based initiatives (including the people who started all those co-ops back in the ‘70s) and a dark side (like Hell’s Angels, for example, or the gangs that all but own some of our communities).

All of these have strong social capital at their core, but different values driving them.

So, what we have now is huge technological capital. How will it manifest itself? That will depend on the values of the people who choose to use it. Right now the dominant social forces in North America are not too positive – accumulation of personal wealth, degradation of the planets ecology, a fortress mentality with respect to social change.

20-somethings first have to decide if this is what they buy into. If they do, I am pessimistic about the future my grandchildren will inherit. If they choose to become agents of change, they can change the world.

Back in the ‘60s we stopped a war, against the will of the government of the US!! What can we do today?

I think anything we set our minds to.

Within that, cooperatives continue to provide a viable constructive economic model, which is one of the needed components to global change.

EoC: Are Canadian cooperatives collaborating at all with other global cooperatives?

MF: Yes, we are.

CCA is one of the primary delivery agents for CIDA projects, the Canadian government’s external economic development agency.

Why?

Because in the parts of the world that they serve the co-op model has been found to be the most effective model for sustainable socio-economic development. CCA is also a member of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), the world-wide federation of co-ops. My own federation, the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation (CWCF), is a member of CICOPA, the world federation of worker co-ops, as well as a member of CCA and CCCM (we’re a bilingual organization).

EoC: How has technology assisted the cooperative business model, if at all?

MF: I think mostly through communication options.

My federation (CWCF) began a couple of years ago using voice-over-internet for board meetings and committee meetings. This enabled us to have 4 meetings a year, which did a lot for the board’s ability to support management in moving our programs forward.

At our AGM recently held in New Brunswick, we had video-voice links first with Elizabeth May, the leader of the Canadian Green Party, speaking from British Columbia, and with Bruno Roelants, president of CICOPA, mentioned above, speaking from Germany. In each case the medium was sufficient to enable our members, in a general meeting, to ask questions of the speakers and have them respond.

Last year, the youth program of the British Columbia Co-operative Association was able to convene a meeting of young cooperators from Argentina, Japan, the US, and parts of Canada into a first-ever common “table” to share their experiences and challenges.

EoC: What do you feel is the most fundamental move for a group of people trying to collaborate and create a cooperative?

MF: Have the people sit down and establish what their common goal is. Then look at the statement of co-op principles and see to what extent people respect the values at the core of these, and are ready to subscribe to them.

The co-op values contain some pretty revolutionary stuff, and anyone who has the conventional North American vision of starting a business, operating it for a few years, then selling it for millions and retiring on the profits is in for a shock.

Co-ops are a business model designed to provide a common service to people who need it.

While it will contribute to a member’s wealth by providing them with employment, or expanding their opportunities to market a product, or do value addition on their products, or reducing the cost of part of their lives, a person’s share does not necessarily increase in value as the years go on and the business grows.

Co-ops are made to serve people, not capital. That runs kind of counter to the capitalist ideal, and some people are a bit shocked when they find this out.

EoC: What is the current state of cooperatives in Canada?

MF: I think we’re in good shape.

Last year when the economic crisis hit, while billions of dollars were lost from stock market investment, government investment and so on, the credit unions and co-ops just sailed along pretty much as always. That’s primarily because the bulk of their capital is invested locally and regionally, not in speculative markets.

I think that the main challenge co-ops face in Canada is attracting the 20-somethings you mentioned above. All organizations need renewal, need to bring in younger people, and co-ops face that challenge just like every other organization. That means that we have to remain relevant to younger people’s lives, or we calcify. Dare I say that this may have been one of the factors leading to the demise about 20 years ago, of some of the largest co-operatives in Canada. Boards and management had spent far too much time doing business as usual and emulating their competitors in the market, rather than building on their strengths, which was in their members.

It’s great to see that the co-ops that sprung up to fill the niches are responding to that challenge, and are seeing good success, both at democratic and business levels.

EoC: What is your advice for working with different personalities and staying true to the mission statement of the co-op?

MF: I think that people in general if they want to be involved in the co-op have to subscribe in one way or another to the mission of the co-op. Why else would they be a member, other than that they want to promote its purpose and move it forward?

The piece of that which is very important is that they have had input into the development of that mission.

I believe that this is one of the main cohesive elements in any co-op, the members have had the opportunity to provide input into the overall mission and vision to which the co-op holds itself accountable. Often members will not respond to requests for such input, but I believe they must be given the opportunity. Even really large co-ops like Mountain Equipment Equipment here in Canada (about 3 million members) provides an opportunity for any member to provide input into its strategic planning, and to run for the board of directors.

So, my advice is to keep your members informed and involved. Even if the co-op falls prey to disruptive dissent, a well-informed and involved membership will not be swayed from a mission and direction in whose creation they feel they were involved. Your members must be given access to input into the creation of the mission statement, the vision, and the strategic plans. This is the only way to build a strong membership, hence a strong co-op. Leadership will come from the board of directors, of course, but the membership must have the opportunity to be part of the discussion (as well as part of the board that provides the leadership).

EoC: Where do you see the future of cooperatives going in the future?

MF: That remains to be seen.

I see huge challenges ahead in transforming economies as our political leadership is forced, kicking and screaming, into a very challenging world of repeated ecological disasters and crises, and further economic “crises” as they refuse to recognize the need for fundamental change.

Can co-ops become agents of positive change?

I think the capacity is there. There is real strength in local/regional ownership and the stability that brings to capital. Co-ops show historically that they respond to change and handle very successfully economic and technological shifts.

First the motivation has to be there. I see in my own view-screen a number of examples where co-ops are leading us into the new economy, a much greener economy.

Will we ever constitute the dominant economic model in the world? Probably not.

Will we be relevant to larger numbers of people? I think so. And that may, in fact, lead us to the kind of sea-change that’s needed.

EoC: What is your favorite Co-op story?

MF: I have a hundred favourite personal co-op stories, from sitting on the Mongolian steppe in July sipping Airag (fermented mares’ milk) with local co-op members, to spending winter solstice in the Yukon with a salmon fishers’ co-op, where the sun got up after 11:00 AM and went down about 2:00 PM, to waking to a cock crowing in the Mondragon region of Spain at the co-op training institute and looking out the window to see about 20 hot air balloons taking off from a facing hillside.

My favourite co-op story might be the Peace Energy Co-op, where a group of community activists have set up their first wind turbine (7.5 megawatts, I believe) on what will ultimately be a 50 megawatt wind farm in Dawson Creek, BC. Over 1,500 residents of the Peace River Region are members of the co-op, and they are producing truly locally-owned electricity.

Their next project will be a common heating system that will serve about 200 homes in Dawson Creek, utilizing an unused community swimming pool as their heat reservoir.

EoC: What makes a really successful Co-op?

MF: The commitment of the members.

Members have to be committed to buying shares in the co-op, and participating in the democratic aspects of the co-op — the general meetings, serving on the board of directors and committees and so on — but most importantly they have to be committed to using the services of the co-op.

Canada’s most positive success story may be Mountain Equipment Co-op, which started in the 1970s and is now huge, with stores in virtually every province and about 3 million members. The reason they have been so successful is that they serve the needs of their members. They listen to what the members say, and respond to that. So, the members come back in droves, and keep on buying from the co-op.

EoC: What is your favorite aspect about working together?

MF: Aside from the mutual support, the excitement of collectively generating ideas and implementing them and so on, and just the straight out fun of it all, I’ve found, through my years working in co-ops, that decisions made collectively are always (a word I don’t often use) better decisions that those made by an individual.

That’s not to say I’m an advocate of having a group of people sitting around the co-op bakery deciding how much to charge for the apple turnovers, but an effective decision making process that allows for and integrates the opinions of a wide range of involved people.

This will always, I think, lead to a better decision.

I believe that’s why co-ops have been shown to respond to change more easily, be more innovative, more creative, retain workers longer and develop their skills further than other forms of business organization that don’t have that built into their structures.

Thank you Marty for taking the time to discuss collaboration. – EoC


Children Getting the Benefit of Collaboration through SkiDUCK

December 30, 2009

Skiing and snowboarding aren’t the types of sports that anyone can just do.

Unfortunately, the truth exists that some sort of financial backing has to exist to play in the mountains. Not only does the equipment cost money, but so does getting to the ski area and getting up the hill.

As a youngster, my family didn’t have the money needed to fulfill my addiction to gravity induced fun on snow. My solution worked out for me, literally, as I began my career working for a ski area at 12 years old. What began as a position in retail shifted to becoming a ski instructor, then to working on the avalanche crew and so on and so forth…the fuel for my lifelong passion for skiing.

Well, fast forward to today and there is a non-profit organized to give underprivileged children the chance to benefit from a sport that has proven to help many youngsters find a path to happiness. Myself included.

SkiDUCK, or Skiing and snowboarding for Disabled and Underprivileged Children and older Kids, is a newly formed outreach helping youth experience the fun of being in the mountains. A true effort of collaboration, SkiDUCK is an example that cooperation can lead to greatness.

I was able to sit down and talk with the executive director of SkiDUCK, Clint Lunde. His insight, experience and foresight for collaboration is inspiring, to say the least. Here is what he had to say…

EoC: Please tell our readers what exactly SkiDUCK is…

CL: SkiDUCK is a national volunteer-based non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of disabled and underprivileged children by sharing the joys of skiing and snowboarding.

We partner with local organizations with similar goals of serving disabled or underprivileged children. In areas where like programs exist, we work to assist these groups fulfill their goals by providing additional funding, coordinating with other providers, and sharing best-practices.

In areas where the skiing and snowboarding needs of disabled or underprivileged children are not currently being served, we seek to establish a sustainable model of service with local resources and volunteers.

EoC: What initially made you contemplate creating something like SkiDUCK?

CL: In the few short months since SkiDUCK launched, I’ve been asked dozens of times… “How did you come up with the idea of providing skiing and snowboarding for disadvantaged children?”

Without getting too personal, there are times in most of our lives when we face some really big questions. The past year has been one of deep reflection for me, and some of the questions I kept asking of myself were: What is my purpose? – How can I make more of a difference? – How can I better use my passion and skills for a greater good? – If money weren’t an issue, what would I be doing? – And, rather than focusing on a job or career, how can I turn my passion into a life-long vocation?

These questions and period of self-reflection can be a tremendous opportunity for anyone to discover new directions. In retrospect, I can’t believe the idea of creating SkiDUCK didn’t occur immediately! The concept of a national organization dedicated to providing opportunities for children to experience the joys of skiing and snowboarding is such an obvious and natural fit! (And in my honest opinion, a WONDERFUL CAUSE!)

Since August 12th we’ve recruited a high-quality Board of Directors, filed as a legal entity, applied for and received our 501(c)3 non-profit status from the IRS (which alone often takes 9+ months), created a fun and interactive website and social network, partnered with some of the top athletes in the industry (more on the way!), and most importantly… have established initial partnerships with ski resorts and youth service organizations to put children on the slopes for their first time ever!

In early 2010 we’ll begin to see the fruits of our labor as we kick off our first on-slope programs in the Lake Tahoe area! The success of those programs and others around the country will depend entirely upon the wonderful volunteers who come forward with their time, enthusiasm and talents – and the generous donors and sponsors who help provide opportunities for deserving children.

EoC: Explain the motivation of going from the dream stage of Ski Duck to the activation stage…

CL: The motivation was (simply-put) immediate once I made the decision on Aug 12th…primarily in order to get things in place for the upcoming ski/snowboard season.

EoC: How has collaboration been incorporated into the creation of SkiDUCK?

CL: The success of SkiDUCK if based upon the foundation of collaboration among three key groups; participating ski resorts, youth service organizations, and financial sponsors.

Collaboration with these organizations is fundamental to the existence and future success of SkiDUCK! SkiDUCK and our volunteers are primarily “facilitators” who are connecting existing organizations to assist each in doing what they do best. Our partnering ski resorts have ski and snowboard schools that are already teaching children the wonderful sports of skiing and snowboarding. SkiDUCK is bringing a whole new group of children to their programs, who may never otherwise have the opportunity to visit the mountains. Our partnering youth service organizations (such as the Boys and Girls Clubs) are already serving financially underprivileged and at-risk children in many ways, but lack the financial resources to provide skiing and snowboarding opportunities. Through these collaborative partnerships, SkiDUCK brings the best of both worlds together!

Finally, collaboration with our growing list sponsors and individual donors is absolutely critical to providing the financial resources to make the programs work. Like a tripod, each of the three legs of the SkiDUCK collaborative model are essential for stability and long-term success.

EoC: What is your vision for the future?

CL: As focused as we are on building partnerships and a successful model for SkiDUCK, all of our efforts are really about the kids. It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and energy to launch a new organization, but the rewards of those efforts are immediately received in the smiles, laughter and joy of children learning to ski or snowboard for the first time. I’ve (we’ve) taught many children to ski over the years, and almost nothing compares to a child’s first day on the slopes or the first time off a small jump! SkiDUCK will open an entirely new world to children who deserve the opportunity that many of us enjoy every winter!

We’re serving school-aged children (from around age 7 to 18). Our hope is that once a child is in the program, they’ll fall in love with skiing or snowboarding and want to continue each year until they graduate from high school. After that, they’ll just have to get a job as a ski or snowboard instructor or ski patrol if they want to continue to receive free passes! (But hey, those are first jobs many of us wish we could have gotten!)

While our primary focus is a simple one, to introduce children to the joys of skiing and snowboarding, I’m absolutely certain that the impact we’ll have in many children’s lives will be much more significant and long-lasting; even life-changing. The mountains, the sport, and the good people these children will interact with have the ability to change lives in tremendous ways.

I’m a realist by nature, and recognize that I may be wearing rose-colored glasses at times when looking to the future of SkiDUCK. But in my minds-eye, I foresee programs either founded or partially funded by SkiDUCK at literally hundreds and hundreds of ski resorts across the entire country, serving tens of thousands of underprivileged and minority children every year!

I envision a national network of local community chapters providing opportunities to children who may never otherwise be exposed to the beauty and life-changing force of the mountains. Eventually, we’ll grow beyond U.S. borders to other mountain countries around the world. (It will be interesting to see how the SkiDUCK acronym will translate into other languages!)

And I’m absolutely certain that someday a child who first stepped into bindings through a SkiDUCK program will also step onto an Olympic, World Cup, or X Games Gold medal podium!

But setting all the grand designs aside, the truest measure of SkiDUCK’s success will be years from now when someone who first fell in love with skiing or snowboarding through SkiDUCK takes their own son or daughter to the mountain for their first day on the slopes. That’s the dream that always brings a tear to my eye.

Please contact SkiDUCK if your organization or community is interested in partnering to establish or enhance your own program to help children onto the slopes!


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