The unexpected is always the highlight.

I recently attended the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Going in I didn’t have much of an agenda but did end up with an experience that was worthwhile and possibly pivotal. The reason of course, as with all events it seems, is the people that gathered and connected.

Pamela Hartigan and Jeff Skoll at Opening Plenary

From the content and conversation perspective, the highlight for me was the focus on systems as core to social entrepreneurship. Roger Martin tagged disrupting and establishing equilibria as the ultimate purpose, and previously tired conversations around metrics became flavoured with the emergent dynamics of working at the level of systems. While applying rigour to scale and diffuse innovation was a hot topic, people also recognized that the most innovative work often reflects insanity before it becomes recognized as brilliance. That this conversation was happening here was a good thing.

What I think made the forum work was a mix of who participated and the space that was created for interaction. While there has been criticism of the exclusive nature of the event, it is definitely part of what makes it a safe space. The concentration of some of the highest profile people in this sector turns this from a worship session to a gathering of peers. At the same time, having the opportunity to participate in OxfordJam at the same opened up the range of perspectives and conversation more than at any conference I’ve been to before.

In the end, what may prove to be pivotal, were the unexpected encounters over during the space between sessions, venues, and events (including spontaneous volcano-inspired after events) and over the meals and drinks shared with others. The best of them happened with people I never knew and/or on paper, would have had no interest in meeting. Being together though as peers, without the distractions of daily life, sparked conversations and connections I expect I might carry for life. And for me, that is something I would go for again.

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Social Innovation @ Ivey

Quick post to share today’s presentations for Social Innovation @ Ivey.

First is my opening intro, which pulls from a core theme but adds a little more about my history and the levels, forms, and tools of social entrepreneurship  – or my best simplification of them.

The second, is a for a last minute stand-in role on the social finance workshop.  Thankfully the wise and gracious Karim Harji of shared this great, detailed deck.

As always, I’m looking forward to talking with students and trying to inspire them to go do out and do some good.

Inspiring students. What would you tell them?

I’m scheduled to open the Social Innovation @ Ivey Form and have been asked to get the audience of students ‘fired up’ about social entrepreneurship and innovation. What would you tell them?

They are currently deciding on which electives to take and of course what career path to take – a big part of why I love doing these talks. I’ve been asked to tell my story, touch on social entrepreneurship and social finance and have 30 minutes to do it.

Earlier this year I gave the presentation below. It generated some good feedback but I felt like it missed the mark. Any suggestions appreciated. How would you get them moving toward #socent?

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My 2009 in review

I was just writing an update to some great partners of mine and realized I needed to include a recap of 2009 for some context on what’s next. That of course reminded me that I’d yet to post one. So here goes.

Into the wild.
Into the Wild

2009 was a pivotal one for me – a year of transition. It was full of new adventures and an unexpected closure of an old one. 2009 started with a bunch of excitement and energy around the Social Venture Commons, VenTwits, and A group of us had come together and were sweating out an experiment in peer-producing some apps that we thought could help people come together and build a better world by using public micro-messaging. We had some encouraging feedback on the concepts but we missed the mark and didn’t get enough traction (users or funding). We had felt we were constantly 2 weeks ahead of ‘everyone else’ and when we took stock of what we felt we’d need to get to a viable venture, we just couldn’t do it with what we had. I had failed at guiding us through to a viable product and estimating what it would take to get us there.

At the same time, my past life in energy and finance rose up and I became engaged in designing a financing framework around what the Green Energy Act Alliance hoped would make Ontario North America’s leading jurisdiction for renewable energy (it did) and particularly community power. The Act was tabled in May which then prompted another engagement to help the CPFund plan for a transition to the new reality. That plan, if successful, stands to be a great example of social finance and turn the renewable energy finance sector on it’s head.

Closing out the summer, my social finance sojourn continued with the opportunity to co-lead a Canadian contingent to the Social Capital Markets conference. Next came the privilege of doing a review of Vartana – an ambitious project that aimed to change the way the charitable sector banked in Canada. And then things shifted.

On my birthday I learned that a company I founded was in discussions on being acquired. Those talks came to fruition in early October, and while not a big exit by many standards, for our lean life it was/is a big turning point. It meant taking a breath and taking stock. It meant getting ‘our house in order’. It meant saying thank-you to those who’ve supported me.

An adventurous chapter with an unexpected plot twist was over. Thankfully it’s part of a book that I love… one of those books I just can’t put down.

Social Entrepreneurship? What are you waiting for?

Tomorrow I’m presenting the deck below at the 16th Annual Environmental Sciences Symposium at University of Guelph. I’m told to expect an audience of about 200 – mostly undergrads. That’s one of my favourite scenarios. Talking about any form of entrepreneurship to people about to embark on the rest of their lives is fun.

With the devastation in Haiti right now though, I thought I’d try something different.

For tweets with this link ( I’ll donate another $1 to Haiti relief efforts. For every person who starts their question to me from the audience with “Social Entrepreneurship For The Win!” I’ll donate $10. As I’ve already given, I’ll cap this at $100, but of course, every dollar counts.

My main message: Get involved. Get going. Don’t wait, just do it.

Let me know what you think… and make me give while you’re at it!

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ChangeMedium is coming to Montreal on December 18th. Following up on his participation at #cmToronto, founder Evan Prodromou has invited us to join them at their first ever StatusCamp. is the open source micro-messaging platform that can be hosted independently as a private or public platform like For us at ChangeMedium public micro-messaing is at the heart of this inflection in the web and at the core of the medium for change. That perspective is what hope to bring to StatusCamp.

On December 18th the entire team will be together to host an unconference led by Jon Phillips. It’s an excellent opportunity to understand, explore, and apply this medium. In typical unconference fashion what we do is up to you. And in typical unconference fashion, what we’ll do is what we need to move forward.

In that spirit I’m putting out the call to all you folks interested in making change using the medium of change. has opened their arms and their community. Let’s show up and return the spirit. How can we advance our understanding, contribute to, and apply this medium for change?

Contribute your thoughts in the comments or on the wiki. In or near Montreal then come on out for the 18th. Just email, message him on Identica, or put yourself on the wiki.

Let’s help make the medium of change.

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#cmToronto Recap


#cmToronto opened on a gray Saturday morning with an introduction to ChangeMedium and the day by Michael Lewkowitz. James Walker followed up with an overview of what to expect during the hack session.  The orientation reminded participants that the opportunity is to take us out of our bubble and think about the reach, application, and implications of this medium for society.

Our first research presenter was Hima Batavia, Research Assistant at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health and Earth Institute at Columbia University.  Her talk “Mobile Health: the Great Equalizer” focused on mobile health and showcased 7 examples including:

Several questions came up after the presentation provoking both developers and researchers alike.

Up next, Kayleigh Platz, Technical Solutions Provider at the University of Waterloo shared her challenges of engaging in anthropological research in the area of culture and technology.  Her presentation “Culture and Technology” highlighted the groundbreaking nature of this medium and she concluded with the question of how can the research community support developers provoking discussion on the convergence of research and development – a central theme to the future of ChangeMedium.

The WorldCafe proved the biggest surprise of the day. Participants, many of whom did not know each other previously moved through 3 questions, forming different groups for each question. The questions posed were:

  1. Within the context of the goals of today, what are some of the trends you see developing in the mico-messaging/social change spaces? As a group decide on what you think is the most significant trend.
  2. With your new group share what your group felt was the most important/significant trend. As a group, discuss your thoughts on what these trends  mean for the future, where are we headed, what becomes possible?
  3. With the future possibilities in mind, discuss what technology roadblocks exist today that need to be remedied/overcome to achieve this future vision.

The experience was described as “eerie”, “amazing”, and “unexpected” due to the high degree of similarity among participants’ answers and observations in each of the questions. A real sense of community began to form through this process which could have easily been extended from the 5 minutes per question allocated.

The hacklab began shortly after noon and was introduced by James Walker as an opportunity to work on infrastructure, applications, or even have extended conversations. The group identified four topics:

  1., Open Micro Blogging
  2. Relevant Inbox
  3. Hashtag Directories
  4. Local Political Engagement

Development commenced on the “ Micro Blogging” and “Local Political Engagement” topics while a lively conversation emerged around the role ChangeMedium can play in supporting the research community.


In reflection a number of observations have surfaced from both direct feedback and convenor conversations:

  • Future events will benefit from clear descriptions and definitions around ChangeMedium and the purpose of the event.
  • Converging research and development in the medium for change is a unique, engaging, and valuable approach.
  • Research presentations featuring examples involving social impact and underserved communities engage developers to step outside their box.
  • The worldcafe format is very effective in bringing the participants together and should be expanded.
  • During the hack session, conversation can be as valuable as development. Creating an open space format allows for the participants to make the most of the time available.
  • Specifically for hacking, it would be helpful to have an ongoing development track such as contributing to the OpenMicroBlogging infrastructure.
  • Hacking of specific applications could also be aided by pairing participants at the start of the session with the specific objective of creating an application by the end of the day.  These pairings could be done between researchers and developers and could be focused on a specific topic or left to each pair to decide.
  • There is an unmet opportunity to help researchers engage directly with developers. This engagement is conventionally limited by the research incentive structure pointing to the need to offer new incentives to researchers for engaging earlier and iteratively in their research processes

In summary, cmToronto demonstrated the unique value of convening researchers and developers in the medium of change to achieve practical outcomes. Despite the initial ambiguity and Saturday timing, we had 40 registrants with 26 participants coming from as far as Halifax. Active progress was made on the OpenMicroBlogging infrastructure, an application for local political engagement, and the future direction of ChangeMedium itself. A clear call was heard for a series of local events, an online blog-based community, and an ongoing thread of practical development activity culminating in an annual event for the local communities to convene.

This recap of course would not be complete without a big thanks to the participants and those who made it possible. #cmToronto was hosted by SiG@MaRS and convened by Ryan Coleman, Renjie Butalid, Lisa Torjman, and James Walker. ChangeMedium is also thankful for the deep support of SiG@Waterloo and the super-judo skills of Peter Flaschner, Dan Williams, and Joseph Dee.

To get involved please visit:


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It’s Go Time >> ChangeMedium Toronto

It’s go time.

ChangeMedium Toronto is slated for October 24th at MaRS. What is it? Read more to find out. Want a hand in it? Leave a comment below.

ChangeMedium is an initiative to provoke public micro-messaging as a medium for change. Public micro-messaging (e.g. Twitter) is emerging as the most accessible, participatory public medium in history. Bringing the open and emergent properties of the web to the global reach of text messaging is already showing great potential for public benefit. But we’ve only begun to understand what’s happening let alone build an infrastructure to make the most of this medium. Enter ChangeMedium Toronto.

ChangeMedium Toronto is an event to explore the frontiers, gather community, and make the medium. It will be a simple format with 2 tracks – one for researchers and one for hackers. We want to explore the frontiers. What is this medium about? We want to push ourselves further. What are the implications for change? We want to contribute to making it better. Let’s make it happen.

The pace of change is stunning. Researchers, hackers and makers are already involved in understanding and applying this medium. Whether for fun, profit, or benefit we’re creating this as we go. ChangeMedium Toronto is our inaugural effort to convene this community and introduce and provoke the potential for change.

ChangeMedium emerged out of the work of a group of people passionate about the world play with Twitter as a platform for change. The Toronto event itself was provoked by Frances Westley and Renjie Bitauld of SiG@Waterloo, Lisa Torjman and Allyson Hewitt of SiG@MaRS, Ryan Coleman, Peter Flaschner, and James Walker.

Of course we’re just beginning and what ends up will be a product of the community. Have an idea? Want to play a role? Want to know more? Leave a comment and get the ball rolling.

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Framing our future: SoCap09

socap09_150px_wI’m looking forward to this year’s Social Capital Markets conference. Last year I came way with a sense of a movement – a long term movement that was working with the balance of social and financial objectives in service of a better world for all. I’m sure this year will do much of the same – bringing the best of the movement together to share their progress and inspire those who are looking to explore ‘the intersection of money and meaning’. If you are interested in this space, it’s the place to be.

This year though, I’m going with a more ambitious agenda. Jessica Margolin hit on something in her SoCap09 post – encapsulated in these 2 quotes:

“For me, the debate question was upside-down. It should be: How can we maximize financial returns given our drive to maximize social returns.”

“The question isn’t how to fit what we love into the structure of our money-making, the question is how to be productive given our need to engage with our lives.”

Since the last conference we’ve seen the depths of shifts underway in the financial system come along with continuing instability in our political and ecological systems. If we weren’t clear last year the core systems of our society are in transition. And since last year’s conference, we’ve seen the birth of the most accessible, participatory medium in history and the start of what Om Malik calls an interaction society. While it’s great to see people working on shifting our existing institutions and systems, we’re coming to this conference with a capacity for reinvention unlike any time in history.

The opportunity to me in this gathering is to create a space for a new conversation… a sub-track for folks interested in hacking new systems that support a civilization founded on the answer to more human questions than how do we maximize production.

This week’s #SoCap09 twitter chat should help kick that off. We’ll be looking into the question of how is social media changing change? I’m curious to see what threads emerge and what we can take into the conversation at the conference.

The game is changing more than we realize and in ways we don’t yet understand… so let’s ask some questions… let’s hack some solutions… let’s get to it.

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“The Convo” on the shift

photo by: Ryan Coleman

A few weeks ago a few loosely connected people gathered for a conversation – the #convo (tweetstream). Most I hadn’t met before – except through twitter – but the conversation is still with me seems to have woven into some really great places in Toronto’s twittersphere like #thmvmnt #changecamp #tsTO etc.

Here’s a quick recap of what my memory and chicken-scratch allow and I’m hoping some more fulsome records emerge in addition to the great tweetstream and photos.

The group was drawn to the idea that there is a big shift underway and a feeling that we’re dancing around some simple threads that run through the core of this for all of us. What came out were 4 areas:

  • Approach -> organic order
  • Character -> enlightenment
  • Context -> global locality
  • Intent -> care to shift – shift to care

The character topic was one that I spent some time on in the convo. We named the cluster ‘character’ because we thought it was trying to describe a way of being — for individuals and for organizations. When asked to describe the concrete action/ultimate realization of that topic what came out was ‘non-denominational enlightenment or self-actualization’ and so whatever things help people and organizations on their own journeys toward ‘enlightenment’ are practical and helpful in developing character. And in the context of an increasingly fluid and transparent world character is ever more clearly a core determinant of outcome.

While I’m at it, there were some other aha’s for me in working up to the convo – the practical disciplines that are/will be most helpful through the shift. Through a series of contributions and conversations those ended up for me as the creative (emphasis on the create part) disciplines of:

There are a few other follow-ups on the wiki. Feel free to jump in. These are exciting times where the creative discplines will rule and participation by doing makes the world we want.

PS… huge thanks again to Joseph Dee for suggesting we do it, Ryan Coleman for bringing his vizthink skills and facilitating, and MaRS for hosting.