The year ahead…

11 01 2017

shake the tree The Philanthropist has once again published predictions for the new year in the not-for-profit world, and a glance back at what 2016 brought to the sector.

What do you think were the most significant milestones for the sector in 2016? What do you anticipate for 2017? 

For the full article click here.

Change is in the air.

18 11 2016

cropped-fallingwater-2010-018.jpgAs colourful autumn leaves and temperatures drop, there is change on the horizon. After more than 5 years in the post, Karen Smith will be retiring from her role as Executive Director at Thrive Child and Youth Trauma Services at the end of this month.

“I am tremendously proud of the work our team has done over these past 5 years. Focusing on a clear vision, we expanded programs to serve more young people and their families. Highlights of our accomplishments included agency re-branding,  a physical relocation to better and more accessible space, and the growth of our supports for refugee and immigrant youngsters who have been affected by trauma.

So many people helped to make this a very rewarding period in my career, and I hope to stay in touch with many of them. Hamilton has been very supportive of this organization, and I know that will continue. It’s such important work.”

Karen will now turn her attention to other projects and interests, and will return to active consulting work.

Wrapping Up 2015

29 12 2015

Despite little activity on this page in 2015, it’s been a busy year. Too busy, it turned out, to devote much time to blogging. But if there had been enough hours in each day, there would have been posts sharing the ups and downs, excitements, challenges, and experiences that made up the last 12 months…

  • the renaissance of Hamilton, my hometown and a city finally sloughing off its industrial overalls in favour of hipper, more confident stylings
  • the launch of a new, aspirational name and branding for the former Community Child Abuse Council – now THRIVE Child and Youth Trauma Services
  • political change, and the promise of federal policy that seeks to return Canada to its peaceful role on the world stage, value women and children, honour Native peoples, and combat social problems with evidence-based initiatives
  • the journeys of refugee families, including those from Syria, who now call Hamilton home
  • a host of small triumphs, minor missteps, celebrations, losses, and all the poignant moments that fill a year and leave lasting impressions

As the year closes, here’s wishing everyone the very best for 2016 – may it be a year of more peace, greater fulfilment, and bigger steps towards the world we want to see for everyone sharing this planet. Remember that unless something is physically impossible, it is indeed possible. That means many if not all of our dreams and hopes are totally within the realm of possibility. So, follow those dreams and take those steps. Each one gets us each a little closer to our vision of the future.

Happy New Year.

PanAm/Para PanAm Games in Hamilton, Ontario

8 07 2015


Wishing all the athletes competing in Football (soccer) a warm Hamilton welcome, and hoping these Games bring a positive experience of sport, fellowship and community spirit to all who attend and participate. Thank you to the many volunteers who will help make the Games a success. Looking forward to taking in some of the action at the new stadium!

Domestic Terrorism in Canada: it’s not what you might think

23 05 2015

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines terrorism as “the use of terror especially as a means of coercion”. The FBI defines “domestic terrorism” as activities with three characteristics:

  • acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • acts that appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • acts which occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. (therefore “domestic” rather than international)

The legal definition of terrorism in the European Union can be found in the EU Framework Decision on Combating Terrorism (2002) which identifies terrorism as activities with the aim of “seriously intimidating a population, or; unduly compelling a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act, or; seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation.”

pillarsIn Canada, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code includes in its definition of terrorism “compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.” Activities recognized as criminal within this context include death and bodily harm with the use of violence; endangering a person’s life; risks posed to the health and safety of the public; significant property damage; and interference or disruption of essential services, facilities or systems (Canadian Dept. of Justice).

With these definitions in mind, it seems clear that the sexual crimes committed against children and women in Canada that are generally labelled “sexual abuse” or “sexual assault” fit squarely within the domain of domestic terrorism. Consider again the above definitions…

–          the use of terror especially as a means of coercion

–          acts dangerous to human life that violate the law

–          acts that appear intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population

–          compelling a person to do, or to refrain from doing, any act

Canada, in particular, specifically recognizes (among the criminal acts defined as terrorism): death and bodily harm with the use of violence; endangering a person’s life; and risks posed to the health and safety of the public. According to the National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, there are six distinct types of terrorism. All of them share the common traits of being violent acts that destroy property, invoke fear and attempt to harm the lives of civilians.

The Canadian Dept. of Justice cites several sources on its web site, with these key terms used to describe or define domestic terrorism: violence, threat(s), influence/coercion, fear. According to Hill (2004, 83) victimization through terrorism may be experienced at direct, secondary, and community levels, all of which may vary in terms of the extent and kind of victimization. Staiger et al. (2008) note that although the term “victim” may be used to refer to all individuals that experience some form of direct injury, emotional harm and/or suffering as a result of an act of terrorism, vicarious or indirect victims are individuals that were not direct targets of terrorists, but nonetheless experienced fear, anxiety and other related stressors following a terrorist attack (i.e. the general public).  This notion of direct and indirect victimization is significant because it highlights the importance of considering the needs of the general public alongside the needs of victims and their families.

Although there are many issues associated with victimization following terrorist events, trauma has been identified as among the most critical issues victims may face (Miller 2003; Updegraff et al. 2008). Issues particular to victims of terrorism under the broad spectrum of trauma include post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, and survivors’ guilt (Hill 2004).

Consider that roughly half the population in Canada (or the world, for that matter) is female[1]. This surely constitutes a “population” in the definition applied to terrorism. One of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world is violence against women and girls. The United Nations Population Fund says that, “worldwide one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime”.

Now recall the December 1989 massacre of women on the campus of the École Polytechnique in Montreal – more than sufficient violence, fear, threats to reflect the definition of terrorism as set out by Canada, the U.S., and the European Union. Or consider the number of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada. In the National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals’ published view, a violent act specifically targeted at women, invoking fear and attempting to harm the lives of civilians, constitutes terrorism.

Now consider that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys in Canada will be sexually victimized before the age of eighteen. Again, this is a specific population (and one of considerable size). Think about the coercion, intimidation, threats, fear, and danger inherent in the sexual assault of a child, and consider again the definition Canada assigns to terrorism, and how it refers to “compelling a person to do, or refrain from doing, any act”. Can there be any valid argument against these crimes meeting the definition of terrorism?

Yes, I’m clearly being provocative. But I’m not at all without conviction about the nature or the impact of these crimes being well within the generally accepted definition of domestic terrorism. And I’m also not alone in drawing these comparisons. France is implementing an internet-blocking initiative as part of an overall anti-terrorism law, and it includes blocking sites hosting child pornography content as well as those advocating acts of terrorism. In Everyday Terrorism: how fear works in domestic abuse, Rachel Pain asserts that “domestic abuse can be considered a form of everyday terrorism. It creates long-lasting fear and trauma, which reinforce the abuser’s control over the abused person. It affects vastly greater numbers of people than global terrorism, and it has impacts on many aspects of society as well as on the individual”.

Recent terrorist attacks on the west are increasingly global in scale, spectacular in nature, and designed to maximise fear (Flint and Radil, 2009). Indeed, having these wider effects on public and state fears is seen as the main intention in the current ‘fourth wave’ of terrorism (Rapoport, 2004). Interestingly, however, evidence from research on recent instances of global terrorism suggests that while incidents cause great trauma for those caught up in them, they are relatively ineffective at creating wider fear (Pain 2010; Rapin 2009). Domestic abuse, on the other hand, directly terrorises people who are abused and their children; it is a way in which abusers exert psychological and emotional control, and it often leads to changes to behaviour among those who are abused. Most of all, domestic abuse, like global terrorism, can be seen as part of a desire to gain or enforce particular forms of political control. Its effects reinforce the social and political structures that produce it.

Sexual_ViolenceLisa Cardyn has written about sexual terrorism: “from the European “conquest” of Native America to the staggering rates of child molestation in the present day, examples of homegrown sexual terrorism are abundant”. She recalls, in particular, the wielding of sex “as an instrument of terror designed to traumatize a despised population into submission” in the U.S. Reconstruction South. Amnesty International recently said “sexual violence is used to destabilise communities and sow terror”, in its Lives Blown Apart report. And in 1995, Michael Johnson published an article about two distinct forms of couple violence taking place within families in the United States and other Western countries – one of these he called patriarchal terrorism. Using research as well as data gathered from women’s shelters, he described some families suffering from occasional outbursts of violence from either husbands or wives (he called this common couple violence), while other families are terrorized by systematic male violence (he called this patriarchal terrorism).

This past week the Canadian government announced additional “anti-terrorism” funds to the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency. According to the National Post, “the RCMP will receive $150.4 million in new money over five years, beginning in 2015-16, and $46.8 million a year after, with the money going to terrorism-related criminal investigations. The border-services agency will get $5.4 million over five years and $1.1 million annually in subsequent years, with some of the funds earmarked for identifying high-risk travelers”. Ironically, the Prime Minister made this announcement in Montreal, citing the threat posed by ISIS, and of Canadian youth arrested as suspected jihadists trying to join the terrorist movement.

This is a substantial amount of money, and it will hopefully be beneficial in supporting the mandates of the recipient organizations. It will not, however, address what is arguably the biggest and most pressing terrorism threat in Canada.

[May is sexual violence prevention month]
[1] Includes those identifying as female gendered, of all ages, whether trans-gendered, non-binary, or otherwise outside the traditional constructs of the term.

Love, community, and investing without money

4 05 2015

Many years ago I was fascinated by an idea that described the different “currencies” people use (or invest) in their pursuit of personal relationships, love, and human connection. I don’t recall when or where I first encountered this concept, but I now understand it to be based at least in part on the work of Dr. Roderic Gorney, who posited that love, passion or sentiment, rather than being emotional in nature, were instead actions. His 1973 book, The Human Agenda, spoke of “the new abundance” and theorized about man’s “conscious control over his values and his future evolution”. No wonder the concept resonated with me! Gorney was a protégé of renowned anthropologist Dr. Ashley Montagu, who studied human love and its currency. He too saw love as an action, and wrote that it supports both the survival and the wellness of a beloved.

What I actually remember about my first exposure to the concept was that we each express our love and affection in different ways, and that it’s possible to observe someone and identify the currency they invest when they are expressing their love for another. My father, for example, spends time and gives of his workmanship with those he loves most – he may verbally express his love infrequently, but he’ll build a beautiful bookcase or come over and repair my plumbing as an expression of his love for me. Quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch were The Five Love Languages identified by Dr. Gary Chapman in 1992. Some individuals freely talk about their love (poems, words of affirmation), physically demonstrate their affection (a hug, a kiss), invest their attention (homework help, listening intently) or creative endeavours (handmade gifts, home-cooked meals). Still others will spend money on gifts or give of themselves through service (volunteering, teaching). Wilkinson and Grill (1996) identified sixteen relational currencies. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that my currency is most often quality time, followed by gifts (often small tokens, just because).

Just recently, I was listening to Ideas (with host Paul Kennedy) on CBC Radio and heard Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (2014) talking about similar concepts – but with an unmistakably economic bent. Joined by a panel of respected guests, the conversation focused on things like the sustainability of a “sharing economy” and whether (if it lasts) it benefits business, society, or the state. Different in many ways from the concept of relational currency, it nonetheless sparked for me a reminder that we all invest in society and in community in our own ways, whether or not it’s money we spend. Yet, we seldom hear about currencies other than monetary ones when discussions turn to economic models or sustainability within communities.

Wendy Strgar (“Fairness is Love’s Currency”, HuffPost, 2013) points out that “most of the world’s most urgent crises can be traced back to unfairness both in the distribution of natural resources and the capital that serves as the accepted currency to make things happen”. And yet, she points out, “for all the buzz words on growing the good economy, like social return and triple bottom line — the investment community remains largely locked into fear-based models of investing, which requires financial returns and limited risk. The truth is that even among the wealthiest money is not experienced as a currency of freedom and love, but rather fear — of loss, of failure, of self”. This, for me, is akin to the work that Hildy Gottlieb and the team at Creating the Future have been doing over the past decade or so – concepts like “collective enoughness”, stone soup approaches, and “Pollyanna Principles” (the name of Hildy Gottlieb’s 2009 book). This notion of a limited “accepted currency” leaves out so much of what individuals (and collections of individuals) invest in their communities and society on a daily basis.

Frequently cited examples from the Internet-enabled sharing economy (aka the peer economy, P2P, or collaborative consumption) include Airbnb, RelayRides, and SnapGoods. The CBC Radio panel mentioned Uber – controversial for its oppositional impact on the taxi industry – and, interestingly, they talked about car owners in Europe who are taking their own independent approach to the ride matching model (thus eliminating the need for a central Uber structure at all). Still, even this progressive panel seemed dismissive about the economic influence of a model without money. Yes, it’s there, they seemed to be saying, but it’s not really worth much.

The sharing economy has been described as disruptive, and holds appeal for many who see it as a softer, gentler alternative to commercialism. So-called millennials are said to be distrustful of big brands and consumerism, drawn instead towards alternative models. Still others see potential for the collaborative consumption concept to transform economic ideals, pointing out that Ebay began Paperclipas a peer-to-peer model and has proved what scale and empowered ordinary people can do. I remember the young man who listed a paper clip for sale, and eventually traded his way into a house. It was suggested of his remarkable story that folks can and will find value in anything if the conditions and circumstances are right. Would you trade a golf club for a skipping rope if the incentive was right? Might the incentive be stronger or more powerful if it’s a human need rather than a simple transaction? A needed wheelchair for a child, for example, might prompt more generosity in an exchange than would otherwise be expected.

Harvard Business Review has suggested the sharing economy “is not about sharing at all”, that it remains a commercial exchange despite using cyber distribution in place of storefronts. “Most successful services associated with the sharing economy are essentially all about convenience, cost efficiency and ease of access rather than sharing and social interactions”, according to Christoffer O. Hernaes (writing for TechCrunch). He also suggests that these services often replace rather than encourage social interaction and are not premised on altruistic objectives. His notion conjures up images of lonely shoppers, short on time, perched in front of their screens looking for bargains. But isn’t the peer economy about sharing and trading, recycling within the marketplace, and a more conscious consumerism? Doesn’t it empower those whose currency might otherwise be insufficient – like an urban farmer bartering eggs for art lessons? Maybe the feel-good factor I thought was inherent in the sharing economy isn’t as significant as I imagined. It certainly doesn’t echo the notion of relational currencies that sees us each having different currencies and spending or investing those as a reflection of ourselves.

Wendy Strgar said “fairness is a measure of the heart. It comes when we trust that there is enough for everyone and when we really get that there is no other — no over there, but rather that we are all in this together”. She hopes for a day when we “measure our returns based on the vibrancy of the communities we create”. Hildy Gottlieb has been blogging about “inviting social change funders and investors to recreate how social change is resourced, to align the values of their means with their intended ends”. The converging ideas here are about shifting focus away from the transaction and instead considering what we have to contribute, and to what end. For me, it can be anything from swapping books with friends instead of buying them, or rescuing a pup from the local animal shelter. Anyone can barter, volunteer, or invest of themselves in countless other ways that are not necessarily monetary.

I’ll be continuing to follow these different concepts in an effort to better understand how communities and the individuals within those communities can benefit. For others interested in this topic, on June 5th Carolyn Sechler and Ellis Carter will join Hildy to talk about Benefit Corporations, or B Corps, a fascinating model of purpose-driven business – you can catch the Making Change Broadcast at and participate via Twitter using #CTFuture.

What if we were all connected?

25 04 2015

I have recently learned about, described as “a Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, nonprofits and local communities to connect the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have internet access”. The projects it supports are aimed at removing barriers for the 2 out of every 3 people who can’t get online. It’s got powerful potential, and it’s a collective effort that spans the globe.internet

It’s the people, however, that really make so compelling. The first I read about were Erika and Esmeralda, two young girls in Bolivia who share a friendship and a love for inventing. Using scraps and ingenuity, they are inspiring and pushing each other towards a better future. Without the internet. Wow.

Check out their story here: