Toronto Hackathon
Community, Environment, Featured, Social Change

Building a Resilient Philippines

While the typhoon in the Philippines has dominated international headlines these past two weeks, we also have to remember that the Philippines was also hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in the province of Bohol just weeks earlier.

In both cases, my family and friends were affected as most of my family members are from the provinces of Bohol and Cebu. My Lola’s house was damaged in northern Cebu because of the typhoon but thankfully, she’s safe and sound.

Climate change, you’ve now made this personal.

A big part of me has been restless these past few weeks. It’s been truly heartbreaking to see pictures and reports emerge out of the Philippines showcasing the extent of destruction and loss of human lives. But it’s also restored my faith in humanity as to how quickly people and communities, both in the Philippines and around the world, have opened up their hearts with love and generosity to help those in need.

In response, I helped to organize a hackathon in New York City two weekends ago with an amazing group of people at NextDayBetter. Im now helping to organize a hackathon in Toronto this week building on that momentum from NYC as well as support from people in Manila, Cebu, Paris and other cities around the world.


Register here to attend

It’s been incredible to see the outpour of international and local support for the Philippines at a time when the country needs as much help as it can. But we also have to remember that while relief and rescue operations are extremely important right now, it’s going to take months, if not years to rebuild lives, houses and communities.

A big part of the reason we went the hackathon route was because we saw a need for innovation when it comes to immediate disaster relief efforts. More importantly, we saw a need for innovation in the rebuilding process in the Philippines months from now at a point in time when the world’s attention will no longer be focused on the country.

When all is said and done, this is now personal.

Typhoon Haiyan has made it clear that we cannot simply rebuild what existed before. How then, might we help rebuild a more resilient Philippines?

Im in this for the long haul. Join me.

In the news: 

Featured, Leadership, Social Change, Social Entrepreneurship

Lessons from Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) blog, Sharing Local Knowledge Globally. Published November 14, 2013.

Mayor Park Won-soon addressing delegates of the SIX Summer School 2013. Location: Mayor’s Office, Seoul City Hall, Seoul, South Korea, September 2013

Mayor Park Won-soon addressing delegates of the SIX Summer School 2013.
Location: Mayor’s Office, Seoul City Hall, Seoul, South Korea, September 2013

Overpopulation and urbanization have led to an increase in social issues such as housing, transportation, parking shortages, pollution, and resources overuse to name a few. And although many cities and municipalities across the board face similar issues, the complexities of these social issues are further amplified in the largest cities in the world given their population density. With a population of 10 million people living within a 234 square mile radius, Seoul, the largest city in South Korea, is included in this list.

I visited Seoul for the first time in September when I attended the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX) Summer School 2013, convened and hosted by Mayor Park Won-soon and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, in partnership with The Hope Institute. The theme of the conference was on reshaping our cities and making them thrive. A highly relevant topic given that more people are living in cities than ever before, where the cities we live in are growing rapidly.

The mayors of the world’s 25 largest cities are each responsible for more people than national prime ministers and presidents. The sustainability and resilience of our cities are therefore increasingly at the centre of the agenda for governments, policy makers, NGOs and corporations responsible for urban development.

At the helm of Seoul’s transformation towards becoming the next great sharing city as a response to the complex social challenges the city faces, is Mayor Park Won-soon, elected to the mayor’s office in October 2011 under the campaign slogan, “Citizens are the Mayor.”

Mayor Park Won-soon has a demonstrated track record of social activism and innovative problem-solving, having built a career as a political activist, community organizer, human rights lawyer, professor, and social entrepreneur.

In the Summer 2013 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Mayor Park Won-soon outlined his multi-sector collaborative approach to problem-solving: embracing the sharing economy. This model to combat pressing social issues facing the city fosters cross-sector innovations between government, the market, and civil society organizations based on true cooperation and collaboration, while also fostering social enterprises that use innovative approaches to tackling social problems.

An example of this cross-sector collaborative approach is the formation of the Seoul Social Innovation Park, located in the north part of the city and housed on a campus that was formerly the Korea National Institute of Health. The Seoul Social Innovation Park is home to a cluster of organizations and shared spaces for the development of social enterprises, and includes the Seoul Social Economy Centre, Seoul Community Support Centre, Seoul Creative Lab and The Youth Hub.

Mayor Park Won-soon has created a culture of listening and soliciting input from citizens, involving them in the decision-making process in a meaningful way. Mayor Park Won-soon has taken this culture to heart with his placement of an illustration of a large ear greeting those who enter the newly built Seoul City Hall.

Mayor Park Won-soon standing in front of a wall of post-it notes received from citizens from a town hall meeting. Each post-it note contains one recommendation on how to improve the city. Location: Mayor’s Office, Seoul City Hall, Seoul, South Korea, September 2013)

Mayor Park Won-soon standing in front of a wall of post-it notes received from citizens from a town hall meeting. Each post-it note contains one recommendation on how to improve the city.
Location: Mayor’s Office, Seoul City Hall, Seoul, South Korea, September 2013)

Some examples that exemplify this listening culture, include:

  • the Simincheong, a “speakers corner” located in Seoul City Hall where anyone who wants to send a video message to the city administration can do so — the video can be up to 10 minutes long and is broadcasted on the Seoul City website;
  • the Seoul City 2.0 campaign for the spread of transparent information and communication to Seoul citizens on city government operations;
  • the Seoul Plan Citizen Participators, an organization that involves citizens in Seoul’s urban planning initiative “Seoul 2030.”;
  • and the Residents’ Participatory Budgeting System, a citizen-participatory budget plan that allows citizens to secure 50 billion won (roughly $47 million) in 2013 for projects of their choosing;

The establishment of the Seoul Innovation Planning Division is another key component in Mayor Park Won-soon’s approach towards increasing citizen participation in city building. The Division is responsible for collecting examples of innovation from around the world and researching how they may be applied in Seoul, while also gathering ideas from Seoul citizens and then working to spread and apply those ideas across the city.

When one of the world’s largest cities with a population of 10 million is led by a visionary who creates the space and provides opportunities to engage citizens directly — while creating agency within government divisions to cut through bureaucracy and get things done — cross-sector innovations may just occur that betters the lives of Seoul citizens while also maximizing the city’s resources and budget.

In a few short years, Seoul City and its culture of open dialogue with citizens, and meaningful cooperation and collaboration across sectors, could become one of the greatest, if not the greatest sharing city in the world.

Mayor Park Won-soon discussing the growth of rooftop urban farms across the city of Seoul. Location:  Mayor’s Office, Seoul City Hall, Seoul, South Korea, September 2013)

Mayor Park Won-soon discussing the growth of rooftop urban farms across the city of Seoul.
Location: Mayor’s Office, Seoul City Hall, Seoul, South Korea, September 2013) 

Seoul by the Perfect Cup of Coffee
Featured, Health & Education, Social Change

Life is a Beautiful Struggle

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, where words have the power to start revolutions and win wars.

What are stories if not a series of words strung together to make sense of the world around us?

In a world where we are all a product of the stories we share, stories hold immense power.

This is the story of my personal struggle with depression with battle scars and collateral damage abound. It is a deeply personal story that I feel compelled to share, for I no longer feel it necessary nor ashamed to carry this burden alone.

I have wanted to write this piece for the past couple of months now but could never find the words. The timing and context never felt right to do so until now.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship by Jessica Bruder published in Inc. Magazine. This reminded me of another blog post I came across a few months ago, If you ever feel alone in this by Darius Monsef, who recounted his experience as an entrepreneur dealing with suicidal thoughts and overcoming them.

Now that Im in a surprisingly good place, both mentally and physically, I feel compelled to add to the growing chorus of voices standing up and speaking out for mental health.

For most ambitious and highly-driven twenty-something entrepreneurs, the default option is to always put on a mask in the high-pressure game of building successful companies, where almost 9 out of every 10 new ventures fail. With the odds stacked against you from the get go, you’re forced to put on a brave face forward in front of your team, advisors, potential investors and customers every single time. This is incredibly hard especially when you’re the founder.

Anything less would be taken as a sign of weakness and you’d be eaten alive in the race to the top.

In this age of picture-perfect Instagram photos and endless Facebook status updates driven by ego analytics, putting on a brave face gets exponentially harder when it seems all your friends are happy and living their lives to the fullest. And here you are, stuck in a rut with no way out.

And so, you put a mask on and you pretend.

But it doesn’t always have to be this way.

Too many young people are losing their lives to mental health-related issues, including depression and addiction, and are going through these experiences thinking they are all alone.

I’ve finally worked up the courage to share my story. And trust me when I say you are not alone.

I live with depression. It is and will always be a part of who I am, but it does not define me. 

Im able to keep my depression in check for the most part, forgetting that it exists for months to years on end. But then there are episodes like the one I went through these past several months that almost knocked the wind out of me.

Im in a good place now, both mentally and physically, and so it’s much easier to write about this.

Im currently in Seoul for work before heading to New York City next week, back in my element of traveling the world and working in the space of social innovation and systemic change alongside brilliant minds who want to create a better future, sooner.

But the journey to get here these past few months was fucking hard.

Fucking. Hard. 

There was a point in time earlier this year when I didn’t think I would make it out alive. Heck, there were so many days throughout the months of January to July this year where I would struggle to even get out of bed. I would simply lay there for hours on end thinking I didn’t have it in me to make it through the day.

My sense of self-worth was at an all time low. I no longer had a startup, no direction, no money and found myself increasingly in debt. I could have been homeless at one point back in early May had it not been for friends and family who took me in for weeks at a time, allowing me to crash on their couch for as long as I needed in order to sort my life together.

I grew increasingly distant from friends and withdrawn from the world, leaving many people frustrated and relationships strained wondering what the hell happened.

Trust me when I say it wasn’t you, it was me.

Even the smallest of tasks including responding to emails, phone calls and text messages were unmanageable. It was so fucking hard to put on a brave face all the time, it got to the point where I closed up and just stopped responding altogether.

When I was close to rock bottom, a good friend reached out and offered me some advice. He told me that life was all about celebrating the small wins and then building momentum from there. Advice I already knew but needed to hear at that point in time.

Since then, I’ve been celebrating all of the wins, no matter how big or small, along the way that have brought me to where I am today. You’ve got to roll with the punches as well.

An important part of coming to terms with living with depression is to acknowledge it, rather than run away or be ashamed of it. And to not be afraid to ask for help from family, friends and trained professionals when the time comes.

It’s taken all of the courage that I can muster to lay all my cards on the table, to take off my mask and let you know that you are not alone.

If any of my personal experience resonates with you, know this, it does get better.  I’m doing my part to stand up for mental health, to end the stigma around depression and suicide, and to pay it forward the best way I know how, by giving meaning to words and sharing my own personal story.

But I am only one voice out of many.

This is my story. What’s yours?

Feel free to reach out in the comments section below or email be directly.


Photo credit Flickr: Seoul night photo from Seoul Tower by The Perfect Cup of Coffee

creating the future

Creating the Future

I attended a workshop at MaRS in Toronto last month hosted by SiG@MaRS and the Centre for Social Innovation.

The workshop was facilitated by Hildy Gottlieb as part of her tour through Southwestern Ontario with stops in Toronto, London, Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo.

I first came across Hildy’s work on Creating the Future and the Pollyanna Principles (within the context of Reinventing Nonprofits) when we first connected on Twitter years ago around the #socent hashtag.

Fast forward years later and it was so great to see Hildy in Toronto at MaRS – a space that allows for the convergence and collisions of people and organizations from different sectors across Canada, to create the conditions for a better future for the country and the rest of the world.

In many ways, this is an indication of how far social enterprise and social innovation thinking has come in the past few years, when this approach to creating a better future is no longer on the fringe but entering mainstream consciousness.

Allyson Hewitt from MaRS has an excellent blog post summary on the workshop, Creating the future: a new method for enabling change, and Hildy and her team have a great overview of their Ontario tour here: Creating the future in Southern Ontario.

Start with the end in mind

My key takeaway from the workshop is the visual pictured above where you start with the end in mind.

What are the highest potential outcomes of the future that we envision for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren?

What is the highest potential outcome that you envision for ____ ?

From there, work your way back to the favourable conditions needed to enable that vision to happen. And then work out the favourable pre-conditions and the preceding actions to make the highest potential outcome a reality.

So simple of a model and a framework that we all use in our everyday lives — e.g. getting to the airport to catch a flight on time — and yet, when it comes to envisioning and creating the future, we often always take a shotgun and fragmented approach to making that happen.