Saturday, March 31, 2007

Pearson Part 2

I'm back from my trip to Vancouver Island and my visit with some of the students of Pearson College. If you really want a glimpse into what I experienced and saw at Pearson, you should take time to experience the following video.

This does some justice to how I feel about my short (too short) time at the college. On the plane home yesterday, I was reading the Times Colonist and came across the following from an Obituary:

There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept; truths we don't want to know about but have to learn; people we can't live without but have to let go... You may not think the world needed you, but it did. For you were unique: like no one that has ever been before or will come after. No one can speak with your voice; say your piece; smile your smile; or shine your light. No one can take your place for it was yours alone to fill. Because you are not here to shine your light, who knows how many travelers will lose their way as they try to pass by your empty place in the darkness... There are moments in life when you miss someone so much that you just want to pick them from your dreams and hug them for real.."

This Obituary was for David Allen Llyod McKenzie, born December 20, 1988, died March 30, 2004. When I read this Obituary on the plane, looking at the picture of a beautiful, smiling boy, and thinking about how unique each of the youth at Pearson are, I couldn't help but cry.

I am reminded of the scene in the movie "The Constant Gardener" where Justin Quayle (played by Ralph Fiennes) is in a village with some aid workers and then a militia attacks, razing the village and killing anyone they can. Chaos is everywhere and Justin and the aid workers race to a taxiing cargo plane to escape. A small child is running towards the plane and Justin is desperate to get the child. The aid workers and some part of his own self prevent him from grabbing the child and the scene ends with the child vainly running alongside the plane.

Pearson's 200 scholarships represent a ride on that plane for many of the recipients. Without a doubt, for all of the students, it represents a gift that carries the burden of "to whom much is given, much is to be expected."

My talk was much shorter than usual (about 45 minutes) and much more focused on the actual GiveMeaning site and how the students could use it. After the talk, I spent some more time with my host and a colleague of his and then walked towards the area where by taxi would come. As I waited, a class had just gotten out and streamed past me. It was an incredibly emotional moment for me because here was this amazing student body in all of its diversity walking together, laughing and chatting with one another.

The Obituary made me desperate to go back, to show them this boy who had been taken way too early, and to plead with them not to wait, and never to waste this gift. Never before have I been exposed to so much potential. What they do with it is their decision.

But you watch the video I have linked to in this post, and you realize that many of them have already started. That there, words are not merely words but a transference of experiences, cultures and attitudes. Never before have I been so jealous of my brother Hugh (a teacher at a school in Victoria).

I have a great respect and gratitude for my hosts and the staff and students at Pearson College. To make a donation in support of their operations, please click here

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Had I been here before...

I'm back on Vancouver Island near Victoria at Pearson College. This is the description from their website:

"Pearson College is a unique two year pre-university school for two hundred students selected from around the world based solely on their personal merit, potential and demonstrated commitment to engage actively in creating a better world."

Though I'm from Victoria, I had never heard of Pearson College and hadn't driven out this way for over a decade. I passed the McDonald's where I commiserated with a few fellow teammates over the bitter loss that made me end my soccer career, I passed Fort Rodd hill where I loved to visit with my childhood best friend, and then came to Witty's Lagoon a place where I remember a beautiful day of Bird Watching, identifying Sand Pipers and King Fishers, whilst walking through beautiful trails.

In short, this unintended turn onto memory lane made me quite emotional and I still had no idea where I was going. I arrived early at the college and my host Sean was in a meeting so I headed to the guest house that they graciously arranged for me to stay the night in. I haven't said how I got here. Almost every day I get a random call that turns into a magical experience. It is the ultimate definition of "viral." My host here at the college was sent an email asking him to donate to a member's fundraising page at GiveMeaning. He made his donation and then spend some time surfing around the rest of the site and then found my blog. From there, he invited me to speak both to the college and to some of the faculty and staff. I was in Toronto when I received the email on my blackberry and without knowing anything about the College, immediately accepted just based on the tone of his email.

If I had known about Pearson College, I would have likely had set my sights on trying to get in here as opposed to dropping-out. Though given my academic transcript and the antagonistic relationship I had with most every teacher I ever knew, there's little chance I would have ever been even considered for this place.

There are many things that bring me joy these days. But there is nothing more inspiring, more energizing, more fun, more rewarding for me than engaging with youth.

I'm very much looking forward to speaking with those that show-up at tomorrow's lunch-hour.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

GiveMeaning's new site is launched

At 6am this morning, we launched a brand-new version of the GiveMeaning website.

As most of you know, we here at GiveMeaning have been hard at work on a new version of the site since last September. We have codenamed this new site "SaveAnything" because one of the most significant new features of this site is that you can submit any news story that addresses something that needs "saving" to the site, tag the story based on what causes it's addressing and geotag the story (i.e. pinpoint the exact location of the story).

The original inspiration for GiveMeaning was from a news article that I read written by Christie Blatchford about a boy named Randall Dooney who was murdered by his father and step-mother. I was so shocked and horrified that this kind of abuse was known but not prevented in time that I wanted to DO SOMETHING about what I was reading. I went online but there was nothing I could easily find. While I spent hours looking (I wasn't working at the time), most people would spend a few minutes and if there was no gas to ignite that spark into action, it would just be a spark.

So now, there is a place where any news story in the world, no matter how local or global in context, not only can you raise awareness about that issue but by submitting a proposal, you can actually DO something about it, rate other proposals, see active projects that might match-up with the story and talk amongst a community of people that care about this news story. Later, we'll add other contextual relevance.

For the first time in many years, I've been able to apply my brain for new technology to my passion for philanthropy. When GiveMeaning first came onto the scene, it was an innovative use of existing technology for the philanthropic sector but it wasn't from a tech-execution perspective anything new. Here we have with this launch a number of new innovations that contribute to the general web world as well as the philanthrosphere.

A more thoughtful rating system
Most of the social bookmarking sites are strictly binary: You either agree or disagree on that story. On most social bookmarking sites, I find myself mindlessly clicking on stories based on a headline. Mindlessness will actually degrade a user's reputation on the site.

What we've done is created a real demand on the user to actually think about the story before rating it, knowing that it's not how many people have rated the story but how the community agrees with your rating of the story that influence your rating. In other words, we want people to submit a story that says "look, I feel that this a very important issue but the quality is rather week however it does detail the crisis in Darfur in a way that hasn't been covered before." You may rate the story's importance as a 5, its quality as a 2 and the informativeness as a 4.

Because we ask that when a new story is submitted, that the person submitting the story credit the actual writer of the story, the forth rating box is the "Source" rating which is scored by the credibility (based on past ratings) of BOTH the writer of the article and the person who submitted the story at GiveMeaning. Soon we will be able to show the actual ratings of individual writers and bloggers on an issue by issue basis (as determined by the GiveMeaning community).

Individual members of the community are not rewarded based on the number of stories they submit but rather based on their ability to be respected for their contributions and the accuracy of those contributions by the community at large.

This rating system is now applied across everything at the site. The reason I am excited about the rating system for new "proposals" and active projects is that it creates a feedback loop amongst the community to the "founder" of the proposal or project. Previously, if the community thought that the proposal addressed an important need but lacked detail and quality of the proposal, the proposal would likely just "die on the vine." Now, the feedback loop is there which will hopefully inspire project founders to think through how and what they present to the community in a new way.

The map feature is "just a mashup" of projects but is nevertheless very compelling visually. The ability to zoom-in on a tiny town in Malawi gives a whole new context to the project.

A new approach to tagging

We've developed a new collaborative tagging method for all media on the site that I really like. My big problem with leaving tagging something up to the person submitting the story is that this invites tag-spam and inaccuracies. I am guilty of bad tagging of my posts because I'm trying to tag based on what I think will get the most search-engine hits not what is actually most accurate for the story.

So what we've done is that as a logged-in user of the site, you have the ability to vote for the top 5 most accurate tags for that item. You can also "flag" tags that are either inappropriate or poorly submitted. As more people take time to tag the content on the site, the "related projects and proposals" will get a lot more accurate too.

Speaking of tags

The new search system on the site uses a combination of "Location" and "Cause" to help find things that interest you. So for example, by typing in Toronto, I see all the places near Toronto in the location cloud and in the "Cause" cloud, I see all the tags that have been submitted on content located in Toronto. Or, I can type in a tag like "womensrights" and see all the locations in the world where content has been tagged with that description.

We have a bunch of improvements and a new Q&A and About Us section that will launch in the next couple of days. Minor and major improvements will be made in the coming weeks. But I'm thrilled with this new release. We move away from being a site focused purely on "give money to this cause" and more of a place where you can come to find out about what's going on in your own backyard or about a community or cause that matters a lot to you.

Start submitting stories and let me know what you think!

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

World Water Day Walk

After a great night of celebrating a very good friend's birthday, Jessie and I woke-up very early and quite groggy to go to Stanley Park to attend the World Water Day walk organized by Starbucks and Ethos Water.

I haven't actually attended an activist/awareness walk since I was a little kid. It was either because it just felt this way or because it was bordering on reality that as a kid, I felt that I attended some kind of walk or rally every single weekend. On the way to the event, Jess and I were musing whether - or more realistically - up until what age we would drag our kids to the events we were participating in. I remember particularly a Noam Chomsky documentary that my Dad almost quite literally dragged me to. I still can't comprehend most of Noam Chomsky's lectures so my ability to stay engaged at 9 years-old was even more limited. That said, I am now thankful that I was forced to go as opposed to finishing that lego castle.

I must admit feeling rather ironic attending a Water awareness event (in which we walk 4k to acknowledge how far many people have to walk to get clean water) in a rain-forest with not one but two full bottles of water in my coat pocket (I had brought a bottle of water and then had been given another at the event).

There were about 50 or 60 people walking at this event in Vancouver, which for a rainy early Saturday morning, was a pretty good turn-out.

As I write this, we are minutes away from the deployment of the brand new site. We are all so incredibly tired... Check back tomorrow morning and it should (providing nothing happens in the next 20 minutes) be up and running.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

She's due any minute now!

Friends and family, colleagues and strangers!!!! I am over the moon to tell you that tomorrow morning we're going into labor! Alas, not the birth of my first child but the birth of a brand new version of the GiveMeaning site. It is radical both in its technical execution and its contribution to the "online social network" and "philanthrosphere" worlds.

The entire GiveMeaning site will be brought down for 24-36 hours as we migrate to both the new source code and a whole new set of servers.

Look for the new site Saturday afternoon or evening.

To everyone who has contributed to its development, I am so proud of us! To all of our families and friends who have suffered through our stress and long hours, thank you!

To the community of GiveMeaning members whose feedback over the past two years have contributed to the genetic code of this new site, we are grateful.

To those of you that have no idea what I'm talking about, go to our new site anytime Saturday. We'll likely "soft launch" this for a week or so to figure out the response and then announce it to the world.

It's time to SaveAnything.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

World Water Day - What It Means & How you can help

Today is "World Water Day" an internationally recognized observance of the World's water crisis that grew out of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.

In recognition of the day, I would like to point your attention to two projects at GiveMeaning that are building water-wells in African countries.

The first is an initiative that is very grass-roots started by a guy from Victoria, BC who has been building wells in developing countries for some time now. You can see his project here

The second is an initiative supporting Lifewater Canada, a very small grass-roots charity doing great work in Liberia. You can see their project here

Please consider donating to one or both of these projects and encouraging your friends to do the same.

Also, check out and join us in one of the many walks happening this weekend. Me and a few of the other GiveMeaning team members will be walking in Vancouver.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ricky Gervais saves Africa

This is the best spoof of "celebrity compassion" and cause marketing ever done. And of course, it's done by Ricky Gervais. Stay around till the very end. It's absolutely priceless

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Home sweet home

As many of you know, I have been traveling across Western Canada to meet with local charities, students, youth groups and others interested in bettering their worlds (plural because a lot of our worlds are quite different from one another).

Kamloops, Kelowna, Grand Prairie, Fort McMurray, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Brandon. Unfortunately, we couldn't fit any cities in Saskatchewan in this trip though I really want to travel to Regina to understood the poverty crisis in a certain part of the city which - according to some accounts - is now worse than that of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

I had intended to blog from every city but I have a legitimate excuse: My wife. Now before you take me to task for being so totally lacking in chivalry, please allow me to explain myself. My wife, Jessie Farrell, is a country musician who was recently signed to Universal Music. She was given the opportunity to open for Emerson Drive who are currently the top-selling country band in Canada. And of no coincidence, her tour stops were in Kamloops, Kelowna, Grand Prairie, Fort McMurray, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Brandon. Being the opening act on any tour is by no means glamorous. While Emerson has a great tour-bus and a dressing room full of food and drink, Jess has a rented minivan and sometimes a bottle of water.

So here we were leaving Kamloops at 2am leaving for Grand Prairie (about a 9 hour drive). As soon as we pulled into each town, I would begin my day of meetings and presentations and then as my regular day would come to a close, I would then start my second job as Jessie's "Roadie" which would keep me on my feet until we loaded into the Minivan headed to the next city overnight.

The Emerson tour ended in Calgary last Saturday so we drove from Calgary Sunday afternoon back to Vancouver. We arrived (thanks to daylight savings and the roads being closed due to avalanche warnings) back in Vancouver on Monday morning at 5am.'

This week has been exceptionally busy not only catching-up from being on the road but also because we're preparing for what is a whole new version of the website. I had hoped that it would be launched yesterday but the tech gods have not been smiling on us. It's now a certainty it will be sometime next week and I can't contain my excitement! We've been working on it non-stop since last September. I'm proud of what we have now and while there is plenty that was innovative about our use of technology applied to the charitable sector, this is the first time where truly innovative technology is being built and applied to the GiveMeaning site. You'll see what I'm talking about next week and hopefully agree with me!

I'm now here in Victoria bringing our "Party Pig" a massive bamboo version of our cardboard "Pig-e-Banks" for a fundraising event in support of Village of Hope a project on GiveMeaning benefiting women in Rwanda. I've been here all day for a variety of meetings today and at lunch, walked into a White Spot (for my American friends, I can tell you that White Spot beats In-&-Out burgers by miles) which I remembered from my childhood. I remembered being about 9 or 10 with my family eating a "Pirate Pack" at the exact same table as I was at today. It was an unintentional nevertheless much valued trip down memory lane.

I popped-in on the folks at Victoria Women's Sexual Assault Center, a great organization that uses GiveMeaning's personal fundraising pages for its annual "Tri-athalon of Compassion" and also met with Rumon Carter a very dynamic guy who used GiveMeaning last year quite successfully and has started a new project that is close to getting enough votes to start fund-raising.

This post is getting quite long and I haven't even talked about the highlights of the tour. I'll do that in a separate post over the weekend. It's now time to get going to the fundraiser. Please keep your radio stations tuned to your country music station and listen for "Let's Talk About Love" by Jessie Farrell!

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