Saturday, January 19, 2008

Change Conference Q&A

Last night I spoke at the 8th annual Change Conference in Victoria, BC. I asked those in attendance to write and submit questions about making the changes they want to make in the World and I would do my best to answer each question. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who asked questions. This morning, I spent some time answering each of the questions I was asked. Here are both the questions and my answers.

For those of you at the conference who didn't get a chance to ask me a question, don't worry about it. Add me on Facebook and/or email me at my name at

Thanks to everyone who participated!

How do I find out what I am passionate about?
I’m sorry I didn’t do this yesterday. Here’s a good way of trying to focus in on what you care about. Start by writing down 10 words that describe what’s in your heart and head. From that list, create another list but limit the words to five. From that list of five, further limit it to three.

I find that this little exercise helps clarify the issues that I’m passionate about, so that I can focus on then learning about and doing more about the things that I’m most passionate about.

Music and leadership / making positive change is my life. How can I integrate the two to benefit others?

(Another question with the same answer:) What role do you think music plays in positive change?

Well as the husband of a Musician, I can tell you that I have witnessed the impact a Musician can make. When a Musician hears from a listener that their music got them through a tough-time, helped them grieve, helped them open their heart to love, all of these things are making positive change.

So I think that simply by following your music, by making music from your heart, you are capable of making change.

At GiveMeaning, we’re exploring an idea we call “MusicGivesMeaning” which would promote various artists’ shows in exchange for the artist agreeing to raise some money that night for GiveMeaning.

I believe strongly that every artist should also seek to nurture art in others, so I think in addition to making music, helping others develop their musical craft is a great way of making meaning.

Change superficial and prejudice/racists bullying.

I’m not entirely sure of the question here so I’m going to riff on “sameness.”

The people who make fun of others who are “different” you must truly feel sad for. These people are so desperately insecure that they spend a tremendous amount of their time worrying about how to stay the same. They are totally powerless So insecure are they that they obsess about “what is cool” and do their best to live up to someone else’s definition of this. For as long as they do this, they are empty vessels, depriving themselves of understanding and respecting themselves.

Dare to be different. Celebrate the fact that you are not the same. Embrace your individuality. And understand that anyone who is making fun of you is actually jealous of who you are. Don’t treat them with disdain or disrespect. Just have compassion for the fact that they have not found what you have found. Yourself.

I think I know change is a positive thing and I would love to do all I can to help what can I do to change – make a difference? Any ideas?

I think one of the things to be aware of is that Change can’t just be a project, it has to be a daily way of living. In other words, someone who spends an entire month involved in a specific project but then spends the other 11 months not being aware of their world around them, is making only limited change.

I suggest you start with trying to listen and inform yourself more of what’s going on in the world and then follow your tears. But while you’re looking for that, start by trying to be more compassionate to those around you. Who do you have a hard time finding time or respect for? Start there.

I believe we should “bring ourselves down” instead of bringing 3rd world countries up” (wealth wise) What do you think?

I absolutely agree that we should see to “bring ourselves down.” I think we need to find the right way to express that sentiment. I really don’t like the term “sustainability.” I mean, do you want a sustainable marriage or do you want a GREAT marriage? Sustainability lacks a certain enjoyment in my mind. So I challenge you to come up with a way of “selling” what you’re really talking about, which is about celebrating ENOUGH. As I said last night, “more is always more” but enough is enough.

But I don’t think our focus on ourselves and enough should be done at the expense of trying to help others. Instead of seeing it as “one or the other” I think if we focus on enough, the logical next step becomes “ok then, what do I do with the abundance” and the natural answer is to give your abundance to someone who doesn’t yet have enough.

So by striving for enough, we will be led to give our abundance.

What occupation do you think would allow someone to affect change? Teacher, politician, doctor?

Any job that puts you in contact with another human being, even if that contact is through art or the written word or over the phone, is an occupation that allows someone to affect change.

Because it’s not about the job you do, it’s about the person that you are and the way in which you conduct yourself and treat others.

Me and my friends are organizing a 30 hr famine @ our school and I was wondering if you ever have done one and if you have any advice.

I have never done a 30 hour famine. The closest I have ever been to that experience is being in Northern Uganda in this tiny little town where a massive feeding operation was underway. People had lined up all day in the sweltering heat to get their rations of about 1 months supply of the most basic food supplies. The experience led me to actually feel physical pain for what it must like to starve and I remember sitting in this tiny little shack eating Casava and beans with my hands and feeling so grateful for that food.

My advice would be that if you want an easy way to collect pledges for donations, you can each create your own personal fundraising page at which makes the process of raising money for the 30 hour famine much easier.

What gave you the idea to start GiveMeaning?

A bunch of conversations with friends, led me to three conclusions. Most every single person I know cared about something but it seemed as though none of us were actually doing anything about the issues we cared about. When I started to try and understand why, I realized there were three issues that prevented most people from doing something or doing more:

When I give, I’m asked to give more: Many people are put-off (rightly so) by the fact that after they’ve given their time or money to a charity, they get many requests to give more. The number of emails, letters, phone calls - altogether I call it “charity spam” – just really pisses people off, and so they don’t give any more.

How do I know that my money is being used effectively? Many people don’t feel as though they know how their money is being used by the charities they give to. And increasingly, people who can’t have the confidence of where their money is being spent, prefer not to give.

I don’t have enough to make a difference: Even some of my very wealthy friends said that they felt as though even if they gave ALL of their money away, it wouldn’t be enough by itself to change the issue that they care about. So if they feel that way, my friends with $5 dollars to spare certainly felt the same.

So I wanted to solve these three problems because I felt if I could, that more people would actually want to give.

So we solve this at in the following ways: When you give money or sign-up at, we never share your personal information with the charity or organization you are supporting. And we at GiveMeaning, never send you emails.

Everything at GiveMeaning that you can give to or fundraise for is a specific tangible project. Instead of just giving to Poverty relief, you can give to help a specific family, build a specific school or water well, or send a specific class on a field-trip. And then once the funds are raised, you can keep track of how the project you are supporting is unfolding because blog updates, photos and sometimes video will be posted at GiveMeaning.

And finally, it’s about pooling each person’s contribution together with other like-minded people so that your $5 and my $50 bucks and someone else’s $500 can all add up to be enough to complete the project.

On your website, do you help small growing charities or just large ones?

We welcome every charity of every size at We particularly love to help the small, growing charities because they are the ones who need our support the most.

What do you think the pros and cons are of political and religious ties?

Oh wow, I could write an essay on this one! I think faith is a beautiful thing. What amazes me is how much most every religion agrees with every other religion. In terms of what it means to be a faithful person, to be a good person, most every religion asks the same thing of its followers. It’s the ideology of the religions that causes so much pain, suffering and conflict. And it’s the desire for some people in positions of authority in their religion to abuse their power for their own reasons/motiviations that can turn many people off from faith. What a horrible line to write. That a small group of people can turn another away from faith.

Similarly with Politics, many Politicians don’t disagree with their members of their opposing political parties but it’s the ideology (again) and the desire to hold on to power that leads to a tremendous amount of arguing for arguing’s sake.

Your question asked specifically about the ties to religion and politics. I think the more that one affiliates with a certain ideaology, the more unlikely they are to be able to find people who share their same beliefs and desires to make change. And in order to truly change the world, I think we need to reach across the lines that divide us, stop being “right” and “left” “Christian” and “Muslim” and start being brothers and sisters, people who share the same fears, the same aspirations, the same desire to make the World a better place. So I think it’s much better to have a respect for all and a desire to include everyone no matter their faith or politics in the effort to make change.

What is the issue you feel most strongly about?

I care most about helping others connect with their passions and helping each person achieve their goals of making meaning in the World. That’s why is the perfect place for me because I get to help everyone no matter what the cause or where they are working.

We have a tight neighborhood and we get together in the fall for a block party. I’d like to introduce the idea of a sister neighborhood in Africa.

This is a great idea and myself and my team can help you connect with a village to support. The notion of a neighborhood supporting a neighborhood from another place is a fantastic idea. I’ll be in touch via email to help you on this.

What is the most difficult choice you have made in your life, and who inspired you to make the decision?

I have always trusted and relied upon my instincts so I have never deliberated in the moment about a decision for a long-time. In other words, the biggest and most difficult choices APPEARED easy at the time, because I have always trusted in my own ability to survive, no matter if my choice turned out to be the wrong one. I think, looking back on it, it’s the choice to have created GiveMeaning and put all my remaining money into it. There have been many moments in making that decision, where I worried it was the wrong decision or that it wouldn’t work, but I persisted because I believed so strongly in what I was doing. Where I’ve drawn my greatest inspiration is from the people I’ve met along the way of this journey. The people that are trying to make the world a better place in their own ways.

Why did you end up giving your fortune away after working so hard to achieve it?

Because giving away my money to help others is the best thing I could spend it on. But let's be clear, when I started GiveMeaning, I wasn't a tremendously wealthy man, financially.

To start-up a non-profit for microloans what are the first three things to concentrate on?

Geographic Focus: Where will you focus your lending:
Lending Criteria: Who are the target beneficiaries of your loans? (Single mothers? Children? Anyone affected by poverty?)
Banking Partners: What criteria will you use in selecting micro-lending banking partners? Reporting, Credibility, Communications capabilities? Etc.

How do I motivate my friends to see a good cause as something they should support?

I’ve said about selling anything that I’ve never sold anything in my life but I’ve had a lot of people want to buy things from me. By this I mean that for as long as you’re trying to CONVINCE someone that your cause is right and just, it will be an uphill battle. But if you can find a way for them to see that they WANT to be involved in that cause, then they will be asking you to join. How do you have them WANT it? By positioning that cause as desirable to them based on their existing values and interests.

I wish strangers on the bus would chat more. It’s so quiet.

I totally agree! So take the lead and start a chat! Make it happen. And don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to get people to open up. Here’s a random idea: On Valentine’s day, buy a bunch of flowers and get on the bus and give one out to each person, along with a little note saying “we’re all on the same ride together” or something like that. I tell you, these simple kinds of things become infectious.

Some people find change difficult, especially if its for a cause like becoming sustainable). Is it our job to convince them? Is it our responsibility to always foster change in others?

While I think it’s important to reach out to as many people as possible, I think it’s far more important to live the life you are talking about. The quiet example of leading the life that many others TALK about will inspire others around you. They will then ask you questions about why you live the way you do or care about the things you do.

First of all, we <3 u! Second, do you think there is a solution/change to homelessness and how should, if we do, come about it?

First, thank you! I <3 all of you. There is most certainly a lot we can do about homelessness. How many houses have extra rooms? How many of the families living in those homes talk about their compassion for the homeless? How many of those families would be willing to take a homeless person into their homes? There is a disconnect between what we say we care about and what we are willing to do about it. Think of all the extra beds in Victoria alone. We have enough roofs to end homelessness. Do we have enough compassion to open our doors?

In my school people generally only hang out or interact with people in the same grade. I would like to see more inter-grade interaction and inclusion.

I think that’s a great cause to work on. What can you do to kick-start this? Can you talk to the student leadership in each grade and ask them to get their friends together once a week for a social with people in a different grade as a starting point? Also, start thinking of what you will do when you are in the oldest grade in your school? How will you use that position to create change and leadership.

If you’re passionate about an idea and you’ve raised awareness locally and money for a large-scale problem, how do you go about making sure that money goes specifically into solving the problem and doesn’t get lost in translation? Especially if there are no charities for that issue?

This is exactly what was built for. You can start your own project page at GiveMeaning. We will issue the tax-receipts to your donors, collect the money online and then find what we call an Implementing Organization who will agree to take the money you raise and spend it on the problem you’re trying to solve. They will then report by blog update, photos and sometimes video on exactly how that problem is being addressed with the money you raised.

How do you decide if an organization/group is for you? There are so many options! I want to volunteer in Africa in an orphanage but I don’t know who to go with.

My staff and I at can help you with this. There is a friend of mine from Victoria named Logan Cochrane who runs a great small Orphanage in Ethiopia. You can learn more about it at No matter what your passion is, can help connect you with an appropriate organization is for you.

Out of all of your experiences, what was the moment that touched you the most prominently?

There are so many moments but if I had to choose one, it was probably sitting in the Hotel Des Milles Collines (aka The Hotel Rwanda) listening to the birds chirp on a beautiful sunny morning the day after I watched the movie Hotel Rwanda in my hotel room. I had been traveling throughout Africa for two weeks, meeting people that we had helped through the website. I wrote about the experience on my blog and said that I truly knew in that moment the power that each person has to change the World.

I have been trying to get more involved with local chapters of two organizations and I know I can bring some energy to these groups but there is a lack of interest. The events that ARE planned are generally in 18+ areas like pubs.
[Note: I summarized this email question.]

I think the first thing I would do is approach one or both of those organizations and offer to captain an under 18 specific group and ask for some support and resources by which to make this happen. If this doesn’t happen, I would gladly support you in creating an under 18 youth group for

Have my Children plz?!
That’s probably the one question where my answer is no.

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