How Steve Sold a Stove That No One Needed

Here is a fun game. At your next dull meeting, grab a few friends and have everyone pull up the picture below. Use it to play buzzword bingo. First to circle 15 words used in the meeting wins! Last one to 15 buys the first round.

Buzzword Bingo
Buzzword Bingo

Sustainability is one of those stupefying buzz-words. It is right up there with gender-balance and environment. That’s the problem.It means that everyone uses the word on every single proposal. Some projects should never be intended to be sustainable at all (like all disaster relief projects). Still, sustainable language is rammed into proposals. The alternative is donor-funding suicide.

How do you know if something will actually last longer than your attention on this post? I like to use the bus test. Simply put, “If I get hit by a bus, does the project die with me?” Stay with me, I have a story to tell. Continue reading

3 Steps Successful Volunteers Take to Raise Money

I work with a lot of people who work incredibly long hours, in remote and tough regions of the world, for very little recognition.  Most striking. They pay for the privilege to do so.

Photo Credit: Rob Swystun via Compfight cc

A volunteer I know (details are intentionally vague to protect her) was doing some incredible work in a community in Asia. The bordering nation next door was a religiously repressive, heavily guarded, deeply suspicious regime where war is commonplace. The volunteers work was to support the local people, some a religious minority who was attacked for their faith, other people she translated for. She asked me for advice in helping refugees navigate the complicated world of fleeing to a new country.

She did all of this work for free. She paid her own way, using money she had saved for a year as well as a few donations from friends. The work was important, she wanted to stay, but did not know how to make it happen. Money was tight and it was almost running out. She asked me for help.

What would you say to her?  Continue reading

The second worst way to think about the poor. 

I was in the middle of a boring class and unfortunately I was the teacher.

My nightmare is to have too many people nod in agreement while I am speaking. If everyone already agrees with you, it feels comfortable like a warm hug on a sunny summer day. A great recipe if you are trying to have everyone enjoy a luxurious long nap.

Bloody terrible for a memorable teaching moment.

Boring Class
Boring Class

Continue reading

5 things that you might think taste like chicken but really don’t 

One of the best and worst things about travel is eating all kinds of strange and wonderful new things. Once you get off of the plane and away from the abomination that is airplane “food”. I always try to eat local.Airplane Food

Nothing gives your tastebuds a workout quite like local cuisine. My favourite is the roadside stall. Since I do this a lot, I have a quick internal checklist I follow to make sure I find the best place the first time. Usually a flavour-filled portion of something exotic and tasty! Read through for my hints on how to eat well!

In the meantime, here are 5 things I have eaten at some point in my life that definitely do not taste like chicken:

Continue reading

You are the punchline

You are a volunteer who wants to change the world. To your friends and family you are one incredibly sexy beast. To the machinery of big-international relief and development agencies you are the problem.

You Spit Rainbows
You Spit Rainbows
There are huge systems already in place. Governments have committed 10s of billions of dollars to fixing the poor. Famous brand name agencies have done this work for centuries.

9 simple hacks to speed your way through airport security

We stand like cattle, shuffling forward, penned in by keepers in blue blazers, turn and turn again, awaiting the next stop.

Photo Credit: Kris Krug via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Kris Krug via Compfight cc

As I walked towards the departures gate I saw a long line and a short line. The short line had the Global Entry logo and I knew my Nexus card would get me through. My moment of happiness turned bitter as the security guard pointed to the TSA pre clearance logo.

Confused? So was I. Anyways the guard at the line certainly wasn’t letting me through.

I returned to my line-up and my novel. Everyone needs a book when they travel. The line shuffled a step forward. After twenty long minutes of snaking back and forth I heard an urgent voice over my shoulder.

“Excuse me. I’m late. Do you mind if I cut in front?” Continue reading

Do not be the change you want to see

Have you ever tried to corral a group of friends and come up with a plan. What do we want for lunch? What movie do you want to see? Should we go camping for the long weekend?  It could be anything but when you get 5 or 6 friends together it gets tough to make a decision on something simple. Imagine something hard:

Hey friends, want to start a successful business together? “

Getting all your friends on the same page is not easy, add something as complicated as a new business and finding a way to agree just got a whole lot worse! That is why I think it is naïve and maybe even unhelpful when I hear people ask ‘why aren’t these poor people collecting together and collaborating to make their lives better’

Brendah on the right
Brendah on the right


Continue reading

Is It Ignorant to Ask “Where Are You REALLY From?”

I was once called by a survey company. I began to busily give my opinion about whatever it was that interested them. As we neared the end, the interviewer needed to know some demographic information and he asked me “Where are you from?”


“Canada” I replied.

“But what is your background, where are you from?”

“I am Canadian.” I asserted.

He then asked where I was originally from.

I replied that I was an 8th generation Canadian (at the time, I didn’t know I was also Status Native). He was really stumped…

Continue reading

If you only had $2 to help the poor this might be the best way to use it.

I was training a group in Toronto. All of them were on their way overseas to go work in countries where poverty is a daily reality in many people’s lives. That’s when I surprised them with a strange task.

Photo Credit: Problemkind via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Problemkind via Compfight cc
I asked the group to do a crazy social experiment where they were to give away a toonie at a time to three unique people. They were not allowed to explain why, they simply had to give $2 to three separate people. To make it interesting they had to:
  • Give $2 to a person who is obviously economically poorer than you
  • Give $2 to a person who looks like they are at about the same economic level as you
  • Give $2 to a person who is obviously economically wealthier than you
Laughing a bit nervously, they fanned out across the city and bravely attempted. Later when we debriefed the experience I asked them how it went, I thought the responses were surprising!

Continue reading

How to reduce the threat of militants who are trying to kill you

My brother was working in Pakistan, in an area where terrorist attacks have become commonplace. He was there to aid the local people rebuild after some devastating mudslides had torn up their homes, communities and lives. While he was helping, militants were actively looking for ways to kill people who look like my brother. It was and still is a dangerous place. Thankfully he made it back home safely and I recently asked him what he considered the secret to his safety.

Photo Credit: gfairchild via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: gfairchild via Compfight cc

I too have felt the results of war a few times – In the Palestinian territories as I talked to the soldier in Bethlehem square, blocks of concrete whistled past my head at a guard post. The soldier clicked his gun off safety and ran towards the youth. Later that same trip as I walked up a hill to find a moment to myself, my persistent guide began to shout for my attention. I ignored his cries until I heard him say “They are shooting up there!” I decided to turn around. Continue reading