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South of the border, a battle is heating up over President Trump’s new budget proposal. In particular, the President’s proposed cuts to discretionary spending in departments like the EPA, State, and various arts councils has both Democrats and Republicans clamouring over each other to renounce this ‘dead-on-arrival’ budget.

Not to be outdone, as reported by The Hill, Democrat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had this to say about Trump’s budget:

“This is all about a philosophical distrust of the role of the federal government in any way of meeting the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said.

“Should we subject all spending to the harshest scrutiny? We certainly should … to make sure those investments accomplish what they set out to do,” Pelosi added.

“But that’s not what this is about. This is systemic deconstruction of the federal government.”

Dear reader, this is the problem with leftist demagoguery like that of Pelosi. I don’t think they actually care what’s in the budget. Any retrenchment of government, and it’s howls of: “philosophical distrust of the role of the federal government in any way” and “systemic deconstruction of the federal government”. Because, in their world view, only Mother State could possibly meet peoples’ every and any need.

Ironically, these cuts don’t matter anyway. Trump’s eye-watering $1 trillion infrastructure bonanza, along with failure to meaningfully tackle entitlement reform in any way, is the true “slap in the face of the future”. Even more so when the budgetary cuts are inevitably watered down by Congress to the point of tokenism.

Hard to be a conservative in the United States these days. Even harder for conservatives to be Republicans, it seems.

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Late last month, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) submitted a proposal to Parliament outlining a “cohesive cultural investment strategy”, including a pitch to increase their annual funding by $400 million per year. The rationale behind such a dramatic funding increase would be to allow the CBC to “move away from advertising as a source of revenue on all platforms and be a strong anchor for our cultural ecosystem.”

In a clearly biased article in which (I’m not making this up) CBC interviewed a CBC official about why CBC should get more funding, executive vice-president Heather Conway sniffed that “millions of millions of dollars more for an ad-free network isn’t outrageous and could even benefit other Canadian media companies.” That’s like asking the Big Bad Wolf whether he feels it’s reasonable that all future pig housing be built from straw.

For the uninitiated, the CBC currently receives more than $1 billion per year in public subsidies. To give you a point of comparison, this is more than double the annual budget of the Canadian Space Agency and almost eight times the budget of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (see Estimates by Organization in the 2015-16 Main Estimates).

What’s worse is the CBC’s sense of entitlement and moral righteousness in demanding a 40 percent budget boost. For a public broadcaster that regularly claims the moral high ground on social issues ranging from climate change to the plight of Canada’s Indigenous communities, it’s richly ironic that this same entity is seeking an annual funding increase nearly double what the federal government spends on wastewater systems and emergency management on First Nations reserves. Yes, that’s right – while dozens of native communities remain under years-long boil water advisories and kids are forced to drink filthy lake water in extreme cases, CBC President & CEO Hubert Lacroix has the audacity to pen a public letter to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage warning that “media in Canada are struggling to adapt to tremendous change”.

The real kicker is the CBC’s insistence that its siphoning of hundreds of millions more in tax dollars would be for the higher purpose of enabling “Canadian culture and public broadcasting to become a true source of social and economic strength for this country.” As if public broadcasting – and not millions of everyday ambitious, smart and entrepreneurial Canadians – is the undeniable source of social and economic strength in Canada.

Even more eyebrow-raising, the report calls for “predictable and stable (funding)…indexed to inflation, and separated from the election and annual government budget cycles”. The reason: ‘depoliticizing’ the CBC. The very same CBC that is currently spending public money on a political campaign to increase its funding by 40 percent.

In my view, the last federal government failed to adequately rein in the CBC’s largesse…which has only emboldened them to ask for more. Increasing CBC funding now, when there are much more pressing issues deserving of public spending, is unethical. It also speaks to the entitled, out-of-touch behemoth the CBC has become – clearly more consumed with finding ways to lard its operating budget than becoming a ‘true source of social and economic strength’. And for this, the CBC should be reproached by Canada’s Liberal government and all Canadians alike.

Note: this article originally appeared on Newshub Nation on December 13, 2016.

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‘GAH!’ The plaintive call of so many, many job seekers today. We scour job boards day after day, pick out the jobs we think we’re least unqualified for, and toil over crafting the perfect cover letter and resume. All for an application that may not even get seen by human eyes.

This might sound like grousing by a frustrated job hunter. Probably to some degree that’s true. But I think there’s a bigger problem in today’s job market. We graduate from school, or switch to a different industry, and there is a poverty of guidance on how to land a job.

‘Network,’ we’re told. ‘Bring value to the person you’re approaching. Be direct, but not aggressive’. All well and good from people who are already resting comfortably in a job. The sad reality is that, in today’s economy, many people are understandably trying to protect their own jobs. There doesn’t appear to be a huge amount of willingness to stick out one’s neck for the unemployed. What’s more, it seems the vast majority of people wind up in their jobs through some friendly connection – a university buddy working in the same company; the CEO’s mum goes to the same yoga class as your girlfriend; or whatever.

It’s a confounding reality for me. On the one hand, it feels sleazy to showboat myself and go into networking meetings with an ‘agenda’. I also have an aversion to the idea of nepotism. As the executive director of Career Skills Incubator, an employment skills not-for-profit, I strongly believe in the idea of hiring by merit and personality fit. Yet, I feel like I’m shooting myself in the foot if I ignore the reality that most jobs are filled through an inside connection.

I think there are steps that governments, employers, and the nonprofit sector can take to make hiring more accessible to the masses. First, governments and social services agencies should do more to bridge the chasm between graduates and employers. Whether through setting up mentorship programs (such as the free Menteer tool); subsidizing job trials; or creating new platforms for job seekers to market themselves, there is plenty of room for growth in this space.

Secondly, employers should make hiring practices more open and transparent. This includes making the evaluation rubric available to applicants and providing meaningful feedback to interviewees. I’ve heard all too many stories about job applicants being jerked around by power-tripping hiring managers and given no regard for the hours they have invested in a single application.

Finally, there’s a need for organizations like Career Skills Incubator to give job seekers, career switchers, and entrepreneurs a forum to exchange ideas, provide constructive feedback, and generally support each other on their career journeys. For those interested, please visit www.careerskillsincubator.com to get in touch with our team!

Note: this article was originally posted on LinkedIn on June 22nd, 2016

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Hacking is once again in the news this week with the theft of emails from the Democratic National Convention, just ahead of Hillary Clinton’s nomination. While small nonprofits may not seem as juicy a target as the Democratic Party, we are vulnerable all the same. Nonprofits – especially those involved in service delivery – collect some pretty sensitive data about people, including dates of birth, income levels, and lots of other identifying information.

One thing that makes nonprofits an appealing target for cyber criminals is the often poor IT security infrastructure in place. Files are left kicking around on laptop hard drives and USB sticks, protected by simple or nonexistent passwords. What’s worse, a data breach can bring all sorts of nasty unwanted publicity to an organization – and might even jeopardize its ability to win future government funding.

‘Okay’, you say. ‘Digital security is a big deal for nonprofits…but how do we fix it?’. Here are four steps you can take right now to make your organization more secure:

  1. Create a data security policy, and ruthlessly enforce it. It’s hard to expect your employees will properly handle sensitive data if they’re not given direction. You can clear up this ambiguity by writing a concise, prescriptive policy that sets out expectations for how data will be accessed, managed and disposed of. There are loads of templates and real-world samples kicking around online. Here is a great example courtesy of Sophos, a respected cyber security firm.

  2. Require strong passwords for all IT devices and web-based accounts. This is a biggie. I’ve come across lots of shoddy passwords in my work with nonprofits. While ‘wearecool123’ might be easy to remember, it’s also super easy for any two-bit hacker to crack.

    There are two main options for making strong passwords. One is to use a random password generator (like the one found here) in conjunction with a password management app like LastPass or 1Password. In my experience a password manager is the only sane way of managing random-character passwords. They’re almost impossible to memorize, which means your employees will likely end up writing them on stickies (!!) without an app.

    The second option (my preference) is to use a diceware password. What’s diceware, you ask? It’s a method devised by a really smart computer scientist that uses dice rolls together with a a big word list to create super strong passwords that are easy to remember. Basically, for every roll of the die, there is a corresponding number on the word list. After rolling a predetermined number of times, the eventual outcome is a random string of everyday words.

    You can read more about diceware and download the word list here. All you need is a pair of dice (actual casino dice are best), the list and a wee bit of patience!

  3. Encrypt sensitive data, especially in the cloud. With the rise of remote work and mobile offices, companies and nonprofits have started relying more on cloud services (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc) to store files and collaborate on work. This is a great trend, but it also makes your data vulnerable to remote hacks. While the risk might be low for generic files like newsletters and event photos, any files that contain identifying information are potentially vulnerable.

    Dropbox and some of the other major cloud providers actually encrypt their data on the server side, which is good. However, this doesn’t protect your data from being accessed by someone who manages to exploit a loophole or access the servers from the inside. You can add a second layer of protection by using a free encryption tool like BoxCryptor or Viivo, both made by reputable software companies. These apps will encrypt your information on the client side (your local machine) before uploading to the cloud. This means that your data is only accessible via the private key that’s known to you alone.

    Is it a bit of a hassle going through this added step? Yep. Worth the extra effort to prevent your data from being stolen in the cloud? Absolutely.

  4. Practice good old common sense when handling sensitive data. Working in the federal government for a number of years, it astonished me what people sometimes put into emails. The phrase ‘email is forever’ comes to mind. There is no taking an email back; once a message goes out into cyber space, it can be forwarded, altered or published by anyone. Keep this in mind when you’re next logging into Gmail or Outlook.

    My goal isn’t to make you paranoid about every email you send. Rather, I’m just arguing that we should be sensible about what we put in email. Criticisms about your boss and/or employer, crass remarks about clients, and identifying information about people are all no-no’s. When in doubt, pick up the phone. And for heaven’s sake, don’t leave a portable hard drive lying around containing critical information on over 580,000 student loan borrowers! (yes, this actually happened: http://www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/data-lost-on-583000-canada-student-loan-borrowers/).

    With a little forethought and some solid policies, we can all make our nonprofits more secure from prying eyes and thieving hands. Happy encrypting, everyone! 🙂

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One of my little side hobbies is typography: learning about typefaces, curating various fonts, and – more recently – designing my first typeface. I’ve learnt through this process that typographic design is as much about the look and feel of the letters as it is getting the angles and curves correct. Sometimes, even if the curves on a letter are mathematically sound, it just doesn’t…look right. I’m learning there is a whole process of optical correction and tweaking – that is, tuning letters to look as appealing as possible to the human eye. I’m also learning that a good typeface must be useable…and that involves a lot of plugging in text, tweaking letter spacing, plugging in new text, tweaking more, and so on.

On the flip side, there is great reward in designing something that has a function beyond its simple forms. Seeing a text set in my creation is, well, kinda cool. So without further ado, here’s a sneak preview of my first typeface: Deco Sans. It’s a bold, hand-drawn display font with plenty of character 🙂

Deco Sans

Once I’m satisfied with the final product, I will be posting it here as a free download. Stay tuned!

UPDATE (25/05/16) You can download Deco Sans here: Deco Sans (OpenType)

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This week, I was lucky enough to collaborate with former colleagues Sean Speer and Ken Boessenkool on an article in C2C Journal about the decline of Canada’s civic sector, and ways to breathe new life into our voluntary sector.

As managing director of a small, grassroots nonprofit (Career Skills Incubator), I’m well aware of the potential that nonprofits and charities hold in driving better social outcomes. With persistently high unemployment and an aging population, Canada needs a robust third sector now more than ever. It’s time for governments to wake up and start working in earnest to build nonprofit sector capacity.

I invite you to read the full article here: http://www.c2cjournal.ca/2015/12/a-plan-to-revive-civil-society-in-canada/

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My friends over at Career Skills Incubator (CSCI) – a Toronto-based nonprofit – are hosting a wonderful online auction to raise money for great services like mentorship, career workshops, and custom-made volunteer opportunities. I’ve been volunteering with CSCI for over a year and am a huge fan and admirer. Check out some of the amazing bargains here: https://www.32auctions.com/careerskills2015. The auction ends December 23rd, so don’t delay!

CSCI auction

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2015, a year of changes

Just realizing it’s been a handful of months since I last wrote. Fear not – I am alive and well!

As 2015 wends to a close, I am struck by the many layers of changes I’ve witnessed this year. On a personal note, I am nearly done my Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Management certificate at Ryerson University. The job search has been a great learning experience, and I am quite optimistic that 2016 holds a boatload of opportunity on that front. The nonprofit I’m closely involved with, Career Skills Incubator, has grown and matured in a lot of really impressive ways. Finally, we’ve seen the election of a new Liberal majority government in Ottawa. I am hopeful that the change in government will present new possibilities for the nonprofit and charitable sector…and perhaps increased funding as well!

Oh, and I’ve done a few minor renovations to the site design over the past few days. Let me know what you think!

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It’s funny how cachet terms can become so common in industry and media circles that they start to lose their meaning. In my view this is at risk of happening in the conversation around ‘social innovation’. It seems like any program or piece of technology remotely related to improving peoples’ well-being can be labeled as socially innovative these days. Perhaps it’s because the term has never really been properly defined, and/or that people with an aim to advance social good are generally inclusive types (which is wonderful, by the way). Whatever the reasons, I think that failing to offer a substantive definition of social innovation is doing us a disservice as nonprofit managers and policy practitioners.

Chewing on this question for a while led me to wonder what ‘innovation’ really even means, so I looked it up. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines innovation thus: “the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods”. Hmm, seems pretty clear-cut. Just because you devise a new idea, though, does that mean you’re innovating? For example, a government department might invent a new social program that’s super expensive to run and produces mediocre outcomes (sadly not the realm of fiction). New? Absolutely…but not so innovative, methinks.

Maybe the private sector has a better handle on this innovation thing. A simple Google search reveals that business writers have explored the concept of innovation quite a bit. As the author of an Inc.com article says: “the challenge of defining innovation is finding a common denominator: attributes, functions, outcomes or other discernible differentiating characteristics.” Another commentator on Fast Company ventures that innovation is about ‘connecting the dots’, offering that “the single difference between the innovator and the ordinary person (is that) one saw the dots and connected them while others 1) didn’t see them or 2) if they did, they didn’t explore, question, or connect any of them.” That’s an interesting metaphor, but not one that I think is especially useful to the aspiring innovator. After all: if innovation is about connecting dots, how does one do that? What’s more, how does one measure it?

The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) provides a more workable definition: “social innovation refers to the creation, development, adoption, and integration of new concepts and practices that put people and the planet first.” I think this is a great starting point. From my background as a public policy practitioner in the federal government, I would suggest expanding the definition to include at least these four dimensions:

  • Economy. How few resources (cash, materials, labour, etc) does the solution consume relative to its social benefit?
  • Novelty. Is this truly a new way of doing things, or simply a repackaging an already well-worn approach?
  • Effectiveness. How well does the solution tackle the social issue(s) at hand, relative to previously tried approaches?
  • Disruptiveness. To what degree does the solution shake up the broader policy environment? Is it truly a ‘game changer’?

Of course each of these facets leaves plenty of room of interpretation and any attempt to measure them means making qualitative judgements about how we see economy, novelty, etc. Still, I believe there is strong merit in pursuing a more robust definition of social innovation and how to measure it. Such an expanded definition could, for example, promote a more rigorous and disciplined approach to social innovation projects by nonprofits. It might inspire greater confidence on the part of funders, and could ideally offer a more refined lens through which to evaluate the social innovativeness of ideas…and help flow resources to projects that rank highest on the scale.

Social innovation is an exciting and rapidly changing field. As CSI notes on its website: “definitions of social innovation abound and a casual observer can quickly become entangled in a debate over meaning and nuance.” I agree. However, that doesn’t mean that exploring ways we can deepen and measure the concept of social innovation is a bad idea. On the contrary: I think it’s an important step in enhancing our credibility as social changemakers and the maturity of the social innovation space as a whole.

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I came across a wonderful piece in Entrepreneur today that persuasively casts professional networking as a ‘contact sport’ based on thoughtful engagement with people on a deeper level – that is, building relationships vs. expanding the rolodex. This got me thinking about the idea of creating professional value for oneself and others, and how it’s often easy to see networking as a zero-sum either/or game. ‘Either I keep the upper hand and draw value from this contact, or they exploit my resources and take advantage of me.’ This leads to a very transactional, tit-for-tat sort of relationship management. I’ve been guilty of this thinking at times and am pretty sure that others have too.

What about an alternative view: that in adding value to a person’s professional life, I add value to my own. Obviously we want to avoid situations of pure exploitation where others are taking advantage of our support and giving zero in return. In my opinion, though, even a small imbalance in a handful of our business relationships will probably even out in the end. I’d rather be known as the guy who’s supremely helpful at connecting and supporting people professionally than the one who does just enough to stay civil and maintain good optics.

Interested in others’ views on this: am I being overly naïve and Pollyanna-ish? Is successful networking based on keeping a dominant hand in business relationships? Feel free to weigh-in on the comments thread below!

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