Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On the Queen's University

To whom it may concern,

In September 2010, I will be embarking on a new journey. One that starts in Kingston, ON at the Queen's University. For the next two years, I will be a Master's candidate in the Socio-Cultural Studies of Sport programme at Queen's U.

And I am stoked!!!

While this may seem to be a diversion from my current course of career choice, it is not. For my thesis, I will be examining the use of social media by the NHL and its teams and players as a marketing and communications tool. Without spilling too many details, I believe I can find a model that will be applicable not only to NHL teams in general or to professional sports leagues, but also to amateur sports leagues, sporting events, not-for-profit organizations and events and perhaps even to media organizations.

My programme offers the possibility of submitting a thesis by manuscript, which is what I intend to do. Two birds: one stone!

Of course, this decision comes with a bunch of changes, from the content of my closet to my reading materials and my bedroom, not to mention my eating and spending habits. And while I wait for classes to start, I will be keeping busy with my World Partnership Walk Media Relations planning and activities, apartment hunting, and of course, the actual move.

Wish me luck... and link me up with any contacts that you think could help my research!

PS: Did I mention that I'm the new President of the Journalism Chapter of the Concordia University Alumni Association? Our first event is Thursday... I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On the 2010 World Partnership Walk in Montreal

When the 2010 campaign of the World Partnership Walk launched in February, I was asked to talk about "Why I Walk". And I, who is usually full of motivating marketing messaging, struggled. After a tumultuous year full of a variety of experiences relating to the not-for-profit sector and international development, I was at a loss for words. I didn't even know where to begin, how to start thinking about the question, though I did have an answer last year.

Fundraisers for international development NGOs typically focus on stories and images of death and despair.

"Help now, or else," is the message they spread.

"These children will die without your support," they say.

And then there's the spectrum of messaging associated with emergency response aid. Not to say that these statements aren't valid, but with so much negativity in the air, I found it hard to focus on why I persist in supporting not-for-profit initiatives. "What's the point?" I asked myself.

In the summer of 2009, I participated in an Aga Khan Foundation Canada Awareness Trip to Africa. In 5 quick days, I visited a variety of international development projects sponsored by Aga Khan Development Network, from the Frigoken factory and the Nation Media Group in Nairobi, Kenya, to the Coastal Rural Support Programme (CRSP) and Kenya School Improvement Programme (KENSIP) in Mombasa, Kenya.

This whirlwind tour left me with a few key impressions. Surprisingly, I didn't encounter a world full of desolation and desperation, as most of the advertisement would like us to believe. I met real people with real goals and real aspirations for their children, just like us. I met children who, like me, were excited to go to school and learn. I saw a vibrant city that moved at the same pace as New York City or Montreal. And I saw farmers and hospitality workers who were not just struggling to get by but trying to make a life for themselves, no matter the gravity of their situation.

The World Partnership Walk raises funds to help improve the lives and livelihoods of families and communities like those I visited in East Africa, through health, education and rural development programs as well as community-led initiatives. During my trip, I was fortunate enough to see the fruits of our labours, the benefits of this grassroots approach. By enabling local populations to decide what they need the most and then empowering them to find the proper long-term, sustainable solutions, we are investing in their future.

100% of the funds raised through the Walk go directly to these programmes, and in some cases, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) offers additional support. Not one cent is spent on administration.

Let's overcome the negativity and look to the future with compassion, hope, and only positive thoughts. Let's unite in the noble intention of helping to alleviate global poverty. As Canadians, we all come from somewhere else, sometime in the past. Someone invested in us and allowed us to flourish in this country, both personally and professionally. It is time for us to give back to society at large and help make the world a better place by investing in someone who, like us, simply wants the best for his or her community.

Join me for the World Partnership Walk on June 6, 2010 at Place des Vestiges in the Quays of the Old Port of Montreal or donate online. Together, we can spark a beacon of hope and show the world what it truly means to be Canadian. Together, we can discover why we walk.

Friday, March 12, 2010

On Bridges That Unite

Looking for something unique to do this month? Need more culture in your life? I know I do.

Consider visiting "Bridges That Unite", a free bilingual exhibition taking place at Concordia University's McConnell Building Atrium until March 26, 2010.

As per the press release, Bridges That Unite
"invites visitors to consider Canada's role in the world through the lens of a remarkable 25-year partnership with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in some of the world's most isolated and impoverished regions. Thought-provoking stories spanning several continents are told through powerful images, evocative soundscapes and multimedia components."
Yes, that last part is actually true.

Every time I've been to the exhibition so far - 2 times and counting! - I have discovered new images and new text. It's not that the exhibition is constantly changing, it's just that I'm absorbing the information in a different way. It's a little uninviting at first due to the layout of the exhibition in a tight, linear space, but once you're in it, you're in.

I was delighted to discover the ring of chairs, a symbol of the thought and communication that goes into the planning of development programmes. It's the starting point for meaningful social change that will make a lasting impact even in the most remote and impoverished areas of the world. As part of the ring of chairs exhibit, you can listen to recorded testimonials from some of the people who have witnessed this impact first-hand.

One of them is Steve Mason, who worked as a programme manager for Aga Khan Foundation in Afghanistan and whom I met as the head of Aga Khan Foundation East Africa during my visit to Kenya. I remember being so immensely impressed by his talent, work and dedication to improving the lives and livelihoods of these communities and I yearned to learn from his experience. As I found out this weekend, he was just appointed as the first CEO of AKF West Africa. Congrats, Steve!

Bridges That Unite has many more well-hidden secrets but have no fear! There are guides available to help you decipher all the panels and the stories they tell. Dressed in red vests, these guides are on site during regular business hours, 7 days a week.

What I enjoyed the most about Bridges That Unite was the feeling you get when you're walking around. It's not a feeling of desperation and anger and death. It's a feeling of love, help and hope. It makes you wonder what Canada can do to continue in this successful partnership with the developing world. It makes you wonder what you can do - what I can do - to provide that spark of hope that will make the world a better place.

I haven't figured it out yet, but if and when you do, write it on a sticky note and affix that note to the board in the Bridges That Unite exhibition that inquires, "The world needs more..."

Who knows? With the right ingredients, maybe we can change the world.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

On the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games

And so it is done. In 14 short days, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games have come and gone. Vancouver has returned to its former level of activity. There are less people on the streets, those streets are mostly no longer closed to vehicle traffic, and the SkyTrain is no longer bursting at the seams. Just like in Ottawa, there was a budget announced in Vancouver. It's back to business, isn't it?

Well, no. For all of us who were involved in the Games, one way or another, whether through volunteering, participating or spectating, 2010 will be a memorable year. Vancouver and Whistler will leave a mark in our hearts and looking back on the events of Feb 12 to 28 will rekindle our passion for the sports, our country and the experience.

My personal experience was fantabulous. See? It was so fantastic that I can only describe it by using a fake word.

Despite our early stumbles, the staff at The Whistler Sliding Centre recovered admirably well. We gave it our 110% and put out some of the best quotes of the Games. You probably unknowingly read them in your sliding sports recaps. They were better than the cliché I just used, I promise.

Thanks to the wonderful support of our Olympic News Service (ONS) Supervisor and Sports Writer, we - my co-reporters and I - learned more than just the basics of Luge, Skeleton and Bobsleigh. By the final Runs and Heats of the competition, we were able to have knowledgeable conversations with the real, paid reporters in the Mixed Zone. Sure, some of them were rookies like us, but we could even keep up with the best beat writers out there. We made predictions, comments and suggestions. We were able to ask poignant questions and understand the ones posed by other reporters. We were even able to understand the athletes' answers, and better yet, tell them apart! This proved to be quite useful during the Four-Man Bobsleigh event, and our studying served us well.

In the end, working for ONS was a work contract like any other. But it wasn't. To echo the athletes, it's just another race except it's the Olympics. I made friends for life (I hope!), invaluable contacts on both sides of the fence (in the journalism world and in the Olympic family), and I learned. I learned from sports reporters, from ONS staff, from fellow volunteers. I learned from the athletes, from their responses, from their races.

And I laughed! When we were exhausted and hungry, we laughed. When we were cold and wet, we laughed. When we were done for the day and more than ready for bed, we laughed.

Sure, we had our ups and downs. We got frustrated and argumentative. We disagreed with each other and sometimes were quite vocal about our dislikes. But that's just part of the job. It's part of the stress of working long back-to-back days, part of the pressure of always being on the ball, part of the difficulties a live sporting event experience. And I loved it. Because overall, we laughed.

The best part was the bubble. It was also the worst part. You get so into your sport, into your venue, into your athletes that you just can't absorb any additional information. Medals and crashes in other sports? Nope, haven't seen them. A snow storm in Montreal? Nope, haven't heard about it. Haven't read that article. Haven't spoken to my family and friends in a few days. Haven't had time to read status updates on Facebook. Yet the only reason I found out about the snow was because people were complaining about it in their status. But don't ask me what people were tweeting about. I could barely catch up on emails and direct responses!

The bubble is what pushed me to escape Whistler as soon as my last shift was done. Quickly home to pack and catch the bus. Nothing against this snowy, wintery Olympic town. The atmosphere was fantastic, the people were super friendly, full of fun and enthusiasm. And it's not that I didn't want to celebrate the end with my co-workers... I just needed to get out of the bubble. To further the analogy, it's like when you blow a bubblegum to the limit and it's about to burst and you suck it back a little just in time to avoid it embarrassingly covering your face. That's how you feel at the end of an intensive gig.

Luckily, I was able to catch some of the Olympic fever in Vancouver as well. I came back to Van City when I had a couple of days off and toured some of the attractions, though I was not at all interested in wasting my day waiting in line. The beautiful spontaneous Inukshuk wall between Science World/Rusky Dom and GM Place/Canada Hockey Place is the kind of passion that turns me on, and I loved just basking in the energy of the host city.

I also felt the pulse of the city on Feb 27-28, thanks to my speedy return from Whistler. Crowded streets and spontaneous "Oh Canada" chants, red and white at every turn of the head. I watched the Gold Medal Men's Hockey Game with my family, in their living room, sharing simultaneous heart-attacks with hockey fans from all over the globe. When we went out for dinner later that night you could still feel the electricity in the air and the high, soaring spirits of the inhabitants.

And then, just like the sudden onset of my post-ONS, post-Whistler blues, the city crashed. Call it a passion-low. The flame was extinguished, it was done, it was over, and we all had to face the facts and go back to our normal, boring everyday lives. Transit that's not as regular. NHL games with predictable intermission interviews. And thankfully, streets that are much easier to navigate without a gazillion people crawling along at a snail's pace.

I'm glad I took a few extra days to experience the city's true face. And guess what? Even sans Olympics, I still love it. Don't worry, Vancouver. I might be leaving you on Thursday but I'll be back before you know it!

Stay tuned... I should be posting pictures to Flickr soon!