Last week I had the pleasure of attending an annual event that always makes me smile. The “Heart of Wood Buffalo” Awards are designed to recognize excellence in the social profit sector, and to showcase those who do so many good works in our community. The awards are important because those who work in this sector, as employees, board members, and volunteers, often do jobs of tremendous importance but with woefully little recognition. The Heart of Wood Buffalo awards are an opportunity to acknowledge those people and show a bit of what they do, and why it matters. And the awards do something else, too, as they bring in a keynote speaker to address the audience. Last year it was my friend (and friend to all of the RMWB) Ian Hill, while this year it was a man named Dave Meslin.I’ll be honest. I had no idea who Dave Meslin is. After hearing him speak, though, I certainly know who he is now, and his impact on me was powerful. It is always fascinating when you hear from someone who is an advocate, someone who embraces new (and possibly unorthodox) ideas, and who fights for his community – especially when that is what you aspire to be, too. And that is what Dave Meslin is, because Dave is a Torontonian who advocates for the community, and who is not afraid of new ideas. He’s also not afraid to tackle the giants of industry or government, and he fights for the common man.
His ideas are remarkable, and remarkable in their practicality. He spoke about some of the initiatives he has been involved in – movements to control electronic billboard advertising in his community, which often becomes garish and intolerable, and movements to beautify through “guerrilla gardening”. He spoke of a “defence” project – not of mounting a defence for an area under attack but rather removing fences, de-fencing communities that have encouraged neighbours to close themselves off from each other behind chain link fences. His initiatives and those he endorses are all about community building, including his thoughts on making the process of government approachable for the common man. I found this particularly intriguing.Governments are experts at making things confusing. A simple question can end up being routed through several departments, and a simple request can involve a form that is long and complicated and makes you think you’ll need a legal degree to complete. And yet we natter on about citizen engagement and getting people involved in the democratic process and being part of the system...so why do we make it so hard for them to get involved? Do we just want them to vote and then go away for another 3 or 4 years, or do we really want them engaged (and actually I wonder if perhaps some governments make such documents so difficult because they DON’T want citizen engagement). Meslin suggests that governments of all levels need to make their forms and documents more accessible, more open to communication, and easier for all to use. This makes tremendous sense to me, and I think this concept, and his other ideas, have great relevancy in our community.
Dave Meslin presents at TEDx Toronto
At a time of great change there is an even greater need for advocacy. And this community is undergoing great change as we grow once again. These changes are likely to intensify, and while I don’t suggest we do all the same things Meslin has done I suggest we do think about things we want to address in our own community – but I also suggest we do more than think about them. I would suggest we simply do them, each of us who has an idea trying to find a way to institute it and find others to join us. Ideas without action are really not useful – they sit like a knickknack gathering dust, nice to look at but without true purpose. An idea gains power with execution, and while anyone can have an idea it is the leaders who act on them.And speaking of leaders, that’s what the Heart of Wood Buffalo Awards are all about. I was pleased to be there to see the nominees acknowledged, and the winners recognized. Dave Meslin spoke a lot about innovative ideas and creative approaches to community building during his keynote that night, and what kept running through my head is that this is the leadership we see every day in our social profit sector. We see people who use what little resources they have in creative and innovative ways, and who keep their organizations doing what they do – serving the needs of our community.
I would suggest that you check out this link for more information on the awards, as well as a link to a video of the event. It’s a very worthwhile watch, especially so for the keynote from Dave Meslin and, more importantly, the moments when those who work so hard to improve this community are recognized. In Dave Meslin’s address I saw inspiration for those who need a prompt to become involved in their community and change it for the better – and in the names of all the nominees and winners of the Heart of Wood Buffalo Awards I saw something else. I saw those who have already embraced the idea of working for change, and who now serve to inspire the rest of us.
My thanks to
Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo
for the invitation to attend the
Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards
and my congratulations to
all the nominees and winners!