Sunday, November 8, 2009

Amrita Devi and the Bishnois of Rajasthan

In the 1705 the Maharajah sent his soldiers to cut trees for the palace. Amrita Devi hugged the tree to prevent its destruction, the soldiers decapitated her. She was followed by other women who encountered the same fate at the hand of the soldiers. Amrita Devi's action and the action of another 366 Bishnoi women, children and men was to become the most profound expression of their commitment to their beliefs and Amrita and the others are martyred by the Bishnois to this day.
The Bishnoi community have lived in the Thar desert of Rajasthan in northern India for over 500 hundred years. Jambeshwar Bhagavan created 29 principles in the 15th century, a combination of Hindu and Muslim beliefs and practices, which are maintained by the Bishnoi to this day. Among them is an adherence to the discipline of leaving all trees and animals unharmed. Remarkably, they have adapted to their harsh conditions in a way that seems to do more than sustain them, they have achieved a level of coexistence with nature that satisfies their own needs and the needs of others even during periods of drought.

"Any change in the world has to begin within the society. All this talk about nature and wildlife protection would be more effective if each individual was to believe in the earth as a living, breathing entity and fight for its survival the way we do."J. Ram a member of the Bishnois community

Ben Goldhirsh - Founder of Good Magazine

Ben Goldhirsh started it in 2006. It seems like it's been around much longer.
"GOOD was born out of a frustration that there was no media platform celebrating, covering, and elevating the emerging movement of individuals, businesses, and organizations pushing the world forward. The mission has evolved over time. We now see ourselves as an editorial led, member driven community, with a mission to provide content that coalesces this community, experiences that deepen the relationships within the community, and utilities that empower the community." B. Goldhirsh

Saturday, November 7, 2009

José Antonio Abreu - El Sistema

José Antonio Abreu started teaching music to the poor in Venezuela in 1975. Children who had nothing, living in the barrio, stacked homes of brick and corrugated metal, were introduced to classical music at what was to become the Foundation for the National Network of Youth and Children Orchestras of Venezuela. Starting with 11 children Abreu began with the belief that music would change the social conditions for the children. It is currently attended by 350,000 children, with 180 orchestras while the the senior youth orchestra tours the world. "An orchestra is a community where the essential and exclusive feature is that it is the only community that comes together with the fundamental objective of agreeing with itself. Therefore the person who plays in an orchestra begins to live the experience of agreement. And what does the experience of agreement mean? Team practice - the practice of the group that recognizes itself as interdependent, where everyone is responsible for others and the others are responsible for oneself. Agree on what? To create beauty." J.A. Abreu

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mardy McGarry - Possibility Playground

Her goal in 2007 was to create a playground for kids with special needs. $450,000 and over 2,000 volunteers later the playground was built by May 31, 2009. "Traditional playgrounds are often inaccessible to children with disabilities. Or at the most, offering one or two pieces of equipment that they may be able to negotiate. At Possibility Playground, ALL children are able to play shoulder to shoulder." from the Possibility Playground website.

“My children have taught me so much and have challenged me to always think outside the box and imagine the possibilities.” Mardy McGarry (on the left).

Ursula Rakova - Sailing the waves on our own

Climate is changing, these are among its first refugees. As global water levels rise, islands are beginning to disappear. If they are occupied, where do the people go? How will they prepare? Who will convince them to leave an island they have occupied for generations. Ursula Rakova has created an organization to deal with relocation in the Carteret Islands for those who must face the inevitable, it's called Tulele Peisa Inc.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nicholas Negroponte - "A mission not a market."

OK as head of MIT Media, Negroponte is no ordinary guy. However, the power of his idea and his ability to involve the contributions of many others in the development of an inexpensive laptop, generated an intelligent solution with extraordinary capacity. The video below on the OLPC idea is a powerful model for social enterprise, any social enterprise.

The Rwandan example in the following video is a powerful illustration of the results. The computer itself has a more powerful wireless capability than your computer, it has a water resistant keyboard, it can be powered by a solar device or a crank generator, it has no hard drive and it is capable of computer to computer networking which extends its distance for more distributed communities. These are just a few of the features that make it suitable for the rigours of remote or extreme conditions.

Jessica Jackley opportunity can change a life.

Jessica Jackley wanted to connect friends and family in the U.S. with friends and family in Africa. raises over a million dollars every 9 days, with 300,00 lenders, and 95 partner lending institutions for microfinance loans for businesses in impoverished countries. All to say, the internet allowed her to participate in the lives of people she cared about by providing opportunity for them. Kiva means unity in Swahili.

A Fistful Of Dollars: The Story of a Loan from Kieran Ball on Vimeo.

Majora Carter makes "Green is the new Black."

She chooses to fix a neighbourhood, the South Bronx. She seeks a new normal, a reasonable one that has grass instead of garbage, clean parks instead of dumping grounds and a waterfront for people instead of a collection of derelict warehouses. There is a tendency to think of her activism as a solution soley for impoverished urban areas, but her ideas apply to any area where people want to participate in how they live wherever they live. After all of her South Bronx development efforts and successes she has left the Sustainable South Bronx organization to run on its own, to begin the Majora Carter Group with the following mission: "Majora Carter Group builds efficient relationships between organizations and across sectors, helping civic, business and nonprofit organizations meet their individual interests via green economic projects."

Leymah Gbowee had "a crazy dream"

This is Leymah Gbowee, a citizen of Liberia. She decided the war in her country had gotten to the point of "ridiculous." Then she had a dream about peace. In the beginning she cannot accept herself as the leader in the dream. After overcoming her denial, she began her mission to stop the war by sharing her frustration with the killing and raping, announcing that it must stop.

Abigail Disney, Walt's grandaughter, a philanthropist and filmmaker, made this documentary called Pray the Devil Back to Hell. I highly recommend watching this interview with Leymah Gbowee and Abigail Disney. Leymah Gbwoee is now the Executive Director of Women's, Peace & Security Network.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


We had our first session with the kids in the Jane/Finch Neighbourhood. A lot of images were captured with the cameras that we put into the hands of the children. I'm about to download the pics and video but I thought I would share this one that I took with my iPhone during our walk around the neighbourhood.

Friday, September 25, 2009


At our meeting last month I offered to source out some cameras for the workshops so that we could document the process of Neighbourhood Diaries. When it came out of my mouth I was thinking still cameras but it soon became clear that some of you thought that I meant video cameras.

A few more seconds of rigorous planning soon got me to the point of envisioning the making a documentary film. A film that would incorporate the video taken by the children during the workshops in addition to footage taken at our meetings, at the Harbourfront show, the parade etc. We could use this also to document the nascent beginnings of 826TO.

I have done a little research but have not identified the cameras to use nor who will pay for them. Having made the promise I will supply some equipment even if I have to pay for it myself. It would however be nice to find a sponsor who might be willing to donate or subsidize the equipment costs so that we could get more cameras into more hands.

Both Robin and I independently came up with the idea of possibly setting up a camera in each session so that participants could sit down in front of the lens and speak what they wished (like the 'speakers corner' concept). He also suggested that some of you were interested in helping with this documentary/photo project. If you want to get involved please let me know soon.

I also had a conversation with Professor Matt Ratto at the Critical Making Lab at UofT and we discussed the idea of hacking some cheap cameras so that they could be worn by the kids around there necks and programmed for example to shoot a still every 5 seconds.

For Liz's first session in October I will try to have 2 HD video cameras. One will be set on a tripod and running like a speakers corner booth. The other could be held by me or someone else who would use it to taking moving video, or it could be set as a stationary wide-angle view of the room.

I will also try to get some digital still cameras into the hands of the children so that they can take random shots of their own. I'm not sure yet what to do with all of these images but I think it could be used to create an interesting display piece.

Your thoughts and involvement are welcome.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Neighbourhood Diaries recently appeared at IGNITE Toronto. I've never conveyed so much information in so little time - 5 minutes, 20 slides, 15 seconds a slide.

Ignite T.O. Robin Uchida - Neighbourhood Diaries from Ignite Toronto on Vimeo.

Thanks to Tim Yull and Nabil for recommending it. Some space was offered and others volunteered. All-in-all an interesting experience for me and a success for ND.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Do you care about the earth?

At the dinner table the father asks his children, “Who cares about the earth?” The son and the daughter announce in unison, “I do!” The father says, “What are you doing about it?” They quickly respond, “Recycling.”

The father inquires, “Do you care about the earth the way you care about other things?” At which point they begin to discuss the things they care about, the family, Blackberry the family dog, and they discovered the list was relatively short.

He persists with questions like the following, “Do you really care about the earth?”, “What is the earth?”, “Is it the magma you love?”, and finally he proposes, “I believe people say they care about the earth but really they don’t.”

The following morning as they leave for their respective daytime destinations, the father asks again, “Do you care about the earth?”
They answer in unison, “No.” As they enter their car and take their respective seats the son pauses and suggests the following from the rear, “It’s really about being grateful. If you’re grateful, then you will do something. The earth can’t care about you so how can you care about the earth. It’s not the same.”

“That's brilliant”, the father says as he reflects on how grateful he is to have children. He also realizes that he didn’t take time to acknowledge his daughter for being who she is and the father makes a point of rectifying this later the same day.

(The father makes a mental note about how the earth may in fact 'care about us'.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Subprojects from Meeting April 28, 2009

It seems the ideas discussed during the meeting can be viewed as two distinct projects that can be complementary:
1. Creating a sustainable mentorship program between writers/artists and children to encourage the development of writing/drawing skills as an essential foundation of literacy and self-expression.
2. Using the opportunity presented by the Harbor Front resources and number of children flow-through to support writing and artistic skills.

The first project has a strategic outlook. It aims at creating a replicable model for peering writers (authors, journalists, bloggers) and artists with children over time in multiple sessions focused on developing the children’s ability to write/draw and providing them with a practical understanding of the spectrum of professional occupations and applications related to these skills.

This project requires the following critical success factors:
• A pool of writers/artists committed to the program
• A pool of interested teachers and students (children & youth)
• An approved safe environment for the interaction of children and mentors
• A light and efficient administrative support to plan and manage the program logistics
• A program design that creates incentives for parents, teachers and students to participate wholeheartedly in the program activities
• A performance index to measure success of the program

Pool of writers/artists: Initial exploration of interest seems to indicate that the Writers Guild and other organizations (Robin: please list in more detail) are interested in supporting and participating in such program. It is necessary to articulate the scope of commitments required from participating authors/artists over a defined span of time and to estimate the actual number of those willing to commit. This would define the size of pool available and determine the scope of the pilot programs implementation.

Pool of interested teachers and students: Similarly, it would be useful to quantify the support for this program among teachers, students and parents beyond individual expressions of interest. This can only be done if an outline of the program describing expected contributions, commitments and outcomes is available to that audience to base their decisions upon.

Approved safe environment: Repeated interaction between writers/artists and children in a calm non-distracting ambiance requires a safe and trusted environment as a venue. There was consensus that schools are the best venue for the activities of the program and hence partnership with schools is a critical component. Again, based on an outline of the program it would be useful to obtain the commitment (or at least written expression of interest) of 1-2 schools for a pilot implementation.

Light and efficient program administration: In order to keep the program administration as light and efficient as possible, use of existing resources and infrastructure should be maximized. Coordination with the Literacy Program and stakeholders would be an essential step in that direction. The availability of subject matter expertise (Liz and collaborators) along with approval and support of Literacy Program may also enable the recruitment of corporate sponsorships.

Program Incentives: The program needs to be designed in such a way that it is genuinely attractive to students and teachers, while providing parents with predictable schedules and expectations. It must also include incentives catering to the interests of participating writers.

Performance measures: as with any such program it is essential to be able to measure the success achieved through the program’s activities. A benchmark needs to be established at the onset of the pilot and agreement reached about a set of tangible measures and outcomes.

The second project is tactical in nature, but presents interesting opportunities to complement and promote the first project. Several ideas were discussed, but the one that seemed most feasible was framed similarly to a Literacy Summer Camp. It was agreed that:
• We needed a better understanding of the structure and programming of such camps.
• Asking writers and artists about programming ideas within the constraints of the Harbor Front context might yield innovative solutions.
This second project offers the possibility of events that can be designed around promoting the program, acknowledging achievements of the best participants, and attracting further support and replication by others.

Action items:
• Summarize outcomes of meeting and action items [Nabil]
• Draft program outline (framework, objectives, resources, methods, outcomes) [Liz]
• Approach Literacy Program to explore approval and support [Liz]
• List all contacted organizations and quantify as far as possible their support for the program [Robin]

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Neighbourhood Parade Project

For those of you who don't know, this is a taste of the Kensington Parade that takes place every year. This is the inspiration for the Neighbourhood Diaries opening parade. I haven't told Harbourfront yet, but I envision 20-30 people from each Toronto neighbourhood that's willing, perhaps the Toronto Island community with the Shadowland Theatre, Dufferin Grove, Trinity Bellwods, Parkdale, Riverdale, Cabbagetown, The Annex - I think that totals about 200. We need a volunteer project leader for this and a sponsor for material costs.

DAY ONE: Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The first Neighbourhood Diaries Workshop is on Wednesday, March 18 2009 - 6:30 to 8:30pm. 15 young hopefuls, approximately 10 years of age and 15 writers/mentors at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Strategic Innovation Lab on the 6th floor. (Thank you to Lenore Richards, a supporter and friend.) Juice and cookies are free. My hope is simply to enable an enjoyable and fruitful experience, observe and learn. My wife has offered to assemble the children and now I need to find the writers.

Marc Sullivan, designer extraordinaire, has offered to participate. I hope to begin developing the 'face' of Neighbourhood Diaries with he, Carolyn White and with the ever-vigilant Gillian Lind to keep my honest. Marc has offered up this great example of visualization as a possibility - very interesting.

Patrick Keenan sent this suggestion over as a result of my dissatisfaction with the the way technology tries to deal with dialogue. Unfortunately it is called DEBATEGRAPH. Very interesting though. I continue to try to imagine how the active community will be aware of itself.

Thanks to the input of others I have begun to reflect on the obvious, writing is essential to plays, songwriting, puppet shows, Shakespeare, newspapers, animations, documentaries, television, as well as books. Is my face red? Each of these can be a different dimension of Neighbourhood Diaries. While I know for a fact that some of the children are quite content to write for writing sake, they will all be quite engaged by each or any of these forms. My first thought is, to isolate each vehicle and find someone to champion the project type if there is a interest. that said, it is clear to me that there are other organizations that already have initiatives that mentor children and I would be interested in any of these if you know of them. For example, Robin Sokolowski at the Canadian Playwright association has done great work with children for several years now.

Does anyone know how to get in touch with Sean Cullen?

Is there something wrong with our math?

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

Watch this video at the Rocky Mountain News. Clearly, this was more than a business idea (and no apologies are necessary).

It seems to me all of us have put too much emphasis on financial and physical capital. Where did our attention to social capital go? In the words of Robert Putnam "By 'social capital', I mean features of social life--networks, norms, and trust--that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives." Somewhere along the line we lost sight of the first piece of the capital in the equation.

social capital + (financial capital + physical capital) = value

The financial crisis has become a social crisis because the latter is distinct and contingent on the former. I'm not proposing socialism, I am just suggesting that social capital is worthy of being part of the real value equation. Economists would like to interpret jobs as a measure of 'the social', when if fact 'the social' should be some kind of measure of the job. For example, I would like to think that writing is an important social act, first and foremost.

So if the numbers don't make a business, if I can't get a bigger car, if the newspaper doesn't get enough advertisers because of an economic downturn, if inflation makes premium education inaccessible, if you can't pay me..., then the idea is by definition "of too little value", it fails and another good thing comes to an end.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuba's rock

The concert is a half an hour away and the children are in chaos in their makeshift playground. Parents are trying to accommodate the anxious children when a man with a tuba appears out of nowhere with a stool in his hand and he proceeds to position himself at the top of a low rise in the hallway. The children are fluttering at his feet like butterflies on a branch as he readies himself. My 4-year-old son is perched on my shoulders, he is the head and I am his legs, and I walk toward the musician in anticipation as he puts his lips up to this gleaming monster. Deep uncommon tones, soft and deliberate caresses, each one begins to fill the expansiveness of the space as if the rooftop is beginning to breathe with each new note. As he plays I can feel the sounds on my chest and the vibrations are resonating as if from the inside of my heart out into the room. Instantly I think of my son and I look up at the wonderment on his face. I knew he could feel what I could feel, it was the first time for both of us. I thought, this is what it is to be alive my son and I cried in the lobby of Roy Thompson Hall.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Neighbourhood diaries in summary

Well, this is how things will look from 30,000 feet. We will be prototyping the mentoring sessions to begin the process with writers and children. Our intention will be to document these sessions using a video camera. The participants will be asked to comment on their experience on the facebook site. Neighbourhood diaries/facebook will capture the writer's comments for the purposes of improving the experience and recruiting other interested participants. Over the following months we will be addressing the development of the event, the exhibit and the experience. Of course fund raising will begin as soon as we have some material to share from the prototype sessions.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cute baby

Watch this video at your own risk. If you begin to feel viewing this will cause you permanent psychological damage I have included the full transcript below.

Oah. Oah.
Come heeeere.
Stand up again.
Yeaaaaah. (adjustment for safety)
Big boy.
Heeee’s walking.
Do it again.
Hehehe. Getting’ tired huh?
You can do it.
Yeaaaah. Come heeere.
Look at you.
Oh that’s a most efficient way of getting here.
Come here (unintelligible)
Come on. Come on big boy.
Yaaaaah. So exciiiiting.
Yeeees. (clapping)
That’s Camilo walking for the first time by himself.
It is June 29th, 2008.
He’ll be 14 months old next week. Mhm.
Ooooh. What a big guy.
You’re makin’ us proud.
Whoop. (adjustment for safety)
He stands up by himself.
Good boy.
Your so gooood.
That’s exciting. (mother hugs and kisses him)
Hmmmmmh. (check out the mother’s toes)
You got bit by the bug Camilo. Now you’re gonna wanna walk all the time. We’re gonna have to be on guard.
Hey smiley guy. You gonna walk over here.
Come on let’s walk.
Oh ya. Heheheh.

I count 51 phrases/sounds of encouragement give or take a few, 2 actions of care and safety, 1 overt display of physical affection and 1 indication of empathy over the course of 4 minutes and 5 seconds.

Parenting aside, here’s my point. When was the last time someone encouraged you? When was the last time you encouraged someone else? Why is this thought so unfamiliar and so uncomfortable? For those of you who are still pondering these questions, may I suggest that you make a point of encouraging one person, once-a-day. For those of you who already do, my hope would be that your words of encouragement sound nothing like this baby’s father.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Qwerty Toronto 3.0

OK, so I think this is pretty close now. As I mentioned before I am trying to use existing applications to accomplish a variety of things. I wish this was easier but is it appears that different circumstances require different web inventions. If anyone has a way to return to the world of simple, easy and effective let me know.

Do schools kill creativity?

I urge you to watch this video of Sir Kenneth Robinson at TED. I think you'll find his delivery engaging and his observations rather inspiring.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Qwerty Toronto 2.0

Here's the revised version of the web structure. The red lines signify access to members only. (My son has emailed one of his favourite writers, comedian Sean Cullen, asking him to participate) thanks for the support Lucas. Lucas' blog is called Lucas'Blog and his chosen theme is EVERYTHING.

Note: IDEA HOUSE - the secure blogging for kid's component. I see this as the standard blogging tools with addition of a closed community feature. Does anyone know how to do this? is being approached to be the online publishing partner. I think this will be the most expedient way of ensuring the delivery of a book in time for the event.

Am I missing anything?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Internet thoughts

I am not an information architect but I have tried to assemble the internet requirements for Neighbourhood Diaries. is the umbrella for the public-facing information and activities. It will also serve as the not-for-profit company and the name of the final location. is the development reservoir for ideas, strategic alliance and sponsorship possibilities. This will be limited access for people who are invited to the core development group. There is no obligation beyond positivity and anything else you can bring to the project when you feel it is appropriate.

Neighbourhood Diaries will accumulate writers and other friends who wish to volunteer and it will be used for interim initiatives such as prototype dates and any future arrangements with the Toronto Board of Education students.

Publishing will be online (hopefully). easy and on demand.

My kids yearn for fellow bloggers with similar interests. This will have to be a secure platform of some sort. Does anyone know how this could be done?

Any other thoughts, suggestions just comment.


Monday, February 2, 2009

One laptop per child

What if we create a relationship with One Laptop per child? When the location is up and running I would like to have the flexibility to offer laptop borrowing to any child who shows an interest in writing but does not have a computer. They are $200. US each. (Of course a plentiful supply of paper and pencils will be in the cupboard too.)

I also like Lenore Richards at Ontario College of Art and Design may be able to help us get to Bob Young to ask for support.(thanks Michael) The idea of publishing on demand makes a lot of sense. At least in the short-term.

Any thoughts?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Friday's Meeting

Thank you for attending everyone.

I would like to invite each of you to participate on this site. Please comment on this post if you have anything from the meeting you would like to share. In the future feel free to post if there is a need to iron out a detail or present an important idea.

All of you heard Jake say it, "I would consider buying a building for the school."

Regarding Damian's call for a name - I'm thinking of calling the not-for-profit company QWERTY TORONTO (My 10 year old son laughed at qwerty, then I showed him what it meant and he laughed again - a good sign I think). Amazingly the domain was available. I'm going to begin planning the prototype for the writing tutoring session on Damian's suggestion.

Robert - there is a possibility we will need to guide the writers in their role as mentors and offer constructive support when the need arises.

Kelly - Gillian, Carolyn and I will work toward a description of the event at Harbourfront and the interim events. Once I establish a date and place for the 'prototype' I will let everyone know. Your assistance would be appreciated. I would like to see this blog as an ongoing gathering place for people who are open to contributing in any way possible.

Here's an interesting video I found on the 826 site.

I have linked the 826 sites and the TED Talks video of Dave Eggers. Have a look, they're very inspiring. I should reiterate, I do not feel that the success of our project is contingent on being part of the 826 concept, that said, clearly we recognize the value of learning from their experiences. I contacted them last year and they were extremely generous with their guidance. I will remain in contact them and it is my intention to get Dave Eggers up here for our opening.

I will keep you informed as things develop.