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Saturday, May 28, 2011

I Laughed at Cancer

On May 12th I laughed harder than I've laughed in an extremely long time.
What was so funny, might you ask? 

Cancer. Yes, I laughed at Cancer.

Now before you rush to conclude that I am a horrible person, take a few moments to hear me out...

Patient Commando put on its first production two weeks ago inspiring laughter, tears, and rave reviews in the sold-out Glen Goulds Theater.  Daniel Stolfi, writer and sole actor in his one-man show Cancer Can't Dance Like This, dug beneath the stigma of what it means to be a chronic patient and unleashed emotions of the doctors, health care professionals, patients, educators, and others in the room.

Stolfi led the audience through his two-year journey of battling Cancer and enduring chemotherapy. Between the hilarious acts showing us his doctors' office experiences, losing his sex drive, appetite, and strength, he read from the journal he wrote throughout his time of suffering.  It was so real, and so honest, and that's why these shows change people.

It's a good thing we offered drinks and snacks after the show, because people didn't want to leave!  I observed as the members of the audience engaged in conversation with one another about the show; how it affected them, what part resonated with them most, their own stories.  I realized that the change happens in the post-show experience.  Watching the shows themselves sparks the transformation, and the moment people have the opportunity to discuss and relate to their own lives, their perspectives on the chronic patient transform.

When I began working with Patient Commando several months ago I was quite intrigued by the concept, but truthfully, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  The show on May 12th shifted the work I had been doing from concept to reality. It instilled in me this complete faith in the success of Patient Commando I hadn't realized I was missing.  

I am so excited to watch Patient Commando grow, because I believe whole-heartedly in its ability to change the lives of chronic patients, and ultimately the healthcare system in Canada.  Stay tuned for the next show date, and a big congratulations to Daniel Stolfi and Foundar of Patient Commando, Zal Press.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

You are invited: Ashoka Forum 2011

Ashoka Forum 2011: Everyone a Changemaker
May 26th, MaRs Discovery District 

Every year, Ashoka inducts new social entrepreneurs, or, "Ashoka Fellows", into its global network, which currently stands at 2700 Fellows.  

Anil Patel, Framework
Reflecting back to September when I started volunteering at Ashoka, I didn't really understand the significance of an Ashoka Fellow's work.  However, after months of engaging with these individuals, learning and working with them, I get I understand why Ashoka spends endless hours selecting these individuals, and why there is so much emphasis placed on a candidate's new idea, entrepreneurial spirit, ethical fibre, creativity, and of course, social impact.  

Cindy Blackstock, First Nations CFCS
These are the top change-leaders in the world, and on may 26th, we are celebrating the addition of a new cohort of Canadian Fellows into our network.

I've been to many events in the social innovation space; some I find very useful and others I find vague and confusing.  The Ashoka Forum is different, because you will interact with and learn from the people who are actively solving Canada's most pressing social issues and making great strides in the process.  If they weren't, they wouldn't be elected as Fellows.

The event is broken down into two parts:  
The Action Dialogue (the afternoon) and the   
30 Year Celebration (the evening).  You can register for one of the events, or both. 
They both take place at MaRs Discovery District on May 26th.

If you are interested in social entrepreneurship, if you want to be inspired  and learn what Ashoka is all about, I strongly encourage you to attend the evening 30 Year Celebration.  You will hear from each of the new Fellows and have a chance to meet them while snacking on some delicious food.  This event will run from 5:30-7:30pm.

If you are a social innovation guru or are eager to learn more about this growing field, the Action Dialogue is the event for you.  Canadian and global leaders are joining forces to provide an afternoon of intense networking and learning.  Here's how the afternoon will flow:
Tonya Surman, founder of CSI
  • Ashoka Fellow Panel, facilitated by the Centre for Social Innovation's one and only, Tonya Surman.
  • Breakout sessions, for which you have 3 options:
      1. Social-mission Investing
      2. Community-Business Collaboration for Sustainability
      3. Citizens Re-defined
The Action Dialogue starts at 2:00pm, ending at 5:00pm, leading into the 30 Year Celebration.   There are student discounts available!

I'm so excited for the 26th, and really hope you can join.  If you have any questions or feedback, I'd love to hear from you.  

Take the time for yourself to be inspired.   Learn about issues in Canada you never knew existed. Celebrate 30 years of social entrepreneurship and scaling impact.  

Join us on the 26th.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cancer Can't Dance Like This

Why a One-Man Show &  Laugh Therapy Socials Are Changing our Healthcare System

 For the past few months, I have been working with Zal Press, founder of Patient Commando Productions, to build his new organization from the ground-up.  I've learned a whole lot and have had a lot of fun, and am excited to announce our feature show launch this Thursday at CBC Glen Gould studio.

So what is Patient Commando and what do we do?
Patient Commando uses the patient narrative to change the relationship between patients and patient providers through theatre, comedy, improvisation workshops and live testimonials.

As a chronic patient suffering from Chron's Disease for 30 years, Zal Press decided to phase out of his successful business to start up Patient Commando.  Throughout these 30 years, Zal felt the apathy of healthcare providers, he saw the weaknesses of the healthcare system, and read about the needless epidemics and diseases caused by lack of real understanding of the patient's experience.

Patient Commando targets healthcare providers of all kinds and uses chronic patients' stories to foster an understanding of the patient's perspective, to ultimately trigger behavioural change. For the chronic patients, we aim to increase their sense of empowerment to know their rights and manage their own healthcare.  

Zal Press, Founder of Patient Commando Productions
As most would agree, there are many weaknesses within our healthcare system, and professionals are actively working to find the right solutions.  They've been trying different approaches for years.  Zal explained this to me a couple of months ago and threw out this question:  If we haven't been able to solve much, who is the one person yet to be engaged in the decision-making process? 

The patient of course!...the person the entire system was designed for.

Using the arts, laughter, and real stories is an innovative approach to solving major barriers to improved healthcare.  By engaging hospitals, medical associations, medical schools, and the various other health institutions in our system, Patient Commando is targeting the people who have the potential to create some serious change.

           What's happening on Thursday?
Lilah Petersiel, Neuroblastoma survivor
This Thursday, Patient Commando Productions is launching with its first show: Cancer Can't Dance Like This. Performed by cancer survivor Daniel Stolfi, this play will take you through his journey of survival while making you laugh your guts out. Like all of our shows, the proceeds from Thursday's performance will be donated to a health/disease-related charity, in this case, Lilah's Fund.   

So how does a "Laugh Therapy Social" come into play, and frankly, what the heck is it?
Patient Commando's strategy is made up of four pieces: Shows, a Speakers Bureau, Membership Services for patients, and lastly, Laughter Therapy Socials.  Our Creative Director and award-winning alumnus of "The Second City", Brian G. Smith leads sessions that allow people to step out of their comfort zones, break down the tensions and anxieties within teams, and most of all, laugh.  Using improv activities at the core of these sessions, Laughter Therapy Socials will have healthcare teams break out of their shells to one another and their patients.

Me (middle) and my "siblings", exchanging gifts on our "birthday".
As a pump-up for the Patient Commando team, I had the opportunity to participate in a Laughter Therapy Social last week.  It was my first time meeting almost everyone in the room, so naturally, this kind of activity was a tad intimidating at first. Within minutes of starting the session, Brian had us making strange noises, making up stories feeding off of one another, and laughing ourselves to tears.  

Social entrepreneurs like Zal Press see major problems and do not settle for the traditional, ineffective ways to solve them.  They combine forces with various sectors, think completely out of the box, and take a risk on something new and innovative.  Thursday night marks the beginning of a new journey for the healthcare system, and I hope you consider joining the fun.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Muhammad Yunus battles forced removal from Grameen Bank

"To me, poor people are like bonsai trees.  When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a flower pot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall.  There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted, only the soil-base that is too inadequate.  Poor people are bonsai people.  There is nothing wrong in their seeds.  Simply, society never gave them the base to grow on.  All it needs to get the poor people out of poverty is for us to create an enabling environment for them.  Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly."
- Muhammad Yunus

I read this quote on the subway home tonight in the book I'm currently reading,  The Power of Unreasonable People.  I was emotionally struck by the way Yunus weaved these words together into an vivid analogy I could actually visualize;  and the truth behind the analogy tightened the lump in my throat because I understood clearer than ever that humankind has stunted the growth of billions of people.  

While I've seen the numbers and read the facts,Yunus' words helped me internalize the damage done and the power of humans to cause that damage.  And so my next thought was that if we have the wherewithal to cause this much suffering globally, don't we have the same degree of strength to create solutions?

I think we do, we just need to make smarter decisions.

I really didn't intend this post to focus on ways of ending global poverty; I just happened to come across these words on the same day I planned to express my thoughts on Yunus' current legal battle, and felt compelled to share this paradox.  What I really wanted to express is how sad it is that someone as authentic as Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner, societal game-changer, writer of the beautiful quote above, could be stripped of the very entity he built from the ground up.

Muhammad Yunus founded Grameen Bank, the world's first microfinance institution, in 1976.  He developed the concept of microfinance and has since built an empire of various Grameen social businesses, such as Grameen Telecom, Grameen Fisheries, and Grameen Danone Foods.  He has created systemic change in his home country of Bangladesh and is a global leader in poverty reduction.  His work has affected millions of people.

Back in March, Yunus was fired from his position as the Director of Grameen Bank by a central bank (government) order.  He was accused of failing to seek the bank's approval when he was reappointed as managing director in 1999.  He was also accused of illegally maintaining his position past the retirement age limit of 60 in Bangladesh.

This legal battle completely blows my mind.  Despite the success (let alone social impact) of Grameen Bank, Bangladesh continues to be a nation consumed by hunger, disease, and extreme poverty.  Did the government really not have more important issues to tackle than to attack the country's most respected individual?  Is there not enough harmful corporate activity taking place every day that the government can work to destroy? T

he wasted effort, time, and money spent on this  fiasco wanes on me and I cannot help but recall the quote "No good deed goes unpunished". I wonder if he feels betrayed by his own country, or if he even cares at all.

I think there is a lesson here for social entrepreneurs:  Perhaps the ones who are driving major global change, the unreasonable people like Muhammad Yunus, realize their visions because they didn't follow all the rules along the way.  And if that's the case, no matter how much good we try to exude in our worlds, there will always be something trying to break us down.  

Ultimately, the learning for social entrepreneurs is to maintain pure resilience and focus on vision, because I predict that even if Muhammad Yunus does not win this unecessary fight, Grameen businesses and the legacy Yunus holds will remain indestructible...and this sets a stellar example for social change actors everywhere.