May 6, 2009


This is not a goodbye–it’s a better hello.

By switching my blog over to a different format, it will provide you–the faithful reader–with better readabiltiy and more options.

To you, my first blog site, please forgive  me. I will never forget you!

Great Moments in Rights Media

May 6, 2009

Rights media—simply explained as any form of media that contains information relating to human rights—has shaped our world. One of the many things jhr will be doing is to create an online space that highlights some of the most important historical examples of ‘rights media’.

Here are but a few. You have probably seen these before in one form or another. But please take another look. We can’t remind ourselves often enough about the struggles that have come before us.

Great Speeches: Martin Luther King—I Have a Dream

Great Photographs: Steve McCurry, National Geographic—’Afghan Girl’

Sharbat Gula

Sharbat Gula

Great Journalism: Woodward and Bernstein—Watergate


Great Publications: The Rights of Man by Thomas Payne

Old but Good

Old but Good

Charlie Rose

May 5, 2009

charlie_roseA great resource that I recently discovered (my friend Ben Watsa introduced it to me) is the website for the Charlie Rose Show.

I’ve always been a huge Charlie Rose fan—he gets in-depth with the greatest minds of our day in a way few other interviewers can. Now his website brings you every interview he has done on the show, in its full length.

So, if you want to really know what the ‘big names’ are thinking, check out the site. Here, for example, is an interview he did with the decorated economist and development theorist Jeffery Sachs.

Active Alumni

May 4, 2009
Top 40

Top 40

I spent the majority of the day at a meeting with past winners of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Award, which I was lucky enough to receive a few years back.

The goal was to create an alumni association of sorts that would A) serve as a networking hub for past Top 40 recipients and B) pool our collective resources and talents to support some charitable cause.

The struggle to start such a group has been ongoing. Various alumni have been discussing this in various waves for over a decade, with no concrete results thus far.

I’m not a big alumni guy. From time-to-time I go to a Queen’s or LSE alumni event. But then I’m quickly reminded why I don’t go more often.  No offense to the wonderful people that run these events, but I find most of the attendee’s are either trying to relive their glory days or are desperate to network/meet new friends. Normally, the only thing I have in common with others there is that we both went to the same school. This bond, while initially strong, tends to weaken over the years.

If I moved to a new city I might become more active in the local alumni group—it’s a great way to meet people and make connections. But in a place where I’m already established in, I can network more efficiently using other means.

So, then, for me, what distinguishes one such association from another is its utility. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I am busy—so are most people. We want to join groups only if we get something out of it that is worth the time we put into it.

Too many organizations start alumni associations just because it’s something to do and seems like a good way to strengthen their brand. Don’t. Look at it as a value proposition from the perspective of potential members. And know that some people are already so over-networked it will be nearly impossible to provide a worthwhile value proposition to them.

Media Turmoil Hits Canada

May 1, 2009
A Thing of the Past?

A Thing of the Past?

The US media industry has been taking a bath for months. And now the downturn seems to have hit Canadian media companies head on. A quick look at today’s Media News on Canoe shows that:

1)      22% of internet users have stopped buying newspapers

2)      The  National Post will stop production of their paper on Mondays this summer

3)      Rogers Communications quarterly profit has dropped

4)      CTV is warning about the end of broadcasting

5)      And a whole whack of news from US media including financial troubles for the Washington Post and Clear Channel will lay off 590 people.

And that’s just today’s news.

Media watchers the world over have their own thoughts on all of this.

Some of my thoughts, in broad strokes:

A)     The decline of newspapers shouldn’t be a surprise. Young people simply aren’t buying papers. A highly celebrated young journalist at the Globe confided to me the other day that even he never reads the hard-copy paper—he just reads it online. The fact he felt he had to confide this in me speaks volumes. The newspaper industry doesn’t want to believe things are changing. They need to wake up to it. The recession is only accelerating the inevitable.

B)      The trouble for broadcasters shouldn’t be a surprise either. Who the hell watches 99% of what’s on TV? Not many brokentvpeople. And with the DVR (or PRV), downloadable shows, the birth of and other websites the path seems clear—only quality broadcasting will survive in the  long run. Fewer and fewer people will just sit down and watch whatever is the least-worst show on TV. And traditional TV advertising formats will have to eventually die.

C)      Traditional ‘journalists’ like to decry the birth of citizen journalists. Don’t. Citizen journalists should and will play a bigger role. But there will always be a place for professional, fact-checked news. Maybe a smaller audience, but decision makers and opinion leaders will always demand quality sources of news—and will be willing to pay for it. The Economist isn’t struggling for a reason.

Sex as a Weapon – For Good

April 30, 2009
Ida Odinga--Sex Denier

Ida Odinga--Sex Denier

In a remarkable turn of fate, women across Kenya are denying sex to their husbands to protest the growing political turmoil in the country. Kenya, traditionally one of Africa’s powerhouses, has been a victim of years of nasty political rivalries, culminating in national violent riots last year. While President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have tried to make peace, their shaky coalition looks like it might be coming apart, which could push the country back into a period of instability. Read the story here.

Odinga’s wife is on board, urging her husband to focus on his job, not on her.

On a continent where a women’s sex is more often than not a liability, this campaign is a breath of fresh air. While withholding sex isn’t a woman’s only power card, it’s a first step to asserting independence—and a little bit of worthwhile sass.

Thinking of Others—and Myself

April 29, 2009

Ouch, That's a Rough Man Cold

Ouch, That's a Rough Man Cold

The last four days I’ve been suffering through a nasty little spring cold. I feel like I’m under water—my physical and mental responses have slowed down. Writing these few sentences is laborious.

And yes, I’m feeling sorry for myself. My office likes to say that I suffer from ‘man cold’ syndrome. Check out this video for a bit of comic relief.

But it makes me pause. It’s hard for people that are sick or have their own worries to stop and think about others. And I just have a silly little cold. What if I had a long term illness, or was depressed or suffered from other more permanent ailments? I would have to focus more on myself and less on others. It would make managing a team much more difficult. Having the passion and energy for international development work might be impossible.

Many of us in the charitable sector have a no-so-hidden feeling of moral superiority to those that dedicate their lives to enriching themselves.  This feeling is misplaced. It is a privilege to have the confidence and passion to dedicate my professional career to improving society. But I never judge the motivations or career path of others. If I found myself in a slightly different situation I might not be here either.

Smart Students

April 28, 2009

In an earlier blog I raved about the ability of students to have an impact on the world.

Here are two wonderful examples of Canadian university students using their academic prowess to address some of the most difficult and heart wrenching issue out there.

Speak Magazine--Children's Rights

Speak Magazine--Children's Rights

Firstly, please read Speak Magazine. This brilliant and beautiful publication is a collection of articles on children’s rights. The magazine was published, edited and written by students  across Canada (mainly jhr Chapter members, I’m pleased to say). Joe Rayment and Kate O’Neil at UBC took the lead on this. Both should have amazing careers ahead of them based on this work. It has been distributed across dozens of universities from coast-to-coast-to-coast. Congrats.

The second publication you need to check out is Writes in Review. This is a peer-reviewed online academic journal focused on human rights and social justice issues. Students across Canada submitted articles to the journal, which were then reviewed and selected by other students. It is perhaps the finest example of a student reviewed journal I have ever seen. Congrats on Brett Nguyen at U of T for heading this up.

If the future is in these student’s hands, I’m optimistic.

A Mandela Day?

April 27, 2009

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

While announced only today, momentum to designate July 18th as a global ‘Mandela Day’ is mounting.

July 18th is Nelson Mandela’s birthday. The day “is a global call to action for people to recognize their individual power to make an imprint and change the world around them,” according to the official Mandela Day website.

Bill Clinton has signed on. And I’m sure many, many of Mandela’s big name supporters will follow suit. The campaign, launched by The Nelson Mandela Foundation and another Mandela related charity, 46664 (named after Mandela’s prisoner number), will have no shortage of firepower to get this off the ground.

My respond: good for them. Yes, perhaps another day is just another day. But Mandela is as close our world has to a Saint right now. He inspires, he leads. Mr. Mandela should be remembered forever. If this helps preserve his memory into the future, I’m all for it.

Freed At Last

Freed At Last

I’m sure I will tell my children, and my children’s children, about the time I met Nelson Mandela. It was July 1990. Immediately after he was released from prison, he came to thank Canada for our efforts on his behalf and to pressure our government to keep sanctions intact against a still-Apartheid South Africa. I was lucky enough to shake his hand and chat with him in a private room with only a handful of other people.

I was only twelve years old. But the memory says with me like it was yesterday. Who knows—maybe jhr wouldn’t be around today if it wasn’t for the brief moment of awe and inspiration I experienced.

Bring on Mandela Day.

Malaria Vaccine?

April 24, 2009

mosquitoGlaxoSmithKline, the big-pharma company, has announced they are set to start phase three clinical trials for a malaria vaccine. Read the Reuters article here.

This is potentially fantastic news. However, a number of major hurdles need to be overcome before it starts saving lives.

First, it has to pass its final clinical testing phase. This is far from a sure bet.

Secondly, it has to be priced at an appropriate level. Unfortunately, most malaria sufferers live in developing countries and would have a hard time paying more than a few dollars for the vaccine.

Thirdly, it has to be widely and properly distributed. Distributing drugs into the far reaches of places in Africa and Asia and Oceana is no easy task.

Fourthly, distribution has to be accompanied by a successful public information campaign. People are often suspicious of new drugs, especially if it has any immediate side effects. People have to both accept it and take it properly for it to be effective.

If it were just up to GSK to ensure it would be rolled out effectively, I wouldn’t place a strong bet. Luckily, the development of the drug has been financed, in part, by the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They have the resources, and hopefully the will and expertise, to allow this to save millions of lives.

This is also a first-rate example of a charity-corporate partnership. Neither organization could do it alone, but together, they can hopefully improve the lot of the world’s poorest nations.