The Don Simpson Blog


Year End Reflections On The Power of Storytelling


My intent with this Scouting Report/Blog is to:

  • Introduce Kim McConnell as another Renaissance Pathfinder widely recognized for his many outstanding successes, his innovative thinking, and his strategic leadership in the food and agricultural sector.
  • Provide examples of Kim’s passion for collecting and sharing purposeful stories to inspire, challenge and support the efforts of other leaders (especially young leaders) to expand their capacity to function as entrepreneurial, collaborative, innovators in whatever sector they have chosen.

Encourage you to connect online with Kim and start to benefit from his distinctive expertise, and his inspiring stories aimed at encouraging transformational leadership to build high performing organizations and to help make the world a better place.

A Brief Profile of Kim McConnell Kim McConnell2

Kim is a founder and former CEO, of AdFarm an agriculture-focused marketing and communications firm withclients throughout Canada and the United States. AdFarm is one of the largest agricultural marketing communications firms in North America with offices in Calgary, Guelph, Kansas City, St. Louis, Fargo and Sacramento.

Over the years, Kim has led national and international brand and marketing assignments for many respected companies including Farm Credit Canada, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, UFA, RBC Royal Bank, Agrium and Canadian Angus Association.  He has been the catalyst behind many industry initiatives in advancing the Canadian Beef Industry, the Canadian Seed Industry, and recently has spearheaded an initiative to build a greater public trust in food and farming.

He is an instinctive collaborator with a special capacity for building trust among diverse stakeholders and for utilizing dialogue processes and humour for getting diverse groups to both collaborate and innovate to accomplish complex tasks. He is also an enthusiastic mentor, ambassador, and promoter of the efforts of a new generation of young leaders committed to the transformation of the Food and Agricultural sector.

In addition to numerous creative and marketing awards, under Kim’s leadership AdFarm was recognized for three years as one of “Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies” and by Canadian Business magazine as one of the “Best Places to Work in Canada”. Kim is also the recipient of many national business awards including finalist for the Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” (Prairie Region); The Canadian Youth Business Foundation “Mentor of the Year”; and the KPMG “Quantum Shift Award. In 2012 he received one of the industrys highest awards when he was inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame.

My Association With Kim McConnell:

I first met Kim in the late nineties when I and members of my Innovation Expedition team were engaged in efforts to transform the agricultural sector and to help stimulate activities aimed at dramatically expanding food exports from the Province.

If we were to have any hope of achieving the big stretch goals being suggested for the sector we needed to find ways for engaging the diverse, often competing players in the sector (producers, suppliers, educators, regulators, processors, marketers, retailers and wholesalers) and to get them aligned around a shared strategy.

 Our team used this opportunity as another early test bed for the Challenge DialogueSystem (CDS™) which we were developing.  We used our process to engage former competitors in open dialogue aimed at building enough trust enough that they would begin to share their stories which highlighted their hopes, their successes, their flaws and the constraints they felt were holding them back.

Kim McConnellTo help me build this spirit of collaboration I needed to engage someone who knew the sector, who was trusted by people in all parts of the sector, and someone who was credible as a strategic communicator.  I was directed to two individuals who met this criteria.  One was Kim McConnell, the other Art Froehlich.  After interviewing both of them I sensed that while they were technically competing in the area of strategic marketing for the Agricultural Sector, they seemed to be friendly competitors.  Also it was clear that they shared many values and intentions, and each had some expertise and relationship building skills that complimented that of the other person.

So I invited both of them to join our team and to share the communication efforts needed as part oArt Froehlichf our ongoing Challenge Dialogue. They were a powerful addition to our team — our transformational efforts eventually were highly successful and our special task team won a Premier’s Award for our efforts.

Shortly after this success in the agriculture sector I moved our company into an exciting new online mixed media company, (Axia Net Media) which was being created by Art Price another brilliant strategic thinker, who in his early thirties had been CEO of Husky Oil.

Note: In later Blogs I will provide more detailed introductions to both Art Price and Art Froehlich both of whom are among the more than 50 Renaissance Pathfinders with whom I am now engaged.

The Creation of AdFarm:

At this point Art Froehlich and Kim decide to take their collaboration further by co creating the company which became AdFarm.

In the years since I have thoroughly enjoyed following the hugely successful evolution of their company. I particularly enjoyed several opportunities to take my guests from various global locations to meet Kim and/or Art in their unusual AdFarm office in Calgary which they had designed to reflect the working realities and values of a successful farm.  AdFarm’s creativity, collaborative values and happy optimism were infectious.

Kim McConnell as Distributor of Interesting Purposeful Stories

In recent years as Kim removed himself from the role of CEO he was able to commit more of his time for nurturing dialogue among participants in the sector, for  encouraging  the innovative work of an expanded group of young leaders in the sector and  for serving as a promoter/ambassador nationally for ensuring a continued supply of good food.

Kim has a high respect for the power of sensitive, informed, skilled storytellers in inspiring and supporting the desire of many individuals to strengthen their capacity to function as entrepreneurial, collaborative innovators. His larger goal was to encourage these leaders to commit to building high performing organizations and to help create sustainable prosperity in their communities and in others around the world.

He is an inveterate collector of interesting stories from a wide variety of sources.  I don’t know when he made his serious commitment to share these stories.  But I am so pleased that sometime in 2009 I found myself on his mailing list. I did not get any special note indicating that I would now start receiving some of the “gems” from Kim’s collection of stories. They just started arriving –usually with a brief context setting note from Kim referencing –where he found this story (a group he had met; an event he attended; a story from a magazine or a video on the Internet),–why it had been important to him –and why he had decided to share it with me.

The first one featured a Newsweek article by Fareed Zacharia praising Canada ( Feb 16,2009 ) in which Zacharia suggests that “ —there is much he ( President Obama ) and all of us could learn from our quiet –OK sometimes boring—neighbour to the North “.

A couple of months later I received a You Tube link on the surprising success of an amateur singer Susan Boyle. Kim’s cover note was titled “Dreams Can Come True“ and in it he wrote that “It certainly gave me an extra dose of excitement that dreams can come true. I hope it does the same for you Don. “

The stories have kept coming for the past 7 years –covering a wide range of topics addressing such issues as loyalty; respect; collaboration; compassion; entrepreneurship; innovation; science in agriculture; and high performance. The sector focus was eclectic although periodically a story would arrive that provided me with new insights into exciting developments in the Canadian food and agriculture sector which occupies a special place in Kim’s priorities .

Recently I have noticed an increase in the focus Kim was giving to exploring some controversial issues on the role of science in agriculture and to promoting the work of exceptional young leaders in the agriculturaDon Simpson and Kim - 2014l sector including some positive references to the innovative efforts of the 4H organizations.

In writing this blog in the weekend following Christmas I originally intended to quickly select and insert a couple ofsample stories from 2015. But as soon as I started to review the close to 20 stories and personal comments received from Kim in the past 12 months I was enjoyably “ lost “ in the fine collection I had stored in my computer. Instead of the few minutes of searching which I had intended, I took a couple of hours to reread all that he had sent me over the past year.

It was such an enjoyable break for me, as I reread the stories they stimulated me to reflect on so many different personal experiences from the past year. The reflections energized me to pick up the pace in 2016 on some “big ideas” that I wanted to promote with several of the Renaissance Pathfinders in the coming year. It also led me to make a commitment to connect with Kim soon to explore how his stories might be regularly shared with participants in my LinkedIn site and/or the feasibility of organizing a selection of his stories and making them available through my new personal website.

Kim’s dedication in collecting and sharing his eclectic stories with me has;

  • provided me with new knowledge on ag and food , new insights on human nature ,new contacts,
  • been a morale booster for me in continuing my personal Renaissance Expedition
  • strengthened my relationship with Kim as an impressive high performing colleague and an exceptional friend.


I hope you will take a quiet moment to review 3 stories which I ended up selecting from Kim’s collection of 2015.  One is an inspiring story of a most unusual farer while the other two are special Christmas stories he has found.( At the end of each he sends me some special Christmas stories )

  • “Everyone knows farming requires hard physical labor. While Apricot Lane Farms has a lot of excellent farmhands, none have been as memorable as Chris. Hear Chris’ extraordinary story in this Super Soul Short from John Chester. To see this video please click on this link:
  • “In Jackson County, near Kansas City a local philanthropist empowers the local police force to serve as “Secret Santa’s” to disburse $100.00 gifts to 1000 needy motorist in an unusual Christmas “Story” exercise. To see this video please click on this link:”
  • “Some of you may have been following this story about the town of St. George, Ontario which organized an early Santa Claus parade for a young boy with brain cancer who was destined not to live until Christmas arrived. To see the video please click on this link:”

I trust these stories will also prompt some inspiring reflections by each of you about your past year and your plans for the next one.



Transforming Our Food Production Systems


Focus of this Report

  • Outlining some of the challenges we face in solving the world’s food crisis.
  • Introducing a few of our Alberta-based Renaissance Pathfinders who have been playing a creative role in addressing key challenges in the food and agricultural sectors.
  • Highlighting a new breakthrough innovation focused on a massively, scalable, vertical indoor growing system (the Verdant Global AgriFactory) with the objective of improving fruit and produce quality and availability globally. This project is being led by a member of our Renaissance Pathfinders group―the scientist entrepreneur, Doug James.


Some Context for my Involvement in the Agricultural and Food Sectors

  • Since the Innovation Expedition was created in one of Canada’s Prairie Provinces (Alberta), it should not be surprising that early on we were invited to apply our flagship program (the Challenge Dialogue System™) locally to challenges in Alberta’s agricultural sector.
  • In the late nineties I and my colleague, Steve Murgatroyd (then based in the distance-learning Athabasca University), facilitated a substantial provincial Dialogue to engage all the players in the agricultural sector in efforts to collaborate and innovate to dramatically increase agricultural exports.
  • This work led me to meet some outstanding Albertan innovators in this sector who soon became both my colleagues and my friends. I am proud now to be positioning them as modern day Renaissance Pathfinders. In the coming months I will be featuring some of their individual stories but for the moment let me just introduce them and invite you to Google them.

Four Outstanding Renaissance Pathfinders in the Agricultural and Food Sectors in Alberta

  • In 2004, one of our Renaissance Pathfinders in Toronto (Andrew Heintzman) teamed up with his colleague, Evan Solomon, to edit a sequel to their highly successful book, Fueling the Future. The theme for the new book was: Feeding the Future: From Fast to Famine. How to Solve the World’s Food Crisis.


Andrew Heintzman

Andrew Heintzman

This book remains a useful primer on introducing us to the magnitude and nature of the world’s food crisis while inspiring hope by offering some intriguing examples of the beginnings of a revolution in our approach to the production of food.

Andrew and Evan described their mission and mandate as follows:

“To apply both technical and social ingenuity to big problems and to do so in a language people can understand.”


  • The above comments set the scene for a new breakthrough innovation in food production just being launched by another Calgary-based Renaissance Pathfinder. This innovation which applies both technical and social ingenuity is called Verdant Global and the Pathfinder leading its development and launch is Doug James. The major focus of the rest of this Scouting Report is to introduce you to Doug and Verdant Global as one significant response to the challenges facing the agricultural sector.


Brief Insights into the Critical Challenges Facing Food Production Globally


  • Lowest margins
  • Limited growing seasons
  • Weather and resource challenges (threatened water supplies and pollution)
  • Infestation susceptibility
  • Often far from customer
  • Decreasing arable land (urbanization is consuming available land and there is competition for non-food use of agricultural products)

  • Low margins
  • Difficult to scale/large footprint
  • Sunlight/weather dependent
  • Infestation susceptibility
  • Limited flexibility
  • Products look better than they taste – bred for shipping, not nutrition
  • Typically limited automation
  • Not practical in urban environments at scale

In addition, the current food production system cannot meet exploding global demand for produce that is just like products from your own garden.

  • locally grown
  • freshness
  • unprocessed nutrition
  • uncompromised flavour
  • safe from excessive pesticides
  • available year-round


Verdant Global: A Breakthrough in the Application of Scientific and Technological Ingenuity to Revolutionizing Food Production

Brief Profile of Verdant Global

  • Verdant Global has been involved in indoor growing technologies for more than ten years.
  • Over the past several years the team has observed that indoor growing under controlled conditions has matured and is now a rapidly emerging field. The field will rapidly plateau, however, due to the inherent non-scalability of the current growing methods.
  • There are no remaining fundamental technological barriers for the industrial-scale growing of food indoors. In particular, agricultural LED lighting makes indoor growing economic.
  • The Verdant Global team has developed the world’s most advanced indoor growing system―The AgriFactory. It blends existing and proprietary technologies to deliver high performance controlled indoor growing at industrial scales, equivalent to 12 to 14 times the production capacity of a greenhouse with the same footprint. These technologies include:

o Vertical Terraced Aeroponic Gardens
o Multi-Level Air/Temperature/Humidity Management System
o Mobile Variable Gutter and Mobile Table Management System
o Extensive use of Robotics
o Global Software Management
o Nutrient Formulas and Delivery System

  • With three distinct, highly automated growing platforms, an AgriFactory can produce the widest variety of produce, fruit, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical plants of any growing system on the market today.
  • Facilities are designed for food safety with products tested from seed to sale.
  • The AgriFactory is the most water-efficient method to grow food, discharges no waste and can be built anywhere.
  • The AgriFactory concept has been proven at pilot and commercial scales.
  • The Verdant Global technology is fully commercial and the IP is protected.
  • Detailed business analyses for an AgriFactory show potential to produce the industry’s highest EBITDA and ROI due to industrial-scale processes.
  • The leadership team has been exploring innovative social enterprises, appropriate approaches for mobilizing public and private investment funds in alliance with municipal governments and/or significant non-profits in order to launch local AgriFactories to address multiple challenges of sustainable prosperity.
  • The team has a sales pipeline of 20 facilities in various North American and global locations and have arranged $100 million to build several of them.
  • At this time, Doug and his team are looking for a $10 million investment, to match $8.75 million in Canadian government awards, to build locally a demonstration and training facility in Calgary which can also serve as global headquarters to accommodate the sales opportunities.


Profiling the President and CEO of Verdant Global (Doug James)

I first met Doug James in 2004 when I was serving as Innovator-In-Residence for a new corporation known as EnergyINet Inc. This was a national, not-for-profit, public-private corporation that originated within the Alberta government with membership from federal and provincial governments and large energy corporations (oil and gas, coal, electrical utilities and chemical industries).

Our mandate was to facilitate the development of technologies to ensure a supply of environmentally friendly, responsible energy. Doug served as the initial General Manager for this experimental effort.

In addition, he took on the role within EnergyINet of Program Director for Alternate and Renewable Energy. He was an eager learner about the processes my Innovation Expedition team had developed for helping to engage diverse stakeholders to collaborate and innovate to accomplish
complex tasks. I was deeply impressed as I watched him apply our technologies and processes to the creation of collaborative efforts in the fields of solid oxide fuel cells, hydrogen and bioenergy, among others.

I was intrigued by the quiet deep strategic thinking of this scientist/entrepreneur, by his instincts for systems thinking and collaboration, by his ability to imagine big breakthroughs and then practice disciplined thinking to design implementation plans including costing and budget figures.

As I began to codify our concept of Renaissance Leadership, I engaged Doug significantly in both our design work at Oxford University and our pilot community testing of the concept in Calgary. I was particularly impressed by his ability to design detailed implementation plans. I was also particularly impressed by his ability to demonstrate one of the most significant aspects of a Renaissance Leader―the ability to demonstrate grace under pressure.

In working with Doug I came to appreciate his distinctive educational background which included a Ph.D. in Biophysical and Bioorganic Chemistry, Post-Doctoral Fellowships in Photophysics and an MBA.

He then took this high level scientific and management training into the business sector, playing leading roles in companies developing and commercializing technologies spanning opto-electronics, software, industrial coatings, fuel cells, and agriculture.

He is extremely well-placed to lead a breakthrough food production company like Verdant Global His passion and instincts for collaboration have led him to engage a strong international leadership team for this new company and to arrange several powerful strategic alliances with other noted global firms.

I am excited by the work Doug is undertaking with Verdant Global and proud to be presenting what he is trying to accomplish. I invite you to learn more about this Renaissance Pathfinder and his work by contacting Doug at, and his company at




Focus of this Report

  • Reflections on the recent Canadian federal election results and the historic transformation that
  • A focus on the work of one of our younger Renaissance Leaders (Jamil Jivani), an unusually distinctive community activist and change leader (including a recent report on the results of a special non-partisan civic engagement initiative he organized and led in the recent election).

“The Re-Engineering of Canada is Finally Over”

This was the heading of a lead editorial in the Globe and Mail the day after the shift in Canada’s electoral map.

The editorial writer, Lawrence Martin, begins his column by stating, “with the election on Monday, the bold right-wing experiment ends –  A Canada of moderate, big tent governance is reborn.”

In case you missed it, the Liberal party, led by Prime Minister Elect Justin Trudeau, campaigned on a platform against the mean-spirited, secretive, divisive negativism and anti-Muslim messages of the Harper government. The young leader made an appeal to the country to rediscover “the better angels of our nature,” the words once used by Abraham Lincoln and reiterated more recently by Barak Obama in his effort to bridge some divisions in his country.

The result last Monday was an unprecedented shift in parliamentary seats which moved the Liberals from third place to first and from 34 seats in parliament to 184, which represents a healthy majority in the House of Commons.

For those of us who like to position ourselves as reasonably non-partisan progressives, this election had us worrying deeply about where our country was heading under the Harper government.

Martin, along with other analysts, does acknowledge some of the contributions Harper brought to the national scene, including his initial success ten years ago in unifying conservatives and his success in bringing the western provinces into more prominence in national affairs. But Martin then goes on to underscore the negative side effects of Harper’s leadership.

Mr. Harper’s anti-democratic bent, his mean spiritedness, his putting political expediency before everything else, finally caught up with him. He set the ethical bar so low …

 He will go down as the leader who unified Conservatives but there is a big caveat here. His union had no place for traditional Tories … The progressive side of the party was all but warehoused. Rather than big tent; Mr. Harper was rabbit hole.”

Remember, these comments were written in a national newspaper seen as having a strong conservative leaning. Martin goes on to say that he expects that the new Prime Minister will be more inclusive with less pandering to prejudice and little of the anti-intellectualism of the Harper government. He concludes with the words, “with this election the re-engineering of Canada is over.”

By Monday evening I was a relaxed, happy man imbued once again as a cockeyed optimist, full of hope for the future of my country.

I was happy also as a result of the activities of the many passionate progressive young change leaders who participated in the transformation of Canadian politics in 2015.

Let me introduce the special election advocacy work of Jamil Jivani, the founder and director of a new Citizen Empowerment Project.

Jamil Jivani

Jamil is a young lawyer whom we proudly position as one of the younger Renaissance Pathfinders in our network. In the lead-up to Election Day Jamil and his team of young law students were featured often in the print, radio and television media. Last Monday evening Jamil was one of the special guests interviewed by CBC, the national broadcaster, as part of their election coverage. The media interest was in the new Citizen Empowerment Project he had created following the completion of his Internship as a lawyer with Torys LLP in August of 2015.

With support from Torys, Jamil committed himself to step outside the regular operation of the firm and position himself as an entrepreneur creating some type of non-profit vehicle to support the democratic participation of Canadians, particularly those with limited access to justice and democracy. His intention was to build this new type of institute or clinic into a thought and practice leader in community organizing and public engagement in Canada.

He began to organize this work under the Citizen Empowerment Project and to launch it with a special program in partnership with Osgoode Hall Law School. The students in this program were organized into teams to undertake specific initiatives in their community related to citizen empowerment.

The team at work in the Jane-Finch community prior to the election.

One of these projects was #JANEANDFINCHVOTES, focused on generating increased involvement of youth, newcomers, visible minorities and low income families in northwest Toronto. His team was not campaigning for any party. They were campaigning for increased understanding and involvement of low income and minority group communities in the election process.




Here is a summary of the activities and initial results of their efforts.

A Brief Profile of Jamil Jivani

Born to an Irish-Scottish mother and a Kenyan father, Jamil’s early upbringing was in Brampton on the outskirts of Toronto.

Jamil’s father, early on, was in and out of the family and Jamil soon found himself in a single parent family, led by a white mother whom he says “lived in a somewhat different Canada than the one he was experiencing.”

He struggled as a young student and periodically received detentions and suspensions for fighting with other students. Jamil later acknowledged, “I was angry towards authority, with myself and with my absentee father. I turned that anger towards other people and myself.”

With high school marks in the 50s and 60s, any kind of post-secondary education seemed far out of reach―let alone any dream of an Ivy League law degree. However, at the end of a mediocre high school career a guidance counsellor encouraged him to enrol in a Community College to pick up some of the basics he missed in high school.

At Humber College his innate intelligence, his inquisitive mind and his questioning approach to understanding events around him came to the forefront and by the end of year one his teachers recommended he transfer to university.

He enrolled in York University’s International Development Program and added courses in non-profit management. His self-confidence grew quickly. By the summer of year two he had arranged to volunteer in Kenya to both learn more about his culture and to test his capacity to add value in the non-profit sector.

He became a top scholarship student at York. When he graduated in 2010 with an 8.3 on York’s 9 point GPA scale, he had scholarship offers from several prestigious Canadian and American universities. He chose Yale and enrolled in the Law School.

Early on, he had to address some new-style cross-cultural barriers at Yale but soon began to excel there also. In the school he began to organize unconventional panels related to special issues of civil rights for marginalized individuals. He broke tradition by arranging a first return visit for the controversial Yale alumnus, the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

As a law student, Jamil also got deeply involved in the surrounding community, organizing an educational program for minority high school students in low income areas on their constitutional rights and writing case studies of police interventions with visible minorities. His first summer job was in the office of Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, a rising star in American politics. Here he conducted legislative research for urban housing development; drafted contracts for financial literacy projects and public-private partnerships; and was engaged in drafting documents for economic development strategies.

Through the mix of a rich program in the Law School, along with his community involvement, Jamil was experiencing a powerful learning experience for civic activism and impactful political leadership.

Towards the end of his Yale experience, Jamil was the envy of many of his fellow students when he was selected for a summer internship and a job upon graduation day with the prestigious New York corporate law firm, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz.

Jamil surprised his colleagues further when, after a summer’s experience researching material to support large corporations and following his successful graduation, Jamil rejected a full-time job with this firm and returned to Toronto. He had a vague but serious desire to apply the community advocacy skills and the civil rights insights he had gained in the United States in some manner that would support the nurturing of a productive, harmonious, cross-cultural environment in Toronto.

Required to wait several months before writing his bar exams and being approved for an Ontario internship in a law firm, Jamil quickly swung into action, looking to take his new knowledge and experiences gained in the United States and to apply them in some appropriate manner in Toronto.

Jamil worked for Tim Horton’s legal department preparing corporate governance, compliance and orientation documents and authored a risk assessment report. He worked for a short period for our Innovation Expedition as a mentor for companies in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. This included support for a Vancouver-based charity, working to transform the philanthropic sector―including participation in the 2014 public awareness campaign by Bell called, “Let’s Talk Mental Health.”

At the same time, he began to quickly make his mark with his creative value-added volunteer efforts in several community leadership initiatives, including the following:

  • Future of Canada’s Oil Sands, Co-Founder and Co-Chair
    • Organized events for young professionals in Toronto to learn about Alberta’s oil and gas industry, featuring presentations from environmentalists, journalists, policy experts and industry representatives
  • Children’s Aid Society of Ontario, Board of Directors
    • Served on Governance and Nominations, Human Resources and Youth Awards committees for one of Canada’s largest child welfare organizations
  • Policing Literacy Initiative, Founder
    • Created and led an advocacy and public education strategy to improve police- community relations in Toronto involving local and national media, police, public housing agencies and community groups
    • Co-produced and fundraised for a documentary film about racial profiling
    • Authored research report on policing and public safety in Toronto for S. policy makers
    • Organized over 30 community meetings and events about law and policy issues

Community leaders in Toronto quickly became aware of Jamil. For example, he was selected as a Fellow by Diverse City, a greater Toronto initiative of the Maytree Foundation and the Civic Action Group. The goal of Diverse City Fellowship Program is to help enable and support rising city builders to accelerate the development of sustainable prosperity in Toronto. Jamil was quickly positioning himself as an entrepreneurial, collaborative, innovative young change leader in the city.

My Personal Involvement with Jamil

I first met Jamil in 2009 at the annual reunion in Buxton of descendants of runaway slaves who, in the middle of the 19th century created this model community in southwest Ontario. Jamil was one of the four student panel members from the Harriet Tubman Centre at York University in Toronto, presenting brief insights from their classroom efforts to investigate African Canadian experiences as presented in traditional Canadian Literature programs.

Note:  LogBook Three of my Global Odyssey provides a more complete story on Buxton as a model community at the end of the Underground Railway in the mid-19th century and on the creation in 1967 of a national historical museum in that community dealing with that history. These 15 LogBooks are being posted, over the next six months, in my personal website (

I was impressed by Jamil’s powerful report on the impact in Canada of the work of the Jamaican visionary, Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. At that point in my life I was then playing a part-time role as Innovator-in-Residence at the Harriet Tubman Institute. Following the Buxton event two of his professors who were connected to the institute urged me to get to know Jamil, whom they described as one of York’s most exciting young undergraduates. At that point I knew nothing of the difficult journey he had been on to achieve that high status in the university.

I found that Jamil was following a distinctive self-organized undergrad program of international development and non-profit management. I was impressed that he had already tested his skills by travelling to Kenya, where his father was born, and working as a volunteer in non-profits there.

Out of this early contact emerged a close ongoing relationship between myself and Jamil. We began to meet regularly on campus and both wanted to know more about the other person. I created a special summer job for him and we negotiated reciprocal responsibilities. I undertook to help him engage with some thoughtful leaders in private businesses and help him understand some of the critical elements for success in managing a high performing business. This included organizing an opportunity for him to spend some time in a major oil company in Calgary learning about their creative efforts to inject a collaborative triple bottom line approach into the oil sector.

He committed to support my work by providing some initial order to the random collections of material from my global travels, which were then sitting in 200 boxes in a store room at the Tubman Centre. His work with these boxes was the starting point of later efforts by York University to engage a professional archivist to organize these materials into the “Don Simpson Fonds” (the Simpson Archives), which are now stored in the University’s special archives unit.

Jamil’s efforts to sort out the diverse material on my involvement in major change projects nationally and globally led us into many serious conversations about the elements of transformational change, the special skills of change leaders, the challenges of facilitating cross- cultural harmony and the insidious negative impact of racism.

His sense of curiosity, his incisive questions, his passion for helping to make the world a better place, and his courage in taking “the road less travelled” stimulated in me some reflections on my personal Global Odyssey and encouraged me to get more serious about capturing and sharing my life stories.  I felt privileged to enjoy this close relationship with this special young man.

His decision to attend Yale Law School surprised many of his friends, who no doubt began to recognize more fully that Jamil was eager to prepare himself for taking on some significant challenges in the future.

I was fortunate enough to keep regularly in touch with him while he was at Yale University, meeting with him both in New Haven and New York City and watching his confidence grow as he undertook some unusual tasks at the Law School and in the surrounding community. He found that he had some powerful instincts for designing programs, creating collaborative teams and delivering high performance. He also demonstrated skills in being ab le to engage seriously with powerful leaders, to learn from them and to attract their interest by his ability to “speak truth to power,” and to challenge some of these leaders’ actions while still showing appropriate respect. These are powerful elements of leadership and, from my experience, they are incredibly scarce skills. It was exciting to watch Jamil start to practice these skills.

While some of his American friends, no doubt, were totally surprised at his decision to turn down the corporate legal opportunity at the legal firm in New York City, it was not a surprise to me. He had a strong drive to make an impact on the broad-based development of a community and now felt comfortable about returning to Toronto to search for that appropriate opportunity in his home town.

In the early days after his return, I and others in the Innovation Expedition were able to provide him with some useful insights into the changing Canadian realities, along with some useful contacts. But he found his way quickly and had a warm, natural affinity for engaging with other change leaders.

His leadership skills continued to grow and to be applied usefully.

I was particularly impressed watching him facilitate discussion groups as part of the Policing Literacy Initiative he created. This work surfaced significant emotional feelings from all who became directly involved. Jamil demonstrated an amazing capacity for active listening, balanced with a sensitive instinct for injecting, at the appropriate moments, some clear factual evidence into the discussions in an attempt to find some balance and to encourage thoughtful collaboration across cultural groups with regard to these sensitive issues.

I have spent much of my life trying to mentor leaders to serve as entrepreneurial, collaborative innovators dedicated both to driving dramatic improvements in organizational performance and to helping to build sustainable prosperity in their communities (more jobs, increased wealth creation and expanded broad-based quality of life). Watching Jamil engage in the Toronto community, I recognized that he was fast becoming a powerful model for this type of leadership.

Abdullah Saleh

I was eager to link him with other like-minded individuals among the more than 50 Renaissance Pathfinders with whom I was engaged. One of them (Dr. Abdullah Saleh) became a close friend and colleague to Jamil. To my surprise and delight, the two of them took on a special role in 2014 in providing strategic insights and ideas to help me to decide a new role for myself beginning on my 80th birthday. I was now being mentored strategically by these two amazing young leaders. I enjoyed their approach to mentoring me and appreciated their help greatly. 

I am proud of Jamil’s accomplishments to date. I am excited about the increasingly important roles he will play in the future. I am honoured to be his friend. I am proud to position him as one of our modern day Renaissance Pathfinders.

I urge you to take the time to get to know this amazing young man.

For more details you can contact Jamil at and/or review his story on Wikipedia (

Selected Presentations and Media

  • Law Society of Upper Canada, “What We Can Learn from Policing and Public Safety in Toronto: A Canadian Response to Tragic Events in Ferguson and New York City” (Presentation), February
  • Osgoode Hall Law School, “Race and Policing” (Panel Discussion), February 2015.
  • Yale Law School, “Police and Community Relations Post-Ferguson” (Presentation), December
  • TEDxToronto, “Racial Profiling Hurts Everyone, Including the Police” (TED Talk), October

o  Named a TED Editor’s Pick and featured in TED’s “Smart ways to think about racism and injustice in the U.S. today.”

  • The Globe and Mail, “Diversity, equality and policing: Talking about a better Toronto” (Interview), October
  • The Learning Partnership Summit, “What are the unique and critical skills students need for the 21st century?” (Panel Discussion), April
  • National Post, “Not happy with the policy? Try talking to them” (Op-Ed), February
  • CBC Metro Morning Radio, Numerous interviews discussion political issues in Toronto, 2014 and



Canada: A Welcoming Place of Refuge (Part One) October 15, 2015

Focus of this Scouting Blog

Don at 45th Anniversary of London Cross-Cultural Learner Centre

This Blog contains some personal reflections on my country’s role through history as a refuge for global migrants (“a place of shelter from danger or trouble”). I draw on the present crisis of Syrian refugees and compare our present reactions to our response to an earlier crisis of “boat people” from Vietnam 30 years ago. I reflect on my personal direct experiences in Vietnam during the war and my personal involvement in helping Vietnamese refugees get to Canada. (Note:  I will likely prepare additional blogs reflecting on Canada’s historic role as a welcoming place for migrants and refugees.)

Context for this Conversation

  • Always remembering that my father was welcomed into Canada, travelling alone in 1919 as a 15-year-old economic refugee from Scotland in the extreme Depression following World War I.
  • My emotional daily reactions in recent weeks to the horrific stories of the mass movement of individuals and families seeking refuge in Europe from the horrors of civil wars and economic crashes in the middle east.

    Boat Migrants Risk It All for New Life in Europe

  • Frustration at the confusing and to date mostly ineffectual attempts by leaders within the European Union to collaborate, to calculate new strategies and to quickly unleash innovations to handle the arriving refugees and to do this in a manner that demonstrates an appropriate balance between security and compassion.
  • Anger at the manner in which our present Conservative government in Ottawa is using the “refugee challenge” as a highly partisan anti-Muslim wedge issue to firm up support from their ultra-conservative base in the midst of a national election on October 19. The Prime Minister (whom some are now referring to as the “Nixon of the North”) and his team are actively positioning Muslim refugees mainly as frauds, free-loaders and terrorists and are promoting a sense of “fear” about accepting too many, too quickly, rather than a sense of “compassion.”
  • On the other hand, I am encouraged by the widespread response of individuals, non-profits, corporations, municipalities and labour groups demanding that the national government do more to support these refugees and who are quickly starting to back up their demands on the government by making personal or organizational financial commitments.
  • Many credible commentators (internal and external) are making references to earlier times when Canada successfully welcomed much larger numbers of refugees in a much shorter period of time than that which the government is suggesting for the Syrian refugees.
  • A prime example being provided of Canada’s past positive responses to refugees is our reception of close to 60,000 “boat people” from Vietnam that were welcomed in less than 18 months, beginning in 1979.
  • In 1979 I became seriously involved in that national effort to support Vietnamese refugees as a result of my direct three year involvement in Vietnam in the 1970s.

Some Initial Similarities Between Canada’s Reactions to the Vietnamese and Syrian Refugees

  • With both crises the Canadian government and public were initially slow to become involved. Like Syria’s which has been growing for some time, the Indochina crisis which began in 1975 did not receive major attention in Canada for about four years.
  • As with the Syrian crisis public attention on the Vietnamese crisis sky-rocketed suddenly with the dissemination of images of desperate refugees fleeing on crowded, ill-equipped boats (see 1979 story of the Hai Hong ship with 2,000 refugees being refused entry on arrival in Malaysia).
  • While Canadians were moved by images of desperate refugees from the Vietnam War, there was considerable initial ambivalence about what to do. Concerns were raised about the threat of communist infiltrators among the refugees. Mixed opinions were expressed about why Canada had any obligation at all to assist the refugees. Remember that until the mid-sixties Canada’s immigration laws had discriminated against Asian immigrants. (I will reflect on our immigration laws over the years in another blog, later.)
  • In 1979, out of this confusion, emerged a passionate, committed, national people’s movement linked loosely through a national network organization (Operation Lifeline), led by Howard Adelman of Toronto. (Adelman is now professor emeritus in the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University in Toronto.)
  • Operation Lifeline became the innovative, inspiring, non-bureaucratic enabler for any and all individuals and groups who felt a humanitarian impulse to help the refugees. Within two weeks of its launch, 60 functioning chapters were involved across the country.
  • Adelman has commented recently about the Syrian crisis and the recalcitrance of our present national government, including its overly complex and difficult application processes for sponsoring refugees. He contrasts this to the 1979 Vietnamese refugee crisis by writing:

“Our success in 1979 was made possible by―an outpouring of humanitarianism―by extraordinary political leadership (by an earlier Conservative government led by Joe Clark) ―by a dedicated group of civil servants―and by the willingness of specialists in a number of fields, from medicine to law to help out. Much of that exists today. To be sure the Harper Conservatives have created significant hurdles to the resettlement project but these are not insurmountable―and in any case the government need not be around much longer” (Toronto Star, September 9, 2015)

  • The Globe and Mail, meanwhile, in a news article on September 5, 2015, provided details about the extraordinary political leadership in 1979, mentioned by Adelman (see “When Canada Was A Leader: Vietnamese boat people allowed us to learn from our disgrace in barring Jewish refugees decades earlier.”) This tells the story of how in 1979 deputy immigration minister, John Manion, brought the manuscript, None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948 to the immigration minister, Ron Atkey (a former professor colleague of mine at Western University). This manuscript by Irving Abella and Harold Troper documented how Canada had largely shut its doors to Jewish refugees from Europe before, during and after the Second World War

“This should not be you,” the late Mr. Manion told the immigration minister. Atkey took the message to the Cabinet table and found quick support from Prime Minister Joe Clark and his external affairs minister Flora MacDonald.

The government then stunned the country and the world by upping its original target of 4,000 refugees to a number somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000. The government also launched a program to allow churches and other private groups to sponsor refugees with the numbers to be matched by the government.

The resulting collaboration between government and the public turned another potential  immigration embarrassment into a huge humanitarian, social and economic success for the country of which people are appropriately proud.

Let us hope that a similar transformational effort might emerge in the coming weeks. A non-profit group (Lifeline Syria) was launched in the summer in Toronto by more than two dozen Torontonians with Alexandra Kotyk serving as the one paid staff member (

My Direct Involvement in Vietnam (1973-1975)

As the project associate for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), I spent considerable time in Vietnam in the early seventies. Our global development centre was supporting the work of SEAMEO―a recent collaboration among the various governments of the region, including Vietnam.

Each government selected a major sector for focus and built a major regional centre on that topic which served the whole region. Vietnam created Innotech to explore the use of various technologies to support education. Because of the war, the main project management base for this Vietnamese-led centre was in Manila. However, a small research project team was in Saigon and my role as connector/mentor/promoter required that I visit that team often.

Don in Vietnam

None of my previous assignments had fully prepared me for this experience. I had worked for CUSO in Nigeria during its civil war but except for several nervous interactions with soldiers languishing at quiet rural checkpoints, the war never impinged on my personal life. (Note:  This West Africa part of my Global Journey will be posted in my personal website as part of LogBook Five.)

The war in Vietnam was somewhat different. It had been on for a long time―the military presence was pervasive―and the battle between two parts of that country was further messed up by Cold War politics and the extensive involvement of foreign troops.

The man who helped me get a serious sense not only of the war but of the Vietnamese people who were trying to keep their lives and their families intact during the war was Dr. Bong. Originally from North Vietnam, Bong came south to begin his life as a young teacher. Excelling in the classroom provided him with a scholarship to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and led him to become Director of Primary Teacher Training in South Vietnam.

With Bong I got to know his wife and children and to learn more about family life. What a fine model Bong and his family were of the best that Vietnam had to offer. I was amazed at how he, and many others like him, had experienced over 40 years of war, had somehow retained their sense of commitment to the west, their sense of spirituality, their sense of family, their sense of optimism and their sense of humour.

With Bong I also got to travel throughout much of the Mekong Delta, visiting rural training colleges and small village schools. Our work was often interrupted with the arrival of the Viet Cong―who, to my amazement respected the work of the educators and would send runners to alert us to leave the village before they arrived.

In Saigon during the day one saw no direct evidence of the fighting. However, at night I could stand on the balcony of my hotel and see the tracers of gunfire in the sky. We learned later that the Viet Cong had dug underground tunnels right up to the city suburbs, which allowed them to hide during the day and come out and fight under cover of darkness. (Note:  My stories from my time in Vietnam will be available when Excerpts from LogBook Seven of my Global Odyssey get posted on my personal website.)

The War Ends and Bong is Separated from his Family

When the war ended Bong was away from his family in Bangkok, carrying out some

Dr. Bong’s Family in Saigon

assignments for SEAMO and UNESCO. Of course, he was worried about the fate of his family in the confusion following the victory of the North Vietnamese. Although he was originally from the North, as a graduate of the University of Tennessee he was persona non grata to the new regime. He hung around Bangkok hoping to find some solution that would allow him to either get back into Vietnam or get his family out. But no solution was to be found.

Don and Dr. Bong

My advice to him was to accept that the difficult realities facing him were going to last for some time. I urged him to get an entry visa to Canada and to move to Ottawa. He did this and I was initially able to get him a short term as a visiting scholar in IDRC. By proving himself in that environment he was invited to take on a teaching position at the Université du Québec in nearby Hull. This meant his life was more stable and word from the family was that, in spite of one family member being expelled to a work camp, his family was not being mistreated.

However, he began to worry about one of his sons who was approaching his 18th birthday. This would trigger his compulsory enlistment into the army of the new Communist government. The potential negatives of such an experience hung heavily on Bong so we agreed we would search for ways to smuggle him out of the country.

Dr. Bong and Son

We eventually identified what appeared to be a reliable group in California who would,for a fee, undertake to smuggle people out of Vietnam. We sent our money and crossed our fingers. The word eventually came from California that Bong’s son was on a boat and we celebrated.

Our celebration was short-lived. Within one or two days the television screens were full of stories of bandits attacking the refugee boats, stealing the last valuables of those who were trying to escape and then sinking the boats.

Bong and I waited anxiously before hearing from the International Red Cross that the boy was in Thailand. His boat had been attacked and sunk and he washed ashore on a beach there with his father’s name and mine wrapped in plastic around his neck. What a relief! We got him to Canada and eventually, as the political environment in Vietnam calmed down, Bong’s wife and six other children all made it to Ottawa. Reunited with his family, Bong went on to lead a successful life as a professor and was able to provide for his family. All the children were successful at school and have become productive professionals.

My initial experiences with Dr. Bong in getting his son out led me to promote further involvement in the larger exodus by individuals and groups in my community of London, Ontario. My church (Metropolitan United) became very active, as did many others.

Valerian Marochko

Valerian Marochko

The London Cross-Cultural Learner Centre (LCCLC), which in the late 1950’s I had helped create at the University of Western Ontario, played a significant lead role in our community response to this refugee crisis. During its first decade of operation the Centre had focused on supporting a variety of ethnic groups/cultures to create educational material on their cultures and to develop teaching and leadership development programs which promoted cross-cultural understanding. New immigrants began to be attracted to the welcoming, caring, collaborative cross-cultural environment offered by this Centre. In 1979 as Londoners began to demonstrate a concern for the Vietnamese refugees, the LCCLC became a disciplined, creative organizing hub for a community-wide effort to sponsor and support Vietnamese refugees. It positioned itself within the national Operation Lifeline, mentioned earlier, as an evolving model of a high performing, caring refugee resettlement centre. Under the present leadership of Doctor Valerian Marochko the Centre continues this type of immigration and refugee resettlement assistance and serves as a progressive example of best practices and as a community model worthy of support and of emulation by others across the country.

This story of our response to Vietnamese refugees can serve as a model of collaborative, entrepreneurial, innovative coalition work for addressing present day humanitarian crises with creative, disciplined, compassionate leadership. I do hope that the caring community in Canada will find a way to emulate this past humanitarian success in addressing today’s massive migrations from the Middle East.

London Cross Cultural Learner Centre in Action


My Indirect Link to President Obama – October 1, 2015

President Obama Visits Kenya (July 25-27, 2015)


I assume all of you are well aware of this visit which was a special one for the President, for the members of his extended family in Kenya and for many Kenyans of all tribes and all economic levels who warmly welcomed his visit.

Although it was Barack Obama’s third visit to Kenya, it was his first since becoming President. In an emotional return to his father’s home country it gave him the opportunity to give a speech to thousands of Kenyans that was steeped in pride in his African heritage.

“I am the first Kenyan African to be elected President of the United States.”

He attended the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit and Expo and in highlighting data about recent social and economic growth in many areas of the continent, he spoke enthusiastically about the reality that “Africa is on the move.”

Note: For more details on the Summit and Expo visit Also, look for a future Scouting Report from me on “An African Renaissance.”

A special feature of the Expo was the Kenya ICT Hub where 89 award-winning innovators and 13 incubators and accelerators were highlighting Kenya’s efforts to position itself as Africa’s premier Hub for Information and Communication Technologies. Among the leading ICT firms in Nairobi is Virtual City, founded and led by another of our REx Pathfinders, John Waibochi. Among its many awards is the US$ 1 million Nokia Award for their breakthrough innovations in mobile supply chains which not only support the development of significant business organizations but also have a proven record for helping to move small farmers out of poverty. Watch for a future Scouting Report by me on John Waibochi.



Among the varied themes in Obama’s speeches was his urging of African leaders to strongly reject the oppression of women.

“Treating women as second class citizens is a bad tradition. It is holding you back.”

Immediately following Obama’s visit, I was fortunate enough to be getting a first-hand report on the reactions of the Kenyans to his visit from one of our outstanding female Renaissance Pathfinders, Julie Dabaly Scott. Immediately following Obama’s visit Julie had flown to Atlanta and then to Toronto where I was her host.

Julie was in Toronto for several reasons. They included a desire to explore the potential for becoming engaged in customized travel opportunities between Canada and Kenya and to meet and expand her understanding of the work of our Canadian Pathfinders in the Youthful Cities initiative. She wanted to explore how business leaders such as herself might support this unusually innovation program in East Africa. (In September I will be posting a Scouting Report on Sonja Miokovic, a co-founder and present Global Director of Youthful Cities.) In addition, Julie also wanted to learn more details about my future plans as Chief Explorer so that she might offer expanded connecting and facilitating support among Renaissance Pathfinders in East Africa.

Julie is another prime example of the many women in business who are helping African countries to “be on the move.” She is a long-time friend who overcame some serious constraints through her early life to become the owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel – Kenya (Bunson Travel Services Ltd.), a winner for six years in a row of the global award for operating the best travel management business in Kenya.

(Note: For more details please Google Julie and also review her profile in the powerful book by another individual in our Renaissance Network, Susan Wakhungu-Githuku, Life Journeys Seeking Destiny: Conversations With High Achieving Women in Kenya.)

Julie had been present in Nairobi during President Obama’s visit and was eager to share with me many of her stories of the positive reception Kenyans had given him. This included some insights of his special dinner with three dozen members of his extended family.


At this point I shared with Julie a BBC story on how President Obama, the son of a Kenyan came to be born in the United States. The BBC journalist, Milton Nkosi, had prepared this intriguing story to be released on July 23, just prior to President Obama’s arrival in Kenya.

It speaks of a scholarship fund organized initially in 1959 by a small group of young activists in Kenya led by a young trade unionist turned politician, Tom Mboya. His group collaborated with an African American Students Foundation operating out of New York City.

One of the students supported by this foundation was Barack Obama from Kogalo near the port city of Kisumo on the shores of Lake Victoria. He was the first African student to study at the University of Hawaii. There he fell in love and married an American woman, Ann Dunham. They had a son and named him Barack Hussein Obama II, after his father.

Note: To read the full article, visit


In late May 2015 I was in Nairobi on another one of my Renaissance Scouting Parties. On May 21 I was the guest of one of our Kenyan Renaissance Pathfinders, Salim Amin, at the inaugural MAAMA awards event (Mohamed Amin African Media Awards), rewarding excellence in Africa’s growing media and creative content industry.

Salim is the son of Mohamed Amin, the renowned photographer and video journalist and is following in his father’s footsteps by continuing to evolve the ideas and organizations which his father began or inspired (Camerapix, Mohamed Amin Foundation, Africa 24 Media).

Note For more details, Google both Mohamed and Salim and seek out Salim’s award-winning documentary chronicling his father’s life entitled “MO and ME.”

At the MAAMA award dinner I picked up conversation with Jonathan Chapman, the relatively new BBC Africa Bureau Director. In response to my question about upcoming priorities, he spoke of his need to identify and create a number of human interest stories related to President Obama’s visit.

I suggested he should certainly do one on Tom Mboya and on the African American Students Foundation which, before Kenya’s independence, supported hundreds of students from East Africa, including Barack Obama’s father.

When he asked for more background on these airlifts I surprised him by providing substantial details. I was able to do this because as a young schoolteacher in London, Ontario, I had been one of the founders in Canada of the African Students Foundation.

I was part of the team that brought Tom Mboya to Canada for his first visit in 1961 and in our initial work we collaborated at a distance with the initial airlift operated by the New York-based foundation and with some of their activist celebrities: A. Philip Randolph, Jackie Robinson, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte (I finally got to meet Harry Belafonte in 2014 and enjoyed an opportunity to reflect with him on these exciting efforts.) Over 50 years ago the activists for civil rights and working class rights in North America were linked closely with activists pushing for independence across Africa.

I suggested to the BBC Director that he should meet with the late Tom Mboya’s daughter, Susan. She is not only a senior executive in Coca Cola promoting their social responsibility initiatives, she had followed in her father’s footsteps by creating the Zawadi Africa Education Fund to provide scholarships for academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds from Africa to pursue higher education in the United States.

I provided Jonathan with contacts to meet Susan, as well as the names of several individuals in Nairobi who had participated in one of the airlifts and who knew Obama’s father.

The result is the article by the BBC published online on July 23. I received a warm note from Jonathan thanking me for my help in stimulating the creation of this intriguing story.

Please read the full BBC story. If you wish to know more about the African Students Foundation in Canada and its genesis among a group of my high school students at Sir Adam Beck Collegiate in London, Ontario, this story can be found in Excerpt 10 of LogBook Two of my Global Odyssey. The stories from this LogBook will be posted by late September on my new Chief Explorer’s website ( which was launched on Labour Day, September 7, 2015.


Reflections on my Personal Renaissance Expedition Launched on my 80th Birthday – August 18, 2015

Note: If you wish to receive my more detailed Report on my activities for REx over the past year, please send me your personal email address so I can place you on a distribution list for these kinds of Reports.

A year ago, on July 13, 2014 I turned 80. When friends and family asked me then what kind of celebration I, as Chief Explorer of the Innovation Expedition, would welcome to mark this milestone, I found myself musing on what we could do that would:

  • be innovative
  • involve an exploratory journey
  • be global in perspective
  • bring together diverse friends and colleagues from every phase of my life
  • be informative, innovative and inspiring to all who participate
  • challenge participants to engage in collaborative innovations
  • be built around a theme I’m passionate about

Year-Long Personal Expedition

Based on the above criteria, I hatched a plan last July to head out on a yearlong global expedition to deepen my understanding of what I’ve come to think of as “Modern-Day Renaissance Leadership.”

Since then I have been engaging with others who share this interest and working with them to learn more about what Renaissance Leadership is and why it matters. I have been seeking out its practitioners (Renaissance Pathfinders)and documenting what innovations they have given to the world and what has been possible as a result.

I announced last July that I was stepping down from my lead role in managing and promoting the distinctive global Innovation Network which I and an amazing group of colleagues had operated since its initial founding in 1991 at the Banff Centre. My commitment was to stop direct involvement in any operational projects and to focus now on a role as connector, mentor and storyteller.

Overview Summary of the Results of My Year-Long Personal Expedition

Scouting Parties in North America, the United Kingdom and East Africa

I carried news of my changing role and our evolving plans for building a Renaissance Leadership Community directly to a diverse group of network colleagues in 13 cities and indirectly, through electronic communications, with several hundred members of our informal Innovation Expedition Network.

Introducing and Connecting an Exciting Group of Renaissance Pathfinders

Over the past year I have identified and engaged with over 50 innovative, activist leaders from our Innovation Expedition Network. I have been positioning these individuals as Renaissance Pathfinders and have begun efforts to introduce them and their breakthrough innovations to each other and others.

The efforts of these Pathfinders can be organized under the following strategic challenges:

  • Transforming Cities
  • Transforming the Natural Resources Sector
  • Transforming Humanitarian Assistance
  • Nurturing Pioneers in the Third Industrial Revolution (Open Source Manufacturing, the Maker Community, the Internet of Everything)
  • Transforming Philanthropy
  • Nurturing Modern Day Renaissance Leadership (including support for Artistic Instigators who creatively stimulate the “drive to strive” which is required of influential innovators

Sharing Experiences and Insights from my Global Odyssey as Chief Explorer

  • I have selected and have been writing 100 purposeful leadership development stories from my Global Odyssey and preparing them to be made available through a new personal website ( that will be launched in September.

Launching an Expanded Network of Modern Day Renaissance Leaders

My desire was that new leadership for a refined version of the Innovation Expedition Network might emerge under the Renaissance Expedition theme. I hoped that any such new network might build on the contacts, content, best practices and expertise of the Innovation Expedition and leverage those into a revamped community of Renaissance Leaders.

Perhaps the most successful output from this past year has been the emergence of a new team, led by Bob Westrope, which has taken on responsibility for developing and leveraging such a community. Contact Bob Westrope at

Bob’s gift to me on my 81st birthday last month was to present me with a copy of the papers indicating that the “Renaissance Expedition” is now officially a federally incorporated not-for-profit corporation—for which Bob was named our first Executive Director. I was pleased to accept the position of founding Director Emeritus and Chief Explorer.

You and others will be hearing more from Bob and I in the coming weeks, where you will be invited to learn more about our new movement to develop a global Renaissance Leadership community.

Commencing post-Labour Day, we will be executing a crowd-funding campaign to both secure the funding to guarantee our operational success, and to start the viral build process to establish and leverage momentum for a highly differentiated, powerfully impactful global movement. The campaign site will detail the intentions, values, operating principles, mission and expected outputs of the community as well as the potential benefits of membership.

Note: Please email me your email address if you wish to receive more detailed reports on my activities. (


Pathfinder Profile: Stephen Murgatroyd – May 8, 2015

Focus of this Scouting Report: Stephen Murgatroyd

  • CEO of the Collaborative Media Group
  • Chief Scout of the Innovation Expedition
  • Founder of futureTHINK Press
  • Global Expert on Innovation Policy and Practice

My Long-time Connection with Steve

My initial meeting with Steve presented us with a big test of our ability to collaborate. Frustrated with a disjointed, weak and segmented sector in Agriculture, the Alberta government in the late 1990s brought together key representatives of all the competing players (producers, processors, retail companies, research centres and marketing agencies) in an attempt to prod them to collaborate in order to dramatically improve the performance of the sector. I was hired to design the session and facilitate it. However, when I arrived at the venue I found another person had also been hired by another one of the players to design and facilitate. That person was Steve.

The situation was potentially disastrous unless one of us backed out. We had just slightly more than 30 minutes to test each other’s approach and temperament and make a decision. To the surprise of the few organizers who were now nervously aware of the conflicting agreements, we decided to co-facilitate and to draw upon the best from our two designs.

The two-day session was an incredible success and produced a new draft integrated strategy for the provincial agricultural sector with some new strategic goals, which they ended up achieving fairly quickly. For Steve and I, it was the beginning of a strong collaborative partnership and an enjoyable personal relationship, which we still enjoy. We found at the session and in many others to follow that we could almost read each other’s minds. Design work and preparation could be done easily and at a distance.

The extent to which Steve and I were able to easily collaborate in creating and delivering innovation leadership development experiences was surprising to many of our friends. On the surface they could see that we had quite different personalities. Our individual journeys, then early on, had few similarities except an insatiable curiosity about the world, a desire to interact with diverse individuals and organizations, and a need to find significant challenges that would keep testing our individual capacity to learn in an accelerated manner and to perform at a high level.

A Recent Interaction

In my most recent time with Steve, he had just finished an active week in Banff, Alberta with colleagues from the Alberta Teachers’ Association and from Norway and Singapore, planning the next stage of their journey together so as to createGreat Schools for All.

Because of his impressive network of innovators in educational policies and practices, I count on Steve for keeping me at least generally informed on some of the major challenges and major responses to educational reforms globally.

The Focus of our Discussion in Toronto

1) What do we understand about the emerging ideas of social enterprise and learning and how do these differ from classical ideas about “charity”, “philanthropy” and “giving back to society”?

Steve cited two examples: (1) the transformation of farming in Bangladesh, in other parts of Africa and in significant parts of India through collaborative networks, mobile learning and the creation of self-help groups – work spearheaded by the Commonwealth of Learning; (2) the work of Marks and Spencer UK on corporate sustainability, linked to a shift in the nature of capitalism to a social capital model which resembles an elaborated version of the triple bottom line, which the Innovation Expedition has been promoting and demonstrating for several years.

2) What do we understand about the challenge of education as a social enterprise focused on learning, equity and social impact?

Here, Steve reviewed with me the critique of the global education reform movement (GERM), which Pasi Sahlberg, Andy Hargreaves, Dennis Shirley, Simon Breakspear, J-C Couture and Steve have been developing.

Steve pointed out that teachers make a huge difference to the lives and minds of their students, but have no significant impact on standardized test scores. The most significant impact on such scores – Provincial Achievement Tests, PISA scores, etc. – are the social and economic conditions of the families of students. Poor families do not do as well as rich families on standardized tests.

More to the point, teachers and schools cannot compensate for poverty. So they should focus on powerful, impactful learning that brings out the best in their students.

3) What do we know about collaborative practice? Put even more simply: what makes genuine collaboration powerful and effective?

Steve mentioned several examples of the significant and substantial lessons to be learned about social impact through backbone organizations: the work his colleagues Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley are doing with the rural school network in California and the school system in Chile; his colleagues at the Commonwealth of Learning working on non-formal education; the experience of the partnership between Finland and Alberta; and the emerging experience of working with Norway-Ontario-Alberta on the teaching of mathematics. As part of this conversation with Steve, he also mentioned the idea of “plan less do more” – of using frequent rapid prototyping to build powerful new approaches to challenges or problems (see this TED talk for why this is important as a principle in design).

We concluded that the future in many sectors require a new body of understanding about the potential social, environmental and economic impact, of enterprises that have a meaningful commitment to a broad-based improvement of their communities (i.e. social enterprises).

We also concluded that many of our own efforts in the Innovation Expedition network over the past 25 years were fully aligned with this agenda. We are both committed to continuing these efforts for years to come, and I look forward to collaborating with Steve on interesting and important issues in the future.

You can follow Steve’s work here:


Our search for ‘Renaissance’ Leaders in the 21st Century – April 13, 2015

La Primavera by BotticelliPrimavera (Botticelli, 1477-1482)

Vision of the Renaissance Expedition

An innovative, customized learning and leadership journey for leaders who combine a passion for driving high performance and transformational change in their organizations with a desire to make their communities and the world a better place.

“… perhaps the most distinguishing trait of visionary leaders is that they believe in a goal that benefits not only themselves, but others as well. It is such vision that attracts the psychic energy of other people, and makes them willing to work beyond the call of duty for the organization.”

-Mihaly Csikszetmihalyi

Why ‘Renaissance’?

The world has seen many “renaissances”—literally periods of rebirth, rejuvenation or reawakening – often involving rediscovery of things once known and for a time forgotten. The iconic Renaissance began in Italy’s powerful and creative city states (Florence, Geneva and Rome) in the late 14th century and expanded across Europe during the 15th and 16th and into the early 17th century. During this time, Europeans rediscovered the ideas and ideals of ancient Greece and Rome, triggering a spirit of open inquiry that defied the shackles of the medieval church. It led to breakthroughs in the arts, science, and technology, and ultimately to fundamental changes to economic, political, and social models.

Many people in that period were stimulated to think differently and found the courage to:

    • Challenge generally accepted boundaries of thought and behaviour
    • Explore and discover new areas…physically, mentally and artistically
    • Question long held beliefs and traditional organizational structures
    • Develop a different and broader vision of themselves
    • Create new ways of expressing themselves, of describing the world and of addressing the challenges presented by that world

That historical European Renaissance marked the shift from the medieval to the modern age.

Our View of a Modern Day Renaissance

Fast-forward to America in the early 1960s, where an original thinker named Peter F. Drucker wrote down and published what a small core of perceptive leaders were already talking about: the idea that the emergence of knowledge as a key economic resource was beginning to spark a period of fundamental change around the globe.
With Drucker in mind, our Renaissance Network Program draws on lessons from an iconic historical Renaissance in Europe and uses them to inspire modern day Renaissance leadership. We want to identify and support those leaders who are moved to transformational action by awareness of the lessons from earlier Renaissance periods and by a desire to emulate the behaviour of some of the leadership heroes from an earlier age.

25 Year Journey of the Innovation Expedition that Has Led to this New Renaissance Expedition

The Innovation Expedition, since its founding at the world-famous Banff Centre in 1991, has been stressing the reality that the type of leadership that drove organizational success in the Industrial Era will not be sufficient for the new global, knowledge-based era.

Gradually, a picture emerged in our minds of what we are calling ‘Renaissance Leaders’ – because we believe the shift to a knowledge economy is a significant period of ‘rebirth’ akin to the great Renaissance periods of the past and shares with them an intense focus on learning and inquiry, encompassing all aspects of human life.

Why an Expedition?

From its inception, the IE team has felt that metaphors are useful vehicles for articulating complex issues in a way that helps people to organize their thoughts in order to address complex tasks.

Our defining metaphor has been our mounting of Expeditions.

In the metaphor of an ‘Expedition in Search of Modern Day Renaissance Leaders,’ we are viewing this knowledge economy as if it was an intriguing new place for us to explore and understand.

This Renaissance Expedition will be organized as a cross-cultural learning experience based both on key learnings from history and on the best insights gained from the two decades of the Innovation Expedition.

This Renaissance Expedition is intended to provide participants with an exciting opportunity for a customized learning opportunity (which may eventually be accredited), as well as opportunities to dramatically expand their network connections with other outstanding leaders globally.

It is also intended to help them spark dramatic improvements in individual and organizational performance by unleashing innovation. This journey is intended to support their efforts to function as major motivators and catalysts for helping their organizations survive and thrive in a global, knowledge-based economy.

The initial intent is to spotlight the achievements of outstanding entrepreneurial, collaborative, innovative Renaissance Pathfinders and help many others to better understand the challenges of a global, fast changing, knowledge-based world and how best to prepare oneself and other for success in that world. Many of the upcoming Scouting Party Reports will provide introductions to close to 50.

Details on Characteristics of Modern Day Renaissance Leaders

      • Practice personal mastery
        They have high integrity and view self-awareness as a prerequisite for leadership. They work hard to develop their capacity to innovate, and to inspire others to join them in making the world a better place.
      • Apply a glocal mindset
        They have a keen sense of history and seek a holistic understanding of changes taking place on a global scale. They use this global perspective as they address local challenges and seize opportunities (global and local—hence “glocal”).
      • Accelerate cross-boundary learning
        They constantly seek to satisfy an intense curiosity about every facet of human life, past and present, scientific and artistic, technical and social.
      • Think back from the future
        They are able to richly imagine alternate futures and work back from there – connecting with lessons from the past to better understand the present and choose among possible paths to the future they see.
      • Lead systemic change
        They are systems thinkers who seek out patterns, inter-connections and inter-dependencies.
      • Drive performance with a passion
        They care that their leadership makes a substantive and sustainable difference, and are relentless in their commitment to performance.

April Fool’s Day: A Significant Day for… Innovation? – March 30, 2015

Why I’m Announcing the Next Stage of My Global Odyssey on April Fool’s Day.

The Renaissance Expedition

April Fool’s Day – This Day in History

Mark Twain once described April 1 as “the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty four.”

Since the early 18th century, this day has been celebrated by many cultures as a day for practicing pranks on one’s friends or tricking them to engage in false assignments.

Be assured that I have no planned pranks for you today. Instead, I am announcing a new vehicle for sharing insight gained from the global Scouting Parties I am pursuing in my role of Chief Explorer of the Renaissance Expedition. These will be called Scouting Party Reports – or blogs – and they will focus on introducing you to our Renaissance Pathfinders and the breakthrough innovations they are undertaking.

But what does this have to do with April Fool’s Day? I hear you ask.

In an interesting and unplanned way, April 1 has become a significant day in the history of the Innovation Expedition, and now, the Renaissance Expedition. It was on this day in 1991 that the Banff Centre Newsletter first announced the creation of the International Institute for Innovation (the forerunner of the Innovation Expedition).

Their announcement was tongue-in-cheek, done in a humorous manner and offered little evidence of the seriousness of our intentions. I was reminded once again of the “important sense in having a sense of humour” not only in life, but in business. The caption underneath my picture, written without my knowledge, read as follows:

Don Simpson announces the Mother of all Centres of Innovative Change and Other Things in a Global Environment.

In an interview, Simpson explained: “The idea came to me following the establishment of our strategic alliance work with the Refusing the Change Group in Iraq,” I just love the acronym (MOACOICAOTINGE), don’t you?”

Since that first launch on April 1, the date has coincided with a number of special events, both in the evolution of the Innovation Expedition and in my personal life.

Thus, it is appropriate that on April 1, 2015 I am announcing the launch of a new series of Scouting Reports on issues, individuals and innovations I am being exposed to now in the Renaissance Expedition. I will begin posting these Scouting Reports in May 2015.

Scouting Reports as Part of an Unusual Celebration

On July 13, 2014 I turned 80. When friends and family asked me what kind of celebration I, as Chief Explorer of the Innovation Expedition, would welcome to mark this milestone, I found myself musing on what we could do that:

      • is innovative
      • involves an exploratory journey
      • is global in perspective
      • brings together diverse friends and colleagues from every phase of my life
      • is informative, innovative and inspiring to all who participate
      • challenges participants to engage in collaborative innovations
      • and is built around a theme I’m passionate about

A Year to Explore

I hatched a plan to head out on a yearlong global expedition to deepen my understanding of what I’ve come to think of as “Modern-Day Renaissance Leadership.” Since last July I have been engaging with others who share this interest and working with them to learn more about what Renaissance Leadership is and why it matters. I have been seeking out its practitioners and documenting what innovations they have given to the world and what has been possible as a result

I have also begun a serious effort to tell others my stories of what Renaissance Leadership has meant in my life and encourage them to share theirs. These stories will soon be announced; please make sure to watch this space for more information

This series of Scouting Reports that I now plan to create and distribute will give me an opportunity to share some initial insights into my experiences during this pilot year of our new REx. My focus for these Reports will be to introduce some of the 50 Renaissance Pathfinders I have engaged with since last July.

Details on the next steps for this REx Community and how you might participate will soon be available

Supporting enterprises which deliver positive social, economic and environmental outcomes.

A ship in port is safe but that is not what ships are for

Leonardo da Vinci quote