The Chief Explorer: Profile

The Chief Explorer: Profile

For five decades, Don Simpson has wandered the world seeking breakthrough ideas and the people behind them. He has experimented with innovative applications of these ideas in an eclectic career as educator, entrepreneur, researcher, administrator and consultant. His passion is to help organizations in all sectors learn how to seize opportunities offered by a fast-changing, knowledge-based, global economy. His purpose is to contribute to the creation of harmonious, multicultural and globally connected communities offering prosperity and a high quality of life for all citizens.

His focus now is on sharing with others – as coach, mentor, writer and speaker – the insights gained through work in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors in over 75 countries. From his early days as a fundraiser, fascinating community groups with tales of his African adventures, Don has delighted in telling his stories of the diverse worlds he’s explored and the networks of innovators he’s connected or mentored.

Here is a small sample of the experiences that have shaped his perspectives:

In the 1960s

  • As a rookie high-school teacher and football coach, launching a small student project to fund post-graduate studies in Canada for one student from Ghana – then growing it into the national African Students Foundation, which educated over 300 Africans
  • Inspired by Harlem-based black preacher Dr. James Robinson, founder of Crossroads Africa – and by volunteer experiences building rural schools in Ethiopia and Nigeria – co-founding the Canadian arm of Robinson’s NGO, which continues today as Canadian Crossroads International
  • Serving as the first regional director for West Africa, for the Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO)
  • Creating a cross-cultural learner centre in London, connected by telephone into a floor-sized random access batch processor in the US, to prepare CUSO volunteers for work in developing countries.

In the 1970s

  • Becoming one of the first staff members (Project Associate for Education Initiatives for Africa, Asia and Latin America) of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) – founded by the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson, led by Dr. David Hopper, and recognized as a breakthrough innovator in the use of collaborative global research networks
  • As the chair of the Southern Support Group for the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories, helping to train social development community workers and to prepare submissions to the Berger inquiry into a proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline
  • Completing a PhD thesis on the history of blacks in Canada before confederation, published in 2005 by Africa World Press as Under the North Star: Black Communities in Upper Canada
  • While researching, beginning a still-active connection with the community of Buxton (once a terminus of the Underground Railroad) and helping them fulfill their dream of opening a museum of what was then known as “negro history”

In the 1980s

  • Serving as Director of the Centre for International Business at the Ivey Business School, stimulating efforts to globalize their curriculums , founding their first MBA course in Sustainable Development and helping establish the first “western-style” business school in China at Tsinghua University
  • Co-founding consulting firms Kanchar International, focused on economic development, and Salasan Associates, working to develop human resources and organizational capacity in developing countries and with First Nations in Canada
  • Leading such diverse initiatives as helping to introduce solar energy to Kenya, working to transform the university sector in Indonesia, and organizing community dialogues which led to the transformation of the education system in Canada’s Northwest Territories

In the 1990s

  • As vice-president of the Banff Centre in Alberta, taking on the challenge of globalizing the curriculum and perspectives of their Centre for Management
  • Leading the team that engaged over 20,000 community leaders in roundtables exploring what it would take to build an innovation-driven society, as part of Alberta Premier Don Getty’s “Toward 2000 Together” initiative
  • Supporting early efforts of Canada’s national Roundtables on the Environment, and serving as catalyst for environmental management training programs in Canada, Europe and Japan
  • Founding the Innovation Expedition, which from its spiritual home in Banff identifies, connects and mentors influential innovators from around the world
  • Creating the Challenge Dialogue System (CDS)™ to help diverse stakeholders collaborate and innovate in order to accomplish complex tasks and dramatically improve performance
  • Undertaking major transformational initiatives with large corporations, including AVCO Finance, Bayer Canada, Occidental Petroleum and Textron

Since 2000

  • Applying CDS to mentor the diverse corporations that form the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative (OSLI) in a collaborative innovation program with economic, social and environmental goals
  • Mentoring the young Kenyan entrepreneurs who won the $1 million prize in the 2010 Nokia Growth Economy Venture Challenge for their company Virtual City, which uses mobile phone technology to automate rural supply chains and reduce poverty
  • Teaching emerging leaders from around the world at the Oxford University Advanced Management Programme
  • Creating a Renaissance Innovation Network to identify, connect and support a group of innovative organizations that are rethinking the future of their sectors (energy, health, education, corporate sustainability, philanthropy, humanitarian assistance and development in Africa) and playing a role in creating sustainable prosperity in their communities
  • Co-authoring Renaissance Leadership: Rethinking and Leading the Future with Dr. Stephen Murgatroyd, reflecting two decades of exploring the style of leadership that succeeds in unleashing innovation and building high-performing organizations
  • Assisting Dr. Murgatroyd in establishing Future Think Press™, producing e-books and paperbacks that challenge, enable, encourage, inspire, provoke and equip leaders to rethink the future. Coauthoring a book Rethinking Innovation in the series
  • Documenting Canada’s early interaction with Africa and Asia, and with visible minorities domestically beginning in the 1960s, through the lens of his personal experience, in A Canadian Odyssey (manuscript in progress)
  • Donating papers collected over a half-century of global engagement to create the Simpson Archives in the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at York University
  • Founder of the Renaissance Expedition; an organization that aims to identify, mentor, connect and promote exceptional (Renaissance) leaders. These leaders, who come from a diverse group of social and economic sectors, are high integrity individuals with sensitive self awareness and a passion both for driving high performance in their organizations and for helping to make the world a better place