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I’ve always been a connector. Want a good restaurant, call Cindy. Want to hire a designer, call Cindy. Want a solid straightforward opinion, call Cindy.

There are certainly limits to what and who I know, but the circles seem to be getting smaller. I recently meet a perfect stranger and discovered that we had 4 completely different areas of connection. This is an illustration of how small the world really is.

I use my connections to help folks find jobs, understand industries, get things done and find opportunities for volunteering. In the last few years as I scout my city and the world for interesting things to do or experience, I’ve turned into a bit of a cool-finder. In doing this I’ve definitely skewed young, as anyone will notice from my Facebook friends.

But what’s been really interesting lately is that I am now starting to circle back to my cohort as they seek to expand their worlds and I’m a sure a few of them want to learn my secrets for staying young. It’s my next phase being able to connect folks with means with folks with ideas and passion, to pair people with experience with people with a new perspective and in so doing, add value to both sides.

I don’t know why some folks are considered connectors and others aren’t. Everyone has a network and although you won’t have a relevant contact all the time, it truly is a great gift to share one that is relevant at the right time with the right person.

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Brazil, the B in BRIC along with Russia, India and China, is the focus of so much speculation on growth. But even with just a taste of it you see the opportunities and barriers.

Opportunities include natural resources: sand, sea, minerals, forests and more. There is a labour force that is generally hard working, good natured, and fast in some centers. Barriers are corruption, engrained ways that are difficult to change and a peaceful people who until recently might have grumbled but lived with the state of things. Infrastructure from roads to housing to public transportation is weak.

But perhaps one of the most challenging barriers is education. Public schools are poorly though of, so the rich go to private schools. Public university requires entrance exams that a select few from public schools pass as most students are I’ll prepared. Mostly those that get in are products of a private education.

Education for all the reasons that research has pointed out not only provides skills but critical thinking, broad awareness and ignites passion and potential.

I am half way through the trip but if the rest is anything like these past few days there is much work to do to make Brazil the best she can be. It may have to be the newer perspective of the millennial generation to affect serious change and bring Brazil into a modern age of prosperity.

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“We are not ready.” It is commonly known by locals and soon realized by visitors. Brazil is not ready for the World Cup. Not prepared for the number and needs of the masses coming for the Olympics.

The airports are the first thing you notice. Domestic terminals are often so much better than the international ones which barely handle a couple of flights. Then there are the roads, lack of major hotels, public transportation and most importantly tourist support.

It is interesting that in a country so rich in history there is little structure to tell those stories, let alone in various languages. The best tour was H. Stern, a private jewelry manufacturer and retailer. They tell their story well and monetize the experience.

There is no culture of maps so getting directions is difficult. Portuguese is the only language spoken in many areas, even tourist towns. Brazil could learn from many other countries how to structure tours and attractions, and improve their tourist offices.

Not only would this prepare Brazil for the major events, but this infrastructure for tourism would live beyond 2015, creating high value jobs for Brazilians and lots of opportunity for the young people that fuel this nation.

Education, jobs, and business opportunity all around telling the rich stories of their country and being the best host – both ideas that Brazilians value.

A couple of months back I was on a Habitat for Humanity build on the Elizabeth Settlement in Alberta.

The result of our week of work was more structural than visible as we got the main floor joists and floor boards in, plus some other prep work. As the first volunteer team on the site we left our unfinished home hopeful that the project would carry on.

Today I received an update and a photo that proved that with time, patience and a little faith good things can happen.

 

As a volunteer you don’t often get to see the full scope of an initiative.

You’re part of piece of it for a period of time and need to be fulfilled knowing that you’ve contributed. But sometimes your gratification comes again when you see that others have shared the vision and the project has indeed been delivered well.

With all the dialogue currently going on regarding property ownership for Aboriginal people on settlements and native lands, I do hope that this humble project, 4 buildings/8 homes, is completed soon and families can settle in for a comfortable winter.

I’ve been hanging around sports people lately and must say, they are a different lot. I’m speaking of people who volunteer in the area of sports.

First, they’re incredibly enthusiastic. They have energy to burn and are eager to share their passion. They come with a variety of backgrounds and skills, but a common love of sports or a particular sport.

What has been most interesting is that they will show up, pitch in, and even take over an event, in spite of the lack of clarity or organization provided by the official event coordinators. With little explanation as to the nature of an event, these volunteers will show up. They will quickly assess the situation and either join in to add people-power or, depending on their experience and expertise, get the thing going in the right direction. They invite themselves in and before you know it they are part of a core team.

It surprises me that there is little conflict with event management but it appears that in the melee that is one of these sports events, the official coordinators so quickly lose the ball, so to speak, that they are either thankful for the help or hardly aware it is happening. At the end of the day, all celebrate together the event’s success, no matter how big or small.

With my business and process background, I am distressed at the lost opportunity to do something great with these events – to maximize the impact and ensure each year benefits from the last. But then I look at these sports volunteers and think that maybe there’s merit in just getting it done for now.

Just as in the business world, it seems that the best volunteer roles come from who you know. That’s not surprising. It’s the reach of individual networks that have amassed teams of working volunteers, valued board members, major donors and sponsors.

My quest has been to find high impact volunteer roles; to leverage the talents of Boomers to the benefit of non profit organizations in more ways than board membership.

What I have witnessed lately is an exodus from the corporate world to the non profit sector and that is bringing a new set of expectations and opportunities into non profit organizations. This exodus is comprised of mostly women but of all ages. They have an affinity for a cause or the sector and after years in a corporate role that was only partially fulfilling, they now want to break into the other side.

Conversations with folks that have managed to break into this nonprofit world is consistent. Tremendous fulfillment at doing good work and seeing the positive impact of this work. The frustration is the lack of business basics that would make the non profit so much more effective and their work so much easier. It’s not evil to have a solid process. Marketing and promotion are not bad words.

So my hope for high impact volunteerism partially rests with those corporate pals, ex teammates, that have made the jump to the other side, know what has to be done and will pave the way to make it happen from the inside. They understand the value proposition of a skilled and experienced Boomer. You go girls!

The Elizabeth Settlement is one of 8 Métis settlements in Alberta, and part of a larger community of Métis in Canada. The Métis are one of 3 groups of Aboriginal people of Canada which also includes First Nations and Inuit.

First, let’s look at the location. This settlement is 32km south of Cold Lake Alberta, about 4 hours east of Edmonton, near the Saskatchewan border. It’s flat prairie land with big open skies and lots of mother nature.

Flying into Edmonton over the North Saskatchewan River

Flat land, endless roads

Big sky country, fantastic sunsets

The settlement itself is home to about 1,000 people on 25,641 hectares. The community has a elementary school, new nursery school, a community hall that also has a health centre attached and there are administrative offices. These are the buildings we saw and there may be more. They have a lot of facilities but what they have a shortage of is housing. Only 130 homes for the 1,000 people and it’s a growing population.

Health services offered by the onsite nurse

Grade 1 teacher using the Smart board

Keeping the culture in education

We got just a taste of the Métis culture and history while we were there. Métis are people of mixed heritage, First Nations and European. On the Elizabeth settlement strong French roots are felt as evidenced by surnames: Desjarlias, Lepine-Tremblay and Lagimodiere. In fact, the word “Métis” is a French word translated as “half breed.” But it’s clear that the people are of various ancestries.

What they have in common is a fairly recent sense of belonging. Talk to some of the older members and they’ll describe their family struggles being squatters, neither First Nations nor “white,” being called “road allowance people.” It was only in 1982 that the existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada were recognized and affirmed and there was an explicit recognition of the Métis as one of the three distinct Aboriginal peoples.

EMS council members and our liaise

Lunch in the community hall

Pictured are the formation meeting members

While the land is beautiful and the community is strong and family oriented, some of the challenges are openly talked about. Education is an issue. The elementary school is well equipped and the kids are engaged but high school is an issue and the drop out rate is high.

Equal to education is the issue of housing and one solution may be the Habitat model of home ownership. Economic development and sustainability is an issue as the federal funding agreement ended a few years ago and the Métis must become self supporting. The oil and gas industry is a huge employer but not only a tempting alternative to school, a single source of employment. What will happen if the boom ends? The green shoots of entrepreneurship have started but need to be fostered. Some are looking to better monetize the land and its raw materials. And then there are the typical issues many communities face of nutrition, addictions and teen pregnancies.

A campaign to support Aboriginal women

The village does indeed raise the children

Happy girls

During our week, we built not only houses but bridges to this community. Vice Chair of Council, Chris Desjarlias, in his closing remarks made it clear that this was not only a potential housing model for his community but for all Aboriginal groups.

So as our volunteer team returns home, may the teams within the community and outside continue to work together to build these houses and a healthy future for families.

For more info:

http://www.elizabethms.ca/

http://www.albertametis.com/MNAHome/Home.aspx

http://www.metisnation.org/

http://www.metisnation.ca/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A9tis_people_%28Canada%29

This gallery contains 18 photos.

I am a foodie and anyone who has traveled with me knows that. There are always too many food shots at the end of a trip. So I thought I’d add some levity and insight to my stories of the Habitat build in Cold Lake, as told through the meals we had.

My week as a bannock warrior

Our part of the build is done and I’m in the car with 5 others on our way from Cold Lake to Edmonton, a 4 hour drive. It’s a good time to reflect on the week.  This was my first Habitat for Humanity build so there are certainly learnings from that.  More importantly, our team was the first to build on this site and this is the first Habitat build for Métis families on a settlement in Alberta. Which makes this a a special case for learnings.

It’s volun-travel

Traveling with a team for a global build is different from volunteering for a local Habitat build in your town. You travel with a group for a number of days rather than sign up for a day at a time. This Global Village build is more like a group tour traveling and sharing common experiences. The main common experience is the building of a home.

It’s team work, guided by a professional and coordinated by a team leader. It is also a shared cultural experience. In our case we had a chance to talk with many of the community leaders. We visited schools, the health centre, and community centre. We attended their rodeo. And we experienced even more hospitality as they cooked lunch for us each day. Good food it was too.

Like adventure travel, people are in it for many reasons but what is common between these two activities is the quest for learning and personal challenge. In this trip, there are both these elements in the build and the cultural exchange.

First team in; first build for Métis in Alberta

Habitat global trips are available around the world. Many are established centers where Habitat has been building for a while so unknowns are few. This trip was a unique opportunity as ours was the first team of volunteers for this build. And this build is the first time Habitat has built in this type of community. If it works it may become a model for housing for such communities. There are a lot of interested parties watching this from the Habitat side (Global, Canada, Edmonton), the Métis communities as well as other aboriginal groups such as the First Nations.

Home ownership is new

Culturally this is a big shift. The Métis live in a community on communal land. Home ownership is a new concept. Taking full responsibility for your home rather than being supported by community services is a new idea. How community services are affected is still to be determined. And while they do have families who meet the standard Habitat selection criteria, it is not common and those in real need of housing will probably not meet those criteria. How to identify and select the families that should get these houses needs to be carefully considered and done so collaboratively.

There is no doubt however of the need for housing. This build is on the Elizabeth Settlement, one of the 8 Métis communities in Alberta, where there are roughly 1,000 people and 130 homes. We heard of 3 families living in a single house with one bathroom. The 8 homes in this initial build is a drop in the bucket but as the start of something, its far more significant.

Why I am a bannock warrior

First what is bannock? It’s a quick bread made from flour, water, and egg. It can be baked, fried, deep fried, stuffed and shaped. Add oil if you bake it. Depending on the recipe and treatment it can taste like a biscuit or a beignet or donut.

Of our kitchen team at the settlement, Robert was the bannock master letting us explore the many uses of bannock: burger bun, chili bowl, sandwich bun, deep fried with goulash and as pizza dough. Delicious in each application we eagerly awaited lunch where we consumed far too much bannock and even took leftovers back for snacks. We feted Robert for his talent and in turn we were given the title of bannock warriors.

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