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One person can change the world

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Ashoka Canada is saluting individuals who have taken an idea and turned it into a successful enterprise, achieving what governments couldn’t and conventional charities wouldn’t attempt.

Life quickly strips idealistic teenagers of their dreams of changing the world.

By the time they reach adulthood, most are so ground down by the realities of the marketplace that they dismiss their youthful optimism as charmingly naive.

That is wrong, says Susan Pigott. She is executive in residence at Ashoka Canada, an alliance of social innovators who have made the world — or their piece of it — better. “In this age of intractable social problems, everyone should consider being a changemaker,” she insists.

Today’s tools — crowdfunding, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter — are better than ever before. And the need is greater, as governments cut services and shed long-standing responsibilities.

Canada joined Ashoka, a global network of changemakers, in 2002. Since then, it has added 47 trailblazers to the worldwide total of 3,000. These are individuals who have taken an idea — often one considered utopian — and turned it into a successful enterprise, achieving what governments couldn’t and conventional charities wouldn’t attempt.

This month Ashoka added three new “fellows” to its roster. It will salute them, tell their stories and “raise a bit of hoopla” at a public celebration called “Inspiring New Realities” next week.”

The first inductee is Paul Born, founder and president of the Tamarack Institute. He turned the traditional approach to poverty reduction upside down. Parliamentary resolutions, provincial strategies and academic studies don’t work, he argued. The way to fight entrenched poverty is from the ground up, bringing together local residents, civic leaders, employers, labour groups and community agencies. And he proved it.

Over the past 13 years, Born has shown 84 municipalities how to tackle unemployment, social isolation and poverty by harnessing local resources. He began with his own city of Waterloo and took the concept nationwide, working with citizens to solve problems that stymie world leaders.

So far Tamarack has lifted more than 200,000 Canadian households out of poverty. Its target is 1 million households by 2017. “The ultimate goal is to end poverty in Canada, one city at a time,” Born says.

The second new fellow is Michelle Lem, a young veterinarian who uses pet care to earn the trust of homeless and street-involved people. She runs a network of 15 mobile veterinary clinics that provides free care to pets and connects their owners to the health-care system, housing and social services. What Lem and her team of volunteers invariably find is that street people whose pets are treated with compassion will accept the help they need — help they have spurned in the past.

So far, she and her associates have treated 1,800 animals, helped hundreds of people turn their lives around and changed the role of a veterinarian from a service provider for animals to a community liaison for humans. “Being part of Ashoka, I feel as if my life’s work and passion has found a home,” she says.

The third changemaker is lawyer Fiona Sampson, founder and executive director of The Equality Effect, an international network of human rights activists working to improve the lives of women and girls. Lawyers from Canada work with their counterparts from other countries along with teachers, health-care workers, artists, filmmakers and community organizers to challenge governments that fail to uphold their own human rights statutes.

Her biggest breakthrough, highlighted by my colleague Heather Mallick earlier this month, is “160 Girls.” Working with female lawyers in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana, Sampson tracked down 160 rape victims aged 3 to 17. The lawyers taught the girls their legal rights and helped them sue the Kenyan government for failing to protect them from “defilement” (the African term for rape). The girls won the landmark case, setting a legal precedent that can be used against other governments that turn a blind eye to sexual violence. The courtroom victory was hailed from London to Lilongwe.

“To change life for girls, we need to get to the root source of inequality and that is discrimination under the law,” Sampson says.

Canadians tend to underestimate themselves and overlook the visionaries in their midst.

Ashoka hopes to change that. It wants young people to hold fast to their idealism, believing they can make a difference, build a movement and change the course of history.

[source: Toronto Star columnist – Carol Goar]

Jackie Carron Home Selling Team
Keller Williams Neighbourhood Realty Inc. Brokerage
2968 Dundas St W, Suite 303
Toronto, Ontario

M6P 1Y8

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