The Practical Radical

The Practical Radical

March 30, 2010
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The origin of this blog has been a 20 year idea in the making of a practical radical. A little of my brief personal history might help this make more sense.

I left my highschool years a conservative politically – my parents were conservative, and i didn’t have much time for any flighty lefty ideas. My first political involvement in grade 12 was to protest the then “solidarity” movement in British Columbia led by the unions against the government of the time. I never completely left my conservative ideology – this i would consider to be the “practical” side of me.

University — well — it was initially a bust. I ended up failing out in three semesters straight – mostly due to dating, friends and card playing. I as well did a stint in Europe (Strasbourg) where I was to go to school and learn french. Well, I found love, partying, and failed out of school there as well. In the words of an old girlfriend “I really didn’t think you were going to make much of yourself”. No kidding.

My “turning point” was an experience in the developing world through a program called Canada World Youth. I initially wanted to go to Thailand – better food – but ended up in Ecuador. This  opened my eyes to what was going on in the world – I found my passion. I came back from Ecuador determined and energized. This would be the start of my “radical” side – – fighting the good fight – social justice and all

I met a guy – Jeff Gibbs – after reading about his new organization the Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA) at University, (which I went back to and finished 10 years after starting). Within 6 months I was working/volunteering at EYA, and there is where I found my path for the next 17 years. This is where i learned to be a “practical radical” or “pradical”.

As all people who work for small NGOs  know, you never really have one job, but 10, from administrator to programmer to janitor to confidant. I worked with budgets from $50,000 when i first started, run out of a shoebox under Jeff’s bed, to 1.5 million in my last years running the youth program for the World Urban Forum. I loved and hated my job, reveled in the chaos, worked insane hours, got paid little at first, met life long friends, made life long enemies, and affected change. I never could answer “so what do you REALLY do?”, but nor did i care. I loved what I was doing.

Along the way I met my wife, who worked (initially) with an NGO, and we found common focus that has kept us together for now 15 years: social justice, “experiences” over “things” (especially travel), and kids (2 boys). We as well prove the adage “opposites attract” – which is what in the end keeps us together – we are NEVER bored.

I continued my schooling – I decided that I need a practical degree to drive my radical direction – so got a Masters in Management. It is there i learned more about chaos as applied to management and immersed myself in “complexity theory”. Following the World Urban Forum, I began working with UN-HABITAT, the agency within the UN focused on cities. It is from that point on that I left EYA, and I re-focused my work internationally. I have had the honor of working with youth from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam to Rio de Janeiro – much of our focus has been on how we can meaningfully engage youth in cities and slums. This work has led to another facet of my life – academia – where I have received a fellowship from the University of Colorado to do a PhD in urban planning. I have discovered that space, specifically how youth and other groups live in urban space, fascinates me. I have found that how one defines, claims and names space in our urban wilderness is key to social change. More on these concepts in later blogs.

In the end, I am practical by nature, radical by design. I believe in patterns not lines; paradox not certainty; and the chaotic not the orderly. Systems are stories not boxes, people not positions, which change and grow at each retelling.  To succeed one must be tenacious, open to new ideas, and able to act decisively when the time is upon you. Humor is often the best form of communication, and kindness and belief in humanity is essential. I judge myself, and hoped to be judged, in the moment, and by my actions. My intent is unfinished business.

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