Inspirational Person: Toju Adelaja, Equal rights advocate

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Toju Adelaja is only 14, but is already a strong voice for gender equality. She believes this topic is of utmost importance, not only to women, but to the world at large. She currently lives in England, but grew up in Nigeria.

Toju, at such a young age, you seem to have really explored the issues facing the world today, and have been courageous enough to tackle some of them, such as gender equality. Where was your passion for gender equality born?

 

My passion for gender equality was born at home. Although I love my family, I was told that I should move and compromise my life – all for one ultimate purpose, to get married. That was the spark. I simply couldn’t (and still can’t) understand why that standard wasn’t held for my brother.  I will devote as much as I can to help with women’s rights, because it is the right thing to do.

 

What is one success story that has inspired you recently about gender equality, and why did it inspire you?

 

The story of Margaret Keane, which was recently featured in the film Big Eyes. She was an artist in the 1950’s whose husband took the credit for her work. After many years, Margaret decided to expose this deception, going through both a divorce and lawsuit in the process. It made me realize that, in a time where women standing up for themselves was unheard of, Margaret had the courage to push forward for what she believed in. I’m growing up in a generation which is much more progressive (although certainly not perfect). Who am I not to stand up? I have nothing holding me back.

 

What are some initiatives that could help to encourage gender equality

 

Schools could educate about human rights and gender based discrimination. I go to an all girl’s school, an environment where you would think that women’s rights would be at the forefront, but this isn’t the case. I remember an instance where we were taught some rapists go without charge because their victims were wearing short skirts (in an attempt to influence students clothing choice). To encourage gender equality, girls should be educated about their rights and working towards solutions to real world issues that will affect them. Equally important is boys education in gender equality, sexual respect, and expression of emotions. Inappropriate sexually aggressive jokes are still socially acceptable, education is essential to help them understand the implication of their actions.

 

Who are your role models, who are making a big difference for gender equality, and what do you appreciate most about them?

 

I have quite a few role models actually:
  • Emma Watson recently was the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, launching the HeForShe campaign. Prior to this, she inspired me as despite her great success as a actress and model, she decided to go to renowned Brown University, unlike many of her peers.
  • Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate (17). She managed to turn a tragic situation around. Instead of being a victim, she used her situation to inspire so many including young women like myself. She is just an ordinary girl, who wanted to make a difference, so went ahead and did.
  • Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie: is from Nigeria, like me, novelist and short story writer, as well as well known for her TED Talk on why everyone should be feminists. I lover her approach, as well as her collaboration with Beyonce which helped to make feminism a global topic.

 
Finally, if you could imagine a world where gender equality was achieved – what would it look like? How will we know we’ve gotten there?
 

It would be more peaceful and balanced, I think. Women would be encouraged in politics, more respected in society, better represented in media, achieve equal pay, and have the same educational opportunities. When we get there, there will be no need for campaigns, as each gender will respect and support one another.

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Inspirational Person: Jamie McKay, Sustainable Building Consultant

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Jamie McKay is self described “Husband, Father, principal at Morrison Hershfield (15 yrs), LEED Fellow, adjunct teacher (Carleton University), lecturer (CaGBC & USGBC), engineer, environmentalist, dumpster diver, artist/designer/builder, canoe paddler, skateboarder, and telemark skier – and that about sums it up”. Quite impressive!


Jamie, as a recognized leader in Sustainable Building Design, where was your passion born?

In 1995 I graduated from Civil Engineering at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario) and headed to the Yukon Territory, in search of adventure and autonomy. I met many people living radically different lives than anything I’d ever seen before, and was exposed to many new ideas. It was there that I first found my passion for the environment and self-sufficient housing. This was also where I met my wife, a staunch environmental activist. I began to seek out any information I could about the field of sustainable construction, and ultimately moved to Victoria (1997) and Vancouver (1999). It was there that I became involved in the emergence of the green building industry, and got inspired by local legends: David Suzuki, Peter Busby and Guy Dauncey. One of my first deep green projects was Dock Side Green in Victoria, B.C. (a Windmill project)

Over your career, what comes to mind as the largest victories? 

The things that I am most proud of would best be split into two categories: personal and project based. Personally, it would have to be my LEED Fellowship (2014) – a combination of consulting, volunteering, teaching and lecturing over 15 years. Professionally, my work with the Office of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency on the Implementation Guide for the Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) Government Green Building Policy (2013). It was an unsolicited project whose aim was to help promote (possible save) green buildings in NL, and included interviews, stakeholder meetings and post-delivery information sessions.

I have always admired the way you live out your beliefs, including building your own straw bale home! Could you tell us a bit more about some aspect you really love ?

I do love my house, but not for what you would expect. People are the biggest feature – from the local farmer, wood miller, window manufacturer, clay plasters, timber framers, to used material suppliers. We embedded stories into the house, including wood from the Duke of Summerset pub, my Dad’s old lead glass windows, and signatures carved into the clay. I can still hear the stories weaved as the straw bales were sewn together by the mostly female crew, or an apologetic plaster that accidentally burned a section of roof joist. To me (us) this is priceless.

Your ability to instill an understanding of the connection between the built environment and nature with your children is a powerful example. Could you share one of the initiatives that your family undertook recently, that your children really enjoyed? 

For this I will give a nod to my wife, as we (she) took on an outdoor education initiative at our kid’s school. We brought butterflies into the class rooms as caterpillars, and helped the kids release them at the end. Then we worked with the kids to design and build a butterfly garden with local plants. This project has since expanded to working with the local library to start a seed saving library. Each project was intended to bridge the gap between education, the environment and the community. Our involvement in the project truly enriched each of our lives and touched many in the community too.

With all of your experiences and knowledge, do you think there is hope for the world? And if so – what would you say is the key to solving the current environmental crises? 

It’s a good question as it is not obvious on the surface, but simply – YES. Our society is very busy in the consuming/working cycle so you need a quiet moment of interaction to find it. Our family has found that working within our local community (kids, librarians, bike mechanics, local food producers) each member tells a story of hope.

I think that we all yearn for connection and something real – but it seems only to happen when we let our guard down, smile and connect.


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Inspirational Person: William Doll, Impact Investor

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William Doll is the founding partner of The Syneidesis Group, a community of investors who seek a deeper understanding of the trends (including sustainable) affecting our world. Interestingly, some of his previous work included collaborating with Emmy Award winning vérité filmmaker Slawomir Grunberg. William met his wife of 17 years, Ekaterina, while an exchange student in St. Petersburg, and has been blessed with 2 young boys.


William, as founder of The Syneidesis Group, could you explain in simple terms what Impact Investing is?

My definition of Impact Investing is any investment that produces both a financial return and does good in the world. I love the motto: ‘Do good while doing well’. The idea here is that the Capital Markets should be a vehicle for both making money and solving the major challenges facing humanity. This is also why some people call Impact Investing Solutions Based Investing. There are plenty of examples, such as: Fair Trade Coffee (which pays producers an above-market “fair trade” price provided they meet specific labor, environmental, and production standards) and Renewables (solar, wind, plus biomass and recycling waste into energy).

What inspired you to get involved in this field?

Apollo 9 astronaut Russell Schweickart once said:

When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing.

For those who haven’t been to space, I imagine that having kids instills a similar kind of epiphany. You realize that you are not the center of the universe and the rest of your life becomes devoted to caring for someone else. Today, as a father of two little boys, I can’t imagine living a life not devoted to finding solutions that address the major challenges facing humanity.

It can seem overwhelming when you start really diving into the challenges (income inequality, population growth, urbanization, sanitation, waste, etc), but there are plenty of challenges facing humanity that people are solving today: The truth is that we can not only solve these but find a way to make them profitable as well.  Philanthropy will always have a place in the world, however the largest opportunities can both solve a major challenge and produce a financial return.

It has been said that this may be a period in which there will be the ‘greatest transfer of wealth in history’. Could you explain what is special about this generation, and the potential it has for positive change?

There are actually two transfers of wealth occurring. One from the Greatest Generation {those who survived the Great Depression and fought in WW2} to the Baby Boomers (~$12 Trillion) and a second transfer from the Baby Boomers to Gen X & Gen Y (~$30 Trillion) within the next 20-30 years.

There is no doubt that the Impact investing movement is being driven in large part by Generation X and Y. I was just at the Nexus Youth Summit in DC and it is an awesome sight to behold the influence, drive, and passion of the “under 40” crowd. What makes this group special: the shear amount of capital this group has and will inherit is unprecedented, and the fact that these investors simply expect more from their capital. It is no longer satisfactory for an investment to simply generate a financial return, these generations also expect social and environmental returns (triple bottom line).

Can you explain the shift you are seeing due to forward-thinking companies, who recognize the changing investor landscape?

More and more companies are realizing the economic benefit to corporate sustainability, which is the brother of impact investing. Companies that are implementing a true corporate sustainability program – Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) – strategy may have a long term advantage over those that do not (such as increase in market share, greater energy efficiency, and higher profits).

The knock on effect is that their supplier companies are adopting these policies also including transparency and strong governance. There is less corruption, fewer places to hide underpaid employees – which results in fairer pay – and a generally happier society. The businesses that get this model right will satisfy the demands of both traditional and impact shareholders. Beyond that, the long term benefits of this trend point to global economic growth, a strong middle class, and more innovation.

How can people, from accredited investors to everyday citizens, get involved in investing their resources not only for return but also for social good?

The channels for retail investors to get involved in the impact space are not yet well established. In 2006, The internet giant eBay acquired a small startup called MicroPlace, and really opened the door on the emerging market of small-scale lending. The idea was to enable the average investor to lend small amounts ($50 to $100) to enterprises in the developing world at a 1 to 4 percent return. In January 2014 eBay closed the operation citing a lack of wide-scale adoption. However, this bold step on eBay’s part has set a precedent for what undoubtedly will come. There will be ways for average investors to make moderate returns while doing good.

Until then, the next best idea is to choose an investment management company dedicated to Impact Investing. Cornerstone Capital Inc. is a pioneer in this field under the leadership of Wall Street veteran Erika Karp. Her mission is to create the world’s first genetically sustainable globally integrated financial services company. In short, if you want your investments to do good in the world, investing into socially minded funds is the best option. If the minimum investment threshold is too high, you can invest in  individual companies on the stock market that are part of the solution.


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Inspirational Person: Peter Paul

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I wanted to begin to interview different people who inspire me, and share their light with you as well.

Peter Paul was born in New Brunswick to a close-knit family of four, with parents who were both kind and wise. He grew up in Ontario, but spent summers in the maritimes connecting to the rural and coastal landscapes. After school, he linked his interest in geography to mapping work which continued for the next thirty years. He met his wife, Betty, on a canoe trip in the 1980’s, and had two children (I was fortunate enough to be one of them). 


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Q1. Peter, it’s impossible for others not to notice your indomitably positive spirit and generosity. Are these a reflection of an inner choice?

For most people, the way we see ourselves is different from the way others see us. There are several people in our family and our group of friends whose positive spirit and generosity have served as models for me. This has also been true of some strangers in my life – people whose names I will never know, and whom I will likely never meet again, but whose actions I will always remember and appreciate.

Q2. You seem to prioritize getting out in nature, such as taking long walks on a daily basis or biking to work. What impact has nature had on your life? 

Nature has provided a way for me to step back from the details of everyday life, and to appreciate the beauty and rhythm of life which has ‘stood the test of time’. On the grounds of the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, there is a beautiful red oak tree which was planted in 1911, and which I would see on my bike trip to work each day. Sometimes when day-to-day problems would seem overwhelming, I would look at this oak tree which had faithfully continued its yearly cycle of life (new spring buds, summer leaf growth, acorns, falling leaves in the autumn) for one hundred years, in spite of the day-to-day upheavals in my own life, or the latest world news.

Q3. When you reflect back on your life, what is the first memory that comes to mind when you think about your proudest moment?

When I was in Grade 5, we had an hour and a half for lunch – time to walk home for a meal with Mom, and still get back to school for a game of pick-up softball. At that time, a boy attended our school who was a particularly gifted athlete – as a softball pitcher, he threw with speed and accuracy beyond his years. None of us could hit his pitches. After a series of strikes as the batter, I decided to swing before I thought I should – to see if I could anticipate the location of the pitch. It worked.

Q4. What would you tell a younger version of yourself, if you had the chance?

Remember that school is only one way to learn about the world.

Q5. Finally, with all of your experiences and knowledge, do you think there is hope for the world to solve the current social and environmental crises that it is currently facing? Do we have the power to change the world for the better?

I believe that there is hope for the world, because each one of us has the ability to contribute to the solutions – if only we decide in our own minds to do it. The force of people working together towards something worthwhile, towards a goal for the common good, will be unstoppable once it gains momentum.

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