When you hear the word “alchemy” what do you think of? I remember my first “taste” of alchemy. I was on a travel assignment in Ottawa three years ago, searching for the city’s most newsworthy culinary establishments. I found a hands-down winner in Atelier, a resto dedicated to molecular gastronomy, where its brilliant chef, Marc Lepine, uses the tools of creativity and science to fuse different, otherwise-typical foods together to create pure edible magic.
Flash forward a few years and I’m sitting at TedxToronto, whose chosen theme this year is Alchemy (notice the capital “A”). And it makes perfect sense. Each of the speakers at the October 26th event has the inspired and inspirational capacity to “bring ordinary elements together to make something extraordinary.” This magical process, much like the one adopted by Atelier’s wizard chef, offers up a new way of looking at the world. But these speakers, nay activists, are doing even more. They’re providing our communities with infinite possibilities for growth, sustainability…and hope.
Offering their own personal recipe for alchemy, each speaker offers the city we love something unique and valuable. We applaud them not only for their successes but for their sheer effort. It ain’t easy making magic, after all. For those who missed it, here’s a summation of what we learned from every magician up there.
Vasiliki (Vass) Bednar, Action Canada Fellow
Combining public policy with “play”, Bednar is designing a board game that brings the two closer together. By introducing “play” into contemporary governance, the hope is the “small P” (standard articulation, informal ingenuity of ordinary people) will be a catalyst for “big P” (the policy-makers) to not only get more done but to make the process enjoyable for all.
“I triple-dog dare you to come out and play. Ladies and gentlemen: your move.”
Angie Draskovic, Founder & CEO, ZOË Alliance Inc
Believing that consumers and the economy are powerful players in the fight against poverty and exclusion, Draskovic founded ZOË Alliance to promote social purchasing. Giving companies the opportunity to buy promotional and merchandise items from village producer groups, she’s essentially offering newfound power to the business community and their CSR activities – the power to help build long-term capacity for communities everywhere.
“We can eradicate poverty if we get the right tools. Let’s spend money in a way that empowers people for life.”
Working at that intersection of the Internet, global security and human rights, Deibert is asking us to look deeper at the technology we use every day, typically without even a second thought. What happens to your data once you send off that tweet, he asks. After all, those social networking companies become the intermediaries of our experiences and what they do with our “personal” data really matters. While the average person takes cyberspace for granted, the Citizen Lab doesn’t. They’re lifting the lid on what goes on beneath the surface. And what they see is disturbing. The Internet is proving a dangerous place for many. Every day another company’s information is breached, for example, and every day someone’s rights to security and freedom of speech faces off against the malignant tools of cyberspace.
“We stand at crossroads. The future is yet to be written. We need shared, open space for citizens to talk in order to protect earth, to make change…I want you to all become hackers (metaphorically).”
No doubt the most adorable duo on stage that day, the father and daughter team created a video game which is quickly gaining fans worldwide. The idea for the initiative stemmed from Ryan Henson Creighton’s belief that children should be using their creative talents more productively and that technology – and kids – have capacity beyond what parents and educators give them credit for. Think about it: schools work so hard to get iPads into classrooms but it ends up being a consumptive activity, not a creative one. Parents, meanwhile, get so excited to see their kids adapt quickly to devices. But it involves a simple touch screen with one button. Is it really so impressive, he asks? Technology, Creighton implores, has infinite promise and can be used for real good, but schools and parents need to get on board.
“We’re not expecting enough of our kids; we should be teaching them to be creators, not consumers.”
Marcelo da Luz, Founder Catalyst, The Power of One: Solar Car Project
A dreamer who initially tried to bury his “fantasy” of building a solar car, deeming it impossible for someone of his means and resources, da Luz eventually found that not following his dream was simply unbearable. So, with the help of many collaborators, he built the first electric vehicle to reach the Arctic and to cross the longest ice road in the world. Travelling around the world in the car (“XOF1”), promoting clean and sustainable energy, da Luz was pulled over 26 times by authorities – and at one point mistaken for a UFO. In fact, when he was forbidden from driving his sunshine-fueled car in Ontario, the dreamer-cum-catalyst pulled XOF1 by hand from Niagara Falls to Toronto, a total of 160km.
“The most difficult part of the project wasn’t to build it but to dream it,” he says, adding, “How many times can you hear ‘no’ without it affecting you?”
Jon Dwyer, Chairman & CEO, Flax Energy
Like all alchemy, the greatest things stem from small beginnings, says Dwyer to open his talk. Inspired, in part, by his family’s narrative – Newfoundland fisherman whose communities reached near starvation due to over-fishing of cod, an unsustainable commodity – Dwyer decided to investigate agricultural solutions to the food versus fuel dilemma. Like cod before it, oil is running out too, he says. But if we want to replace it we need to find something that eats and breathes just like it. Unfortunately, the green movement has failed to create sustainable models to replace oil. But flax seed is another story altogether. It has one input with multiple outputs, it yields multiple revenue streams without being impacted by the price volatility of products like soy and canola. And it won’t change how people consume, the crux of a sustainable solution.
“Oil is the infrastructure of our modern condition. Oil is our cod fish but we need to focus on reality, not perception…we have the ability to do things, let’s change the world for the better.”
Isha Datar, Author, Possibilities for an in vitro meat production system
Datar wants to get one thing straight: she loves to eat meat. Problem is, for years that affection blinded her to the impact of meat production. She didn’t want to “see” the environmental and other costs for fear it may affect her eating habits. Eventually, though, she opened her eyes. And what she saw was frightening. One 8oz steak, for example, requires 1.6 kg of feed, emits 4.5 kg of carbon dioxide and uses 3,515 litres of water. In fact, while many “buy local” environmentalists focus on transportation issues, she says the real problem is in the production of meat. Producing in vitro meat could bypass these issues, adds Datar, admitting, getting people to eat meat grown in labs is a drastic “ask”. But, having helped develop Canada’s first in vitro meat lab at the University of Alberta, Datar makes a strong case for it being a worthy one.
“Buying local addresses only a small part of the problem.”
From a young age, Lee found himself inspired, intrigued and moved by the smell and taste of food in his hometown of Hong Kong. But it was his travels across the globe and his varied culinary experiences that led to Lee’s harmonious alchemy, his unique ability to create dishes that blend a host of cultural textures and flavours. And, as any patron of his restaurants knows well, Lee’s capacity to blend traditions and tastes from around the world into one innovative platter is what makes him a veritable standout in the world of culinary delights.
“Every day I feel like a student learning from cultures across the globe.”
Dr. Joseph Cafazzo, Lead, eHealth Innovation, University Health Network
At some point in our lives, we will all be affected somehow by six major chronic conditions. In fact, 75% of all our health spending is geared at dealing with them. And, while hospitals are fantastic at working with patients fighting disease, they’re not so great at navigating the path of chronic conditions. Cafazzo is a patient advocate first and foremost. He believes we each have the power for self-care at home. And he’s developing technologies to allow for more of that – a lot more. There’s a dialysis machine that’s easy to use, an app for kids with diabetes and another to monitor blood pressure, just to name a few.
“Patients have the capacity to care for themselves; they can be engaged.”
Shawn Micallef, Writer, Editor, Urbanist, Lecturer, Senior Editor & Co-owner of Spacing Magazine
With a tremendous capacity to stir up the discourse, Micallef asks Torontonians to essentially look inward and outward at the same time. Look at your neighbours but look within too. Suburbs are typically divided from the urban communities, creating an unfortunate chasm and leading to a host of missed opportunities. What’s more, in many ways the suburbs have become more downtown than downtown. It’s time for Torontonians to unite, he urges. After all, we need each other. And cities that can pull all elements together, and can do it well, are the winners of this “game”.
“We need to get over it, dude, and think of ourselves as one big city.”
Heather Jarvis and Sonya JF Barnett, Co-Founders SlutWalk Toronto
Word are dangerous. Like a virus, infected words can spread fast and are infinitely damaging to body and soul. Both Jarvis and Barnett shared their personal experiences with words, one in particular: slut. Affecting how one speaks, acts and thinks, the word can significantly alter one’s self-belief as it travels within the recesses of one’s consciousness, leading to impactful, long-term consequences. The power of that word – and others – is what inspired the two powerhouses to found SlutWalk, a movement of empowerment over thought, belief and action.
“We need to stop the spread of viruses; slut is a damaging idea not worth spreading”
Stéfan Danis, CEO & Chief Talent Officer, Mandrake
We all respond differently to life’s messy challenges. For Danis, the answer was running 250 km in the Gobi Desert. Facing yet another recession at work, Danis felt beaten down, hopeless, and was looking for something to inspire him, something that would reinforce in him the power of resilience. If he could run the Gobi, he thought, perhaps he could handle his professional challenges too. But his exercise in empowerment gave him more than that. The Gobi completely changed Danis’ relationship with adversity, instilled in him a renewed purpose and strength he didn’t realize he even had.
“When the going gets tough, you need grit, you need resilience,” he says. “Create your own adversity project; to grow resilience do something outside your comfort zone. What’s your Gobi?”
Laura Reinsborough, Founder & Director, Not Far From the Tree
SEE Change has been a fan of Reinsborough for a while now, having featured her work in this article and podcast a year ago. There’s just something about her passion for fruit and her innovative approach to environmental activism that gives us all much food for thought – yes, pun intended. But it’s her ability to take this affection for produce and establish an organization seemingly overnight, and to inspire us to look upward with new eyes and to cherish the abundance in our city – our urban orchard – that gives this change-agent her greatest acclaim.
“Fruit trees have been my teacher; they’ve taught me to engage my whole self…my head, my heart.”
Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, Director, Arrowsmith Program
Arrowsmith-Young has always been passionate about the human brain. It began from her own personal adversity, one that saw her being labelled at a very young age as having a mental block, told she would never learn like others. Brains were considered unchangeable back then. But that was then, this is now. Heeding the advice of her father who said, “If there’s a problem with no solution, find one yourself,” she set out to do just that. Studying psychology and the brain, Arrowsmith-Young came to realize the brain is, in fact, changeable. The revelations and the source of joy it brought to her helped focus her life’s work, leading her to create one of the first practical applications of the principles of neuroplasticity to the treatment of learning disorders.
“It breaks my heart to see kids with learning problems still being told to live with limitations. They don’t dare to dream.”
Steven Page, Singer & Songwriter
It took Page a long time to come to terms with, and not be offended by, his reputation as, “one of the most recognizable voices in Canadian music.” Not many people like the way they sound and Page is no exception. But he speaks about moving beyond that, into the role of facilitator, leveraging the power of his voice to help others find their own. Singers are master manipulators, he claims. To engage, to connect, musicians must put themselves into “that space.” Performing one of his songs, and urging the audience to join in, Page made a strong case for music’s ability to move, to touch and to connect.
“Don’t think about how it sounds, think about how it feels,” he says, coaxing the audience to sing along with him for the heartwarming finale.