Monday, June 7, 2010

Worm Poop to Oreos - A Story of Upward Mobility

Tom Szaky is an enterprising eco-capitalist – you could almost call him an environmental rock star. He's a Canadian who headed south to university at Princeton. There, in time-honoured entrepreneurial fashion, he started a business in his dorm room producing environmentally friendly fertilizer from worm poop! Down to earth beginnings indeed. In the small world category, my daughter in Princeton was one of his first customers! WalMart, Home Depot and others followed, providing TerraCycle with its breakthrough opportunity. Within five years, Inc. Magazine named TerraCycle “The Coolest Little Start-Up in America” and Tom the #1 CEO in America Under 30.

Tom and TerraCycle are part of the sustainable business movement. Now his company produces a myriad of products, all from recycled material. It’s an idea he calls Sponsored Waste. TerraCycle gets low cost waste materials by working with companies such as Kraft Foods, Frito-Lay, Mars, Kashi, Stonyfield Farm, CLIF BAR and Honest Tea. TerraCycle upcycles the collected ‘waste’ material into affordable, eco-friendly products. Now, this Oreo bag is much more appetizing than worm poop!

Tom's been recommended by several people as an exciting and persuasive speaker. National Geographic TV seems to think so - they will be starting a season of Garbage Moguls, after a successful pilot last year.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Gage Transition to Independent Living

Picture yourself as a young adult with a severe neuromuscular disorder, say cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. You’ve always lived at home, lovingly cared for by devoted and highly protective parents. However, you’re 19 now and you chafe to leave the parental home and establish an independent life. But living independently is not easy! You have lots of special needs in caring for yourself. Maybe you have to be able to handle special catheters or other equipment. Perhaps you have to manage a ventilator – something usually reserved for trained professionals. It’s a daunting task.

And then you have to navigate all the trials and tribulation of day-to-day life while dealing with your disease. How do you co-ordinate all those medical appointments your parents used to manage? What medical facilities are fully accessible via wheelchair? Indeed, what hairdressers are? How do you find your way through the thicket of bureaucracy to gain access to the housing and disability allowances you need? Since you’ve probably been over-protected all your life, your self-confidence is not high and that makes everything harder.

The Gage Transition to Independent Living program is intended to help such people learn to handle the responsibilities of living on their own. Located on Merton St. in mid-town Toronto, the Gage provides bright sunny one-bedroom apartments, designed for the special needs of people with disabilities. While providing full attendant services to cater to their clients’ physical needs, it takes them through an all-encompassing 18-month program while providing a individualized learning program encompassing health management, housing assistance, stress management, right down to planning meals and cooking.

The Gage is run by the West Park Healthcare Centre and our latest board meeting was held at the Gage. I joined this hospital board, because of their commitment to innovation, because of my respect for board members and management, and because they believe in the concept of a hospital which extends beyond just the hospital.

At our board meeting, we heard from a Gage client who fit the description above. This engaging young lady – at 30 she’s a bit above the usual age - described how persistently she had to lobby to get her parents to let her come. She described taking her first subway ride – it wasn’t as hard as she thought. She was proud that she’d learned how to cook. And she choked up as she told us how she’d gained so much self-confidence at the Gage.

Chronic disease accounts for 46% of disease today and in ten years, will rise to more than half of all disease. Many of these patients are currently ‘stuck’ in acute care hospitals, which are not ideally suited to their needs and whose costs far exceed West Park’s. Unlike the episodic nature of acute care, West Park is all about continuing care, and caring for the whole person. The Gage is an important part of that vision.

West Park’s is all about The Road to Recovery, and the Gage is all about The Road to Independence.

Our next speaker for TEDx is golden

The next speaker we’ve confirmed is Rob McEwen. On the face of it, Rob is a ‘business’ speaker. After all, he's Chair and CEO of US Gold and Lexam Explorations. He famously ran Goldcorp , one of the most stunning successes in Canadian business. During his time at the helm, Gold Corp's market capitalization went from $50M to $10B. He was named by Canadian Business magazine as Canada's Most Innovative CEO in 2006 and made Fast Company magazine's The Fast 50 Champion of Innovation list. In June 2007, he was named to the Order of Canada.

Like the very best of business people, he's used his money for good. His largest contribution has been in establishing the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the Toronto General Hospital, helping maintain Toronto’s global leadership in stem cell research.

So, Rob certainly has the credentials to count as a business speaker. But I see him in a different light. To me, he represents the best i n creative and innovative thinking, and the courage to try something entirely new. The way he made Gold Corp successful was by defying the 'known' truths of how you run a mining company. He exploited the power of the Internet and collaborative cross-industry creativity to reach for success. When I find my students languishing in the doldrums of thinking the same old way about problems, I evoke McEwen's experience to jolt them into letting go of what they 'know' and striking out with contrarian thinking.

When you set up a program like this one for TEDxIBYork, you have to reach beyond your own limited experience, so you ask lots of people for their opinion about who would be a great, not a good, speaker. Rob was described as charismatic by many of the people I polled. I've wanted to hear Rob speak for a long time; I can't wait to see him on our TEDxIBYork stage.