Got Impact?


With that simple four word mantra outlined in an amazing PopTech! talk (below) and a life mission dedicated to living it, Kevin Starr recently joined the ranks of my personal superheroes.

A physician turned managing director of the Mulago Foundation, Kevin has been driven by his passion to carry forward the superb legacy of his medical school mentor Rainer Arnhold. Arnhold, a pediatrician by training, and a humanitarian by choice, spent much of his life working hard to improve the lives of children mired in poverty.

The mission statement is simple, yet immensely powerful:

” Mulago looks for the best solutions to the biggest problems in the poorest countries.”

What made Starr’s talk so – well, impactful (pun intended) – were his ideas around measuring the real impact that various social change ideas eventually have on any given problem. He reveals surprising follow-ups to the failures of highly touted and award winning projects such as LifeStraw and the $100 Laptop among others.

Green! Green! everywhere but no smaller footprint in sight?

Going “green” has become as nebulous an idea as “happiness”. 

Twenty first century living has made it fashionable to be “green”, but what does is it really mean?

Does driving a Prius or switching to energy efficient light bulbs make you an environmentalist? Or do you have to be a granola-eating-vegan protesting at an international climate change conference to be one? With so much information and mis-information out there, has all this “green” activity really made a difference to the environment?

As it turns out, not all green is created equal.

Pioneering environmental journalist and founder of, Alex Steffen  coined the term “bright green” and what follows is a summary of his brilliant explanation around the evolution of the environmental spectrum.

What if an ice-cream wrapper were a songbird?

Hands down, one of the most inspiring and influential duo in my life have been architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart.

Creaters of the Cradle to Cradle design philosophy, they blew me away with their vision of seeing a “world of abundance, not limits”. I am completely drawn to their maverick idea that “design is a signal of intention” and theirs is to shift the current endlessly destructive model to one that “loves all children, of all species, for all time”.

Rather than making humans feel guilty, the C2C concept celebrates human creativity, culture and productivity, integrating nature’s effective design principles with business and the environment.

Scoffing at the traditional “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra as just a “downcycling” spiral, C2C design focuses on making products such that they enter either the “technical” or “biological” nutrient cycle once their life is over.  This way they can be completely used in another avatar rather than ending up in landfills.

In other words, the goal is to eliminate waste completely and turn it into  food. This is “eco-effectiveness” as opposed to the herd mentality of “eco-efficiency”.

Can you blame war survivors for wanting strawberries in winter?

Why don’t we like blue tomatoes? Are potato-crisps still enjoyable when they sound like jelly? Why do we eat when we’re not hungry? How did the food you’re eating get on your plate?

Just some of the questions that come up as Marije Vogelzang designs eating around her 8 point philosophy of Senses, Nature, Culture, Technique & Material, Science, Psychology, The Action of Food and Society.

I stumbled on this Dutch “eating designer” recently and have been relishing her work. Breathtakingly delicious. She believes that nature has already designed food perfectly, so she focuses her creativity around the verb of eating – harvesting, cooking, sharing and digesting food

Move over carbon footprints - Watts are in

magine having a “nutrition” label on all the products you use and activities you engage in daily - from reading the New York Times to using your laptop to drinking a glass of wine.

Except instead of “fat” and “carbohydrate” percentages, it would breakdown the power being used each step of the way.

Though “energy labels” are still a few years away, genius and prolific inventor Saul Griffith has created a method to calculate your current daily energy consumption! 

WattzOn is a free online tool that you can use to calculate and keep track of the power needed to maintain your lifestyle. You can compare it to the world wide average and get tons of fun insights on how to cut back on whatever is sucking up the most energy.

300 million unconscious acts, mind-bending art and a Zen koan

The artist statement for American photographer Chris Jordan’s series Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption reads:

“Exploring around our country’s shipping ports and industrial yards, where the accumulated detritus of our consumption is exposed to view like eroded layers in the Grand Canyon, I find evidence of a slow-motion apocalypse in progress……The immense scale of our consumption can appear desolate, macabre, oddly comical and ironic, and even darkly beautiful; for me its consistent feature is a staggering complexity.

The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences….

As an American consumer myself, I am in no position to finger wag; but I do know that when we reflect on a difficult question in the absence of an answer, our attention can turn inward, and in that space may exist the possibility of some evolution of thought or action.

So my hope is that these photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry. It may not be the most comfortable terrain, but I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know that we are awake.”


Rediscovering wonder at TED 2011

My dream of attending the TED Conference came virtually true today.

Thanks to the TEDxToronto team and the generosity of the Center for Social Innovation (CSI), Day 2 of the ongoing TED 2011 conference was made freely accessible to a handful of TED enthusiasts via live webcast.

We cozied up at the CSI digs in downtown Toronto and immersed ourselves into the wondrous world of game-changing innovators and thought leaders gathered presently in Long Beach California. There is something truly magical about the synergies of being part of a live event, and it was a thrill to witness both the poise and gaffs of the speakers in real time.

For me, there were two highlights from today’s sessions:

First, the fact that TED curator Chris Anderson  experimented with guest curation, inviting none other than Bill Gates to choose & moderate the four speakers that made up the “Knowledge Revolution” section. Gates did a tremendous job and his enthusiasm was clearly evident and infectious.

Self-breathing pig lungs and a soprano

Toronto continues to surprise me. I’m constantly reminded of what an amazing hub of innovation and research it is – from environmental, technology and social entrepreneurs to trailblazers in medicine, we’ve got them all!

Organ transplantation has become an increasingly important area of intrigue for me in recent years, and so I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the miraculous exploits of the Lung Transplantation team at the Toronto General Hospital, led by thoracic surgeon Dr. Shav Keshavjee.

Building on a rich tradition of hosptial firsts (first single and double lung transplants and first artifical lung), Keshavjee is currently tackling the mind-boggling problem of decay in lungs harvested from donors before they reach the recipient. He has developed a successful Lung Perfusion system that enables preservation of the organs for up to six hours outside the donor body.

But he hasn’t stopped there.