Monkey Learn, Monkey Do… Eventually

My younger self would probably be very disappointed in me today. There I was with all that ambition and community spirit and I honestly could not believe how any individual, in the face of the economic challenges we faced, could not be involved, fully and completely.

I used to make posters for community meetings of our local development group, put them up around the village, and then sit there as the time for the meeting to begin approached and wonder how it was hardly anyone would show up other than those few of us on the board, and a handful of others. I would make posters painting a bleak picture of the future. I would make humorous posters trying to make jokes or puns related to economics. I was stupefied in trying to figure out why people did not seem to take any interest in their own community; in their own prosperity.

I remember seeing all the cars at the church for mass and thinking to myself ‘here are all these people more concerned with their afterlife than their current one!’

I was angry. I was frustrated. I was giving everything of myself, and for what?

I studied economic development at university. I took courses in Asset Based Community Development. I read books on the cooperative movement and community social enterprises. I didn’t know what exactly had to be done but goddamnit I knew I couldn’t do it alone!

I’m no longer involved directly with any community groups. I haven’t been for a few years now. I don’t think I would have the time right now even if I wanted to.

Back then,  around 2002/2003 when I first got involved, I was in university, and later, after graduating, I was severely underemployed. It would also help to mention I was out of high school for six years before I made the decision to go to university, and I didn’t make any fortunes then either.

I was young and idealistic, certainly, but more importantly, I was single (no family obligations) and either living with my parents, or later, at my grandparents’ old trailer (no rent). The fact was that I had a LOT of free time on my hands that enabled me to be involved. I made a huge mistake in thinking that a lack of involvement in our community development organization meant a lack of caring in some way. I need to explain this further:

Of course, in my community there were several community groups of which all had many volunteers who cared passionately for what they did. We had the Community Centre, Volunteer Fire Dept, and Recreation Association, to name just a few. The group I was part of, however, was meant to be an overarching umbrella group for the whole community – a sort of village council, if you will, not to decide on bylaws or anything, but to work on improvements that would benefit everyone, and hence, all the other organizations.

I also did not understand the importance of family life until it hit me. I might not have anything on my calendar every second Tuesday evening when a certain group decides to meet, but my daughter wants me to read books, so I’m reading her books. Got it?

I get it. I do. Now.

I didn’t back then. So my younger self might not like who I am today, but that’s ok, he was wrong. He was wrong to assume so many things. C’est la vie!

OK so I feel I’m a busy guy. Great. Where do I go from here? Well as mentioned before this blog is an attempt to rehash some of my past experiences, and I will continue to do that, of course, but I also want it to be a way forward. My wife and I have been working on some ideas and we hope to make a push to turn some of these ideas into reality in the very near future. I also feel compelled to begin something entirely different and directly focused on economic development in Cape Breton. I’ve been tossing some ideas around in my head the last few weeks and they seem to have rekindled a long-dead spark I felt back when I was about twelve years old.

It was 1991 and I went to a week-long summer camp program called Monkey Business at what was then called the University College of Cape Breton (now CBU). It was a program based on Business, Science & Technology and there were about thirty of us kids along with several ‘camp counselors’. The program was sponsored in part by Enterprise Cape Breton, a now defunct wing of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).

We were put into teams and the main project for the week was to invent a new product, build a prototype, create a business plan, and then we were to present the ideas to a panel of judges (local businesspeople). It was Dragon’s Den meets Mr. Dressup.

I am still proud to this day that our team won with our “invented” product which was a new type of ice cube tray that had rounded bottoms (made from cut-in-half ping pong balls) so you could push down one side and the other popped out. It also had a special ‘Nytrex’ coating (silver spray paint) to make the surface non-stick, a lid (piece of matching white plastic) to prevent spilling, and a freeze indicator to tell when ice was ready (piece of a neon green straw).

The whole week was basically about entrepreneurship and I remember leaving the camp excited for the future. “We can do it!” was the message we received. Just because we were in Cape Breton did not mean we were not capable of doing and achieving great things in our lives.

I know there are/were similar programs out there like Junior Achievers and Shad Valley, but seriously why isn’t this sort of thing a class in school – maybe not mandatory – but if nothing else we need to bring back Monkey Business!

I wanted to try to set something up a few years ago and contacted Enterprise Cape Breton (I wanted the documentation to have some foundation to build upon to create a new proposal) and I was told that since it was greater than seven years old all documentation would have been destroyed.

Shortly thereafter, (but not because of this reason), I was no longer involved in community development and my idea died out.

Every school should have a program like Monkey Business, except instead of inventing fake products and doing mock-ups of prototypes, they come up with real ideas and build prototypes that work.

I got sidetracked there. I didn’t mean to go off about Monkey Business like that, but that’s where the spark came from all those many years ago, and I feel like now, almost thirty years later, I’ve not really put it to any good use. I feel that if I die without turning that spark into a giant fireball of something positive, it’ll be one of my life’s biggest regrets.

So there’s this spark, just hanging out in my brain… and it collided with another idea or two I’ve been chewing on the last few weeks, and I’m thinking I may have something here to work with. I need to do a little more chewing, but I’m getting close to something.

You see the thing for me today is that I no longer think going to government (any level) for money is the way to go unless absolutely necessary – and I believe for non-profit groups it may be entirely necessary… but then again, I am not certain I fully believe community economic development is best done by a non-profit group. Maybe it is. But I want desperately to explore what a person is capable of in a private enterprise capacity, with a social responsibility aspect.

I’ll keep chewing on this idea and get back to you real soon!


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