A small contribution to a great event: Calgary Learns Life of Learning Awards (LOLAs)

March 28, 2012

When Megan Williams of Calgary Learns sent out an e-mail asking for donations for their silent auction, to be held as part of their Life of Learning Awards (LOLAs), I knew I wanted to do something. I was introduced to the LOLAs a few years back by a colleague who works at Bow Valley College. The awards honour individuals in 3 categories:

  • An adult learner who has achieved outstanding results in a non-credit, part-time adult education setting.
  • A facilitator or instructor of non-credit, part-time adult education who has shown exceptional skill, creativity and understanding.
  • A program designer or director who has made extraordinary and innovative contributions to the promotion, advancement and development of lifelong learning in Calgary.

So this year, when Megan sent out her call, I wanted to do something… and knew it had to be related to learning. As some of you know, I’ve been involved in a project to teach other learning professionals, non-profit organizations and small business people expand their educational program offerings using webinar and e-learning technology. It’s not much, but we have donated one set in our upcoming 5-Week Online “Build Your Own Webinar” Bootcamp.

These awards recognize an outstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Most importantly, the LOLAs recognize and celebrate individuals who work exceptionally hard… and do not always have the chance to shine in the limelight. This event is so inspiring precisely it celebrates those who dedicate themselves to a life of learning, not because they have to, but because they are driven by an insatiable passion to learn… and to share learning with others. It’s hard not to walk away from this event feeling elated.

That’s why I love going every year… and why we wanted to do our part to help. If you’re in Calgary on April 4 consider joining us. I guarantee you’ll leave inspired.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


A Season of Ethical Enterprise

December 9, 2011

I have dear friends who are vehemently opposed to capitalism. Personally, I’m not opposed to capitalism. I am, however, opposed to greed, manipulation, lies and unethical practices. There are those who might argue that those things are synonymous with capitalism.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Capitalism is defined as:

An economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth. (Source: Captialism – Dictionary.com)

If an independent farmer takes his vegetables to the market and sells them to people who need nutritious food to eat, he is a capitalist. If he says his food is organic when in fact it is full of nasty chemical pesticides, he is a liar.

Swirl of giftsThere are amazing examples of admirable production, distribution and sale of goods (i.e. capitalism). Etsy, for example, is not only a marketplace it is “a community of artists, creators, collectors, thinkers and doers”. But make no mistake about it, people buy and sell goods freely. That’s capitalism in its truest form.

Kiva is an organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs in developing countries access microfinance loans. There are over half a million lenders. Lenders are financing

entrepreneurship, which is free and independent business. Entrepreneurs in developing nations are empowered to develop products and services to sell in order to make money. That’s capitalism. It helps them gain skills, knowledge and financial independence. That’s good, right?

Some social justice advocates adore initiatives like Kiva and Etsy, but their neighbour who opens a shop or a service business is loathsome. Trust me, as an educational entrepreneur, I can assure you that the many entrepreneurs in the developed world struggle financially. Some even live in poverty. Is the idea that as long as someone is trying to move out of poverty, capitalism is OK, but after you’ve passed that magical “poverty” line, business transforms as a vehicle going straight to depths of evil? I have never been very clear on where people draw the line… or why?

I grew up under the poverty line, with a single, immigrant mother who came to Canada with a grade 10 education. We never owned a home or a car.

For extra cash, she would pool her money with a couple of other ladies in the neighbourhood. They would rent a table a local flea market on the weekends where they would sell their crafts, knitting and crocheting. They worked hard to make enough product to keep the table going, doing informal market research along the way. If an item didn’t sell, they wouldn’t make any more of it. If it did sell, they’d make more of it. They responded to market demand by observing and analyzing their own sales. It was Etsy “old school”. Through her flea market sales, she was able to afford “extras”… Saturday night supper at the local diner (another capitalist endeavour owned by a local Greek family) or tickets to a movie. Her salary did not allow for such luxurious. Her entrepreneurial endeavours did. No wonder I have entrepreneurship in my blood.

Now I own a car and a home… I’m working on the corporate jet, but don’t hold your breath. (Kidding!) My point is that part of the reason I have been able to move out of poverty into a more middle class life is due to owning a business. I have also been an educator, a researcher, a writer and speaker. These are all essential elements of a career that has involved being both an employee of large organizations (usually universities, colleges or school boards) and being an entrepreneur. The work is the same. My dedication to my students, clients and co-workers is the same. My obsession with producing the best quality work I can never leaves. I seek to serve, to help others grow and develop and to promote lifelong learning as a way of life.

Along with the entrepreneurial genes came a deep drive to be creative and industrious, to work hard, to do honest work for a fair price and be ethical in one’s dealings. If you’re not honest, that just ticks customers off. It also ticks off co-workers, bosses and students. And rightly so.

Which brings me to my point. To my fellow entrepreneurs – and particularly those who are in the business of selling educational products, training, courses, books and educational services – I hereby declare this the Season of Ethical Enterprise. To celebrate this season, I call on ethical entrepreneurs everywhere to:

  • Give something this season that does not involve our name or logo on a calendar, pen or other swag. Make a donation to a charity on your clients’ behalf. If you can not afford to give money to a charity, give the gift of yourself: help someone do something they couldn’t otherwise do, give helpful advice (without a consultation fee) or give someone an hour of your time as a mentor.
  • Refuse to engage in the “holiday swindle”. Giving someone the “gift” of 50% off your services or products if they buy before the end of the month is not a gift. In fact, calling it a gift isn’t even ethical. It’s a sale. Call it what it is. You are not being benevolent or generous when you tell people that you are giving them a gift, but really you are asking them to open their wallets.
  • Encourage ethical enterprise. Have conversations with others about topics such as corporate social responsibility or green business.
  • Think carefully and act mindfully when it comes to holiday spending. What are you spending and why?

I believe to the depths of my soul that business can be a force for good and not evil. It starts with a deep commitment to ethics, transparency and accountability. This is the perfect time of year to focus on building relationships, deepening our commitment to building a better world and helping each other. You just can’t put a price tag on that.

What would you add to my list?

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Business as a creative force that can make the world better

September 9, 2011

The other day I was having a conversation with a colleague about how universities have made drastic changes in how their operational and leadership models in recent years. The change is especially apparent in the Humanities, where scholars are deeply, viscerally offended by the idea of the numbers of “bums in seats” as being an indicator of a faculty’s success.

My friend remarked, “It’s totally a business model!”

I cringed, as I often do, when I hear remarks like that. I’ve worked in post-secondary institutions, with non-profit organizations, with small businesses and entrepreneurs and yes, even with corporations.

I replied, “That’s not a business model. It’s the worst aberration of business. It’s a business model in its most hideous and grotesquely mutated form.”

Don’t get me wrong. There is no doubt in my mind that some businesses exploit their workers, their customers and anyone else they can. There are some businesses who mistreat and abuse their employees. There are some businesses who misreport their numbers and mismanage their money. There’s no denying that.

But not all businesses are that way. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins looks at the qualities that differentiate good businesses from truly great ones. He describes the characteristics of both and then goes on to give examples from industry. It’s a book that many business people know well. While he talks about profit as being one key indicator of success in business, it is not the only key factor. In fact, as the author points out, companies that are driven purely by profit often never make the leap from good to great.

Collins wrote a subsequent work that is less well known, though equally brilliant. Good to Great in the Social Sectors looks at what makes an organization — any organization — great. He shows what he means by focussing on schools, non-profits and other social sector organizations, demonstrating how we can define success in ways that have nothing to do with generating profit. In fact, he says that business can learn a lot from non-profit organizations.

Business isn’t always the great evil that those who work in education and non-profit think it is. The problem is that they see the worst mutations of business practices being employed as leadership models. When that is the case, how could they think anything else?

David Cooperrider, known to many as the “father” of Appreciative Inquiry wrote an article worth reading. “Business as an Agent of World Benefit: Awe is What Moves Us Forward” (It’s available as a free download. It’s 7 pages and it is worth reading.) In it he talks about trends in the business world relating to ethical business, green business and corporate social responsibility, ultimately arguing that business has the potential to unleash wildly creative, progressive, helpful and powerfully transformative change in the world.

I sometimes challenge my academic colleagues to talk to their spouses and friends who work in corporations about concepts like corporate social responsibility, ethics, green business practices and how their corporations are finding ways to give back to the community. It’s surprising how many people in the corporate world volunteer for community events and are committed to practices such as recycling, pursuing innovation and being creative in their work.

Educational administrations seem to be adopting the worst aberrations of business management models, becoming more self-absorbed, more self-serving and less caring, while business itself is evolving past those models and becoming more responsible, more ethical and pursuing excellence and creativity more diligently than some educational institutions.

Ironic, no?

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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