Category Archives: Change

Free Education

Education is a human right. Let’s get that straight. It is a fundamental human right, and the United Nations says so.

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Meet a young Cambodian girl who ‘hearted’ us when my Qatar Academy students and I went into the jungle for Week Without Walls (a week of experiential learning outside of the school, something every school should have). We went to paint this little girl’s humble school with a new coat of love. We hear you. We will never forget you. We know that there are people on this planet who have LITTLE to NO access to education, and it is unacceptable. It is a moral imperative that everyone with the means to provide it do what must be done to uplift the situation and provide children AND adults with education and further education. Because education is a fundamental human right. 

Cambodian heart
Click the photo to see more.

Daphne Koller of Stanford University tells us this, articulately and intelligently, from experience.

We’ve got children in the world who cannot get an education. And we also have the problem of adults on this planet who cannot get a decent means to work. The issue for adults is an economic one. The costs associated with post-secondary education have risen exponentially in recent years to the point where education has become as hefty an investment as a house. It frightens people. And some like Dr. Joel McDurmon refuse to pay. He penned ‘B.A. to Ph.D. for under $15,000: How I did it‘ and it’s an eye-opener. Straight talk about how to get an alternative education, and it can only have gotten easier in the 21st Century. Right? Not quite. 

The question is: why should we force people into economic hardship to gain an education? If you look deeper into this issue, you’ll find that others have asked this question and provide solutions for not only those living in developing nations but also those everywhere who are willing but entrapped in the confines of their lives, working to eke out a living, unable to afford to take the time off to study to change their circumstances.

Nothing comes for free, of course. Education is a human resource heavy industry. Without teachers and instructors, there can be no education. They create the curriculum and, as such, there are costs to an education. But governments and industry partner up to subsidise these costs. And that’s another debate. The assumption in this article is that willing parties will find ways to pay for and provide affordable educational solutions to all. For if we don’t educate the masses, the price we pay at the societal level is ignorance, and ignorance costs a lot.


US-based Campaign for Educational Equity shows us: Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 09.24.46Read the full report here.

The UK media has been yowling for some time about the mismatch between graduates and employers. The costs of the lack of adequate educational provision are real. Look at these headlines:

Employers want education system to better prepare young people for life outside school gates – CBI/Pearson Study

Schools should do more to prepare students for work

The Canadian government recognises the problem, too, in this article:

At its most basic, he said, Canada’s rapidly changing economy needs workers with trades certificates, community college diplomas and university degrees. Workers with less than that already cost the country $24.3 billion in lost productivity.

Several numbers back up Munro’s argument:

• 81 per cent of jobs lost during the recent recession were suffered by workers without any post secondary education.

• Between 1990 and 2012, the employment rate for people whose education ended at high school fell to 48 per cent from 58 per cent.

•In Hamilton, the number of people working in jobs that require higher education has grown to 59 per cent from 55 per cent in 2006 and between Jan. 1 last year and this year the economy created 167,500 jobs for college and university graduates while losing 85,400 positions for those without post secondary education.

•Workers with less than high school have an average unemployment rate of 11 per cent and earn an average of $32,029 a year compared to 4.5 per cent and $56,048 for those with an undergraduate degree.

Even if an under-educated worker can find a job, Munro warned there’s a real financial penalty — over a 40-year career having high school or less means earning $745,800 less than someone with a degree.

“It’s clear that to be employable in this economy a person needs some level of post secondary education,” he said. “Without that you’ll have real trouble in this economy.”


But, Houston, we have a problem. Putting costs aside, universities and colleges are in trouble. They’re not able to keep up with the real demands of the world. The Economist says so: higher education is ‘not what it used to be‘. Why? Because information is a river. It’s free-flowing. It’s an ocean. It’s vast, deep, much deeper than a few navigators can manage. It’s bigger than us all, and we must filter this information more effectively to allow people to develop themselves in accordance with the needs of the world we live in.

What our students should know in the 21st Century can be epitomised in a few words:


But what does it mean? It means that the world has gone mobile. We have access to learning everywhere because of technology. Thus learning can and must be more individually tailor-made. nutshell_21c_learning-001In adult terms, this is what our world looks like and society needs to get to grips with it. Governments, higher institutions and employers, too, all bear the responsibility of educating adults.


The world is changing. Information is like air. Data is everywhere, free-flowing, and accessible to virtually everyone for very little money, really, if you juggle the economics. The responsibility to ensure that education is provided to all affordably is a must. It is a moral and practical imperative. It would be innovative to think then that education should be provided to us all – for free.

Khan Academy and Coursera are leaders in this regard. Go get what you can.

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And if you’re looking for other alternatives to reducing the costs of university or college, look here:

Tawakkol Karman – How I met this Nobel Peace Laureate at TEDx Salford

I bought my ticket as soon as I read that this Arab woman – a Nobel Peace Prize winner – would be speaking at TEDx Salford 2014. This was the woman who started a revolution in Yemen, the ONE country in the Arabian peninsula that I have always wanted to visit (my colleagues made it and have great photos of the qat-chewing men in the streets…hmmmm…while I was probably off gallavanting somewhere else or hanging about in Saudi writing during my breaks…it’s a hard life, choosing *where next* to go on holiday when you’ve got four months of paid annual leave). Sigh. I’ve seen much of the Middle East – Lebanon, Syria, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates – and travelled over 24 countries worldwide, to date. But Yemen got away from me.

It was never quite the time, never quite ‘safe’ enough to go to Yemen when I wanted to. If my father was (and he was, initially) going to disown me for going to Saudi (it terrified him, until he realised I was safe, I had close friends both Saudi and among the expatriates; and I could bring home 18 carat gold and great adventure stories), well, the proposition of my going to Yemen would cinch that fact. I was told by my Saudi friends: don’t even think it right now. Al Qaeda had just bombed the American naval ship docked in Senaa.

I even examined the option of teaching in Yemen in 2010 and decided against it when the Canadian principal of an international school tried to recruit me and revealed upon questioning that he and his wife were leaving (no-brainer: not the time to go to Yemen). There is another part of me that has lived in the Middle East so long with the so-called risks and dangers, and I was in Qatar when the Arab winds of revolution swept across the region and my Saudi friends in middle class government jobs saw their salaries increased dramatically (to keep the peace), I could imagine that Yemen is likely reasonably safe if you stick to the tried and true…tourist hotels, the main souqs and no gallavanting around the best parts…villages outside of Senaa. Even to see Old Senaa would be a treasure. For me, it would.

But now it is less safe than ever, or so it seems, from so far away, from England where I now reside. My feet no longer dust the dunes of Arabia, and I no longer work in Saudi, or Qatar (I left Doha and the illustrious think tank, the Qatar Foundation, in 2012). I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the land…directly. I follow through my friends and former students who are scattered across the region, and they are my proxy. How I miss it. How I sometimes feel crazy when people could care less about the issues that burn holes in my heart. Syria. Palestine. Yemen. Egypt. All of it.

But my love for Arabia came back to me with the arrival of this woman, this incredible woman, Tawakkol Karman, when she walked onto the TEDx Salford stage at The Lowry and spoke yesterday.

She spoke eloquently of her struggle and triumph with the Yemeni youth to bring on the ‘rose revolution’ of Yemen, toppling the president…because she had a big idea, a big dream. And that dream is justice, human rights, for the women and men and the children of Yemen, and for us all.

My heart was in my mouth as I speechlessly and breathlessly watched and listened to this woman talk with her hands, as Arabs do. I understand intimately because I have lived among Arabs, specifically the Gulf Arabs, and some of my best friends today are Saudis, one of whom has a mother who came from Yemen. I’m not supposed to know that. But I do. I know she came as a young bride to marry a Saudi, but that’s another story. I know the ways in which Arabs feel things so passionately, they must express those sentiments with their hands, forcefully. I know the strength of those hands, and the love of those hands. I know the ‘hanan’ and deep tenderness and compassion of Arab women in particular. They are known for this. I also know they are rock steady; they have nerves of steel and we women in the West can learn from them and what they have suffered and still endure today. I have written songs about the wisdom of Arab women. I felt Tawakkol Karman’s passion. My heart yearned for the Middle East, a place I have lived for 13 years, in peace, in deep peace and harmony.

So, of course, I ran down the aisle, pushing politely past people who had no idea what I was feeling or where I was going. I found her, at the bottom of the Lowry Theatre, greeted her with my best Arabic, delighted in her warm and sincere character as I gave her my album Bakhoor a compilation of my own struggles and journeys through the Middle East, pre and post 9/11. She told me she loved the photos on the cover – my many photos taken over many years travelling – and told me that a man had made a song with her words. It’s not hard to see why. Listen…

You see, the story is all hers, Tawakkol Karman’s. I share it with you via the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies. Today, the power of this woman steals my attention from everything else I have ‘on’. I called a Saudi friend who told me Tawakkol has recently lost her home in Yemen to the rebels who would love to topple her for promoting peace among the Sunni and the Shia…and among men and women…among people of all faiths and people who have none.

The power of this woman and her faith in a better world to come leave me humbled and heart full. She may be Mother Yemen, and maybe the Mother of Us All.

And worth watching…the entire 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony and acceptance speech of Tawakkol and the two other women who shared the honour with her.

Women, Leadership and Change Management

Learning never stops. Leaders aren’t born. They grow. Three little pearls of wisdom for today.

I am undertaking an MBA elective in Leadership and Change Management via the University of South Australia, a uni I have loved being affiliated with since I started my Master of Arts and Cultural Management degree in 2007. Where does time go? It was my last year in Saudi Arabia. I’ve been taking courses and applying them to various career interests ever since. It’s not what you learn. It’s what you do with it.

My current ‘callings’ take me down the path of organisational change, something I am interested in as I look at the lack of innovation in some organisations in the UK (sadly, within secondary education) and ponder the question of what to do about it.

This is in stark contrast to that within other organisations which, thankfully, throw out ‘rays of sunshine’ in and among the very dark ‘clouds’. The BBC, which is based in the city where I live, or the ‘attached’ city, Salford and Salford’s Media City, ten minutes from my home in Manchester comes to mind as a creative, inspired, inspiring and innovative organisation, despite its criticisms. After that, I’m stumped.

But then I volunteer with the Samaritans in suicide prevention, and am about to embark on a leadership role with the charity, or am dipping my foot in the waters (while paddling like a mad-crazy-busy woman-while-aiming-to-still-sustain-a-contemplative-life as I complete my post-graduate studies…so easy goes…eas-y goes-s-s). The Samaritans is certainly an organisation engaged in innovation, though I am not at liberty to disclose much about it – hey, volunteer! It will become evident how this organisation is reaching out to depressed people beyond the traditional avenues it has thus far effectively traversed. I love and am proud to serve the Samaritans in the UK.

These experiences have raised the quesiton for me: what is this business of change that I speak of, and how do you manage it organisationally? Stay tuned. I’ll share with you what I learn, as I go.

Call it a refinement of my passions. Oprah Winfrey sums it up like this: “Align your personality with your purpose, and no one can touch you.”

You see, as a Canadian who has travelled internationally across 24 borders and back, working in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UK and obviously my home country pre-1996 (when I left), I have discovered after (1) working in a school founded and managed by a Middle Eastern military hospital – part of the ‘Ministry of Defence’ – and (2) later accepting a position running a leadership and service learning program at a school nestled within the highly esteemed ‘think tank’, the Qatar Foundation, rising fast from the flat sands of that nation’s corner of the Arabian Gulf, my fascination with global organisations – large, complex, multi-faceted – has only grown.

My time at the Qatar Foundation, but also my various encounters with international conferences like Midem, where I signed a record deal with the one company in India that owns the majority of sugar plantations and also produces all the auto-rickshaws of the region, Bajaj…these have shaped my view of the accessibility of remarkable programs for global change. That is to say: change not just at the level of ‘improvement’ but at the level of ‘innovation’.

Watch this space, for I’m going ‘travelling’. Only this time it is a journey of ideas that, I’m sure, will cross time and space.

SMART means more than Smart Goals

I have been a goal setter virtually all of my thinking life. From the time I could determine what to do for myself, which was some time in my formative primary school years, I have set goals and (as they became more complex), written them down in a diary then pursued them with a vengeance.

I was inspired by my father (who gave me his Eko acoustic) and my mother (who gave me a thin book of songs with chord fingerings, the first being ‘Tom Dooley’). I began to learn to play the guitar at the age of nine, and as soon as I could I started to copy the accomplished experts on radio. That may well have been the first ambitious undertaking I ever dedicated myself to.

I remember, too, earlier ambitions: playing in the sandbox! What an apt memory that is. For ‘playing in the sandbox’ to adult creatives represents the free-flow, spontaneous experience of listening to your impulses, following them, experimenting and stimulating your creative mind to find solutions. And often that is a social process. In my case, I was in the sandbox with one of my best friends, a boy named Shawn, to build cities. Side by side, we cooperatively and separately built our worlds up in mind and reality. Then we let the elements bake and blow them away, taking great joy in the day and days that followed to build and rebuild again and again and again. The pleasure was in the process, and that was a very mindful experience. The metaphor is rich with learning.

In junior high or middle school, I remember having the internal drive and goals, though they were never written down, to write news articles, publish magazines, deliver musical performances, run a ‘Turkey Trot’ and more. Right before high school, I began to keep records of my life in the form of a diary, and for much of my adult life I have kept diaries and journals to track the goals I have had. Where did and does this desire to achieve a goal come from? Upon reflection, it comes from the wish to live a full life. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Growing up in the country, in a somewhat stimulating and under-stimulating environment, I had both the space in which to think. This was the era before the Internet. I had the space in which to get bored. And that boredom spawned creativity and the desire to create and construct my life in various ways. To this day, I think it is good for children as well as adults to experience boredom and to have to think their way through to the other side of it. I am certain it is the precursor to creativity.

SMART goals, then, were introduced to me when I was 19 and took a course called Personal Best, which is now revamped into a program called the Creator’s Code. In all their variations, SMART goals stand for the following: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.


Time and again, I have achieved things by setting creative goals. I have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have recorded music in contexts people could only dream of (Bollywood, Berklee College of Music, a 24-track studio in Canada, the tombs of Tutankhamun in Upper Egypt) and the wadi (dried) riverbeds of Petra, Jordan where the Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed. I have lost 40 pounds in less than 40 days. I have travelled over two dozen countries in 18 years and ‘seen the world’ as I’d always dreamed about. I’ve honoured the fact that life is for living…and I still do. Happiness is the goal.

So, my goals have always been defined, even if there have been moments of being sidetracked along the way, even in the face of failures with a small ‘f’. SMART goals help you stay focused and have helped me to set new directions and keep persisting and pursuing what has been important to me for most of my life. I believe in the virtues of SMART goals. My experience, as outlined by this writer and organisational facilitator of ‘sandbox play’ for executives, is that you need to connect emotionally to those goals in order to achieve them. Connecting emotionally with yourself, and giving yourself the gift of reflection, sharpens your focus and helps you gain the specificity needed to go after something do-able in your life, even if it’s grand and exciting. So much the better if it is!

But I believe that there is more to SMART goals than ‘specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound’. I would add these ideas to the mix:

S – Soulful – Make your goals soulful.

Goals that are inspired by what you are ‘called’ to do, be or have. Goals that you intuitively know are ‘right’ for you. Do we listen to ourselves and to what some say is our soul…deeply? How do you know if you are listening to the right voice within? Trust the desires you feel to define goals that bring a deep and clear sense of satisfaction, because they are good to achieve, and here is a hint: anything that is good for you must be good for others. Where there is a reciprocity in these intentions, this is good for your circle of influence, your family, friends and community. No man is an island. Establish the goals within you that are most soulful and, where possible, slightly selfless. Then watch how rewarding and significant life becomes as you journey towards your achievements.

M – ‘Mental’ or Mature? – Your learning and working style determines your approach.

Take your pick. In the spirit of play, which is called ‘structured play’ in the world of theatre, music and the arts where one adds a dose of discipline and thoughtful exploration as well as research to the mix, you have choices about how to set and pursue your goals. You could go with the idea of throwing your goals like a gauntlet on a spontaneous whim and then make a mad-dash for them. This would be firey and full of excitement, momentum and likely some peril. Is that the nature of your personality? Slightly ‘mad’ and chaotic in your thinking (no offence intended and no reference those with mental health issues)? Go for it! Or you could scribble something onto something, a napkin in your favourite cafe, a journal, your hand, your To-Doist list, a note in your iPhone, iPad, laptop or android device and let the steps unfold as you begin. Your reasoned response has the potential, then, to become an even more personal one, and one that requires you to understand only this: the nature of you at this moment in time. Where are you at today within yourself and how do you operate? A mature approach to goal setting need not be a stuffy, complex or complicated one, though it can be one that you give some time to. All that is required is that you think or reason your way through why you wish to do what you wish to do, after which you get to it. Action is what makes a goal come to life. So, what steps are you going to take? What’s your plan?

A – Aptitude – Know what your strengths and weaknesses are, then compensate.

Where is your intelligence? Some goals are complex and require skill and knowledge that you do not possess. The thing is this: do you need to ‘do it yourself’ or could you delegate some of the tasks at hand to someone else? What is your aptitude for learning and achievement. Go back to the idea that no man or woman is an island, and think of the power of social interaction and connectivity in building your project. Research shows time and again that humans do not function well in isolation. We are an ecosystem within ecosystems – and this is the nature of life and living things. What connections can you make? Who can you reach out to who will relate to where you’re going? Build cities together? Build dreams together. At least when you get there, you won’t be alone. How lovely is that? Know your strengths and weaknesses, and compensate for them. Now, that’s smart!

R – Recognise – Track your progress so you can respond to anything that gets in your way of achievement.

Most experts on goal setting talk about the importance of charting your progress as you go along. In business, this is called ‘controlling’ for success. In gestalt therapy, it is the recognition that we are organisms that live within and are affected by an environment that helps us determine how to respond when something in the environment changes. In business, we do SWOT analysis of our Strengths, Weaknesses (already mentioned above), Opportunities and Threats (in the environment…as these are the things that exist for and against our efforts). To keep an eye on your progress as you work towards a goal is to enable yourself to respond when something throws you off track, and to boost yourself when you begin to falter, which you will. Most of us do. This is the nature of humans. We are not automatons, not robots or machines capable of repetitive autonomous action over and over and over again. Creative thinkers need to be able to respond, and to know what to respond to and how to respond, we need to track progress and then think! So recognise the importance of this and create the simple systems or habits that will help you stay aware of how you are doing.

T – Treats and Thankfulness – Treat yourself as a way to motivate yourself from time to time, and show gratitude and respect to yourself and others for a job well done.

A goal worth having is one that requires effort. Behaviourists recognised that we respond to rewards, and while you need not go overboard with this, you might consider how to chunk your goals into mini-goals and reward yourself for getting to the quarter, halfway and three-quarter points, if these are relevant. What treats can you give yourself? Don’t sabotage your weight loss by binging and putting yourself back in the hole where you started! Be thoughtful with rewards, and when you finally get to where you’re going, think about who has supported you along the way – show respect to them and gratitude, just as you show yourself the self congratulations you truly deserve. When you get to the end of the race, to the point of achieving your goal, whatever it is…note the time it took. Jot a thought. Pass it on. Share the love. Share the wisdom. Goal achievement is a great thing. Many great people in the history of the world have talked about this. Know that you’ve joined their ranks.


Shift. “A slight change in position, direction, or tendency.” What does it mean? What does it lead to? I ruminate on this as the world watches war re-enacted in the theatres within the theatre we all play a part in. Life. (I’m one of the lucky ones to still have mine intact.)


Shift. Inner peace…it’s elusive sometimes. Frequently, it’s a momentary adjustment we make in our minds, to get there. Watch how long it takes to slip away. Shift. Find our way back.


Shift. What does a ‘slight change’ mean in the longer term? At first, it could be so subtle, so unnoticeable, so secretive even (for we grasp at what we think so terribly ‘true’), and in the experiment…it’s obvious we’ve embarked on another path. An unchangeable new destiny. Sounds so grandiose, but it is that. A new destination.

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Shift. It need not be big. But it needs to be definite. Shift. Shift. Shift. A shift in position, viewpoint, opinion, certainty, uncertainty. Feel that. Shift. Direction to directionless, for once. Or vice versa. Confidence can grow in that, here and now, with humility. Shift. Shift your tendencies and watch yourself grow.

(Then tell me what you discover.)

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Driving home from a long day today, in a foreign country, in a ‘new-ish’ job, five thousand miles away from where I was born and grew up, I felt numb. It was a long day. Difficulties had come from all directions. People were my primary source of stress and, internally, I was boiling.

I learned first thing in the morning, from a former colleague I’m connected to on Facebook, that a former student of mine died in a car accident…in Qatar. Continue reading Changed