If you had one day a week dedicated just to you, what would you do with it?
For Mark Dabrowski, he spends four days of his workweek at his day job and one day working for a nonprofit. Other companies should consider following suit, he said, giving employees one day a week to dedicate to something they’re passionate about.
A founding member of TEDx Kanata, Dabrowski made the switch from behind-the-scenes to being one of nine presenters at the third annual event, held March 9 at the Brookstreet Hotel.
The theme of the evening was The Next 150: Driving Change and the speakers explored what the next 150 years in Canada could bring. Talks included how to secure Canada’s prosperity and the need to end gender-based and cyber violence.
For Dabrowski, the future should include a new structure to the workweek.
ONE DAY A WEEK
Dabrowski said he felt himself becoming unmotivated, unproductive and slowing down his team after working at the same company for a number of years. He went looking for something different and found a nonprofit that allowed him to combine his passion of protecting the environment with fulfilling work around Ottawa’s lakes, rivers and streams.
The burnout was quick to follow.
“Because I still had a full-time job, I was only able to dedicate nights and weekends to the nonprofit,” said Dabrowski. “As you can imagine, doing this for a while didn’t lead to a good work-life balance. So I figured I only had one option; I need to quit my full-time job and work at the nonprofit and follow my passion.”
He brought his dilemma to his manager and said because he was feeling disengaged he felt it was time to move on.
“Rather than just letting me go and wishing me best of luck, he actually wanted to listen to me and figured out why I was feeling this way,” he said.
His boss then proposed an idea: stay with the company and work four days a week, and dedicate the fifth day to the nonprofit.
“Let me tell you, that completely changed everything,” said Dabrowski.
“As we look at driving change over the next 150 years, I believe that as companies, and in particular managers, listen to the passions and the desires of their employees and give them that one day a week — to either learn a new skill, work on a side project or side business, volunteer for a nonprofit or charity or even just spending more time with family — that if we do this it will lead to less job-hopping and more productive and engaged teams, and most importantly a more fulfilled and happy society.”
WRITE THE RULES
John Weigelt, national technology officer for Microsoft Canada, says Canada needs to be better at innovating and thinking globally to ensure its prosperity in the next 150 years.
“We need to write the rules to establish that future for ourselves,” he said.
Looking to the past, Canada was a global leader when it came to innovation — think of the first telephone, the creation of penicillin, the first trans-Atlantic broadcast.
“Canada’s contributed so much to the world around us,” said Weigelt.
But now, Canada is falling behind.
The Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity in Toronto ranked 16 North American regions for prosperity and only two Canadian regions made the list, “but we finished 14th and 16th,” said Weigelt.
The prosperity gap is due to a productivity gap, he said. And the productivity gap comes from an innovation gap.
“This is not ideation, it’s not simply coming up with ideas, it’s not invention,” he said. “It’s innovation; taking that idea, bringing it to market and changing the way that the landscape works.”
How do companies fix this gap? Spending more on technology is a start, said Weigelt.
“Canadian companies invest 53 cents on technology for every dollar that a U.S company invests on that. We’re not going further, we’re not investing as far, we’re not going out and seeking that opportunity,” he said, citing a study by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards in Ottawa that looked at how much Canadian companies are investing in technology compared to other countries.
“We need Canadians to stand up and be bold, be a little bit brash, and say they're going to be the next big thing … to look globally so we can write the rules to secure Canada’s prosperity for the next 150 years.”
END GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE
Dillon Black’s talk on ending gender-based and cyber violence struck a chord with the audience, earning them a standing ovation at the end of their speech. Black, a gender non-conforming anti-violence activist, uses they/them pronouns.
Black called on the audience to be part of the solution to create safer digital spaces and to “work to unlearn all the ways in which we engage and behave that actually sustain gender-based violence.”
Black told their own story to illustrate their point. Ten years ago while walking to their car after a university class, Black was raped by three men.
“I cannot begin to express to you the enormity of that night,” Black told the audience. “I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks. My body hurt all of the time. Sometimes, I had to shower six times a day just to scrape them off me.
“I still feel like I lost parts of myself that night, parts that I’m not sure you ever get back. So you try to pick up the pieces over and over again. You try to gather up enough courage to go on.”
Black works with the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women and was recently appointed to help shape the federal government’s strategies to end gender-based violence as a LGBTQ and cyber violence expert.
More than 73 per cent of women have reported experiencing some form of online gender-based violence, said Black, using statistics from a United Nations report.
“The problem of violence and abuse is the greatest challenge the Internet faces today,” said Black. “Locally, in a research study with young women in high school, 100 per cent of the respondents said they have experienced gender-based violence.”
This can include harassment aimed at harming women — like in the case of Black’s friend, a feminist blogger located in Toronto.
“She’s had people seek out her private information and release it publicly — where her child goes to school, where she works, her banking information. This is what’s happening to women just for the sake of having a voice online,” said Black.
It also includes the sharing of intimate images — sometimes called revenge porn — without a person’s permission.
“It’s not porn because it’s not consensual and it’s not revenge because we shouldn’t feel entitled to those things to begin with,” said Black.
And it includes technologies that can locate and keep track of people without their consent.
“I could go on the Google app store and find things like a girlfriend tracker,” said Black. “I can go on Tinder (an online dating app) and use GPS location and geomapping just to figure out where people are.”
So what can we do?
First off, stop telling young people to stay off-line, said Black, as “This is where their communities are, this is where they find friendship and support.”
Secondly, everybody needs to take action.
“We need a paradigm shift because this is not just a women’s issue, it’s everybody’s issue,” said Black. “For people that are developing these technologies, are we developing them with young people in mind and with women in mind?
“We need to work together to do this — whether you’re a parent or an educator or an advocate or you’re a person working in the technology sector — because building safer digital spaces means the ability for all users — of all genders, sexualities, races, abilities — to be able to come and participate meaningfully in these online spaces.”
Finally, and most importantly, believe people.
“If a person in your life comes to you and they trust you enough to tell you the hardest thing that’s ever happened to them, believe them,” said Black. “In doing this you have the power to help remake the world in the next 150 years.”
All of the TEDx Kanata talks will be posted in video format online. For details, visit tedxkanata.com.