Social Good and Business Hooked up and I Saw it Happen

Christian Quaresma,York University

This is a guest post reposted with permission from York University student and poet, Christian Quaresma. Christian attending the Collaboration for Social Good event held on April 18, 2013, in Markham (read more about it here) and composed a poem “Untitled” during the event, along with fellow student and poet Sara-Jane Gloutnez. 

Yesterday, April 18th, was a strange day in my poetic career, and a challenging day as a human being. I attended a conference on Collaboration for Social Good in Markham Ontario in order to view the gathering of NGO’s, businesses, and government, through the lens of a poet. At some point I was to give a short performance of a piece I composed on the spot. The organizers sat me at a table with CEO’s, social workers, a professor from Schulich  School of Business, and entrepreneurs, where my identity remained incognito until I took the stage toward the end of the day.

I realized pretty quickly that this event, put together by the York Region Women’s Centre, York U, and other social enterprises, was going to be focused on business strategy. I hadn’t hoped for much more; this romantic poet has a pragmatic streak. Throughout the event there was a lot of jargon tossed around, words like crowdfunding and collaborative consumption (a good idea with a terrible name).

But among the shop talk and the Tony Robbins-like crowd peppering, there were two things that astounded me. First, was the sense of community right from the opening speaker, in a room full of professionals, many normally contained in their respective “silos”. The speakers themselves believed in their causes completely, and their ability to shape capital expenditures toward social good. The second thing was the language of consciousness forming underneath the speakers’ themes as the day rolled on smoothly. From the beginning I had penned down in my notebook “communism/ revolution, inherent contradictions of capitalism?”, wondering how these theories I spent four years learning informed the actions of these business-people.

And there were radicals at the table! They even took the stage and talked about new currencies in terms of social capital, things likes reputation (merit for you classists out there), time banks, and fun. Yes, fun as a form of currency to transform the system of exchange. I even saw strategies for economic growth mapped out on a backdrop of the Fibbonacci Spiral, and explained in terms of “strange attractors”. The amateur physicist in me teared up with joy.

During the lunch hour I met up with my accomplice, poet Sara-Jane Gloutnez, to compose a collaboration for our performance. I crammed in a quick sandwich, which left my nervous stomach empty by the time we took the stage, so that I was shaking a little during my reading. We did our bit, and I yoked together some strange combinations like “entrepreneurial vines” and “perennial investor”. The poems will be posted on the event blog, links forthcoming.

I left the conference with a million good feels vibrating in my body, especially after hearing the soul-lifting stories of Neil Hetherington, former CEO of Habitat for Humanity, Toronto. It seemed to me there was an atmosphere of experimentation in the air, a willingness to explore ways of improving our lives beyond the traditional market and to expand the notions of life-chances beyond GDP, or even the HDI, to include people’s dignity.

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