From Whole Selves to Deep Relationships – Six Teachings from Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva

Take-aways on every page.

“We are all related, all connected. The Native way is to bring the oppressor into our circle of healing. Healing cannot occur unless everyone is part of the process. Let it begin.” (p.181)

In my first job after graduate school, I coordinated a fundraising campaign supporting social priorities in the Greater Vancouver area that raised over a million dollars over two campaign cycles. After that role, I moved to Toronto, and worked at United Way Toronto supporting community projects in a donor engagement capacity. Because of these experiences, over the past few years I’ve been a part of reviewing grants within different organizational environments. The more I am involved in gathering and disseminating money, the more interested I become in how to do philanthropy well.

So I was thrilled when I came across Edgar Villanueva’s book “Decolonizing Wealth”,  a book that is a clarion call to rethink the way foundations and philanthropic organizations operate, relate to others and seek to create change in the world.  The subtitle of the book: “Indigenous wisdom to heal divides and restore balance” is a theme throughout, and Villanueva’s thoughtful, generous reflections on how we need everyone in order to create a decolonized world left me with softer perspectives, a wider heart and a desire to live my life in deep relationship with others.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section, titled “Where it Hurts”, outlines problems with the philanthropic sector, and evokes slavery with each chapter title to powerfully remind us that wealth in North America is more likely than not created through systems of oppression, and acts of theft and violence. In this section, Villanueva describes how philanthropy itself is based on colonial notions of separation and scarcity, notes that philanthropic organizations typically mirror colonial principles, outlines how funding largely does not reach people of colour, details how philanthropic organizations often do not share power meaningfully with those more marginalized, and critiques the sector for generally not addressing intersectionality well and creating unnecessary barriers to funding through the way applications are administered.

Reading about the pain and problems in the sector, it seems an impossible task to reform philanthropic spaces. But this is a book of hope, and in the second part of the book titled “How to Heal”, Villaneuva outlines seven steps (grieve, apologize, listen, relate, invest, repair) on how to heal and decolonize our relationship with wealth in order to use money for social good. Villanueva’s arguments are compelling, and are supported by the deeply personal stories he shares, his interviews with numerous practitioners in the field, and the scores of articles, books and scholars he references. This book invites readers to read more and there is so much this book offers for its reader to look up and continue learning.

Though this is not an exhaustive list, here are some of my take-aways from the read.

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Good Networking Skills Are Not Enough (And Other Decolonial Career Lessons from Gabrielle Union)

Healing stories

A few weeks ago while in South Africa on holiday, every time I passed by a bookstore I stopped to check if they had a copy of  “We’re Going to Need More Wine” by Gabrielle Union. But from Johannesburg to Cape Town, the book was sold out. And so, as soon as I was back in Canada, I wasted no time trying to find a copy of it in my local library.

The book did not disappoint. Union describes the relentless advocacy needed when you are trying to support children of colour through the school system, gives advice to get over heartbreak, explores why Hollywood is so white, is honest about the power differentials that arise when you have a different income from your partner,  describes the pain of miscarriage, talks about importance of investing in people and curating gatherings that matter,  shares why you need to find your voice, value yourself,  and be brave, and urges her readers to recognize that comparison and tearing people down does nothing for you in addition to many other topics.  Overall, Union covers a lot of ground in this book, and reading it felt like spending a weekend or several hours with a wise, honest friend who is not going to hold back in her advice. I loved it.

What  stuck with me the most from this book however, is Union’s reflections on career. Over the past two years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of students about building a career of meaningful work, and for me, this book was a reminder that when it comes to finding work as a person of colour, your experiences are not determined solely by what your resume looks like or how good your networking skills are. How employers make space for you and respond to you plays a role in your employment experiences too. And so, given that the average career book does not offer advice on how to navigate the job market as a racialized person, here are five take-aways from the book to help you both navigate the world of work as a racialized person or a co-conspirator trying to support the career journeys of others.

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Motherhood Necessitates Self-Reflection – Six Lessons from Sheila Heti’s Motherhood

Hurrah for public libraries

What does it mean to not be a mother? Who does such a life look like? This question lies at the heart of Sheila Heti’s extraordinary, deeply intimate and also strange book titled “Motherhood” and published in 2018. In the first Seriously Planning podcast episode of 2019, I share six reflections and take-aways I took from this book.

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We Need to Decolonize the Concept of Democracy – Ten Takeaways from Democracy XChange 2019

Democracy requires us to do things

Last week I was in the emergency room of my local hospital being poked and prodded with needles, having more blood drawn than I was comfortable with and hooked up to various machines as doctors tried to figure what was wrong. During those several hours, I kept thinking about Democracy Xchange 2019. I had been invited to participate in DXC19 by the Inspirit Foundation who generously supported my attendance, and I had been looking forward to the conference for weeks before my sudden emergency room stay. So a few days after that hospital visit and after one of the hardest weeks of my life, I boarded a flight to Toronto for Democracy Xchange unsure whether it was a good idea to go, but hopeful for the possibility of healing and learning  through a new experience. It was an incredible weekend, and here are some of my take-aways from the conference. 

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Love is Not Ownership – Lessons about Love and Work from Ralph Breaks the Internet


November has been a full, challenging month that has left me depleted, and so this weekend my husband and I saw the Disney film “Ralph Breaks the Internet”  because our time together this month has been limited. From the trailer, the film looked like a great medium for jokes about technology and the way the Internet mediates our lives. And it was. More than a funny film though, the movie was an exploration of love, friendship and work, and felt like part 2 of the Pixar film “Inside Out” because it led to conversations about being aware of our own fears and emotions as we walked home and had a post-date cup of tea. With friends I’ve been thinking and reflecting recently about how love is not ownership, and this movie echoed that theme.

Here are some of my take-aways about attachment styles, work, fulfillment and love, from “Ralph Breaks the Internet”. If you’ve seen the film, please do share yours.

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Career Clarity Comes from Doing Things – And Other Career Lessons from Ellen

Rogers Arena, October 2018 (Ellen Show0

Beyond being the voice of one of my favourite characters, Dory, I don’t follow talk-show host Ellen. She doesn’t talk about or address race or intersectionality in her work, and from what I’ve seen of her show, it’s not political. But on October 19th, Ellen came to Vancouver for a moderated discussion at the Rogers Arena, and I won tickets to hear her speak. And so I went, curious about why people would spend so much to hear a moderated conversation, and curious about the content of the conversation itself. The show itself had much to critique about it – the speakers weren’t diverse and Ellen kept speaking about visiting Africa instead of describing what she actually did, which was visit Rwanda to see its gorillas. But I had expected all of that, and so instead of being an upsetting experience, I heard something in the show I wasn’t expecting. I heard a description of Ellen’s career and the career lessons she had learnt along the way.

These are some of the career lessons I learned from Ellen during her Vancouver show:

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On Summer Books Finds and my Favourite Read of all Time

It’s summer time and there’s no better time to find great books, support your local bookstore and open up your bookshelf to authors you wouldn’t normally try. Below, a haul of (some) books during a recent trip to Toronto and my thoughts of a book that is quite possibly my favourite read of all time.

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