FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Kate McKenzie
December 22, 2015
I was pointed, in advance, to her TED talk. I started to listen but ‘clicked off’ after a minute or two – I wanted to hear it, but I wanted to gain my knowledge of Kate from an interview FIRST, and listen to that talk after. I didn’t want my impressions skewed by a 17 minute talk I could watch anytime. I’m glad I took that approach.
Her project? “It's dedicated to positive news. I did it for my students, for my mom and my blog followers. I took an unpaid leave of absence from my teaching job.” As she tells the story of pitching ideas for addressing diversity issues for her students, or the project, it is hard to distinguish the chicken from the egg …
I likely wouldn’t have crossed paths with Kate McKenzie, founder of the Worldviews Project – nor would you, but in time I’m certain you will hear more and more about her. A friend suggested she would be worth connecting with, and I’m so glad for that introduction. And, I think this is a fitting interview subject for winding up the year at a time when we want so much good and yet the world has so much negativity going on. Kate is someone who dreams big – and she is a breath of fresh air, with a cause in her belly and a message worth shouting-out.
She doesn’t bill herself as ‘professional artist’, but she’s been painting and doing things in the art world since her own school days – sold her art (commissions, teaching art classes, group paint-nights, editing videos) to fund her Worldviews adventure trip, nine countries in seven months. Why cut it short? “I bit off more than I could chew! I was blogging daily, but bandwidth connections in other countries pale compare to ours, so I had difficulty emailing photos and videos. … and, when I got home … I was invited to do that TED talk.”
Regarding the TED talk she explained feeling uncomfortable developing her presentation – “I felt conflicted. If I wanted to change what people think, if I was going to ask people to reveal their truth, I needed to tell mine.”
You’ll find here easily online – her TEDxCalgary talk , her Youtube channel – easily put the face on her projects, her motivation and her results, but who is she? What made her, what drives her, what does her future hold?
She says, as strongly as she can – “there are three things I have to do: be physically active, engage with ‘my community (friends and family)’ and having positive inputs in my life. Selfishly, it really helps me.”
Her book – the PASSPORT PROJECT, is a project/text project for junior high kids of any age, she created after returning to Calgary in 2012. It’s available at Shelf Life Books for $20. “If you get 8th graders going on something, they are unstoppable. Diversity of perspective. I found, in my teaching work that so many kids from different cultures had trouble fitting in – they needed to see people doing good things who look just like us.” She went on to explain how these experiences gave rise to the tour, the book, the talk, the ‘where she is today’.
Kate McKenzie began life in Red Deer (having grown up there myself we had stories to swap – but from ‘a generation apart’ viewpoints). Her parents kept an open door to strangers and visitors of all kinds. "We had an eclectic household - a great place for visitors to stay." She gained her ‘wanting to know diversity’ early as a condition of life in her family. Eldest of four children, dad is a psychologist, mom a nurse – though she stayed home in name only as her life was ‘volunteering’. Out of these influences, Kate wanted always to be a teacher. Red Deer College, then University of Lethbridge, for two degrees in five years: B.Ed. and B.A. (Humanities). Influencing her teaching ambitions was an experience from high school days, a group project with twenty students in Costa Rica. Creating a playground in a dodgy community where drug trafficking and prostitution where strong influences, she wanted to show them there was a third option. That option there, then, was learning English because kids with an educational opportunity had a better chance avoiding the inevitable influences …
She describes her school days as over-achiever/nerdy, singing, band (trumpet), sports (volleyball and track). At U of L she focused on X-country, and rugby. Her first teaching assignment in Calgary – an all-girls junior high where she found the degree of first-nations and multi-nations far different from her own school-days experiences.
Why are you successful? “Because I’ve taken on projects that engage more people than just myself. If the dream is big enough … you need people!”
What has held you back? “Me. Trusting that I have the ability, the urgency, to do things.”
Her crew is small, so far. One employee, one volunteer and herself. I don’t expect that will last long – seems to me this is an enterprise worth growing and knowing …
How do you see your business ‘a social and profitable enterprise, an online platform for positive NEWS where we get to choose what we amplify’ going forward over the next quarter?’
… business is good. More people are realizing the importance of having positive influences in their lives.
And over the next five years?
… I see social good, meaning, helping people see their lives more positively than negatively – and being a trusted name in positive-NEWS.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
... I like local suppliers – wherever I am. People I have respect for.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Kate McKenzie, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I don’t give up when things get hard. Proven results. I take ‘one more step’.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I trust people to be learning and giving – that’s a huge emphasis.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… getting outside my own head …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my parents set my direction, my values. Lots of good teachers. My biology teacher in high school got me interested in Jane Goodall and her work – loved the story, it inspired me. My husband Leor Rothchild, and Clara Hughes is a hero and huge source of inspiration for her proactive and preventative work in mental illness.
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… I aspire to it. It helps to do what you love.
… painting (acrylics), pyrography.
… maybe, some day. I value my independence …
What do you read?
… The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew, Ascent of a Woman by Sally Armstrong, travel books by Marcello Di Cintio.
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