Why Democracy Matters

Having just concluded an election cycle in Nova Scotia on Tuesday, I was struck by the notice I received this morning from Global Affairs Canada, sent to Canadian travellers in Cambodia – “Dear Canadians, local elections will be held across the country on June 4, 2017. Political tensions are likely to rise ahead, during or after the elections. Expect an increased police presence. Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities.”  The notice goes on to list several items to keep on hand, as though in preparation for an impending disaster:

  • Food for at least 3 days and 6 litres of water per person per day for 5 days
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlight, batteries and fuel
  • Cash and credit for cell phones
  • First aid kit, prescription medicines.

My husband and I were in Cambodia just 5 weeks ago to visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Our visit was truly an amazing experience.  The people are lovely and welcoming, the food is delicious, and the temples are almost other-worldly.

We knew local elections were coming from the posters and billboards everywhere. We spoke quite a lot about the political situation with our guide who is strongly opposed to the current government, which has been in power since 1985 despite being a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with a reigning king.  Corruption is rampant and everywhere.  There are large blue and white signs around the fence of the electricity company in Phnom Penh that read “Say YES to transparency.  Say NO to corruption.”  Important to understand is that Cambodia is the poorest of the 10 southeast Asian countries, with nearly 2.7 million of its 15 million people living on less than $1.20 per day.

I have spent the past month immersed in an election campaign.  Despite the convenience of a variety of voting options, I heard people tell me at the door that they had never voted and didn’t intend to vote this time.  We had numerous complaints about lengthy line-ups and inefficiencies at the returning office and polling stations and people walked away because they didn’t want to wait. We have high expectations of our electoral system.  We want it to be transparent, fair, efficient and easy to navigate.  And, for the most part, it is all of those things.

Democracy is fragile, both in Canada and Cambodia.  By it’s very nature, democracy is dependent on voter participation. Like Canada and Nova Scotia, Cambodia has had declining voter participation but for different reasons.  Corruption, disenfranchisement and human rights abuses prevent Cambodians from voting with little or no recourse.  Only 54% of Nova Scotians chose to exercise their democratic right in Tuesday’s election, a decline of 4% from 2013.  Just what is causing our declining voter participation is something of a mystery.  We blame it on the politicians, the school system, young people, socio-economic issues, and a myriad of other reasons but do we really know?

In Canada, we are fortunate to live in one of the most stable and mature democracies in the world. It’s time we put some effort into re-energizing the electoral process to ensure that our democracy stays strong and healthy.


June 1, 2017

Submitted by: Chris Hornberger / Chris.Hornberger@halifaxglobal.com / 902-449-1902


The Ivany Report

There were few surprises in the recently released Report of the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy “Now or Never: an Urgent call to ACTION for Nova Scotians” commonly referred to as the Ivany Report, named after the commission chairperson, Ray Ivany, president of Acadia University. In my mind this report was not a “How To” but rather a “Why To”. It is not up to government to grow our businesses, it is the job of the owners and managers of businesses to do that.

A significant theme of the Report is the need for major growth in exports and organizations that do export. There are a number of global oriented businesses in Nova Scotia and you may be one of them or could be one of them. We certainly need many more.

The purpose of this piece is to present an action item for companies to follow in order to propel global growth. The Ivany Report has 19 Goals and this article addresses:

No. 2 – International Immigration;

No. 3 – Retention of International Students;

No. 5 – Value of Exports; and

No. 6 – Firms Participating in Export Trade.

What we must do

If you have an interest in global trade, I would suggest the following two steps:

Step 1 – Determine your strategy for entering or growing your global revenues. This should be a separate, but linked, strategy from your existing domestic oriented strategies. This step would include identifying countries or regions of prime interest.

Step 2 – Hire people here who come from the targeted areas. Options include:

  • Participate in the Co-op programs offered by local post-secondary institutions, by offering co-op positions to international students.;
  • Employ international students through student internships/part time jobs or summer jobs;
  • Hire an international student upon their graduation; and
  • Contact ISIS (Immigrant Settlement and Integration Services) for leads on immigrants from the target countries.

Some of the benefits of hiring these part-time or permanent global citizens:

  1. Acclimatize your staff to your target markets. They can get a sense of language, culture and history, how to do business in their home countries, and so on. This can take place in business meetings and social environments including lunches. My partner, Chris Hornberger, and I recently went to my favourite Chinese restaurant with Yuqian Zheng, a Chinese student from the Sobey School of Business. I was surprised when the waitress brought the regular menus but also gave Yuqian a different menu with traditional Chinese dishes. Just reading the menu items was an eye opener as Yuqian explained the various dishes and we all ordered from this menu and enjoyed dishes that we never heard of before.
  2. Who better to research the foreign marketplaces than someone who is from there and who can access and analyse material in their native languages.
  3. Your workplace will benefit from cultural diversity and from receiving the opinions and input from those you come from very different backgrounds.
  4. The retention of bright, business oriented professionals here in Nova Scotia.

Large companies

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the topic and theme of this article to Bob Wight, CFO at Clearwater Seafoods, and he said that this is exactly what they have been doing and he put me in touch with Linda Hutchinson, their Director of Human Resources. They have been very proactive in engaging with our post-secondary institutions and hiring international students while they are studying and upon graduation. They have brought Co-op students on board and sent them to China for their work term with the plan to hire the student upon graduation and employ them in China. In addition, they have hired immigrants through ISIS.

Clearwater has been growing their Far East markets at a great pace and the aforementioned hiring practices are helping to fuel that growth.

Small companies

You don’t have to be a large company to engage in the hiring of international students and immigrants and a prime example is our firm. Over our eleven year history we have always had fewer than ten dedicated resources. A number of years ago we brought on an African student from Saint Mary’s on a Co-op assignment. More recently we hired an Australian lawyer who was here with a temporary work visa. She was an outstanding contributor to our management consulting practice.

Sometimes you have to broaden your views relating to the contributions people can make to your business even though they just might not fit into the parameters of a “job description”.

It’s up to us – the private sector

We have to do this ourselves, folks. Nobody is going to take our hand and gently walk us down the path to the global workplace. And we must be cognizant of the fact that even if we don’t export we are part of the global workplace. Look at who your competitors are or could be. Look at the companies up and down your supply/customer chain.

I challenge you to make an international hire this year – in 2014, whether a short term or permanent position. Yes this will help Nova Scotia achieve its goals as outlined by the Ivany Report but this action should help you attain your goals!

Next blog

I will be following this article with another also addressing the attraction of global citizens to Nova Scotia. It will feature my own globe-trotting son and how he has personally arranged for visitors from the United States, Norway, Finland, Germany, Austria and The Czech Republic to visit Nova Scotia as tourists or as temporary foreign workers.

Website www.halifaxglobal.com and e-mail andy.cutten@halifaxglobal.com


In the spirit of the holiday season and as 2012 draws to a close, I began to reflect on some of the things for which I am thankful, particularly in light of so much sadness and violence around the world.

I am thankful for living in a stable democratic country.

I am thankful for being engaged in interesting and meaningful work.

I am thankful for the love and support of my family and friends.

I am thankful for the loyalty of my clients and the confidence they continually show me.

I am thankful for living in a community where I feel a sense of belonging.

I am thankful for the camaraderie and strong relationships with my work colleagues.

I am thankful for the love, understanding, and support from my life and business partner.

I am thankful for being me.  I am a very lucky and fortunate person.

This reflection has led me to think about some of the things that I am less thankful for, such as living in a world where violence has become the evening news; where children are killed en masse by a crazed murderer; where the environment is taken for granted and we continue to dump toxins and garbage into our oceans, our air and our ground; where abuse of women and children continues seemingly unabated; where education and equality for girls and women is still an enormous challenge in many countries; where people who are ‘different’ in our country are bullied and marginalized; where animals are considered disposable; and where people are hungry and starving in our city, one of the most prosperous cities in the world.

There is so much to be thankful for and yet, at the same time, so much that is unacceptable and simply outrageous in the 21st century.  This Christmas, we should all be thinking about how we can each make a difference, even in a small way to change the world.  Margaret Mead, the great American anthropologist of the 20th century said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world”.

Witness Jenny Benson from Halifax, who is changing the world of one Ugandan girl at a time through her Aninga Project, an educational initiative that pays school fees for girls who would otherwise never receive an education (www.aningaproject.org).  Or Riet Koetsier, who passed away just last month; she was the longest living volunteer at the Bide Awhile Animal Shelter, started by a small group of dedicated people in 1969, who couldn’t stand to see strayed and homeless cats starving to death on the streets (www.bideawhile.org).  Or, Norman Greenberg who in the early 1990’s started Affirmative Ventures to help people with mental health and other disabilities gain economic independence  www.affirmativeindustries.com), and now is leading the charge to bring a full-service grocery store back to the North End of Halifax (www.communitycarrot.coop).

There is much that needs changing and if you consider yourself as fortunate as I consider myself, then there should be nothing that stops any of us from grabbing hold of one thing that has the potential to change the world for even one person.  How will you change the world in 2013?


Our management consulting practice includes a significant number of not-for-profit and charitable organizations that vary in size, mandate, composition, and geography; and that have a range of funding sources including government, membership fees, foundations, fee for service offerings and donors. What they all have in common is that they are governed by a voluntary board of directors.

The CEOs / Executive Directors who are successful leaders have a vision for and a passion about their organizations, and they know how to recruit, inspire and engage their volunteer board members.

We have one client who is the CEO of a national organization that when she took over 10 years ago, it was a demoralized organisation in a deficit position with 6 employees. She now leads a 100 person organization with nine offices across the country; she has built up a significant reserve fund and is the leader in that sector. The composition of this board is diverse in terms of geography; they come from across the country but they are all interested in the cause and affiliated with it in some way in their professional lives. They are all busy professionals with important positions in their ‘day jobs’. Yet she is able to consistently attract high-calibre and committed board members to her organization and prevails upon them for their insights and their knowledge.

We have another client who started up a not-for profit in NS with a commitment to wean the organization off government funding over a four-year period. Not only has she been successful in doing so, she too has a reserve fund and has opened a second office internationally. Her board comes from a very specific and defined group of members and her challenge is that these board members are not the heads of their organizations. Therefore, she needs to ensure that she knows not just how to motivate the board members but also knows the priorities of their organizations and their leaders. Her’s is in many ways a more complex challenge in that she needs to maintain two sets of relationships. Without the decision-makers sitting at her board table, she must ensure the board members, who are in fact the influencers, are communicating a persuasive and supportive message to their organizational heads.

Both of these leaders have had very different struggles, but what has sustained them both, is that they have had a very clear and compelling vision of where they want to take their organization, a strategic plan to guide them and the wisdom to manage and lead their boards in a manner that supports their organization and ensures board members feel their contribution is making a difference.

Strong, visionary CEOs know how to bond with their volunteer board members. Board engagement is hard work and takes a certain amount of charm combined with hard-nosed business sense. It is one of the critical attributes of the successful not-for-profit CEO. An effective board with existing high-calibre members attracts new high-calibre board members and also attracts funders, clients, employees and sometimes, the public and media.

One of the most successful charitable organizations we have seen is a small community-based organization whose Executive Director has a fervour for his job and his casue that is truly contagious. Over the 20 years he has served in his role, he has led from behind. But make no mistake; he is the leader of his organization. He works closely with his board chair, keeps his board informed and excited about the work of the organization, and paints a clear picture of where the organization is headed. He has more than one year operating expenses in his reserve fund, a new building fully paid for through a successful capital campaign, and a new venture in the planning stages. His board comes from the community and the public-at-large which presents a whole other set of challenges. But their motivation is uniform and consistent. These board members are driven by the cause so his success is dependent on tapping into the passion of his board members.

These CEOs are successful because they are not only passionate about their organization’s mission and tireless about pursuing their vision but they also know how to connect, engage and collaborate with their volunteer board members to keep them excited. These are also the CEOs who work with their boards to renew their vision, develop a strategic plan every three to five years, and hold themselves and their boards accountable for delivery of the plan. The value for the organization is that these CEOs usually attract creative, enthusiastic and committed board members who often go beyond the call of duty to support them in running highly successful organizations.

Volunteer board members are motivated by their desire to give back and / or make a difference and CEOs of NFP organizations need to tap into those philanthropic, big-hearted genes. They need to know why their board members are there and what they require in return to ensure their ongoing contribution of time and talent. That special insight combined with some good old-fashioned TLC makes all the difference and keeps volunteer board members engaged, involved and enthusiastic about the organization.

In summary, successful engagement of volunteer board members in not-for-profit organizations is an essential part of the CEO’s job. It involves:

  • Strategic recruitment to ensure the board has the right combination of skills, talent and commitment of time;
  • Generating passion and enthusiasm for the vision and the mission of the organization;
  • Holding the board and the organization accountable for organizational performance and delivery of the strategic plan; and
  • Understanding what motivates each board member and tapping into their good-will and altruistic disposition.


A month ago, I wrote a blog article entitled “Egypt, Bahrain, the Middle East and Our Businesses”. I could now write an article entitled “Japan, Libya, the World and our Businesses”. However, I think I can safely leave the name of any country or region of the world out of the title for it is very clear that what happens around the globe has an impact on us – our families, communities and at the places where we work.

Global crisis and events impact our businesses/organizations and we must ensure that our decision making processes are nimble and appropriately responsive to change. We cannot afford to ignore the world around us as being outside of our control.

Role of business planning and intervention

Businesses can cope with global disruptive change through a robust planning process:

  • Ensuring the organization’s vision encompasses the impact of the global environment;
  • Understanding the exposure of a firm’s current marketplace position to international events and activities;
  • Continuous assessment and monitoring of critical success drivers with regard to setting direction, working together and people;
  • Monitoring those key performance indicators that are most sensitive to global change;
  • Delegation of decision making authority so that appropriate actions are taken on a timely basis; and
  • Where overall disruption is significant an action driven intervention process may be required, with:
    • Leadership team engaged;
    • Contingent operational plans;
    • Budget review evaluation and possible amendments; and
    • Monitoring processes.

Here are five global related items that have been impacting us and getting our attention of late along with some thoughts on how we could respond to, or counter, the impact on us.

1 – Fuel and Energy

Last month, I noted how the price of crude oil rose in January due to the uncertainty in Egypt and the remote possibility of disruption of shipments through the Suez Canal. Look at the price of oil now following the Libyan conflagration. Your organization is paying more for transportation now and energy prices will be moving upwards as well.

The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has governments around the world reassessing their plans to maintain and build additional nuclear energy capacity which could increase reliance on fossil fuels with long term repercussions on both price and energy security here on Canada’s East Coast. What will be the impact of the disaster on the refurbishment costs and timing, to say nothing about the community acceptance, of the reinstatement of Point Lepreau into the energy grid in New Brunswick?

What to do?

Short term, we could consider implementing fuel surcharges on our existing contracts where meaningful and acceptable and, over the medium term, we should write contracts with surcharge provisions or other pricing mechanisms. Over the long term, we must be looking for alternate energy sources for our businesses either directly or by supporting such initiatives from energy providers.

2 – Global Supply Chains – logistics

There have been negative impacts on global supply chains. I spoke with a local manufacturer last week and this firm is experiencing significant delays in receiving electronic components. Another local company, Scanwood Canada Inc., is in the midst of bankruptcy protection but what recently caused a temporary shut-down was the fact that components were held up due to transportation logistics.

What to do?

Your customers expect prompt delivery of products and services and the failure of your supply chain to deliver product to you can have direct negative consequences. Planning for disruption requires relationship management so that your needs are met whenever possible. You should also built a robust, multiple supplier network ensuring security of supply in anticipation, however slight, of delivery failure from current vendors.

3 – Military Operations

To quote from my earlier blog “Continued unrest in the Middle East may well require support or response from Maritime Forces Atlantic that could well see the deployment of ships and personnel into the region.” Not only is the HMCS Charlottetown positioned off of the coast of Africa but the Canadian military now has six CF-18 Hornets and crew in Italy and these aircraft are currently being deployed in the skies over Libya.

What to do?

The populace of this region and, in particular, this city has been aligned with the military for centuries and I am proud to be a Nova Scotia Director for the Canadian Forces Liaison Council. Your organization should proactively support the Canadian Forces Reserves.

On March 30, 2011, the CFLC Nova Scotia Provincial Council is planning an awards ceremony to recognize ten Nova Scotia organizations that have provided excellent support to their reservist employees or students. Her Honour, the Honourable Mayann E. Francis, Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, will preside over the ceremony and present these awards.

4 – Our Employees and Families

For a week in February, the local press followed the story of Glenn Sutherland and his family, from the time he was forced to flee from an oil rig site in Libya until he reached Malta and finally arrived safe and sound back in Nova Scotia. Glenn was working for Suncor Energy Inc, a Canadian company with operations in Libya.

My daughter and grandson live in a coastal community on the Big Island, Hawaii. On March 11, 2011 our daughter called advising us that they were under a tsunami alert and they had gone to higher ground and were waiting ….. Thankfully, they were fine as it was a non-event for them but now we worry about radiation and the recently resurgent Kilauea volcano that is only a few kilometers away.

What to do?

We must be empathetic as a community and as employers. We have family, friends and employees that have been touched by any one of a number of recent global events. Virtually every organization that I have worked with acknowledges that their employees are their vital assets. Now is the time to ensure that we support those employees who have family members impacted by global catastrophes including those who are serving with Canadian Forces abroad. Such support could be coverage/stories in internal communications, time off as required and counseling where appropriate

5 – Global Economic Recovery in Peril

The global turmoil is creating additional uncertainty in both domestic and international marketplaces and is undermining the rather fragile economic recovery that we have been experiencing in the past 12 months. We have seen a rise in protectionism as some countries try to shield their economies, and this is stifling market opportunity for Canadian exporters.

What to do?

A stall in the recovery does not have to translate into a stall in revenue streams with the right preparation and adoption of risk mitigation activities, such as:

  • Optimized pricing strategies that may require decreases or increases to meet marketplace requirements. Or what may be required is a realignment of how products and services are priced to best match value in customers’ eyes.
  • Multiple volume strategies:
    • Existing clients;
    • New clients same markets;
    • New market segments; and
    • Alternative international markets.

Is there an opportunity to cut costs – sure. The private sector has been doing this throughout the recession and governments are in the throes of trying to manage down horrendous deficits including cutting funding to the post-secondary education sector and all organizations that receive government support.

One cost lever that requires continuous monitoring and evaluation is managing the balance between fixed and variable costs, make or buy locally or import. The context changes constantly, as revenue and activity mix ebbs and flows and the critical mass required to support continued investment increases or decreases. For example:

  • Exporters – international direct sales force vs. channel; or
  • Currency hedging strategies including the matching of foreign purchases to sales.


Nimble and timely response to fast paced global change is a receipt for success. When the economic tsunami threatens our businesses can brace for it, scramble for higher ground or implement contingency plans at the earliest possible moment.


The Canada Games, the largest sporting event in the history of Halifax is upon us.  We’re very proud to be part of this historic moment in our community.  We’re especially proud of the contribution that Ruth Blades, a member of our team, has made over the past 18  months.

Ruth recognized that this is “one of those events that come around once in a lifetime” and she wanted to be part of it.   As a project manager in her professional life, she knew she had skills that could contribute to the success of the Games. Many months ago, she submitted her name and was asked to take on the co-project manager’s role with the Sport Division of the Games.  I asked Ruth a few questions about her involvement and experience and here’s what she shared with me:

Q: What was involved in your role as Co-Project Manager of the Sport Division?
A: We developed the project plan, including project charters, work breakdown structures, risk assessments, issues tracking, reporting mechanisms and status reporting for the Project Management Office.  That meant that we worked with the 21 Sport Organizing Committees, the Sport Management Group and other divisions to ensure that the field of play was set for all the participating sports.  That includes all manner of things to make certain the events run smoothly such as: having equipment in the right place at the right time; officials in place and trained; competition and practice schedules developed down to the last detail; and a results system that is operational.  In other words, our job was to make sure the Committees that were responsible for the execution of these activities knew what they had to do when and we kept them on track by checking in through regular status meetings.

Q: How much time have you committed to the Games?
A: So far I have spent about 250 hours over 18 months and I’m scheduled to work another 80 hours or so over the next two weeks. As we moved from planning into execution, I was asked to take on the role of Sport Division representative on the Arrival and Departures team. This group has developed plans and processes to ensure the athletes and their baggage arrive at the appropriate destinations. During the Games I will also be working as a Major Officials Information Desk Host, providing assistance to Major Officials and Technical Representatives.

Q: In total, you will have spent the equivalent of almost two working months on this volunteer effort.  What have you learned?
A: I learned a lot about sport, especially the complexity of hosting 23 national championships at the same time. I also had a unique opportunity to learn about working within a large, complex and very public project that involves many stakeholders and participants. At Halifax Global, our projects tend to be much smaller in scale and are generally of interest only to our clients, their immediate stakeholders and us.  The Canada Games are very public and the impact is huge.

Q: What is the single most important learning you will take away from this experience, the Games aside?
A:  Well, I have absolutely enjoyed working with my colleagues on this project.  It exposed me to a whole new group of people and a subject area I didn’t know much about.  Probably the biggest learning for me is how important it is to communicate clearly and concisely in complex environments.  We always talk about the importance of communication but to see it actually work in a project of this size and complexity was a valuable lesson for me.

Q:  Why do you think the Games are important for Nova Scotia?
A:  There are many reasons why the Games are important to us as Nova Scotians.  They promote sport and a healthy life style, they allow the Province to demonstrate leadership in the delivery of sporting events, they will bring in additional revenue to the Province but I think the single biggest impact will be from the residual effects they leave behind.  They will leave a fabulous legacy including the Canada Games Centre, significantly improved infrastructure at sport facilities, the training of major and minor officials, and sport equipment which will be used to train emerging and future athletes.

Q:  What will you take away personally from your involvement with the Games?
A:  The personal satisfaction of knowing that I helped, in a small way, to bring about these wonderful games. This is a big accomplishment for Halifax and I am proud to be one of the thousands of volunteers that made it happen.
All of us at Halifax Global are proud of Ruth and her contribution to the Games and we look forward to cheering on our athletes over the next couple of weeks.  Well done, Ruth!