How This App Developer Makes Your Life Better In ‘Small But Meaningful Ways’

The original article was published in full by ByBlacks.com

Everyone has ideas, but not everyone acts on them. A lot of us are even strongly passionate about those ideas, but yet we never realize them. This is why Robleh Jama prefers curiosity over passion. Jama is the founder of Tiny Hearts, an award-winning digital product studio whose apps have been downloaded over 6 million times.

Jama is soft-spoken and says that his purpose and approach to building apps is “to make people’s lives better in small and meaningful ways.”

At Tiny Hearts, Jama and his team built products for themselves as well as other companies such as Wealthsimple, Phillips and Shopify. In 2016, Shopify acquired Tiny Hearts, and onboarded its six-person production crew, including Jama. Jama now works at the e-commerce company as a Senior Product Lead, and he’s also now an angel investor helping other startups get off the ground. When Jama is curious about something, he obsesses over it; he wants to learn everything about it and is eager to take a hands-on approach, I talked to him about how this curiousity approach led to his success.

How did you go from a BA in psychology at York to building your own digital project studio?

I started running businesses while I was still at York. My friends and I learned about creating a digital product and building a community. The idea for Tiny Hearts was that I’ve always been a fan of starting things based on what I’m naturally curious about. At that time I was obsessing over the iPhone. It was the early days of iPhone and I was loving it. I wanted to not just be a user, I wanted to be a producer and a maker. And so I decided to make apps. And then it was like, I don’t want to do one app, I want to do multiple apps so I want to start a studio.

In an article you wrote, you said “if you’re just in it for the money, there are easier ways of achieving that” when talking about apps, so what drives your passion for apps and mobile products?

I like the word curiosity more than passion. And that’s something that drives me, being naturally curious. When I’m curious about something, I’m itching to learn more about it. I like doing it or building it or getting my hands dirty. It’s a combination of curiosity and the opportunity to be creative. And when I combine curiosity and creativity, that’s really when I feel like I’m in the zone. That’s the stuff that I get really excited about.

If you have the skills or are able to develop a product, there’s an output. And then that output goes out into the world and you can actually put it into people’s hands and people can be using that thing that you made. That’s always been my vision. Can I make things that are going to make people’s lives a little bit better? Can I make things that I want to see in the world but is also going to put a smile on somebody’s face. For me, it’s always been about my journey, things that make people’s lives better.

Growing up, I thought you had to be a doctor to help people then I realized I can actually make products that help people as well. And in that sense, that’s a tertiary benefit because it scales, right? A doctor can only benefit, for the most part, the patients they see and they can only see a certain number of patients. But when you make a digital product that goes out into the world, you don’t know who’s using it. Like right now, I probably have millions of people that are touching products that I made and I don’t know it. That’s the type of leverage you can get from making digital projects.

How One Man Went From Food Insecure to Feeding Over 8,300 People

The original article was published in full by ByBlacks.com

Did you know that about 4 million people in Canada are food insecure? Did you know that this country has a $49 billion food waste problem? Or that food waste emissions are 25 times more damaging to the environment than CO2 emissions?

I didn’t know any of those things until I sat down with the founder of B12Give, Tony Colley. B12Give (Be One To Give) is a for-profit social enterprise that delivers surplus prepared food from retailers to shelters and food banks. Tony was recently named a CBC Community Champion for his endeavours. He describes himself as an entrepreneur and an environmentalist but he didn’t always see himself that way.

Tony’s been a bartender, a dancer and an event manager at some of the hottest clubs in Toronto. He was ‘Tall Tony’. He’s also managed a multi-billion dollar real estate development portfolio as an analyst at a bank. But Tony’s also been food insecure with less than $300 to his name.

When I arrived at Tony’s apartment one cold February morning, he was in the middle of a cup of yogurt. I sat on the couch getting my recording ready as Dragon’s Den played on TV. Tony told me that he likes the show and hopes to be on it someday. I started our conversation by asking him to define food insecurity.


In a nutshell, it’s just a state of being without reliable access to or a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. There are 4 million food-insecure people in this country. Not all of them are homeless, a lot of them are the working poor. They get up every day to go to work, but they just don’t have enough food either to feed themselves or their children. in my case, nobody knew I was going through this, I didn’t tell anybody. In July 2016, my work experience consisted of 16 years with two national banks, four years as a business development manager for a nonprofit organization and two years as an entrepreneur. On the flip side, I’d been working weekends in nightclubs for 20 years. So I was working six days a week the entire time I was living in Toronto.

But on that day, in July 2016, I had $270 to my name, I had no job, I had a failed business venture and became food insecure. For the first time in my life at 44 years old, I had to apply for social assistance to have an income. And nobody knew. My mother knew because she’s my mother but nobody around me. My roommate didn’t know and she lived with me. So it was kind of crazy. I just hid it. She would go to work every day, she didn’t understand that I wasn’t eating breakfast, she wasn’t here. She knew that I was eating dinner every night because she saw me sitting here at this table and that’s all that mattered.

I decided to put my money towards paying my bills and I would just go without breakfast. And it was the easiest way for me. I didn’t expect to be food insecure but I needed to make a decision, eat or keep up appearances. And I decided to keep up appearances. So I just simply moved into another state of, I don’t know, I guess acceptance of where I was and what I was dealing with. It affects you mentally, I fell into a depression.

During this time, my sister didn’t know what I was dealing with. She knew that I was in a situation, but she didn’t know how bad it was. But my sister would always say, “If He brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.” And so I said that to myself, so many times, throughout the process.

Was there a point of you recognizing that you were food insecure?

“I didn’t recognize it right away. I mean, I knew I didn’t have food anymore but my attitude was, “I’m just not eating breakfast.” That was it. I didn’t label it as being food insecure because I had never been food insecure. I heard the term before but I had never put my situation and food insecurity together. It didn’t hit me that I was food insecure until I read a story about food waste and saw the amount of food that Canada had. And within that study, it shared that there were roughly 4 million people who were food insecure and only 25% of those food insecure individuals were using food banks. So I was like, “Whoa, wait a minute. Should I be using the food bank?” But I didn’t want to walk into a food bank, I was embarrassed. I mean, I was too embarrassed to tell my friends what was going on so for me to walk into a food bank, it would have been me actually recognizing that you don’t have food.”

What are some of the things that you learned about food waste in Canada in terms of its impact on the environment and the economy?

“Well, right now we have a $49 billion food waste issue. And that’s billions. Yes, that’s annual. Right now 58% of all food produced in Canada is wasted. The majority of that, about 40% roughly is from producers and manufacturers. But typical households waste about $1700 worth of food every year. So that’s a lot of money.

Retailer food waste is 10% of our national food waste issue, which is $5 billion annually and this is the market that I’m targeting. 86% of that food isn’t donated or redistributed which means it’s going in the garbage. So that means they’re only receiving 14% of the surplus food that we have in this country, which is crazy.

I first read the article on food waste in April of 2017, six to eight months into being food insecure. I said out loud after reading it, “they should feed this food to the homeless.” We have so much surplus food, who’s gonna eat it other than people who need food? Then I never thought about it again.

In September 2016, I secured a part-time job working in hospitality for various catering companies. In September of 2017, I was scheduled to work an event with our largest catering company and at the end of a 12-hour shift, the CEO of the catering company offered me a job. Two weeks later, I was on-site managing my first event and at the end of that event, we had 100 box lunches left over. I was told to share the surplus with the staff and throw the rest in the garbage. And right away I was like, “wait, why are we throwing this food in the garbage?” So I was now witnessing the cause of our food issue right first hand in front of my face. It had never dawned on me before.

I couldn’t rescue all the food, so I just offered to rescue what I could that night and did so every event thereafter until July of 2018. And it was that moment that triggered a lot of frustrations, I was mad at myself for putting myself in this position. I knew that I couldn’t stop rescuing the food because I had been doing it now for eight months. All I saw was surplus food going in the garbage and I was like “No, no, we can’t do this.”

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Tony Colley. Photo courtesy of CBC.

When you were doing these food rescues, were you ever able to see the impact you were having on the people receiving it?

“There was one moment that actually stays with me because it was the moment that I, for the first time, saw a soup kitchen live in action. It was late at night and I was coming from our main kitchen at Carlaw and Lakeshore and I was always on my bike. So I would bike to work, then we would drive one of the vehicles to the event and they would have to drive back to the kitchen. I would always go to this one shelter because it was directly on my way home. One day I walked in, and I had one of those large black garbage bags and I’m going to say eight to 10 aluminum containers of food. I had already done rescues and already delivered to this shelter in the past but earlier in the day, this is probably close to 11 o’clock or midnight.

There were about 30-40 people spread across the floor all in sleeping bags. And there was a gentleman at the counter getting his cup of soup, and I walked in and I said to the lead “this is all surplus food from an event.” She said, “Oh, what’s in the bag” and I started rhyming off what was in it. And the guys’ eyes were like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe it, you’re a godsend.” She said, “all we have to give them tonight is the soup.”

And a couple of people started to get up because they realized there was additional food as I was pulling the food out of the bag, onto the counter. And it’s funny because one thing she said to me “was any of this vegan or vegetarian?” And initially, in my head, I’m like, woman this is surplus food. But she said to me, “The reason I asked is because we do have vegetarians here so we want to be able to serve everybody.” That’s something I never really considered or thought about before. But seeing the reaction from the gentlemen at the counter, her reaction, and then a couple people coming up and starting to “Wow” because they didn’t have anything else other than that styrofoam cup of soup.

I left and that was the first time I cried because of what I was doing. I got overwhelmed with the fact that their reaction was so sincere and so humble, that they just were glad to have food that wasn’t a styrofoam cup of soup. And I thought, “holy shit, look at what’s actually happening here.” Because I had never interacted like this. So it was the first time I saw that this is what real life is like for these individuals.

I wasn’t anticipating any of this at the time. It wasn’t even part of my psyche, it really wasn’t. I stumbled upon this. I tell people, and I still believe this to be true, I feel as though I was chosen to do this. Because food waste wasn’t a thing for me. I worked in events for 20 years at various nightclubs, People call me ‘Tall Tony’. I’m known as this tall black guy that worked the front door of most of, if not all of, the biggest parties in the hottest clubs for 20 years.”

Tony’s plan is to scale and build. Part of his five-year plan is to expand B12Give to cities outside of Toronto and across the world. Tony also hopes to include other initiatives under the umbrella of B12Give to address other social issues such as homelessness, education and social inclusion. 

How to Market Your Fintech Startup

Financial technologies, commonly shortened to fintech, provide customers with alternative delivery methods for financial services. Fintech’s goal is to improve the delivery and use of financial services. Fintech includes everything from cryptocurrencies to online financial advisors to payment solutions like PayPal. With over 5,000 fintech startups introduced in February 2019 in the Americas alone and the global fintech market reaching $111.8 billion in 2018, fintech is one of the fastest-growing industries around. Due to the sheer size of the fintech industry, it’s important to have a stellar marketing strategy so your business stands out in an oversaturated market. Here we explore effective ways of marketing your fintech startup. 

Educate your audience

Financial services can be boring and difficult to understand for non-professionals. It can also be difficult to find resources to explain complicated topics. A recent study shows that 45 per cent of millennials want products and services to help them handle their finances, however, 37 per cent were unable to find resources online. This is where you come in. By creating content that explains various financial concepts or services, you’re providing value for potential customers even before they purchase your service or product. Creating content that’s relevant to your target audience helps establish trust which is essential for any business, especially when dealing with personal finances. .

Think specifically about your business and ask yourself “what kinds of questions might your target audience ask when they’re looking for your business?” It could also be useful to create a list of keywords people are likely to use when looking into your product or service. Create content that answers the most relevant and confusing questions related to your business but remember not overwhelm your audience with jargon. The purpose of your content should be to help people make informed decisions and to increase your business’ visibility. Visual content, like infographics and videos, plus keywords and questions relevant to your target audience will improve your SEO ranking.

Infographic courtesy of Napala Pratini /  fin.plaid.com.

The power of visual content

When it comes to creating content to explain your fintech product or service, video and other visual media are more effective than text. Humans remember 80 per cent of the things we see compared to all other stimuli, and visuals are processed 600,000 times faster than text. Visual content is also more efficient than text for taking in information simply because it takes less time to view something than it does to read. That partially explains why visual posts on social media earn 650 times more engagement than text-only posts.

According to Digital World Solutions, 51.9 per cent of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the content with the best ROI. Taking a visual approach to marketing ensures that your brand gets to your target audience’s visual memory and stays there, boosting brand recall. There’s also a level of credibility associated with visual media that text doesn’t have. People are 85 per cent more likely to buy a product after viewing a product video and including video on a landing page can increase conversion rates by 80 per cent. And if you’re using Facebook or Twitter, be sure to post the videos directly to the platform; native video has an 86 per cent higher reach than YouTube links.

Make your website mobile-friendly

If you’re a fintech start-up hoping to attract new business, optimizing your website for mobile-friendly browsing is a must. While word-of-mouth is a great tool to increase awareness of your company, you need to be easy for new customers to find to build lasting success. A recent American study revealed that people spend an average of five hours on their mobile phones per day. Also, more than 50 per cent of all online searching occurs through mobile devices. Making your website mobile-friendly will help to improve your Google search ranking and increase your conversion rates. 

Mobile technologies are all about speed and convenience, so you need to make sure your website is optimized for mobile. With all of the options available to people online, if finding information is difficult on your site, potential customers will look for answers elsewhere. Make sure your website is easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing and loads quickly. Remember to use visual marketing aids like videos and infographics, keep your copy short, simple and concise.

Engage your audience

Engaging with customers must be a key component of your fintech start-up’s marketing strategy. People want to know they can trust the companies they’re supporting, especially in the financial sphere. Simple human connection goes a long way in establishing trust, people want to feel heard. Some larger companies don’t bother with customer engagement so it’s an opportunity to fill a void. Be active on social media; reply to comments and mentions, respond to reviews—both good and bad—and answer questions. By engaging with your customers, you’re showing them—and potential customers—that you genuinely care about their business. The goodwill they feel towards your company may encourage them to make future purposes. Plus, engaging with your target audience via social media is an inexpensive way to promote your business and increase brand recognition. 

It costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain one so it’s vital to continue to educate and provide valuable content for your pre-existing customers. Your early supporters are likely to be your most loyal so be sure to treat them well. Small gestures like a birthday or thank you messages and discounts can go a long way to endearing your brand to customers. They help create a relationship between your business and your customers and denotes a positive company culture. Overdeliver where you’re able.

Don’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to social media marketing, find out where your target audience is most active and dedicate a majority of your marketing efforts to that platform. You may develop different marketing strategies for different social media, just remember to be active and be authentic. People will criticize and ignore messages that seem disingenuous.

Obama says Diversity is Needed to Solve Global Economic Crisis

The original article was published in full by ByBlacks.com

I was a teenager in 2008, 14 to be exact. I’d just started high school, my mother was teaching English in Japan and Barack Obama was running in his first presidential election. On election night, mom called the house to make sure that my sister and I were watching as the results poured in. She mentioned several times that this was a historic moment and she was clearly very excited. At the time, I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist so news and politics didn’t interest me much. I’d heard Young Jeezy’s “My President is Black” and seen the now-iconic Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster but the magnitude of the night was lost on me.

By Shepard Fairey.

On Wednesday, the significance of Obama and his 2008 campaign dawned on me as I sat in the packed Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

More than 6000 people gathered at the “Future Skills: A conversation with President Barack Obama” forum hosted by the Economic Club of Canada and the Global Institute for Conscious Economics. A joint statement from the two groups read “The Economic Club of Canada & The Global Institute for Conscious Economics are dedicated to fostering a new economic dialogue in Canada that promotes equality, inclusion, and the voices of multiple generations around the same table.” To support that, the event boasted a 1:1 ratio, meaning that for every ticket purchased, a ticket was given to a young black leader under 30 so they could attend. One of the event’s sponsors Adidas, paid for 500 black youth to attend. The entertainment included Indigenous drummers and singers, award-winning Black poets Dwayne Morgan, Randall Adjei and Thunderclaw Robinson among many others.

With tickets going for as much as $275, the organizers were intentional about creating an event that was so opposite to the demographics that these events usually attract – rich and white. Instead, the crowd was filled with all different races and ages, economic and professional backgrounds.

Spoken word artists Randell Adjei (left), Dwayne Morgan and Thunderclaw Robinson performing during the opening address.

Kiana “Rookz” Eastmond, entrepreneur and founder of Sandbox Studios, a recording studio in Toronto, touched on the power and potential of young people as she kicked off the event with her opening address. “Shout out to all the young people here today because you’re not supposed to be here,” she joked. Eastmond shared a touching story of how she left home and dropped out of school at 16 then ended up creating her dream career, winning awards and eventually finding herself giving the opening remarks at an event featuring the first black president of the United States.

For Eastmond, the significance of the occasion wasn’t just about a personal accomplishment, it was about visibility. She said growing up in Scarborough, she never imagined living the life she lives now but now that she is, she wants to set an example. “The power of being seen means you have the power to amplify those that are not seen and cannot see themselves,” she said. The story moved Eastmond to tears and gave rise to thunderous applause from the audience. “It’s amazing what happens when people believe in you,” she said. “Take a moment every single day to think about that. Don’t leave here without opening the door for someone else,” she added.

That is the epitome of the audacity of hope. It’s the boldness to believe in your resolution and having the courage to support it in your thoughts and in your actions, despite the difficulty of the task or the discomfort it may cause.

The Secret to Writing Well

They say music alters moods and talks to you. Well, Eminem did. The reason I bring up Sing For the Moment, other than the fact of it being a great song which samples a
great song, is that the overall message of the song is that music, and art more generally, can be very influential in people’s lives. Art demands us to feel and to think; sometimes we experience exactly what the artist intended and sometimes we end up with unrelated, unintended thoughts and feelings of our own.

In the song, Em talks about how music can influence the way people talk and dress, it can inspire them to pursue certain careers and it can lead them to find or embrace different aspects of their personality. Acclaimed American author and journalist, Ernest Hemmingway, said that not only did pieces of artwork inspire him but they also helped improve his writing.

In his memoir, A Moveable Feast, Hemmingway recalls when he was doing an apprenticeship in Paris during the 1920s and how he’d study Paul Cézanne’s painting every day at the museum. “I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne
that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides, it was a secret,” he recalled.

There’s a whole genre of poetry dedicated to responding to pieces of art, especially paintings, called ekphrastic poems. An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or work of art. Some ekphrastic poems reflect on or narrate the “action” taking place in a painting, scene or sculpture, while others describe its physical qualities. Through an ekphrastic poem, the poet can amplify and expand on the meaning of the artwork.

ernesthemingway

Ernest Hemmingway (1939).

According to Hemmingway, a writer’s job is to tell the truth. By definition, a true sentence is not a sentence that’s grammatically or structurally accurate but rather a factually true sentence. Hemmingway believed that true sentences were the key to writing well. “‘All you have to do is write one true sentence’ … I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

To write about something using only true sentences would result in descriptive writing that’s full of objective details. Objective details are helpful in writing because they allow other people to understand something without the interference of opinion or experience, meaning, writing objectively tends to produce clearer, more accurate writing. To write true sentences, one must rely on the facts and relaying them accurately to their audience for them to make sense of the text. Making sure that what you’re writing makes sense helps keep the audience engaged. If the audience has to stop to think “wait, what?” or “I’m confused” you’ve lost their attention and taken them out the world your writing exists in, which is never a good thing.

Writing true sentences is important even when you’re writing about something that isn’t true, like non-fiction. In non-fiction, a true sentence is one that’s based on the facts and rules established which govern the world the story exists in. The famous American writer Mark Twain once said, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please,” and that’s the approach one should take when writing true sentences about untrue things.

Hemmingway said that he wanted to write as Cezanne painted. In a deleted section of his short story Big Two-Hearted River, Hemmingway wrote about his alter-ego protagonist, Nick Adams, and his literary future. “He broke the whole thing down and built the real thing. It was hell to do … He, Nick, wanted to write about country so it would be there like Cezanne had done it in painting. You had to do it from inside yourself. There wasn’t any trick. Nobody had ever written about country like that.”

It makes sense that this passage was taken from a deleted section of Hemmingway’s work and that he claimed to be “not articulate enough” to explain what he learned. It was a secret.

the_2_hearted_river_26_lake_superior

The Two Hearted River in Michigan.

The key takeaway from the passage is “to write about country so it would be there like Cezanne painted it.” It goes back to the point about true sentences and descriptions. When it comes to visual art, like painting, aspects like colour, depth and focal point give them detail, specificity and make them visually interesting. As a writer, one’s job would be to accurately describe the things that make the painting interesting. So, if describing a painting of a forest it would insufficient to say there were numerous trees, even if the statement is accurate. Good writing would describe the different hues used, the positions of the trees in relation to everything else, a comment on the different styles and techniques employed, among other details to make the description of the painting as close to the objective reality as possible.

Talking about how Hemingway’s trick for writing using paintings reminded me of another technique writers can use to improve their writing through studying art. Many people have argued that listening to classical music can teach writers about narrative structure. In short, the hypothesis states that the rise and fall of classical music teaches writers about building tension, character development and creating narratives.

Back in second year, I wrote an essay for my Listening to Music course comparing the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 to the battles of a war. In the essay, I argued that changes in the music like the dynamics or speed in certain sections or which instruments were used reminded me of different battles within a war. The different battles were represented by different instruments, varying dynamics
and changes in pace.

I argued that the main phrase of the movement, the famous dun-dun-dun-duuuuuuun,
dun-dun-dun-duuuuuuun, was a sergeant in the war who fought many battles, with varying results. The phrase is repeated several times throughout the piece but is arranged differently each time. By changing the rhythm, the dynamics, or the syncopation in different sections of the song, Beethoven was able to make the music feel as if it were moving through time. I noted how the changes in the music occurred gradually, things flowed into each other without being abrupt. Balancing the main theme with loud dynamic sections met by periods of softer slower music, evoked feelings from anxiety to loss.

A good story will follow a similar floor plan. Introduce your main character early and feature them regularly throughout the piece. The audience learns about the main character through their actions and their interactions with others throughout the story. There are high-energy scenes, like a battle, sandwiched between more intense, intimate moments like two soldiers having a conversation. Most importantly, in the story, something happens. If the main phrase were to be repeated over and over and over, the music wouldn’t be a story it’d just be a repetition, a loop.

I got a 96 on the essay, and I’m not bringing that up to flex my academic muscle. In truth, I think I got a 96 on the essay because I identified and explained the connection between music and writing, specifically storytelling. Classical music has long been used to accompany plays, ballets and movies for just this reason; music tells a story by the way it opens, unfolds and finally closes. For example, music from the classical era (1750s-1820s) was usually divided into four sections: an Allegro in sonata form, a slow movement, a scherzo or minuet in a triple metre and a closing allegro. So in theory, if you know this formula all you need to do is fill in sections with the instruments you need for the story you’re telling.

But sadly, it’s not that simple. Experts and greats have a tendency to make complicated things seem effortless. They also tend to downplay the difficulty of said thing when they talk about it to non-experts. While people may say “oh, it’s nothing, anybody could do it,” that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do or understand. Like flying a plane, knowing how to write well takes more than knowing the function of the buttons at your disposal. Yes, it’s helpful and possibly important to know about true sentences and the narrative flow of classical music when it comes to writing but it is not enough to make one’s writing great. It’s up to you, the writer, to craft a piece with the right formula of structure and details. Let art inform and inspire you so you can create for your own.

The Value of Truth in the Fake News Era

We have all heard the phrase “fake news” bandied about over the last couple of years, most notably by and in the context of Donald Trump. Though the US President uses the term to attack the press, NCM wanted to get to the real root of the phrase. We especially wanted to contextualize it for news and politics.

This past weekend, the first of three “Fake vs Fact” workshops organized in collaboration with New Canadian Media, ByBlacks.com and the National Newsmedia Council, took place in Toronto at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss fake news. The workshop looked at how to spot fake news, how to stop it and how to define it. To discuss fake news’ consequences was a major factor for the gathering of news professionals and community members.

Members of the audience learning about “fake news” at New Canadian Media’s “Fake vs Fact” workshop held in Toronto. Photography by Marcus Medford.

What is fake news, really?

“Fake news” has been said so often that it has become a catch-all term that has lost meaning. When people discuss fake news, two other words that often come up are misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is information that is not accurate. For example, if I were to say “the current prime minister of Canada is Pierre Trudeau,” that would be misinformation. Think of misinformation as “mistaken information.”

Disinformation is information that is false and spread with the explicit intention of deceiving. If, for example, I said “I am the current prime minister of Canada,” that would be disinformation. Think of disinformation as “dishonest information.” Disinformation is meant to fuel insecurities, stoke fears and create division. It has a motive or an agenda to push, whether personal, financial or political. When people say something is “fake news” they are likely accusing the information of being disinformation.

The term “fake news” is also inaccurate because usually, the false information circulating is not spread by a legitimate news organization or an accredited member of the media. Fake news is typically shared via social media, which is problematic because it allows little accountability. It is difficult to verify information but easy to share on social media. On these platforms, content that gets a lot of engagement gets ranked higher. It will hence show up earlier in search results and on newsfeeds/timelines, increasing the likelihood that it will be seen.

Responsible journalism: consumption

Sharing is a huge problem when it comes to disinformation. That saying “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on,” is particularly true when it comes to disinformation online. It can take hours to fact-check a story, which not everyone knows how to do. Also, it is rare to be punished for spreading disinformation online.

Journalist Susana Mas explains to the audience some of the tools available for combating fake news, such as how to do a reverse image search. Photography by Marcus Medford.

One of the speakers at the workshop, award-winning journalist Susana Mas, recommended that people create a checklist of questions they must answer before deciding to share a post. She said that we should ask ourselves questions like, who’s sharing this information, do you trust them and what’s the original source? It is important to consider the source of the information itself and not just the person who has presented that information to you because while you might trust the person sharing the post, you might not trust their sources.

Mas stressed the importance of viewing media like pictures and videos with a critical lens, even seemingly-innocent things like memes. It is important not to react too emotionally or too quickly when it comes to headlines and tweets, Mas remarked.

“Words matter. And we all have a role to play” as both producers and consumers of news, she added.

Responsible journalism: production

Responsible journalism is of the utmost importance given the prevalence of disinformation and misinformation ahead about the federal election. Performing journalism responsibly means being transparent with your information: revealing what you know, what you don’t know and how you came to know what you do, including providing links and sources.

It is okay to not know something, or to have incomplete information, or to say that the story is being followed and will be updated. Again, in the age of fake news, it’s more important to be accurate than to be first.

Being a responsible journalist means accepting that you have a bias. Biases evolve from our experiences and perceptions, both of which are unique to every individual. If you can identify your bias, you are better equipped to keep this in check and make sure they do not bleed into your work.

Another aspect of responsible journalism is not spreading stereotypes or hurtful tropes about people, particularly marginalized groups. Words matter and so do the connotations of the words you use. For example, referring to immigrants or refugees coming to a country as an “invasion” is both inaccurate and inappropriate because it has a negative image and a negative connotation to it.

Eva Salinas warns the crowd about the dangers of fake news and misinformation and the effects they could have ahead of the federal election in October. Photography by Marcus Medford.

“Change starts with individuals, and it’s important that we start,” said Eva Salinas.

Salinas is the managing editor of OpenCanada.org and a journalism instructor. She was one of the speakers on Saturday. According to Salinas, people care about the issue of fake news and want to get involved, but do not always know-how.

Salinas said that our individual voices are more important now than ever: “We all use our voice in different ways, and we have to use them responsibly.”

The future and fake news

I, like workshop speaker Brent Jolly, the director of communications, research and community management with the National Newsmedia Council, found our conversation encouraging.

In the era of fake news, I see our role as journalists as being similar to that of climate scientists. We have to share what we know with the public because the issue affects us all. We cannot deny the problem or run away from it because the effects are real, and if we don’t act the consequences could be dire.

Dear Trudeau, I’m Not Mad, Just Disappointed

Four years ago was the first time I was able to participate in a federal election. I was in the third year of my journalism program. I was beginning to develop the casual cynicism that is so common among journalists when it comes to politics. So when Justin Trudeau won while talking about issues like truth and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and the importance of diversity, I genuinely started to believe that politics could be done differently. 

Now, just over a week into the new federal election campaign, Trudeau is in hot water after images of him in racist costumes emerged. Three separate instances of the PM dressed in brownface or blackface have surfaced since Wednesday night. First, Time magazine released a photo of Trudeau at an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala hosted by West Point Grey Academy, at which he taught, dressed as Aladdin. Trudeau was 29 at the time and the only person photographed in brownface. The second incident is a photo of Trudeau performing the song “Day-O” at his high school’s talent show, “wearing makeup.” Then, in a video shot in the early ‘90s obtained by Global, Trudeau can be seen wearing blackface. 

What is blackface/brownface?

Dressing in blackface is the practice of non-black people darkening their skin and exacerbating stereotypes to mock black people. Blackface in the 1820s involved minstrels using exaggerated accents, malapropisms and outlandish clothes to ridicule black people. It has been used to belittle, dehumanize and spread harmful stereotypes about black people. Calixa Laval, the composer of the Canadian national anthem, travelled as a blackface minstrel. 

The first person of colour (POC) to lead a major Canadian political party, Jagmeet Singh of the New Democratic Party, was “jarred” seeing Trudeau in brownface. Singh has previously opened up about his experiences with racism and gave an emotional statement in response.

“Any time we hear examples of brownface or blackface … it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live and what their lived experiences are,” Singh remarked.

Trudeau said that he didn’t think his actions were racist at the time but now realizes that they were. He has since apologized and asked that Canadians forgive him, adding that he’s “pissed off” with himself.

As a POC, I’m pissed and disappointed too

I’m upset that a well-educated, 29-year-old teacher didn’t have the sense to realize that brownface and blackface are racist. It is concerning considering that Trudeau became the Liberal’s critic for youth and multiculturalism in 2009, then the critic for citizenship and immigration in 2010.

As Tariq Amin-Khan, an associate professor of political science at Ryerson University, points out, “at one level (his response) shows that Justin Trudeau’s understanding about race and racism doesn’t seem to have deep roots.”

Trudeau embraced minority groups and Canada’s multiculturism during his time in office. At one point, seven of his 35 Cabinet members were ethnic minorities. In the wake of this scandal, we wonder if Trudeau was showing a genuine desire for diversity and inclusion, or just tokenism or overcompensation?

Last February, Trudeau announced that Canadians must address the anti-black racism affecting more than one million black Canadians. He then called for equal opportunity and equal treatment for black Canadians.

However, with this scandal, it is hard to take the prime minister’s words seriously. By wearing blackface, Trudeau failed to treat black people with the respect we deserve and robbed us of the opportunity to define and represent ourselves. Blackface attempts to establish essential differences between POCs and white people and suggests that black people are inferior as a matter of biology. Regardless of Trudeau’s intentions, the three images of him support this ideology.

A look to the election

Singh said that the blackface incident is an “ongoing pattern of behaviour that’s really going to hurt Canadians.” I agree and disagree. I agree that Trudeau’s actions have hurt many Canadians and that they’re part of a bigger pattern. However, I do not believe that Trudeau is a racist who hates black and brown people. 

The disappointing pattern I’ve noticed with Trudeau is the dissonance between his actions and his words. I was jarred when I saw the images of Trudeau. How could someone who champions multiculturalism and immigration do something like that? But it fits the larger narrative. Justin Trudeau the climate change activist who approved the Trans Atlantic Pipeline; the feminist who kicked Jane Philpott and Jodie Wilson-Raybould out of his Cabinet for disagreeing with him.

I understand that politicians are complicated and that it’s important to avoid making sweeping conclusions around election time. But I will say this: before voting this Fall, remember to carefully consider the politician and the platform. Consider the claims they make about themselves and their opponents; consider what issues matter most to you and vote for the candidate who will disappoint you the least.

The Immigrant’s Dilemna: An Interview with Richard Young

Many children-of-immigrants are told that the only acceptable careers are lawyer, doctor, engineer and accountant. Anything outside of the narrow definition of a “traditional” job is deemed unacceptable and is often seen as a failure. This was the reality for Richard Young growing up with his parents who immigrated to Canada.

“You see things from TV or film, but you have no real tangible connection to it because you know what you know,” he said to New Canadian Media.

Young’s father worked at an engineering company; so when it came time to choose a university program, engineering made sense.

“I was at Queen’s University, and after my first year I realized I couldn’t do it. Not that it was too hard, but I hated it,” Young revealed.

Eventually, Young completed his MBA at the Schulich School of Business then worked as a brand manager.

However, “I was miserable,” he explained. “I was talking to a colleague who worked beside me and she was so in love with marketing, and the products and branding and I thought to myself, ‘I just want to love my job the way my colleague does.’ And I knew it wasn’t that, it was the arts. So I quit my job — my well-paying job — and moved back in with my parents.”

Young is currently realizing his passion, working as a writer and an actor. His latest film, Maternal, is about a girl, born in Canada with a Caribbean mother, who’s waiting for an acceptance letter from her dream arts program. In the film, the mother has to make a heart-wrenching decision about her child’s artistic future because the family has limited resources.

The premise of the film came from the discord that arose between Young and his family because of his decision to pursue an artistic career. Giving up his stable, traditional job led to fights and strained relationships with his family, leaving Young feeling angry and hurt.

Young spoke to NCM about Maternal, his family and careers in the arts.

Richard Young. (IMDB)

Richard Young: Of course, my parents were not happy. At first, I thought it was because they were ashamed of who I am. But later I realized the reason for all those fights was love. I started to look at it from my parent’s perspective; they came here to give me a better life and then they saw me struggle as an artist. Even now that I’m doing fairly well, if I’d stayed with my traditional job, I’d be in a better position with better job security. So for my parents, it wasn’t about shame; it was more about not being able to give me the life they wanted to because of what I wanted to do. The arts is an industry that’s non-traditional and all about connections. Yes, there’s schools and programs you can take, but it’s really about who you know, more so than other careers I’ve been in. Actors, writers, agents, casting directors, producers – when you’re in high school nobody knows what these careers are or how to reach them. When I had my audition for the acting program at Humber, the program’s director treated my dream as a reality. And it wasn’t that my friends and family were saying “you don’t have what it takes to be an actor.” For them, there was no tangible way (to make my dream happen). Whereas this program’s director was a professional actor himself, so to him it wasn’t just some fantasy.

Marcus Medford: If you weren’t able to use your family as a resource or support system, who did you turn to?

RY: In university, I started to open up more because I was away from my hometown. That’s when I started to get involved in more plays and writing humour articles. When I finally made the leap to the Humber program, the good thing about those two years was, in addition to the actor training, they also brought in professional actors and casting directors etc. There was more of the formal process of “here’s what to do.”

MM: Who do you think was most disappointed by your decision to pursue a career in the arts?

RY:  When  I was changing careers, having fights, it seemed like my parents were just disappointed in me. But underneath all anger is fear, and underneath all anger is hurt, so I don’t want to say disappointment. What I think they felt is sad and hurt. When they see me struggle it hurts them. If anything they feel disappointed in themselves.

MM: Was there a particular incident which lead you to write Maternal?

RY: I know my parents love me wholeheartedly, but if they had the ability to go inside my brain, change the part of me that loves the arts, and change it so that I loved accounting or engineering or some traditional career, they would. And it’s not because they hate who I am; they just want me to have enough money to be happy. They don’t want me to have to struggle the way they did. And I think that’s where the anger and the fights came from; that’s where my inspiration came from.

MM: What have your experiences writing this film and the conversations with your parents taught you about “adulting?”

RY: When the audience finds out the mother is hiding her daughter’s arts program acceptance letter, some people will probably think, “how dare you destroy your child’s dream?” and then other people will say “I get it. It hurts, but I get it.” The broader discussion I’d like to take place beyond whether you’re pro-mom or not is that this unfair arts industry exists where decisions like this have to happen, and that’s wrong. Where people have the talent, but because their financial situations or a lack of opportunities parents can give their kids, children’s dreams are denied. Ironically, aspirations are a privilege.

MM: Is the mom the villain in this film?

RY: If anything, this movie is a massive indictment of the art industry: this is why underprivileged people can’t get ahead. The arts need to be more inclusionary.

MM: What kind of conversations are you hoping the audience will have after the film?

RY: For any frustrated artists who feel like their parents aren’t supporting them, hopefully, this movie humanizes the parent. For the parents who are against their kids doing something non-traditional, hopefully seeing the parent make that decision will make them take a step back. I hope there’s forgiveness on both ends.

MM: For parents who aren’t supportive of their children’s choices and aspirations, what would you say to them?

RY: You need to ask yourself why you don’t support it. If the reason is because it’s a financial risk, personally, that’s realistic. Then you have to work with your kids to figure out how they’re going to bring in income, like taking a business or entrepreneurship course. Or what are the connections you need to make? If it’s a shame thing, that’s an entirely different issue. Then you need to ask yourself what you care more about, loving your child or your ego?


Young is currently realizing his passion (and no longer living with his parents), working as a writer and an actor. His acting credits include Kim’s Convenience (CBC), Jett (Cinemax), and Taken (NBC) and his writing credits include 16 Hudson (TVO Kids) and Sudden Master (Rogers/OMNI).

Maternal can be seen at the CaribbeanTales Film Festival in Toronto, Sept. 4 onward.

Starting a Consultation Business

The job market is changing. More and more people are exploring entrepreneurship as a career or a side hustle, for passion or necessity. According to Intuit Canada, 45 per cent of Canada’s job market will be made up of self-employed people by 2020. This is worrying given that 30 per cent of small businesses fail within five years of entering the marketplace and nearly 7000 businesses go bankrupt every year in Canada. The main reason these businesses fail is due to a lack of planning and inexperienced management, according to an Industry Canada study.

A consultant is an expert in a particular field who gives professional advice to entrepreneurs and businesses to help their businesses thrive. As the number of small businesses increases so too does the need for consultants. If you’re looking to start your own consulting business, these are things you’ll want to know.

Identify your area of expertise

There are several different kinds of consultants, business, legal, marketing, and technical are a few examples. The first thing you’ll want to do when starting a consulting business is to figure out what your strengths and areas of expertise are. It’s important to be honest with your self-assessment, ask yourself questions like “is there a demand for this service?” and “do I have a unique point of view?” You should consider areas you excel in at work, hobbies you’ve mastered or other areas of interest as the focus of your consulting business. Whatever niche you choose it should be one you enjoy, especially if you’re consulting full-time.

Other valuable assets for a consultant to have include good communication and interpersonal skills, strong time management abilities, sound organizational skills and acute critical and analytical thinking. Whether it’s software, cutting-edge information or professional certifications, it’s crucial to find out what’s important in your industry and expand your knowledge in that area.

Get certified

The licenses and certifications required for you to start your consulting business will depend on which field you specialize in. Consulting for certain fields, like real estate or engineering, requires you to get special licenses, for legal and competitive purposes. In other fields, it’s common for consultants to hold special designations such as a CGA (Certified General Accountant) or a CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant). The Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation is the only international certification for consultants, it’s recognized in over 40 countries.

Most municipal governments will require you to have a municipal business permit even if you’re working from home. Starting a consulting business doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to start and register a corporation, in many cases you can simply work as a sole proprietor. Also, register your business with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) if you plan to hire employees or will make more than $30,000 a year in profit. Regulations vary from one jurisdiction to the next so it’s wise to contact your local government business agent. BizPaL, a partnership between multiple levels of government, is designed to streamline access to information on certifications, licenses and other permits you may need.

To compete with other consultants, it’s helpful to know what qualifications employers are looking for. Most employers require consultants to have a minimum of two years of working experience or a bachelor’s degree majoring in a subject like business, accounting, marketing or finance.

Find your target audience

If you’re an insurance consultant, it’s not enough to say that your target audience is people looking for insurance. You need a clear idea of who your target audience is and how to best serve them if you’re going to be a successful consultant. Consider the following questions when trying to narrow down your target audience: where is your target audience (are they local or global), what are the biggest challenges they face, why are they seeking your help, who is their competition, what makes you unique, what are your clients end goals?

It’s important to match your skills to your prospective clients, particularly when you’re just starting your business. Don’t be afraid to say no if you don’t think you’re a good fit for the task. If possible, recommend the client to someone who’s a better fit for their needs. Also, beware of spreading yourself too thin in the early stages of your business, it’s better to avoid doing too much than lose sight of what your business your does best.

Networking

Networking means connecting with people involved in your industry as well as having a digital presence to connect with potential customers. A recent Local Search Association report finds that 63 per cent of consumers use websites to find or engage with businesses, and 30 per cent of them won’t consider a business without a website. Also, Google gives your business more authority in local rankings if you have a website — be sure to make it SEO (search engine optimization) compliant. Services like WordPress and Squarespace make building a website easy, and you can secure a domain name through services like GoDaddy.

Networking and referrals are crucial for building your business so consider joining Facebook or LinkedIn groups that your target audience might frequent. It could be useful to develop an outreach strategy. Writing and sharing posts will make you familiar with the community and vice versa, allow you to show your expertise and keep you in the know with events, workshops and networking opportunities.

Set your rates

It’s easy to charge less than you’re worth when you’re new to consulting, especially with no proven results. Your best bet is to first research what consultants in your field are charging in your local area, sites like Glassdoor.com can help with this. It’s important to be realistic and also to remain competitive when setting your rates. You’ll want to figure out if you’re charging clients an hourly rate, by day, by project, based on their goals or by some other measure. Consider how you’ll bill your clients and how you’ll accept payment. Platforms such as Freshbooks, Invoicely and Due allow you to automate billing cycles, track and manage invoices and payments and run reports on your earnings.