An Introduction to 1000 Conversations to Shape our Future

Submitted by One Thousand Trees on April 2, 2013 - 5:18pm
An Interview with Derek Alton

1. You first wrote for One Thousand Trees over two years ago, when you were still a student at the University of Guelph.  What have you been doing since then?

 After graduating with a BA in Political Science, I spent a year as the Local Affairs Commissioner for the Central Students Assocaition.  Basically, I was the students representative to the community of Guelph.  This opened me up to the world of community building and engagement and helped connect me with many inspiring people and initiiatives.  After this I took the summer off to find myself and get in shape.  This fall I started with a charity called Tamarack: An Institute for Community Engagment. 

 2. Tell us about Tamarack, and your role there.

 Tamarack is a charity institute that was created ten years ago to help community groups collaborate and share knowledge more effetivly.  We started out working specifically on poverty with our vibrant communities initiative.  Our mandate, though, is much broader than this. 

 To this end, we work as advisors to governments and community orgnaizations.  We also put on conferences and other learning events to build community organizations' capacity to create positive impact.

 In the last couple years, we have also started to explore the use of online learning communities to help better facilitate collaboration and the sharing of knowledge. 

 This fall, Tamarack has started on a journey to create a national dialogue on community.  The campaign called: A Thousand Conversation’s to Shape our Future, hopes to stimulate discussion about the value of our experiences of community, to facilitate the sharing of these experiences, best practices and challenges, and to find patterns that can guide policy and program creation.

 3. I was very excited to hear about "A Thousand Conversations", Tamarack's three-year campaign to raise the profile of community. Where did the idea come from?

 The idea had many different influences that brought it into being and Paul Born the President of Tamarack can speak to them better then I can, as it was his idea. 

 For me, the journey began with a conversation between Paul and I a couple years ago where we talked about the Spicer Commission.  This was a project the Canadian government undertook in 1991 to create a national dialogue on Canadian identity.  I had been learning about it in one of my classes and found the whole concept of a national dialogue intriguing and exciting.

 We were also inspired by how the term “sustainability” had moved from the fringes to now being a word that finds its way into our daily lives on a regular basis and influences policy and programming on a large scale.

 Can stimulating conversation in the form of a national dialogue help community become as influential as sustainability?  We hope to find out.

 4. How are the conversations going to take place?  With whom?  Where?

 Conversations are occurring anywhere people come together.  This could be anything from a formal program through the YWCA to a group of friends who get together on occasion for a potluck.  The style of conversation can be equally varied from a formalized process that we can help facilitate to a casual conversation around the dinner table.  The key is that people talk about community, what it means to them and why its important, and then they share what came out of the conversation with us.

 5. What do you hope to accomplish, at the end of the three years?

 We have several goals that we hope to have accomplished:

 -we hope to have raised the profile of community through collecting a thousand conversations across the country that engage tens of thousands of people in conversations about it.

 -we hope to have connected ideas and people across the country in a national network that builds the resiliency and creativity of community in Canada.

 -we hope to have created an active online learning community of people exploring and sharing their experiences of community and connecting with others.

 -we hope to have engaged policy and program creators in responding to the patterns in opportunities and challenges that will be highlighted through this campaign.

 6. What do you see as the greatest stumbling block to establihsing an increased awareness of the value of a heightened sense of community?

 This is a very difficult question to answer because there are many different things that are hindering our ability to build community and it is different for each person and group of people.

 The most common answer that I have heard in my conversations with groups is simply not having the time to build community.  This is an easy answer.  The deeper answer behind it is that building community is not a priority.  There are other things that we value more and therefore we put our time into instead.  The big question, then, is: are we living our lives in a way that reflect our values?

 7. What are the greatest benefits?

 I think the African based philosophy Ubuntu puts it best: I am who I am because of who we all are.

Our identity and sense of belonging is wrapped up in the community that we are part of.  By being a part of a healthy and vibrant community, we are able to excel as people.  This can be seen in everything from general happiness to health.  We are better able to handle stress in our lives when we are part of community. 

Deeper than this, as we enter into community, we develop a sense of collective identity: we are not driven by our own success, we want to succeed together; our personal needs do not govern our day to day living, we are aware of the needs of others around us and moved to care for them; and we are not obsessed with things to accumulate to bring us joy, we share with others, knowing that true joy is found in human connection.

 8. What is the most valuable gift to you, personally, having been involved in this project so far?

 The most valuable gift to me so far has been the people and communities that I have met.  It has made me realize how amazing humanity is.  I have been welcomed everywhere I go, with open arms and have been humbled by the stories I hear.  You always walk away from a conversation feeling inspired and pushed to do more with your own life.

 Community is one of these values that everyone carries, it does not matter if you are the CEO of a big company or find yourself living on the street.  Through this I have been able to connect with the common humanity that binds us all.  Everyone is finding their own unique way to help foster it within their own lives.  I get the privilege of helping them share this with the world.

 9. If people want to take part in these conversations on community, how do they get involved?

  It is really easy to get involved.  All you need is a group of people, family, friends, co-workers.  Have a conversation with each other about community.  Here are some good questions to ask each other:

 What is my most memorable experience of community?

What does us expressing community together look like?

Why is our experience of community important to us?

When do we experience a deep sense of community?

How could we deepen our sense of community together?


Then let us know what you talked about.  Answer the following questions in an email.


What were some of the inspiring stories?

What were some of the common themes?

What stood out the most for you?


I am happy to help you out.  I can be contacted at:

Also make sure to check out, there are lots of interesting stories that are being shared and it is where all the conversation reflections are being posted.