Nejeed Kassam – Public Salon: – The Importance of Civic Society

Nejeed Kassam – Public Salon: – The Importance of Civic Society


our next guest started a business when
he was 13 years old a non-profit when he was 18 wrote a book at 23 produced a
documentary a couple years later worked with the United Nations he was in Cairo
to experience that revolution did I mention he was an internationally ranked
tennis player he loves this country and works to make
it even better he hosts public policy dinners and is growing his new company
Keela providing digital support to small innovative nonprofit groups that he sees
as critical to our future please welcome Nejeed Kassam Mr. Sullivan
thank you for that kind and a little bit embarrassing introduction ladies and
gentlemen friends and family my dearest wife Ayeesha good evening it is an
absolute honor to be speaking with you here today as Sam mentioned my name is
Najeed I’m a proud Vancouverite a recovering lawyer and an aspiring change
maker tonight I have the great pleasure of sharing with you my thoughts on what
each of us can be doing to make the Democratic tenants of this country
stronger but first I want to share something heartbreakingly personal on
Monday my uncle Shamash was taken into
palliative care barely breathing it seems his short time on this earth is
coming to an end let me tell you a little bit about Uncle Shamash do you
have those people in your life who are fundamentally good the ones who radiate
almost emanate kindness that is uncle Shamash and nothing nothing could be more
relevant or rather more important to my topic today than sharing a little bit of
his story with you you see uncle Shamash and my Auntie Perrine are from Uganda
and like so many Ugandans South Asian descent in the early 1970s
they were forced to leave their homes in Kampala Idi Amin’s dictatorship was
persecuting people who looked like us Uncle Shamash and Auntie Perrine left
everything and fled for their lives no money no businesses barely any hope
it was Canada that welcomed them and likes and so many like them with open
arms and no pun but really pun intended a clean sheet of ice Canada gave them
the precious opportunity to carve their own new story and in honor of uncle
Shamash and the millions of new arrivals who make Canada their home who have come
to see Canada’s values as a beacon of hope I have a request or rather a
question of each of you today Sam said I was allowed to provoke you right are you
doing enough to protect and strengthen our democracy today I want to quickly
share my thoughts on how I pause it you can do this
I wrote this evenings remark with a blue ink pen I’m a little old-school and
despite the loving mockery of my team and my family I still use a fountain pen
every day naturally that means I often come home from work with ink all over my
hands after after a particularly incra today I was reminded of the photos of
women in Afghanistan from 15 or so years ago who proudly showed off their ink
dipped fingers to any and every camera proof that they’d cast a vote
almost certainly for the first times in their lives it got me thinking why in
some countries do people die for the right to vote and cherish with all their
hearts the opportunity to cast a ballot yet in Canada participation in and
strengthening of our democracy is something we seem to take for granted in
the last municipal election only a few weeks ago Vancouver voter turnout was 39
and what can we do to turn this tide the answer is pretty simple show up
encourage your friends your family your co-workers to go out to the polls
especially at a time when once unquestionably liberal democracies are
being threatened by the dangerous tides of nationalism I urge everyone of you
whenever and wherever possible to exercise please the beautiful
opportunity and incredible responsibility to vote vote to protect
the values you hold dearly or the policies that you want to see enacted
vote because it’s an opportunity to build community in your neighborhoods if
nothing else vote because you can but voting isn’t enough to protect democracy
on its own it’s almost a result of democracy for each of us to partake in
protecting and strengthening our democracy I strongly believe that we
must all take an active role in civil society
remember when it came time for those Afghan women to vote again in 2014 their
right to vote wasn’t enough they were under threat and it was civil society
groups who encouraged them and protected them at the polls so what exactly is
civil society it is the institutions the organizations and communities that exist
out in our society outside of government and outside of business civil society
includes nonprofits and charities soccer teams and social clubs mosques and
churches and synagogues civil society is meetups and improv groups and definitely
bowling leagues and while governments often speak with one voice civil society
can speak with many bringing vibrancy agility and diversity to our national
discourse now while this may sound all well and good some of us must be
thinking what exactly does this have to do with me the answer is everything why
because for it to be truly representative each of us
must be a part of Canada’s civil society we don’t need degrees or qualifications
or experience to do this we merely need a will to participate and to get engaged
the obvious question then is how to me one accessible entry point is the
nonprofit sector at Keela the company where I work we spend our lives building
software for nonprofits in fact the word Keela means everyone in Swahili and is
reflective of our thesis since every nonprofit is strengthening our civil
society every nonprofit deserves powerful and transformative technology
today I challenge each of you to be more involved to do more to be more engaged
whether it’s through donations or volunteering advocacy or sitting on a
board we as Canadians must take action to make our nonprofits stronger and
better building our country’s democracy can’t happen in these seven minutes it
doesn’t happen by listening to speeches or even giving them it’s a lifelong
process of active participation hopefully our conversation tonight has
sparked enthusiasm for how you can participate but it’s up to you to go out
and actually do it when my uncle Shamash Auntie Perrine came to Canada in spite of
all they had suffered they found peace they found opportunity they found home
and Uncle Shamash wherever you are between this world and the next I hope
you are smiling because everyone in this room has the ability the opportunity and
the ingenuity to actively build your Canada’s civil society and in this way
fortify our democracy ladies and gentlemen thank you for your tonight
time good night

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