2017 – My Year on Twitter by Nancy Fijan

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My Twitter feed is just that – mine. Personalized to the hilt with what or who I’m interested in following to read about, learn from or get inspired by. Keeping a current pulse on the broader world, wondering and being in awe about new ideas, creations, inventions and billion people solutions, marveling at the courage and sometimes quiet bravery of people, and stumbling upon those just in time words of inspiration – all move me to use this medium of society at large, for the most part, each day. Reviewing and deeply reflecting on my feed for 2017, I captured a few highlights of what is shaping my thinking and is steering me along the path I am on to an unknown destination, with the utmost clarity – including brilliant songs that move me and beautiful words that hearten me. Sharing these with you here:

Spotify Playlist: Songs that moved me in 2017


Sway: Quotes that inspired me in 2017


And stories about amazing people and organizations doing the world a whole lot of good, which I’ve organized to share with you under four themes: She Rocks, Chasing Abundance, Ingenuity, and The Power of People. Stories about grit and tenacity; stories about getting more connected while being respectful to our planet in these pursuits; stories about improving lives by creating or innovating; and stories about helping people and our beautiful planet, making sure no one and nothing is forgotten, and reminding us of the power of love and of people especially during those times when the worst of humanity prevails. The actions of these people and organizations caught my attention because I have a big heart and care immensely about the welfare of people and our planet; make me grateful for the path fellow human beings are paving for us; and spark my curiosity, turning the wheels in my head, making me think about new problems to solve – knowing that anything is still possible in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the same spirit, what stories caught your eye in 2017?

She Rocks!

In January at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – the first all-female orchestra from Afghanistan performed their very first international concert. Given that music and the arts were banned in this country under the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, this accomplishment is an extraordinary display of courage and a shining example of the power of music to shift outdated views and propel society forward. As one of its members declared in an interview, “…I am confident that music is nothing bad…music is something beautiful.” Exactly, I agree. Not nearly understanding enough about how people in this war-torn country are coping and moving forward, this story about a strong group of female musicians is a good indication that it is getting better – I hope.

In London, UKPhoebe Hugh, CEO and co-founder of ‘insurtech’ start-up Brolly, and her team engaged their customers and the public in a crowdsourcing campaign to come up with a new logo after a big insurer threatened them with legal action over their umbrella logo, which the Brolly team said looked more like a ‘blushing jellyfish’. After over 300 entries, the Brolly team held a cool splashy event to announce the winner of the new logo design. Phoebe stood on stage with music blaring in the background, held a picture of the old logo and turned it upside down. The new logo was just that, an upside-down version of the old logo – looking like a smile 😊 It was the number one suggestion of numerous entrants, and is aligned to their mission – “to turn insurance on its head.” With this marketing win and, later in the year, getting a million GBP in seed money, led by Valar Ventures, a U.S. – based venture fund backed by Peter Thiel – the future is certainly bright for Phoebe and the Brolly team. No matter how heavy your circumstances are, humour and ‘crowdsourcing’ support will pull you through – this I know well.

In Senegal, the story of Yayi Bayam Diouf and her 68 years caught my eye. After her son died trying to cross the Mediterranean, she had to find a way to sustain herself. With help from UN Women, she became the first woman to fish in her small rural fishing village –  and now leads the charge to support and teach other women about sustainable fishing and fish farming, and to learn entrepreneurial skills. Teach a woman to fish and watch her change the world.

And then there is Grandma Mary of Singapore and her 81 years. She learned how to play acoustic guitar at 60 years of age by copying what she saw in books – and now has a collection of over 10 guitars including a Gibson Les Paul. Grandma Mary took center stage with an electric guitar solo this year at Singapore’s National Day Parade, proudly the oldest of 3,000 performers. She reminds us that we can do anything, telling us, “You need to keep learning new things…if an old lady like me can play the guitar, you can play it too.” Keep on rocking in the free world, Grandma Mary!

In the true north strong and free, Canada – Nancy Klensch, founder, creator, innovator and CEO and president of Summit Kids, is creating ‘personalized experiences’ in ‘child centric environments that intersect between home and school’ embracing ‘kids for who they are on their terms’. The focus of their numerous programs is on teaching young people to ‘follow their heart and learn how to be kind and compassionate’. Her passion, tenacity, and formidable results (her business grew exponentially between 2011 and 2016) make her one of Canada’s greatest entrepreneurs and business leaders – she has received numerous accolades recognizing the same. Here’s her video interview that caught my eye – https://vimeo.com/231466562 She says that she has an, ‘obligation to bring Summit Kids to the world’ – I agree, and with Nancy leading the charge, I know it will happen.

Chasing Abundance

Royal Philips is a 123-year-old Dutch technology company headquartered in Amsterdam that is leading by example when it comes to ‘innovating with purpose’, or rather – improving people’s lives through innovation. Even bolder is what they call a ‘moonshot’ goal – to improve 3 billion lives a year by 2025 through meaningful innovation. Their primary focus is healthcare technology – from healthy living and prevention, effective diagnosis and treatment, to home care. For those looking to solve billion-people problems, it’s worth looking at companies and organizations like this one.

According to a Wired blog I read, there are over 285 million people worldwide who are blind or have visual impairments. Companies like Microsoft and Aira have developed mobile apps to help visually impaired people identify their surroundings. Microsoft’s Seeing AI app uses artificial intelligence to describe people, text and objects, and Aira’s headset with built in camera connects to a mobile app that sends images to a remote call center agent to narrate back to the headset wearer. The power of the mobile or cell phone to improve billions of lives is astounding. Mobile phones have become an invasive part of human existence, an extension of individuality, and offer a plethora of conformist type personalization options – and more importantly, offer apps now that are improving the lives of millions tenfold.

I’ve always been excited about the potential of solar and wind power to make the world a better place. And with companies like, Tesla, it’s happening in an exponential way. Tesla is working to solar power entire islands, like Kauai in Hawaii and Ta’u in American Samoa, using thousands of solar panels and hundreds of their PowerPack2 commercial batteries that store solar energy at night. Tesla is helping the world keep the lights on and is rapidly becoming a powerhouse in the energy storage business – for example, solar roofs for homes is going mainstream, and by building the largest lithium-ion battery in the world charged by wind power in Australia to help fight power outages. Clean energy in China is at the forefront to eliminate their reliance on coal and significantly reduce carbon emissions. Companies like China Merchants New Energy Group are building 250-acre solar farms shaped like giant pandas – with the intent of the design to raise awareness about clean energy among young people. If Tesla and China are working on solving this billion-person problem, take heed.

Intersecting solar power and mobile phones, a story about battery-free phones caught my attention from the World Economic Forum. They reported researchers have created mobile phones that consume almost zero power using sunlight to get its needed energy. The most power consuming step in mobile phones today is converting analog signals that convey sound into digital data. The battery-free phone takes the tiny vibrations in a phone’s microphone or speaker that occur when someone is talking and encodes the speech patterns in reflected radio signals that almost use no power. Using Skype calls, researchers were able to receive incoming calls, dial out and place callers on hold using the battery-free phone. The thought of almost never having to charge a mobile phone makes me happy.

Robots, AI and ransomware, oh my. We’ve certainly been exposed to a brand-new digital world in 2017 – one in which Facebook shuts down AI after it invented its own language; one in which cybercriminals are holding the technology of companies and organizations hostage until exorbitant amounts of ransom in the untraceable digital currency, Bitcoin, are paid; one in which Boston Dynamics created a humanoid robot that can do box jumps and backflips, which after watching the video of it, brand designer and music producer Alex Medina responded with a ‘we dead’ tweet; one in which by tracking game data in Microsoft Excel, a robot hand learns how to beat human opponents in Rock, Paper, Scissors. Given this reality – I agree with Elon Musk’s call to regulate AI and robotics like food, drugs, aircraft and cars – a wise move for all of humanity.

Along the same lines, an article in The Economist shares thinking about regulating Alphabet (Google parent), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft given the magnitude of the data they ‘own’ and control. The article proports that data is the most valuable resource in the world, replacing oil. It reminds us that the volume of data is increasing exponentially given almost every activity we do creates a digital trace. These companies essentially have what the article calls, ‘a God’s eye view’ of the economy, locally and globally. Recommendations include taking into consideration the extent of a company’s data assets for M&A activity, and more importantly, creating transparency with consumers regarding the amount of money a company makes off their personal information. Should companies own and control data or should people? Should I be able to make money off companies using my personal information or should they only?

An informative resource that I’ve come to know and use to develop an understanding what’s going on in the world of technology innovation is the hype cycle visual produced by Gartner, an American research, advisory and IT firm. For emerging technologies in 2017, the company evaluated over 2,000 technologies and produced a hype cycle illustrating technologies with the greatest potential to deliver competitive advantage over the next 5 – 10 years. Artificial intelligence as a service, deep learning, machine learning, 5G adoption, transparently immersive experiences, digital platforms – are all on the forefront of technological innovation. And predicted to explode into mainstream adoption are: 4D Printing, Autonomous Vehicles, Brain-Computer Interfaces, Human Augmentation, Quantum Computing, Smart Dust, Volumetric Display – all worth checking out.


Canadian business schools unite to improve Canada’s competitiveness! Now there’s an audacious goal. Founded by Rotman prof, Ajay Agrawal, at the University of Toronto, the Creative Destruction Lab is a program supported by Canada’s finest business schools (including UBC, University of Calgary, HEC in Montreal, and Rowe at Dalhousie in Halifax) and backed by some of the country’s most formidable business people to help start-up companies (many using AI and other leading-edge technologies) to unleash their potential and get the funding and advice to make it happen. When it launched in 2012, it had a goal of creating $50 million in equity value in 5 years – and in just over 4 years, it exceeded $1 billion. It now has a goal for its graduate companies to create $100 billion in equity value by 2027 and for half the companies to be Canadian based, given it’s also expanding to a broader global reach.

Looking to make flying a more human experience is Airbus – this maker of things that fly is making easy to load and remove modules for airplanes to create ‘experiences’ for passengers, such as coffee shops, co-working spaces, day cares, spas and cycling studios. Essentially allowing the free movement of people onboard a plane and a more comfortable flight. Quite the opposite of the cramped efficient use of space in airplanes today for most travelers. It will be interesting to see how this develops over time – and I’d suggest it will become more probable if alternative clean sources of cheap fuel are used in conjunction.

A team of six women in their early 20’s, all MIT engineering undergrads, invented a device that scans text and converts it into Braille in real-time, called Tactile. Using optical character recognition and Microsoft’s Computer Vision API, the team’s software transforms text to Braille by triggering a mechanical system to lower and raise pins. Their goal is to create an affordable portable device in a Braille market which has had limited advancement or innovation in the past 30 years. They have been accepted to Microsoft’s Make What’s Next patent program. Exciting future ahead for these women and for all those benefitting from their meaningful inventions.

Designed by Elena Larriba, a London, UK Royal College of Art grad, Vycle is a vertical transport system that enables you to bike up walls. It looks like the front half of a bike that is attached to a vertical rail, and can be fitted to the side of buildings, scaffolding or cranes. It is a space saving alternative to elevators, escalators and stairs.  It’s one of the coolest human powered inventions I’ve ever seen with a multitude of global applications, and one that I look forward to using.

The Power of People

When the United States imposed a travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, law students across Canada, organized by students at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie and at McGill in Montreal, participated in a ‘research-a-thon’ to support the Canadian Council for Refugees in helping refugees seeking asylum in Canada. Their goal to was to create summaries of relevant or important legal documents spanning different kinds of legislative provisions, jurisdictional issues, jurisprudence and human rights law. It’s a great example of doing something when you get that burning desire to roll up your sleeves, to help others in need, to put your skills to use, and to make a peaceful stand for what you believe in.

Many of the stories that both saddened me and touched my heart deeply were those of the terrorist attacks across the UK, particularly in London and Manchester. My closeness with London is true and deep, and I found myself texting loved ones and glued to the BBC during the aftermath. In reflecting for this piece, I quickly came to realize that my feelings for one part of the world experiencing such turmoil were not the same for other parts of the world, where, indeed, these horrors were much worse. And I started to feel guilty, because I could not remember all other incidents in the same manner. One could argue that familiarity and love are more prevalent in my heart and mind for places where I’ve been, worked or where I have close friends and family. Thus, I’m grateful for Esri Story Maps and Peace Tech Lab for their effort in keeping the world honest by capturing data for all such terrible incidents and storing online for all to view and use: https://storymaps.esri.com/stories/terrorist-attacks/ As of 2:15pm EST today, there have been 1,128 attacks and over 7,600 fatalities globally in 2017. These are not cool statistics, these are real statistics. For me, the power of people to do good far exceeds the power of people to inflict death or harm – and I’m hoping that with more collaboration, understanding, love and peaceful stands for what you believe in, these attacks will cease from happening. It just must stop.

Another such terrible thing that just must stop in this great big world of ours is what’s happening in Libya, where some of the 400,000 to 1 million stranded refugees and migrants being held in decrepit detention centres are being sold into slavery. Amnesty International’s slogan, ‘People are not for sale’, caught my eye on Twitter, and I was thoroughly appalled when I read what was happening. What the f*&% is wrong with people? Maybe I’m too sheltered in my little home in a safe country making bold statements on my tiny tablet – but this just must stop. The sad thing is that this has been going on for decades because people in countries where refugees and migrants wind up in, give millions of dollars to point of origin countries, like Libya, to keep these desperate human beings from leaving again. Home countries are often too poor to do anything to help their citizens return – more often than not, these people don’t want to return to a place where there is no hope nor opportunity. Brutal and inhumane. It just must stop.

There is hope. Here’s a feel-good story that brightened my mood relevant to the power of people.

I fell in love with sea turtles after numerous vacations to Mexico over the years, particularly to Cozumel and to the Mayan Riviera. For many years, sea turtle numbers were dwindling, and massive conservation efforts came into play. A 16-year study conducted and published by an international team of scientists confirmed this year that sea turtle numbers around the world are recovering – touting this as a ‘global conservation success story’. Efforts made to protect nests, eggs and females and reducing bycatching have made a significant difference, while there remain concerns regarding beach erosion, extreme cold or hot temperatures, and plastics in the ocean. If we can save the sea turtles, we can save everyone. 


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