A Message to Social Service Agencies in Turtle Island (North America)

a hand up not a hand out . . .


With all these government cutbacks at a federal, provincial/state and municipal level, we need to think of strategies to save our own skins, not only for ourselves and our families, but also for our clients and their families too!

NOTE: Please ignore this if your organisation is moving in this direction: non-reliance on ephemeral governments’ funding.

Hi CEOs and all my colleagues in Social Services,


For me, it is my 2nd time working at this particular social services agency.  I worked in one Vancouver suburb as Job Club Instructor from mid 98 to late 2000, then in a Vancouver location Employment Services as Case Manager until the BC government handed our contract over to another agency.  Afterward, I went to China for 5 years and planned to stay forever.

Unfortunately, as people say, “Poop happens”, and I was forced to return to Canada.  This return from China was hard.  I found that the 2 fields I was qualified in, Employment Counselling and TESL , were still being paid at rates from the late 1990s ($18-22/hr for EC and $22-24/hr for TESL).  I was shocked that the cost of living had gone up so high.  After all, I was born in Vancouver; it is my hometown.  Cost-of-living Index up, wages stagnant or down.  Sucks to be us, eh?

At the end of 2009 I was unceremoniously laid off from my one year Case Manager job in ther Fraser Valley due to the owner’s “restructuring”, which simply meant that I was not an insider in a family-run business.  I was disappointed that employers here seem to treat employees even worse than in a Communist country.  After refusing EI on principle, a stupid decision which I later regretted, I left for Beijing again for one year, got married, and returned in Mar 2011 with my new wife.  After 3 months,  this particular social services agency I’m in now rehired me after 10 years away, thank Yah.



After going through this School of Hard Knocks, even as a local born person (immigrants have it 200% harder!!!), I concluded that:

(1) The government, whether federal or provincial, is not your friend, is not on your side.  They will tax you at every turn, and give back table scraps.  They will continue to benefit their rich politician, doctor, lawyer, university professor, CEO, etc friends (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/who-are-the-richest-1-per-cent-in-canada-theyre-not-just-ceos/article4231232/) while cutting the privileges of the middle and lower classes.  In recent years, I have never seem worse government leadership from both the Conservatives federally and the Liberals provincially.  Both parties are spending us into oblivion, while the leaders are probably stashing their cash away in Swiss bank accounts. 

(2) Organizations need to read the book written by Vancouver First Nations’ lawyer , businessman and kungfu instructor Calvin Helin’s The Economic Dependency Trap: Breaking Free to Self-Reliance (http://www.amazon.ca/The-Economic-Dependency-Trap-Self-Reliance/dp/1932824081).  His thesis is that First Nations and Quebec had better diminish their reliance on govt money, because they are all the worse for taking that money.  There is a saying that “there is a demon on every dollar” of charity.  Always strings attached.  Handouts ruin people, kill ambition, cause you to always be a victim, always blaming others, never rising up and achieving your full potential. 

(3) There is only one person that is going to save you, and that is yourself.  The frog stuck in the cream bottle will kick and kick and kick until the cream foams up under him, and then he is free.  A horse stuck in a pit will kick and kick and kick until so much dirt has built up underneath, that she can be free from the pit.  We will only become strong and independent when we realize who we are, who our real friends are, and who are real enemies are.

Of course, our main lesson through our personal and organizational experiences is this: necessity that is the mother of invention.  The School of Hard Knocks produces tough graduates, people who are ready to face any difficulty.  Calvin Helin also stated that people receiving inheritances or lotto winnings can also have their drive and ambition shot to heck.  Laziness, apathy, despair are the end result.  It is only when people and organizations stand on their own 2 feet and build something worthwhile that they can become effective and productive in society.


Non-profit agencies will never survive until they cut the umbilical cord to the federal, provincial and municipal governments and learn to make money in other creative ways.  This does not necessarily mean we switch our slavery from government to industry.  We actually need to stop asking for handouts and start producing something that customers are desirous to purchase.  Goods and services that can compete in the market place.  We can take a bit of money from our tax collector government leaders, but we must find bigger sources, especially profiting from our own expertise and experience.  

For this particular social services agency I’m in now to switch from government-dependent to self-dependent, it should be easier than most organisations.  We are perfectly situated to be a Middle Man (or Woman) between companies wishing to do business with Mainland China, Brazil, India, South Korea and other rising nations.  We could be providing advice, information, connections, conference hosting, web hosting, etc.  We could do so many things to benefit the community.


We also ourselves need to stop giving handouts left, right and centre, because poor people will never become independent until they rise up and work hard, making their dreams come true through diligence, wisdom, good advice, proper planning, innovation and risk-taking.  For those down and out, there should always be a helping hand, but a hand that teaches a person to fish rather than simply hands out cartons of frozen fish.  We need to be an example of independence in the community.

The main problem with non-profits, from what I have seen, is that many of us here are always looking at the empty half of the cup, and always focusing on our limits.  We are so often telling ourselves “That can’t be done.  That’s impossible!”  We’re always waiting for someone else to do it.  And when they do, we criticize them for breaking tradition, for stirring up the water of our peaceful canoe in the lake.

This negative thinking kills.  We need to step out of the box and become a winner.  We need to use our strengths to rebuild and become a thriving, powerful agency that meets the needs of the community. 


It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, 

but the size of the fight in the dog . . .

We can do it, if we are willing . .  .





About sleepless in turtle island

Hi, I´m Dimitri. I have lived in Turtle Island for awhile now, so my cultural understanding is slowly improving. Also, I can see things in this place that boggle my mind. Thus this blog...
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