Cook-up Change Like Renjie Butalid

Renjie Butalid. Photo courtesy of Ramy Nassar.Renjie Butalid’s obsessed with change. Not the monetary type, but with the sort that launches movements, spurs creativity, tests organizations and attracts followers.

He’s the Communications Co-ordinator of Social Innovation Generation, a Waterloo-based collaborative partnership between The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the University of Waterloo, the MaRS Discovery District, and the PLAN Institute. He has also been featured as a speaker at Ignite Waterloo, and was the Lead Co-ordinator for the team that put together the TEDxWaterloo conference last month.

I recently treated Renjie to his very own personalized speaking session, which featured my 7-question barrage.

You were a member of the TEDxWaterloo organizing committee, and were recently featured as a speaker at the Ignite Waterloo conference that took place last Wednesday. How did you make the wide transition from Waterloo student to “socialpreneur” in such a short amount of time?

Transitioning from university student life to working full-time was an interesting experience to say the least. In many respects, helping to organize events such as TEDxWaterloo and Ignite Waterloo in the local Kitchener-Waterloo community was very similar to the many student-run events and initiatives that I was involved with while at the University of Waterloo. This time however, these events (TEDx, Ignite) were done on a much larger scale and had the capacity to impact and connect a lot more people within the broader KW community. At the end of the day, its all about being passionate about what you do, and having fun while you’re doing it.

Could you name perhaps one or two key events in your life so far that has led you to where you are now? 

A key turning point in my life happened when I was selected to attend the Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC) in Washington DC and New York City right after I graduated from high school in the United Arab Emirates in 2002. The GYLC is a leadership development program held every year organized by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, that brings together young people from around the world to build critical leadership skills in a global context.

In order to understand why this is a key turning point for me, it is important to know that I was born in the Philippines to Filipino parents, raised in the UAE since the age of 5, and only came to Canada for university once I graduated from high school. Given all of this, the GYLC helped to solidify part of my identity as a global citizen, as well as helped to provide me with the necessary confidence and foundational leadership skills at an early age (I was 17 when I attended the GYLC) that has led me to where I am today.

As a Waterloo student, where do you see the University of Waterloo going in the next few years in terms of social change and social leadership? Where do you see the Kitchener-Waterloo region going in the next few years?

Along with the rapid pace of development found within the Region of Waterloo, the University of Waterloo is certainly positioning itself to become a global leader in social innovation and social change. Examples include the recent launch of the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED) within the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, with the goal of integrating knowledge on environmental sustainability, business management and economic development.

Another example is the early stage development of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation (WICI) being spearheaded by Thomas Homer-Dixon of the Balsillie School of International Affairs and Frances Westley of Social Innovation Generation, to help facilitate the trans-disciplinary, collaborative research focused on innovation and resilience within complex adaptive systems. These are just two examples of many coming out of the University of Waterloo that I am sure will help to define UW as well as the Region of Waterloo in the years to come.

Do you have any advice to share with current university students who harbour ambitions of being the social leaders of tomorrow? 

For university students who are very interested in the (broad) emerging field of social change, I would highly encourage you to learn as much as you can about the issues that you are passionate about. Read everything you can about the subject matter at hand in books, magazines, blogs, websites, etc. I would also encourage you to reach out to mentors and thought leaders within your own personal network (e.g. professors, community leaders) as well as people/organizations who are on Twitter and are engaged in the space that you are interested in. By reaching out, you are allowing people to help move your thinking along by constantly having your assumptions challenged and therefore, giving you permission to refine your ideas. That, and you never know what opportunities might come your way by putting yourself out there. Also, I firmly believe that you learn by doing, so if you are just starting out, I would encourage you to get involved in whatever way you can.

What do you plan to conquer next on your horizon?

I am planning a trip within the next year or so to the Philippines, with the specific intent of traveling around the country as a photojournalist/blogger for two/three months, illuminating compelling stories of people affective positive change in their local community set within the context of a developing country. The last time I went to visit the country was way back in 2004, a trip back to the Philippines is clearly overdue. This journey for me is driven by a burning desire to learn more about my cultural heritage and history, so if anyone is interested in coming along for the journey, or even interested in working together as a partner of any sort, I would definitely be open to a discussion and sharing of ideas.

I can’t help but throw in a classic interview question, but where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years? 10 years might I ask?

I see myself continuing to work in the emerging field of social entrepreneurship and social change, having a much deeper understanding of how broad transformational change happens on the ground within a complex system. I also recently obtained my open water scuba diving license, so in 3-5 years, I’m hoping to have a lot more scuba diving experience under my belt. I may even venture into the world of underwater photography.

If you could name one thing that coaxes you to wake up on a daily basis, gives you your drive throughout the day and makes you passionate enough to view sleep as an unwelcome interruption, what would it be?

I continue to imagine what the world will be like twenty years from now when children that were born in the past five years, have all grown up into young adults similar in age to myself and my peers today. Knowing that I have the capacity and the opportunities to help create a better future with the decisions I make today, drives me. Working with others who share this drive and having fun while doing so, is an added bonus and I consider myself to be an extremely lucky person in this regard.