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Danny Graham describes himself as a serial volunteer before he entered public life.
The former leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party got involved with Engage Nova Scotia in an attempt to return to that with the hope to be part of something that would lead to a deeper understanding and change for the province.
“My generation and the generation above me have made a lot of mistakes that are more obvious now than they would have been to us at the time,” Graham says while speaking about his personal motivations. “I think it's clearer than ever that many of the beliefs that we had that drove our economy, that wrecked our environments, that created inequality need to be fixed, full stop. And the only way for us to do that well is to understand our challenges and our advantages and our opportunities at a richer level and to engage people more fully in the questions of our time.”
Graham is the chief engagement officer for what started as a volunteer group in June 2012. It’s now a Halifax-based non-profit organization with staff and a board of directors, supported through financial and in-kind donations by multiple levels of government, corporations, educational institutions, and individuals.
For the past few years, Engage Nova Scotia has been working on their quality of life initiative and is preparing to release the results of an extensive survey in late February.
“Our hope and expectation is that this ultimately will lead to choices and actions that improve our quality of life, that focus on who's being left behind, but also helps focus on the exceptional and positive things about our province,” says Graham.
The survey included more than 200 questions about eight topics and received nearly 13,000 responses.
One of the things they’re watching for in the data is social isolation, Graham says, noting there’s been research in recent years regarding how personal relationships impact health and happiness.
“If we want to improve the well-being of people, we begin as a result of this research to focus on who's experiencing social isolation and what are the choices that we could make to ensure that there is less of that, that children are growing up in nurturing families and communities that are focused on the early years of childhoods in addition to all of the economic things that we've focused our intention on.”
The people behind Engage Nova Scotia want to be get the public engaged, as their name suggests, and encourage difficult conversations. This has meant work like co-hosting the One Cape Breton – Unama’ki Summit, which brings leaders from the island’s municipalities and Mi’kmaq communities together, as well as workshops and events throughout the province.
They’ll continue that type of work once the results are released, soliciting feedback about the data and setting priorities specific to regions.
Graham sees this as the start of a multi-year project that not only tries to capture what’s important to the people in the province but also hopefully leads to meaningful action.