Archive | September, 2010

World Economic Forum Associate Director and Obama Campaign New Media Team Member Rahaf Harfoush

20 Sep

Lunch with Mary 043

Date of lunch:
Monday, September 20, 2010

The company:
Rahaf Harfoush, after living in Geneva, has just moved to Paris (jealous) and works for the World Economic Forum as the Associate Director of the Technology Pioneers Programme. She is also a sought after new media and technology speaker with engagements all over the world from Egypt to Uruguay to Toronto. In 2008, she was part of the new media team working on the Barack Obama campaign in Chicago. She has published a book about the experience called “Yes We Did: An Insider’s Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand”. She is currently in Toronto for 10 days for several speaking engagements and interviews and I was very happy to get some time on her very busy calendar.

The food:
We ate at Kit Kat on King West. I was a bit disappointed in that I made a reservation and was then given one of the worst tables in the restaurant. What’s the point of a reservation? We were, however, able to move in the end. Rahaf had the warm scallop salad (which looked delish) and I had the agnolotti daily special – it was FULL of cheese and amazing but I assume extremely unhealthy. We both had diet Cokes and Rahaf had a tea. Total bill was $40 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I feel a bit silly writing this but having lunch with Rahaf kind of felt like a life-changing moment. I spoke with Rahaf about the amazing things she has already accomplished at a young age, like having a successful book published and working on Obama’s campaign. She just explained that she is like a dowsing stick. When an opportunity arises or she is looking into doing something, she wants to be so excited about it that she is shaking like a dowsing stick that has found water. And if she feels that way about a job or opportunity, she will find a way to do it. I have never met someone who so fully lives by this rule. She searches out inspiring work and makes it happen. Now this book I keep talking about – it’s time to make it happen.

The lunch:
Rahaf explained to me that while working on the research and writing team for Don Tapscott’s book “Grown Up Digital”, she interviewed Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook and coordinator of online organizing for Obama’s campaign. After speaking with him, she knew she needed to get on the ground and be part of this amazing movement. She called Chris and he told her to get down to Chicago asap. So Rahaf put her current work contracts on hold, found roommates on Craigslist and moved herself to Chicago.

I love Chicago and had the pleasure of being there just a few weeks before Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 and the city was buzzing. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be in the campaign war room and part of the groundbreaking social media campaign as excitement was continuing to grow.

Rahaf’s current work at the World Economic Forum is really fascinating. The Technology Pioneers Programme identifies companies from around the world that are involved in the design and development of new technologies, typically in the start-up phase. Once identified as a Technology Pioneer, these companies become part of the World Economic Forum’s network and benefit from this integration. 2011 Pioneers include foursquare and Scribd.

Rahaf has now gotten her work schedule down to about 70% of her time so she can commit herself to writing her second book, which she is co-authoring with Len Brody tentatively titled Misfits: How We’ve Outgrown the Way We Live and What to Do About It”.

 As I mentioned above, Rahaf also commits a good deal of her time to speaking engagements and through this she has had an amazing opportunity to travel all over the world, and sometimes add a few days here and there to be a tourist, such as an extended trip to Portugal earlier this year and another trip to Uruguay and one to Columbia coming up. For someone who admitted to me that she doesn’t like to fly, she certainly is racking up a lot of air miles.

I was truly inspired after my lunch with Rahaf. She is so positive and driven and genuinely excited about the work she is doing and the future of her career. It’s really amazing to see and something I hope that everyone can accomplish in their lives. I hope to be able to speak with Rahaf again and see how she’s doing on her current and new projects and perhaps try to get some of her incredible optimism, drive and perseverance to rub off on me.

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Second City Mainstage Performer Inessa Frantowski

10 Sep

Lunch with Mary 042

Date of lunch:
Friday, September 10, 2010

The company:
Inessa Frantowski is a mainstage performer with Second City Toronto’s current show Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes. She also performs with several sketch comedy troupes including Bull Hooey and HIR. She is also a Gemini Award winner for her work on Cock’d Gunns and she recently worked on the new Kids in the Hall show Death Comes to Town. In short, she’s very talented and hilarious and a very fun lunch guest.

The food:
We ate at 7 West. We both had the prosciutto panino, filled with bocconcini cheese and avocado spread. Delish. The sandwiches came with a side house salad. Inessa had a diet Coke and I stuck with water. My only complaint would be that it was freezing in the restaurant because they had the giant windows open even though it is currently NOT warm outside. I’m all for trying to extend the summer but sometimes you just have to admit that it’s cold out. Total bill was $32 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Inessa and I had a great conversation about funny women versus funny men. I’ve always admired funny women. This is me talking now since Inessa got me thinking. You see way less women headlining comedy movies (unless of course it’s a romantic comedy). It would be great to see more women succeeding in mainstream “Hollywood” doing physical and outrageous comedy, like what’s being done at Second City. I guess what I am saying here is that we women need to support other women. If we want to see funny women leading the way in Hollywood, we need to be out seeing shows and buying tickets. Now make it so.

The lunch:
Before meeting Inessa for lunch, I had the chance to see her at Second City. She was really funny and the show is great. I felt a bit like an uber fan when we finally sat down to eat as I kept telling her all the parts from the show that I liked the most. Incase you’re wondering, I really liked her as Helen Thomas and as Aunt Sheila, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Inessa is a very positive person and really seems to be living out her dream. Her work right now at Second City is an incredible opportunity, one of the only full-time sketch comedy gigs in the city.

As a huge fan of Saturday Night Live, always, it was great to hear what an inspiration the show has been for Inessa. She remembers watching it back in the day and being totally inspired. It changed her life and continues to be her dream job. Secretly I’ve always wanted to be on SNL too. Recently, when my parents moved and I had to pack up my old childhood room, I found a letter that I had drafted to SNL at the age of about 12 telling them why they should have me as the host. Dork. I never did send that letter though.

I asked Inessa about her Gemini that she won for comedic ensemble on Cock’d Gunns. She said she never believed she would win. Quick aside, I asked her where she kept her Gemini and she said her mom has it. I would totally have mine right in the middle of the coffee table, just sayin. Anyway, the show is not officially cancelled but is not in production for a second season. Inessa did say that the show has taken on a bit of a life of its own on Hulu and has a lot of fans in the US. Since I am terrible and never saw it the first time around and because I love to support Canadian shows, I really hope this Hulu popularity translates into a second, third and fourth season. Go Canada!

It was just really great to talk to Inessa about all the different work she is doing to make her way as a successful comedic actor. She does stand-up, acting, sketch troupes and online videos. She also talked about the different sorts of work she does, be it a Walmart commercial, timely comedy at Second City or her more alt-comedy work with her troupe. She just really likes to make people laugh so she is happy to do work that entertains all different kinds of audiences. It’s a great attitude and makes me want to check out her other work even more.

SOMETHING_AWESOME_PR_003Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes