Tag Archives: Inspiration

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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Fashion Designer and Project Runway Canada Winner Sunny Fong

17 May

Date of lunch:
Monday, May 17, 2010

The company:
Sunny Fong was the winner of Project Runway Canada Season 2. Since winning, he has shown at Toronto Fashion Week twice with his Vawk clothing line, including his debut show at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I remember watching Project Runway and Sunny’s designs were always pretty amazing. I’ve never lunched with a fashion designer before so I knew this could be a great opportunity to learn about a profession that I know little about.

The food:
We ate at Sambucas on Church. It was actually quite difficult to find a place to eat, as a lot of the restaurants on Church are closed on Mondays. Who knew? I had the pasta special, which was a chicken pesto blend of delishness. It also came with a garden salad and garlic bread (which I did not have room for). Sunny had stuffed French toast, which came with bacon, fruit and fries. The portions at this place are ENORMOUS! I had a diet Coke and he had an iced tea. Total bill was $26 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Sunny talked a bit about his research process when he is designing. He chooses something as his inspiration and then builds from there. His most recent collection was inspired by mushrooms after Sunny was watching Planet Earth. He said he would look online for images and information on mushrooms. He then went back and watched Planet Earth again and the documentary spoke about decay during the mushroom section. He then started looking at images of decay and the inspiration grew and grew until it was an entire collection – all started with mushrooms. This creative process is one of Sunny’s favourite parts of designing. As someone who also works in a creative industry, it’s always interesting to hear how others go through the process and get inspired.

The lunch:
If you watched Sunny when he was on Project Runway, you would know that he came across as really nice and genuine and he is just like that in person. A really great person to lunch with!

Sunny and I soon figured out that we both went to Ryerson. He studied Film and I took Radio and Television. His fashion and design knowledge is all self-taught. His sister studied fashion and Sunny let me know that he did read some of her textbooks. Filmmaking was another creative outlet for Sunny and he also has taken some of the skills from this to build his own web design company that has helped bring in funds allowing him to focus on fashion designing.

Since I know little about how one does put a line together, I asked Sunny if he sewed all of his own clothes or simply created the designs and had others put them together. He says at this stage of his career, he likes to sew everything on his own. This way, through the process he can figure out if the design works, what does, what doesn’t and fix along the way. He says someone like Karl Lagerfeld, who has so much experience designing, can simply draw a design and trust that it will work. Sunny still sees the whole process as a learning experience.

As Lagerfeld was mentioned, it got us to talking about the stereotype of the fashion industry, with Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour and The Devil Wears Prada, that you need to be mean to get ahead. Again, Sunny doesn’t really fit this stereotype. Fashion is a business like anything else, he said, so you do need to have that killer instinct, to stand up for yourself and be assertive or you’ll be left in the background. But like any stereotype, there is some truth and also some fiction in these fashion industry assumptions.

I asked Sunny about his favourite designers. He couldn’t narrow it down to one. He looks to Alexander McQueen for construction (we agreed on our love for his lobster claw shoes), Cavalli and Gucci for the sexiness and his list went on. It seems that Sunny is able to take inspiration from all sorts of designers, which again speaks to his creative process.

Having lunch with Sunny and speaking to him about his work was really quite amazing. He has such a passion for what he does and such a strong commitment to doing it well. Sunny is at the start of a really exciting career and I can’t wait to watch him succeed. And of course, I can’t wait to buy one of his pieces!