Al Etmanski

Ashoka Fellow
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Fellow Since 2002
The vast majority of people want to make the world a better place. I'm optimistic about what we can do together.

Becoming an Ashoka fellow enabled me to spread our original work at Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) to more than 40 locations around the world. PLAN supports families prepare for the social and financial well-being of people with disabilities after their parents die. Ashoka support also enabled PLAN to lead the campaign to create the world's only disability savings plan, the RDSP. There are more than $2 billion in deposit. My current focus is social innovation that spreads and endures, which is the topic of my latest book, Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation. Lasting change requires us to engage with the cultural dimensions of change (habits, attitudes, beliefs). I am particularly  interested in what unites us. For example, the omnipresence of natural caring for each other and our environment is a universal that transcends ideology and background. When I grow up I'd like to be a peacemaker.

Related TopicsHuman Rights & Equality, Disability rights, Social Entrepreneurship


This profile was prepared when Al Etmanski was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
Increasing numbers of disabled people are living longer and the longevity means that many will outlive their parents. Al Etmanski addresses a concern that a steadily mounting number of parents live with: "What will happen to my son or daughter when I die?" He redirects that question to "What does it take to make a life–however long–a good life?" He offers a new way of thinking about disabilities and citizenship and new insight about how to remove the barriers to a good life. His idea helps replace parents' anxious isolation with planning that realistically contributes to their children's safety, both while the parents are still alive and after they die.

Relationships are the key. In Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), Al and his colleagues have created an infrastructure that systematically builds community, while dismantling the obstacles inherent in the social systems that control publicly funded services for the disabled. Al sees those systems as necessary and does not seek to replace them; rather, his work parallels the public bureaucracy and holds its feet to the fire by demonstrating what else needs to be done. For example, the Burnaby Association of Mentally Handicapped in Vancouver now pays for lifetime membership in PLAN for some people to whom it provides services. Al sees this relationship as "a good place for us." PLAN's ability to facilitate relationships for people who are isolated will continue to infiltrate bureaucracies and citizens' movements and a growing international constituency of families with disabled members.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person


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