Al Etmanski

Ashoka Fellow
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Fellow Since 2002


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


Becoming an Ashoka fellow enabled Al to spread his original work at 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. Al's leadership in creating the world's only disability savings plan, the RDSP, led to his focus on social innovation that spreads and endures. This paradox between short term success and long term impact is the topic of his latest book, Impact - Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation.

In addition to his continuing work addressing the poverty and social isolation of people with disabilities, Al is curious about the role of culture (habits, attitudes, beliefs) in making the world a better place. He is 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 he grows up he'd like to be a peacemaker.

Al blogs regularly at

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