Donald G. Simpson is Chief Explorer and founder of the Innovation Expedition. Don is a cultural wanderer, boundary-buster, imagineer, mentor, coach and guide. He has challenged many to think differently and to collaborate wisely.

As a depression baby (1934) he had no dreams as a teenager of accomplishing anything more than finishing high school and finding a job. Some abilities as an athlete helped him find his way to the University of Western Ontario. Initially wondering how in the world he had ended up in this intellectual environment, he did well in his studies. He began in the business school, switched to general science, focusing on biology and chemistry. Achieving entry into medical school made him face a career decision. He opted for a year off from his studies and took on a role as a high school teacher and football coach – and began a wonderful journey – one he is still travelling on.

As a first year teacher he was challenged by a group of students to find a viable project through which they could prove their concern for making some type of community contribution. The initial decision (1957) to bring one student from newly independent Ghana for post graduate studies led to his direct involvement in creating and running a national foundation (African Students Foundation) and a Canadian branch of Crossroads Africa (that later was used by John F. Kennedy as the model for the Peace Corps).

By 1960 he was in Nigeria with Dr. James Robinson, the charismatic black pastor from Harlem, who created Crossroads Africa. Don had found an inspiring mentor who kept telling him to use his imagination, trust his intuition, follow his instincts and “expect the unexpected”. In supporting an initial brief work camp sojourn in Nigeria, his family said, “We don’t know why you are going – but you have something in your system driving you there – so you better go and satisfy it”. But his instincts as a cultural wanderer have never been satisfied. Instead, the initial African experience served as a catalyst for turning him into a permanent and life-long  explorer, collaborator and imagineer.

The dream was always the same. How could one build a trusting relationship with a new group of people that allowed an exchange of ideas and experiences that was mutually satisfying? Gradually he began to gain some ability to help people identify their key challenges, explore the options and build collaborative teams to create entrepreneurial, innovative responses to their complex challenges of performance.

Don’s overall dream was to play some small role in nurturing harmony and in initiating activities aimed at the development of sustainable prosperity and quality of life both within organizations and communities. His explorations saw his involvement in a diverse range of initiatives as educator, researcher, consultant, mentor and entrepreneur including:

  • Post graduate studies in history (Ph.D.) related to Black History in Canada and the New Imperialism in Africa;
  • Educational activities at all levels including involvement in the establishment of teacher training colleges, adult education institutes, the early planning for the Community College system in Ontario, initiation of one of the first offices for international programs at a Canadian University, a role as Director of International Business at the Ivey School of Business, and an opportunity to globalize the management school at the world famous Banff Centre in the Canadian Rockies;
  • Helping to establish the first western style business school in China (at Tsinghua University) and to serve as mentor for the first business case method workshop in China;
  • Mentoring of senior business leaders globally to transform their organizations for success in the new knowledge economy;
  • Mentoring small business start-ups in developing countries;
  • Becoming one of the early members of Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO) and their first regional director in West Africa;
  • Creator of the computerized Cross Cultural Learner Centre (1968) – involving a learner centered approach to cross-cultural training for business, government and non-profits;
  • Co-director of the Southern Support group for the Dene Nation in Canada’s Northwest Territories and a mentor on social and economic development for a number of aboriginal nations;
  • Involvement (1972-75) with Canada’s former Prime Minister (Hon. Lester B. Pearson), David Hopper, Maurice Strong and others in the start-up of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) that provided a breakthrough collaborative model for building R&D capacity in developing countries. This IDRC work taught him the power of collaborative global networks and the ease with which they can be created if you are dealing with a significant issue, are open to non-conventional solutions and committed to co-create the solution with others;
  • Mentoring of senior politicians and civil servants on the issues of transforming government services for improved performance, the creation of public/private partnerships and understanding what it takes to build an innovation driven society;
  • Collaborating with others in the development of Alberta’s oil sands co-operative networks;
  • Developing a system for collaboration and innovation, known as the Challenge Dialogue System™

– and many other things. A wise and well connected innovator who wishes to mentor, coach and guide others.

By Stephen Murgatroyd -