BGI Change Agent: Donna Morton

Posted January 25th, 2013 · Tags: , , , , ,

At the December Hybrid MBA Intensive, BGI was fortunate to host Donna Morton, CEO and Co-Founder of First Power, as one of our Change Agents in Residence. Current Hybrid MBA students, Hilary Kilgour and Alexa Pitoulis connected with her to share some of Donna’s inspiration with the greater community.

What is the work that Donna does to change the world for good?

“Well behaved women rarely make history.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

Donna is showing the world great possibility through her work with First Power, a B Corp with the mission to put clean energy, jobs and equity into the hands of First Nations and the communities who need it. Inspired by Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest, she holds three great hopes for her work:  1) Restore the rightful place of indigenous wisdom; 2) Address Global Poverty within our lifetime; and 3) Stop Climate Change in its tracks.

Donna has over 30 years of unique experience in the social sector – from Greenpeace to think tanks. She went to jail for her beliefs at Greenpeace, worked with the Sightline Institute, and led the way in creating a landmark Carbon tax in British Columbia. She eloquently communicates the deep connections between the social, environmental and cultural aspects of the quadruple bottom line. She gently nudges each of us to ‘fight, grow, stretch, and heal to be more at the end’ through a lifelong pursuit of continuous learning (Kaizen).

Donna is an activist and artist that is powered at her core as a disruptive entrepreneur.  She is a strong and visionary women with the leadership (and heart!) to make the world see what’s truly possible when we collaborate. She has been recognized as a top entrepreneur through Ogunte, Ashoka and the Unreasonable Institutewhere she serves as a fellow for all three organizations. A recent feature in Fast Company highlights her work as an example of what it means to turn Passion into Profit.

Donna has played a key role as a leader in #idlenomore, the recent social media turned international media campaign. Through her example, she is bringing together business leaders from around the world who are drawing attention to the difficult conditions of indigenous peoples and their communities. With First Power, she brings together the wisdom found in the interconnected web of planners, trainers, artists and elders to re-ignite our indigenous communities with energy independence.

How did this person affect the way that you think about business or energy as a leverage for community economic development?

In a very short time, Donna reaffirmed the way that many students, faculty and community members within BGI think about purpose in our work. She showed grace in the face of heated energy debates and modeled the power of bringing your whole authentic self forward as a leader.  It’s not about greater technology, but the cultural breakthroughs that our communities need.

By sharing her unique career path, she reminded us that business is a key leverage point. Her journey from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ is a poignant example of bringing collaboration and ancestral wisdom to solving the challenges our world faces. In her own words and example,  “When ancient art is acid etched on solar panels, when the community says “we own our energy” the world heals” ( By celebrating her identity as an artist with a deep connection to cultural traditions, she highlighted business opportunities to create a more authentic, dynamic experiences.

In Donna’s spirit of crowdsourcing possibility through meaningful consultation, we asked BGI’s students and community to comment on how Donna affected their thinking. Here is what we heard:

  • Jessa Lewis: She strongly reinforced my hopes and beliefs. She is one of my heroes.
  • Melanie Bigalke: Power = Power, Energy = Energy… for a community to have power they must control their power.
  • Hannah Gant: Energy projects can be higher leverage interventions because just about everything depends on power. Achieve energy independence and a lot more good can start to cascade.
  • Rachel Williams: One piece that stayed with me is how she described her journey from “No” work to “Yes” work, and how challenging/important it is to say “yes, and how.” Probably my favorite CAIR ever, by the way.
  • Stephen Cahill:  I was very moved by her statement that inside each of us is an ancestor that knows how to live sustainably.

What did Donna find unexpected or notable about her experience at BGI?

Donna described BGI as “her people”. She found true heart connections in her interactions with the intentional community.  In addition to finding inspiration for her own business, she is excited to find ways to partner with our community moving forward.

Donna highlighted three key factors that differentiated BGI, including the values of students, the co-learner relationship with faculty and the unique natural/inner city context of our campuses.

  • I  have worked with many MBA programs, [where] the programming on values seemed light, strong on skills but light on ethics, values, heart, integration, being a whole human being.  This was the most pleasant surprise, BGI excels at this aspect of MBA programming.  There was deep intention, strong community, practices that invite depth each day, ways to bring newcomers deeply in fast.  I was “in” before I even realized it.  I wanted in and was met by so much openness, curiosity and mutuality. My experience was a gift that I am still just opening now.
  • Students have confidence that they have life and other experiences and the faculty honours this story.  There was a strong degree of mutual capacity and that teaching is an honour, that the teaching part of the program deeply matters.
  • I loved the way the natural setting and the inner city context for the campuses is now a part of the culture of BGI. It is essential that we learn to honour nature, take time to observe nature, integrate into nature. It is also essential that we learn to see cities as living entities, that we learn to honour the struggles of them, the divides and disparities, the exalted poetry  and see ourselves integrated into the built landscape. Integrating nature and everyone into the solutions for the built world is an essential challenge of this time. Addressing poverty and climate change hit up hard in cities and the solutions will come out of embracing this tensions, going into the mess of it with a larger “we”.  I have deep faith in BGI students to create new ways to serve this challenge fed by nature, inspired by people.

What’s Next?

Donna will be speaking at the inaugural TEDxBGI event on January 26 with the theme of Purpose. We are thrilled to have her return to Seattle.

You can follow Donna’s social action through her lively and regular updates on Twitter @First_Power.

One recent tweet:

“My people will sleep for 100 yrs, when they wake, artists will give them their spirit back” — Louis Riel #IdleNoMore

About the Authors

Hilary Kilgour and Alexa Pitoulis, C10 Hybrid MBA Students from Vancouver, British Columbia, share more than their nationality with Donna. With extensive experience in government and non-profits, they are currently working with the community sustainability team at lululemon athletica.


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