In May of 2019, Mike Rowlands succeeded Joel Solomon as Chair of Hollyhock’s Board of Directors. In this letter, he reflects on his relationship with Hollyhock, this moment of ‘generational transition,’ and his commitments for the years ahead.
I still remember the cool, foggy morning I first set out for Hollyhock. It was September 2009, and I was picking up three new friends for the drive north from Vancouver… Three ferries, six or seven hours, three islands… We were all on our way to Social Venture Institute, an annual conference for social entrepreneurs. Little did I know that I was embarking on an odyssey that continues to unfold more than a decade later…
When I think back now, it’s amazing how the attendees of SVI have affected the course of my life, professional and personal… I remember Aaron Lamstein sharing a ‘True Confession’ keynote address that year; by 2017, we were colleagues on the board of Social Venture Circle. I remember meeting Suzanne Siemens and Madeleine Shaw, owners of the incredible Lunapads; I was soon one of a dozen members of the ‘Green Breakfast Club,’ a monthly meetup of some of Vancouver’s most accomplished social entrepreneurs. And I remember an extended, lawn-side ‘One-on-One Consultant’ conversation with Rha Goddess; her genius and compassion reignited my commitment to social justice and reconciliation.
In 2012, I joined the team that produces SVI each year, and it’s been a remarkable privilege to work alongside Emira, Joel, Pam, Theo, Vanessa and others to co-host hundreds of social entrepreneurs and to nurture their networks of support and inspiration. A short time later, I was invited to join the Board of Directors of Hollyhock. It was an invitation I did not take lightly. I could not have imagined the importance of the learning and development I have been given by these roles.
With each passing year, I’ve spent more and more time at Hollyhock, enjoying so many wonderful moments of connection and learning. I remember the first time I took my family there, one July about five years ago. At one end of campus, Governor General-award winning dancer and choreographer Margie Gillis was moving like the wind, while at the other end of campus, her friend, improvisational jazz singer Rhiannon, was leading a group that serenaded the rainforest every day. Their joint Presenter Evening was a thing to behold…. What a welcome to Hollyhock for my family!
I remember the power of Robert Gass’s Art of Leadership, a week-long experience of introspection, insight, and unlearning. I shed many preconceptions that week—ideas about my work and my business, but also about myself. I found new lines demarking the expectations others have of me and my determination to lead well. ‘Generous. Intelligence.’ became a mantra for me—a new foundation for my leadership. Years later, it continues to give shape to how I try to ‘show up’ in life.
Every time I’m at Hollyhock, I learn something important.
It seems every time I’m at Hollyhock, I learn something important. Often it feels like another epiphany—a lesson that awakens new self-awareness. Sometimes, it comes more gently, as subtle and patient as the rising tide. And sometimes the lesson roars in like a winter storm, blowing away old conceptions and making space for new, stronger ideas to grow. I’ve learned simply to stay aware, trusting that a lesson will come. I always depart Hollyhock a better person than I was when I arrived.
And that’s the magic, for me: what I thought would be ‘professional development’ has over this past decade become a renewal of my commitments to philosophy, to right-livelihood, to right relations. I’ve also learned to be a better friend, a better father, a better husband… a better human being.
So it was no small thing for me to accept the board’s invitation and support to succeed my friend and mentor, Joel Solomon, as Chair of Hollyhock’s Board of Directors.
A Generational Transition
This was not an easy decision—for me or for the Board: At a time when organizations are being called to uphold equity and inclusion, is it right that another white male should take the role?
This question was taken up directly and courageously by the Board of Directors. A number of other paths forward and models of leadership were explored. Yet after working through the question, I was asked to accept the role because of my demonstrated commitment to learning and development, because of my long-standing reputation for open, collaborative leadership, and because of my commitments both to Hollyhock’s history and our future.
Joel’s are not small shoes to fill. He has spent the past 25 years as Chair of Hollyhock. His stewardship has been nothing short of remarkable, driving dozens of new social change initiatives, inspiring hundreds of projects and organizations, and connecting thousands of citizens to ideas and causes, to one another, and to themselves.
“Above all, Mike is an outstanding human being. The founders of Hollyhock can remain assured that the leadership of Hollyhock continues in the best possible hands.” — Eduardo Schwartz, Hollyhock Treasurer and Sharegiver
This is a long-planned, generational transition for Hollyhock—a transfer in stewardship from the founders to a cohort of later-comers like me. It began two years ago, with the search for our new CEO, Peter Wrinch, who succeeded the ‘graduating’ Dana Bass Solomon, at the completion of her 18-year tenure.
Together, Joel and Dana—alongside the many Directors, managers, and staff of Hollyhock, and with the committed support of Hollyhock’s founders, Sharegivers, and friends—navigated significant growth, the transition of Hollyhock from for-profit business to registered charity, and the securing of a perpetual protective covenant of the land on which Hollyhock’s Cortes Island campus sits.
Commitment to Past, Present, and Future
Since I joined the board about five years ago, it has been my pleasure to participate in discussions about Hollyhock’s values and culture, strategy and plans, and the myriad challenges that emerge each year for this complex and ambitious organization. I have often been amazed and inspired by ‘the wisdom in the room,’ the delicate blend of knowledge and judgment that emerges when this remarkable Board of Directors convenes.
“Mike is a passionate, collaborative, skilled leader. He is deeply dedicated to the success of Hollyhock as the organization and the community grow into their next phase of leading and learning in the work for a better world.” — Karen Mahon, Hollyhock Vice President
Moving forward, alongside the current Board, five new Directors who joined us this May, the CEO and staff, and in service of all those who benefit from and care about Hollyhock, it will be my role to ensure there is always space for this wisdom to emerge.
I’ll strive to honour and uphold the stewardship of past leadership—including the vision of Hollyhock’s Founders and Sharegivers—and the work we must do to meet the rushing approach of a fraught future. ‘Lifelong learning’ must not only be our promise to you, but our commitment to ourselves. It is the portal to humility and to courage—traits essential for enlightened citizenship and leadership.
Finally, we must continue our work on reconciliation and equity. This is the vital work of this moment in history, and it is work that cannot—must not—be separated from our programming, curation, leadership and management. We foresee a just, fair, inclusive future, where societal norms empower smart, compassionate, collaborative, and resilient leadership and decision-making. This will not always be easy work, but it is no doubt a vital part of what must guide Hollyhock’s next era.
In the months ahead, I will share more of our commitments as a Board and more of my own thinking as I step into this new role. I welcome your questions and I’m grateful for your insights. After all, my role, fundamentally, is to ensure Hollyhock continues to serve you—the learners and changemakers we exist to support, nourish, and inspire.
Who is Mike Rowlands?
Mike is a first-generation immigrant to Canada, a ‘Gen X-er’ whose ancestral roots reach back to England, Wales and Scandinavia. After spending his formative years in the districts around Liverpool, England, he emigrated to Canada in 1982 with his parents and younger sister. They settled in Vancouver, and Mike has lived there ever since.
Mike studied at the University of British Columbia, where he graduated with a double major in Philosophy and Political Science—two subjects that inform his thinking, leadership, and changemaking. After spending 10 years in retail management and five more in advertising and design, he has been an entrepreneur since 2002. His company, Junxion Strategy, supports social ventures, responsible corporations, and NGOs. Junxion has offices in Vancouver, Toronto, and London, UK, and has served clients on five continents.
His wife, Tanya, is an early childhood educator; they’ve been married for over 20 years and have two teenaged children, Ben and Emma. They make their home on Vancouver’s North Shore at the edge of the majestic coastal rainforest. Mike has been riding mountain bikes since they were invented in the mid-1980s. He’s also an accomplished skier, and a perpetually frustrated golfer.
Photo Credits: Sarah Dent