He’s Got a Real Solution! – An Interview with Jerry Ewen

“He Got a Real Solution!”

An Interview with Jerry Ewen

by Brandy Beak
Photos by Noriko Nasu-Tidball

A huge chunk of living in the 21st century means to be swarmed up in competition your entire life and be always subjected to a ranking system. Jerry, a president of Playfair Canada and the founder of U-Win Institute, acknowledges this reality, but is proactive in changing this current social trend. Being grown up in a large family with abundant love and support is what motivated Jerry to work towards the goal of building a cooperative society.

37 years ago when Playfair first got started in Berkeley California, Jerry’s friend persuaded him to be involved in Playfair. The name “Playfair” comes from the notion of playing “fair”, a term arguing against finding the faults of others. The intention of first opening Playfair was to bring back the joy that is innately in all human beings, which gradually disappears after childhood.  Although he believes that it is never too late to re-experience childhood, he states that joy becomes a privilege only reserved for children, because it is expected for adults to “suppress it because you want to have business and be serious and get on with life.” He explains that like an adult protecting a child, adults define safety as trusting nobody. As a result of this, individuals are disconnected with each other. This phenomenon is what Playfair aims to scrape off.

Playfair’s clientele are 1st year university students. The reason why the clientele is so specific is because new students are not yet affected by the culture of post-secondary schools. Thus, the 1st year students are easiest to change. At the same time, Jerry expects these students who participate in programs offered by Playfair to later create a revolution in the world. One change that he anticipates is of being empowered by the diversity of others. Since university is a period of transition in which students are given a chance to remake themselves, their mind is filled with questions about how they should construct their new identities. “Who do I have to be to fit in here? What if I don’t like it? What if people don’t like me? So they come with the idea of what image do I have to create in order to be cool, in order to fit in?” Jerry’s answer to these questions he lists is that “the coolest thing you could do is to be totally yourself.” He argues that because new students are initially strangers to each other coming from different communities, entrance into university is “an opportunity to be all you are, and all you want to be.” In this way, the formula of difference equaling danger and wrongness could be falsified.

While Playfair’s goal is to ensure that 1st year university students feel a sense of belonging with their peers in the university, U-Win Institute visit companies to develop satisfying relationships amongst all of those working in the company and even beyond extending to the whole community. Unlike what this organization’s name suggests, U-Win Institute does not only focus on the individual winning, but also the colleagues and the community winning. Jerry explains that a winning life style not only benefits the individual but continues on branching out and affects the whole community and by applying this knowledge, U-Win Institute is able to highlight its firm stance against cut-throat competition by encouraging people to support each other rather than point out the flaws of each other.

By the process of working towards developing this three wins in a row, U-Win Institute strives toward reducing the stigma on being a loser. This cooperative aspect ties back to the objective of Playfair, since both lies on the bedrock philosophy claiming that since everyone is unique in their own ways and each have different talents to offer, empowering everyone to win simultaneously is important.

When the U-Win Institute comes in to facilitate workshops to promote a better relationship between the management and the employees there is the dichotomy between the two parties.   Each is suspicious of the U-Win Institute’s intent, because “the frontline people think I’m a trick by the management to get them to do more for less. And the management is afraid that I’m going to start a revolution with the workers!” Since the society is so used to seeing the world as either black or white, people often do not realize that there is a middle ground in which interests of two opposing parties could be reconciled. Jerry notes that breaking this dichotomy is the reason why companies hire U-Win Institute, because by the workers realizing that the company cares about them, they “begin to see that they could create a climate where they can actually enjoy their work and actually want to do more work.”

Besides the project of strengthening the connection between the employees and the employers, U-Win Institute offers a program called “Sustainability at Work”. Jerry explains on how he came up with this program. “But now with mother nature having an emergency call into 911 we heard that call, so we are looking at you’re not only responsible for yourself, you’re not only responsible for your immediate community or even your organization.” The U-Win Institute’s goal of trying to achieve the triple win in terms of oneself, community or organization and the world is melted into this workshop. He adds that it is of utmost importance to avoid on valuing the organization’s profit in expense of the world.

During the times of working in the U-Win Institute and Playfair, Jerry had to overcome challenges. In those moments of challenges, unlike the common response of people to choose between doing something absolutely right or doing nothing, he moved forward in meeting the challenge face-to-face instead of avoiding it. By the process of asking dumb questions and as a result running into many troubles and experiences, he was able to have many opportunities to explore and learn. Throughout his journey of trying to overcome tough situations, Jerry always pulled in all his effort while trying to learn something out of every experience at the same time.

Jerry’s short-term plan for the future of U-Win Institute is to “slowly turn the company over, to newer younger people, people who could blog at the speed of light.” He is willing to watch the newer people create changes in the world while he contributes to the company by being a resource to always come to. In terms of the long-term plan, he hopes that the company will serve humanity, because he is “attached to authentic, to be serving humanity, to people having fun.”

Brandy Beak (reporter), Jerry Ewen, & Keiko Honda (editor-in-chief)