Change Agents: Mary Tidlund

In September 2009, people from all around the globe gathered in Vancouver for the Vancouver Peace Summit.

The Summit featured five Nobel Laureates, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Mary Tidlund was one of the delegates. She participated in Connecting for Change, an initiative which connected people from all backgrounds through various small events which encouraged dialogue. DLC volunteer Lara Howsam had a chance to speak with Tidlund.

“I liked getting engaged with people of like mind,” Tidlund said.

Originally from Alberta, Tidlund spent twenty years of her life in the oil and gas industry in rural Saskatchewan. When her life took an unexpected turn and the company was forced to close, she decided it was time to take an alternate path.

“It was a difficult transition to move from oil and gas into philanthropy,” Tidlund said. “I wanted to get more in touch with my heart and do something that was more connecting people on a heart level. Both have been very rewarding in my life, but now being in philanthropy is definitely the choice.”

Tidlund operates the Mary Tidlund Foundation which partakes in many initiatives around the world. The foundation has been involved in projects from Tanzania to Ecuador, and many places in between. The foundation sponsors projects that mostly focus on educational and medical programs.

Tidlund participated in a smaller summit put on by the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education in 2006 and jumped at the chance to participate again.

Mary Tidlund listens in on one of the many conversations held at Connecting for Change 2009 (photo by Samantha Walker 2009)“I felt like I had grown as a person in three years,” Tidlund said. “I felt like I wanted to meet more people in the same line of work because everyone that shows up there has the same values to some degree or they wouldn’t be attracted to the conference.”

The experience she had filled her expectations and beyond. She said that one of the best parts of the conference was the connections she made with others.

“I mean you could watch people shift and connect,” she said. “I think it is really great to put everyone in the same room, because otherwise people may donate, and support each other but they don’t really get to know each other as individuals and I think that is key.”

Another part of the Summit that sticks out for Tidlund was connecting with the Dalai Lama.

“I mean the Dalai Lama, being in his presence, I mean that is one thing,” Tidlund said. “He is not just the Dalai Lama, he carries a presence with him that shifts everyone and it is wonderful to be in that and be part of that.”

Now almost nine months after the Summit, Tidlund said the impact of it on her life is still playing out.

She recently partnered with Summit participants, Janice Levine of Medwish and Dr Robert Kalyesubula of African Community Center for Social Sustainability (ACCESS) to sponsor a project in which medical supplies were shipped to Uganda.

Tidlund foresees more initiatives arising out of the connections she made at the Summit.

“The Uganda project was an easy project for us because it was a shipment of supplies,” Tidlund said. “But when it comes to other initiatives where you are involving other organizations and building communities that takes longer. So I think there will be other initiatives it’s just taking a longer time to pull them together and get them going.”

Tidlund has recently connected with Amanda Lindhout, a Canadian journalist that was held captive and tortured in Somalia.

“Out of her horrific experience that she has gone through, she has chosen to forgive the people that tortured her, which is one of the main messages of the Dalai Lama,” Tidlund said. “That is a big thing in my life right now, and in the foundation’s life, helping her make her dream come true in creating this education fund for women in Somalia.”

Lindhout and Tidlund recently attended a luncheon in New York in which the Dalai Lama was speaking. She hopes to one day have Lindhout join her at a summit.

She said that His Holiness has a way of popping up in her life when she least expects it.

Both he and the people that she has connected with through initiatives supported by the Dalai Lama have been an influencing force in Tidlund’s life.

“Definitely the virtues around what his message is about compassion and understanding has definitely impacted me because I talk about it more freely with people I am talking to,” she said.  

Tidlund is a living example of how when you combine your passion and determination you can make a difference.

So what does Tidlund say to those that say, “I’m just one person, I can’t make a real difference”?

“I would tell them to just try,” she said laughing. “Don’t be overwhelmed with trying to save the world, because then you do nothing and you get caught up with the whole thing of trying to do the impossible, but if you just try and do little bits here and there it grows into be – well a lot!”