Paul Born (BA 1987) has always valued community and looked for ways to create change in the world around him. As a student in 1985, he transferred to Grebel and the University of Waterloo from Abbottsford, British Columbia. Paul grew up attending Ebenezer Mennonite Church so when he found a Mennonite community affiliated with the University of Waterloo, he fit right in. “Grebel was all about integrating,” said Paul. “I wasn’t in a cloistered community anymore; I could show up as an equal with anyone at the University.” Paul associated with Grebel for one year, and the life impact that the College had on him carried far beyond his graduation in 1987, with a Liberal Arts degree. This impact fed into Paul’s impressive career of service in his fight against poverty.

While associating with Grebel, Paul learned that he could freely pursue his interests and there would always be someone at the College willing to join him. He began a drama club where he wrote, directed, and cast people for an original play each month for the Chapel service. “We did some amazing stuff,” recalled Paul. “We got a grant from the Mennonite Bicentennial Committee, and we toured a play I wrote called Modern Reasons to 32 churches. We even got flown out to Saskatoon to perform.”

Newspaper with Paul Born on the cover.

As Paul’s confidence grew from student involvement, so did his social circle of friends - many of whom he has stayed connected with over the years. During his time at Grebel, Paul also met his future wife, Marlene Epp. Marlene is Professor Emerita at Grebel, having taught History and Peace and Conflict Studies, and she also served as Dean at the College several times. Through all of Paul’s accomplishments and life experiences, building his family with Marlene stands out as a favourite memory and life highlight.

As he pursued his degree in Liberal Studies at Waterloo, Paul took several courses at Grebel. He met professors that shaped his perspectives and built his critical thinking. The values taught at Grebel through student life and academics resonated with him and he carried those lessons throughout his life and career. “What I love, love, love about Grebel is that there is a sense that service matters, regardless of the career you choose,” expressed Paul. “At the end, it all leads to service.”

“Growing up, I didn’t know anything but community,” Paul shared. Through conversations and knowledge exchanges with his church community, Paul realized that people prosper economically when they learn and work together. “I had this real sense of community in church. I learned that if you stay together, if you work together, and you can resolve your conflicts together, then that is good for you,” said Paul.

Because of his community-centered upbringing, Paul had an early awareness of the power of togetherness, and he knew he wanted to use it as a tool to inspire positive change in the world. “I was called to be in the world and make a difference, together with all the people who have the skills and knowledge, and even with different faiths,” he said. After graduating university, Paul returned to Abbotsford and began working in community enterprises. “I was merging my business skills with not-for-profit businesses. There was beauty in being able to make money for others,” said Paul.

In 2001, Paul, together with Alan Broadbent, founded Tamarack Institute, a connected force for community change. Tamarack has been the organization at the center of national change for decades – working to end poverty nationwide, building youth futures, tackling climate change, deepening communities, and more. Paul's career has led him to work with countless small and large communities, filled with a vibrant diversity of backgrounds and life experiences, sharing resources and working alongside each other.

Particularly, Paul became very passionate about issues of poverty in Canada. He knew that he could make the biggest impact by working on social policy and legislation. “Since poverty is systemic, I buried myself in systemic thinking,” said Paul. “My heart was figuring out how to move from alleviating poverty to ending poverty. We don’t want the poor to be less poor. We want less poor, not better poor.” With that goal in mind, Paul ran a four-and-a-half-year campaign called “Vibrant Communities” with the goal to make Waterloo Region have the lowest level of poverty in Canada. Now, Paul’s initiative has spread to almost 500 municipalities in North America and contributed to bringing Canada's poverty to one of the lowest levels in Canadian history.

Over the years, Paul created a small business incubator and training center that helped more than 1100 low income people start small businesses, 82% of which survived the first five years. He also started three national organizations and half a dozen regional organizations, all with outstanding financial success and social impact. Paul reinvested this money right back into communities – he raised more than $1 million and started a micro-lending bank. With knowledge he has collected over the course of his career, Paul has written five books that focus on community, including his recent publication, Breakthrough Community Change: A Guide to Creating Common Agendas That Change Everything and a national bestseller, Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times.

Paul’s work has earned him many accolades, including the University of Waterloo 2020 Arts Alumni Achievement Award. He is also a Senior Global Ashoka Fellow and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2019. His work is inspirational, showing that change can start small. As Tamarack has written, “the improbable can become the inevitable.”

Paul's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.

By Farah Jurdi

Paul Born is the co-founder of the Tamarack Institute and for 20 years was the CEO/Co-CEO. An author of five books, he is also the co- founder of Vibrant Communities Canada. Paul is semi-retired and continues as a coach and trainer providing practical support to communities and organizations interested in achieving large-scale change. Paul is married to Marlene Epp and they have two sons Lucas and Michael and Daughter in laws Betty and Laura. In his leisure time, Paul loves to volunteer in his community, cook Paella for large groups, visit with friends and go for long walks. He wishes he was a better golfer and plans to join the pickle ball craze. He is a member at Rockway Mennonite Church.