In conversation with Des Doran, Agricultural Economist

Des Doran with wife Joan. Des is wearing the Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation

Could you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born? Is there anything about your childhood that stands out for you? Helped form who you are today? Your parents, friends, school?

I was born and had my early years in Claremont, St Ann, a small town in rural Jamaica  My parents were both Jamaican, but had spent their early adult years in SAN Francisco, California., returning to Jamaica in the early 1930s. My dad was storekeeper, Agricultural instructor, and active political campaigner.  He died in 1944.  My paternal grandfather was rural school headmaster and lay preacher in the Anglican church=school.
At age 12 I won a scholarship to Jamaica College in Kingston, the top secondary boys school in Jamaica at that time.I attended from 1948 to 1954, completing the Cambridge University Schools Certificate and Higher Schools Certificate exams. I represented JC in field hockey and was champion cross country runner. 
My first full time employment was as Accounting Clerk and Paymaster with the United Fruit Company, Head Office in Kingston, 1955 and 1956. 
I grew up in a large caring family; we always had a large circle of friends.
What stands out in my early life in Jamaica are the influences of my family, one which has always been strongly committed to church and school and concern for others, the leadership expectations of an outstanding secondary school, the love and respect for others which defines my family.

When did you come to Canada, what made you decide on Canada, Ottawa?

During my two years of full time employment, I saved for study abroad. A high school classmate told me of the Ontario Agricultural College, the O.A.C, now part of the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario.I came to Canada in September 1956, enrolled at the O.A.C., which I attended from 1956 to 1961.

What is your educational background?

I graduated from the O.A.C. With a Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture in 1960 and a Master’s of Science in Agricultural in 1961, with majors in Agricultural Economics.I attended McGill University, Montreal, 1964-1966, for PhD studies in Economics, with major in Economic Development. My thesis is still “incomplete”.

You have been retired for several years. What can you tell us about your career and its many challenges?

My professional career has opened many doors to adventure. The major themes have been:
– University teaching and research
– Federal Government with Agriculture and Agricultural-Food Canada  (24 years)
– international agriculture development planning with the United Nations system.
University teaching and research began with 2 years as Research Associate, Department of Agricultural Economics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1962 and 1963. In academic year 1967, I was Visiting Professor of Economics, Bishop’s University, Lennoxville, Quebec.  In 1971 and 1972, I was Professor of Agricultural Economics, Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Truro, Nova Scotia.
I worked as Economist with Agriculture and Agricultural-Food Canada, Ottawa, from 1973 to 1996, when I retired.  The major focus of my work was world food and agriculture issues, and Canada’s participation and contribution to resolving issues such as food scarcity in developing countries, use of food as aid to economic development in Third World Countries, etc.I was on Canadian Delegations to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Rome, and the Inter-American Organization for Cooperation on Agriculture of the OAS.
My career in special assignments related to international agricultural development consists of the following major work:
(1) : 1967-1970 : Economist,  FAO/UNDP Lower Shire Irrigation Development Project, Malawi, Africa. Visited Kenya, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Ghana.
(2) : 1980, and part of 1982 :  Consultant on Caribbean Development Projects. International Fund for Agricultural Development, of the United Nations. I was Project Leader to Haiti, Grenada, St. Lucia, and did special assignment in Barbados, as well as input to other Caribbean projects.. This work resulted in funding for projects in these countries.
(3) : 1972 : Member of Canadian Economic Planning Team to Uganda. Unfortunately, political unrest associated with Idi Amin resulted in the mission having to be cancelled.
 
Career Challenges: 
I have experienced great personal satisfaction from being able to contribute to resolving world food issues, including contributing to agricultural development in Africa and the Caribbean. I derived great pleasure from experiencing life in Africa and the Caribbean, gaining insights into the lives of the people, insights which have been greatly helpful in my associations with the African-Caribbean Communities with whom I associate.
My wife and three young children shared the African experiences. My work was always demanding but so very interesting, and all of the people with whom I worked have always been helpful. A major challenge is always that of moving a family around, of anxiety for their safety and well-being. We all learned important life lessons.

You are well known in the Black community, having held positions as Chair of the Canada Race Relations Foundation, member of the Ottawa Police Services Board, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization and more. What has your community engagement experience been like? What challenges have you faced over the years and how did you manage them?

As I mentioned much earlier, I grew up in a family in which we were always “engaged”, in church, in school, in community affairs.
At high school, I was active in sports, volunteered in the school library, was editor of the school magazine. On graduation at the OAC, Guelph, 1960, I was awarded the “Bronze Award” for “student participation during their undergraduate years”. I was Captain of the Canadian National Intermediate University Soccer Team, and won several awards for non-academic participation.
So, my community participation always was high priority.  The greatest challenge was in allocating time to family, work, and the community work. There were no significant issues related to race, colour, etc.  I was very good in English, knew some Spanish; I went to French Language School with the Federal Government, so lack of French diminished as a challenge. However, I was always aware of the extent to which colleagues and others faced challenges of an ethnocultural nature.  Out of this understanding came my initiative to create what I think was the first “equity and diversity” group in the Federal Government, in about 1991.
 
Now that you are retired, what do you do with your time? Is there any advice you would give to any of our readers approaching retirement?
 
I have always been busy.  I am also fully committed to the idea that citizenship carries certain responsibilities. I believe that Canada is the greatest country on earth, that it is so because others worked hard to build the country, we have a responsibility to contribute to preserving and expanding. I work to build a more harmonious Ottawa. So my advice is to GET INVOLVED!
Do not be afraid to start small. Volunteer at school board, your church, kids sports, Council on Aging, work with the Police, learn the issues facing your community, volunteer with your Counsellor, volunteer with your local MPP, and MP.
Start now; it is difficult to make drastic changes when you retire. 
Cultivate GOOD FRIENDS!
 
 What has been your biggest achievement and what was your biggest challenge? In your work, family life, volunteer work?
 
Biggest achievement in Work: Development work with IFAD on Caribbean projects.
Biggest challenge: Learning French as an adult
Biggest achievement in family life: 57 years of happy marriage, success of our children and grandchildren. Biggest challenge was all the relocations of home, changing schools for the children.
Biggest achievement in volunteer work: The immense pride for my family and I at being recognized by the Government of Jamaica in being awarded the “Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation” for service to Jamaica and to Jamaicans.Biggest challenge has been so much time away from family: when one Granddaughter was asked what does Grandpa do?, she answered that “He goes to meetings”!
 
How do you see the relationship between Black men and women in Ottawa and in Canada in general? There are some Black women who claim they are not respected by Black men, that Black men give more respect to white women than themselves? Do you support this point of view?
 
I came to Canada in 1956; these views represent a subject area which demands deep thought. Part of the discussion must look at the fact that “Black” men, “Black” women, represent a vast variety of ethnocultural peoples. Many behaviours are not original to our lives in Canada, we endeavour to make the Canadian experience an uplifting one.  I think that often the respect is there but individuals do not take the time to develop lasting “friendships”.
 
There appears to be a divide on one level between Black francophone and Anglophone communities, and on another level between people from continental Africa and those from the Caribbean. These discrete groups often operate separately and rarely hold events together or collaborate in joint projects to their mutual benefit? Do you agree with this perception and if so what can be done to increase collaboration among our various community groups?
 
I think that our Black Communities are not more cohesive relates to the fact that we represent so many different ethnocultural backgrounds.  For example, it is only in recent years that travel between the various countries of the Caribbean has become relatively easy and more affordable for many people from the region. And, Haiti was “foreign” because of a French-language isolation. Second and third generation children of Africa/Caribbean communities, are much more integrated with the society around them than were earlier immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. They are on their iPhones, not out playing cricket, some are even playing hockey. I think that it is the older members of our community groups who would like the closer collaboration; here I think the focus should be on sharing and enjoying social-cultural experiences. I am very much in favour of the various groups coming together to form fewer “national” associations. And these associations would have a better chance for survival if some economic activity now being undertaken by private members, could be carried out within the associations.
 
In the years since you’ve been in Canada, have you seen the situation of Blacks as changed for the better: more access to jobs, social inclusion etc.
 
There has been enormous change, and the work by some of our “heroes” in fighting for legislation should be emphasized on occasions such as Black History Month, which itself is a great accomplishment. Few people now experience the days when one would turn up on appointment to see an apartment only to be told that it “has been rented”, or to be cautioned not to cook curry in the flat. I think that opportunities for well-qualified Blacks are considerably greater now than they were 50 years ago. And there is so much opportunity to create one’s own business.. 
 
What do you see as the biggest challenges for Canada’s Black population: crime, school drop-outs, unemployment, racism?
 
Black crime, school drop-outs, unemployment, racism ; these are all big challenges. We must address them all, no need to say which is “biggest”. The big thing is to get to understand the  deeper realities behind these societal problems, and on the strength of that understanding to work towards resolutions of the problems. Families must take responsibility for their members; we must seize the opportunities which are around us; we must stamp out drugs and guns ; we must seize educational opportunities. Our community organizations must face up to their responsibility and develop programs which will build our youth.  
 
Finally, do you have a message for readers of Black Ottawa Scene?
 
“Black” is a physical description which is of secondary relevance in most situations.  Be the best person that you can be, give good counsel, give help whenever you can. This is your “home”, work to make it a better place, remembering always that anger and violence are never appropriate responses.. Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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