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Thinking Like a Voyageur – Prévoyance

Prévoyance is the ability to prepare for the unexpected in a world of uncertainty while maintaining your principles.

It is a concept introduced to Canada by the great explorer Champlain. There is no English equivalent. Pity. We could use more of this ability today.

Prévoyance is different from foresight, insight or hindsight. It describes the mindset necessary to make sound judgments despite incomplete knowledge and imperfect understanding.

  “Change is like a friend you haven’t seen in ages... it needs to be embraced before you can both laugh about the good old days.”
— Shane Koyczan

You can see why a prévoyance mindset was so important to Champlain. His voyageurs and explorers were strangers in a strange land. The unexpected was a constant companion. It was critical to let go of approaches that worked in other contexts and to nurture adaptability, versatility and comfort with ambiguity. These attributes were important for more than survival. There was an ethical dimension to Champlain’s use of the word. Champlain dream was bold and future focused. He wanted the principles of humanism and peace to take root in what he called New France.

Prévoyance is the perfect mindset for the turbulent times we live in. Cultivating prévoyance replaces fear of the unknown with preparation for the unknown.

When we are prepared, change and ambiguity become less threatening and more familiar. We are more willing to take a leap of faith. Less willing to jettison our principles.

Otherwise, fear and insecurity take root. We look for someone to blame. We exclude and ignore. We close our hearts. We attempt to force things back to the way they were.

Given that dramatic bursts of change are increasing on our planet, it might be wise to resurrect, elevate and cultivate Champlain’s version of prévoyance in all languages.

We might, as he clearly did, recover our confidence in the future.

NOTE: Two of my favourite books about Champlain are: Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer and Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny.

This blog was originally posted at, and appears here with permission.

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Al Etmanski is a community organizer, social entrepreneur and author. He is a founding partner of Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and BC Partners for Social Impact. Previously he co-founded Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) with his wife Vickie Cammack and Jack Collins. Al is an Ashoka fellow, and a faculty member of John McKnight’s Asset Based Community Development Institute (ABCD). He once played air guitar with Randy Bachman of BTO (Bachman-Turner-Overdrive) in a rock video which convinced him to stick with his day job.

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