York MES student receives prestigious fellowship

Anil Patel, a second-year student in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) master’s program, is one of Canada’s top emerging young leaders. In September, Patel received a coveted Action Canada Fellowship. Each year the Vancouver-based Action Canada Foundation selects up to 20 of Canada’s “best and brightest young emerging leaders” – those in the early stages of their careers or enrolled in graduate studies – for a year-long program focusing on leadership development and public policy projects of significance to Canada. The fellowship carries with it a $20,000 stipend, in addition to travel and meeting expenses.

Left: Anil Patel in the Monte Verde Reserve in Costa Rica 

“Needless to say, I am delighted and honoured to have been chosen for this distinction,” said Patel.

The Fellows come together for three working conferences during the year of their fellowship. The first of these sessions, held in Vancouver, took place in September. There will be a second session in February 2005, in Ottawa, and the third will take place in the Yukon in June.

The Action Canada program is a collaboration among philanthropist and businessman Samuel Belzberg, Simon Fraser University and four federal government departments – the Departments of Canadian Heritage, Human Resources & Skills Development Canada, Indian & Northern Affairs, and Justice Canada. In their investigations the Fellows are given an opportunity to consult with top experts as well as senior civil servants who make and execute public policy.

The project that Patel has chosen for the year, along with four other Action Canada Fellows, is one they have called the Pokawiyak Connection. “The project addresses the fact that many non-Aboriginal Canadians remain unaware and uninformed about Aboriginal issues and culture,” said Patel. “As a result, Aboriginal organizations have problems building a broad base of support within the general community. Pokawiyak means ‘Everybody’ in Cree. In the name comes the connection the group wants to make by connecting more Canadians to aboriginal organizations.”

Patel has adapted his MES plan of study to focus on this major action-research project. Each student enrolled in the MES program develops an individual plan of study, which maps out the topic and work plan which the student will then spend the rest of their graduate studies completing. The study also sets out specific goals and objectives for their program. Patel’s broad field of interest is “praxis in civic engagement methodologies”, particularly the role that Canada’s voluntary sector can play in building stronger communities. He is strongly interested in multi-stakeholder processes.

After graduating from Queen’s University with a BSc in environmental chemistry, Patel, who recently turned 30, went to work for the brewing company Molson. There he initiated a comprehensive litter and waste audit for the company and brought his concerns to the attention of senior management. “They were shocked and dismayed about the volume of material that could be either substituted with other options or recycled, and some easy changes were implemented. After that success, I knew that I couldn’t let my passion for environmental issues remain a part-time hobby. It was time to make a career out of it,” he said.

Making the decision to return to school, Patel said he chose York because of its interdisciplinary approach to problem solving. “I realized the complexity of environmental issues included social, organizational and economic considerations as well. I was actually surprised such an innovative program existed in Canada. My search for a graduate program had me looking everywhere but my own backyard.

“FES has truly broadened my interpretation of environmental issues,” said Patel. “The thinking in the Faculty has been the single largest influence on my development to date, in particular on values and the role of Aboriginal culture with respect to environmentalism.”

Not content carrying only a full course load at York, Patel has also been leading the development of a new charity. He rose to public prominence earlier this year as co-founder and program director of the Framework Foundation, a new type of NGO that encourages young people aged 22 to 35 to volunteer their time for community causes. The foundation’s first “timeraiser” in Toronto, held on April 24 at the CBC Broadcasting Centre, was a roaring success, in which 400 Toronto residents pledged a total of 13,500 volunteer hours for work in the community. Participants made an initial pledge of 20 volunteer hours, and then took part in a silent auction bidding further volunteer hours for paintings acquired from local artists. The goal was also to support the artists in a meaningful way, so $38,000 was raised separately to purchase the paintings rather than ask the artist for a donation. The foundation’s fundraising efforts for the year topped $90,000, Patel said.

The event was so successful that the foundation is planning another Toronto timeraiser in April 2005.

Patel also sits on the board of Altruvest Charitable Services, a capacity building organization in the voluntary sector; he has his own environmental consulting company, Our Planet Solutions, that helps businesses embrace sustainability principles in their operations; and he is a member of a Volunteer Canada steering committee planning a national conference next February to develop an action plan for the future of volunteerism in Canada.

Selection criteria for the Action Canada Fellowship include a record of leadership and/or extraordinary achievement apart from academic studies, demonstrated postsecondary or intellectual achievement, a passion for Canada, and the potential to be a future leader.

FES Professor Femida Handy, who researches the non-profit sector in Canada and is Patel’s MES advisor, says of Patel: “Anil exemplifies the MES student who maximizes the synergies created from his school work, his passion and his volunteer experiences.”

Another 2004/2005 Action Canada Fellow is Severn Cullis-Suzuki, the environmental and social justice activist who visited York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and spoke to 500 high-school students at an FES-organized forum. (See the April 6 issue of YFile.)

This article was submitted to YFile by Maxwell Brem, director, office of external relations, Faculty of Environmental Studies.