McLaughlin College partners with social justice NGOs and Ontario universities on skill-building workshop for students

Photo by Donatello Trisolino from Pexels

Last month, McLaughlin College partnered with two social justice NGOs, the Institute for Change Leaders (ICL) and Canada-Hong Kong Link, as well as Ryerson University and Trent University, to provide a two-day workshop for student activists on how they can harness their innate personal leadership and community organizational skills to further social justice causes and advance the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Olivia Chow during the online ICL workshop
Olivia Chow, founder of the Institute for Change Leaders (ICL), helped facilitate the two-day workshop for students

Founded and led by Olivia Chow, one of Canada’s best known community activists and a former local and federal politician, the Institute for Change Leaders (ICL) teaches the skills and knowledge that organizers need to create social change. Canada-Hong Kong Link is an NGO working to protect the human rights and the democratic freedoms of the citizens of Hong Kong.

The virtual workshop brought together students from York, Ryerson and Trent campuses, along with members of the NGO community and front-line social justice and political activists, with the common collective goal of furthering a more socially just and caring society and world.

On Feb. 22, day one of the workshop was dedicated to introducing Professor Marshall Ganz’s “Community Organization Model” to the students. Ganz is the Rita T. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organization, and Civil Society at Harvard University, and is famous for assisting U.S. President Barack Obama with his successful back-to-back national electoral victories. Students were instructed on how to develop their personal narrative so they could form their own social action initiatives to mobilize support around a particular social justice cause.

Day two of the workshop, on Feb. 24, was dedicated to how to formulate and mobilize broad-based support within a local community by utilizing effective, high-impact strategies to leverage power and influence centers within a policy field to further any socially just cause. How students could take positive action to advance the United Nations’ SDGs was also highlighted.

Zoom screenshot of the workshop participants
Participants from York University, Trent and Ryerson are shown on an ICL workshop with Chow

“We were delighted to be invited to be part of McLaughlin College’s Social Justice week’s commemorations and activities to deliver our program in conjunction with Ryerson University, Trent University, and Canada-Hong Kong Link,” said Chow. “February is Black History Month (BHM), and it is important to bring social justice causes to the forefront as part of February’s planned events and activities.”

She went on to note that it is always deeply satisfying to work with young student social justice advocates and activists to help to develop and hone their leadership skills and capacities. “I learn as much from the students as I am sure that they learn from me at these highly dynamic and interactive sessions,” she said. “They are truly uplifting and inspiring experiences.”

The pandemic and “lockdown” of universities and colleges have created the opportunity to try new ways of undertaking higher education remotely and online to enhance student engagement, motivation, and above all, learning.

“This tri-university collaboration with the ICL and Canada-Hong Kong Link, along with other social justice and political activists, provided our students with new modes and opportunities of interacting with others across university campuses and with community activists and leaders,” said Head of McLaughlin College James C. Simeon. “This is undoubtedly a meaningful form of Experiential Education (EE) that we think can really benefit as well as accelerate our students’ learning.”

Simeon also noted that with the success of this collaboration, McLaughlin College is looking forward to finding new ways to bring these types of personal capacity-building and community benefit opportunities to students in the future.