York co-sponsors transformational multi-sector conversation on Canada’s Asia-Pacific engagement

people sitting in a lecture hall

By Elaine Smith

York University President Rhonda Lenton this week attended the inaugural Canada-in-Asia Conference (CIAC) in Singapore, where she moderated a panel on higher education co-operation in the Asia-Pacific, engaged distinguished York alumni and met with senior government officials, university leaders and industry representatives from Canada and the region.

The first-ever CIAC was organized by the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada and Universities Canada. York University was an academic sponsor of the conference, attracting hundreds of industry captains, distinguished Canadian-university alumni, senior government officials from Canada and the region, as well as presidents of Canadian and regional universities and other Asia-Pacific thought leaders.

 (left to right): Julie Lafford (Assistant Vice President, Alumni Engagement), Rhonda Lenton (President and Vice-Chancellor), Sarah Bay-Cheng (Dean of AMPD) and Vinitha Gengatharan (Assistant Vice-President, Global Engagement & Partnerships)
(Left to right): Julie Lafford (assistant vice-president, Alumni Engagement), Rhonda Lenton (president and vice-chancellor), Sarah Bay-Cheng (dean of AMPD) and Vinitha Gengatharan (assistant vice-president, Global Engagement & Partnerships)

The conference brought together Canadian stakeholders and their network of alumni and partners to strategize about Canadian efforts to build stronger ties in a region that has over 65 per cent of the world’s population.  

It took place against the backdrop of the Canadian government’s commitment to invest billions of dollars towards growing Canada’s Asia-Pacific Engagement via ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Nations) and other regional partners.  

Conversations at the conference focused on geo-political trends, trade and investment, United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), higher education co-operation, talent flow and technology.  

“We are excited by our prime minister’s announcement that Canada is making a ‘generational-shift’ in investing in Asia, and how this enables conversations like the ones held at this conference. We are already seeing this pledge yield tangible results within months of his announcement through the inaugural Canada-in-Asia Conference and the Asia-Pacific Foundation’s plans for a regional office,” said Lenton. “The Canada-in-Asia Conference provides an unprecedented opportunity for us to work smarter and more effectively in the Asia-Pacific region by bringing Canadians and Canada’s friends in the region under one roof. Universities such as York University bring tremendous value to these conversations.”

Sharing the vision of York’s Global Engagement Strategy

On the sidelines of the conference, Lenton met with senior government officials, university leaders and industry representatives from Canada and the region. She also visited the National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University to meet with their presidents to discuss research, entrepreneurship, experiential learning and sustainability. During these conversations, Lenton shared York’s inaugural Global Engagement Strategy priorities and exchanged ideas about working together in the region.    

“As a York alumnus and Singapore’s representative in Canada, I am proud to see York’s new Global Engagement Strategy position the University in important national and multilateral conversations like the Canada-in-Asia Conference 2023,” said Chia-yi Chua, Singapore’s honorary consul-general in Toronto and York alumnus (Osgoode Hall Law, 1993). “I am confident it would serve York’s objectives to better engage the region, improve its visibility in the region, strengthen alumni relations and increase strategic partnerships.”

Connecting with alumni

Engaging alumni to strengthen Canada’s reach in the region was an integral part of CIAC.

Lenton hosted an “alumni and friends” reception during her visit, including a speech from Sara Wilshaw, Canada’s chief trade commissioner and alumna. High school counsellors, admitted degree-seeking students, York students in Singapore and Singaporean university students planning to travel to York were also invited to attend the reception.

Lenton and Sarah Bay-Cheng, dean of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, connected with many distinguished York alumni during their visit at CIAC and other engagements, including: Hian Siang Chan and Paulina Lau, who supported the Paulina Lau Scholars Program; Venka Purushothaman, deputy president, La Salle College of the Arts; Cameron Mackay, high commissioner of Canada in India; and Navdeep Bains, CIBC vice-chair of Global Investment Banking and former minister of innovation, science, and economic Development.

Promoting Canada as a compelling partner in the Asia-Pacific

During the conference and surrounding events, Lenton discussed Canada’s value as a compelling partner, noting Canada’s ability to work across many cultures and peoples domestically and abroad, and its willingness to have difficult conversations on decolonization to redress historical wrongs.

Lenton also noted that Canadian universities are considered leaders in advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) according to Times Higher Education (THE). The ranking closely evaluates universities on how they advance UN SDGs in collaboration with local and global partners. York University was named in the world’s top 35 in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022 for strengthening its impact on the UN SDGs.