By Elaine Smith
Although they have now graduated, a team of students who took part in York University’s Go Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Action Student Challenge hope to continue pursuing opportunities to incorporate their community-oriented projects into university extracurriculars.
With funding from the Government of Canada’s outbound student mobility pilot program Global Skills Opportunity, the Student Challenge aims to empower York students and their peers around the world to take action toward achieving the United Nations SDGs with a global lens under the supervision of York International.
Under the auspices of the challenge, two York students, Christiane Marie Canillo, who earned her bachelor of arts (BA) in psychology, and Ravichandiranesan Ponnudurai, a bachelor of environmental studies graduate, along with two students from the University of the Philippines Diliman – Renchillina Supan, a BA sociology graduate, and Mila Monica Maralit, a master of arts in tourism student – connected to work toward ensuring SDG 4: Quality Education. Now known as the iGoCitizen team, they welcomed a new member in November 2022: Anjali Kumar, a BA in law and society graduate from York University, who also shares motivation to transform conversation into active global citizenship.
In the winter of 2022, the team earned the SDGs in Action Creative Solutions Award for exhibiting a high degree of interdisciplinary thinking to mobilize and engage communities to act on the SDGs. And that was only the beginning.
The iGoCitizen team determined that global citizenship education (GCED) is integral to achieving the SDGs because it teaches action skills for quality education. Their pilot project, based on a discourse analysis, targeted the need to integrate GCED into school curricula as extracurricular activities. This helped them build this program, which organizes and equips teams with global citizenship learnings, design thinking and project management skills that allow them to create socially grounded and concept-based social action plans (SAPs) in their own communities.
“We need a relevant and transformative education that will enable learners to think critically and act toward a more ‘just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive’ society,” they wrote in their plan.
Starting with Sri Lanka, the team prepared a country-specific curriculum to teach students about social cohesion, peace-building and active citizenship, and challenged them to create SAPs for their own communities.
Creating the curriculum required extensive research, consultations and discussions, and it would have been easy for the iGoCitizen team to hand in their deliverables and walk away at the end of the semester. Instead, they created an opportunity to deliver the curriculum the following fall, piloting it as a five-day hybrid workshop in partnership with VISIONS Global Empowerment Sri Lanka and the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka.
Ponnudurai was on hand to deliver content live, while the other team members taught and facilitated the online portions of the workshop. The enthusiasm that greeted the workshop made them eager to keep the project alive.
“The participants wanted to model GCED and do projects in real time in Jaffna,” said Ponnudurai. “We all saw their passion. After three decades of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the younger generation wants to make changes to help rebuild their communities. This is so important in order to achieve the SDGs.”
Supan said, “It was great to see our ideas become reality. We met virtually to create this project, and I never thought that our concept notes would lead to social action plans and actual impact on student engagement activities.”
The iGoCitizen team is working on the possible second implementation in Sri Lanka and project contextualization in the Philippines. Anticipated efforts also include iterations to other countries not initially included in their discourse analysis, since there have been inquiries from countries such as Mexico. The team is also finalizing a memorandum of understanding discussion with their non-governmental organization partner, VISIONS Global Empowerment Sri Lanka.
It is challenging, because the team has limited funding and human resources, and members are also managing personal commitments such as work and studies. Nonetheless, all members remain passionate and committed. They hope that another team of students who join the Go Global SDGs in Action Student Challenge will be interested in pursuing the iGoCitizen initiative elsewhere in the world.
“York University’s SDGs in Action project team is in awe of team iGoCitizen. They are a model for anyone who aspires to create change and positive impact in their community(ies),” said Helen Balderama, director of global engagement and partnerships for York International. “With passion, determination and collaborations, the possibilities are endless.”
The 2023-24 SDGs in Action Knowledge Fair (third edition) is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 6 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Those interested can register to join the conversation and learn about the student groups’ transformative SDGs projects.