The Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University hosted Olivia Chow, founder and executive director of the Institute for Change Leaders, for a leadership workshop.
Financial support for this event came from the School of Graduate Studies, the Dean of Humanities & Social Science, the T.E.W. Nind Endowment Fund, Indigenous Studies, the Interdispcilinary Social Research PHD, Trent School of the Environment, Gender and Social Justice, and Canadian Studies.
Read on for a perspective from Elisa Knight, an undergraduate Canadian Studies and International Development student.
In mid-October, the School for the Study of Canada (CAST) at Trent University hosted the Institute for Change Leadership workshop. Over two days, undergraduate and graduate students from several departments worked with Olivia Chow and her team of facilitators to develop skills related to activism and leadership.
This workshop was very different from others I’ve attended. There was a strategic approach to activism that covered bringing your cause to the people who hold power in society. We learned that while raising awareness is important, knowledge itself does not always lead to active social change. Instead, when the aim is any type of social revolution, it’s key to have an understanding of how to use power dynamics to our advantage.
To start, Olivia Chow asked us to divide ourselves into groups based on the activist role we most often played: helper, advocate, rebel, organizer. Once we were in our groups (I was a helper), we arranged ourselves according to how long we had been in that role, and I took charge of organizing the line. After a few minutes, I was moved over to the organizer section by the facilitators, which helped me to understand that a person's knowledge or experience of a cause does not affect their approach to activism and leadership.
We learned how to develop a Theory of Change, and to target our activism so that our messages would reach people in power, and influence them to put our issues on their agenda. We worked to create our own strategy and theory of change based off of a situation that was going on at the time - namely convincing the Canadian government to not appeal the Indigenous child welfare decision.
On the second day, Olivia helped us tell our own story - specifically focusing on turning our personal experience into a narrative that calls others to action about a specific cause.
It’s necessary to include both head and heart in your approach to activism. For me, the story has always been the hardest part. As a very logical person, I prefer the logistical side to the emotional. This seminar gave me the chance to really explore and develop my story in a way I could understand.
At the end of the day, each person took what they wanted from the seminar in order to help them build on their strengths. Every attendee had the same feedback - it was great, we just wish we’d had more time!