you are a changemaker

This week, I had the opportunity to take part in experiential learning at Mount Royal University in Calgary by attending a Youth Leadership & Changemaker Camp. Our school has done an experiential learning week each semester for a few years now and has begun to reach out to post secondary institutions to create and facilitate even broader experiences for us to take part in. Although the description of the coursework/main focus of our week at MRU seemed slightly vague at first, the idea of learning more about post secondary (dorm life, students, alumni, opportunities, etc.) caught my attention. As I looked into this course option a bit more, I discovered that this course was one which would enlighten us about and aid us in taking on issues or problems that our communities faced. From massive, worldwide problems, to tiny, school wide problems, this course and our facilitators utilized multiple speakers and workshops to help us create and discover the solutions that we and the world need.

On day one, Monday, May 7th, our amazing lead facilitator, Joel, started the week off by explaining and teaching about what a changemaker was; although our course was named “Youth Leadership & Changemaker Camp”, very few of us were familiar with the use and meaning of “changemaker” as a term. But, you guessed it, he described it as anyone who made change. When put in this simple but extremely clear light, my fellow peers and I were able to see how reachable and realistic becoming a changemaker was. In fact, it was quite possible that this term could have easily described us for longer than we could have imagined. Finding an issue or problem that one is passionate or cares about and looking to attain a reasonable solution to it is all it takes to be a changemaker. I am a changemaker. Immediately, within the first hour of engaging with and learning from Joel, I was incredibly intrigued and excited to learn more about and take part in changemaking on a higher scale. After speaking a little bit more on social innovation, and the way that systems are utilized and essential in the changemaking process, we felt fully equipped to start our week and take on the social labs ahead of us. We were then treated to a movie, but one with a purpose. Joel encouraged us to look for parts of and the overall workings of a system as we watched Deepwater Horizons.

The morning of Tuesday started with a tour of the beautiful new Riddell Library and Learning Center, a four story building chock-full of tools, books, people, resources, and workspaces all designed to aid students and their learning. Despite the fact that the majority of finals were over, and most students had left for the summer, the library was still very busy. Having all of these resources available at no cost with stupidly easy access, lit another part of me on fire: I continued to get more and more excited for the fall throughout this week. We then headed over to Bisset School of Business and into the newly opened Trico Changemakers Studio. Joel introduced us to the space and then to his colleagues that work alongside him in the studio. Jill, an enthusiastic and passionate changemaker, and colleague of Joel’s, facilitated and taught, making our first social lab a complete success. We were introduced to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which created a perfect example of issues that many are passionate about that can be solved and approached with that systematic mindset. We were taught about the 3 main components needed in a changemaking system: 1. A desire or passion to solve the issue (one common goal), 2. multiple different groups or people with a diverse plethora of perspectives, abilities, and attitudes, and last, but certainly not least, 3. communication and coordination between said groups or individuals. We were put through an extremely eye opening activity in which we were first asked to write down negative qualities that we saw and recognized within a person whom we were irritated by easily, someone who essentially grinds our gears. Beside these negative qualities, we defined and outlined equal but opposite positive qualities. Next, we were faced with the challenge of taking our not-so-favorite person’s perspective and writing, for each negative quality we had outlined, a positive way that these people could be seeing this quality within themselves. For example, someone whom we might consider somewhat greedy, constantly unwilling to share or be generous, may see themselves as extremely frugal and smart with their money. Wow. The impact that this activity had was remarkable. Jill went on to drive home the lesson that we had just been taught by describing to us the crucial part that different perspectives play in problem solving and, therefore, changemaking. Then, to further reiterate the fact that both many of the issues and problems that changemakers look at, and the solutions to these are very complicated, we took part in the yarn activity. Standing around in a large circle, we were each asked to describe what we recognized as a cause of world hunger. As each of us decided on and described a cause of this massive issue, we passed a ball of yarn across the circle, resulting in a complex mess of yarn, representing the complexity and messiness of world hunger as a whole. Then, we passed the yarn back in the same pattern as we each identified a specific solution (big or small) that could abolish the aforementioned issue. After doing so, we were left with a clean slate. The communication and collaboration of the diverse array of stakeholders who hold parts in world hunger was exactly what allowed us to metaphorically remove the issue once and for all. This activity resonated deeply with many of us, as was made evident in our debriefing at the end of the night. Last, but not least, we looked at defining, for each of us individually, what our purpose was. At first, a seemingly intimidating task, soon became quite doable as our facilitator laid it out quite plainly for us; purpose was the overlap of the Venn diagram comparing ‘what I love’, ‘what I am great at’, and ‘what the world needs’. When broken down into these three simple components, I was able to define, although somewhat broadly, my purpose or what I want my purpose to eventually look like. I look forward to using this same comparison time and time again throughout my life to continue to define and pursue my purpose as I grow and change.

Wednesday’s lesson was led by another amazing facilitator, Emily. She began teaching us the outline of solution finding/problem solving by breaking it down into five simple steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. The importance of repeating these steps multiple times was also made clear to us as we took part in an activity. We were asked to chose a partner and start by depicting, very simply and quickly, what we imagined their ideal first day at post secondary would look like. Due to the uncommon nature of that specific discussion topic, my ideas for my partner, Dakoda, were quite vague and generalized. We then began the 5 step process. Step 1: empathize; each partner was given the opportunity to conduct two short interviews of the other, asking them questions about post secondary, moving, what they were leaving behind, and much, much more. It was important for us to learn as much as we could about our partner’s character and values in these few short minutes. Step 2: define; we then defined a tangible problem to find a solution for. For example: ‘Emma needs to find a way to express and be herself during her time at university while finding opportunities and experiences that will help her grow and learn.’ Finding a solution to a problem is close to impossible if the problem is not defined and set out clearly. Step 3: ideate; brainstorming was our next step, as we thought of and drew out radical ideas as to how to solve our issue. We were specifically instructed at this time to not rule out any possibilities. There was no need to back up any ideas by answering HOW, only to imagine and conceive them if we knew why. At this point, we were counselled to debrief with our partner, show them our ideas, and get as much feedback and constructive criticism as possible. As I introduced Dakoda to the ideas that I had come up with for her, she was able to impart to me excellent insights as to how I could improve on what was already good and get rid of that which was not. Going directly to the source to receive these insights was of utmost importance; so often as CEOs or presidents look for solutions to issues, they are unwilling to communicate and collaborate directly with those who their decision will effect the most. After this feedback session, we moved on. Step 4: prototype; a few craft tools were provided for us and we were then faced with the challenge of creating a visual, tangible representation of the solution that we had decided on. A wide variety of prototypes were created throughout the group– a visual display of the diversity of solutions to a fairly similar problem. Once again, the importance of multiple perspectives was reiterated. Later that afternoon, we were given the opportunity to experience excellent problem solving first hand as we walked around and learned about East Village. Once an ugly, dangerous part of town, this area is now home to some of the richest culture in all of Calgary. Housing, retail, business, etc., are all rich and diverse, presenting a very impressive change from the old, torn up nature that this area had to it. It was interesting to listen the lecture on the incredible amount of time and effort that was put into revitalizing and rejuvenating this place, whilst still keeping the older, more cultural aspect of it alive and thriving.

On our last full day, Thursday, Katharine took the floor to teach us about assumptions and the iceberg model. She spoke to the way that assumptions, although usually seen in a negative light, can actually be quite helpful when it comes to problem solving. Assuming certain things is often something that people with new and different perspectives will do. These assumptions may help these people to jump to a solution and conclusion of an issue easily. However, on the other hand, assuming things can sometimes be detrimental to the success of a solution; without in depth research and practice of the five steps of problem solving, the solution may not help at all. The iceberg model was then explained to us. The majority of an iceberg is underwater and therefore not visible to the naked eye. Our facilitator utilized a drawing of an iceberg as a way to represent an issue. What we see of an issue can be very simple and visible, however, it cannot be fully understood without diving deeper. Underneath our issues that we wrote out atop our imaginary ocean, we were instructed to outline ‘why’ this was an issue: what caused it. Directly beneath that, we outlined the ‘why’ of our reasons why the problem existed. Underlying values and ideas that were of the utmost importance to those who caused the problem became quite important when looking for a solution. Groups were then formed as we were challenged to create our own iceberg models. Once our issues were written out in full detail, we then moved on to creating a presentation outlining stakeholders and their roles in this issue.

My group and I created our presentation around quality of education because, although we are beyond grateful for our free educations, we have all experienced 13 years of it and we have some constructive criticisms to share. With the diversity that we had in our group, we were able to offer many different perspectives on teachers, parents, guidance counsellors, and so on. Both positive and negative experiences with the school system were shared as we delved deep into the root causes of the problem. Our presentation was quite successful, and taught us a lot about problem solving.

This Youth Leadership & Changemaker Camp was truly life changing for me, as cheesy as that sounds. I came away from it feeling incredibly inspired and enlightened and with new, invigorating excitement for the future and the bright opportunities which it holds. I hope to be able to continue to be a changemaker in both big and small ways and to one day be able to use my writing to change the world.