Fellowship Program

Summer 2020

The Social Connectedness Fellowship empowers students and recent graduates to carry out innovative research that will inspire local and global action to build community and belonging.

Over the past few months, our Fellows conducted research with partner organizations to address issues relating to social isolation and belonging, connect with experts and communities who can inform their research questions, engage virtually and creatively with the communities their research is designed to serve, and offer recommendations across community, program, research, and policy areas to build belonging and connectedness.

The final reports have been published. Click on a Fellow to read their report and more about their work.

Community Engagement Initiatives

Looking for inspiration on how to engage communities in creative ways, especially virtually? An important component of the Fellowship program is conducting community engagement initiatives, where Fellows engage virtually and creatively with the communities their research is designed to serve. From roundtable discussions to podcasts to zoom training, our Fellows reached over 2000 people globally through their initiatives this year. Read all the reports, where Fellows explain why they chose their type of engagement, who it was meant to serve and the impact it had on their research and the community.


Bianca Braganza | Exploring Community Mental Health Models in Toronto

Bianca is a second year JD/BCL student at McGill’s Faculty of Law and holds an Honours Bachelor of Health Sciences from Western University, and a Master of Science in Global Health from McMaster University. She grew up in Toronto, and is passionate about children and youth access to education and justice, as well as the intersection of health, economic development, community building and resilience, and the law.

Bianca worked with the City of Toronto to examine how mental health resources and models from the Jane-Finch community can be replicated and sustained.

Community Engagement Initiative: Bianca hosted an interactive zoom session with 24 youth from the Jane-Finch community to learn what challenges in mental and physical health the youth were facing, and what changes they could foresee in their community to make better, lasting change in community violence and trauma. The findings were shared back with the City of Toronto to inform their community safety plan. Read the report: Community Healing and Youth Rights in Jane and Finch.

Final Report: Community Violence, Trauma and Healing in the Jane and Finch Community

The Jane and Finch community is situated within a region located in the Northwest region of the city of Toronto, and is one that experiences systemic racism, state violence, and oppression. This manifests in the form of community violence, community trauma, and mental illness. Grassroots initiatives like the Mental Health First Aid training, conducted by community members for community members, as well as other peer-led initiatives such as the Community Healing Project, are programs and initiatives that exemplify the power of healing and resilience-building from within the community. This report will examine these community-led initiatives and use narrative data derived from MHFA, Community Healing Project as well as the City of Toronto’s Community Safety Forums as a source of knowledge for building and increasing the ability of the City of Toronto to implement successful programming that is culturally appropriate, and to build a plan to create a trauma-informed response to community safety and community violence. 

Keywords: community violence, community trauma, healing, youth engagement, capacity building, mental health, Toronto, Jane Finch


Hana Geadah | Evaluating the Household Model on Health Outcomes

Hana grew up between Washington, D.C. and Beirut and moved to Montreal to complete an interdisciplinary Bachelor’s Degree in Cognitive Science and African Studies from McGill University. Hana has long been interested in the efficacy of health care and is dedicated to the realization of anti-oppressive policy at community and structural levels. She is particularly interested in how successful community systems can improve wellbeing and health outcomes. Hana plans to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Health in order to further her understanding of effective health care policies to support social change.

Hana worked with Partners In Health Liberia to analyze the impact of the household model in Liberia on the communities’ well-being, health and sense of social connectedness.

Community Engagement Initiative: Hana co-organized a zoom session with 50 community health workers (CHWs) in Maryland, Liberia to go over the surveys they completed and discuss what resources the CHWs need to support their work and sense of connectedness. Read the report: Household Model Visioning.

Final Report: The Household Model as a Tool for Change

As global demands for universal health care are reiterated with few concrete actions, community health programs remain a hopeful solution. The aim of this paper is to understand what components are important in building successful and sustainable community health programs. Specifically, this report examines the benefits of the household model, primary care, and social connectedness in health outcomes. The paper describes three case studies to highlight specific and tangible actions that community health programs may take. These are the Brazil Family Health Strategy Program, the Partners In Health Liberia household model, and a Bangladesh community volunteer program. Supportive government policies that advocate for accessible and universal health coverage are fundamental, and financial support for both community health workers and their patients are important in ensuring lasting success.

Keywords: universal health care, community health programs, primary care, Partners In Health, household model, social connectedness, sustainable health models

Emma Greenfield | Building Indigenous Post-Secondary Student Success

Emma Greenfield is currently working towards her Master of Education in Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Emma is passionate about anti-oppressive education and decolonizing pedagogies. Her work largely centres around reimagining education systems that are more inclusive of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit stories, knowledge, and perspectives. Emma grew up in Schomberg, Ontario and currently resides in Toronto. She is British, Irish, French, Italian, and Mohawk.

Emma worked with TakingITGlobal to document the barriers and best practices within post-secondary institutions to create more inclusive environments for Indigenous students.

Community Engagement Initiative: Emma hosted a virtual knowledge sharing event with staff and faculty across Canada to discuss common challenges and best practices in supporting Indigenous students amidst COVID-19. Read the full report Still Thriving or the shortened version (infographic).

Final Report: Supporting Indigenous Student Success in Post-Secondary Education (word version), or read the visual version of the final report.

As more Indigenous students enter into post-secondary institutions, many colleges and universities are making commitments to advance Indigenous education and success. Although this is the case, barriers still exist that First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and Afro-Indigenous students confront along their educational journey. This report identifies these barriers by analyzing the policies, practices, and resources of post-secondary institutions across Canada. It also explores the already existing supports that allow Indigenous students to thrive in college and university. 

Surveys and interviews with staff and faculty who work with Indigenous students illuminate two factors: what colleges and universities are currently doing to support Indigenous post-secondary students and the barriers that continue to impact Indigenous students despite these supports being in place. Recommendations for colleges and universities emerge from the findings that are organized into the following categories: Recruiting, Applying, Transitioning, Studying, Graduating, and Recommendations Specific to COVID-19. Implications for future research and advocacy are also identified.

 Keywords: Indigenous, students, post-secondary education, barriers, First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and Afro-Indigenous students, thriving

Ji Yoon Han | Addressing the Challenges of Migrant Workers during COVID-19

Ji Yoon completed her Honours Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Bioethics from the University of Toronto. She grew up in Oakville, Ontario, but has lived in South Korea, the United States and Germany. She is currently finishing up the first year of her Master of Public Policy at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. She is passionate about building robust global governance institutions and hopes to pursue a career in an international organization advocating for a sustainable, inclusive system for all.

Ji Yoon worked with SCSC to explore the impact of COVID-19 on migrant workers in Canada and create a toolkit on how to host virtual events like a policy hackathon.

Community Engagement Initiative: Ji Yoon led the Fellowship policy hackathon, where Fellows worked in team to create community/policy proposals that address the harmful impacts of COVID-19 on certain populations: older people, people with disabilities and those experiencing domestic violence. 3 roundtables were hosted afterwards gathering Fellowship partners and other experts in these areas to give feedback and explore how SCSC and partners can take the proposals forward. Read the report: The Roundtables. She also compiled a toolkit for any individual or organization to develop their own policy hackathon.

Final Report: Temporary Foreign Workers and COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, temporary foreign workers (TFWs) have been susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks at their place of employment. TFWs have reported diminished access to healthcare and been subject to widespread abuse from employers. This report draws on literature reviews and interviews to investigate the experiences of TFWs during the COVID-19 pandemic and identifies how different actors have responded. While some changes in policy have resulted in more avenues to report abuse, these measures don’t go far enough. It is clear the infrastructure that enables abuse and poor health outcomes won’t change until stakeholders challenge the notion that migrant workers are “temporary”. This report makes recommendations on how to reimagine the migrant worker program to give workers the rights and access to resources they deserve.

Keywords: temporary foreign worker, COVID-19, healthcare, social equity, isolation, community, immigration, pandemic, open work permit, employment

Lebogang Mahlalela | Diversifying Leadership Models in South Africa

Lebo completed an Honours degree in Sociology, as well as a Bachelor of Political Science in International Relations from the University of Pretoria. She grew up in South Africa, and moved around a lot, living in Uganda, the United States and Rwanda. She is passionate about social justice and committed to building a society completely free from all forms of oppression. Lebo is also interested in revolutionary politics and social movements. Her goal is to gain experience, deepened knowledge and networks in order to fully participate in meaningfully constructing a society founded on equality and justice — through praxis, writing and action.

Lebo worked with Synergos Institute South Africa to identify how social connectedness builds better leaders through the Social Connectedness Programme.

Community Engagement Initiative: Lebo hosted an online panel discussion followed by breakout sessions to discuss how youth can be better supported to become bridging leaders. 30 people were in attendance including students and 5 youth-serving organizations in South Africa. Read the report: Bridging Leadership and Social Connectedness.

Final Report: Strengthening Leadership Development in Southern Africa

The report explores the impact of social connectedness on leadership development and in diversifying leadership models in South Africa. The research explores and analyzes the linkages between the Bridging Leadership approach and Social Connectedness, as well as the Synergos Social Connectedness programme. Key findings from the research interviews found that social connectedness increased the competencies of effective leadership within leaders and influenced the respondents’ leadership values. In particular, the respondents cited its impact on the level of inner work, their relationship with others, as well as impacting positively on their professional work. Furthermore, respondents cited social connectedness as significantly increasing their self-awareness, deep listening, collaborative skills, resilience, confidence, as well as other leadership competencies which contributed towards creating a ‘bridging individual’. Ultimately, the report underscores the reciprocal relationship between social connectedness and the Bridging leadership approach.The research concludes with key recommendations at the level of programmes, partner, policy, and practice to strengthen leadership and organizational management across the region.

Keywords: leadership, bridging leadership, bridging individual, leadership models, organizational management, resilience, youth leadership, South Africa, empathy, collaboration

Brief: Lebo also created a short visual version of the final report.

Hannah Melville-Rea | Strengthening Air Pollution Communication

With parents from Australia and New Zealand, Hannah grew up in Osaka, Japan. She studied Political Science and Economics at New York University Abu Dhabi and developed an interest in climate policy. Following graduation, she remained in the UAE to pursue independent research on the socio-political impacts of climate disasters, focusing on drought in Australia. Hannah aspires to work at the intersection between research and policy to aid our transition towards a low-carbon economy and climate resilient future.

Hannah worked with Data-Driven EnviroLab to explore additional environmental indicators to add to the Urban Environment and Social Inclusion Index.

Community Engagement Initiative: Hannah launched a survey in the United Arab Emirates (AUE) asking migrants and citizens how they prefer to receive information about air pollution. From the 263 survey responses, she created tailored infographics and videos that were shared with the UAE government to aid their communication efforts. Read the report: UAE Air Quality Information Campaign.

Final Report: Explaining Our Air

Air pollution kills 4.2 million people per year, yet, most people are under-informed about its risks and impacts. At the same time, disparities exist in air pollution exposure, monitoring, and communication. Primary research – interviews with sixteen air quality experts and a survey conducted in the United Arab Emirates – explores these challenges. Clear gaps exist in communicating air quality public health information to those who are most exposed. The language of communication must be more accessible and highlight practical ways to avoid exposure to air pollution. Meanwhile, governments should invest more into tailored information campaigns for populations most vulnerable to air pollution and proactively pursue pollution mitigation efforts.

Keywords: environment, air pollution, air quality, UAE, social inclusion, communication, monitoring, survey research, environmental justice, cities

Webpage: In addition to the final report, Hannah created a webpage on Data-Driven Lab’s website exploring the distribution of urban residents’ exposure to air pollution and ways to make air quality information more accessible and inclusive.

Video: Hannah also produced a video about the impacts of air pollution on everyday citizens and measures we can all take to mitigate these impacts.

Olivia Najdovski | Engaging Siblings with Intellectual Disabilities

Olivia graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science specializing in Psychology. She was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. Olivia is passionate about research and its applications, fueled by her involvement in psychology research at the University of Toronto. More specifically, she has a strong interest in the application of research findings to develop solutions for complex, real-world issues. Olivia aspires to pursue a PhD in Organizational Behaviour.

Olivia worked with Special Olympics International to better understand the sibling experience of athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Community Engagement Initiative: Olivia administered a survey to Special Olympics athlete leaders to better understand athletes’ sibling relationships. She also partook in a podcast hosted by Special Chronicles to discuss her inclusive research along with International Board Member and Athlete Leader Ben Haack. The podcast received 250 live views. Read the report: Sibling Survey and the Special Chronicles Podcast.

Final Report: Intellectual Disability and Sibling Relationships

This research project sought to address two main questions: (1) How do Special Olympics athletes experience the sibling relationship? (2) What supports are needed for siblings with and without ID? A review of the literature revealed that siblings of individuals with disabilities face a variety of unique challenges, including poor mental health outcomes and caregiving difficulties. Surveys and interviews were conducted to understand the perspectives of Special Olympics athlete leaders and their siblings. Overall, athlete leaders had strong, positive relationships with their siblings. Many siblings of athlete leaders were advocates for inclusion in their community. The majority of challenges that athlete leaders face are a result of negative attitudes towards disability in the community. Athletes leaders and their siblings communicated a desire for programming that facilitates sibling connection and collaboration It was recommended that Special Olympics conduct inclusive athlete-sibling research on a larger scale. Additionally, a variety supports and services for siblings of athletes were recommended.

Keywords: disability, inclusion, research, siblings, family, Special Olympics, North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Africa

Infographics: To accompany the written report, Olivia produced visual infographics – one detailing the literature review on sibling relationships, and the other detailing the results and recommendations from the report.

Sarah Roberts | Surveying Refugee Integration Across Canada

Sarah has spent the majority of her life calling the east coast of Canada her beloved home. She is currently studying Management with a major in Entrepreneurship and Innovation and a Minor in Economics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Throughout her degree, Sarah has cultivated a passion about the struggles of newcomers to Canada as well as new entrepreneurs. Whether she starts her own social enterprise or works within one, she is devoted to creating positive social change throughout her career.

Sarah worked with SCSC under the Common Threads program to document integration services for newly arrived migrants across Canada.

Community Engagement Initiative: Sarah created The Postcard Project, a cross Canada storytelling initiative that shared stories about forced migration to Canada and printed them on postcards alongside local artwork. 500 postcards were distributed to 10 public locations across the country, and her website reached over 1000 people from 16 countries. Read the report: The Postcard Project.

Final Report: The Unique Strengths and Weaknesses of Refugee Integration in Second Tier Cities

In Canada, the majority of refugees resettle in three main cities: Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. Nonetheless, smaller, secondary cities play an integral role in the overall landscape of Canadian refugee resettlement. As there is such a high concentration of refugees resettling in these three cities, little research has been done on the integration of refugees into smaller, secondary cities. This research attempts to address this by providing insight on the unique strengths and weaknesses of refugee integration in second tier cities in Canada. The report synthesizes existing literature and first-hand accounts from two main cities, London, Ontario and Winnipeg, Manitoba to retrieve overarching findings for second tier cities across the country. In addition to identifying the unique characteristics of second tier cities, recommendations are made with the intention of informing positive change for refugee integration in second tier cities across Canada. 

Keywords: refugee, integration, London, Winnipeg, settlement services, second tier, cities, resettlement, strengths, weaknesses, successful integration

Mayumi Sato | Understanding Belonging for Older People

Mayumi is a current postgraduate student studying Sociology at the University of Cambridge. Having lived in several countries in Asia, North America, and Europe, she is passionate about social and environmental activism, and building bridges between scholarship, community advocacy, and policymaking from the local to the global level. She developed this ethos while working in Thailand and Laos in development and research for migrant workers, Indigenous rights, and community rights as a Princeton in Asia Fellow. In the future, she hopes to continue her work in gender, climate, and racial justice by working alongside local and underserved communities around the world.

Mayumi worked with HelpAge International to document what belonging means to older people, starting with the country of Moldova.

Community Engagement Initiative: Mayumi hosted an intergenerational mentorship program, where individuals in the social justice sector could sign up to be a mentor or mentee and form informal connections. 89 people participated from 27 countries. Ready the report: Social Networking Through Social Justice.

Final Report: Understanding Social Connectedness Amongst Older People

This research, Understanding Social Connectedness amongst Older People in Low-Income and Middle-Income Countries (LMCs), examines how older people in Moldova experience, understand, and pursue social connectedness and belonging. Through a joint study between HelpAge International and the Samuel Centre, Moldova serves as a case study of a global analysis of how older people understand and value social connectedness. Through a participatory action research, which integrates older peoples’ voices in Moldova as a part of the research process, survey questionnaires were conducted with 51 older people, of various geographical, residential, gender, ethnic, and cultural identities in 12 villages and cities. Findings demonstrate that older communities define social connectedness in variable ways, which is contingent on intersecting individual and family circumstances, gender, existing government services, length of time spent in the community, and access to resources. In identifying the determinants that lead to the fulfillment of social belonging, and the potential outcomes from their absence, this research contributes to an increasing body of literature around improving older peoples’ sense of belonging and social connectedness in LMCs.

Keywords: older peoples rights, low-income and middle-income countries, Moldova, social connectedness, belonging, intersectionality

Summary Report: HelpAge International also published a summary of Mayumi’s report.

Lateisha Ugwuegbula | Building an Indigenous-Led Learning System

Born and raised in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Lateisha has an undergraduate degree in International Relations from the University of Western Ontario and has recently completed a Master of Development Practice at the University of Waterloo. She is passionate about development and social justice and reducing inequalities for disadvantaged and marginalized communities, particularly through education. In the future Lateisha hopes to pursue a PhD in Social Justice Education and to continue to educate and empower herself and others.

Lateisha worked with Elders and Knowledge Holders from Manitoba (with the support of the Misipawistik Cree Nation) to build a foundation of research and case studies to support the early development of an Indigenous-led Traditional learning system in Manitoba.

Community Engagement Initiative: Lateisha hosted an online roundtable discussion with 8 Elders to envision an Indigenous-led traditional learning space in Manitoba and to share back the results of some of the interviews she conducted earlier in the summer with various Elders and education experts. Read the report: Traditional Education Roundtable.

Final Report: Reclaiming Education: Indigenous Control of Indigenous Education

This report examines the legacy and consequences of settler colonialism, White supremacy and racism on Indigenous education, culture, identity, and languages, as well as outline the power of Indigenous control of Indigenous education. Drawing from evidence gathered from Elders, Knowledge holders, and representatives of established places of traditional learning, Indigenous-led Traditional Education has the power to foster positive self-identity, self-confidence, and self-perception; cultivate a deep connection to the land and Indigenous culture; support language revitalization; promote community healing, mental health and well-being; and instil a sense of social connectedness and a right to belong.

Keywords: Traditional education, Indigenous-led, Canada, Manitoba, identity, culture, Indigenous, land, language