On October 2nd, the Fall 2017 Jeanne Sauvé Forum Series on Social Connectedness and International Development continued with an event entitled, Youth Leadership and Social Change Beyond Canada 150.
The Sauvé Series, created by Professor Kim Samuel in collaboration with the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation, explores the root causes of social isolation, along with strategies for building social connectedness through international policy and program development. It began last fall with weekly discussions at the historic Jeanne Sauvé House in Montreal covering a variety of topics, from the UN Sustainable Development Goals to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The Series is also closely linked with Professor Samuel’s fourth-year seminar course on social connectedness at McGill University, the first of its kind.
The October 2nd event focused on youth-led social change and issues surrounding the social isolation of young people. Convened were three emerging leaders working to empower youth and build social connectedness in Canada and around the world: Kluane Adamek from Our Voices: Yukon First Nations Emerging Leaders; Jennifer Corriero, Co-Founder and Executive Director of TakingITGlobal; and Sabrina Sassi, Researcher, Activist and 2015-2017 Sauvé Fellow.
Moderator Kim Samuel opened with a simple but powerful message to all the young people in the audience and others across Canada and around the world: “You matter, you are valued, and you belong.” However, she noted that “in some ways, today’s young people have been dealt one of the toughest hands of any generation to date,” and “too often are made to feel all alone.” She cited challenges such as bullying, mental illness, unemployment, poverty and armed conflict around the world, and suicides among Indigenous youth in Canada.
Nevertheless, Professor Samuel expressed great hope and confidence in the ability of young people to lead movements that bring people together. “When young people are empowered to engage their peers and the wider world around them, they can lead the way in building solidarity through greater connection,” she said.
Jennifer Corriero encouraged the audience to do just that, asking, “What would you do if anything was possible? Have you shared that with anyone in your life? Have you had the space to do so?” She recalled asking herself these very questions years ago as she was completing her undergraduate degree and — like many young people — trying to figure out what to do next. Recognizing the convening power of new technologies, she saw an opportunity to bring people together and turn ideas into action, resulting in the creation of TakingITGlobal.
Kluane Adamek, from Kluane First Nation in the Yukon, started an initiative that brought together Indigenous youth, as she explained, to honour them and let them know they are not alone. The idea was to assemble somewhere outside, experience nature and Indigenous arts and crafts, and have conversations about difficult issues such as suicide and residential schools. In all, individuals from 14 First Nations attended the inaugural gathering. The next year, the event grew to include 50 workshops, and funders were encouraged to support the ideas of young participants. “Even if only one or two young people left feeling better about themselves, that’s all that matters,” said Kluane.
Sabrina Sassi then talked about her work combatting hate speech and radicalization among youth. To illustrate the wrong approach, she described the Pontourny de-radicalization centre in France, calling it an “epic fail” due to the shock therapy treatment at-risk youth there were forced to undergo. As she explained, many were forced to sing the French national anthem each morning and have discussions about the traditional French democratic values of liberté, égalité, fraternité. The right approach, she argued, is to build bridges and create opportunities for youth at risk of radicalization so that they have a say in their future.
During discussion, the speakers were asked what they think are some of the drivers of social isolation among youth. Jennifer answered that the transition for young people to independence can expose a number of vulnerabilities and create anxieties. Technology and media can amplify these anxieties, in the worst cases resulting in radicalization or suicide. Similarly, Sabrina explained that young people’s twenties can be rife with self-doubt; for example, it is hard to get a job and denials can be challenging, especially if you are part of a vulnerable group.
Another audience member asked, how can people build bridges with individuals or groups who historically have experienced oppression? Kluane responded that she always encourages people to read the recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She added that although they had acknowledged the traditional Mohawk territory on which they had gathered, she encouraged the audience to learn about who the Mohawk really are. One way, she suggested, was to attend an Indigenous students’ association event on campus.
Professor Samuel then asked the panelists to offer one key ingredient for building a movement. Jennifer suggested collaborative learning and action spaces, Kluane emphasized humility and an appreciation for hard work, and Sabrina highlighted the importance of a domino effect.
The next Sauvé Series event will feature a discussion at the intersection of architecture, urban planning and community development, and consider strategies for revitalizing the built environment to encourage social interaction and foster belonging. Speaking at the event will be Dominic Richards (CEO, Architekton) and Rym Baouendi (Founder and Managing Director, Medina Works). For more information and to register for this event, please visit socialconnectedness.org/sauve.