In 2018, Dr. Jason Blackstock founded How to Change the World, an experiential learning program that empowers people, organizations, and communities to tackle the world’s most important challenges. Dr. Blackstock believes societies already have the expertise to solve many of the daunting problems humanity faces today. The program brings technical, economic, and social talent together in one place, and guides participants through a collaborative process that can transform complex challenges into positive change. Last winter, over 200 university students, early-career, and experienced professionals, experts, and educators came together to participate in How to Change the World’s Canada 2020 program in Toronto.
Organized in partnership with the Canadian and Ontario Societies of Professional Engineers (OSPE), the inaugural Canada 2020 brought together participants to explore how their skills could be mobilized to create sustainable solutions to real world problems. The interdisciplinary teams were asked to tackle particular societal problems in the areas of energy and sustainable cities. Each problem was paired with a UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) with one of the new Canadian Engineering Grand Challenges (CEGCs). Teams collaborated to develop innovative and concrete plans to address one of four challenges that were part of program, two of which were set in a Canadian context and two were set in an international context.
One team proposed the idea of supporting towns in Ladakh, India, through solar-powered community hubs that utilize a variety of solar technologies including cookstoves, lights, charged batteries for home use, water heaters for hygiene, and tablets for education. Another created a model designed to capture the wasted heat from gas turbines via a combined heat and power (CHP) system to improve space heating, cooling, and domestic hot water in Inuvik. The experience helped participants understand how to apply the SDGs and CEGCs to their work. In a showcase on the final day, each team delivered a passionate five-minute pitch of their plan to a panel of expert judges who awarded the best idea overall, the most creative, and the most implementable for each of the four challenges.
My conversations with Ontarians led my office to focus on sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals. Over the last five years, I have seen how these Goals can be applied by communities, industries, and non-profits. When I spent a Friday evening with the participants of How to Change the World, I was inspired to see how the Goals have become so integrated into how these young people think about the impact of their future and careers, and how their knowledge of the SDGs clearly went beyond the immediacy of the program’s challenges.
Working in diverse teams from mixed sectors gave the participants a unique opportunity to network and to see the Goals applied to various industries. It equipped university students and early-career engineering, business, and policy professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to create positive, sustainable change. There were endless paths of possibilities charted during this event. In fact, some made plans to continue work on the challenge they addressed.
By breaking down the silos between the three pillars of sustainability—inclusive economic prosperity, environmental stewardship, and social cohesion— participants saw how their collective technical knowledge and skills were crucial in developing impactful solutions to societal problems. Most importantly, they also included a human dimension to their solutions that put people at the centre of change. The Canada 2020 program helped to empower all participants to address issues that may not appear to have a direct effect on their immediate experiences and yet, the links between the local and global became clear over the course of the event. The conversations I had that Friday evening resonated with me and I look forward to seeing these emerging leaders realize their vision for a sustainable future. Their continued collaboration could indeed help to change the world.Sustainability
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