Richard Charles Lee Insights through Asia Challenge

Call for Ideas 2018-19

The Richard Charles Lee Insights Through Asia Challenge (ITAC) is a flagship experiential learning program at the Asian Institute. ITAC integrates hands-on international learning with professional development.

We call on ALL U OF T STUDENTS (UNDERGRADUATE AND GRADUATE, across disciplines) who want to connect classroom learning to fieldwork in Asia. Students may apply as individuals or in small teams. ITAC welcomes proposals to create policy reports, journal articles, documentary films, large-scale events, or something else entirely.

ITAC invites students to research the theme of mobilities in Asia today. Student research projects may address issues relevant to particular localities in East, Southeast, or South Asia, or issues relevant to multiple places connected to Asia. Projects should examine a specific subject within the broad theme of mobilities (such as circulations of people, commodities, money, or ideas, as shaped by larger forces, including global markets, socio-political systems, emerging technologies, digital spaces, or environmental change, for example).

Students prepare for the challenge through several workshops in which faculty, advisors, and peers provide feedback and guidance between January and April 2019. From May to July, students have the opportunity to travel to Asia for up to 21 days to conduct research and put their proposals into action. In August students write up their final reports (following an ITAC report template) and produce their creative projects. The program culminates in September 2019 with public presentations by student awardees at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

2018-19 Timeline


Call for Ideas Posted November 6
Draft Proposal Submission Deadline *extended to January 11*
Information Session and Proposal Writing Workshop February 1
Application Deadline February 8
Awardees Announced February 22

PHASE 2 (for winners)

Project Management, Research Ethics, and Planning Workshop March 15
Progress Review Meeting with Mentor, Status Update Approval April 19
Travel/Fieldwork/Research May – July
Check-in with Mentor August
Report Work August
Public Presentation of the Research Experience and Outcomes Mid-September


Full-time undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled at any of the three campuses at the University of Toronto are welcome to apply. Students can apply as individuals or teams. Students without prior research experience in Asia are encouraged to apply.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: Fieldwork in a region with a governmental travel advisory of “Avoid all travel” or “Avoid non-essential travel” is ineligible. (See for more details).

Award Amounts

*Normally $2,000 – $6,000 (CAD)


  • Applicants must submit the following materials as a single PDF file via email to with the SUBJECT LINE “ITAC Application: Last Name_Student ID #”.
  • Please LABEL YOUR PDF ATTACHMENT: “Last Name_First Name_ITAC Application” (when submitting as a team, please choose one team member’s name for the purposes of titling)
  1. A completed 2018-19 ITAC Application Form (Download an editable Microsoft Word version of the form here; password: “RCLitac2019!”) including project summary and applicant information, itinerary, budget, and budget justification (following the template on the form).
  2. CVs of all team members.
  3. Proposal of up to 5 pages double spaced (follow instructions on the 2018-19 ITAC Application Form) *Download an editable Microsoft Word version of the form here (password: “RCLitac2019!”).


Draft Proposal Submission: January 10, 2019 *extended to January 11, 2019*

Final Application: February 8, 2019


Please address inquiries to:

Shannon Garden-Smith
Special Programs Coordinator, Asian Institute
Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
1 Devonshire Place, Rm. 255S – South House
Toronto, ON M5S3K7
Phone: 416.946.5372

*Image courtesy Alexa Waud and Malcolm Sanger (ITAC 2016-17)



  • Mashal Khan (Equity Studies, Sociology, Visual Studies)
  • Khalood Kibria (Political Science, Sociology, Human Geography)

Our research project initially intended to investigate the challenges, inequalities, and specifically gendered discrimination and violence that Pakistani women face in relation to their restricted mobility within public space in Pakistani cities—space that is often dominated by men. Our project evolved to also include non-binary and trans folks in Pakistani cities as our research would have remained incomplete without these crucial voices. Our goal was to highlight the diverse yet interconnected experiences of people whose mobility is restricted by similar social and structural barriers. We found that many of our predictions were accurate. Female, trans, and non-binary mobility is indeed restricted in Pakistani cities. However, mobility is also a very complex and layered topic which is constantly being shaped by internal dynamics in Pakistani cities, namely historical context, class, caste, religion, education level, age, the role of the state, and marital status, to name just a few. We were privileged to interview and spend time with numerous individuals, collectives, and organizations who talked to us very honestly about the barriers they face. They also exposed us to the numerous ways in which these barriers are being chipped away as people seek to reclaim their space and ultimately transform the social and spatial fabric of Pakistani cities.







  • Atif Khan (University of Toronto Graduate Student, Department of Geography and Planning with collaboration in South Asian Studies and Development Policy and Power; University of Toronto Alum: Contemporary Asian Studies)
  • Kana Shishikura (University of Toronto Alum: Peace, Conflict, Justice Studies and Contemporary Asian Studies)

This project seeks to visualize securitization moving beyond the framework of textual analysis in order to unpack the dialogue of securitization of public spaces. Our project revealed the importance of our positionality as researchers embedded within the very logics of security as well as the need to understand the urban landscape as a living archive that cannot account for the state driven narratives present in the national archives within a specific building. Through our fieldwork in London and Paris, the difficulty of capturing the living urban landscape became evident. Our initial focus on academic sites such as Oxford University, Cambridge University and the University of London (SOAS, LSE) could not account or attest to the present conditions of securitizations of a metropolis. We conclude that securitization is a living and present condition that must be historicized along transnational and critical border studies.


  • Braden Kenny (Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto; University of Toronto Alum: Global Health and Equity Studies)
  • Terra Morel (Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta; University of Toronto Alum: Global Health and Immunology)

Due to the persecution and economic deprivation of the Rohingya peoples in Mynamar, thousands have been forced to flee to nearby countries including Malaysia—a country that lacks the physical and financial infrastructure to support their physical health needs. In this study, we interviewed various actors including non-governmental organizations and clinical researchers to understand the current response to the physical health needs and recommendations to address these gaps in service delivery. Our findings illuminated the need for international bodies to take a more active role in assisting the Malaysian government with the intake of Rohingya refugees as well as introducing a centralized body to facilitate discussion and collaboration between non-governmental organizations and clinical researchers.


  • Kassandra Neranjan (International Relations, Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies)
  • Sakshi Shetty (Health & Disease, Immunology)

The 1.5 million Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar remain a nationally unrecognized ethnic group who have been systematically discriminated against, forcing many to flee and many more to be internally displaced within Myanmar. Women in this context are very susceptible to severe violence and trauma due to intersections of their statelessness and a process of dehumanisation in Burmese society. Thousands of survivors of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as refugees. This project aims to analyze how gender is mainstreamed in humanitarian aid in the Rohingya context. We conducted semi-structured interviews with key actors in the field to analyze the process of rehumanisation through implemented structures that are catering to the needs of Rohingya women. Ultimately we will produce policy recommendations to help create programs of sustainable empowerment for refugee women. We drew several conclusions including the need to advocate for policy that is inclusive of adolescent girls, addressing legal obligations per international norms, increased security through hygiene and sanitation architecture, and more.

View and download the policy report here.


  • Yujia (Jade) Shi (Political Science; Collaborative Program in East and Southeast Asian Studies)

This project looks into the intergenerational relationship between LGBTQ youth and their parents in the context of intentional relocation of young LGBTQ as migrant workers in Beijing. I examine two subjects in the research. First, I explore the theme “mobilities” through the case study of two young gay men who are from small towns in China, both of whom have relocated to Beijing. Second, I examine the intergenerational relationship between parents and their same-sex-attracted children through the experience of these two young gay men in their relationships with their family. The outcome of the research is a short documentary, a thesis, and a report. On a large scale, I have observed how the contemporary discourses on (homo) sexuality in China are influenced by both studies of sexuality and activism in Euro-North America as well as multi-faceted changes within China. On a small scale, I observe how the relocation of the young couple is both influenced by unequal urbanization and development in China and their drives for freedom and better financial conditions. In particular, the case study will provide empirical research material on the tension and intimacy between the child and their parents in post-one-child-policy families.

Access Yujia (Jade) Shi’s documentary here. *Please note this content is password protected to preserve the privacy of interviewees. To request access please reach out to


  • Ben Sprenger (Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering)
  • Jillian Sprenger (Faculty of Arts and Science, Global Health)

The purpose of this project was to gain insight into the experiences of climate migrants (including the challenges they face pre- and post-migration), in order to better understand how migration may or may not be an effective mechanism for coping with a rapidly changing climate. Following an extensive literature review, we conducted field research through interviews in Sri Lanka with subject matter experts (researchers, NGO leaders, and environmental activists) and with individuals who have migrated or who have had a family member migrate due to climatic events. The interviews, particularly those with the climate migrants and their families, revealed a complex reality with significant challenges associated with migration and with building climate resilience at the community level. Our research may have implications for determining how to prioritize investment to best support populations vulnerable to climate change. Our research findings are disseminated through the documentary film embedded below.


  • Wei Si Nicole Yiu (PhD Student in Gender Studies, University of California Los Angeles; former University of Toronto collaborative PhD student in Geography and Gender Studies)

My project is a paper analyzing queer sociality in the space of migrant women’s organizing in Hong Kong. During my three-month fieldwork in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of meeting Cynthia who is a key migrant activist in Hong Kong for migrant domestic workers’ rights. Through Cynthia, I was able to establish contact with multiple migrant workers’ organizations. I participated in over fifteen gatherings and conducted interviews with five migrant Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong. All five interviews were over an hour long and provided me with great insights about migrant women’s intimate relationships with other migrant women. Using information I have learned during my fieldwork and interviews with migrant women, I aim to engage with Black feminist literature on self-care to theorize the ways in which migrant women are caring for each other as queering ‘proper’ intimacies.

WORKSHOPS and Events

past workshops and events


Richard Charles Lee Insights Through Asia Challenge (ITAC): Mobilities
Big Ideas Competition: Exploring Global Taiwan

Friday, September 21, 2018 | 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
1 Devonshire Place, Toronto


Access the program for Internationalization in Action: Transformative Student Research at the Asian Institute here.


Is this the same as or different from the Richard Charles Lee Big Ideas Competition held in 2015-16? Why the new name?

This challenge is a new iteration of what was previously the Richard Charles Lee Big Ideas Competition. While the name and some details of the structure have evolved, the spirit of the competition/challenge remains the same: to fund student projects that aim to make a difference in addressing real-world issues in Asia.

Can I apply as an individual or as a team?

Both individual and team applications will be considered. However, interdisciplinary and collaborative projects are encouraged. Those applying as individuals should mention external partners that you plan to collaborate with. Please note all team members must be current University of Toronto students (undergraduate or graduate in any discipline)


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