Daviel Lazure-Vieira

On April 13, grade 11 and 12 students from more than 25 participating high schools across the greater Toronto area are heading to the Munk School to present their solutions for addressing food insecurity at the Global Ideas Institute’s (GII) final symposium. The event is the culmination of a year’s worth of efforts, where high school students like Sangkavi Kuhan, Yi Li, Armaan Marwaha, Chantalle Matousek and William Stanfield from Bayview Glen School, work together to come up with solutions to a major global issue. “I came to the Global Ideas Institute thinking this would be a very special experience before stepping into society,” says Li. “We met amazing people who taught us how to shape our ideas so they can actually work in real life.”

A collaborative program between the Munk School, University of Toronto Schools, the Rotman School of Management’s Integrative Thinking, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and World Vision Canada, the Global Ideas Institute offers secondary students an opportunity to engage first-hand with the most pressing challenges of our times and work to find innovative solutions. Now in its eighth year running, the GII is guided by an advisory committee made up of faculty and staff from across the Munk School as well as influencers from outside the university. “It’s about pushing boundaries and creating the next generation of decision-makers by enabling them to acquire the skills they need to be true global citizens,” explains Kathleen Gnocato, the GII’s director and Master of Global Affairs alumna. “We train students to think holistically about complex issues and encourage them to tackle problem-solving differently.”

Through mentorship with graduate students from the University of Toronto, high school students learn everything from business canvassing to pitching potential backers. At the final symposium, they present the result of their work to a panel of experts composed of professors, entrepreneurs, and members of nonprofit organizations from whom they’ve heard throughout the year – such as The Shop Community Food Centre or World Vision Canada. “Personally, I just get really excited about taking an idea on paper and bringing it to life,” says Stanfield. “Everyone has that creative potential, but we’re given the tools to help transform it into something meaningful to make an impact in the world.”

Over the years, the students at the GII have worked in teams to propose solutions to issues ranging from financial inclusion to birth registration. They attend monthly lectures delivered by experts in the field, brainstorm together in facilitated workshops, and are provided with additional material designed to awaken their creativity – news clippings, academic research papers, personal stories and statistics. “These students come in with a particular interest in taking on a big challenge, but not necessarily the knowledge,” says Gnocato. “The program allows them to familiarize themselves with an academic environment while striving to find practical solutions – and it’s really quite impressive to see how much they learn throughout the year, and what kind of ideas emerge from this experience.”

“You feel like you’re part of something that will make a difference,” says Kuhan. “It forces you to think outside the box and teaches you to work collaboratively.” It’s also this aspect that led Matousek to join the team. “What really drove me was the fact I could work closely with other highly motivated high school students who want to bring about change and get a new perspective through teamwork.”

The GII’s program is non-competitive in nature so that students aren’t afraid to fail, improve their ideas, and make them more robust. “During every session, every lecture, I felt like we were adding a piece to the puzzle,” says Marwaha. “And this led us to think differently, to push the project forward. It can be difficult to find creative solutions, but when you work hard with others and you really invest yourself in understanding a complex issue like food insecurity, something will always work out in the end.”

Learn more about the Global Ideas Institute at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

April 13, 2018