Changemaking At Ryerson University: Project Showcase

The event on 24th November 2015 in Toronto highlighted some of the innovative work being done by the University’s faculty and students. Ryerson received $500,000 from RECODE, an initiative created by the J.W. McConnell Foundation to catalyze social innovation and entrepreneurship in post-secondary institutions across Canada. Approximately 100 attended the showcase, which featured displays on Ryerson’s changemaking projects and highlighted a handful of them.

“Ryerson is leading the way on social innovation, not just nationally but globally” according to Chad Lubelsky, associate program director at the J.W. McConnell Foundation. “Many people look to you and want to better understand what you are doing.”

Jessica Lax, Interim Director of Learning Networks at Ashoka Canada, concurred. “Ryerson was the first and is still the only school in Canada to have [the Ashoka Changemaker Campus] designation… Ryerson has gone on to lead the way among the 35 changemaker campuses around the world.”

Stefany Nieto and Benjamin Canning from the Ted Rogers School of Management discussed their Growing North project, which constructed a geodesic greenhouse in Nunavut. The project aims to not only create access to healthy food but also to reduce carbon emissions and the costs of importing the food, as well as providing social entrepreneurship opportunities for the community and for students and engaging youth in the future of their community. Removing herself from the world of academia and speaking a language the locals could understand was a learning experience for Nieto. “For them, it’s not a business, it’s a way of life and providing healthy opportunities for the entire community,” Nieto said. “You have to step out of your comfort zone and connect with the other person because at the end of the day, we are all changemakers, and we all want to make a difference.”

PhD student Peter Haastrup presented his Kenya Village Project: Solar Cooker Business Feasibility Plan developed with sociology professor Jean Golden. Following a successful project to adopt solar cookers, which produced environmental, economic and health benefits, Haastrup worked with villagers to develop a feasibility plan to allow villagers to build the solar cookers with local materials and sell them through Kenya. Through social entrepreneurship, Haastrup gained new skills to complement his studies in social work. “One thing that struck me was having to form partnerships and broaden my scope,” said Haastrup, explaining how he collaborated with Nieto through Enactus Ryerson to write a business plan. “You still need people to come in and show you the ropes.”

Science professor Bryan Koivisto is hoping to shape the future generation of changemakers by engaging elementary school students, particularly girls, in science. His project, Science Literacy Engagement in Elementary Schools, will build “modular” science kits from accessible household materials and coach teachers on how to use them in teaching themes like “kitchen chemistry” or “backyard biology.” He and his team believe their project could have global applications. He lauded the students for pushing the project forward. “Our students want to be the change. You can find 100 science students at any given time to go out into the schools and offer this support.” He noted how science impacted other teams on the panel. “Changemaking needs science. Solar cookers—that’s all science. The greenhouse project—that’s all science… so maybe we need to reach out to people and encourage more people to get involved.”

Samantha Jackson, a graduate of the Immigration and Settlement studies program and PhD student, described the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge, which responded quickly to the call to promote private sponsorship of refugees in the GTA. As volunteer coordinator, Samantha mobilized more than 400 volunteers to support the sponsorship teams. Jackson was thrust into the international spotlight earlier this month by abandoning her lavish wedding plans in favour of refugee sponsorship. From its original objective of sponsoring 10 families, the Ryerson Lifeline Syria Challenge has grown to include other GTA institutions (UofT, OCADU, York) with a new goal of sponsoring 75 families or 300 refugees. “Refugee settlement, integration, diversity are in our city’s DNA,” said Jackson. “This is something that we are built to do and can continue to do, and with Ryerson we will welcome 75 families.”

Wendy Cukier, Ryerson’s Vice-President, Research and Innovation, stressed the importance of understanding that the characteristics and processes used by entrepreneurs and innovators are similar regardless of whether they are aimed at for-profit or social goals. “Ryerson’s approach to social entrepreneurship, social innovation and changemaking provides a ‘big tent’ for students, staff and faculty working to create positive change including diverse projects focused on poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability, health, education, human rights, violence prevention and more,” said Cukier. “We are well-known globally for technology innovation, thanks to the DMZ – ranked the top incubator in North America. But increasingly, our groundbreaking contributions on social innovation are also attracting notice. We are very grateful to the McConnell Foundation and Ashoka for helping us make a difference.”

To find out more about changemaking at Ryerson, visit