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Third consecutive triumph at global competition reflects Canadian post-secondary’s dedication to social change

On June 9, student teams from around the world gathered in Oxford to compete in a unique social impact challenge competition. Unlike traditional pitch competitions where students are asked to come up with a “solution” to a problem, Map the System is a problem definition competition. And for the third year in a row, Canada has taken top prize. Congratulations to Team Inferno from Simon Fraser University (SFU).

“We are particularly proud that Canada has been so successful at this competition,” says Re-Code Program Director Chad Lubelsky. “It is indicative of a growing commitment to social change by Canadian post-secondary and also their commitment to providing a 21st century education.” 

An increasing number of students want more from their education than book knowledge and academic research. They want opportunities to help solve real-world problems. Competitions like Map the System respond to this growing demand.

Canada’s success at Map the System is part of a larger trend toward system-wide collaboration and social change in our post-secondary system. For example, a recent paper by researcher Coro Strandberg showed corporate social responsibility initiatives proliferating in academia. On the community impact front, 16 colleges and universities recently began work on a rigorous framework that will assess and reward Canadian schools for exceptional community engagement. In 2018, Nova Scotia’s Change Lab Action Research Initiative was launched to coordinate partnerships between community, faculty, and students in seven post-secondary institutions in the province, and in BC, four schools formed the Collaborative for Social Infrastructure to collectively advance social impact across the province. The prestigious Ashoka Changemaker Campus designation has been earned by a disproportionately high number of Canadian schools.

Social impact is also emerging in international post-secondary rankings: The Financial Times’ now includes sustainability in their list of criteria and the Times Higher Education rankings now consider universities’ roles as custodians of sustainable cities and communities.

To better contribute to wellbeing and social impact in Canada and the world, universities and colleges have been shifting the way that they deliver education, with an eye to supporting students to become “changemakers”. Social innovation approaches, change labs, community-based courses, experiential learning, and radical new ways of learning out of the classroom — in community, for the community — are increasingly standard on campuses across the country.

With this shift in Canadian schools, today’s generation of learners are obtaining an education that challenges them to think about the systems in which contemporary social and environmental problems are embedded, and offers them a toolkit of approaches and skills to set them out into the world as leaders, lifelong learners, and engaged citizens.  

This year, the number of Canadian teams competing in Map the System grew to 700, demonstrating a demand by students to get to dig deeply into social and environmental issues. The competition challenges them with the task of fully mapping out their chosen problem’s underlying forces and then describing this system in a clear and engaging way. This learning-first approach to social change – one where people take the time to understand and build upon existing efforts before attempting to construct a solution –  is clearly resonating for Canadian students. And it is something they’re becoming increasingly well-equipped to do, if we can take their triumph on the global stage as an indicator.

four students stand beside a slideshow, presenting to a crowd of people at the Oxford global finals of Map the System
SFU students Devan Parmar, Joanne Nellas, Michael Simoes & Vanessa Sun researched the wildfire crisis, focusing on the context of British Columbia

To win among such strong international competition starts with a bright and ambitious group of undergraduates with a passion for changemaking: Devan Parmar, Joanne Nellas, Michael Simoes and Vanessa Sun. They have clearly benefited from their experiential education at SFU, an institution that brands itself as Canada’s “engaged university,” where a vision for social impact extends from the president’s office to all aspects of the institution — including programs and staff dedicated to student achievement in nontraditional and creative new ways.

At a time of increasing inequality and environmental degradation globally, Canada’s post-secondary institutions have many resources to dedicated to finding solutions, particularly at the community level. Education and research are just starting points. When institutions see themselves as vital hubs of their local towns and cities — as major employers, procurer of goods and services, conveners and citizens whose direct actions can have significant positive impact — we are closer to a world of solutions that rise to the scale of the challenges ahead. Success in Map the System is a positive signal that Canadian students are ready to engage in this vital work.

Map the System is a competition out of the Skoll Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford. The Canadian level of the competition is managed by Mount Royal University, with support from the McConnell Foundation and Trico Charitable Foundation.  To learn more, contact Kelly Hodgins

Jun 12, 2019 |