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Supporting the next generation of catalyzers—why UBC is taking on the Global Challenge

by Susan Grossman Director | Centre for Community Engaged Learning, The University of British Columbia

If you have never been asked to recite your most important sentence in the world, I challenge you to do it now. Trust me, it’s hard. When I was asked for mine a little over six months ago, I struggled to imagine how to encapsulate my worldview into one boiled down sentence. After hours of staring at a blank page, pen in hand, pen on table, and pen in hand again, I wrote words that were immediately crossed out, rewritten, and crossed out again. It was only after reflection on my 20+-year career that I came close.

My goal is to foster in university students, resilience and the skills to activate meaningful societal change, by creating opportunities for undergraduates to take supported risks and fail safely.


I share this with you now because I believe post-secondary institutions play a key role in supporting and mentoring the next generation of catalyzers, activators, and innovators, passionate about tackling social problems and motivated to take action. At the
UBC Centre for Community Engaged Learning we support students to take action big or small; we provide pathways for exploration that offer students opportunities to try and succeed, try and fail, and just try; and we offer students the space to put their values into practice. The Global Challenge is a new and welcome tool to be added to our ever-growing pathway.
The focus of the challenge, problem mapping and analysis, requires teams to choose an intractable problem impacting local and/or global communities. The Global Challenge—supported in Canada by RECODE, the
Trico Charitable Foundation and the Skoll Centre at the University of Oxford—is effective as a low barrier entry point for students because it does not dictate prerequisite experience, disciplinary focus, and it leaves all post-challenge paths open – meaning it could be a first step toward a business accelerator or it could be a first step toward a neighbourhood grant or, or, or – the point is, it could lead to innumerable next steps. It is also compelling because it holds the potential to appeal to a student delving deeply into a question for the first time while also appealing to a student clear on their path toward a social purpose business.
At UBC, our Centre, in partnership with
Sauder’s Centre for Social Innovation and Impact Investing, is encouraging students to consider how they might best integrate the voices of external partners into their team. It is our belief that teams will be stronger if they work with a partner who is either combating the challenge chosen and/or is an expert in the challenge area.
By doing so, and by the University supporting each team in an intentional manner, through workshops and educational resources, the Global Challenge becomes a platform upon which the outputs and ideas generated, draw upon the strengths and assets of all stakeholders engaged, while the process of analysis and iteration, still leave students room to make mistakes, missteps, and to learn – propelling students further down their own path to that very next step, whatever it may be.
To learn more about the Global Challenge,
click here.


Susan has been at the University of British Columbia since 2008 and has served as the Director, Centre for Community Engaged Learning, since 2011. Prior to UBC she worked at various higher education institutions including Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland Law School, and Reed College. She is a professional educator, skillful relationship builder, community engagement specialist, capacity builder, and strategic leader. Susan holds a Masters from the University of Michigan Centre for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education; a Certificate in Social Impact Strategy from the University of Pennsylvania Center for Social Impact Strategy; and a Bachelors in History from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

Oct 27, 2016 | Tags: , , , ,