Sarah Lewis

Sarah Lewis was the first recipient of the Faculty                                 of Arts Young Alumni sarah lewisAward. The award recognizes Arts young alumni who have made outstanding contributions to their professional field and in community and public service within 10 years of graduating.

Sarah is a recent graduate who is passionate about social change. She believes in fighting for the most vulnerable or powerless in a group, while encouraging everyone around her to have a positive impact on the world. Her decisions and actions are driven by her passion of contributing to a world of greater justice.

“By connecting with the experience of local champions and supporting them, development workers can move a community forward sustainably,” says Sarah. “It’s been a privilege to work with local champions both in Ghana and in Canada.”

Sarah’s leadership and entrepreneurial spirit was evident while she was a student at Waterloo. In 2004, she received the J.R. Coutts Students Without Borders scholarship to work with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) in Cameroon during a co-operative education term, where she helped rural community groups promote improved sanitation. After returning from Central Africa, Sarah became the president of Waterloo’s Chapter of EWB. She became known for recruiting, training, and mentoring future leaders of the organization.

In 2005, Waterloo won EWB Chapter of the Year Award, and Sarah received EWB’s Volunteer of the Year Award. “EWB is creating a new generation of social change leaders, and I am extremely grateful to have been a part of these achievements,” she says. In 2007, Sarah became a member of EWB’s overseas volunteer staff in the Upper East Region of Ghana. She was responsible for building trust at all levels of the hierarchy, conducting an organizational diagnostic, and leading a change project within the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture in that region. Her diagnostic revealed the need to upgrade the farmer extension work from simply promoting technologies to supporting and making productive investments as they make their way out of subsistence farming. To address this gap, Sarah assembled a team of extension agents and created a new set of agricultural extension tools for the Ministry’s field agents. These tools and the associated approach have become known as EWB’s “Agriculture as a Business” program, and is currently being scaled-up in all three regions of Northern Ghana and has reached over 50 agents and 1,000 farmers.

Throughout her time overseas with EWB, Sarah continued to mentor Waterloo students and help them expand their views of the world. Two of the students took on leadership roles in the EWB when they returned to Waterloo. Sarah continues to be a mentor and friend for many members of EWB at Waterloo who are embarking on the next steps in their journey.

“Mentoring is what helps volunteers to process the experience of working to change poverty in Africa,” says Sarah. “By sharing our experiences, leaders in the organization pass on the bug of creating positive social change.”

After her return from Ghana, Sarah was quick to take on a role as the economic development officer in Nipigon. She has taken on a large-scale downtown revitalization project, spearheaded an extension of the Trans Canada Trail, and encouraged collaboration over competition between local communities and interest groups. “Working in a rural northwestern Ontario community of 1,700 people, which is struggling as a result of the collapse of the forestry industry, has introduced me to the challenges Canadians face in developing local economies in a new and more competitive environment,” she says. In Nipigon, Sarah has found a place where she is happy and able to challenge herself, can use her entrepreneurial spirit, and apply her economics degree to help the community blossom into an exciting city that is economically prosperous. “Canadians today have an unprecedented opportunity to take actions that not only build their communities and local economies, but reach across national boundaries to improve the opportunities for Africa,” explains Sarah. “We must urgently learn how we, as individuals, can leverage this opportunity for positive social change and make it a reality."