Peace Innovators: Equipping a generation of changemakers

Friday, June 12, 2020

Since launching in 2014, the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement has been catalyzing collaboration between peace partners across multiple sectors – from art to technology to the social sciences. While our partners have varied, one common thread in the collaboration efforts that have thrived is the prioritization of strong relationships of mutual trust. As leadership expert Steven Covey has argued, change grows at the speed of trust. The Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring Program stands out as an excellent example of this.

Peace Innovators group photo at the final showcase in 2018
Group photo of the first cohort of Peace Innovators, 2018.

The Peace Innovators program, which equips senior high school students to tackle a social problem in their community, formed through the initiative of Kindred Credit Union, who approached the Centre for Peace Advancement and The Ripple Effect Education (TREE) about helping them put a new spin on a past grant program. Since 2017, thirteen peace innovators have successfully completed the program, beginning their journeys as social innovators before they leave high school.

The Peace Innovators program draws upon the strong relationships between each of its founding partners, as well as their distinct assets, to strengthen their respective missions. Kindred Credit Union’s involvement in the program is driven by a desire to equip students to be changemakers during, and long after, the program ends. As Ian Thomas, Kindred’s CEO shares, “This program sends youth into the communities they live and the schools they attend with the skills, critical awareness and confidence to create change. We are investing in these young people as the changemakers of today and tomorrow.” Kindred’s core value of “inspiring peace, just, and prosperous communities” truly takes shape with the Peace Innovators program. As the sole youth-focused initiative within Kindred’s diverse support for community programs, Peace Innovators invests in the next generation of peacebuilders to ensure that innovative solutions for community life comes from those who are already transforming communities, and will continue to do so for years to come.

As the implementation partner and program facilitator, TREE offers an accessible, energizing peace education experience for students through integrating peacebuilding and social innovation learning frameworks and connecting students to one-on-one mentorship opportunities. At the end of the nine-month program, students have received specific mentorship for tackling problems they are passionate about, and training on how to implement peace in their schools and communities. While this program complements TREE’s work in classrooms and peace education curriculums, its focus on the individual student’s journey as changemakers is core to TREE’s mission. TREE’s Executive Director, Katie Gingerich believes, “The Peace Innovators program is one step on our participants’ life-long journeys as peacemakers and changemakers. Previous participants have gone on to study engineering, architecture, health, drama, and social development; we’re excited to learn how they bring their Peace Innovators learning into their future work.” Through Peace Innovators, TREE is able to live out its mission to give youth the tools they need for healthy relationships and just communities.

Finally, the Centre for Peace Advancement’s continued involvement in the program is rooted in its commitment to equipping young changemakers to solve complex problems. The Centre’s vast institutional affiliations – including the University of Waterloo, Conrad Grebel University College, the Peace and Conflict Studies program, and peacebuilding organizations like Project Ploughshares – provide Peace Innovators with exciting windows into diverse approaches to changemaking on campus and beyond. Indeed, two Peace Innovators alumni have gone on to become University of Waterloo students and Conrad Grebel University College residents, where they have applied their passion for peace and justice to drive change that will continue to make an impact.

While the program offers a unique opportunity for young changemakers, these students provide necessary insight into today’s most pressing social challenges. As Michelle Jackett, Coordinator of the Centre for Peace Advancement points out, “As young people increasingly face complex social challenges – many of which have been left for them by past generations – we must both listen to their inherent wisdom and resource their ability to generate innovative solutions.”

The Peace Innovators program fits into a suite of student engagement activities offered by the Centre for Peace Advancement. This Spring term, for instance, twelve university students are employed by a venture or organization in the Centre, the PeaceTech Living-Learning Community has a virtual cohort of eleven students, and two University of Waterloo students are participating in the Global Finals of Oxford’s Map the System pitch competition. In addition to regular programming, the Centre is also supporting Concept’s Pandemic Challenge on campus, which saw 69 teams register this Spring.

Kindred, TREE, and the Centre for Peace Advancement are welcoming nine passionate and excited students into the 2020-2021 cohort of Peace Innovators. The students, focusing on topics ranging from mental health, to poverty, to addressing homophobia, transphobia, and racism, will be ready to kickstart their projects this Fall.

Peace Innovators announcement with student photos and partner logos