Peace Innovators pitch for start-up funding

Friday, February 4, 2022

Since last Spring, the 2021-2022 cohort of Peace Innovators have been hard at work identifying challenges in their community, learning about the context surrounding these problems, and designing solutions to cultivate positive change. On a snowy Saturday in January, the high school students gathered virtually to participate in the first ever Peace Innovators Pitching Panel to request start-up funding for their projects.

Peace Innovators on a zoom screen smiling

Each year, the Peace Innovators Scholarship & Mentoring Program is delivered to youth across Southwestern Ontario who are passionate about creating positive social change. The program is a collaborative effort by The Ripple Effect Education (TREE), Kindred Credit Union and the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement. With mentorship from TREE staff and community members, high school students in grade 11 and 12 choose a social issue they are passionate about and develop an idea to address it.

Our society desperately needs the unique perspectives and talents of young people if we are going to overcome the problems that the current generation of leaders, institutions, and systems are clearly incapable of addressing.

Paul Heidebrecht, Director of the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement

A pivotal aspect of the program is access to start-up funding. This year’s cohort participated in the first ever Peace Innovators Pitching Panel. The panel featured five entrepreneurs, innovators, and experts in the social change. Quinn Andres offered a unique perspective as a Peace Innovators Scholarship & Mentoring Program graduate and a current workshop facilitator with TREE. Paul Heidebrecht has been the Director of the Centre for Peace Advancement since 2014 and is a mentor to peace and justice focused social entrepreneurs at the University of Waterloo and beyond. Ben Janzen is Director of Values Integration at Kindred Credit Union where he supports the responsible and inclusive stewardship of resources in his local community and across Canada. Cassie Myers is the founder and CEO of Lunaria, a data platform that supports companies and communities to grow diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Ian Thomas is CEO of Kindred Credit Union where he works to drive innovation within the financial sector.

Building connections and gaining inspiration and creativity from the panelists [was] a fantastic way to begin our journey.

Caitlin McGill,  a Peace Innovator working alongside her project partner Mackenzie Leu to create online resources to support youth mental health education

As nervous excitement filled the virtual room, each student took three minutes to pitch their idea to the panelists. At the end of their pitch presentation, presenters offered a question to the panelists, seeking advice on a point of tension in their respective projects. The panelists followed up with advice, affirmation, provocative questions, and offers to connect students with others in their networks. Nathan Wong, a Peace Innovator working with his project partner Vincent Chen to create educational programming for youth to learn about topsoil loss, reflected on the process. “Pitching my project required me to take a look at what we were hoping to accomplish and really organize and summarize my thinking for it... working through it helped me to learn more about my project, fill in any gaps, and feel confident about it.”

The Peace Innovators Pitching Panel arose out of a desire to support students to fine-tune their ideas. As the panel went on, it became apparent that this opportunity offered so much more. For the students, the value gained from the experience transcended their project and provided life lessons that they can carry into their future endeavors. For Alexandra Elmslie, a Peace Innovator working on creating mental health resources for youth with intellectual disabilities, this meant developing communications skills. “With only three minutes to explain who I was, what I was passionate about, what my project was, and how much funding I needed, this experience allowed me to learn how to convey a message in a succinct and impactful manner.”

word cloud of emotions
Many of the panelists have been involved with the Peace Innovators program for multiple years and were excited to have an opportunity to show their support in a new and engaging way. Previous participant and panlist Quinn Andres reflected on their experience with the panel. "It was truly exciting and inspiring to come back and see this year's participants share their own projects and passions. I am really looking forward to seeing the impact that these young peacemakers will make in their own communities."

Students collectively received over $2,000 in seed funding through the Pitching Panel. The funding offers and the closing of the panel represent a turning point in the Peace Innovators journeys: they are now ready to put their ideas into action. As they celebrated this achievement, the students shared how they felt: encouraged, confident, motivated, and determined.

Applications for the 2022-2023 Peace Innovators program will open in spring 2022. Stay tuned for updates by following The Ripple Effect Education on Twitter.