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It was minus one degree celsius outside and I was without a hat but busily making my way through downtown Toronto en route to the inaugural meeting of Canadian Fellows. Despite the cold in the air, I could not wait to see what was in store. I wondered if this is how the original group of Fellows who met with William Shipley in Covent Garden felt 260 years ago.

As I walked in and introduced myself, I could tell this group of Canadian Fellows all felt the same way. They knew that creative ideas can change their reality, their country and maybe even the world. They were all from different backgrounds and varied careers but travelled from all over Canada to Toronto in order to attend this inaugural meeting. In spite of their differences it was apparent from their excitement that they all shared the values of the RSA and were eager to get started and be advocates of social change in their country.

Lin Grist, the RSA Connector for Canada and a Fellow for nine years, welcomed the group who joined us at Autodesk Visualization Studio in Toronto. Those present were armed with packed lunches and a burning desire to make a difference. Some even joined in virtually which was made possible by Severin Wille, a Fellow and former SDA winner. 


Natalie Nicholles presenting to Canadian Fellows

Natalie Nicholles, Director of RSA Global thanked the group for their enthusiasm and delivered a keynote presentation on the RSA Global Strategy and the Global Fellowship – a global community of advocates of social change. She spoke at length about the RSA’s core belief that creative ideas have the power to change the world and in order to achieve this modern mission we need to unleash the Power to Create: that everyone should have the freedom and power to turn their ideas into reality. Great ideas can come from anyone and ANYONE can turn their ideas and aspirations into reality.

She also illustrated to the group how much they were part of a social progress movement that has a rich legacy as well as currency in dealing with the challenges facing societies all over the world today.

Then came the opportunity for Fellows to present their projects or areas of interest. Daniel O’Leary from Montreal spoke about his Personal Renewable Energy Project, which recently received catalyst funding. The project comprises of the design of a portable appliance that operates on renewable energy which can be used in both urban and rural settings. This presentation had even greater relevance in the wake of this week’s Paris Conference on Climate Change.

Daniel Downes, a Professor from University of New Brunswick spoke with passion about experiential learning and the critical importance of cultural industries to a society. This was followed by David Hurst who gave an interesting talk on the Ecological Perspective of Organizations and Change. Brian Brown then concluded the session with a presentation on the role of the Church in society in establishing a common ground and possessing the ability to provide a service to the public and to the government especially when confronted with challenges such as the current refugee crisis.

Canadian Fellows

The Canadian Fellows then engaged in passionate discussion on plans for future projects. Among the topics discussed included:

  • The importance of developing a vision that fits with Canadian values of diversity, tolerance, creativity and sustainability. The Fellows were keen to address the issue of social inclusion with reference to the indigenous population and refugee communities in Canada. The project will use the arts to build bridges between these different groups and the wider Canadian society in order to foster a sense of community, understanding and connection.
  • An initiative that connects art and design with community development through the use of sustainable community hubs. A number of Fellows offered connections to the design work at higher education level, as well as with artists locally. The aim would be to partner with community hubs to introduce art and design as a way of addressing social and economic challenges.
  • The establishment of a new narrative through behavioural change and responsibility for others in the context of the planet, people and prosperity. Ideas for this project included crowd-sourcing content for a book from Fellows about how the current system is failing society and how they can change the prevailing cultural mind set towards empathy and responsibility.

After a couple of hours of fervent discussion the group dispersed, now tasked with assignments and energised to get things going. As one RSA Fellow said to me on his way out, “I was searching for my tribe and found it in the RSA.”

Coming together based on shared values and agreeing a set of common activities is really hard. I was impressed, and in awe, of the energy these Fellows had to contribute to their society. This is the value of the RSA. I look forward to supporting their journey and to sharing more about the work of the Canadian Fellowship in the coming months.


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