Canadian Students Shine at Global Challenge

Canadian Students Shine at Global Challenge

In late 2016, a webinar gathered 15 post-secondary institutions from across Canada. The occasion was an arguably audacious idea. Working together, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s RECODE project, the Skoll Centre For Entrepreneurship, and the Trico Foundation posed the question, “Could Canada be the first country to band together, and select two teams to participate in Skoll’s Global Challenge?”

The Skoll Centre, located in the Said Business School at the University of Oxford, is one of the clear global leaders in social impact education. Perhaps then, it is understandable that the following question was raised during that 2016 webinar: “What are the realistic chances that a Canadian team is going to go to an institution like Oxford and win its contest?”

It is uncertain whether the question was from a lone wolf or it identified the ‘elephant in the room’. What we do know is seven months later, both Canadian teams – from Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Mount Royal University (MRU) – made it to the final six, and SFU was selected as the first place winner!

SFU’s team consisted of Iman Baharmand, Kimberley Venn, and Alec Yu with support from Shawn Smith, adjunct professor and co-director of RADIUS SFU. Alec describes the team’s key insights from the Global Challenge:

“This competition has impressed upon us the value of performing a thorough analysis, both through in-person outreach and online, of both a problem’s causes and its existing solutions before launching a solution of our own. Our initial conception of the problem and our idea for what would make an effective solution has changed dramatically, and the issue we’ve mapped would have looked entirely alien to our team just 5 months ago. If we could start again, I would have spent more time interviewing physicians on their opinions around the issue of medical waste, as their attitudes and behaviours are a key point of inertia within this problem.”

SFU team

Shawn reflects on the broader value of the Global Challenge:

“We’re incredibly proud of the SFU team for making such an impact on the global stage. It’s important to remember that what makes this competition special is that each team is generating insights into how we might better intervene in really tough challenges. Many teams at SFU, other Canadian institutions, and globally have done very meaningful work. There was a spirit of camaraderie at all levels of the Challenge, and I commend the organizers and all those that participated.”

Braden Etzerza represented MRU in the Global Challenge finals. Braden discusses a key learning:

“The main thing I have learned is that Indigenous issues are important and our stories must be told. There are people out there willing to share their expertise and experiences with you and these people genuinely care about the issues we presented at Oxford and want to help with the next stages of our projects.”

James Stauch Director of the Institute for Community Prosperity at MRU explains his key insights from the Global Challenge:

“The Global Challenge highlighted that major global challenges typically have an intensely local character.  Food insecurity, colonization and the erosion of Indigenous knowledge are global themes, but as Braden’s research highlights, they are often best understood, and ultimately addressed, by shining the light on one region, place or cultural context.”

The SFU team says that they have made numerous friends and connections throughout this process from doctors, medical residents, and nurses across Canada working on the issue of medical waste to the competitors they met at both Calgary and Oxford. Braden also agrees that he made many connections from around the world. Braden explains:

“I met the founder of Future of Fish (Cheryl Dahle), an organization working on solutions to ocean challenges. Her work is similar to what I am doing and will be interesting to see how we may able to work together in the future. I also met a fellow Indigenous student from Australia and we talked about the similar issues that are faced by the Indigenous peoples in Canada and Australia.”

Braden’s next steps will be finishing up his degree in Environmental Sciences as he returns to MRU in the Fall for his third year:

“As for my project, my next steps will involve a meeting with my nation and presenting my findings and then hopefully working towards a sustainable food within our traditional territories. For the future, I would love to work with other nations helping them create their own sustainable agriculture programs.”

For James, the Global Challenge exposed him to a new and different way of the ‘teaching and learning of changemaking’ (i.e. the art and science of leadership for social change):

“The Global Challenge is a great way to dive deep into the content of a field, system or issue.  But equally important for learners is to expand their own sense of agency and being.”

For the SFU team, Iman is currently on exchange at UC Berkeley and will be returning to SFU for his fourth year of studies in Cell Biology and Medical Anthropology, with a focus on infectious tropical diseases. Kim is currently working at McKesson, the world’s largest producer of medical supplies and technology, as a business analyst. She will be returning to SFU for her third year at the Beedie School of Business. Alec is currently working as the Innovation Officer at Royal Columbian Hospital, and will be attending medical school at UBC in the Fall. For their issue, the SFU team explains that they are currently designing a study to track and quantify the amount, cost, and impact of medical waste produced per patient discharged in partnership with Royal Columbian Hospital. They hope that the empirical data they collect through this process can translate to systemic interventions, and perhaps the invention of new software and devices to manage waste.

Iman expresses his gratitude:

“We have been so fortunate to have excellent advising throughout the competition, and we are always open to any feedback and expertise as we continue to work on this project. At the end of the day, the problem of Hospital Waste Management is bigger than us three. We are thrilled to have such enthusiastic support from the broader community.”

You can check out our highlights of the Canadian Global Challenge that selected MRU and SFU for the Oxford final here.


A special thanks to our partners: RECODE and Skoll Centre For Entrepreneurship, and all the Canadian post-secondary institutions and students that participated.

SFU & MRU teams