The Innovation Challenge’s Impact and Future

CWY-JCM designed and ran the Innovation Challenge for the first time last year. The new program responds to the pandemic and the difficulties that young people, in particular, are facing due to lockdowns, social isolation, and economic downturn.

In 2021 Innovation Challenge finalists Amber Sayed and Abigail Penney, faced online schooling and the accompanying isolation.

Although the pandemic has affected all of us, and our abilities to participate in activities that matter to us, lockdowns have taken an especially great toll on young people. According to the report ‘Lockdown Life’, published by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, young people were the most likely to experience adverse mental health effects, academic difficulties and a lack of career opportunities.

Another study, conducted by the Environics Institute, the Diversity Institute, TED Rogers School of Management and the Future Skills Centre found that ‘young people seeking employment are more vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID, because they have had less time to establish themselves professionally.’

“I’m almost halfway done my degree and I’ve had not even a full semester in person,”

said Abigail, who is studying bio-veterinary science at Dalhousie University, but is currently living at her grandmother’s house in Newfoundland. “I’ve been home since the end of December and I’ve hardly seen anyone just because of isolating, and every time I step out of my house I feel like I get an exposure and I’m back in.”

“When I first heard about the Innovation Challenge, I was studying from home,” explained Abigail, “I felt really inspired by the idea of bringing a big project forward and having help to make it come true.”

Abigail’s project involves designing and implementing an agriculture-focused curriculum in secondary schools across the province.

“During the beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020, there was initially concern about whether the supply chain into our province might be impacted,” Abigail said. “I became interested in the food security in Newfoundland, as we live on an island that produces very little of our own food.”

Innovation Challenge finalist Amber Sayed (middle, right) and her ReWorks project team.

Amber’s project, in which she is an ongoing collaborator with numerous other students, is called ‘ReWorks.’ Run out of the University of Alberta’s entrepreneurship hub, the project’s goal is to design a business around manufacturing a textile material made entirely from recycled fabrics.

“The Innovation Challenge has been immeasurably helpful, not just with the ReWorks project, but also with my personal development,” commented Amber, who is studying Psychology and Political Science at the University of Alberta.

The program starts with a call for ideas from young Canadians about innovative ways to help further one or more of our four mission pillars; Empowerment and experience for Indigenous communities, Sustainable livelihoods and entrepreneurship, Empowerment for women and girls, and Environmental sustainability.

Finalists are selected from the pool of submissions, and they receive mentorship and training from a range of experts over the following six months. The hope is that even after the six-month program, youth will have built relationships with industry professionals that they can continue to maintain and leverage on their career paths.

“Every person involved in the Innovation Challenge,” said Amber, “both in CWY and the external mentors that they brought in, were just unbelievably kind people and always willing to help in whatever way they possibly could.”

While their projects are still in the incubation phases of development, both young women agreed that the mentorship furthered their project’s goals, while also benefiting them on a personal and professional level.

Amber said her two main mentors; corporate lawyer Antonella Penta, and Director of International Relations at BDC and Secretary General for the Montreal Group, Sandra Péloquin, still check in with her regularly.

Left: Sandra Péloquin, Right: Antonella Penta

“Sandra has a wealth of connections within the textile and recycling industries, so she was really helpful in helping me set up meetings with some industry professionals,” said Amber. Antonella, she said, was a great source of advice when it came to starting a business, trademarking intellectual property, etc.

“They’re both just incredibly supportive women as well. They brought really valuable perspectives from two different, really important sides of the project,” she said.

In 2022, we are looking to expand the Innovation Challenge, accepting 16 young finalists into the mentorship program and providing an even richer and more tailored experience for those individuals. To future participants, Abigail suggested meeting with mentors as often as possible, and being un-afraid to ask questions.

“I am so grateful for the connections that Canada World Youth has allowed me to build during my Innovation Challenge journey,” said Abigail.

“As a learning experience and a way to connect with other people, I absolutely loved doing this program,” concluded Amber.

The Innovation Challenge cannot run in 2022 without further support from donors.