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Canadian scholarship program connects with the Commonwealth

Initiative marking Queen Elizabeth II’s reign promotes leadership and cultural exchanges among Commonwealth nations.


The southern African country of Botswana wants to up its game in the area of organized sport, and Brock University sport management student Michael Small has pitched in to help out. For four months last fall, Mr. Small worked as an intern with the Botswana National Olympic Committee and the Botswana Athletics Association, assisting the organizations to roll out their new training program for coaches. He booked venues, prepared budgets, organized catering and created post-session online surveys for participants. He also helped create a website for the athletics association and set up its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“They took interest in my suggestions and tried to learn from me, and I learned from them,” says Mr. Small, who’s in the final year of his undergraduate program and planning a career in sports event management. “It was great having so much independence and responsibility, and being able to make a difference.”

Mr. Small’s experience was made possible through the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships program. Unveiled in 2014, the initiative was Canada’s contribution to mark the Queen’s 60-year reign. With $42 million in funding coming from the federal and provincial governments, the private and public sectors, participating universities and their partners, the scholarship program currently supports 48 projects in over 45 Commonwealth countries. Led by 36 Canadian universities, the program involves more than 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The first group of winning projects was announced in March 2015. The projects range from two to four years in duration and receive up to $500,000 in funding.

A new request for proposals is expected later this year. Universities Canada announced on June 1 that the International Development Research Center will be contributing $10 million to the scholarship program to provide new learning opportunities for doctoral, postdoctoral and early career researchers, particularly from low- and middle-income countries.

The program’s overall goal, according to program partners Universities Canada, Rideau Hall Foundation and Community Foundations of Canada, is “to activate a dynamic community of young global leaders across the Commonwealth to create lasting impacts both at home and abroad through cross-cultural exchanges, encompassing international education, discovery and inquiry, and professional experiences.” The program includes funding for internships and graduate-level study or research opportunities for Canadian students, as well as scholarships for students from Commonwealth countries who wish to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees at Canadian universities.

“In a world where there is less emphasis on boundaries and borders, and more on communities and countries working together, this exchange of global talent can help address fundamental global challenges, and have positive ramifications for students’ education and future careers,” said Andrea Dicks, managing director of Rideau Hall Foundation.

University of Victoria geography major and Queen Elizabeth Scholar Trilby Buck (brown shirt, centre) did a work term at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Ghana from September to December 2015 – and also found time to help with local beach clean-up efforts. Photo by the University of Victoria.
University of Victoria geography major and Queen Elizabeth Scholar Trilby Buck (brown shirt, centre) did a work term at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Ghana from September to December 2015 – and also found time to help with local beach clean-up efforts. Photo by the University of Victoria.

A wide variety of projects were funded in the first round in areas such as the environment, health, economic growth, food security, gender equity, Aboriginal issues, children and youth, education and governance. They include a project led by Wilfrid Laurier University to advance human rights and social justice in Ghana; a project by Saint Mary’s University to use information technology to promote rural development in Uganda; and one by the University of British Columbia to support climate-resistant transportation infrastructure in South Asia.

Brock’s Mr. Small was named a QE Scholar as part of his university’s project to foster community-building through sport. Facilitated by the university’s partner organization, Commonwealth Games Canada, students are completing four-month placements that involve increasing community access to sports facilities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, using sports to promote HIV/AIDS awareness in Swaziland, in addition to training athletes in Botswana.

“These initiatives help these nations use sports to address local concerns and broader social issues,” said Lisa Kikulis, an associate professor and chair of the department of sport management at Brock. “At the same time, they’re building the next generation of sports leaders.”

The University of Victoria, meanwhile, is providing 40 students in the STEM fields with co-operative work terms at postsecondary institutions in Australia, New Zealand, India and several African Commonwealth countries. These include opportunities to intern at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences and at the campuses of Aga Khan University. UVic is also supporting AIMS students to complete their master’s degrees at its campus in B.C.

The project also includes an indigenous student-focused academic exchange with the University of Newcastle in Australia. Kimberly Hanton, an indigenous student at UVic studying political science, philosophy and economics, worked with one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal historians and collaborated with U of Newcastle’s Global Indigenous and Diaspora Research Studies Centre. “This experience has been lifechanging,” said Ms. Hanton. “Getting to know other indigenous people helped me understand myself better. It reinforced my values and strengthened my identity as a Mi’kmaq woman.”

Norah McRae, executive director of co-operative education and career services at UVic, said these international learning experiences, often in unfamiliar cultures, “force students to dig deep within themselves to manage. That allows them to build their self-efficacy, teamwork and communication skills, which will make them better leaders.”

Leaders of a different stripe are emerging at the University of Waterloo through its project to create a global index of well-being. The university has created an index of well-being specific to Canada, but wants to expand that to encompass the rest of the world, starting with the low- and middle-income African Commonwealth countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda. Unlike the widely used Gross Domestic Product, which only measures the economic value of a country’s goods and services, this more holistic index evaluates performance in areas such as education, population health, the environment and democratic engagement. U of Waterloo has offered scholarships to four students from these African countries, allowing them to join the project while they complete their PhDs in geography and environmental management.

“There are some amazingly bright people in the world who can’t advance their education and pursue research because they don’t have the resources,” said Susan Elliott, the project leader and a professor of geography and environmental management. “This scholarship was their big chance to get ahead.”

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