It was a white Saturday morning in Ottawa after a snow storm hit the city overnight. The sidewalks were slippery and the roads barely drivable. Despite the harsh winter conditions, one hundred youth and community leaders gathered at the Bayview Yards Innovation Hub to find solutions to Ottawa’s biggest issues – such as, Ottawa now knows, accessibility.
On Feb. 2 when everyone arrived at Impact Jam 613, the dynamic atmosphere set up by the Ottawa Global Shapers volunteers was enough to warm up the participants. The icy cold weather was forgotten as minds were already boiling. The 50 young participants presenting this morning are aware that they only have one day to make the best of this community pilot-project.
“We have a jam-packed day ahead of us and I hope you are ready to think outside the box for initiatives and problem solving,” says Liora Raitblat, a Global Shaper member, as she launched the very first Impact Jam 613 project.
Youth from ages 18-30, have one day to meet with city leaders, experts and organizations to learn about seven of the city’s most complex issues and work as a team to pitch innovative solutions. By the end of the day, three teams received funds and support from local partner organizations to bring their ideas to life.
Impact Jam 613 was created by the Global Shapers community to put the decision-making opportunities in the hands of youth, to make changes on issues that affect them.
“Youth are not our future, you’re the present,” says Ian Bingeman, executive director at Youth Ottawa. As a partner of the initiative, Youth Ottawa provided each group with a volunteer facilitator who had previously mentored in the youth community. The youth facilitator then insures a continued monitoring of the teams that are inspired to pursue their ideas further.
“At Youth Ottawa we don’t like stopping at a pitch,” says Hélène Boulay, program coordinator at Youth Ottawa. “We think that the best way to engage with youth is when they actually get to do their own project and impact their community in a way that makes sense to them.”
While the facilitators were volunteering their time to share their community experiences and knowledge, they also got their dose of lessons too.
Ellie Floyd, a facilitator with Youth Ottawa, says that meeting with experts throughout the day gave her a better understanding of the issue her group was working on solving. However, in her position of facilitator that’s when she felt the most challenged.
“It’s thought sometimes when you are working with people who come from different backgrounds on a broad and complex issue to pinpoint one angle to tackle,” says Floyd. “Hearing the variety of ideas that people had and combining it into one, comes down to a learning experience for me and I am happy that we were able to incorporate everybody’s interest into that one project.”
The ability to pinpoint a problem and look at tangible solutions on how to solve it is one of the many skills that community pilot-projects, like Impact Jam Ottawa, tend to achieve. The Ottawa community, as well as the job market, require collaboration with peers, so it’s important to provide youth with the required skills.
“For the success of young people, whether it is on the job market or on creating their own project, the most important skill is problem solving,” says Fahd Alhattab, leardership and motivational speaker. “Young people, whether they are very altruistic and want to create impact or they want to develop their skills, this type of event is perfect.”
Empowering the community
Whether in our personal life or our professional life, we don’t always get to interact with people who are similar to our style. Christian Robillard, Global Shapers member and organizer of the event, put emphasis on bringing together people with a variety of personalities and experience to work on solutions that will overall benefit a larger amount of people.
“I really expected for us to struggle a bit because we had never met each other and we are all coming from very different backgrounds,” says Huzaifa Saeed, a youth participant. “Surprisingly, we didn’t. I think everyone recognized that we have different knowledge and life experiences and everyone was willing to give space and disagree or engage more professionally.”
Saeed moved to Ottawa from Hamilton this summer and despite living in the downtown core, he finds it to be a bit of a bubble because he doesn’t hear much on how the city runs and what’s happening. While meeting with city leaders, experts, young professionals and various organizations, the 29-year-old was able to fulfill his thirst for knowledge.
Among the city leaders who brought their experience and expertise to the table was Jeff Leiper, city councillor for the Kitchissippi ward. He was very pleased by the initiative. As a city councillor, Leiper feels that he doesn’t have the opportunity very often to speak with youth in a way that feels as engaged and informed as what happened at Impact Jam 613.
“I think it is fantastic to see the youth of Ottawa engaged in what are some of our most challenging and yet pressing issues in the city,” says Leiper. “City government can’t do it on its own, government can’t do it on its own, we have a ton of great NGOs in the city but it takes a lot more than just the NGOs and politicians to make change, we have to have the citizens working with us.”
These citizens only had one day to dig into some of the city’s most complex issue. They started from the assumption that everything is possible and then, as they narrowed down the solutions, they then started to see some of the challenges that come with trying to make something happen.
Thankfully, the large network of local organizations, mentors and politicians who engaged in this pilot-project are available as well as valuable resources for the youth to bring their projects to life. It takes all of us to make our city a better place to live.