By Kirsten Fenn
More than 400 community and academic leaders were at Carleton for C2UExpo today, a Canadian-led international conference held every two years to showcase public policy solutions created by campus-community partnerships.
The conference runs from May 27 to 29, giving academics and non-profit advocates an opportunity to explore issues ranging from missing and murdered Aboriginal women to immigration and pension plans.
“If you were to ask Canadian politicians who creates public policy, they would say they do,” said conference Convenor Ted Jackson. “But they’re not the only ones who create public policy. These campus-community partnerships actually generate all kinds of ideas and solutions by blending the knowledge of citizens with academics and students.”
With a federal election on the horizon, it’s an important time for the conference to be held in Canada’s capital, he said, where government decision-making takes place. This year’s theme is Citizen-Driven Policy: Strengthening Community Engagement for a Better World, and Jackson said it’s a chance to let politicians know that universities and community organizations can help solve community issues.
Ideas and solutions are expected to emerge from the wide-ranging selection of keynote events, as well as smaller-scale presentations.
“There’s going to be a lot of really deep learning,” said Nicole Bedford, conference co-ordinator. “There’s a lot of different skills-based sessions and I think people will come away from it feeling a lot more energized about moving forward in their actual work.”
The conference kicked off with passionate opening remarks from Dawn Harvard, interim president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, who took the opportunity to highlight violence faced by Indigenous women in Canada.
“We have a crisis in Canada,” she said, referring to the hundreds of unsolved cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
“That’s why conferences like this are so important. We need every man, woman and child to stand up in this country and say this is not an Aboriginal issue, this is not a feminist issue. This is a human rights issue and this is a Canadian issue and we all care about this.”
Conference participant Shireen Rajaram, from the University of Nebraska, said Harvard helped her see overlapping issues in her own field of research, which focusses on domestic violence and sex trafficking.
“The more people are aware, the more they can speak out,” says Rajaram.
In the afternoon, participants learned how community groups in Quebec are designing sustainable pension plans for workers struggling to contribute enough money for a secure retirement.
Meanwhile, community-campus partners were honoured Wednesday night for their work on finding solutions to health, social, environmental or economic inequalities.
Jackson said he hoped the conference would showcase Carleton as a policy leader and inspire new partnerships, such as a new one that was created this year with Algonquin College. Algonquin participated in a pre-conference workshop on May 26, marking the first time a college has been part of the events.
Community leaders, students and academics attending the conference are “very focused on trying to make a better country and a better community,” Jackson said. “And they’re really making good progress.”