Paving the Way for Community Engagement

Paving the Way for Community Engagement

By: Jasleen Bains
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I have always been deeply connected to my community. Whether it be through volunteering for my local recreation centre, coaching youth soccer, or conducting research for non-profits within my municipality, I’ve always felt invested in the people and institutions around me. Before I began my work term with SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, I never really perceived universities as avenues for community engagement. This assumption however, was quickly proven wrong. Universities such as SFU have the capacity to form meaningful bonds that go beyond the school community. As one of Canada’s most community engaged universities, SFU strives to form these meaningful relationships in every initiative they undertake. Through my work term with the Centre, I had the chance to experience this first hand. The SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue was founded in 2000 and “acts as a hub for dialogue and engagement initiatives.” The Centre believes in creating spaces for respectful conversation to occur, a principle that I quickly learned during my work term. 

As the Communications and Engagement Assistant at the Centre, I was a member of a growing and supportive team that helped to build the Centre’s reputation as a global centre for knowledge and practice. It was an honour getting to work alongside a dynamic group of individuals who supported me throughout the term. Furthermore, the best part about being a part of the communications team was that I had the opportunity to be involved in and support an array of exciting projects that aimed to strengthen SFU’s commitment to engagement. In particular, I would like to highlight two very important projects that I was a part of, which helped to shape my understanding about the work universities can undertake when it comes to engagement.  

Strengthening Canadian Democracy 

Many university organizations are making the effort to engage with communities in order to strengthen democratic and civic principles. The Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue is no different. It has launched a 2-year project called Strengthening Canadian Democracy, which looks at how to best strengthen the commitment Canadians have to our democratic system and institutions. As a part of this project, I was able to attend the DemocracyXChange conference at Ryerson University. This conference brought together a variety of inspiring organizations and institutions, such as the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, who are actively working in the area of democracy. The opportunity to attend the conference would not have been possible without the support of my manager, and for that I am extremely grateful. One of my main takeaways from this experience, was the realization about the important role universities can play in in democratic engagement. Universities are able to create the condition for democracy to thrive more widely in societies, and act as agents of change. For this to happen however, it requires leadership, something the Centre has, and will continue to provide. It was truly an eye-opening experience, one that made me truly appreciate my co-op term with SFU.    

Burnaby Affordable Housing Project 

A key component of the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue includes its social enterprise team, which works with governments, non-profits and businesses to facilitate an innovative public engagement and dialogue process on complex topics. I had the chance to play a small role in the Your Voice Your Home housing project that the City of Burnaby undertook in partnership with the Centre. With the aim of engaging Burnaby residents about the contentious issue of housing and hearing what their ideas were to tackle unaffordability, a community ideas workshop was planned. I was able to conduct interviews with workshop participants throughout the night about their housing concerns, in order to include a variety of perspectives and experiences in the final project report. This project introduced me to the vital role the Centre plays and has played in supporting citizens and governments in public engagement and consultation. 

My co-op experience with SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue turned out to be extremely fulfilling, more than what I could have ever imagined. This is greatly due to the supportive and healthy work environment that I was lucky enough to have. Throughout the various projects I was able to assist with, I was met with guidance and trust, something that helped me succeed. For those of you who are still wondering, what is it like to work for an engaged university such as SFU? I would say, every experience will be different and that’s the best part. If you are truly interested in how you can play a small role in a larger project, process, or event and are willing to learn and put in the work, I would suggest taking up a co-op work term with the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. Trust me, you won’t regret it! 

Beyond the Article

Posted on May 06, 2019