Impact Report: 2020/21

Message by Executive Director

March 16, 2020 is forever etched in my mind. It was the day that SFU began our pandemic lockdown. It was also the day that the staff and faculty of the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue demonstrated their capacity to step up and step in to serve our communities and support each other.

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We opened the 2020/2021 fiscal year on Zoom. A temporary measure, we thought that would last a few weeks at most. But weeks turned into months and months turned into a second year.

Despite the ambiguity, we set a goal to guide our work. Whatever we did in this period needed to advance a more inclusive, democratic and resilient society. Then we looked at what was core to the Centre that couldn’t be compromised - our people, our ethic of care, our commitment to racial equity and justice, our practice of dialogue - and we built our programming from there.

During these twelve months, everyone brought their insights, ideas, and energy to the mix and it showed. In all of the years of the Centre’s operations, we have never programmed so much, served so many communities, attracted so many contracts or mobilized so many financial resources towards dialogue as we have in this year.

Our approach to serve was inspired by SFU’s steadfast commitment to engagement and community building. We recognize as an institution we have a responsibility to be a part of our community’s response to the pandemic and rebuilding out of it.

Covid-19 has not been easy as staff and their families have coped with illness and death, but despite these difficulties, we created a circle of care and a commitment to service that has had enduring ripples across our communities and our country. As we close this year I want to say a special thank you to everyone who found the energy and the capacity to step up and step in with us - our staff, faculty, students, alumni, donors and community partners. Because of you, we didn’t just survive - we thrived.

Shauna Sylvester 
Executive Director to April 14, 2022 
Professor, Professional Practice

The Land We're On

The SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue respectfully acknowledges the unceded, traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish) and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, on which the SFU Vancouver campus and Wosk Centre building are located. 

Dialogue is rooted in relationships. For us to do the work we do, in a good way, we must acknowledge, reflect, and continuously learn about our colonial history and its ongoing impact on the conversations and spaces that make up our work. This creates the foundation from which we can work together in collaboration to address harms, uphold Indigenous knowledge and reimagine more just relationships.

Supporting Our Communities in Response to COVID-19 

The Centre focused energy on supporting our local communities affected by the pandemic and finding ways to move through a crisis as a collective.

What was our focus?

We put energy into reinforcing the social infrastructure of communities. 

What did we do?

To support young people navigate their health, social, and employment needs we created Wegotchu is a one-stop resource centre and FAQ digital platform. In a time of uncertainty, this platform aimed to ease anxieties of local youth with specific regional answers to questions about the pandemic and local support including mental health resources.

To support young people in employment needs Pivot 2020 was created as a national youth employment program. Pivot employed 1200 young people across Canada to research urban issues and gave youth meaningful work with the aim to interact with their local communities in a safe way.

To support transit and movement of city residents in Metro Vancouver Moving in a Livable Region worked with Translink and Vancouver Coastal Health to launch a website that helps residents safely navigate options for moving around during the pandemic.

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Moving in a Livable Region also supported Metro Vancouver Mayors in securing $644 million in federal and provincial support to maintain public transit operations through COVID-19.

Illustration by Geoff Smith at SFU Public Square.

To support curiosity and ease social isolation we launched Distant, Not Disengaged, a weekly, experimental online community in partnership with SFU Public Square and CityHive. This community seeked to use the learnings of disruptions to normalcy to be a catalyst for improving equity and empathy moving forward.

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The series held 17 events between April and November 2020, featuring over 70 speakers, more than 80 participating special guests and convened between 100-450 attendees per event.

Illustration by SFU COVNET.

To support SFU’s dialogue and COVID-19 response, recovery, and resilience COVNET was launched as a COVID-19 Resilience Network which brought together people to collaborate on solutions to the current moment.

Photo by Mati Mango from Pexels.

To support protection from pandemic increased malicious cyber activity Paul Meyer continued to propose accountability in relation to the norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace to protect the health care sector and vulnerable individuals.

Teaching and Student Engagement

What was our focus?

Engaging students in virtual learning and building meaningful relationships to deliver high quality education. 

What did we do?

Semester in Democracy - The Next Frontier: Summer 2020
Semester in Department of Living: Fall 2020
Semester in Wicked Problems: Spring 2021

To continue to engage students in an immersive cohort program we successfully pivoted our in-person Semester in Dialogue programs online. The program themes included Democracy: The Next Frontier, The Department of Living, and Semester in Wicked Problems. Students built capacity in professional development, leadership, and dialogue skills. The program was also featured in Canada’s University Affairs Magazine and serves as a model for a Centre for Dialogue initiative at University of Aberystwyth.

"I definitely feel more committed to democracy as a result of this program... I realized that democracy is a lot closer to home than I thought it was, but also a lot messier... it humanized the system for me."

Semester in Democracy Student

To increase the impact of the Semester in Dialogue program the Semester In program expanded in the university, facilitating SFU departments and faculties to incorporate a semester-long, cohort-based learning into their curriculum. 

The Semester In program ran Semester in Podcasting with a group of a group of students learning weekly from prominent Canadian journalists. 

To support students in further development and recognition of dialogue skills the Centre has three student awards established through staff donations: The Sylvester Family Award at the Centre for Dialogue, The Den Haan Family Semester in Dialogue Student Award, and the Staff Award for Future Dialogue Practitioners.

To foster greater conections among students and ignite new relationships we launched CAMP, a three-day event for first and second-year students that inspired creativity, dialogue and mutual support.

To foster alumni engagement we recruited and created an alumni advisory group that worked with the Centre to co-design and deliver CAMP and to support online programming through the pandemic.

To expand students' complex thinking skills Diane Finegood taught the course Complex is not the same as complicated to raise awareness in the value of shifting from complicated to complex thinking. 

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The course was informed through workshops done with the Association of Directors of Public Health in the UK.

To expand students' dialogue and engagement skills Paul Meyer taught Inside Diplomacy: A Practitioner's Perspective as part of the SFU School of International Studies program. Students gained skills in negotiation and attentive listening in enabling diverse actors to reach agreements.

To support SFU faculties the Centre partnered with various SFU departments to collaborate and deliver dialogues on a topic of their choosing. This included a partnership with the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies on a dialogue titled “Passing the Torch” with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Shirin Ebadi.

"Semester in Dialogue shows you how important your authentic self is and that you can have a positive impact on the world. We built a community in my Semester in Dialogue cohort. We deeply care for each other to this day!"

Sarah Law, den Haan Family Student Award recipient

A Go-To Resource for Governments During COVID-19

What was our focus?

Leading a shift in the way governments engage with their communities to increase the presence of resident and stakeholder voices in decision-making.

What did we do?

Photo by the Province of British Columbia

To meaningfully advance public safety and build relationships, the Social Enterprise Team worked with Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Office of the Premier to convene faith and spiritual leaders to address the challenges posed by the provincial health orders and inform solutions based on the specific needs of their communities.

Photo by Bruno Soares

To integrate public voices into climate decision making the Social Enterprise Team supported Environment and Climate Change Canada and the federal government’s Net-Zero Advisory Group to inform plans for a multi-million dollar engagement budget.

Photo from the City of North Vancouver website

To support social resiliency and connectivity the Social Enterprise Team facilitated 23 representatives from community services, health, arts, education, faith, businesses and other sectors to support City of North Vancouver’s response during and beyond COVID-19. 

Photo by Karsten Würth

To enhance resiliency through the pandemic recovery Clean Energy Canada launched a Resilient Recovery campaign, which brought together a chorus of voices from across the clean energy sector to call on governments to support a clean and resilient recovery.  

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CEC also participated on the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery. This work helped inform the March 2021 federal budget, which includes funding for the decarbonization of heavy industry, as well as support for clean technologies and other issues CEC advocates for.  

Photo by the Burnaby Board of Trade

To support businesses in recovering from COVID-19 the Social Enterprise team facilitated 10 virtual meetings for the Burnaby Economic Recovery Task Force with 15 senior representatives from local government, major employers, small businesses, non-profits, labour unions and post-secondary institutions to develop a coping strategy. 

Beyond Inclusion

What was our focus?

To support the meaningful and equitable participation of diverse voices in public engagement processes by continuing to learn, advance practices and provide practitioners with resources. We also took time to step back and bring dialogue to our internal space as we sought to inform our work with an anti-racism and decolonization lens.

What did we do?

To support systemic change and build capacity in governments and practitioners, the Centre launched the Beyond Inclusion: Equity in Public Engagement guide to over 3100 participants. The guide was the culmination of almost two year of focus groups, community dialogues, literature reviews and peer reviews..

To explore trauma-informed engagement practices the 2021 Bruce and Lis Welch Community Dialogue engaged researchers, government decision-makers, the public and our staff on how to develop trauma-informed practices with Dr. Karine Duhamel, Director of Research for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

To further internal learning about how the Centre will approach work with an anti-racism lens the Centre held all-staff dialogues on anti-racism to challenge ourselves to rethink policies, culture and processes in a multi-faceted way. This is a long-term internal process to deepen individual and collective thinking about systemic racism.

To inform urban planning processes with an EDI and Decolonization lens Fellow Ginger Gosnell-Myers fielded regular media requests and was featured on: CBC Early Edition, On the Coast, Daybreak North, The Guardian, The Economist and The Tyee. 

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A chapter on Urban Indigenous city building was contributed to the book Sacred Civics through convening city planning practitioners across North America.

Robert Daum and Lindsay Heller produced a comprehensive research report for the City of Vancouver to support the City's anti-racism strategy.

To further decolonization work at post secondary institutions Robert Daum and Lindsay Heller collaborated on the development of BCIT's first-ever, comprehensive diversity and inclusion surveys for students, faculty and staff, including quantitative and qualitative dimensions.

Building Capacity to Engage in Democracy

What was our focus?

Strengthen the democratic capacity of cities, neighbourhoods, and the next generation.

What did we do?

To co-create community-based knowledge with youth the Pivot Data Hub was developed by over 1100 youth providing employment to each of them virtually during the pandemic. 

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The Pivot Hub highlights youth-driven data and insights about important topics relating to Canadian cities as they emerge from COVID-19.

To strengthen youth education on civic engagement CityHive continued programming that will inform and improve the next session of CityShapers. 146 participants took part in cohort programs and 2,600 participants attended workshops and events.

To expand democratic teachings to an online community across Canada the Strengthening Canadian Democracy Initiative collaborated and presented in a number of prominent programs such as the Massey Dialogues, Ryerson Leadership Lab and DemocracyXchange. 

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The initiative’s online video “What is Democracy” also reached 100,000 views.  

To unlock future democratic engagement processes we evaluated the Neighbourhood Small Grants program’s relationship to democracy. The report shares knowledge about how participation in community activities aligns with participation in democratic processes and attributes that can lead to more engagement. 

To alleviate social isolation and build capacity for neighbourly support and mutual aid Hey Neighbour Collective (HNC) brought together housing providers, non-profits, researchers, local and regional governments, housing associations, and health authorities to experiment and learn together. 

Data analysis is an intricate and beautiful process in which we invoke a string of voices, highlight challenges and successes of the communities that we stand connected to. 

Freshta Ahmadzai, SFU alumnus and data analysis coordinator for the Pivot Hub

Responding to the Climate Emergency with Solutions

What was our focus?

Advancing integrated climate solutions that don’t leave communities behind.

What did we do?

To push forward progress on climate solutions Renewable Cities established a regional Low Carbon Cities (LC3) Innovation Centre with City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities with a $21.7 million endowment from the Government of Canada.

To advance urban climate policy solutions the Union of BC Municipalities' Special Committee on Climate Action added sustainable land use planning as a signature BC initiative, based on recommendations from Renewable Cities.

To accelerate regional climate innovations Renewable Cities acted as an engagement lead and senior strategist on Carbon Neutral Metro Vancouver to explore policy options in land use, transportation, buildings, waste, industry, agriculture, ecosystems, aviation, rail and marine. 

To accelerate the transition to clean energy Clean Energy Canada conducted original research, published reports, convened stakeholders, and engaged in other efforts to advance policies that reduce carbon pollution and grow Canada’s clean economy. 

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CEC highlighted Canada’s clean hydrogen opportunity, quantified Canada’s clean energy jobs and growth potential, developed a clean cars policy package, and released an industry-supported list of top priority actions Canada must take to build an EV (electric vehicles) battery industry.     

To develop strategic climate responses, the ACT team’s Integrated Climate Action for BC Communities Initiative rapidly advanced the co-creation and uptake of integrated adaptation and mitigation. 

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The team also ran workshops and published the LCR Decision Tool to aim to help local governments implement and educate on climate action. ACT also reported on the Canadian national climate risk assessment and hosted several national events on the intersections between COVID, climate, equity, and nature-based solutions.

Telling the Story of Dialogue for Impact

What was our focus?

Educating others about the power of dialogue and storytelling.

What did we do?

To share the capacity for writing and storytelling Mark Winston was appointed as the SFU Library’s inaugural Non-Fiction Writer in Residence

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Winston shared the power that non-fiction writing has to share knowledge beyond academia through telling compelling research and scholarship stories. Consultation, writing workshops, and feedback to faculty and staff resulted in strengthening public writing projects.

To share the story of the Centre’s origin and development the Centre interviewed Dr. Jack Blaney, whose vision transformed SFU from "the university on the hill" to the accessible multi campus community embedded institution of learning it is today. 

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This interview is part of a series that will be published in a commemorative book that exemplifies the Centre’s 20 years of success convening dialogues and engaging that community and its citizens.

To strengthen an online presence the Centre launched a new website to champion the many activities of the Centre and better tell the story of how dialogue has a positive impact on creating change.

We’d like to thank our generous funders for making our impact possible:

  • Bealight Foundation
  • Bruce and Lis Welch Community Endowment
  • Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
  • Carol A. Newell 
  • Catherine Donnelly Foundation 
  • Centre for Dialogue Endowment
  • City of New Westminster
  • City of Vancouver
  • Clean Economy Fund
  • den Haan Family Semester in Dialogue Student Award
  • Employment and Social Development Canada
  • Ivey Foundation 
  • Jack P. Blaney Endowment Fund
  • J.W. McConnell Family Foundation 
  • LandlordBC
  • Lawson Foundation 
  • Metro Vancouver Regional District
  • M.H. Brigham Foundation
  • North Family Foundation
  • Real Estate Foundation of BC
  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Sam Broadbent
  • SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue Staff Award for Promising Future Dialogue Practitioners
  • Sitka Foundation 
  • Trottier Family Foundation 
  • United Way of the Lower Mainland 
  • Vancouver Coastal Health 
  • Vancouver Foundation
  • Victoria Foundation
  • Yosef Wosk Family Endowment