International Studies student Asmaite Gebremichael, seen in this photo from 2018, was a member of this year's CLIC cohort and is an active leader in Surrey. (Submitted photo)

Awards and recognition

Surrey-based community leadership program sparks 100 changemakers

April 21, 2021

By Rachel Wong

At a time when social isolation due to the pandemic is high, this year’s cohort for Community Leaders Igniting Change (CLIC) grew their personal leadership skills and helped the program pass a major milestone – 100 participants.

CLIC is a 12-week program that helps local community members build their leadership capacity and confidence as changemakers. Participants are led through sessions that includes facilitated discussion, small-group work and guest speakers.

With the completion of this year’s cohort, 100 people have now taken the program. Many note the growth they’ve experienced personally, as well as the opportunity to meet other people and hear diverse perspectives.

This year, CLIC brought together a diverse group of participants: 13 women and three men ranging from 19 years to 62 years who identify as newcomers, immigrants and multi-generational Canadians. Despite their differences, the one thing that ‘clicks’ them all together is their desire to ignite community change and make a difference in their community. This year’s eighth cohort was delivered entirely over Zoom due to COVID-19.

Kathleen Burke from the Beedie School of Business has facilitated CLIC since it began in 2015.  Even though they couldn’t gather in-person this year, Burke was amazed at the resilience of cohort members.

“I wondered how I would cultivate a sense of cohesion and connection in a remote setting,” Burke says. “However, it was immediately evident that we were already united in our desire to be together and to share and grow our capacities to lead in and with community. We created a microcosm of the community we sought.”

Burke went onto say that trust was essential for the success of CLIC, particularly in the online environment: “Participants trusted me to be prepared, respectful, mindful of the vulnerability that learning necessitates and patient. I trusted participants to bring their ideas and experiences into the space, be prepared and be open to discoveries that challenged previously held views.”

A screenshot from the CLIC final presentations with this year’s cohort. As of April 15, 100 participants have completed the CLIC program.

One of this year’s participants was SFU student Asmaite Gebremichael. Outside of her studies, Gebremichael works full time as a Community Support Worker for individuals with disabilities. Week after week, she would join her cohort in the online sessions after a busy day. Like Burke, Gebremichael was curious to see how she would form meaningful connections with others through a screen.

“It was hard to accept that building strong relationships with the other members had to be within the virtual world,” says Gebremichael. However, she found that she could still meaningfully connect, collaborate, and share personal stories with other CLIC participants.

As one of the 100 CLIC participants from the past few years, Gebremichael is grateful for the way CLIC challenged her view of leadership.

“CLIC assured me very early that I do not need to fit into any box and that there were no prerequisites in being an influential person. I just had to have the will to learn,” says Gebremichael. “I have the will to be a leader for the issues that I am passionate about, but I did not know the way … [through CLIC] I have obtained so much knowledge in what I feel is the productive leadership we need in our world today.”

Burke, who had the opportunity to journey with Gebremichael and all other CLIC participants, is excited for the ways in which CLIC participants will change Surrey and beyond. “There is an abundance of community builders and change agents throughout Surrey who have the desire and tools to support efforts and take action to promote social belonging and betterment in their communities.”

CLIC is made possible through the generous funding of Envision Financial, contributions from SFU Surrey and community support from the Surrey Poverty Reduction Coalition. Learn more.