Anqi Shen
The Silhouette

One is a street nurse in Toronto, and the other is the executive director of an organization with headquarters in Toronto and outreach in Africa.

Cathy Crowe and Shawn Cheung know a thing or two about how to affect change – a buzzword that has drawn its share of sceptics. The two activists will speak about the challenges and rewards of their work at this year’s Global Citizenship Conference.

Since graduating from McMaster University with a bachelor of commerce in 2005, Cheung’s job has involved advising Fortune 500 companies on how to optimize business development.

In 2006, he put his business expertise to use for a personal cause, launching the non-profit organization Raising the Village. The organization works to recover some of the most remote communities in Uganda, where households earn about 30 cents USD per day.

From the get-go, Cheung and his team have focused on creating sustainable models of growth—one of the most challenging steps, Cheung said, for companies and non-profits alike.

It’s only after being invited by a Ugandan NGO that Raising the Village staff begin implementing a recovery project for a specific area. Donors make a one-time investment to see the project flourish on a grassroots level, rather than repeatedly giving monetary aid that may never see its purpose fulfilled.

Cheung is a strong proponent of the ‘think globally, act locally’ mentality. “Not everyone has to go to Africa to make a significant impact,” he said, despite having trekked and volunteered in Uganda himself.

“It’s really about starting conversations,” said Cheung. “Many of the locals I spoke with in Uganda have great ideas for their future – they just don’t know how to get started or who to contact. I think everyone should at least have that opportunity.”

Cathy Crowe, another Torontonian, shares Cheung’s passion for sustainable development and stresses the need to “act rather than just witness.”

Crowe worked as a community help nurse for several years before unexpectedly falling into advocacy for the homeless in Toronto. A strong supporter of social assistance programs, Crowe co-founded the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, whose slogan prompts all levels of governments to commit an extra one per cent to their affordable housing budgets.

“My entire nursing career has been in Toronto’s downtown core,” said Crowe. “Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen supporters of the homeless retreat. But everything we saw on the streets became a national, socio-economic disaster, and everything that was happening in Toronto was happening in other communities.”

Like Cheung, she advocates for working toward change at the grassroots level.

“We need to develop responses that aren’t based on the idea that some poor are deserving of help and others are not,” she said. “There are creative ways you can bring people together to figure out long-term strategies.”

Crowe and Cheung will visit campus on March 10 to speak as keynotes for McMaster’s 7th annual Global Citizenship Conference.

The conference works toward a social consciousness that is rooted in local communities and extends across the globe. This year’s theme is “Activism is not dead.” It’s a slogan that’s bound to stick, but also leaves plenty of room for inquiry. Is activism dead, after all? Is it in need of re-activation?

For Cheung, the answer to the second question is yes. “With the rise of social media, globalization activism is beginning to take on a new form,” he said. “One of the trends we’ve seen is the expectation that gen X would come back and save the world, but that hasn’t happened. We need to be able to ‘activate’ the millennial generation into taking action, which they are very capable of doing.”

McMaster’s Global Citizenship Conference will be held in Hamilton Hall on Saturday, March 10.

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