Photo by Kyle West

Ontario Public Interest Research Group McMaster is focusing on more efficiently empowering students to make a difference in the community following a referendum in January 2018 that lowered students’ contributions to our OPIRG chapter from $8.07 per student to $5.50.

The organization tackles social and environmental issues through funding student projects and other community organizations.

This year, OPIRG McMaster has made two main changes: cutting staff costs and splitting the single project category of “Working Groups” into mainly “Public Interest Projects” and “Community Partners.”

The most significant effect of the decreased funding has been major cuts in staff funding. This year, salaries and benefits for the three staff members will amount to $89, 342, according to the budget.

The second change entails establishing two types of project groups to improve efficiency and accountability.  

“Streamlining the Working Groups into either Public Interest Projects or Partnerships allows us to hold groups more accountable and also better provide them with the support they need,” said Parnika Godkhindi, director of publicity at OPIRG McMaster.

OPIRG offers up to $1,550 in funding for public interest projects, which are student-run and make change through clear goals and measurable results. Community partners typically have a less measurable impact, are more established and work not as closely with OPIRG, receiving less funding.   

Two examples of public interest projects are Bleed Free, which supports sustainable reproductive health and awareness, and Threadwork, which calls for students to think more critically about the impact of clothing on the environment.

According to Godkhindi, historically, actively supporting the working groups was not a main priority for OPIRG. Instead, they raised money for other organizations and played more of an oversight role for groups.

That has changed this year, with more resources and attention being given to supporting public interest groups.

“We realized that getting students actively involved on campus is one of our main priorities,” said Godkhindi.

OPIRG hopes that creating public interest groups based on definitive actions and results will increase transparency and more recognition of OPIRG’s role as well.

“Before, when people used to think of OPIRG, you would know what the working groups were, but you didn’t know what they were doing,” said Faris Mecklai, OPIRG director of policies and procedures. “Changing it to public interest groups where you are able to measure results and see what is happening just makes it a lot more clear.”

This year, the group has placed a larger focus on promoting the role that OPIRG plays in supporting student initiatives that students might see.  

“Lots of rebranding goes with that,” said Godkhindi. “We just want to make sure that that connection is established more clearly so people know that we are actually on campus and doing things with their tuition fee.”

OPIRG McMaster is also re-evaluating annual programming they hold. They see the lowered budget as a chance to make sure what they do is producing results. Godkhindi pointed to the annual Making Connections Week in September as an example.

In light of the funding change, OPIRG sees this year as an opportunity to shift their strategic goals to get back to their core mission: empowering students.

“There is so much potential here. Our thing is trying to harness the potential to make it more effective,” said resource centre director Katerina Simantirakis.

The deadline for public interest project applications was Oct. 22. Applications for community projects should be open in early November.

OPIRG McMaster will be presenting a report on their activity this year at the Nov. 11 Student Representative Assembly meeting. With changes to their projects, OPIRG is trying to figure out how to best use all the resources they have to enable students to ignite change in the community.

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