Decorative photo of Peace Flame

Driven by education

4 minute read

By Rhonda Moore, Practice Lead, Science and Innovation

Shingai Manjengwa is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fireside Analytics Inc., a data science education solutions company that develops customized programs that teach digital and AI literacy, data science, data privacy, and computer programming. On 23 October, I sat down with Shingai to talk about what motivates her, and her recent appointment to the IOG Board.

After just a few minutes of speaking with her, it became clear that education is a driving force in Shingai’s life, starting in Zimbabwe where she was born and raised. Education took Shingai from Zimbabwe to South Africa where she completed a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Cape Town. After working in Cape Town for several years, Shingai moved to Canada and soon after, completed a Master’s of Science in Business Analytics at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Shingai says “Education is my story. That’s who I am. If I didn’t have education, where would I be?” In speaking about her proudest moments, Shingai describes bringing her parents to her university graduations. “Those [moments] in Cape Town and New York stand out in my life because they saw the whole thing. [My parents] made incredible sacrifices to get me through school, [and provided a] healthy amount of ‘pushing’ at times when I could not see what was possible. That matters. I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Now, Shingai lives in Toronto,“in a whirlwind nexus of technology, education, and entrepreneurship.”

“Education is a very easy thing to fight for, to get up every day, address large audiences or write a book about because it changes the lives of individuals and families.” Yes, Shingai has written a book. A random encounter in Germany at the G20 Young Entrepreneur’s Alliance led her to meet Marilyn Cormier, a Montreal-based illustrator and publisher. Together, Marilyn and Shingai collaborated on The Computer and the Cancelled Music Lessons: Data Science for Children.

Through this book, Shingai and Marilyn are working to give parents and children the tools to talk about technology. “The devices and technologies are all so new to all of us, we haven’t actively socialized them for ourselves let alone for young children. We wanted to provide families a way to discuss how the internet works and how technology can be used to solve problems.” Shingai and Marilyn also have plans to translate the book into French (and maybe more languages?).

Shingai thinks about future generations, and these considerations intersect with both the promises and the risks that AI presents. Shingai notes that human interests have not always served humanity well. To illustrate her point, she uses the example of weaponized technologies in the wrong hands. Another risk, says Shingai, is the risk of a new wave of colonization that separates the technology ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. In a world where cybersecurity dominates national security agendas globally, what would this mean for a continent like Africa that is still solving basic challenges of infrastructure and essential services? Even if we use technology for good – to fight climate change and ensure food and water security – what disparities and unintended consequences are we creating? Closer to home, what does low technology participation mean for Indigenous communities in Canada? Is technology advancement a rising tide that lifts all ships?

The dark side of AI is balanced by opportunity. We are making great strides in healthcare thanks to AI. Our ability to see 3D images of COVID-19 proteins is because of AI. “If we find a viable vaccine for COVID-19, and perhaps a cure”, Shingai says, “no one will question the use of AI in medicine”. But even when the goal is noble, one has to be aware of the implicit and explicit examples of bias in AI that result in unfair outcomes for those groups not reflected in the data sets upon which the algorithms are built. Case in point, “the next time you open an internet search engine, type in ‘beautiful face’ and note the homogenous faces looking back at you. Are you reflected in those images? If you are, who is not?”

If that sounds unfair, you’re in good company. Shingai agrees to being motivated by a sense of social justice and a desire to be part of the solution. This is why she recently brought policy into her nexus of technology, education, and entrepreneurship, and why she agreed to join the IOG Board of Directors. “Policy is an integral part of what I do,” said Shingai. “Technology and education cannot exist, thrive and serve everyone without good policy.”

And Shingai does mean everyone. On the occasion of Women’s History Month and Person’s Day, Shingai reflected that humans around the world are living parallel realities. While women in Canada were fighting to be recognized as persons under the law in 1929, her paternal grandmother in Zimbabwe was growing up without the freedom to walk down certain streets because of the colour of her skin. Both were plights to be recognized. Ninety years later, we still have work to do before all humans will be recognized as equals, with the freedom to express their full range of emotions and thoughts.

This article is the second in a three-part series of conversations with IOG’s three new female board members, on the occasion of Women’s History Month.

Read about Ilona Dougherty.

Read about Kim Scott.

Decorative photo of Montreal

Systems change and young people as the engines of innovation; a conversation with Ilona Dougherty

4 minute read

By Rhonda Moore, Practice Lead, Science and Innovation

Ilona Dougherty is the co-creator and managing director of the Youth & Innovation Project at the University of Waterloo and one of three new members to join the Institute on Governance Board of Directors. I sat down with Ilona to talk about her work, what motivates her, and her recent appointment to the IOG Board.

October is Women’s History Month and 18 October marks Person’s Day, when in 1929 the Supreme Court declared women were people under the law (Edwards v. Canada). On this subject, Ilona shared that she has been reflecting about privilege a lot in recent months. “When I think about privilege, I tend to think about where I don’t have privilege. I have begun to learn to also recognize where I do have privilege and use that privilege in meaningful ways.” Ilona says that gender is not a privilege that women have. “Just like we need to see colour and understand what white privilege is, we are [still] at a point where we have to see gender. We need to recognize that it impacts our lives and work in so many insidious ways, all the time. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Ilona also believes we have some work to do to change how we think about young people.

A line in Ilona’s bio reads “raised by activist parents in Prince Albert, Sask., and Whitehorse, Yukon, Ilona was struck early on by the disconnect between young people and decision-makers.” I asked her to describe that disconnect.

“Growing up in rural, northern Canada is tough for young people,” said Ilona. Intergenerational trauma, poverty, and youth suicide touched her life over and over again. “I do the work that I do because I’ve been fortunate to have adults around me who valued my voice when I was a young person, in a way that my peers from a lot of different backgrounds didn’t experience. I saw what happened to racialized or Indigenous kids dealing with intergenerational trauma and poverty. In that context, when a young person’s voice is devalued, it can be a life-and-death situation.”

Unpacking the notion of value a bit more, Ilona explained that in Western culture we have a tendency to regard young people as in the process of becoming a person. We don’t tend to recognize them as people until they reach the age of majority and begin to contribute to the economy. Ilona believes we need to start recognizing young people as persons in their own right, with their own thoughts, ideas, and opinions to contribute.

Ilona’s current research explores what is happening in young people’s brains from roughly the age of 15-25. She describes people at that age as primed for innovative ideas; their brains are generating new ideas all the time, and not bound by concepts of tradition or the way things have always been done as older adults are. Ilona believes in the power of intergenerational solidarity, and having different generations working together. Her research demonstrates that when young people with bold ideas are connected to decision makers with the capacity to scale and implement those decisions, innovation happens. Ilona believes that meaningful youth engagement is also about valuing elders and respecting what each brings to the table.

So what does Ilona say to employers who equate co-op students with cheap labour to get boring stuff done? “A lot of employers see youth as a nameless, faceless group of people. Yet they see their own kids as smart, engaged and driven young people. We need them to connect the dots and realize there are no nameless, faceless group of young people.” All young people have something to offer. She acknowledges that sometimes young people fresh from postsecondary are hard to work with and suggests that part of the value in engaging young people is in listening to their ideas, and exploring why they make us uncomfortable.

With so much work to do to improve how organizations harness the innovative ideas that young people can bring, what attracted Ilona to join the IOG Board? She explains “I’m a serious public policy geek. I’m passionate about working with the public service…When you have public servants who know how to navigate the system, it’s magic. You can get incredible things done.” A self-identified social innovator and someone who loves process, Ilona says “You know you’ve made a change in a system when you see a shift in a resource flow or a power dynamic.” For Ilona, the IOG offers a chance to work on those system-level changes, with organizations that are open to change and to innovation.

Welcome to the IOG, Ilona! We look forward to working with you.

This article is first of a three-part series of conversations with IOG’s three new female board members, on the occasion of Women’s History Month.

Read about Kim Scott here.

Read about Shingai Manjengwa here.

Decorative photo of Ottawa

Democracy, autonomy, clean energy

3 minute read

By Rhonda Moore, Practice Lead, Science and Innovation

Kim Scott is founder and principal investigator of Kishk Anaquot Health Research (KAHR), an independent Indigenous owned and operated consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, program design, performance measurement, partnership development, and environmental sustainability. Kim joined the IOG Board of Directors in September 2020. In October, we sat down to talk about governance, democracy and her new role on the IOG Board.

A true profile of Kim Scott would be an image – perhaps a sketch or a painting – not an article. Kim believes creativity and productivity is amplified when we use our right brains and visualization to create strategic focus.

So, what would an image of Kim’s motivations and thoughts include? Visual representations of democracy, decentralized clean energy systems, localized goods and services that lead to greater community autonomy, and a model of leadership that demonstrates power with rather than power over.

“Never in my lifetime have I been more worried about the state of democracy than I am right now. Nothing has eroded our democratic society more than centralized energy systems. If we decentralize energy production we can decentralize power and authority.” Kim is convinced that renewable, localized, community-owned energy production will restore localized decision making and consequently democracy.

When we put decision-making power and authority in the hands of local communities, we give them greater control over the determinants of health. The profits generated from local energy production can feed into local solutions for education, economic security, ecological integrity, safe housing and good food.

“There is nothing more unsustainable than shipping lettuce to the North and then having it cost $77 dollars.” The model of importing goods and services – that people rely on for human life and cultural expression – has supplanted the original, more effective and localized systems that guaranteed food sovereignty and healthy, high functioning social systems.

Our current way of life is not sustainable. To illustrate, Kim talks about her individual carbon footprint. “When I first measured my own carbon footprint, I learned that my lifestyle – the amount of living space I occupied, my air travel, the food I ate, – required the resources of 5 planets to support me. I was horrified.” Kim took a hard look at her lifestyle and worked to reduce her footprint. She succeeded in reducing her carbon footprint but only by about 40% with typical lifestyle changes. That’s when she recognized that investing in cleantech and using her carbon handprint could bring her into carbon negative territory. Because she wants to model what is possible without investment portfolios that are an easy fix not accessible to everyone, Kim continues to strive for a lifestyle that can be supported by the resources of just one planet by reducing living space, changing her diet, and refusing to fly.

“I want humanity to share in [our natural] resources in a way that will work better for everyone. I want to live simply so that others can simply live. Strong democracies, and strong societies, look out for the weak and the vulnerable. We all have a responsibility to make a tent that is big enough for inclusive and sustainable prosperity so no one gets left behind,” said Kim. She described the strength and efficacy of leaders like Jacinda Ardern who demonstrate a leadership model that leverages power with rather than power over. The difference, she says, is the ability to focus on the responsibilities of the collective, rather than the rights of the individual.

Kim adopts this view in her own work, too. “I am always looking for networks of conversation where we can talk about possibility related to social justice, inclusive prosperity, humanitarian ideals, fairness, justice and democracy. I pay close attention to what people say and the networks of conversation in which I engage.

“You’ll never find me at an anti-uranium demonstration or a protest because I’m too busy promoting and creating renewable energy systems that will make other energy sources obsolete. The possibilities presented by decentralized and community owned power production are quite attractive. I would rather enroll others in these possibilities in a way that helps them make contributions to energy democracy and a new economic reality based on sustainable and inclusive prosperity.”

This article is the third in a three-part series of conversations with IOG’s three new female board members, on the occasion of Women’s History Month.

Read about Ilona Dougherty here.

Read about Shingai Manjengwa here.

Decorative photo of Quebec City

Thoughts on Canadian Democracy following New Zealand Elections

4 minute read

By Gaafar Sadek, Executive Director, Public Sector Reform Initiative

In the current state of uncertainty and complexity in democracies around the world, events such as the recent elections in New Zealand become opportunities to explore relevant parallels with our own national context. And a closer examination of the health of Canadian democracy and its institutions by the IOG may be timelier than it seems, as our country has just avoided plunging into a snap pandemic election, with the Liberal government surviving a confidence vote about its alleged corruption.

A Majority Government in New Zealand

On October 17, Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party won 49.1% of the votes, giving New Zealand its first majority government since 1993, with a projection to hold 64 out of the 120 seats of the assembly. Next in votes was the centre-right National Party, with 26.8% of the votes, or 35 seats.[1]

When we know how favourably New Zealand’s population has viewed Jacinda Ardern’s performance in crisis management until now, the results of these elections become somewhat expected; the main preoccupation remains the instability and uncertainty stemming from the pandemic. She referred to the poll as “the COVID election.”

Politics and Charisma

New Zealand’s population have already seen Ms. Ardern and her cabinet deal with a number of crises during their first term, including a terrorist attack and the ongoing global pandemic. Her focus on compassion and kindness has been very well received. While the Labour Party ran a campaign that underlined its proposals on climate-friendly policies, funding for disadvantaged schools, and raising income taxes on top earners[2] the decisive win is largely attributable to Ms. Ardern’s now demonstrated ability to create a sense of safety during uncertain times, and more specifically, uniting the country in its fight with COVID-19.

JacindaArdern is a natural at playing the role of the political celebrity and influencer, through social media and beyond, to the point of becoming her own phenomenon: Jacindamania. During the campaign, she was followed and greeted like a star wherever she went, and she continues to appear approachable, down-to-earth, positive and authentic in her interactions. All of this has made her stand out in contrast to other heads of state. To many, she has even become a role model – not common in the world of politics. In this regard, she provides great case studies for the increasing number of academics and political analysts interested in the celebrity status of politicians and their use of social media, and the effects of these phenomena on the quality of democracy.

Until now, Ms. Ardern’s political style has been one of preferring compromise and consensus, but we have yet to see how she operates with a majority in the house. Examining how she handles the different power dynamics, and whether she remains as collaborative and consensual remains to be seen, especially with the parties whose support she needed to lead through her previous mandate. If New Zealand’s political culture does not shift soon, the country can be expected to go back to a minority government come next elections, in which case, it would be wise for the Labour Party to continue forging political alliances and coalitions.

Examples of other systemic parallels

In New Zealand, Parliament dissolves every three years. Their upper house was abolished in 1951, though there have been occasional suggestions to bring it back over the years. In 1996, the country modified its voting system, as a result of referendums held in 1992 and 1993, replacing its first-past-the-post system with Mixed-Member Proportional representation. Since then, no party had managed to win a majority, until now.

In these most recent elections, voters were also asked to answer questions on 2 referendums, namely:

  • End of Life Choice: “Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force?” – this is a binding vote, meaning that, if more than 50% vote ‘yes,’ it will be enacted.
  • Cannabis legalisation and control: “Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control bill?” – this is not a binding vote, meaning the government would have to introduce a bill to legalize.

The results should be announced October 30th.

Moreover, New Zealand’s Westminster system of parliamentary representation includes seats (or electorates) that are reserved for its Māori indigenous population. While ensuring that the Māori are given a direct voice in parliament carries intrinsic merit, there has been criticism of this system since its introduction in 1867, for varying reasons. Today, it is clear that these seats, originally intended as a temporary measure, continue to raise concerns.

What now?

New Zealand is now officially in a recession with a pressing need for economic recovery. There are worsening issues of childhood poverty, homelessness, and environmental destruction, and proposals of a wealth tax, whose burden will be carried by the affluent middle-class, may lead to further feelings of social fragmentation. And Ms. Ardern’s failed promises of the 2017 elections – of being a ‘government of transformation,’ – have not been forgotten. As the COVID-19 context plays itself out, the attention of New Zealand’s population will undoubtedly be less focused on charisma and online presence, and more on answers to these and other everyday preoccupations.

Use of referendums, electoral reforms, the role of the Senate, duration of term in office, Indigenous representation, and many other such issues, are very much worth keeping an eye on, to see how other Westminster parliamentary democracies are maintaining a trusting and engaged citizenry, while adapting to the realities of this fast-changing world.


[2]See Labour manifesto:…