Youth and Innovation Forum: Generation Now, Building the Future of Tomorrow

By Stephanie Bertolo, Vice Chair, Young Canadians Roundtable on Health

On November 21st and 22nd, I attended the 2016 Youth and Innovation Forum hosted by Pollution Probe and Student Energy. This first-time conference attracted 60 youth from across Canada. By bringing together the voices of those with vastly different perspectives, the most innovative ideas surrounding sustainability and environment were able to emerge.

We first met at the Hard Rock Café on the evening of the 21st. Over hors d’oeuvres and social bingo, it soon became apparent what an incredibly talented and passionate group of people had come together. From undergraduates to PhD students to those employed in the environmental sector, everyone was a clear leader in their fields. 

The next morning, we met again at the Ontario Trade and Investment Centre. We started off the day with a motivating speech from The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. She stated that the province is not bold or ambitious enough; we must grow to be so by foremost learning from the rest of the world’s environmental innovations, which will help to inspire our own. Her faith in youth made it clear that Ontario has great possibilities to move forward and become a leader in sustainability.

This then led us into the main portion of the day: The Innovation Jam. Based upon participants’ suggestions, several environment and sustainability challenges were presented. Youth broke out into smaller groups to focus on one of these issues. For two hours, we tirelessly brainstormed and ideated to develop an action plan that could be part of a larger solution.

At my table we discussed effective community collaboration. Change must be made to achieve a sustainable future. However, it is important that the change is agreed upon by community members and all those affected. Through discussion, we developed the idea of creating a generalizable conference structure that could successfully be applied in different settings to mediate community engagement. This conference would help communities discuss environmental problems and create solutions that would be best for individuals. There could be speakers, breakout sessions, and opportunities to get involved in other local projects. We, or those who take on our project idea, would provide community champions with the resources to set up these conferences in their neighbourhoods. This would include facilitation training and information about grant opportunities that could cover the financial costs of the conferences. In this way, the community would have ownership over the project, which is crucial for empowerment and sustainability.

Other tables also presented impressively innovative ideas surrounding sustainable living topics in Northern Canada, facilitating the transition towards a greener economy, and learning from the wisdom of Indigenous communities. With official note-takers at each table, all of the discussion was recorded, which will allow for the ideas to live on long after the Forum was over.

This being the first time the Forum was held, it was a fantastic event, inciting great ideas and meaningful connections between participants. I look forward to seeing how Pollution Probe and Student Energy apply what was discussed during the day to inform future projects. In addition, the event still has incredible potential and room for growth in future years. What is most important is that the organizers have taken a meaningful step to include the youth voice in building a sustainable future.  




Stephanie Bertolo is from Hamilton, Ontario and is currently studying Arts and Science at McMaster University.  Stephanie's passion for health and community drives her work with the YCRH, the Hamilton Community Foundation and several groups on McMaster’s campus.