Disruptive Innovation: Grass-Roots Youth Leadership

(Rihkee Strapp) #1

Systemic Intervention Wheel used in [Webinar: Planning an Evaluation of Systems Change]

Disruptive innovation is often associated with UBER or Netflix and other electronic technology, and this mindset is especially prominent in Northern Ontario. The power of social innovation and social technology is often overlooked but not by youth leaders creating disruptive change.

Many people will never forget the public displays of Black Lives Matter Toronto that made history, but the brilliance of this youth-founded group does not end there. Freedom school is a summer program for Black children in the GTA. “Freedom schools are a way for communities to self-determine an educational setting for our children is grounded in love, belonging, and understanding,” Freedom School - Impact. Why is Freedom School such a radical act of innovation? The Common Ground report outlines the barriers presented by mainstream education systems.

“There was unanimous agreement among the participants about the need to teach Black and Aboriginal youth about their histories and cultures… Others felt that schools have played, and continue to play, a role in removing their cultures from their children so they could “be just like everyone else”. All agreed that this is an unacceptable approach to education in the 21st century and that, if necessary, the communities should take control over the education of their own children and youth,” (Common Ground: An examination of similarities between black and aboriginal communities).

Disruptive innovation is not innately good.

“The Canadian government developed a policy called "aggressive assimilation" to be taught at church-run, government-funded industrial schools, later called residential schools. The government felt [Indigenous] children were easier to mold than adults, and the concept of a boarding school was the best way to prepare them for life in mainstream society. (A History of Residential Schools in Canada)

The residential school system was set up to change the mental model of Indigenous youth to subvert the structural forces in their own communities. While innovation is associated with “new” ideas, Black and Indigenous youth are making new space for old ideas. The Baawating Water Protectors attempted to do just that when they brought a tipi to Parliament Hill to conduct ceremony.

“Youth members of the Anishinabek Nation were key organizers of the action last week at Parliament Hill, drawing international attention to the ‘unsettling’ of the biggest part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations. It was a collaborative effort between the [Baawating] Water Protectors (Sault Ste. Marie) and organizers based in Ottawa that resulted in such an impactful ceremony asserting sovereignty and nationhood,” (Anishinabek Youth at Center of Reoccupation).

Although our present mental model caused many local and international news outlets to frame the action as a “protest” and not “ceremony,” the youth were able to setup a sacred fire, fast, held a round dance, and facilitated many conversations with people including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about current Indigenous issues during the Canada150 celebrations.

Unlike incremental innovation, disruptive innovation has more risk and at times unexpected outcomes. Certain communities are not ready to change their mental model like in the case of communities creating local by-laws not allowing apps like UBER to disrupt local cab companies. Despite this risk, youth leaders are still creating disruptive innovation outside of our current systems to create a radical new vision of a more diverse and inclusive future.

What paradigm are you ready to change?

Exciting Partnerships: Youth Leadership across Boundaries