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The Future of Leadership: Canada’s Strategy for Youth Leadership and Innovation

January 26, 2016 By: Lekan Olawoye

At Studio Y, we believe that social innovation happens at the intersection of sectors, people and ideas. No single sector or person has a monopoly on the solutions to today’s large systemic problems. Rather, in order to build solutions that recognize the diverse needs of our global community, we require leaders who can understand, convene, and work with stakeholders across sectors and systems to effect change. That is why Studio Y is convening national partners to work on Canada’s Youth Leadership and Innovation Strategy via an upcoming summit.

Today, as social and economic issues become more complex due to increased globalization and hyper-connectivity, we are seeing a rise in joint innovation projects that straddle historically divergent sectors. We are seeing sectors like healthcare and technology coming together to provide solutions to innovative global issues. Consider the artificial pancreas, a device that works by self-regulating the hormone insulin in the bodies of Type 1 diabetics. The device, which is wirelessly connected to a blood-sugar monitor and an insulin pump, automatically detects when the body needs more insulin and increases the amount of the hormone accordingly. Likewise, when there is too much insulin in the body, the device decreases the amount. As our economy continues to shift and sectors continue to collide—like healthcare and technology do in this example—we must focus on developing talent that can lead us into this new economy, where multi-sector transferable skills are required to excel.

As we come to understand the changing world of work and the new economy, Canada needs to better equip its future leaders to both thrive in and adapt to this new context, while also leading and shaping it as it emerges. This is the aim of Studio Y’s rigorous leadership development program: we select Ontario’s top young leaders and innovators to develop them into systems leaders—those who can work across sectors and systems.

Judging by the tremendous response we have seen from the community, it is obvious that Studio Y has struck a chord. In 2015, we received over 500 applications for the 25 positions available. Now working with our third cohort, we have seen our fellows tackle a range of complex challenges, including food security in rural and remote areas, the roles artists can play in addressing climate change, and entrepreneurship in marginalized communities.

The Program

Studio Y recruits high-performing young Ontarians, ages 18 to 29, to take part in an eight-month fellowship at MaRS, Canada’s leading innovation hub.

Throughout the program, the Studio Y fellows are supported with both sector-specific and cross-sectoral mentorship with the goal of providing them with the networks and knowledge required to become tomorrow’s leaders. The program consists of both classroom-based learning, with a focus on building the self, others and systems, and project-based learning, emphasizing cross-sectoral experience development and measured project impact.

The future of work begins now and Canada has the opportunity to provide a path forward. The future economy will require leaders who can translate one sector-specific paradigm to another sector. As career paths become increasingly non-linear, systems leaders will embrace career moves as opportunities to understand the particular values and motivations of different sectors and contexts. Studio Y will help to foster this adaptability and cross-sectoral understanding by having our fellows work and experiment within multiple sectors.

The program offers four main types of support to its fellows:

  • A learning and development curriculum centred on key skills, like design thinking and systems thinking, and a range of self-directed learning tools;
  • Projects at the individual, team and cross-sectoral partner level that address system-level challenges and innovative solutions to them;
  • Access to digital technology infrastructure; and
  • Access to leadership and innovation experts through a diverse network of peers and partners.

When possible, these supports are also offered to Ontario’s wider communities of young people.

A Call to Action: A Canadian Youth Leadership and Innovation Strategy

As disciplines become more blurred through sector collisions, they are giving birth to new ways of thinking and solving deeply entrenched societal issues. To thrive in this new economy, tomorrow’s leaders will need to be adaptive. They will need to possess entrepreneurial mindsets and strong emotional intelligence, because the future world of work will be much more nimble than it is today. The Studio Y fellowship program is actively supporting the development of these leaders in Canada.

We want Canada to be intentional about developing its next generation of leaders. That is why we are working with partners across the country to develop a national Youth Leadership and Innovation Strategy through a national summit. We feel that this is one way to set the blueprint for a national youth strategy that will identify the systemic challenges faced by young people and the solutions they can develop to address those challenges. Studio Y welcomes engagement and support from young systems leaders and their partners: people who are able to work across sectors to have the biggest impact on the social, economic and environmental issues that are defining 21st-century society. Contact Studio Y if your organization would like to participate in this summit to help shape a Canadian youth leadership and innovation strategy.