We are at an inflection point. Precarious work, housing affordability, the urgency of climate action – every sector of our economy is in transition. The pandemic has had particular consequences for young people and their futures, from missed school and milestone moments, isolation and negative impacts on mental health, to the implications of COVID in perpetuity and its long-tail effects.

But we have reason to be optimistic. Young people are expressing an intolerance for the problems of today and the piecemeal, gentle steps that aren’t solving them. One recent example: last month’s COP26 climate summit, where thousands of young demonstrators showed up to state their dissatisfaction with decades of delay and slow climate action. 

It’s this generation’s intolerance and drive for real solutions that make us optimistic about a future that can be just and equitable. And philanthropy has a mechanism to play a supporting role: investing in youth.

A visionary scholarship program

Long before the pandemic brought these conversations to greater prominence, one program demonstrated foresight about the issues we’re grappling with today: the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program.

The idea for this scholarship initiative traces back to a desire to mark a meaningful celebration of the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The program was generously supported by Victor Dahdaleh, a leading Canadian entrepreneur and global philanthropist, who had the foresight and vision to invest in global scholars, citizens and contributors who can solve the world’s pressing problems. 

The magic ingredient of the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program is a recognition that while education and learning are fundamental, experiences shape who you are. By taking students outside of their home communities, the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program has been able to provide life-shaping experiences rooted in innovative international projects designed by Canadian universities. To date, 2,231 scholars at 46 Canadian universities have been funded through the program, giving us an intersectional, robust, and science-driven lens to explore a wide range of challenges. Here are just a few examples:

  • Addressing climate change impacts in coastal communities
  • Working to protect Indigenous languages
  • Decolonizing knowledge through the lens of gender equality
  • Developing screening tools for maternal mental health
  • Ensuring greater urban community sustainability and food security

In addition, Queen Elizabeth Scholars have directly contributed to the world’s body of knowledge of COVID, mental health and other related consequences. Examples include projects exploring the pandemic’s impact on food security in China, establishing wellbeing indicators in small island states as part of crisis and pandemic preparedness, and research in Ghana on COVID and water, sanitation and hygiene issues.

One QES Scholar played a leadership role in evaluating the rapidly expanding and evolving COVID-19 evidence during the crisis and making it easily accessible in real-time to decision-makers worldwide.

Investing in youth-focused, youth-driven solutions

Programs such as the Queen Elizabeth Scholars complement other youth-focused and youth-driven investments through philanthropy. For example:

  • The Youth in Philanthropy program at The Winnipeg Foundation provides funds to schools and works with students to make philanthropic decisions. This program offers valuable networking and development opportunities to young people, showcasing their priorities, and illustrating the impact and challenges of philanthropy. 
  • Emergency Community Support Fund requests confirmed the impact of the pandemic on youth and the specific needs they faced. The most common services funded by the program centred on inclusion and learning, and of the $350M investment from the Government of Canada, $39.8M was distributed to organizations with projects serving children or youth.
  • The RBC Future Launch Community Challenge program is an initiative through which young people identify pressing community challenges and solutions, and receive financial support for those solutions. This program funded a range of projects addressing health and hygiene, mental health, climate change, and food insecurity, to LGBTQ2S+ empowerment, leadership, belonging, and much more – with many projects adapting to address issues exacerbated by COVID-19.
  • Alliance 2030 is a national network of organizations, institutions, community and youth leaders committed to achieving the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the year 2030. In alignment with QES, Alliance 2030 is creating opportunities to engage young leaders in advancing a global agenda in communities across Canada and around the world in partnership with a growing cross-sector network. 

Expectations are changing

Today’s young people face a future that might not be as economically or socially prosperous as their parents’ and grandparents’. Macro trends like globalization, ubiquitous technology and shifting demographics are affecting every sector. The model of capitalism that got us here, pursuing profits without consideration of social and ecological issues, won’t work going forward (a point acknowledged in the U.S. Business Roundtable’s 2019 statement redefining the new purpose of a corporation).

In 2015, the United Nations articulated 17 global goals to combat humanity’s greatest challenges by 2030. The same year, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 Calls to Action. In 2019, the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released alongside 231 Calls For Justice. We are grappling with many issues, but we have frameworks for doing so, and we must act.

To form a better, more prosperous future, we need a new type of thinking and leadership: people with global education and experiences who can bring their values into daily decision-making. We need leaders who understand culture and identity, are equipped to lead diverse groups, and are prepared to address inequality, inequity and climate change. We need leaders who focus not just on creating wealth but on how their businesses and organizations are creating a better world – or not – and taking action.

Continue investing in tomorrow’s leaders

Years ago, supporters like Victor Dahdaleh applied their foresight and vision to invest in a new type of leader. The pandemic has shown us that this vision has played out. As a result of programs such as the Queen Elizabeth Scholars, the leaders we need are arriving; young people with an impatience with incremental change and cultural sophistication to develop and pursue innovative, relevant solutions.

We know that young people, supported by the right conditions, are the key to leading us toward a just and equitable future. It’s up to us to trust in the next generation’s leadership and continue making meaningful, tangible investments in youth.

This collaborative initiative is made possible through the leadership of the Rideau Hall Foundation, in collaboration with Community Foundations of Canada, Universities Canada, and Canadian universities. It is supported through a catalytic contribution by The Victor Dahdaleh Foundation and contributions from a network of Partners.