An education on leadership and social change

Delving into the CLSC diploma program and its timeliness to the modern social climate

Carlo Javier // editor-in-chief

The chess match is changing, but for Diana Twiss, a simple recalibration of tactics is no longer enough. “What we’re looking at now is not just a matter of rearranging the chess board, but just looking at how the whole game is played, even looking at the black and white squares,” said the program coordinator of Community Development & Outreach (CDO). “What levels of systems are being used to keep that problem in place?”

As the sociopolitical climate changes and issues of equality intensify public discourse, a Capilano University diploma program provides a beacon of hope to students wanting to make positive social change. CLSC students come from a variety of places – workers and volunteers at local not-for-profit organizations, Neighbourhood Houses, Aboriginal Friendship Centres and First Nations communities. They all have a key thing in common: a desire to take a leadership role in making changes in their communities.

Offered by the Community Development and Outreach Department (CDO), Community Leadership and Social Change (CLSC) is one of several distinct programs that the University offers. The program combines elements of social justice and community development. It is an innovative and highly engaging program, where students learn about community social change in a practical and active way. In a creative learning environment, students build skills and learn with the community. They form relationships and build networks to support them in achieving career and personal goals. “It’s very timely, the time for it is now and there are a lot of people who are already doing this work and doing it really well,” said Twiss. “The work itself is growing, the need for it is growing, especially in the last few years, where there has been a focus and attention on inclusivity and not leaving people behind.”

For second-year international student, Mara Mennicken, the CLSC program has given her an opportunity to follow her parents’ footsteps, both of whom were heavily involved in community leadership in Germany, and also a diploma program that perfectly fit her interests. “I wanted something that I can study for two or three years and then get a work permit and actually do something with it,” she said. As the owner of The GOOD Chocolatier, Mennicken has already found ways of integrating the lessons she’s learned in the classroom, with her own entrepreneurial endeavours. Yet what truly resonates with Mennicken is how her initial perceptions about the relationship between business and social change has dramatically shifted in the past couple of years. “I never wanted to be in business, because I always thought it was about exploitation and capitalism and I’ve never met a lot of people who saw business as a drive for social change and social good,” she said recalling her initial stance. “But in my years here, and going to volunteering with social enterprises, I really know that its possible. I have a business, but I know that it’s a tool for social change. I can hire anyone I want, I can give flexibility as much as I want, so I have a lot of freedom with what I can do with it and I can pay people.”

The concept of a social enterprise is one of the many topics that the diploma program examines. Some students who register to the CLSC are either already involved or keenly interested in working in business, but as Mennicken shared, there are often some cautious assumptions placed on businesses when it comes to social change. For CLSC students, learning ways that local business can have a positive impact and give back to the community, is just one in a set of tools they learn to make healthy, vibrant, and sustainable communities. Twiss spoke about the importance of social responsibility. Since businesses are engineered to engage community members to spend their time, money and energy on their respective goods and services, understanding the significance of a business’ social responsibility to its community is crucial.

While CLSC is certainly appealing to older students, the program has recently observed a growth in applications from students straight out of high school. As the demographics of students continue to diversify, Twiss sees a great potential on where their classes could go. “Mixing all those students in class is also a whole other level of learning,” she said. “But their own mixed experiences are just going to take it to a whole other level and make it really a rich thing.” The sentiment is shared by Mennicken, who thoroughly enjoyed the program’s social-work-based classes off-campus. “Going somewhere really didn’t matter as much as being together with all kinds of people, with immigrants, older, younger, with Indigenous people,” she said. “The diversity of the groups is really amazing.”

For Twiss, the hope for the program is sustained growth. She joked that she wants to see waitlists in registration, but with an ever-energetic sociopolitical climate, she might just get her wish.

The game is changing and the next best move might not be “knight to E4”, it might be a complete overhaul of the chess board.

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