McGill Management Students Focus on Helping Syrian Refugees


By Karen Seidman, Montreal Gazette, April 26, 2016 :

"Every semester, McGill University faculty lecturer Anita Nowak challenges her students to come up with projects for her social entrepreneurship and social innovation class based on a theme that she finds particularly timely and relevant.

For this semester, it was helping Syrian refugees integrate into Canadian society.

The result, she says, is an array of projects that are both creative and practical and, most importantly, display a terrific empathy for the plight of refugees fleeing war-torn countries for the safety of a country that presents new hurdles.

To date, Quebec has welcomed about 5,368 Syrian refugees (3,550 adults and 1,850 children), with a total of 7,300 still the goal for the end of 2016. 

Through a series of guest speakers, Nowak first exposed her management class to the realities of what it means to be a refugee. Then she put the ball in their court and asked her students to create a better world for the refugees, but stemming from empathy — not pity. 

That distinction, she says, is important to refugees. 

“It is a meaningful experience for the students,” Nowak said in an interview Tuesday. “It challenges their ideas about the world.”

Furthermore, she said, it helped dispel any concerns about the safety considerations of opening Canada’s borders to Syrian refugees. “It humanized them and their situation,” Nowak said.

She hopes it also teaches her students to walk the walk and not just offer platitudes about changing the world. 

“I want them to think about how they spend their money, their time and their energy to really reflect who they want to be in the world,” Nowak said. “I tell them to ‘be the change.'”

Read the full feature article by the Montreal Gazette