New Voices for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

The Scholarships for New Voices in Public Policy are granted to exceptional incoming Max Bell School MPP students who aspire in their professional careers to contribute to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion.

Each year the Max Bell School offers two special scholarships to incoming MPP students. The Scholarships for New Voices in Public Policy are granted to exceptional incoming Max Bell School MPP students who aspire in their professional careers to contribute to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). We sat down with the School’s two most recent recipients, Jainaba Beyai and Juan Roa, to learn more about their paths to the Max Bell School, their career ambitions, and hear their thoughts on the way forward for EDI.

Different backgrounds, different lenses

Hailing from Africa and South America, respectively, Jainaba and Juan’s passions for EDI and justice stem from very different lived experiences in very different parts of the world.

Jainaba’s passion is deeply embedded. Along her journey from the Gambia to the United Kingdom and eventually Canada, societal inequities are simply a part of her day-to-day reality. “Equity is very important to me given my background as a Black Muslim woman,” she says. The society that we live in is diverse. And if our society is diverse, our institutions and organizations should reflect these unique differences that everyone has. ”

After arriving in Canada, Jainaba got involved in community organizing, including the Fridays for Future protests in Toronto. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, History, and Equity Studies, she secured an internship at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

Jainaba’s education and work experience have made obvious to her the need for greater representativeness in decision-making. “With these equity and diversity committees in particular, I definitely wouldn’t say that they are always very diverse,” she observes. “I would definitely promote the idea of more people of color in those positions. I think that would make them more effective and make decisions that will work better in the long run.”

After graduating from Universidad Nacional de Colombia in his hometown of Bogotá, Juan received a scholarship to study philosophy at Sorbonne University in Paris. His time abroad was an opportunity to see what his Colombia really meant to him. While Juan was in France, Colombia’s referendum to secure a peace treaty with the FARC failed. It was a turning point, he says. “It revealed that maybe I want to try to do something closer to the people of my country. The experience of not being in Colombia was important for me to realize the way I felt… I was living a life that was disconnected from my country’s future.”

Juan’s lens for EDI is economic inequality. “Some people see [EDI] through race and some other people see through gender. But for me, the big lens is income. I think if we fight against that first and foremost, you’ll tackle a lot of these other issues at the same time.”

Common purpose

What unites Jainaba and Juan is a desire to use their skills and knowledge to advance EDI their home countries.

I eventually would like to return home. I want to address the lack of development initiatives in low-income communities in The Gambia,” says Jainaba. “If you understand their needs, give them the right tools, eventually, they will be able to independently embark on future development projects on their own.”

For Juan, his drive comes from his time working for NGOs and government officials after his first master’s program. His job gave him the opportunity to travel to remote parts of Colombia only accessible by plane. It reconnected him to his country. “Through that experience and those years of traveling throughout my country, I almost feel a duty to keep working for those people that I met,” he says.

A leg up

For Jainaba and Juan, the New Voices Scholarship was more than financial aid. It was means to access unique initiatives to advance their careers goals while studying real-world, EDI-related challenges. Jainaba’s research in the Policy Lab, for instance, will investigate sustainable energy substitutes for firewood in rural and peri-urban Colombia. What barrier do women and Indigenous groups face when it comes to access to firewood substitutes? How will climate change affect cultural barriers that women and Indigenous groups face daily?

“I thought that the purpose of this scholarship really aligned with my work experience and interests.” Juan says. “It’s an opportunity to be able to do what I'm interested in after the MPP program is done.” He hopes for a chance to work in education policy, to provide more young people the same opportunity he had to go to a public institution like Universidad Nacional de Colombia. “Making those opportunities real for more people, that is the kind of work I would be interested in.”

Advice for future students

Juan encourages students who are interested in EDI and economic justice to travel before pursuing a life path. “It’s like a bug, and you get the bug by going to places that are uncommon, less close to capital cities or power centers. Talk to people and you'll figure out the issues that they are dealing with.”

Jainaba’s advice is short but sweet: “Be open to learning new perspectives. There will be instances where you will see something you are familiar with from quite a different angle, which I think is useful for adding to your existing knowledge.”

To apply for the New Voices Scholarship, students must submit their CV and a one-page statement demonstrating their commitment to promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion in their professional career, community engagement, or personal development. Preference will be given to students who identify as a member of a designated equity group. Applications should be submitted to helen.aaron [at] (subject: Scholarships%20for%20New%20Voices) (Helen Aaron) by June 1, 2022. Each scholarship is valued at $5,000 and is funded by the Max Bell School.

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