Montreal Hub Annual Retreat

Saif Malhem, Montreal Shaper, writes…

Day 1

On December 1st as everyone kicked off the last month of 2018, the Montreal Global Shapers Hub kicked off its annual retreat. Graciously hosted by the Jeanne Sauve Foundation, the retreat was a two-day memorable weekend experience that epitomizes what happens when like-minded people convene to work on matters that matter! Best summarized, three words come to mind when reflecting on the retreat: authenticity, friendship and service.

We kicked off the retreat by a breakfast à la carte, offered by the Shapers themselves. Amid a mix of doughnuts, fruit, Montreal’s finest bagels and the always essential Nutella, we were hyped up for the first activity of the day — the ice breaker. Nonetheless, first lesson learnt was: always make sure you have coffee back-up. In true Canadian style, we had to make a quick run to the closest Tim Hortons!

One of our newest Shapers, Heldden, led an eccentric ice breaker activity where each Shaper needed to roll out as much toilet paper as (s)he believes they need for the weekend. Talk about a positive note to start your Saturday! After which, Heldden asked us to think of as many interesting facts about ourselves as the number of toilet paper sheets we had in hand. We then went around in circles mentioning one fact at a time and then testing out listening skills by recounting who said what. Per Heldden’s commentary: the activity of the toilet paper was meant to be a personalized way to break the ice by having the facilitator and the other individuals share among themselves without doing the typical “say something interesting about yourself”. And that, the activity indeed achieved.

The ice breaker warmed us up to a day of brainstorming and project planning. But first, a couple of sessions were pending. The Hub Curator, Nirushaa, and Vice-Curator, Daniel, walked us through an overview of the Hub’s goals, code of conduct, and communication protocols. After which, I led a workshop on emotional intelligence, working with diverse groups, and managing conflict. The workshop intended to encourage us, as the incoming 2019 Shapers, to agree on a uniting social script that utilizes our differences towards the fruition of our shared mission. During the workshop, one of the Shapers shared a personal story of overcoming the challenges that accompany moving to a new city. We listened with empathy and support, and celebrated the vulnerability that comes with sharing challenges publicly. Furthermore, our fellow Shaper showed us firsthand how being observant of our emotions, along with their root cause, can be valuable information in navigating the challenge at hand and the interpersonal interactions it entails. The workshop ended with the new Shapers splitting into pairs and recommending rules of engagement grounded in, at least, one of the Global Shaper Community values: service, integrity, passion, cooperation and accountability.

The Shapers then split, each to work with their team on their project of choice. The projects on day one span several opportunities of service which include: refugee integration, women’s empowerment and the federal elections. Each team worked on clearly defining the “problem” they are trying to address, researching the organizations operating in that space, and lastly, deciding on a timeline with a list of action items. After the brainstorming sessions, each team presented their project overview and opened the floor for both questions and feedback. The variety of skills in the room quickly stood out and came to play, as teams were able to find in-house coaches for the projects planned, be it a fellow Shaper who is an HR professional or a media guru — exemplifying the true diversity of this team!

The day ended with a mental health activity led by our fellow Shaper, Mithula. To signify the bond that comes with authentic support, Mithula brought in a ball of red yarn, asked us each to share a fear that we currently have, hold onto the yarn thread and then throw the ball to a fellow Shaper we would like to hear from. By the end of the exercise, we had both a physical and a metaphorical network of connection, and the message was loud and clear: there is power in sharing your thoughts and feelings with a trusted peer. Not only does it sooth, but it also empowers one to bring forth their full potential.

Before moving on to Day 2, our Curator and Vice-Curator, Nirushaa and Daniel, had reservations at a close-by downtown restaurant where we got the chance to let off some steam. More importantly, we were joined by both outgoing and visiting Shapers. The conversations we exchanged achieved continuity of culture, passion and mission.

Day 2

The second day commenced with another breakfast — this time with no coffee oversights! Our fellow Shaper, Heldden, hosted another ice breaker session where we all lined up in the middle of the room facing the wall. Heldden proceeded with reading out loud different statements that showcase privilege, or lack thereof. The statements touched base on socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, media depiction, sexual orientation and more. By the end of the exercise, we were scattered around the room signifying the varying circumstances we have experienced in our lives. The vocal reflection we exchanged in the end embodied a beautiful combination of the acknowledgement of these differences and the gratitude for the combined purpose the Montreal Hub is bringing us all together for. The purpose is providing service to our local communities while representing them authentically and accurately.

After the ice breaker, we met back in the dining room for some of the latest Shapers to pitch project ideas or share ones they are currently working on. The topics included sustainability and the sustainable development goals, engaging the queer community with entrepreneurship, cyber security and lastly the definition of manhood; once again exemplifying the wide range of interests the Montreal Hub encompasses — a reflection of Montreal as a whole.

We then briefly connected via Skype with our fellow Shapers at the Oxford Hub, shared experiences on projects already in motion and engaged in friendly rivalry over which Hub hosts better cooks (we still believe we won that one)!

The day proceeded with us breaking into different groups, in line with day one, to work on our different projects. Day two’s projects included fighting discrimination, inclusive AI and the jobs of the future. In addition to the Hub’s projects, however, we later broke into different “committees” to work on different operational tasks running a lively Hub requires: recruitment, volunteer engagement, social media and communication, partnership and sponsorships, social events and lastly, environmental stewardship.

The teams presented their findings and action plans, met with the support and the critical feedback of their fellow Shapers.

To end a stimulating and mentally-demanding retreat, we ended the weekend by reflecting on what young leaders today need in terms of resources, tools and support, to bring forth their purposeful contributions to the communities in Montreal and Canada at large. The reflection session was held at the kind request of the Jeanne Sauve Foundation. We were filled with gratitude and humility to have been entrusted with this request for feedback.

Before we broke for the week that lay ahead, we sat in a circle for a very last time in the dining room. Each person shared one final thought on their experience of the retreat. We were truly at awe over the past 48 hours. We were astounded at the speed by which we forged genuine authentic bonds, the true test of which was the fact that we managed to agree and disagree in mutual appreciation of each other’s experiences and differences in view. We also shared a collective sense of thankfulness of the opportunity that lies in the year ahead for service, and what a badge of honor that is.

The real work, however lies ahead. And 2019 is to bear the fruits…