How a bunch of students are going to save Newfoundland & Labrador

It happened when we weren’t even looking. Newfoundland became, well, cool… A culinary hot spot of foraged fare celebrated by the New York Times. Tourism ads and the Fogo Island Inn that draw celebrities and adventure hunters from around the world. And suddenly being the snowiest, rainiest, windiest and foggiest place in Canada was a badge of honour.

So while we put on a brave face and soaked in our newfound(land) glory, we know it’s not that rosy… in fact, it’s even a little foggy what our future looks like. That’s because we’re $2 billion in debt; the only province with 2017 projected negative GDP growth; and plummeting oil prices are threatening one of our biggest job creators. We’ve been through tough times before and found a way to survive, but we can’t keep crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. This time we need a plan, one that will diversify our economy and create modern, well-paying jobs for this generation and beyond.

And who would of thought that it would be a bunch of university students that we should be looking to for advice?

They’re called Enactus Memorial, and this team of 70 volunteer students from Memorial University start social enterprises and run entrepreneurial projects to better the lives of others in Newfoundland and Labrador and across the country. Last year they impacted over 3,000 people and generated $2.6 million in economic impact. Why? Because they believe that a better world exists when we create opportunity for each other. They believe the world demands collaboration to solve problems. They believe in taking action. And if that doesn’t erase the jaded, snapchatting view of millennials you might have, I don’t know what will.

Enactus Memorial has won the title of Team Canada 9 times and just this past week on home soil in Toronto, won the Enactus World Cup by competing against 34 other national champions out of 1,700 teams worldwide. After showcasing their work to the world’s top business leaders and CEOs, the winner is chosen by who has made the most significant and sustainable impact — and there’s no one better than Enactus Memorial. These competitions aren’t conferences of ideas, a tradeshow, or just bringing people together and patting ourselves on the back for hypotheticals. Enactus competitions celebrate and reward the most important drivers in our economy — socially responsible action and impact.

Enactus Memorial’s flagship enterprise was Project Sucseed — a social enterprise bringing affordable produce to Northern and isolated climates. With moldy peppers costing $9 in many communities, how we feed the north is a generations-long problem. But they’re on their way to solving it. Their project sees at-risk youth in St. John’s build custom-designed hydroponic growing systems, an affordable and easy way to grow fresh produce indoors in water, regardless of the climate. They’ve distributed these systems to 28 northern communities by setting up co-ops, and have contracts to expand to 200 more in 2017. Because this system is so versatile, they also brought the program to seniors homes, Correctional Services Canada, and schools — where, through a partnership with Tim Horton’s Canada, are about to put a Sucseed system in every school in Canada, reaching up to 1.6 million students.

Oh, I should mention that they are all volunteers.
And, go to school full-time.
And, have part-time jobs.
And, ran 12 other projects.
Impressive, right?

Solving the problems ahead of Newfoundland and Labrador is complex. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t. But the first thing that needs to change is our mindset. Let us look to them and embrace the challenges ahead with the same tenacity and determination. It would’ve been easy for them to think ‘a bunch of university students can’t solve food insecurity in Canada.’ But that thought never crossed their mind. They never second-guessed themselves. So next time you hear, ‘it’s never been done that way before,’ remember that’s a good thing. We need new ideas. We need new approaches. And we need to support those leading the way — even if they don’t look like you expect them to. Because stuck in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, we’ve always had to try harder than everyone else. But that’s just made us smarter. That’s raised a generation like the Enactus students who believe everything is possible. And are proving that it is.

And look, as an alumni of the team, volunteer with the national organization and Board Chair, you might say I’m a bit biased. But I’ll wear that badge with pride, because these kids work damn hard to make the lives of others better, and deserve to be celebrated.

But more importantly, if we’re going to be a province that defines our own future and survives the inevitable next wave of uncertainty, they deserve to be listened to.

As a seriously, unserious creative thinker, I’m doing my best to make a difference with great advertising, social projects, and volunteer work in St. John’s, NL

As a seriously, unserious creative thinker, I’m doing my best to make a difference with great advertising, social projects, and volunteer work in St. John’s, NL