Leaders Lab 2021: What does it mean to be a leader in your community?

Jennifer Khuu
Sep 18 · 6 min read

Leaders Lab is Urban Minds’ free youth leadership training program, held annually in August. This year’s Leaders Lab was held virtually, consisting of a three-day event filled with interactive workshops with youth leaders and young professionals aimed at developing leadership skills to improve their community. Leaders Lab also introduced this year’s 1UP School Chapters, which are high school clubs that focus on design-thinking, networking, and community development with the help of urban planning professionals.

Day 1: Fundamentals of Urban Planning

Day 1 centered on the fundamentals of urban planning and leadership. Maya, the 1UP Executive Team president, kicked the conference off with a short introduction to 1UP Toronto and Urban Minds, followed by an engaging icebreaker activity.

Can you guess what this zoomed-in image is? Find the answer at the end of the blog post!

Our first guest speaker of the day was none other than the Urban Minds co-founder, Ryan Lo!

Ryan is an urban planner and community engagement expert with the City of Toronto. Ryan grew up in Hong Kong, and had been fascinated by skyscrapers during his time there. As Ryan grew up, his passion for cities never wavered, which led him to study geography in Waterloo and taking courses in urban planning and environmental studies. Four years later, he pursued his Master of Urban Planning at McGill University.

Ryan’s session was about the fundamentals of Urban Planning. More specifically, he shared his answer to the ever perplexing question, “What is Urban Planning?” and how most of us never learned about it growing up. Ryan shared how urban planning ultimately touches almost every single aspect of our lives, from where we live, learn, and play, especially with more people living in urban areas than ever before. Even small projects, like taking a few parking spots on the street and turning them into a mini park, can make the site more welcoming to residents.

Depending on who you ask, everyone seems to have a different perception of what urban planners do.

Our second speaker was Emiliano Golsehnas Rad Campuzano, who represented the 1UP York Mills School Chapter. Despite the 1UP School Chapters program pausing due to COVID-19, Emiliano and his fellow chapter members continued to stay engaged by organizing virtual events and posting regularly on their Instagram page (@1up_ym2019).

Emiliano gave us a glimpse into what running a 1UP School Chapter is like, from organizing events to keeping members engaged through social media. Some of his favourite events that the 1UP York Mills chapter ran included trivia nights and an Among Us game. All in all, their chapter aims to educate and engage the student body on urban planning and design aspects. As future 1UP Fellows, the attendees were able to take away tips and tricks to bring with them to their own 1UP School Chapter.

The third and final speaker for the day was Katelyn Wang. Katelyn is the Executive Director of L.I.G.H.T, a grassroots non-profit organization centred around youth-led community initiatives.

With over five years of leadership experience, Katelyn shared her suggestions for finding one’s leadership style, establishing organizational culture and strong bonds, and conflict resolution. Katelyn’s workshop helped to inspire the participants to reflect on their own leadership and communication style, equipping them with the tools to be a more productive team member.

Katelyn shared different ways that one can communicate and establish relationships with their team.

Day 2: Fundamentals of Leadership

The second day of Leaders Lab focused on building practical skills for high school students taking on leadership roles in their communities. Speakers with diverse backgrounds, skill sets and experiences shared practical tips and tricks for developing public speaking skills, marketing strategies, and developing design thinking.

The first speakers, Hira Ansari, Carmen Yeung, and Lily Zhu, were from Kids Speak Canada, a nonprofit organization which supports high school students to become more effective and confident public speakers. They shared some tips and tricks for conducting meetings, such as balancing independent and collective brainstorming in meetings, and discussed the traits of effective public speakers.

Next up, we welcomed Christina Li, a brand manager and social media strategist for Chipotle Canada. Christina has been working on social media marketing for years with several different companies, and she shared advice for student leaders creating an authentic and engaging social media strategy.

Our final speaker, Isra Zahid, shared an introduction to design thinking which encouraged students to hone their design thinking skills ahead of the 1UP program’s 2022 Design Competition. Her interactive activity encouraged students to think about problem framing, and to keep an open mind when considering the issue and possible solutions in design questions.

Overall, the second day’s speakers and activities cultivated skills which will help students take on the responsibilities of being a 1UP Fellow and leading their own school chapter throughout the year!

Day 3: Putting it into Practice

Before we knew it, it was already the last day of Leaders Lab 2021! The main goals for day 3 revolved around learning about volunteerism, social change, and youth advocacy, as well as the steps for starting your own 1UP School Chapter.

The first speaker was 1UP Toronto’s very own Maya Lekhi, who is also the President of Project 5K, a youth run organization dedicated to connecting high school students to meaningful volunteering opportunities in their community.

Maya shared her personal experience with volunteerism; what started off as trying to complete her 40 hours of mandatory community service quickly flourished into a passion for giving back to her community. Maya shared the various benefits of volunteering, including skill development and building purpose. She ended off her presentation by encouraging students to go beyond the 40 mandatory hours of community service. The attendees learned different ways to incorporate volunteerism into their lives, even when they are balancing other commitments or feeling burnt out.

Next up was Mustapha Khamissa, who is a political staffer passionate about building more representative cities. Mustapha shared the importance of youth involvement in politics, and different ways to advocate for change, including youth organizations like the Toronto Youth Cabinet and Progress Toronto. He stressed how politics is about who shows up, which is why it is important to show up to protests and rallies to voice your concerns. Given that urban planning is very much a political process, it is crucial for youth to understand how they can have their voices heard and advocate for what they are passionate about.

After a jam packed three days, the attendees are now ready to take what they’ve learned and start their own 1UP School Chapter. Urban Minds’ Program Coordinator, Jennifer Khuu, provided a rundown of the 1UP Youth City Builders Program, including the exciting events planned for the upcoming school year such as the 1UP Fall Connect Webinars and the 1UP Design Competition.

1UP School Chapters are “not your typical school club.” As a 1UP Fellow, students will be finding ways to empower their school community to create real change in their cities through the 1UP Design Competition.


And that’s a wrap! The skills and experiences that the students developed through Leaders Lab will benefit them for years to come, whether or not they pursue a career path in urban planning. By encouraging students to think about the practical and actionable ways that they can improve their communities as city builders, Leaders Lab gives students tools that they can use to better themselves and their communities for years to come. Thank you to our generous sponsors for their contributions. 1UP Leaders Lab amongst our many other initiatives would not be possible without their support.

Many thanks to Jennifer, Areej, and Denelle from our Program team in planning, developing, and running the conference!

Guess the Image answer: Grasshopper. Did you guess correctly?

Urban Minds