Actua in the North

March 26, 2012

I am so proud to share the news that Actua in the North, Actua’s outreach program for youth across the Arctic, is the recipient of an RBC Award for the Far North in Ashoka Canada’s Changemaker Initiative: Inspiring Approaches to First Nations, Métis and Inuit Learning. The competition, which welcomed submissions from individuals and organizations from across Canada and around the world, recognizes innovative ideas and projects educating Aboriginal people in and beyond the classroom. 

Empowering Aboriginal youth through dynamic, culturally relevant programming is a long-standing priority at Actua and a key component in our national focus of breaking down barriers to youth engagement in STEM studies and careers. For over twenty years, our 33 members have delivered camps, workshops and other outreach initiatives sparking a passion for life-long learning and science in over hundreds of thousands of youth across Canada.

Actua in the North began over ten years ago as a way to engage remote communities that were not being reached by any other outreach organization. At the time, our Nunavut member, Nunavut Arctic College, lacked the resources to regularly deliver STEM programming in its community. In response, we sent a team of Actua instructors to Iqaluit, and in 2000, Actua’s first northern camp took place. The success of the camp spread quickly to neighbouring communities.  By the following year, we had requests for camps from over a dozen communities - highlighting the need for an outreach model in Canada’s North. Today our Outreach Team annually delivers confidence-building, interactive programming to 30-40 northern communities.

Our northern curriculum would not be possible without the tremendous support and expertise we receive from hamlet offices, Inuit associations, local schools and other community organizations, in addition to countless community leaders, Elders, parents and volunteers. We are also very grateful for the generous support of our visionary funding partners. Companies such as GE Canada and the Suncor Energy Foundation share our strong belief that engaging Northern youth is essential to the future economic and social prosperity of our country. Their funding and commitment, together with a grant from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, has allowed us to offer fully subsidized programming year after year.

Personally, Actua in the North has been one of the most fulfilling projects I have been involved with.  I was in Baker Lake on April 1, 1999 when Nunavut became an official territory. That day I was leading a series of STEM workshops for over 100 youth from all over the Kivalliq region who, in spite of the social and economic challenges facing them, were proud ambassadors of their culture and eager to learn about science. Their passion continues to inspire me. I have vivid memories of that trip, knowing that so few people have the opportunity to experience such an incredible part of Canada.

I am especially honoured that the RBC Award comes from Ashoka Canada’s Changemaker’s community. A pioneer in social entrepreneurship, Ashoka affects change by initiating strategic partnerships between socially-conscious individuals, organizations, academics and government agencies. Ashoka Changemakers is the association’s online community which facilitates the exchange, development and implementation of creative ideas from around the world, encouraging everyone to foster positive change through open discussion and sharing.

With our spring and summer programming fast approaching, I look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead. Actua in the North continues to grow in both scope and scale, and I would like the thank everyone – from our members, staff, outreach instructors, and community, government and corporate partners – for their support and efforts in inspiring Canada’s northern youth.