By Jackie Hong
Ryerson has become the first Canadian university to be named a Changemaker campus by Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs, the university announced in a press release Wednesday morning.
“Innovation is in our DNA… We look forward to working with our partners in the Changemaker network,” Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said in a media release.
The Ashoka U Changemaker Campus designation is awarded to universities around the world who have made exceptional progress in social innovation education.
To be declared a Changemaker Campus, schools must form a team and submit an application to Ashoka. After multiple interviews and evaluations of a school’s social innovation projects, a panel of international judges select the best schools to receive the designation.
Ryerson’s vice president of research and innovation Wendy Cukier, who led Ryerson’s application, said that the numerous projects that exist on campus like the Loodariak Maasai Women’s Beading Collective, RyePRIDE, HitSend and Bioniks Laboratories were the reason that Ashoka chose Ryerson for the designation.
Many of the projects got their start at the Digital Media Zone (DMZ), Ryerson’s entrepreneurial hub.
“The extent [of Ryerson’s] innovation and experiential learning [and how it] connects with community and outside organizations embedded across Ryerson… There really and truly are very few institutions that compare with us in that regard,” Cukier said.
Ashoka’s judges agreed.
“Ryerson’s unique ‘learning zone’ model of education… [is] an exemplary experiential learning model that encourages creative, systems-wide thinking in students,” Ashoka Changemaker Campus director Michele Leaman said in a media release.
Although the entire application and evaluation process usually takes two years, Ryerson’s team of 16 faculty members and students completed it in three months.
An Ashoka application costs “a few thousand dollars,” Cukier said, and the university receiving the Changemaker designation must also pay a one-time membership fee, but Cukier said it was a worthy investment. Ashoka helps to organize programs at its Changemaker campuses to further drive social innovation, which Cukier said will bring in more funding for Ryerson.
“When you build these sort of cross-university structures … it will create more opportunities from different areas to get together to talk about how they can work together on solving problems, which I think will kind of take our game to the next level,” Cukier said.
The designation also allows Ryerson to attend Ashoka-funded conferences and participate in contests only open to Ashoka U campuses.
Ryerson is the twenty-fourth university in the world to receive the Ashoka U Changemaker campus designation. Past winners include Brown University, Duke University, Dublin City University and the University of Maryland.
Ashoka U was launched in 2008 by Washington, D.C., -based organization Ashoka. It also has an Ashoka Fellow program, which has honoured people like Free the Children co-founder Marc Kielburger and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales.