3 minute read

Connecting Across Generations to Explore the World’s Complex Challenges

In Spring 2021, four Pickering College students, Ethan Bonerath, Shyam Subramanyam and Javir Obhan (who all start Grade 11 this fall) and Siobhan Bonerath (going into Grade 9), took part in a five-week discussion series conducted by the Legacy Project.

The Legacy Project is the Toronto-based independent research, education and social innovation group behind the 7-Generation initiative, which seeks to bring together various generations to solve the world’s problems and create systemic change. The name comes from the Indigenous concept of considering the impact of any action on seven generations.

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To further their research and support the UN Development Project’s high-level dialogue on energy and climate change, the Legacy Project undertook a warm data sprint in the form of five weekly Zoom discussions with a nominal focus on climate change and energy, as an experiment to explore alternatives to addressing or contemplating complex challenges. They partnered with the International Bateson Institute (IBI) and used its warm data approach, which seeks to “find other species of information and new patterns of connection not visible through current methodologies.”

Roughly 50 people (including some UN staff) took part in each week’s call. After a brief introductory discussion around a question such as, “What are you attending to now?” participants were placed into breakout rooms of three to five people for the bulk of the 1.5hour session. Each room would receive a discussion focus related to the main question, such as science, history and culture, law or the environment, but according to the students, other topics often arose spontaneously. At the end, participants would regroup to share their thoughts and learnings.

Ethan and Siobhan’s mother Sonya connected with the Legacy Project through her work, and the entire family was invited to participate in the sprint. Ethan brought his fellow classmates Shyam and Javir on board. All four PC students who took part in the sessions say they learned a lot from the discussions and appreciated meeting people who were very different from themselves.

“Especially with COVID … it’s been very refreshing to talk to new people and share ideas,” Ethan says. “I think we learned a lot about how everyone is interconnected, and although we may seem separate in our lives, everyone is brought together and has shared similar experiences. Everyone is human.”

His sister Siobhan agrees: “I had my own idea of what life is and my own idea about who I am as a person and what everything around me is. When I joined the group, I heard from so many different people about the things that are going on in their communities … and so I made it a point to check out what’s going on in my community, to figure out how I can help the people around me.”

Javir initially found himself somewhat in awe of the other participants, but got more comfortable as the sessions went on. “These are some people that I would never think I would actually ever talk to. Doctors from New Zealand, a tech CEO in Sweden … but I found it really interesting how I was actually able to connect with them,” he says.

What Shyam appreciated was that the students’ ideas and experiences were given equal weight in the discussions: “As young people, you feel almost intimidated by the level of intelligence and eloquence and the wisdom that these people carry … [but] they are always willing to hear new ideas and care about everybody’s voice.”

Ethan and Siobhan’s father Ruben was thrilled that these young people had the opportunity to be part of the sprint. “It gives them permission to express themselves. It gives them permission to be heard. It also gives them the notion that they can make a difference.”

The students all agreed that the opportunity was a positive one for them and that it had broadened and sharpened their worldview. “Now I’ll be a lot more observant of people that I feel are nothing like me. I’m going to start looking a little deeper into how we are connected,” Javir says. “I think what we learned the most about through this experience was really ourselves,” Shyam adds.