Concordia University



Concordia awards honorary doctorates to 3 distinguished Canadians

An artist, a philanthropist and a social economy leader will receive degrees on October 27
October 14, 2015
By Tom Peacock

From left: France Chrétien Desmarais, Barbara Steinman and Nancy Neamtan. "The day we graduate is the day we start learning differently..." Concordia's fall 2015 honorands: France Chrétien Desmarais (left), Barbara Steinman and Nancy Neamtan.

This fall, Concordia is granting honorary doctorates to businesswoman and philanthropist France Chrétien Desmarais, social economy advocate Nancy Neamtan and multidisciplinary artist Barbara Steinman.

On Tuesday, October 27, in Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts, the three recipients will join more than 1,750 graduating students from across the university’s four faculties and School of Graduate Studies.

Each of the convocation ceremonies features a different honorand's address.

In anticipation of the worldly advice to come, we asked Chrétien Desmarais, Neamtan and Steinman to tell us about the learning experiences that shaped them — as people and as professionals.

Nancy Neamtan: 'Don't always trust the experts'

October 27 at 10 a.m. – Faculty of Arts and Science ceremony

Nancy Neamtan will be honoured for her ongoing work promoting social justice and economic democracy.

She is former executive director and now strategic advisor for the Chantier de l'économie sociale, which aims to promote and develop collective entrepreneurship. She also co-chairs Territoires innovantes en économie sociale et solidaire, a centre for knowledge transfer on social innovation.

Before that, Neamtan was executive director of the Regroupement économique et social du Sud-Ouest (RESO), an organization devoted to the economic and social renewal of southwest Montreal.

“In 1983, I was hired by the YMCA as a community organiser in Pointe-Saint-Charles, a very poor Montreal neighbourhood,” she recalls. “I quickly realized that we could never solve the social problems because the economic model was generating increasing unemployment and social exclusion.

“With others, I decided to take on the challenge of economic development to benefit the local community. We were told by the experts that we were crazy, as the dominant economic theory — the trickle-down effect — dictated that we wait passively for private enterprises to create wealth that would then trickle down to help the poor.

“Luckily, we didn't buy into that idea and undertook a citizen based approach to economic development which has come to be known as the social economy.

“Thirty years later, the social and solidarity economy is growing across the world, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have admitted that the trickle-down effect has not worked.

“This was an important lesson in life: don't always trust the experts. Sometimes good common sense, roots in community and collective intelligence works best!”

France Chrétien Desmarais: 'Learning happens constantly'

October 27 at 3 p.m. – John Molson School of Business ceremony

France Chrétien Desmarais will be recognized for her decades of service to community organizations in the education, health and sports sectors.

She is chair of the board of the Society for the Celebration of Montréal’s 375th Anniversary, founding chair of the Canadian Olympic Foundation, and vice-chair and founding member of the international non-profit organization ONE DROP, which aims to provide sustainable access to water.

“While the education that we acquire in school and university is invaluable, the day we graduate is not the day we stop learning,” Chrétien Desmarais recalls. “On the contrary, it’s the day we start learning differently, acquiring knowledge through our experiences. Learning happens constantly, and I see that more clearly now than ever before.

“One thing that has been truly formative for me has been working in philanthropy, especially with NGOs. It is all about meeting inspiring people from all backgrounds, with many different interests, for whom making the world better is not a dream, it is a way of life.

“On a specific day you could be working with a large NGO, helping it seek a substantial grant, and the next day, you could be working with a small NGO for which, lending a hand by filling missing links and resources goes a very long way.

“Once you share your time and personal experience to the benefit of philanthropy, you realise you can have a real impact on people’s lives. It constantly reminds me to put things in perspective, and helps me remember that big transformation can actually be the result of a multitude of small changes — not least of all, changing the way we work together. Joining forces instead of working in isolated silos.”

Barbara Steinman: 'A contrast can make you realize that what you're doing is important'

October 27 at 7:30 p.m. – Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science / Faculty of Fine Arts joint ceremony 

Barbara Steinman is a multidisciplinary artist dedicated to advancing the practice of visual art and supporting feminist art.

She is the former co-director of Vidéo Véhicule, a video production / performance centre, and former director of La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse, one of Quebec’s oldest artist-run centres. She became a Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts laureate in 2002.

“When I was beginning as an artist, I loved making art but had doubts about its social value,” Steinman recalls. “My brother was a doctor and my friends were becoming teachers and social workers, and I wondered about the significance of what I was doing.

“Around that time, I went to Berlin. The Berlin Wall still divided the city but you could make a day trip to communist East Berlin. I went through Checkpoint Charlie border controls and exited in the other Berlin, which I found bleak, grey and anonymous.

“The drab uniformity outside hid any signs of life inside the buildings and I wandered around feeling the oppressiveness of a controlling system.

“That night, when I returned to the visual energy and freedom of graffiti and individual signs, the contrast made me realize that what I was doing was important. I went on to make many works about borders and walls.”

All Concordia fall convocations will be held on Tuesday, October 27 in Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts (175 Ste-Catherine St. W.).

Consult the complete Concordia fall 2015 convocation schedule.


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