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Concordia recognizes two of its own for their contributions to Montreal-area organizations

The Office of Community Engagement presents Engaged Scholar Awards to Constance Lafontaine and Mostafa Henaway
June 30, 2020
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By James Roach

From left: Constance Lafontaine and Mostafa Henaway. From left: Constance Lafontaine and Mostafa Henaway.

Community-engaged scholarship is broadly expressed as academic work that helps improve the lives of others. The Engaged Scholar Award was founded on those very principles.

The award recognizes outstanding collaborations and partnerships forged by Concordia staff, students and faculty with community organization who together have made exemplary contributions to society.

It’s through this lens that Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) has recognized Constance Lafontaine and Mostafa Henaway’s outstanding efforts with Montreal-area organizations.

The OCE’s mandate is to develop and support meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships between the university and the diverse communities of Montreal.

“It is not possible to understand, let alone address, the substantial challenges facing society without a genuine dedication to working with and listening to the communities most directly impacted,” says Andrea Clarke, senior director of community engagement and social impact. “Constance and Mostafa exemplify what it means to do research in a next-generation university.”

Ageing + Communication + Technologies

The Ageing + Communication + Technologies (ACT) project commits to integrating ethical and political dimensions when conducting research on ageing in a digital world.

“More than 40 per cent of older adults over the age of 74 in Montreal do not regularly use the internet, and they are less likely to own a smart phone or tablet,” reports Constance Lafontaine, associate director of ACT.  

“This reflects the reality that there is a wide age and income-related digital divide at work in our country, and that’s where ACT steps in — it provides seniors with the means of crossing that divide,” she says.

ACT’s goals are rooted in countering the isolation experienced by seniors who have limited access to the online world of news, information, knowledge, entertainment and sharing their experiences with others, whether in the same city or across geographic boundaries.

Since 2013, Lafontaine has worked with community organizations such as Groupe Harmonie and has served on its governing board since 2016.

Groupe Harmonie is a community group that provides support to older adults who face addiction to alcohol and drugs. The organization is based in Montreal’s Peter-McGill neighbourhood and one of its mandates includes undertaking outreach in low-income buildings for seniors.

As part of the project, Lafontaine and her team led digital workshops in these buildings. They blended online experimentation, socializing and digital storytelling, and encouraged creativity and problem-solving through the use of technology.

“Staying connected and reconnecting with family members and friends is one way that ACT has positively impacted the lives of older adults at Group Harmonie. It has also provided them with tools to research their personal hobbies and interests as well as to access health and social services,” says Lafontaine.

“The work we have done with older adults in low-income housing brought to the fore other critical questions about ageing, precarity and digital technologies. It has allowed us to engage with older adults who are often excluded from media research and media policy agendas in Canada.”

“For instance, many seniors began asking us about telecom bills and unexplained charges during these workshops. This brought us to begin looking at the impacts of misleading and aggressive sales practices of the telecommunication industry, and we eventually presented our findings to the CRTC”.

ACT’s impact on Concordia students

More than 30 students and postdocs from Concordia have been involved as ACT research assistants over the past seven years. Their support was invaluable to the project.

The project allowed Concordia students to gain real-world experience in overcoming day-to-day setbacks, learning creative problem-solving and facing unique yet rewarding challenges of working towards improving the lives of populations in positions of vulnerability.  

“The project provided students with a critical understanding of the intersection of ageing and digital technologies as well as opportunities to work as facilitators and gain leadership experience,” Lafontaine says.

“Many students also recounted that the exposure to intergenerational experiences and working with peoples from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, languages and life stories have enriched their own lives,” she adds.

“This is a prime example of Concordia’s strategic priority of going beyond for members of our community.”

Reporting on ecommerce logistics centres’ precarious working conditions

Ecommerce fulfilment centres are quickly earning a reputation as egregious offenders of workers’ rights, and there are tens of thousands of such workers across Montreal.

Mostafa Henaway had been a community organizer with the Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC) since 2007 and became a full-time Concordia PhD student in 2018. He explores the employment conditions of migrants working in the logistics sector in Montreal.

“My report and campaign sheds light on the precarious conditions of workers while highlighting the significance of their contributions to Montreal’s economy,” says Henaway.

He dedicated a year to organizing and coordinating his report on substandard warehouse working conditions — a project organized by the IWC.

The IWC supports migrant worker rights on issues of labour and immigration and acts in close collaboration with the Temporary Agency Worker Association (TAWA) — whose clients are temporary workers who are mostly immigrants without permanent citizenship.

“Through testimonials obtained in face-to-face group interviews with 50 labourers, I was able to highlight the progress made over the past seven years since the project’s inception and the work remaining to improve conditions for some of Montreal’s most vulnerable workers.”

Based on the community-organizing model, IWC and TAWA workers and clients were thoroughly involved in planning the report and its subsequent campaign. They included a group of five warehouse workers who were racialized refugee claimants whose voices tend to go unheard.

The release of the report was accompanied by a press conference and launch in November 2019 to help pressure government bodies to address the demands of precarious immigrant workers.

“My research has also helped illuminate the role of city, provincial and national policies in brining about positive change, and it has empowered workers to better understand their role as change-makers in political processes,” says Henaway.

Does your project need support? Are you with a non-profit or grassroots organization needing access to modest funding, space or promotions? Are you a professor or student wanting to connect with community partners through your teaching, learning or research? Get in touch with Concordia’s Office of Community Engagement.

 



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