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SHIFT Centre for Social Transformation opens new space to further unite academia with community-led expertise

$10-million gift from the Amelia & Lino Saputo Foundation and the Mirella & Lino Saputo Foundation to Concordia champions collaborative projects and paid internships
December 19, 2022
By Damon van der Linde, BA 08

An open workspace with a collaborative table, chairs and other office supplies

The SHIFT Centre for Social Transformation at Concordia has officially opened the doors of its new collaborative space that serves to connect community groups and university members dedicated to building a healthier, more resilient and inclusive society.

The space was made possible thanks to a $10-million gift from the Amelia & Lino Saputo Foundation and the Mirella & Lino Saputo Foundation to the Campaign for Concordia: Next-Gen Now in 2019.

Since launching in 2019, SHIFT has awarded more than $500,000 to over 40 projects that tackle societal challenges within and beyond Concordia.

Located in the heart of the university’s downtown campus, this accessible, ground-level venue provides coworking desks, meeting rooms, kitchen and dining area, creating opportunities for intentional and spontaneous collaborations.

“Socially transformative, community-engaged work has been a part of Concordia’s DNA for as long as the university has existed,” says Susan Edey, MA 12, Concordia’s interim senior director of community engagement and social impact.

“We hope to bring people together for more cross-pollination between projects, departments, the university and the community.”

40-plus projects for societal change

SHIFT offers ongoing funding, training and paid student internships to community groups — vital resources Edey says are not often available through traditional academic pathways. While this support benefits social initiatives throughout Montreal, these partnerships also provide Concordia with rich experiential learning and research opportunities.

“This fantastic new location provides an incredibly welcoming, inclusive physical space for the Concordia community that is equally important for partners external to the university,” said Concordia President and Vice-Chancellor Graham Carr at the public opening of the SHIFT collaborative space on October 31.

“One of the critical aspects of Concordia’s approach to higher education is the humility to know that we do not have a monopoly on knowledge.”

Since launching in 2019, SHIFT has awarded more than $500,000 to over 40 projects that tackle societal challenges within and beyond Concordia, supported by five full-time coordinators, three part-time staff, and one shared administrative assistant. It has also facilitated approximately 100 paid internships across all four faculties.

SHIFT’s social mission is reflected in an innovative governance structure that lets both university staff and community members make significant decisions about the centre’s future.

“Having our own collaborative space always seemed like a pipe dream until the Saputo foundations brought their support,” says Edey, adding that when SHIFT eventually secures financing beyond the Saputo foundations’ gift, the space will be a lasting legacy of their generosity.

“The donation has been truly transformative,” she says.

Learn about some of the projects funded by SHIFT:

A woman with dark, curly hair wears glasses, a cardigan and a striped shirt Maeva Ramboni
Concordia’s Precious Plastic Project (CP3)

Led by a multidisciplinary team of students, CP3 tackles the global plastic crisis with creative solutions, including research activities, public awareness campaigns and a new recycling process.

Using a plastic shredder, 3D printer and other machinery, CP3 upcycles waste otherwise destined for municipal collection. So far, its creations include a BlueTooth speaker, earrings, flower pots and holiday ornaments.

“It’s very experimental,” says Maeva Ramboni, a CP3 member and social media and events assistant at SHIFT.

“Supporting small-scale prototypes on campus allows for the development of skills and models that can then be adapted for other institutions.”

A woman with medium-length black hair wears a turtleneck sweater Aishah Seivwright
Peer Support Groups project

Black Mental Health Connections Montreal combines community-led expertise with the Concordia Wellness Centre’s experience in developing peer-to-peer support programming.

Together, they piloted two support groups for English-speaking Black youth to create a replicable model. This project creates much-needed space for resources and vulnerable conversations to help heal traumas caused by ongoing systemic racism and address community stigma around mental health.

“Historically, Black people are underrepresented, disenfranchised, and don’t receive state support,” says Aishah Seivwright, Black Mental Health Connections Montreal project coordinator and community organizer and member of SHIFT’s Steering Committee.

“We’re bridging the gap by providing culturally-competent care from the community for the community.”

A woman wears her black hair in a ponytail and holds a frame in her hands Felice Yuen | Photo by David Ward
Li-Ber-T House

The first of its kind in Quebec, Liber-T-House offers a comprehensive program in partnership with social workers and mental-health practitioners to support women who recently left rehabilitation or were released from prison.

Li-Ber-T House provides accommodations and support in the transition to independent living. By demonstrating the impact of their model and the importance of a gender-informed approach to reintegration, the team advocates for widespread change in the supports available to vulnerable women.

“Li-Ber-T House is an innovative project grounded in social justice that provides a rich learning opportunity for our students,” says Felice Yuen, an associate professor in Concordia’s Department of Applied Human Sciences who collaborates with Li-Ber-T House.


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