Chicago, illinois, U.S.A

OCTOBER 9-14, 2018



A singular, hands-on opportunity for 25 youth leaders to experience democratic engagement and outreach, leadership and public policy development, on the eve of one of the most hotly contested midterm elections in United States history. 

The trip to Chicago and the surrounding areas between Tuesday, October 9th and Sunday, October 14th featured meetings with people doing the work including: 

  • Community organizers

  • Leaders in office and running for office

  • Journalists

  • Senior policy advisors

  • Campaign and communication strategists

  • Scholars putting their work into practice

The last two days of the trip embedded youth leaders with the organizations and people they heard from. This was an opportunity to experience history.


WHY Chicago?

Chicago has a long history of civic leadership and community-based efforts to foster democratic engagement. The parallels between Chicago and Toronto are fascinating. Both cities are immigrant cities, commercial capitals that have attracted people from all classes, ethnicities, and backgrounds in search of community and prosperity.

This project created an opportunity for young Canadian leaders to learn from practitioners and scholars and experience US political culture first-hand. Youth leaders learned about democratic engagement and outreach, and leadership and public policy development. Taking place against the backdrop of a dynamic city similar to Toronto in size during a midterm congressional, gubernatorial and municipal election. By meeting with other young leaders, joining non-partisan outreach and educational campaigns, and hearing from some of the leading scholars and practitioners in the fields of engagement, policy and leadership development, the participants gained important and actionable insights about how to engage their communities.

Youth leaders gained insights on best practices in three strands:

  1. Engaging communities that have not previously participated in electoral democracy

  2. Learning how citizens and community leaders can shape public policy development

  3. Learning how to conduct civil discourse in the context of highly contested political campaigns

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OCTOBER 9-14, 2018

We flew out of Toronto on Tuesday, October 9th and back in Toronto on Sunday, October 14th. This was during Ryerson University’s fall reading week.


WHAT DID WE learn?

Students learned how people come together to push for change in their communities, and how they deal with conflict and complexity, from some of the best -- Chicago and Illinois are seedbeds for some of the most advanced work in this space in all of North America.

By rolling up their sleeves in community placements for the last part of the tour, they learned by doing, from some of the masters of the craft.

Students also learned from a cohort of fellow young leaders that they traveled with, and spent time with the mission organizers, who have extensive experience in public policy, politics, and journalism in the US and Canada.

We invited students who care about the future of our community, want to do more, build their skills, and network as a change maker, who have an open mind and heart.


Meet our youth leaders

18 Ryerson students, 12 community partners, 3 veteran Change-Makers, 5 organizers, 2 media specialists, 1 immersive journey.

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Post trip expectations

After the event, youth leaders and program participants are asked to share insights from the experience. This will take a variety of forms and could include:

As a result of this trip, ties between youth leaders in the US and Canada will be strengthened, and new learnings about democracy as practiced in the US will be gained.




The Democratic Engagement Exchange and Ryerson Leadership Lab are committed to making this opportunity available to all youth leaders accepted as participants.

For Ryerson Students:

Each accepted student was asked to contribute $200 CAD towards the trip. Flights + shared accommodation, program materials, group meals, Chicago transportation, and all programmed activities were covered. 

For Others:

Please email Shoaib Ahmed for more information


WHO Organized THIS?

The Democratic Engagement Exchange and the Ryerson Leadership Lab are two Ryerson University-based initiatives with a shared commitment to strengthening the foundation of Canada’s democracy. The Exchange does this by developing tools and resources, providing training and consultation and showcasing best practices of democratic engagement. The RLL does this by developing the capacity of future leaders through innovative educational programming, convening leading thinkers and practitioners and providing meaningful experiential learning opportunities. Both initiatives will be drawing on an extensive network of Canadian and US based organizations and leaders to support this study tour.

This was the first such trip that either of our organizations has undertaken in this space. The combination of "learning-by-listening" (through meetings and interactions with key changemakers) and "learning-by-doing" (through placements in non-partisan organizations working on voter outreach) yielded actionable insights for the youth leaders.



Distinguished Visiting Professor / Special Adviser to the President

Karim Bardeesy is a public service leader who has worked at the intersection of public policy, politics, journalism and academia for the last 15 years...

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Senior Advisor, Democratic Engagement, Faculty of Arts, Ryerson University

John joins the Faculty of Arts, after leading community based outreach programs for Samara Canada. At Samara, John...

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Former Chief of Staff at Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of the Premier of Ontario

Mel Wright is the former Chief of Staff for Intergovernmental Affairs to Premier Kathleen Wynne. In her role she helped facilitate...

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Co-Founder of Ryerson Leadership Lab

Shoaib Ahmed has been working with executives, students and change makers to develop their programs and leadership potential at Ryerson University since 2011...

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Former Editor of the Toronto Star and the Chicago Sun-Times

Michael Cooke is the longest-serving Editor in the Toronto Star’s recent history. A visit to Toronto in 1975 landed him his first job at the Star, working on the copy desk...

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