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What does freedom look like? Is it the stuff of mask mandates and vaccine passports or the yearning to self-direct the destiny of a people? Can we say that policing is democratic? How do we effect real change in our world? Former Toronto City Councillor and NDP MP, and current Executive Director of the Institute for Change Leaders, Olivia Chow joins us to discuss.
About Olivia Chow
For over thirty years, Olivia Chow has been an effective and well-known public figure, serving in Toronto’s municipal politics and on the national stage as a Canadian Member of Parliament. She was voted Best City Councillor seven times by readers of NOW magazine and Best MP in 2010. Readers of the Toronto Sun voted her Top Torontonian in 2012 and Canadian Immigrant magazine named her as one of Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants. Olivia also wrote the best selling memoir “My Journey”, published in 2014.
In 2015, Olivia Chow joined X University as a Distinguished Visiting Professor. Her work focuses on community engagement and leadership development.
As a founder of the Institute for Change Leaders, Olivia and her team of 30+ trainers have taught community and political organizing to thousands of organizers since March of 2015.
Olivia’s career has been all about creating lasting change. Olivia was born in Hong Kong and moved to Toronto with her parents when she was thirteen. She studied Philosophy and Fine Art at university and has worked as a college professor, an ESL teacher, a counsellor for new immigrants, and a sculptor.
She became an activist as a young woman, fighting for the rights of refugees and immigrants. For over 20 years, she was at the forefront of the ultimately successful campaign to achieve a national apology and redress for the discriminatory “Chinese Head Tax”. Olivia won her first election in 1985 and served on the Toronto Board of Education for six years. In 1991, Olivia became the first Asian-born woman elected as a Metro Toronto Councillor. She was re-elected to the city council five times, serving with distinction for 14 years. While at City Hall, she served as Chair of the Community Services Committee and Vice-Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), among other senior responsibilities.
Throughout her career, Olivia has been at the forefront, working for progress for all. She has reached across party lines and travelled across the country, forging alliances with municipal and provincial leaders, business and advocacy groups.
Olivia married Jack Layton in 1988, and together they forged one of Canada’s most remarkable political partnerships, sharing a passion for life and a commitment to change. Jack became the leader of the New Democratic Party and Canada’s Leader of the Opposition in Parliament before he died of cancer in 2011. Since his passing, Olivia has continued the quest to make Toronto a better city and Canada a better country for all.
About the Institute for Change Leaders
The Institute advances education by developing and delivering courses to the public that teach participants the tools, principles, ethics and values of participatory democracy in order to acquire knowledge and skills to be involved, and leaders, in democratic processes.
Founded in 2016 by Olivia Chow, the Institute for Change Leaders (ICL) teaches the skills that organizers need to win social change. ICL believes students learn best when they practice what they learn, and are constantly engaged in small group learning. They deliver a full curriculum in regular sessions online and at X University, and work with organizations to deliver tailored trainings in their workplaces.
ICL's mission is to ensure organizers are continually developing the skills they need to transform the resources they have into the change they want. The Institute does this by teaching organizing strategies and providing a platform for the growth of a network of organizers.
The Institute's curriculum comes from Marshall Ganz, a Harvard professor who codified the relationship-building organizational framework we teach after years of organizing with the Civil Rights and United Farm Workers movements. He was a key trainer and organizing strategist behind President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. The Institute offers the first accredited Marshall Ganz-based community-organizing course in Canada.
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