The Covid-19 pandemic is ravaging India and our hearts go out to the more than 900 Coady graduates from that country and all those afflicted. At the same time, our hearts are full of appreciation and admiration to all those on the front lines working to save lives and livelihoods. Crises usually bring hardship and suffering, but they can also bring out the best in people and organizations.

In this regard, I want to highlight recent efforts by longtime Coady partners, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) based in India and the Comart Foundation based in Canada. Large numbers of SEWA’s 1.9 million members and staff are sick with Covid-19 and many have died. But SEWA is not letting the severity of the situation paralyze them. Almost overnight they have turned thousands of SEWA staff and village organizers who are not sick into Covid prevention awareness raisers. These front-line workers have in turn organized hundreds of thousands of rural women members to become an army of mask producers. In addition, they have created a network of Covid isolation centres and a Covid Helpline connected to a team of doctors.

SEWA has further mobilized to create a new financing vehicle to support their members in rebuilding their livelihoods once the worst of the pandemic has passed. Efforts by SEWA on this scale are saving lives, reducing the spread of the virus and sustaining livelihoods all at the same time. Touched by SEWA’s call to arms, Coady’s longtime funding partner the Comart Foundation agreed to invest a half a million Canadian dollars in both SEWA’s emergency efforts and their long-term plan to rebuild livelihoods and community resilience. While the Covid-19 crisis has been heartrending, the actions of SEWA and Comart have been heartwarming and give us strength and hope to carry on.

The flag of India is flown at StFX University. Pictured: Yogesh Ghore (Senior Program Staff) and Gord Cunningham (Executive Director)

Here on the campus of St. Francis Xavier University, Coady Institute has begun a second year of online education programs. A recent year-end review affirmed the remarkable success of our concerted efforts in 2020 to convert all of our educational programs to online format. This was a tribute to the innovative work of our faculty, the support of our technology and communications teams, and the resilience of our participants around the world and right here in Nova Scotia.  The Institute has recognized the need to build on this experience and extend this educational model through 2021 and into 2022 as we await the opening up of borders to international travel. I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to all those individuals, organizations, and businesses that support Coady scholarships that have allowed us to pivot during the current Covid-19 pandemic and use those scholarships to support participants globally and locally to attend Coady’s online programs.

The Institute’s partnership projects continue to grow through the pandemic, compelling us to develop a rich toolkit of long-distance support, coaching, and mentoring practices to maintain working relationships with partners locally and around the world and pursue project objectives, while we await the re-opening of borders and travel. These projects range from multi-country, multi-partner initiatives to promote gender equality and women’s economic empowerment to a study of affordable housing in Nova Scotia.

One of the highlights of the past few months is the work my colleagues have done to create and curate a wide variety of wonderful online engagements aimed at our large alumni network and the general public. I encourage you to visit Coady’s YouTube channel and watch one or more of these recordings. One of my favorites is Brilliant Disruptors: How Women Leaders are Transforming the World.

I am also excited about the opportunities my colleagues have created for young Canadians interested in community development. Over the next few months, more than 40 university students or recent graduates will be involved with our International Centre for Women’s Leadership, our Centre for Employment Innovation, and the Innovation and Enterprise Centre. Programs such as the Wallace Family Internship Program, the Pathy Foundation Fellowship program, the Xaverian Innovation and Entrepreneurs Micro-Grants program and the John Sears Chair in Social Responsibility internship program have all contributed to these efforts.

I want to end by acknowledging passing of beloved former colleague and former Coady Director Dr. Eric Amit who died peacefully on February 13, 2021. If you have not viewed the memoriam page dedicated to Eric on the Coady website I encourage you to do so. Over the past few months, I have had the pleasure of working closely with Eric’s daughter, Dr. Minoli Amit, and other local supporters of Coady to launch Coady Change Leaders, a local fundraising initiative to support scholarships for local and global change leaders. After the first month of this campaign, we are 40% to our goal of raising $200,000 annually for the next five years for a total of $1 million. I want to thank all of our donors for their support. Stay safe everyone.