Coady Youth Strategy 2019-2024

Our Context

In community development and social change work, and in society more broadly, there are increasing numbers advocating for the meaningful participation of youth and for young people’s voices to be heard. In many instances however, this sentiment seems to come either from a place of charity (to incorporate the voices of marginalized populations) and/or from a desire to ‘mentor tomorrow’s leaders’ – seeing young people as ‘having future potential’ rather than as being able to offer meaningful, important and unique contributions in the present. However, events around the world throughout history demonstrate that young people are at the heart of social justice and social change, and that young people are disproportionately represented at the leading edge of these movements. 

Additionally, more than half of the world’s population is now under the age of 30. This “youth bulge” creates huge challenges around the world – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia – raising important questions about such things as the future of work, the capacities and limits of collective social assistance and responsibility, young people’s political participation, and the like. Measures to address and respond to these questions are being taken on a global scale, but all-too-often do not include youth themselves in these discussions.

Appreciating and responding to these factors, Coady Institute recognizes both the need for and the capacity of youth leaders to play a pivotal role in community change. We are dedicated to providing a diversity of experiential leadership education opportunities that promote accountable governance, build community resilience, and strengthen economic inclusion – and offer meaningful contributions to knowledge development in this field – to support the aspirations of young leaders for social change and those who work with them around the world.

This strategy document for Coady youth leadership programs follows from and links at multiple levels with the broader Coady Institutional Strategy 2017-22: “Toward A Full and Abundant Life for All”.

Our Vision

Grounded in Coady International Institute’s philosophy of citizen-led, community-driven, asset-based approaches to development and change, Coady youth leadership programs offer learning opportunities and knowledge development to support young leaders in developing their capacity for action towards a more just world.

By 2024, Coady is an important member contributing to the global network engaged in youth leadership for social change.

  • We offer a diversity of programming to support young leaders and those with whom they work;
  • We make significant and meaningful contributions to the development of knowledge in this field;
  • We seek equitable and collaborative partnerships with entities sharing our vision and priorities, for mutual benefit and learning; and
  • We attract skilled and talented young practitioners to seek education and/or employment within Coady youth leadership programs.
Our Values

Several values, principles and philosophies drive the ways in which we operate. In all that we do, we bring these values into our work. The programming that we offer is an expression of these values, so in every instance we aspire for each to reflect the other. At Coady we believe that: 

  • Our efforts are best directed in support of youth leadership for social change. There is both the need for and capacity of youth around the world to contribute in a significant way to social change, and our purpose is to support and optimize their work. While we recognize the ongoing need for other interventions to assist marginalized and at risk youth, our focus is on enhancing leadership by youth to address pressing social, economic and environmental justice issues.
  • An asset-based, community-driven approach is the most sustainable and empowering way in which we can support individuals and communities to develop and strengthen.
  • Meaningful participation brings ownership, engagement, increased motivation for all parties and often a superior final result in planning and delivery. We therefore aspire towards appropriate levels of participation by participants in all elements of programming, both for its own sake and to embody what we espouse. Examples include how we develop curriculum, our methods of assessment, the nature of feedback we offer to participants, and the importance we give to collective peer sharing and feedback.
  • Inequities and injustices operate in every corner of the Earth, and young leaders around the world must be offered opportunities to collaborate across boundaries and to bridge national, cultural and contextual divides in their efforts to overcome these systems of oppression.
  • Aspiring towards an anti-oppressive approach is central to our work. Power differentials based upon racial; age-, gender- and ability-based; socio-economic; religious; geographic and other forms of privilege must be recognized and addressed. We must acknowledge that oppression results from unearned privilege, and afford the most opportunities to those young leaders who are most oppressed.
    • One of the most common yet insidious forms of oppression is that against women. To counter this, we attempt to take a feminist approach in all that we do. This entails looking at the structural causes of oppression, and ensuring that we work towards systemic change. We must shift the deep-rooted prejudice of patriarchy, through elevating women’s voices, challenging toxic masculinity, and bringing principles of equity and equality into the classroom and all of our work.
    • It is vital that we work towards Indigenous reconciliation and decolonization, to appreciate and consider how we can demonstrate our gratitude and solidarity in the ongoing struggles for Indigenous land rights, equity, safety, healing, and power in the work that we do and in the way we do it. Coady is situated in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq First Nation. Those of us who are immigrant settlers on this land must continue to ask ourselves important questions, such as: what are we doing to uphold and centre Indigenous leadership and voices? What are we doing to honour and build space to support Indigenous resilience and resurgence?
  • Collaboration with others is essential to achieve our vision. We recognize the value and importance of equitable partnership with other entities operating in this space. We seek partners that centralize genuine co-design and co-learning alongside one another, discussing and addressing opportunities and challenges and making adjustments along the way as required, and sharing in successes and accomplishments together.
  • Stewardship of and support to program participants is vital, and must begin during the application process and through acceptance until their arrival at Coady (or off-campus location). It must then continue throughout the program and beyond, to create an ongoing connection and build a global network of change leaders. This also fosters confidence and comfort in our ability and credibility, and thus enhances receptivity to learning in the classroom.
Our Approach

Within the youth team, our culture and our interactions with all staff must attempt to reflect our values – by taking a community-driven, asset-based,  appreciative approach; offering meaningful participation and ownership; ensuring individual and collective safety (physical and emotional); giving and receiving mutual trust and respect; and taking an attitude of continuous lifelong learning. We aspire towards an optimal work environment, challenging each other to work outside our comfort zone, to seize opportunities for learning and growth, but not being pushed beyond our limits, whilst appreciating and respecting all members’ broader life contexts.

In the classroom, to use adult education terminology, we take a “humanistic” approach (focusing on the individual and their personal growth), informed by “radical” thinking (working towards societal change). Our purpose is to enhance personal growth and development, and facilitate self-actualization; and to bring about – through education – fundamental social, political and economic changes that will make our societies more just, equitable and sustainable.

Our Programming

Currently (as of the date of publication), we offer the following:


  • OceanPath Fellowship (OPF)
    • The 12-month OceanPath Fellowship provides community-focused experiential learning opportunities for Canadian university graduates to become active and effective change-makers, bringing new ideas and working closely with communities to foster sustainable and positive social change in Canada and around the world.
  • Global Youth Leaders (GYL)
    • This three-week certificate is for young development leaders (20-30 years old) from developing countries to develop and deepen their leadership capacities in order to contribute to innovation and change in their organizations and communities. 
  • Supporting Youth Leadership for Change (SYLC)
    • This course (within the Coady Diploma for Development Leadership) is for those who work with youth, to explore the unique intricacies and nuances of supporting young people in their work for local and global social change.
  • QEII Internship Workshop
    • This one-week workshop is a preparatory leadership and intercultural competence course for StFX students participating in the QEII Internship – a three-month placement in Ghana.
  • Ongoing research and dissemination of knowledge on:
    • Elements enabling the potential for transformative learning in a Coady youth leadership program, and
    • The unique contributions of youth leaders for social change around the world.
Our Filters

In determining partners and in deciding upon and developing new programs, we will include in our considerations the following (not exhaustive) elements:

  • The Coady Institutional Strategy, 2017-22;
  • The Coady “Partnerships Filter”;
  • The HeartWood Framework for Community Youth Development;
  • The Social Change Model of Leadership Development; and
  • The youth team values (above).

Funding considerations:

  • Ideal funding is “core” funding – untied to specific programming
  • Next best is multi-year, privately-funded programming
  • Next is multi-year, publicly-funded programming
  • Additionally, all new programming should (initially at least) incorporate staffing and management capacity
  • WE WILL NOT accept funding from sources that cause harm socially and/or environmentally and do not work legitimately to remediate this (eg. Big oil)
Our Priorities

What we will PRIORITIZE

  • longer, multi-year programs that accompany youth leaders for social change
  • research & publications that contribute to the field of youth leadership for social change
  • support to and linkages with the conceptualization, design and development of the StFX approach to leadership

What we WILL do

  • Short courses with:
  • youth leaders for social change
  • those who work with youth leaders for social change

What we’d LIKE TO BE ABLE to do

  • Offer responsive “pro bono” services when applicable to local organizations and others that are involved with youth, to support development of youth leadership regionally. This demands “untied” funding (see funding considerations under “Filters” above).
  • Support youth leadership programming at StFX.

What we will CONSIDER

  • Individual one-time consultancy contracts
  • IF it is with a current partner, or
  • IF there is the possibility of a transition to a longer-term agreement

What we will NOT do

  • Focus on youth as “marginalized”, “at risk”, or “problems to be solved”
  • Work directly with “marginalized” or “at risk” youth – but we WILL work with young leaders in these demographics
  • Work directly with minors (under 18), given the resultant restrictions and constraints
  • Coordinate short “voluntourism” trips (eg. of several weeks duration), given their contentious nature and potential for adverse impact on communities and on the mindset of participants
Our Future

There is much to be done, and our focus could very readily be distracted by many interesting and important opportunities as they become available. In an attempt to maintain a somewhat sharper focus on our intended direction, some appealing possibilities for future areas of work include, but are not limited to, such things as:


  • Longer-duration youth leadership constituency programming
    • Multi-year, fully funded for participants
    • Possibly including an element of seed funding for participant-driven initiatives
    • Globally-focused (breaking down the “North-South divide”)
    • Blended learning with experiential practical element, involving ongoing accompaniment and weaving elements of theory with practical application
    • Cohort structure consisting of small groups
    • Providing opportunities for youth-adult partnerships / resource people / mentorship
  • Indigenous youth leadership programming
  • Joint programming with other Coady priority constituency groups (ie. Indigenous and women leaders)
  • Hosting a convening at Coady on youth leadership for change
  • Research on youth leadership for change

Youth Strategy Development

This strategy is the product of considerable time, energy and thought by many people. It was initially developed by the Manager of Coady Youth Leadership Programs, in collaboration with the Director of Partnerships and the OceanPath Program Assistant. The first draft was then circulated to several colleagues for comment. Following updates, it was then sent to selected Coady youth alumnx* for their input.


The term “alumnx” has recently begun to be used as a gender-neutral alternative reference to graduates, in place of the terms “alumnus” (single male graduate), “alumna” (single female graduate) and “alumni” (both multiple male graduates and multiple male and female graduates). This term is starting to be used by scholars, activists and an increasing number of journalists, and is beginning to make inroads among the general public. It is used in a similar way to the term “Latinx” (which replaces “Latino” and “Latina”), with the intention of moving beyond gender binary and expressing inclusivity and appreciation for the intersecting identities of people, enabling inclusivity for people who are Two-Spirit, trans, queer, agender, non-binary, gender non-conforming or gender-fluid. Given our commitment to the values of social justice, inclusion, and anti-oppressive practices, Coady Youth Leadership Programs have adopted this term to reflect these values and our attitude of acceptance of and welcome to all people.