Tag Archives: sauve-scholars

Millennium Scholarship Foundation: A Case Study in Sustaining a Network

For those who haven’t heard, one of the worst decisions of the current government has been to not renew the Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

The foundation, created by Chretien in 2000 had a 10 years of funding to pursue three goals: 1) improve access to post-secondary education, particularly for students facing economic or social barriers; 2) encourage a high level of student achievement and engagement in Canadian society; and 3) to build a national alliance of organizations and individuals around a shared post-secondary agenda.

After 10 years of dispensing scholarships and bursaries there is now a large alumni group of Millennium scholars, many of whom have met one another as a result of an annual conference the foundation which brought scholars from across the country together to learn from external speakers and one another. In short, the Millennium alumni network is a relatively vibrant community composed of some very compelling people.

But now the organization that created that community is ending. So one question the foundation has been asking itself is: how does the community continue to have impact once both its funding has stopped and the alumni network ceases to grow? This is a challenge common to many groups. For example, I’ve frequently heard conference organizers ask how can the participants can continue to grow and learn from one another once the conference ends. In theory, new social networking tools like LinkedIn and Facebook should make this easier. In practise, it is not always the case.

As I look at Millennium and reflect on its strengths, its community and the tools it has available, a couple of thoughts come to mind.

First, neither overestimate nor underestimate the power of one’s brand.

Firstly, in relation to not underestimating the power of brands, try to think about what it is that your brand has enabled, and why people might be grateful or interested in it. In the case of Millennium, it has helped make a post-secondary education possible for thousands of people. But it did more than that, it found people who were creative, smart, interesting and passionate about life and their communities. It also brought them together to meet and engage one another. If its alumni network did nothing more than serve as brand that allowed people to connect to on another over the next 40 years that would be in of itself a powerful outcome. It may sound trite but in my own life I’m always willing to meet with someone who participated in either Action Canada or Canada25 (two other discontinued program with a fixed alumni group). Both those groups consisted of people who I know want to make the world a better place, and if I can help them, I’ll try. Same with the Sauve Scholars. The fact that I can call on people in these networks and ask for their help, thoughts or advice is one of the most important legacies of these projects.

On the overestimate side, people should recognize that just because it is easy for people to connect, doesn’t mean that they will. Getting a broad network of people to sustain action on a given subject matter (especially if that subject matter didn’t bring them together in the first place) is very, very, difficult. In the case of the Millennium Foundation, it could encourage its network of alumni to tackle global poverty. This is a laudable goal, but it is not the issue that initially brought the group together so attachment to this issue is likely to be highly varied. This is a group with diverse interests. Some may want to focus on technology start-up, others on the environment, others on surviving grad-school. Trying to shoehorn a large group into a single goal is hard, especially if the group make up is now fixed and can no longer grow/evolve to focus on it. A powerful and/or well regarded brand does not mean you can do anything.

My hope is that the alumni are trying to figure out what it is that they, as a  group, do have in common. In the case of Millennium, my sense is that one thing everybody in the network can agree on is that education is important. The very fact that they are Millennium Alumni means they have benefited from access to high quality education. So if the network was, from time to time, going to focus its energy, something related to this issue area might have the greatest resonance. Activities, actions or an annual event that attempted to do something simple around promoting education might be a good place to start. This could sustain the network’s relevance in the lives of its alumni as well as maintain connectivity among a certain percentage of its members. I’d also argue that the country could stand to have a 5000+ army of smart, engaged, interesting and increasingly powerful people who continuously champion the importance of education.

Become a 2009 Sauve Scholar

For those who are interested, applications for Sauve Scholarships have been open for a few weeks now. The deadline is December 31st.

For those not in the know, the Sauve Program, now in its 6th year:

…exists for young leaders under the age of 30 from across the globe who want to change the world. The Scholars are chosen above all on the basis of criteria laid out by the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé:

  • Initiative
  • Motivation
  • Vision
  • Imagination
  • Demonstrated communication skills
  • Awareness of international and domestic issues
  • A strong desire to effect change

Each year, up to 14 remarkable young leaders are invited to come to Montreal for the academic calendar year. They live together in a beautifully restored mansion, enjoy unlimited access to McGill University’s academic programs and other resources – including lectures, conferences and events suited to the advancement of their individual professional and intellectual goals – while benefiting from the communal life and multi-faceted exchanges with their fellow Scholars.

The Sauvé experience, a period of personal and professional growth, is founded on:

  • Intense exchange of ideas and experience, supported by communal life
  • Extensive intellectual freedom, allowing each participant to develop according to his or her needs and aspirations
  • Focus on action accompanied by a clear commitment to the community —including the host community
  • Commitment to dialogue among cultures, which allows participants to understand and assimilate viewpoints built within multiple frames of reference

You can learn more about the program here and check out past scholars here.


Some of you may remember that last August James Wright – Governor on the Board of McGill, Executive Director of the Sauve Scholars and all round great person was suddenly killed in a tragic accident. After posting an obituary literally hundreds upon hundreds of people visit my site from every continent – usually after googling “Jim Wright.” It was a testament to how, around the world, one man had impacted so many lives.

For those who knew Jim, a new scholarship – the James Wright Memorial Scholarship – has been established in his honour. I beleive more details will emerge but you can read about it and donate towards it here.

In Memoriam of Jim Wright

The start of fall has been a particularly tough this year. Yesterday I was informed that James Wright had passed away in a terrible accident.

Many of you – especially outside Montreal – will never have heard of Jim. This fact is not a reflection on Jim’s impact on those around him, but is rather a reflection of his understated nature. Simply put, Jim was an extraordinary person. A man who relentlessly gave his time, his energy and himself to others and yet, despite his innumerable achievements, always kept a surprisingly low profile.

Indeed, this low-key diminutive style regularly caught me off guard. Everywhere I turned in Montreal I would inevitably discover that regardless the cause or group, Jim somehow seemed to be involved. The breadth of his volunteer activities are too numerous to name. Heather Munroe-Blum – the Principal of McGill – listed a few in her press release:

Jim was a graduate of McGill (BA ’65) and Université Laval law school. In 1969, he joined the law firm of Martineau Walker (now Fasken Martineau) where he worked for 30 years. From 1977 to 1979 he was the deputy director of the Compliance Branch of The Foreign Investment Review Agency. In 1999, he was appointed executive director of EPOC Montreal, an organization that provides job training for disadvantaged young adults. In 2003, he was appointed director of the Sauvé Scholars Foundation, which provides one-year study fellowships at McGill to young leaders from around the world. From 1991-99, Jim served the City of Westmount as a councillor. He also served as president of the Wexford Foundation and the University Club of Montreal.

jim wrightAnd yet even this list fails to capture of all Jim’s activities – such as his role as a Board Member (and I believe, one time president?) of Volunteer Canada and a Governor on the Board of McGill University.

But the list of volunteer activities – while revealing – fails to capture what made Jim so impressive. What defined Jim’s was his optimism and compassion, traits made evident by the manner in which he and his family opened up their home and their lives to those they helped. Many Canadians opt to dedicate their lives to public service but I’ve yet to meet one who did it with Jim’s warmth, openness, and giving nature.

This was how I got to know and love Jim. Those of us fortunate enough to become Sauvé scholars were generally outsiders to the Montreal community. This was true for me, a Canadian, but even more so for my fellow scholars who hailed from far away places such as China, Nepal, Bhutan, South Africa, Iran and Pakistan. Jim’s connections within McGill and throughout the Montreal community enabled the program to run smoothly and maximized the opportunities available to us scholars.

More importantly however, Jim made Montreal our home, not simply by his work as the program’s Executive Director but by literally opening up his own home and life to us. All the scholars (and their friends) regularly visited the Wright’s house for parties, dinners and other get togethers. Indeed, more than one Sauvé Scholar took up temporary residence in the Wright house to bridge between their time as a Scholar and their subsequent job.

For myself, my time at Sauvé house saw Jim and I’s relationship evolve from that of charge, to adviser, to mentor and then friend. I return annually to the house, both to connect with the new scholars and seek advice from Jim on my next steps. And I am not unique in this. There are now over 60 Sauvé Scholars spanning the globe. For some Jim continued to be a good friend, for others, especially those who remained in Montreal, he also continued to serve as a source of community and advice. One such scholar, Meriem Maza, was visiting the Wright’s at their cottage and was also tragically killed in the accident.

Saturday was a dark day for me personally, I remain full of disbelief, frustration and sadness, trying to feel glad that I at least knew Jim, and that I have him as a model to aspire to.

Saturday was also a dark day for the Sauvé Community and for Montreal more broadly. We lost a founding spoke in our network – the man whose compassion and work helped bind us together as a community. Equally tragic, we lost one of our peers, a bright and established talent who was our fellow scholar. In the emails that have floated through the Sauvé community so many have referred to Jim as their father in Montreal, others, who studied with Meriem, refer to her as a sister. These are voids no one will be able fill.

2005 Fellow and Jim

Jim with the 2004-05 Sauve Scholars

Application: Witness' Video Advocacy Institute

Fellow Sauve Scholar Paul Shore, who is deeply interested in how people can use video and the internet to help achieve social justice gave me the heads up about this cool sounding opportunity: The WITNESS Video Advocacy Institute (VAI). The VAI is an intensive program that trains human rights defenders to successfully integrate video advocacy into their campaigns.

For those not in the know WITNESS arms human rights activists with video cameras and teaches and supports video advocacy campaigns. Their goal is to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations by empowering people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change.

It is all going down at Concordia July 15-27 but applicaitons are due soon – March 25th!

[tags]advocacy, human rights, sauve scholars [/tags]