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Saskatoon Change Makers: building capacity for positive change


Recently I had the chance to participate in Saskatoon Change Makers, one of the Broadbent Institute’s first events to enhance capacity for people to work for positive change. This emphasis on training and leadership recognizes that it’s not enough to have the best ideas; winning campaigns, electoral or issue-based, requires the organization and skills to do so.

Led by Director of Training and Leadership Graham Mitchell the Broadbent Institute partnered with Upstream, a new, national organization with its home base in Saskatoon, and with the Next Up leadership program to put on a weekend of training for campaigners along with an event for the general public.

This event featured Mitch Stewart of 270 strategies. Mitch is known as one of the top campaigners in the world, having played an integral role in the Obama campaigns for presidency in 2008 and 2012. His visit to Saskatchewan garnered significant attention and buzz. The result was a line-up down 20th Street and a packed house at Saskatoon’s historic Roxy Theatre, with over 400 people out on a frozen January 31st to join in a discussion about politics and change and hear inspiring personal stories from Stewart as well as local campaigners.

The evening started off with an Honour Song from Cree drummer John Noon, recognizing that the gathering took place on Treaty 6 territory. The first speaker of the evening was Max Fineday of Sweetgrass First Nation, the president of the University of Saskatchewan Students Union who spoke to how his experience of institutionalized racism motivated his political activism and coloured his leadership journey.



A tough act to follow, my remarks focused on the role of language in politics, and the need to replace current frames that allow elected leaders to make decisions that make our lives worse.

I described Upstream, a new organization dedicated to proposing and propagating a new frame based on health and wellbeing that will open up space for better political choices that serve the public good.



The event marked the launch of Upstream’s first major campaign, Poverty Costs. Using the evidence that poverty costs the Saskatchewan economy $3.8 billion per year along with stories of the human cost of poverty, we’re working with the Saskatoon Food Bank and the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty to encourage the Government of Saskatchewan to develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.

Erica Lee spoke of her involvement in the genesis of Idle No More, and her efforts to change the practice of using Indigenous people as mascots for sports teams. Since that event, she’s celebrated a success, having led a successful campaign to change the name of her high school’s team, the Bedford Redmen. 

Erica described how she’d been inspired by elders who taught her that resistance is nothing new for Indigenous people.



The final speaker, Mitch Stewart, employed the “story of self” using his specific experiences to inspire the audience.



All in all, Saskatoon Change Makers was a remarkable contribution from the Broadbent Institute to local capacity for positive social change. Some of the fruits of this have already been seen in a very successful Poverty Costs campaign that was informed by the training and shows real promise for adding Saskatchewan to the growing list of provinces with comprehensive poverty reduction strategies.

It will be exciting to see where else this training and leadership focus can catalyze successful, meaningful advocacy.