Named by the World Economic Forum as a ‘Young Global Leader’, Jennifer Corriero is a Canadian innovator, bringing tremendous insight into understanding, reaching and engaging youth.  Jennifer is co-founder and Executive Director of TakingITGlobal, a non-profit organization that has thrived for over a decade. She has her Masters in Environmental Studies and serves as Adjunct Professor with the Faculty of Health at York University where she helped to design a course titled Agents of Change in a Global World.  Jennifer has been a judge for a range of awards including the World Summit Youth Award, 2011 TD Scholarship for Community Leadership Award and 2010 Buckminister Fuller Challenge. In 2003, Jennifer was a member of the Official Canadian Government Delegation to the World Summit on the Information Society. She has traveled to over 30 countries, presenting at conferences and supporting civil society engagement.  In 2011, Jennifer served as a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment.

Estelle: Where did the idea of creating TakingITGlobal originate from?

Jennifer Correiro: I was rollerblading after a conference that took place in Ottawa with my co-founder Michael Furdyk.  We were teenagers at the time, reflecting on the opportunities presented by new and emerging technology for our generation.  We felt driven to create an online space and community that would inspire youth to become more informed and involved in social and environmental issues.  When I was 14, I took on a variety of volunteer roles with a local art gallery, food bank and environmental conservation centre.  I recognized the need for citizen engagement among youth and felt compelled to find a way to motive my peers to take on a greater role as leaders and problem-solvers.

EA: Did you encounter any obstacles when you first got started?

JC: Some of the greatest obstacles encountered when we first got started was simply knowing where to start.  We wrote up an ‘Action Plan’ outlining our ideas, strategies and resources required.  We created a budget and after a year of speaking about our ideas at various conferences and events, without raising any funds, we decided to start with the resources we had available to us – our time, our talent and our energy.  We kicked off with the first version of our website that launched in September 2000.  Eventually, with enough momentum, we were able to access funding through foundations, companies, government agencies and partnerships with non-profit organizations.

EA: What does a typical day at work look like for you?

JC: Each day is unique and filled with adventure!  I love entering our dynamic, vibrant and colourful office space, filled with bright and committed team members in Toronto.   We have weekly interactive staff meetings and are continually seeking creative approaches to designing and delivering youth engagement programs.  Over the past decade, I have travelled to over 30 countries, and this has brought me tremendous excitement and diversity of experiences.  Most of my days involve interactions with people – whether it be staff members, interns, partners, advisors, board members, young leaders, educators, community members and other stakeholders.  On a weekly basis, I typically deliver a workshop or presentation to a group of youth, educators or industry professionals.  What I love about taking the stage, is having a chance to reflect upon and articulate our vision for creating a more peaceful, inclusive and sustainable world.

EA: What do you love most about your job?

JC: What I love most about my job is practicing the art of creativity in approaches to leadership and community development.  Through conversations, a new idea is formed and often scribbled on the backs of napkins.  It evolves with feedback and transforms into a clear concept that I am able to articulate through a proposal.  Once approved, building a solid team who carry passions and skill sets that are complimentary is essential.  Moving from idea to action when I am most invigorated an energized.  When we experience the launch of a new partnership, website, workshop, mobile app or toolkit, I reach a state of joy and appreciation for the progress towards the pursuit of our goals!  Each aspect of building momentum that aligns with our vision brings me great rewards!

EA: What is the most difficult aspect of the work you do?

JC: Receiving a letter of rejection for a proposal we have written is one of the most difficult aspects of the work I do.   What comes along with that are the challenges related to scaling back our efforts or having to re-think ways to move forward without the resources or support that we truly need to thrive.  I am continually challenged to be resourceful in my thinking and my approach to creating social change.  I was once told that ‘what you appreciate, appreciates’ and so I practice gratitude as a way to move through the challenges and hurdles that present themselves to me.

EA: What is the number one priority that you have right now in the work you do?

JC: We have recently established a framework and set of indicators for the certification of Future Friendly Schools based on collaborative inputs from educators, students, parents, school administrators and community stakeholders.  My top priority is to advance this on the global agenda and support the roll-out in ways that allow for the transformation of our education system in ways that support 21st Century Learning through student voice, global citizenship and environmental stewardship.

EA: How can we inspire and encourage youth to get involved with TakingITGlobal and in their communities…where do they start?

JC: Community involvement starts with reflection and awareness.  We need to ask ourselves questions that provoke possibility thinking.  “If there was one thing that you could change or improve about your school, your community, your country or the world, what would it be?” This is how we kick off our downloadable Guide to Action and is also a way to begin a pathway to engagement.  We all care about something – we just need to align or efforts with a concern that we are ready to face from the perspective of creating a solution, rather than feeling overcome by it.

EA: If you were advising young people about the job market right now, what kind of degree or designation do you feel would most assist them in being productive and active citizens in your field and areas of commitment?

JC: We are living in a very competitive job market with rising unemployment.  Any employer is looking to grow a team of people who are invested in continuous learning as the pace of change is fast and the ability for organizations to be adaptive and resilient is based on the capabilities of team members to respond and make smart decisions.  There is no specific degree or designation that can guarantee success, though the passion and drive to learn contribute and add value as a continuous element throughout any plan of study is what I would consider to be most essential.

EA: Is there anything that you would like to tell UTM students who want to start their own social profit organizations?

JC: My message to young female entrepreneurs is to surround yourself with people who challenge you to be the best you can be.  We are all very much influenced by our environments.  True empowerment comes when we are able to shape our own environment. We need to create a constellation of stars that surround us and provide sources of inspiration, encouragement, insight and perspective.

EA: What is one thing you wish you had known when you were sixteen?

JC: One thing I wish I knew when I was sixteen is the power of my dreams.  What we envision for ourselves becomes the driver of who we are and what we become.

EA: What gives you your inner strength?

JC: My inner strength is rooted in a force beyond me alone.  I have experienced many moments where I felt discouraged, though somehow I was able to notice or encounter one small reason to have hope.  This small bit of hope has always been able to illuminate darkness and provide a way forward.   I know that through my thoughts, words and actions, I have influence on the lives of those around me, and so I make each choice with care and with the intention of making the world a better place.  Only in the simplicity of each small act of kindness, can greatness be achieved.