12/08/2015 01:55 EST | Updated 12/08/2016 05:12 EST

Samara Canada Is Facilitating Important Discussions

A decade ago, I attended a gathering for a now defunct group -- Canada25.

I met inspiring young emerging leaders who would go on to become leaders in their communities. The group had a lofty dream of creating "a culture of innovation that begets challenging opportunities, celebrates success, and empowers individuals to fully utilize their skills and ideas." On the shadow of Stephen Harper's Conservatives taking over the reins of our federal government, I felt the gathering was a great refuge for thoughtful progressive Canadians. The groups co-founder, Alison Loat, made a lasting impression on me. However, I was disappointed when the group decided to close operation because of lack of funds in 2007.

Little did I know, the co-founder of the group, Loat, would soon team up with a highly successful, shrewd and well connected billionaire businessman, Michael MacMillan, to help start a similar organization in Toronto named Samara Canada in 2009. The group aimed to help produce "independent research on the state of Canada's democratic institutions and attitudes Canadians hold about public life. Its efforts to date have focused on the federal level, though the organization's findings have application to provincial and local politics in Canada."

Since then, it has become an important and respected voice all across Canada.

Last week, I attended a reception for its Everyday Political Citizen Award. I was in the audience, when Luke Anderson, won and gave a touching speech, from his wheelchair. "As a wheelchair user I am affected by barriers in our communities that prevent me from accessing the spaces that I desire," he would say. This was the same young man, who helped create a simple ramp and helped 800 businesses become wheelchair accessible.

"The irony of the difficulty accessing this (Samara's) building underlines the importance of his work exactly," Samara's co-founder, Michael MacMillan would respond, as he handed him his award.

In addition to Anderson, Hana Woldeyes, a 17-year old Ethiopian-Canadian, like myself, would also be awarded for her work helping new immigrants transition to citizenship. Cory Nicotine, a Cree youth from Alberta, was also honored for running a program that helps young people with opportunities without discrimination.

Samara Canada has indeed become a special place for those looking to be politically engaged. It recognizes the emerging leaders among us, helps us network with the powerful and facilitates smart political discussions among its many achievements. For instance, the book that the group published -- In Tragedy in the Commons -- by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, showcased an intimate interview with departing members of Parliament and become a must-read for new members of Parliament. This year, I decided to use it as a holiday gift to friends -- to the aspiring and successful politicians.

Samara, has also helped release a report card -- Democracy 360 -- on Canada's state of democracy and facilitates important discussions with the likes of Bob Rae, Dave Meslin and Desmond Cole and helped produce a report -- "Message Not Delivered", Vote PopUP and the UBC Academic e-book blog and Samara blogs and they have all been valued by many of us.

Like many elitist liberal well-intentioned organizations, Samara lacks diversity among its staff and board members, denying itself a rare opportunity to hear from emerging leaders with unique perspectives and resources directly. It is a bit disappointing that it has to make an attempt to inject diversity in its composition by giving out a slew of awards to compensate a diversity that is clearly lacking within its in-house talents. I hope they know and understand the value of diversity in a city that is rich and multicultural. However, no one can deny the fact that this organization is doing an important and vital public work.


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