Leading Social Justice Fellowship

Leading Social Justice Fellowship

Born out of a unique partnership between United Way Greater Toronto and U of T’s School of Cities, the Leading Social Justice Fellowship is a bold, new leadership development initiative for individuals from the public, private, and community sectors who want to rebuild an equitable and inclusive city.

The intersecting crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and climate change have disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable in our communities. Social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Idle No More, and Fridays for Future have shone a spotlight on social inequities and captured the imagination of many. Realizing the opportunity for transformational change in this moment calls for courage and a different kind of leadership. If you are passionate about putting social justice at the center of your approach to leadership, this Fellowship is for you. 

The Leading Social Justice Fellowship is designed for teams of three people who are interested in dismantling systemic inequalities and building an inclusive and equitable society. 

Questions? See the FAQ or contact us at outreach.sofc@utoronto.ca 

If you have identified a social justice challenge that impacts your community and/or organization this Fellowship is for you. You may already be taking action on this challenge or you may be wondering how to get started. Evolving and prototyping a solution throughout the Fellowship will enable your team to test, practice, and refine your approach before fully implementing your proposed solution. 

We encourage applications from diverse candidates with professional and lived experience related to social justice issues across sectors in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Fellows will bring a wide range of educational, organizational, community and lived experiences and should apply with a specific question of consequence or project idea in mind that they would like to make progress on through this program.  

Fellows should be deeply curious about systems change, leadership development, anti-racism, and rebuilding a truly equitable GTA. Clear commitments to working across silos to solve connected issues and to social justice are assets.  

Participants must: 

  • Have a community-based or organization-based project in mind that would contribute to rebuilding a more equitable and inclusive GTA (including Peel, Toronto, and York Region); however, your project can also impact other communities.  
  • Be connected to the community or organization in which your project is based 
  • Apply as a team of 3  

Participants can be: 

  • From the public, private or community sectors, including independent activists  
  • Otherwise engaged in or focused on community-based work 

The Leading Social Justice Fellowship is open to candidates from various backgrounds, including those who may need accommodation. 

Through the Leading Social Justice Fellowship, teams will learn to apply intersectional, equity, and anti-racism lenses to a social justice challenge they have identified in their community or organization. 

During the Fellowship, teams will have the opportunity to:

  • Delve into the current context of inter-related issues, including the urgent need for action on anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, gender equity, climate justice, income inequality and more.
  • Exchange ideas and challenge assumptions in a peer group with diverse lived experiences from across sectors and geographies
  • Engage with prominent social justice educators, researchers and thought leaders with deep experience reimagining and rebuilding equitable communities.
  • Unpack, interrogate and challenge dominant frameworks and the historical and social contexts from which they emerged
  • Contribute to the first-ever version of the Leading Social Justice Fellowship and shape its direction and next iteration
  • Apply for a grant of $2,000 to support a project or initiative that addresses an identified social justice challenge that impacts your community

Upon completion of the Fellowship, teams will be equipped with: 

  • Prototyped action plan to address a social justice challenge. This action plan will be one that is specific to the Fellowship team’s social justice challenge, but which can be used as a lever or starting point for larger systemic change
  • Fluency in critical and reflective practice to identify entrenched biases (including anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism) and to understand and design for the disparate needs of stakeholders, many of whom have been conventionally ignored
  • Understanding of and experience in applying an equity lens to community structures and organizational practices in order to dismantle systemic barriers and build equitable communities
  • Ability to initiate and lead a cross-sectoral approach to tackle social justice 
  • Network of peers from across sectors in the GTA
  • Personal and professional development plan goals related to furthering equity and inclusion and applies course learnings to those goals. 
  • A University of Toronto School of Cities Leadership Certificate

The Leading Social Justice Fellowship will provide a needs-based bursary of up to $1,500 per person to reduce financial barriers to participation. Fellowship staff will inform participants on how to apply for and receive the bursary as part of the application process. Please contact us with any questions you have about this opportunity. We would like to thank those whose feedback led to the creation of this bursary. 

The Fellowship will run from February 2021 to June 2021, with virtual seminars hosted by the School of Cities. 

Biweekly virtual seminars will be held on the following Thursdays from 6:00-8:30 P.M

  • February 11, 2021  (Program Kickoff - time TBD) 
  • February 25, 2021 
  • March 11, 2021 
  • March 25, 2021 
  • April 8, 2021 
  • April 22, 2021 
  • May 6, 2021 
  • May 20, 2021 
  • June 3, 2021  
  • June 17, 2021
  • June 24, 2021 (Graduation) 

If a participant is unable to attend a session for personal or religious reasons, recordings and materials will be available on request.  

In the weeks between seminars, participants will receive videos and course materials to review on their own time. Each Fellowship team will have access to a series of coaching sessions with the teaching team.  

Teams are expected to work on their Social Justice Projects outside of the virtual seminars. Teams are expected to lead a virtual public presentation at the end of the Fellowship to share their work. Fellowship graduation will be held on Thursday, June 24 2021

Leading Social Justice Fellowship Information Session - 24 November, 2020

This crisis reminds us that we need deeper solutions to urgent needs. These deeper solutions require cross-sectoral collaboration that is focused on true transformation of our systems, not temporary fixes. Creating systemic solutions challenges us to create connections between the latest research on these issues and the reality of how they manifest themselves in our communities.

This partnership integrates United Way Greater Toronto’s strong networks and deep history of work in communities with UofT’s School of Cities’ interdisciplinary approach to urban research, education and engagement. We aim to cultivate a 'fellowship' of leaders who will walk forward together and support one another—during and beyond the program—to drive actions that advance social justice across sectors and in communities.


Fellowship Faculty 

Prof. Nouman Ashraf

Nouman Ashraf (He/Him/His)

Nouman is an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream within the Organizational Behavior area at the Rotman School of Management.
He possesses a broad range of professional, academic and research interests, with a specialized focus on enabling inclusive and innovative practices within teams, organizations and boards. For the last decade and a half, he has held progressively senior roles at the University of Toronto, including most recently as the Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at the Rotman School of Management. He is a recognized thought leader in governance and has taught thousands of directors in the national Rotman program on Not for Profit Governance in partnership with the Institute for Corporate Directors since its inception in 2007.



Nation has dedicated his professional and personal time to community development strategies. Nation Cheong (He/Him/His)

For over 20 years, Nation has dedicated his professional and personal time to community development strategies. He started on the frontlines supporting individuals experiencing chronic mental health, addictions and inadequate housing. His work later focused on positive youth development for young people across the GTA including the influential Youth Challenge Fund and United Way’s Youth Success Strategy. Known for his integrity and ability to bridge diverse perspectives, he is a respected organizational leader, strategic partner, community animator, artist and teacher.
As United Way's VP of Community Opportunities and Mobilization, his role weaves relationships across public and private sector partners and community service agencies to plan and build better communities collectively. Nation oversees UW's Research, Public Policy and Public Affairs strategies, the Indigenous Collaboration Framework, Regional Engagement, and the advancement of Community Benefits practices across the GTA.


Prof. Matti Siemiatycki Matti Siemiatycki (He/Him/His)

Matti Siemiatycki is a Professor in the Department of Geography & Planning, Canada Research Chair in Infrastructure Planning and Finance and Interim Director at the School of Cities. His research focuses on delivering large-scale infrastructure projects, public-private partnerships, and the effective integration of infrastructure into the fabric of cities. 
Professor Siemiatycki was a faculty leader of StudentMoveTO, a joint initiative between the University of Toronto, York, Ryerson and OCADU that successfully developed a model for inter-university research collaboration and mobilization on city-building issues. 
Professor Siemiatycki is a highly engaged public scholar with a deep commitment to informing public discourse about city building. He regularly provides advice to governments, civic institutions and industry, and is a frequent commentator in the media and public realm on urban issues, with a honed ability to communicate with various audiences.


Fellowship Staff


Sophie is a researcher and consultant working at the intersections of social, economic, and environmental justice issues.

Sophie Duncan (She/Her/Hers)

Sophie is a researcher and consultant working at the intersections of social, economic, and environmental justice issues. Sophie has a particular focus on the role of food systems in building vibrant, equitable, and sustainable rural communities. She has worked with small-scale farmers and producers in the United States and Morocco, led food access and community development programming in Vermont, and consulted with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program. Sophie’s research includes Behavioural Insights research on Canada’s Food Guide and the role of guidelines as well as food systems research in Morocco as a Fulbright Research Grantee. Sophie is a Principal consultant at In Nova Consulting, a group specializing in organizational design and diversity, equity and inclusion. Sophie holds an MBA from the University of Toronto and is currently a Board member at the Fair Finance Fund.


Daniel brings a broad set of experiences on advancing equity, diversity and inclusion both within organizations and in a broader systemic way.

Daniel Cowen (He/Him/His)

Daniel brings a broad set of experiences on advancing equity, diversity and inclusion both within organizations and in a broader systemic way. As the Deputy Director of Economic Inclusion for the largest regional chamber of commerce in New York, he designed and implemented initiatives that helped the organization’s business membership identify and act on opportunities and barriers to creating a more diverse and inclusive culture. In this role, he launched and directed a business development program supporting intergenerational wealth generation in low-income neighbourhoods. 
When completing his MBA at Rotman, he continued to lead evaluation and resource development for the Build from Within Alliance, a cohort of entrepreneurship programs in 50 neighborhoods across the United States that aim to help marginalized individuals and neighbourhoods revitalize their own communities. Dan is a Principal consultant at In Nova Consulting, a group specializing in organizational design and diversity, equity and inclusion. 


Lara M

Lara Muldoon (She/Her/Hers)

Lara is the Senior Partnerships Engagement and Projects Officer at the School of Cities. She has experience in the design and delivery of executive and adult education programs both in her current role and during her time at the Toronto Region Board of Trade. She is a world traveller and passionate city-builder who excels at creating partnerships and places to explore the economic, social, and cultural vitality of city regions. A graduate of U of T, Lara has also worked in educational publishing, financial services, and the public sector and served as co-chair of Environmental Education Ontario.

This fellowship has also benefited from the invaluable contributions of many co-designers. We are grateful to Andrea Aramayo Balboa, Chris Brillinger, Debbie Douglas, Kandy Kennedy, Kwame McKenzie, Abigail Moriah, Naki Osutei, Anowa Quarcoo, Jennifer Sylvester, Leslie Woo and many others for sharing their insights, expertise, feedback, and time.

Q: Do I need to have a formal leadership position in my organization or community?

A: No, participants are not required to have a formal leadership position in their work or volunteer roles, but should be able to demonstrate their interest in further developing their leadership skills.

Q: Do I need to have experience in the not-for-profit or public sector?

A. No, experience in the not-for-profit and public sectors or experience in a role with an explicit social mandate is not a requirement.

Q: Do I need to work in the same organization as my team members? 

A: No. Team members do not need to be part of the same organization but must be working on the same social justice challenge. Collaboration across organizations and sectors is encouraged.

Q: Do I need to have a particular level of education or other qualifications? 

A: No. All applicants are welcome regardless of educational background.

Q: Is there a fee to participate? 

A: No. There will be no fees for this inaugural Leading Social Justice Fellowship.

Q: Can I have more than three people on my team? 

A: The Fellowship currently has the capacity to accommodate only three members per team. However, teams are encouraged to share ideas and learnings from the Fellowship with others in their organization or community.

Q: Can I apply by myself?

A: All teams must be composed of three members. We see collaboration and working with partners as a key part of a successful project and a key learning. Consider forming a team with people from your organization/community and beyond. 

Q: What is the time commitment involved?

A: The Leading Social Justice Fellowship runs from February 11, 2021 to June 24, 2021 and includes an estimated 25 total hours of live online seminars on Thursday evenings. If a participant is unable to attend a session for personal or religious reasons, recordings and materials will be available on request.

Participants can expect to spend an average of 3 hours per week on Fellowship activities. This includes 2.5 hour live online seminars every other week, video content you can watch on your schedule, team-based coaching sessions, and other course work in the weeks between seminars. Fellows will work together on their team initiative and plan a virtual public presentation and therefore must be able to collaborate regularly with their team members and complete related work. Total time commitment is estimated at 60 hours. Successful candidates will receive a comprehensive program schedule prior to the first session in February.

Q: What initiatives/projects are eligible? What qualifies as a social justice challenge?

A: We welcome any social justice challenge that impacts your community or organization. This can include a wide range of projects, but should be focused on dismantling inequity and/or advancing equity and inclusion within your community or organization. 

We encourage you to pick an issue that you are particularly passionate about. This could be a problem that makes you angry or frustrated or an opportunity that gives you hope and inspiration. We understand that your project will likely evolve over the course of this initiative-- your approach and solution to the challenge do not need to be fully formed when you apply.

Social justice challenges: 

  • Exist across sectors and communities
  • Are found in public, private and community organizations as well as a variety of formal and informal community settings
  • May include connections between social, economic and environmental issues and often require an anti-racist approach

Your project:

  • Should address systemic inequities in our social and economic systems and/or in our environment. Examples include:
    • Unequal access to the requirements for a safe and dignified life (including access to housing, decent work and fair wages, education and childcare, food and water, healthcare, technology, a healthy environment, safe transportation or more).
    • Systemic inequities within an organization’s or sector’s culture and recruitment, hiring, retention, payment and promotion practices
    • Systemic inequities that result from an extractive, rather than reciprocal, relationship with nature
  • Could be a new project or a challenge you are already working on that could benefit from new tools and/or skill sets to create the change you wish to see 
  • May focus on a specific starting point for this transformation, in the long term it should work towards systems-level transformation of your community, organization, or sector

Q: What are the timelines for project completion?

A: The seminars will run from February 2021 to June 2021. Fellows are welcome to schedule their virtual public presentation after the seminars conclude. Assistance is available for teams in scheduling and hosting their presentations.

Q: Can I apply with more than one project or initiative?

A: Please apply with one project in mind. However, we expect that your project will evolve over the course of your Fellowship experience.

Q: What does the selection process look like?

A: Applications will be reviewed by a selection committee composed of representatives from the School of Cities, the United Way Greater Toronto and the community. Successful applicants will be contacted in mid-January 2021.

Q: Do I need to have someone from each sector on my team?  

A: No. The only requirement is that you and your team members are working on the same social justice challenge. You may all be from one organization/sector/community or from different organizations/sectors/communities. 

Q: What happens with my proposed solutions in the application and during the Fellowship?  

A: This is not a competition. This fellowship is designed to help you and your team to advance a solution of your choosing and to further develop your leadership skills. Your ideas and solutions will remain your own.  

Q: What is the $2,000 grant for? 

A: Each team will have the opportunity to apply for a $2,000 grant to support project-related expenses. Grant applications will open after the Fellowship begins. 

This grant is intended as seed money to help you get started on your project. We understand that many projects will require further funding to reach their full potential. While we cannot provide full funding, the fellowship will help facilitate connections and skill-building related to project funding.   

Q: Is there any financial support for individuals?

A: The Leading Social Justice Fellowship will provide a needs-based bursary of up to $1,500 per person to reduce financial barriers to participation. Fellowship staff will inform participants on how to apply for and receive the bursary as part of the application process.

Q: Why do I have to apply in a team of three? Why not another number?  

A: In our experience working with teams, three is ideal because it fosters collaboration and creates accountability and shared responsibility. While teams are limited to three people, you are encouraged to share your learnings and insights with others who are contributing or working with you on your proposed solutions.  

Q: I have feedback for you. How can I get in touch?  

A: We welcome your feedback, questions, and concerns. Please feel free to reach out to us at outreach.sofc@utoronto.ca   


In Partnership with 

United Way Greater Toronto