QPID shoots for projects close to home

Queen’s Project on International Development aims to add locally-based initiatives in the upcoming year

Rebecca Gill
Image by: Christine Blais
Rebecca Gill

When most students think of Clark Hall, they probably think of Friday afternoon Rituals, Golden Words and maybe the Campus Bookstore. Fewer are likely aware the same hallowed halls that house one of Queen’s favorite watering holes are also home to one of the only entirely student-run, non-profit non-governmental, organizations in Canada.

Queen’s Project on International Development (QPID) was founded in 1990 by a group of like-minded engineering students interested in making a difference. The initiative, began with infrastructural projects in South America and it has grown over the past 19 years to include additional summer projects in Ghana and Nunavut, as well as several youth-oriented initiatives in the Kingston.

Rebecca Gill, ArtSci ’11, a global development studies major and QPID’s general director, said the organization’s main goal is to foster a developmental consciousness.

Nearly 80 active members are responsible for the various initiatives instigated by QPID both on campus and in the local and global communities.

Gill said the organization’s volunteer base and $80,000 budget separates it from other student groups on campus.

“I think it’s because of the huge budget that we have each year,” she said. “Because we’re an NGO and nobody gets paid, there’s a low administration cost. That way the majority of our budget can go towards our Kingston projects and summer projects.” Each summer QPID sends about 14 to 20 students on three-month internships with various development agencies and local non-governmental organizations. In Guyana, the focus is on building the capacity of NGOs through business development and training, while the Ghana projects comprise research work for KITE, a sustainable technologies organization. In Nunavut, volunteers run literacy camps in English and Inuktitut, also with local leaders.

Kingston Projects’ endeavors include SEE (Seek, Engage, Empower) workshops and an annual youth forum on global and community development featuring local and international speakers for secondary students in the Kingston and Ottawa region.

Gill said she plans to place more of an emphasis on Kingston-based projects.

“We’re getting really involved in the local community,” she said. “Because my passion is local community development and youth involvement, I’ve been able to run with that, and that’s what great about this.”

Gill said she is working to give QPID a clearly defined identity, which, she felt it lacked in the past.

“Even myself, I have reservations about QPID because it’s too big and it does so much,” she said. “Sometimes, the larger you get, the less focused you become.”

Gill said the organization’s mission statement, created last year, is one way QPID is trying to clearly define its identity.

“The biggest question we get from people is ‘What do you guys do?’ she said. “QPID is an opportunity to critically engage in development locally and globally in order to take informed action. We want to engage students so they can be informed and take action, otherwise, they’re not very effective.”

Gill, who took part in organizing the SEE workshops and the development forum last year said she joined QPID with a bias towards local development.

“As a DEVS student, you’re taught to be very critical of those types of projects,” she said. “Often some of the work that we offer isn’t as valuable as it should be because the students haven’t been engaged and they haven’t provided a large amount of value to the communities.”

Gill said she understands some people who question her organization’s motives.

“I’ve thought that in the past, and its right to think that,” she said. “You shouldn’t just take what we do at face value. You should question.”

Gill said she and her executive are looking to combat the stigma surrounding international development as being a glorified vacation.

“Sometimes, people who have gotten involved with QPID in the past have been disengaged with development,” she said. “I think that this year, we’re taking a far more critical perspective on international development.”

Gill said it’s vital for international volunteers to be socially aware before leaving for their projects.

“It’s not just, ‘I’m going to check in May and then leave.’ If that’s the case, that’s problematic,” she said. “This year, we’re making some changes to try to make our students more critically engaged before going on a project.”

Gill said the QPID executive hasn’t decided where next summer’s projects will take place, but said they hope to decide by the end of the month.

“It’s really a complex decision. We’re hoping to make it more concise to make it easier to explain how the process works.”

Although QPID operates under the Engineering Society, it also maintains close ties to the Faculty of Arts and Science, and is comprised of members from many faculties.

Gill said although QPID originally did a lot of infrastructure-based projects and still has a large engineering base, they’re also ratified under the AMS. “One of the most important things about QPID is that we allow for this cross-faculty learning opportunity that [one] wouldn’t get normally.” Lindsay Wynne, Sci ’10, participated in a project involving the Upper Mahaica River Farmers Development Group in Guyana last summer. The project involved the creation and implementation of computer classes for youth aged five to 19.

Wynne heard about QPID through an engineering project in her first year, and was interested in acquiring the critical perspective on development issues she found to be lacking in her science-based courses.

Wynne said she relishes experiencing a different culture from a non-tourist perspective.

“It was really interesting to be a part of a community instead of just passing through. I found it challenging but really rewarding,” she said, adding that QPID incorporates participants’ critiques and suggestions into future projects.

“They don’t just disappear after you come back, which is nice,” Wynne said.

This year, QPID is introducing a program through the Kingston Projects team called Youth Advisory, which allows students from Kingston secondary schools to provide direct feedback on its local initiatives. The project will also provide support to students as they undertake a Kingston community project of their choice, she said.

Gill hopes this will give secondary students a sense of being part of a larger global system.

“It’s an opportunity to explore development issues on a broader scale,” she said.

Gill likened the organization’s consistent growth with the fluidity of development itself.

“Nothing is static, development isn’t static—it’s not like there’s this one linear path,” she said.

Gill views the best approach as a constant process of engagement and education.

“None of us really knows what development means,” she said. “None of us are experts. But we’re learning, and when you allow for flexibility and the opportunity for change—as long as it’s positive change—it’s a really great thing.”

QPID’s funding structure has changed over the years. Funding was originally provided by a youth-oriented initiative of the Canadian International Development Agency. The organization lost this source of funding in the mid-1990s and introduced a finance team focused on fundraising.

“We have few corporate sponsors, [since] a key part of QPID is trying to find organizations whose mandate and goals follow ours—we don’t want a conflict of interest,” Gill said. “We get funding internally and externally through grants and foundations as well as from student and alumni support.”

Arco Widjaja, Sci ’10, got to experience a leadership role in the global community at large when he travelled to Northern Ghana with QPID to help develop the Economic Community of West African States’ regional policy to increase access to modern energy services.

“I was involved in creating various capacity assessment tools, conducting the assessments and drafting the reports for [the initiative at] both national and community levels,” he said, adding that he has always been involved in community work but was attracted to QPID’s promotion of sustainable development. As QPID approaches its 20th anniversary, its mission remains similar to its original mandate: to promote development consciousness and a sense of awareness of the issues facing the world.

“It’s more than just ‘we volunteer,” Gill said. “It’s an opportunity to really get engaged and involved in the community.”

—With files from Emily Davies

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