Humber College takes on global challenges to resolve local issues

Published On June 1, 2021 | By Klaudia Kryczka | News

Student voices united worldwide for the second annual Humber College’s Beyond COVID-19: Global Systems Gap Challenge.

This year’s initiative is extra special for participants as Humber College partnered with the city of Toronto for the first time in the challenge where post-secondary students focus on how to build an equitable and sustainable city after COVID-19.

With more than 600 people in attendance at their orientation kickoff, Humber College officially begins the second Beyond COVID-19: Global Systems Gap Challenge. Photo credit: Courtesy of

Rebecca Trautwein, the manager for Global Learning and Engagement at Humber College, thinks the college is lucky in securing this partnership with the city.

“This year, we really wanted to have a bit of a regional focus on where Humber is located and where the majority of our students are coming from,” she said.

The concept of the Global Gap Challenge developed from a small idea of giving hope while moving forward to a sustainable and accessible future for people and communities.

Students are split into teams and work together in identifying a specific problem while conducting applied research.

When Trautwein and other leaders for the Global Gap Challenge reached out to Toronto, they discovered they shared the idea of looking into a post-COVID-19 landscape.

“A lot of the work that our students have been doing as part of the challenge was really well aligned to those strategies in collaboration [with the city of Toronto],” she said.

Chris Murray, Toronto’s City Manager, is excited to see the outcomes of the project.

“Toronto, like so many other large urban centres, faces many challenges,” Murray said in a statement. “These challenges became far more evident as the COVID-19 pandemic hit every part of our city and every community in it.”

Trautwein agrees COVID-19 has made some challenges more evident.

“It’s really important that we’re providing more research and innovation for the most vulnerable people in this area,” she said. “We want to be able to provide [feedback].”

Trautwein described last year’s inaugural challenge as “exhilarating.”

“It was an incredible opportunity to see the minds that really exist within our Humber community,” she said.

Almost 400 students from 27 different countries participated in the 2020 Global Gap Challenge, where they were asked to evaluate the gap for concepts within business, social innovation, education, and health and wellness.

A total of eight revolutionary concepts and ideas won Humber's 2020 Gap Challenge. All presentations that won are on display at Humber's Global Opportunities page.
A total of eight revolutionary concepts and ideas won Humber’s 2020 Gap Challenge. All presentations that won are on display at Humber’s Global Opportunities page.

This year’s Global Gap Challenge concentrates on addressing issues within four specific research areas: social innovation, health and innovation, economic development, and arts and culture.

The challenge asks students from around the world to use the systems thinking approach, a concept where people must think of the interaction of all the parts involved, such as identifying patterns or behaviours in the gap, that area between the problem and the solution.

“When we look at the landscape from a systems thinking lens, we can see that there’s a lot of gaps that exist between what the actual problem is and what solutions are being presented,” Trautwein said. “What we’re asking students to do is rather than go to the solution space, is to stay in that gap area.”

Participants apply the impact canvas model, a tool used by those who wants to understand the landscape of a problem and possibly identify multiple paths that contribute to a solution.

While it’s focused on Toronto, the challenge does not dismiss the voices and lenses of international students who have other perspectives of living in the post-COVID-19 reality.

“Having multiple voices at the table allows for us to open up that discussion, see what’s worked or hasn’t worked in other areas, what different perspectives are being brought into a situation,” Trautwein said.

“We can’t have equity, diversity, and inclusion if we’re not including a global voice,” she said.

A key element to the challenge is the potential students, faculty, and staff to build cultural bridges.

“If we’re not providing students with that opportunity to connect culturally and develop globally with different global voices at the table, we’re not preparing them to be career ready citizens upon graduation,” Trautwein said.

The challenge ends June 25 when the projects will be judged by an expert panel.

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