Participants in a program at the Coady Institute and some Coady staff show their support for the Amazon. The Global Change Leaders (18 women from 18 different countries) spent seven weeks on campus. Photo courtesy Coady Institute

Coady Institute keeps pace with future

  • October 18, 2019

Trying to stay relevant over 60 years takes plenty of the proverbial blood, sweat and tears. 

There’s evidence of all that hard work on display at the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., as it addresses global challenges to create sustainable development in the global south and in communities across its home province and beyond.

Constant evolvement has been key as the Coady Institute tries to stay ahead of the curve in figuring out the new issues and direction the world will take. But to sustain such a pace for six decades and to stay strong moving forward, it comes down to the people who have walked through the doors of the institute.

“Our staying power is the people who come to Coady and our ability to be responsive to what they’re looking for and recognizing they’re bringing a lot of expertise to the table,” said Eileen Alma, director of Women and Indigenous Programming at the Coady Institute.

For six decades the Coady Institute has trained leaders from around the world in the principles and practice of people-based approach to development. It evolved out of the Catholic social teaching of the Antigonish Movement pioneered by Fr. Moses Coady, the Catholic priest, adult educator and co-operative entrepreneur who sparked a wave of co-operative development in the Maritimes and credit union development across Canada. 

Coady’s Antigonish Movement was a response to the poverty afflicting farmers, fishers, miners and others in the area and began as the Extension Department of St. FX. 

Following the Second World War, Western nations began to focus on the plight of emerging nations around the world and St. FX brought men and women from these countries to study and examine the approach that had proven to be successful in the region. It led to the creation of the Coady International Institute in 1959, the year Coady died.

“The Coady Institute was an opportunity to expose people in other parts of the world to what was happening here,” said Gord Cunningham, executive director of the Coady Institute. “But it’s evolved and I think its success has to do with its ability to evolve.” 

Again, this goes back to the people. A co-operative movement was the model in its earliest years, but it began to go beyond that and “look at the best work that’s happening globally around the communities driving their own development, citizens at the centre organizing and mobilizing and using their resources to bring about positive change,” said Cunningham. 

“Coady represents a place where these people can come together and learn from each other,” he said.

Anthony Scoggins,  the institute’s director of education programs, said the institute made a conscious decision to avoid the “drier, managerial elements” of the international development sector and instead focus on understanding the latest issues and next directions. It can be seen over the last 20-30 years where women’s rights has become such an important issue as well as a broad understanding of inclusivity and diversity, said Scoggins. 

It’s evident in the International Centre for Women’s Leadership, which was established in 2011 with a goal of strengthening Indigenous women in community development. Since it began, 122 women have gone through the program.

“Going into its 10th year we see a tipping point where we could see the potential for more collective impact, more collaboration amongst and between the different communities,” Alma said.

And that brings the focus to the local level, involving the leaders in the communities they work with.

“What we have the opportunity to do is be a real leader in a place where all those kinds of people can come together in one place and share their ideas and innovations,” said Scoggins. “If we have to bring these people together this is a fantastic place to be a crucible of learning and inspiration for leaders to go back to their communities.”

These networks are spread around the world. Coady Institute has had 7,000 people in its classrooms from 130 different nations, thousands more in the local partners on the ground.

“Coady graduates collectively are helping shift some of the development conversations in these countries at a pretty profound level,” said Cunningham.

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