Equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives at Canadian universities

Canada’s universities play an essential role in building back better post-pandemic, both in Canada and abroad. They are dedicated to improving and enriching lives through research and innovation, teaching and skills development, and serving as key pillars of their communities. They engage in critical work across the country and internationally to foster a resilient and equitable future and to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

In this blog series, university presidents from across the country share their thoughts and highlight some of their institution’s initiatives to contribute to a sustainable, inclusive future.


January 24, 2022

Canada’s universities are hubs where ideas and action converge to address the UN SDGs

Published by
Rhonda Lenton
President of York University

In June 2021, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network released its annual sustainable development report, which tracks and ranks the performance of all UN member states against the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. For the first time since the goals were adopted in 2015, the report showed a reversal in progress, driven in large part by the increased poverty rates and unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors of the report noted that the pandemic had created not only a global health emergency but also a sustainable development crisis, with the pandemic impacting all three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental.

As we continue to face a convergence of unprecedented trials — climate change, racism, political polarization, poverty, and inequality — which are all being affected and exacerbated by the pandemic, it is clear that the need to leverage our collective capacity, resources, expertise, and knowledge to solve these issues has never been more urgent. And Canada’s universities are stepping up to the challenge, acting as hubs where ideas and action converge to make meaningful progress on the SDGs.

Canada’s universities are stepping up to the challenge, acting as hubs where ideas and action converge to make meaningful progress on the SDGs.

Here at York University, our work to drive positive change in our local and global communities is guided by our progressive and forward-thinking University Academic Plan 2020–25: Building a Better Future — which includes a university-wide challenge to elevate York’s contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals — as well as our visionary Sustainability Strategy.

And, as we reveal in our newly launched UN Sustainable Development Goals Report and accompanying website, we have already made significant progress on all 17 goals, which has led us to being recognized as a global leader in the 2021 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings — rating in the top 6% of universities worldwide for the third year in a row, and placing 27th in the world for SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals and 24th in the world for SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

In line with our leadership on SDG 17: Partnerships for Goals, we have continued to foster multi-sector collaborations and implement internationalization strategies that affect the kind of systemic changes necessary to stimulate inclusive, equitable, and ethical global engagement. This leadership contributed to York being selected as the location of Canada’s first Centre International de Formation des Acteurs Locaux (CIFAL) UN training centre. CIFAL York is a locus for knowledge exchange and innovative thinking that addresses society’s most urgent demands, including those identified in the SDGs. In fact, CIFAL York’s inaugural event, held late last year as a precursor to the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), brought together a working group of stakeholders from around the world to explore the intersectionality of agriculture, food and healthy communities, urban nature-based initiatives, oceans and coastal zones, and methodologies for assessing progress being made both regionally and globally.

York University’s success in advancing SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities is rooted in our vision of our campuses as microcosms of society — providing transportation, food, housing, and other necessities and increasing the quality of life for all community members. For example, our new Living Well Together: Keele Campus Vision and Strategy serves as a blueprint for creating a well-integrated, sustainable, and highly functional community-centred campus, built on the core principles of social, economic, and environmental responsibility, and underscored by our ongoing commitment to Indigenous reconciliation.

This complex land- and community-development strategy reimagines 190 acres of land on our Keele Campus, creating space for high-tech employment and social and entrepreneurial innovation, as well as homes, services, entertainment, and support options that serve the university and its neighbours. The result will be a lively, convenient, and highly functional low-carbon community that protects our natural spaces, strengthens our role as an anchor institution for neighbouring communities, and provides new opportunities to work with local and global partners to right the future.

Post-secondary institutions are increasingly recognized as social infrastructure, bringing together campus and city, academia and industry to address the world’s most complex issues. By taking leadership on addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Canada’s universities are not only helping to build the economic, social, and environmental structures needed to solve the global social development crisis, but creating the foundations for a resilient, equitable, and sustainable future for us all.

For more information

Sandra Boisvert
Social Impact Lead
sboisvert@univcan.ca