What will the University of Toronto look like in 100 years?

Headshot of smiling man with glasses and very short black hairBy Keita Demming, Executive Director of The Agency, UofT Alum, Social Entrepreneur & Innovation Hub Ambassador

Usain Bolt is the fastest man on earth, and as he ages he will inevitably lose that status. The opposite can be true for the University of Toronto. As time passes, it is easier for the University to maintain its position as one of the leading universities in the world. We have the resources, experience and expertise. Unfortunately, it is also just as easy to become complacent.

How does the University ensure that in 100 years, it will still be one of the leading universities in the world?

President Meric Gertler has set three priorities for the University:

  1. Improving the state of the city by leveraging the location of the University.
  2. Strengthening the University’s international partnerships.
  3. Re-imagining and redefining the undergraduate experience.

One of the initiatives working to operationalize these priorities is the Innovation Hub.Small group of people sitting and listening to someone speak in front of chart paperFive people sitting and listening to two people present, one of whom is gesturing to chart paper on the wall

This week, I participated in a workshop that is helping to shape the future of the Hub and how it will unfold at the University of Toronto. It was clear that this group was anything but complacent. They were working hard to ensure that the University of Toronto continues to be one of the leading universities in the world. As we worked in groups and discussed the different domains of the Innovation Hub, I wondered, what were we designing for? The answer surprised me.

Group of people sitting and looking at chart paper

At first glance I thought we were designing for a university that met the three presidential priorities. As the session continued, I noticed that although the presidential priorities informed much of the conversation, we were doing something a little more interesting.  We were ensuring that the University upheld its end of an age old social contract. There is an unwritten social contract that says, in fine print, when you attend one the best universities in the world, you expect to have one of the best experiences in the world. We were the folks working to ensure that the University fulfilled that social contract. We were working to ensure that students who attend the University of Toronto had one of the best experiences in the world. Moving forward, the challenge continues to be that we are designing for students in a very large, bureaucratic organization. Although things may move slowly, they are moving!

Keita is the Executive Director of The Agency.  He is a social entrepreneur and PHD from OISE, University of Toronto. His thesis draws on the midwifery movement as case study for exploring the conditions for social innovation.  He hosts a community of practice, called the SIDELab, where they explore System Thinking, Integrative Thinking, Design Thinking and Evaluative Thinking. He also teaches Design Thinking, System Thinking and Integrative Thinking through B Studio.  Keita’s new podcast Disruptive Conversations is quickly gaining popularity on iTunes.

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