Smart Prosperity’s Research Network conducts world-class research focused on a stronger, cleaner economy. This Spotlight Series highlights the activities of faculty and student researchers alike, showcasing the breadth of expertise and activities of our Research and Student Networks. 

In this next edition, we spoke with Miya Morris and Genevieve Donin, two student researchers who have worked at the Smart Prosperity Institute in Ottawa for a few years.

Hi Miya. Hi Genevieve. You’ve both been involved with Smart Prosperity Institute for a number of years. Can you tell us a bit about how and why you got started with Smart Prosperity and what your work here focused on?

Miya: I was in the third year of my undergraduate degree in Environmental Economics and Public Policy at the University of Ottawa when I was hired as a Research Assistant at Smart Prosperity in 2018. The Institute was the perfect venue for me to get acquainted with the world of environmental economics and to see where my studies could take me.

I was brought on to support communications and engagement around Smart Prosperity’s international research network of environment-economy experts. I developed a database of literature authored by members of the research network, which allowed me and others to keep up to date on all the latest research. I led the creation of the Research Network Update, a newsletter that highlights the network’s accomplishments and promotes job and funding opportunities for students and researchers, and I curated content for the first four issues. I have also been actively involved in grant reporting, events, and outreach to partners. Through my role at SPI, I became acutely aware of how much unseen work is required to fund innovative research and to ensure that the findings are communicated effectively in order to inform smart policy. 

Genevieve: I first got involved with SPI while completing my undergrad in International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa several years back. I was beginning to explore my interests in the environment when I started volunteering with Smart Prosperity. I first volunteered as a notetaker for a workshop on carbon pricing, and then again for a circular economy (CE) workshop. I never looked back. I began working with Smart Prosperity more formally during my Master’s in Environmental Sustainability last year. My first project was contributing research on the mining sector for a CE best practices report. Following this, I was well-positioned to support two other related projects in 2020: The first was looking at the role of mining in the emerging CE, and the second was investigating the potential implications of a global CE on artisanal and small-scale miners. These projects were fascinating to me because they are topics that haven’t really been written about, and it’s exciting to be at the frontier of new ideas.


You’ve both been involved in a number of interesting internships and co-op positions. Can you tell us a bit about these and the kind of work you did?

Genevieve: I was fortunate to have been part of the Co-op program throughout my university career; however, three internships have stood out most. In 2017, I worked at Crown-Indigenous Relations on a policy team focused on lands and economic development. This placement was memorable because I had the opportunity to learn more about Indigenous peoples and the many challenges these communities face. I carry these lessons with me today, and it frames a lot of the work that I do now. In 2018 and 2019, I worked at Global Affairs on the Afghanistan development program, where I supported various projects in women’s education and health. It was a unique experience to be at this department during the early implementation of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.  Most recently, I completed an internship at Stratos, which is a sustainability management consulting firm. Working as a consultant is an entirely different experience than working in the public service because you can be part of multiple interesting and high-profile files across multiple companies, departments, and organizations.

Miya: The Co-op program offered me incredible opportunities in the public sector which have perfectly complemented my experiences at Smart Prosperity. I started my student career in the Canadian Wildlife Service branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), where I became familiar with the threats to Canada’s rich biodiversity as well as various conservation strategies. I supported SARAC and other species at risk advisory committees before joining a small team that leads Indigenous policy, engagement and treaty negotiations for the branch. After leading a large-scale survey and report on the quality of Canada’s engagement with Indigenous people on conservation, I acquired a strong commitment to Indigenous sovereignty and the meaningful inclusion of Indigenous peoples in environmental policymaking. My subsequent internship took place at Global Affairs, where I worked on a team that advances Canada’s environmental interests in trade agreement negotiations. Finally, I returned to ECCC for my last co-op term, supporting stakeholder engagement and program development for the World Circular Economy Forum 2021.


Any particular lessons you have learned or insights you’ve developed from being so integrally involved at the interface of research, policy and communications?

Miya: It’s difficult to choose one lesson, but certainly one of the most prominent has been that it’s key to have the right voices at the table. The inclusion of new and diverse perspectives can completely change a conversation, and I’m often surprised by the valuable contributions of practitioners with expertise in a narrow and unexpected subject.

Similarly, I have developed a deeper appreciation for the importance of international cooperation. The multilateral trading system can either constrain or advance every domestic environmental endeavour. The other side of that lesson is that cooperation is challenging and looks very different for governments than for businesses and NGOs. Environmental policy is uniquely challenging in Canada’s natural resource-based economy, but we have considerable global influence and can play a vital role in international movements to enhance environmental protection, despite our small size.

Genevieve: One of the most important lessons I've learned is that gaining the Canadian public's trust and support is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Canada's regional exceptionalism makes it challenging to have country-wide buy-in on national-level policy, even when it’s informed by the latest research. However, it's our job as researchers and policymakers to effectively communicate the benefits and drawbacks of policy decisions to Canadians. Moving forward in an increasingly polarized world, it will be paramount for us to communicate effectively and compassionately with the public to reach our climate goals, but also to achieve a prosperous and collective society.


Any advice you would offer to fellow students in the environmental field based on your experiences?  

Genevieve: Be open to exploring new ideas and talking to people who have different perspectives than your own. Environmental challenges are rarely ever black and white. For example, although I was apprehensive about conducting research on the mining sector, I have learned how essential mining is to clean growth and that many passionate people are working to improve the socio-environmental outcomes of mining. This energizes me.

Miya: It might sound cliché, but I would encourage fellow students to let passion guide their work and to be confident in asking tough questions. I feel so fortunate to work in a field that aligns with my values, and to know that my colleagues are driven by the same overarching goals of environmental protection and social justice. I know that my generation has a lot of anxiety about the climate and biodiversity crises, which can lead to frustration and cynicism when facing bureaucratic obstacles and competing interests. But when your enthusiasm for the world you want to live in underlies everything you do, it’s easier to stay motivated.


So you both recently finished your degrees at UOttawa - what is next for you?

Miya: I am now working as a policy analyst on the team at ECCC that is planning the program for the World Circular Economy Forum 2021, a major event to be held in September that will identify key actions needed to drive the transition to a circular economy. I’m inspired by all of the circular approaches being implemented by diverse stakeholders across Canada and excited to see how we bring a North American perspective to the forum. Everything I have learned about circularity from my time at Smart Prosperity has been invaluable in this work.

Genevieve: I’m working full-time as a consultant at Stratos with clients such as the Mining Association of Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the International Institute for Sustainable Development. I’m excited to see what 2021 has in store for us after this challenging year.


Thank you Miya and Genevieve and best of luck in this next step for you both!

For more on the Smart Prosperity Research Network, click here. For recent Working Papers produced by the Research Network, click here. For other Researcher Spotlights, click here.