Adult Education, Story

March 26, 2021

Fighting exclusion through a Power Shift

A woman writing on a chalkboard

What happens when you combine art, philosophy and community-building tools with those who experience or are at risk of social exclusion? You create a Power Shift.

Power Shift is the name of a Montreal-area program developed by social-inclusion pioneers Exeko and funded by the Catherine Donnelly Foundation to encourage ‘intellectual emancipation’ among the homeless, the elderly, Indigenous peoples, refugees, recent immigrants and other marginalized groups.

Credit James Galwey

The initiative provides participants with tools to actively engage with society, claim their rights and “(re)negotiate the [circumstances] shaping their lives.” Exeko believes life-long education is essential to create pride in self-development and the conditions for freedom.

Community workshops with program partners as well as sessions run out of Exeko’s idAction Mobile – a combo art studio and speaker’s corner on wheels – focus on activities ranging from creative writing, podcast creation and debate and analysis on social topics such as human rights in different nations to family or intergenerational relations. The practice of ‘intellectual meditation’ initiates scenarios for collective thinking and learning with people as equals and co-creators. It also allows the use of creative techniques to establish a safe space where people are more likely to participate.

The Catherine Donnelly Foundation committed $24,500 toward content development, partnering with social agencies to run workshops and knowledge transfer.

Among the creative and critical-thinking outcomes experienced by the nearly 500 participants in Power Shift are an increase in social-analysis skills, greater confidence and communications skills, increased ability to collaborate and development solutions to battle oppression. Participants in one workshop made custom t-shirts bearing their personal anti-oppression message.

Credit James Galwey

“What was not there a few months  ago? The recognition of different kinds of oppression among people and different kinds of resistance too; a feeling of solidarity,” says Exeko director of partnerships Tiffanie Guffroy. “And some creative results, such as collective poetry about what we have in common, as well as participants taking leadership positions for the first time.” One woman became so engaged in the process, she offered to continue the collaboration with Exeko facilitators and help them build a program more sensitive to individual needs.

Working with seven different social agencies to deliver Power Shift meant facilitators had to be flexible and often patient while engaging participants in locations as diverse as a women’s homeless shelter to a community agency offering day services. Exeko also found creative ways to bridge those differences: for two very different groups, facilitators developed the same workshop, modifying the activities to meet the specific needs. The content created in parallel by the two groups became a collaboration and enabled participants to feel a sense of solidarity and connection, even though they didn’t meet.

There are challenges when addressing an individual’s oppression: the danger to stigmatize the person within the collective, the necessity to understand not only the specific forms of oppressions, but also questions of not adding more suffering to people’s situations. Also, letting participants identify themselves on their own terms, tell their stories – and the way they resisted – was critical to unlocking opinions and creativity.

“As an organisation, we grew and learned a lot over the course of the year. We have witnessed the richness of the shared learning and got to know the participants,” said Guffroy. “We made sure their knowledge of [anti-oppression], especially coming from their experiences having lived different kinds of oppression, was recognized as collective and valuable knowledge. This project opened a shift, not only, we hope, in participants’ experiences, but also in our ways of working.”

To learn more about Power Shift and Exeko’s other ground breaking programs go to Link opens a new window .