Taking Service Online: Service Stories from Global Development Studies

By LeeAnne Lavender

Global Development Studies Teacher & Service Learning Coach


This semester, my students in Global Development Studies were faced with a tremendous challenge. How could they take what they had learned about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and create projects that would lead to change if they were socially distancing and doing all of their school work online? How could they reimagine what service might look like in an online world?


In the first semester of this high school course (available to grade 11 and 12 students), we learn about the principles of sustainability and sustainable development, the UN SDGs, and how rampant consumerism lays at the heart of many critical environmental and justice issues in our world today. Then, in semester two, students use the design thinking process to create project ideas for creating change in our community (on our campus, in our neighbourhood and city, or beyond). They engage with a full service learning cycle throughout semester two and this has resulted in some powerful initiatives and experiences in past years. Students have conducted research to understand our school’s trash systems and make recommendations for more sustainable practices; they have studied single-use take-out deliveries on campus and lobbied for sustainable alternatives; they have partnered with local organic farms and schools serving the migrant workers community in Shanghai. The initiatives have involved boots-on-the-ground work, with students working directly, face-to-face with others to create change.


This year, when it became clear that we would be using an e-learning platform for longer than a few weeks, I faced a dilemma. How could my students still engage in meaningful work if they couldn’t be on campus or work in a face-to-face environment? I wasn’t sure it could work but decided to test my own paradigms and throw it open to the students.


What they created was beautiful, and I am so happy to share some of their initiatives with you. I have been inspired by the ability of my students to rise to the occasion, to use the tools at their disposal in creative and meaningful ways, and to channel their passion for change using online tools and platforms.


Here are some snapshots of what the 2019/20 group of GDS students accomplished:


Angie S wanted to do something related to SDG 4 (Quality Education) and 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). She designed an online course for Chinese students to provide an introduction to sustainability and the SDGs and has partnered with a local school in Shanghai to deliver this course to the Model United Nations students. She has zoomed in to work with students and is hoping to make this course available to more students at local schools in Shanghai. She produced her own videos, curated resources, synthesized an incredible amount of information, and has created a viable partnership with a local school. Angie reflects on her experiences by saying that “learning and growing is all about exploring - getting in contact with different people, new ideas and more importantly, getting to explore more about myself. I believe that if I can continue with this project, I’ll be able to learn even more about sustainability, global issues, as well as my own strengths and weaknesses.” Visit Angie’s website here.



Isabel C was deeply concerned with SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). She has spent most of semester 2 in her home community of San Diego, California, and launched a two-part Choose Love campaign to foster dialogue and action based on love, acceptance and hope. She delivered notes of encouragement to 60 neighbourhood homes while people were quarantined, and she launched a successful Instagram campaign featuring messages that encourage others to see and value fellow humans equally, not letting race, gender, sexual orientation or other factors to affect acceptance or opportunity. Read more about Isabel’s campaign by clicking on this article and check out her hashtag #chooselove and account (chooseloveglobally) on Instagram.



Katia B is passionate about SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation). Through her work with the school’s Global Issues Network club, Katia has helped launch a group called Every Drop Counts, so she wanted to create an action plan that was connected to this SDG. Being back in the States for most of semester two, Katia decided to partner with Charity Water, an inspiring NGO that is committed to bringing clean water and sanitation to communities in need around the world. She launched an indirect service initiative involving a campaign to raise $2020 for Charity Water. This amount of money will bring clean water to hundreds of people and the impact will resonate for years and years. Learn more about Charity Water here and if you’d like to contribute to Katia’s campaign, you can do so here. Click on this article to learn more about Katia’s initiative and what she’s learned.




Lillian F has been working on SDG 3 (Good Health and Well Being) all year. At the end of the last school year, she teamed up with classmate Anita F to create an initiative called Sustainable Success. The vision behind this was to help students at Concordia create a better sense of balance, know how to establish priorities and do meaningful work (instead of trying to do too many things in a shallow way), and to promote personal wellness (mental, social, physical, etc.). In Global Development Studies, Lillian channeled her time and efforts into enhancing her work for Sustainable Success. During e-learning, she hosted zoom sessions for peers about mental wellness topics such as combatting loneliness, and also zoom yoga sessions. Lillian and Anita made videos for their YouTube channel, posted many ideas and resources on their Instagram account, and even zoomed with service learning guru Cathy Berger Kaye to see how they might share their resources with a more global audience. Click on this article to learn more about this powerful peer-to-peer initiative, and check out “sustainablesuccessproject” on Instagram.


As a diver who has participated for several years in an annual reef conservation project in Thailand, Hayley H is a dedicated environmentalist who cares deeply about SDG 14 (Life Below Water). For her GDS initiative, Hayley decided to create some video lessons about ocean conservation for middle school learners that could be used by any educator. She spent time curating resources, deciding on key topics, making videos and screencasts and consulting with middle school teachers. The result? Two videos that can be used by any teacher to introduce students to our oceans. Check out the lessons here.




Yena S was inspired by a partnership established by GDS students last year with a school in Shanghai that serves the children of migrant workers in the city. She talked with the director of the school and learned that one of their needs was books in Mandarin and English for younger learners. This prompted Yena to launch a campaign. She raised funds and also partnered with fellow students from the service group Reading Hope to curate several boxes of donated books that fit the profile of what the director at Caritas was looking for. Thanks to Yena’s campaign, students at this school will have access to dozens of new books. Does this align with the UN’s targets for SDG 4 (Quality Education)? Absolutely.



Sophie Z and Hannah L were captivated with ideas related to minimalism, capsule wardrobes and tiny houses. In other words, they were draw to SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities). They engaged with a lot of reading and decided to produce their own vlog and Instagram posts to spread awareness about how we can live in more sustainable ways. They learned so much about shooting and editing video content, and interviewed d’Arcy Lunn of Teaspoons of Change about tiny houses and his commitment to sustainable lifestyle choices. Their content is inspiring and they are hoping peers will join them in making more deliberate choices each day. Check out the vlog here and on Instagram. Read more about Hannah and Sophie's thoughts here.


Michael L was worried about how Covid-19 was impacting his peers during quarantines, social distancing and e-learning, so he decided to craft an initiative to support SDG #3 (Good Health and Well Being). Check out his Instagram account.






Kamdyn T and Marley L, both in the US for the bulk of semester two, were curious about ideas that changemaker d’Arcy Lunn of Teaspoons of Change introduced during face-to-face workshops he delivered in January 2020 at Concordia. In those sessions, students explored many aspects of personal wellness, and how it’s crucial to take care of ourselves if we want to be effective global citizens. The idea is this: if a car’s gas tank runs dry, how can it continue operating? Metaphorically, to keep our engines running as active global citizens, we need to make sure we’re rested, balanced and focused so we can do our best work. Kamdyn and Marley decided to work on this in a concerted way, aiming to do things each week that were creative, thoughtful and restful. They were also deliberate about engaging in random acts of kindness and service for others in their families. After several weeks, Kamdyn and Marley had a lot to share about what they had learned. “Before I started doing this, I didn’t think of myself as a creative person but after doing these for several weeks I have picked up on new hobbies and think of myself as a creative person,” wrote Kamdyn in a final reflection. Marley’s action was centred around his family’s garden and also in creating a composting system: “One example of something that was physically beneficial to my family is the garden we’ve been building. We’ve been planting different vegetables in it for the entire semester now, and we’ve had meals based entirely around what we’ve grown. In times like this, we need to get satisfaction somehow, and my family’s main source of satisfaction has come from the fact that we’ve built something so sustainable.” Both students learned a lot by prioritizing their personal wellness and making sure their gas tanks were getting filled up.