Diverse Perspectives Through Virtual Learning Opportunities

March 4, 2021

Through the shift to online learning and work to adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some silver linings have emerged: most importantly, students are able to jump on opportunities they otherwise may not have access to.

Students can now connect with ease to organizations outside of their immediate communities, without the geographic limitations or other hindering factors of in-person work. This new form of participation has made internships and other experiential learning programs accessible from anywhere - a benefit for students who are joining from smaller towns and suburbs across Canada.

In parallel, the realities of COVID-19 have spurred a much-needed influx of support for small businesses & impact organizations, particularly those operating in rural communities, country-wide. Support can take many forms, from access to capital to capacity-building project support for organizations that are strapped for resources and time.

To meet the demand for support from businesses, non-profits, charities, and co-operatives, we have witnessed the incredible value that a larger, more robust talent pool lends when bringing together young minds to solve our most pressing challenges. 


With the shared goal of preparing the next generation for the future of work, the HSBC Social Innovation Academy (SIA) and Riipen launched national initiatives to bring unique, hands-on, learning opportunities to students living anywhere in Canada:

  • SIA is selecting 50 youth, 18-30, to participate in a virtually-delivered Social Innovation Fellowship Program. This structured training program is designed for youth who want to develop their business, consulting, or finance skills to solve pressing social, environmental, and cultural issues. Through the program, Fellows have access to training & curriculum, personal & professional development support, and work in teams on 8-week consulting projects for impact organizations.
  • Riipen recently launched “Level UP”, an innovative work-integrated learning program that brings businesses and students together on short-term, project-based, paid, remote internships. Each internship is 80 hours long and executed over 2-8 weeks. At the end of the project, students are compensated by Riipen with a stipend of $1400. This project is funded by the Government of Canada’s Work-Integrated Learning Initiatives.


An important aspect of the Social Innovation Fellowship and Level UP is a focus on including students across a range of disciplines within these opportunities. Both SIA and Riipen believe in the value of working with students who bring a diversity of thought and experiences to the virtual table, no matter what educational background they come from or where they are located. 

To date, both SIA and Riipen have worked with talented students from colleges and universities from all around the country. We’ve seen students joining us from their studies in environment & sustainability, design, social & health sciences, English literature, business, and engineering, among other areas. Students, across the board, bring unique methods of approaching problems and creating novel solutions.


1. Northern British Columbia Consortium

Northern Lights College, Coast Mountain College, and the College of New Caledonia are three colleges located in northern British Columbia. The consortium, funded by BCWIL, brings experiential learning opportunities to students located in these rural communities. Partnering with Riipen allowed students at these colleges to connect with companies outside of their local area. Some schools also brought in their own partners which strengthened their local network and helped build community. 

Tracey Woodburn, Learning Transformation Specialist at Coast Mountain College, expressed that “before Riipen, we didn’t even have a seat at the table… this [partnership] has opened up the world for our students.”

A student from Coast Mountain College stated that “with my other schooling all I can say is that I learned about a subject, not that I actually have living experience in that subject. This [project] was a very hard but very applicable exercise and experience.”

In addition to work experience, students were able to gain career clarity through actually doing the work rather than just learning the theory behind it. “Our students sent me emails telling me about their experiences - one said that she didn’t want to go into marketing but at least now she knows what it is and that makes all the difference,” said Danna Buick, Learning Transformation Specialist from Coast Mountain College.

2. Greater Dorchester Moving Forward Co-operative & Dorchester Consolidated School

The Greater Dorchester Moving Forward Co-operative is an economic & community development co-op in Dorchester, New Brunswick, a village of just over 1000 residents. During Fall 2020, a team of Social Innovation Fellows undertook an eight-week project to create economic growth and youth engagement strategies for Moving Forward. Using their studies in design, economics, and international development, the Fellows had a wide range of skills to complement and complete each other.

At the end of the eight weeks, the Fellows created a multi-part deliverable: a business model, brand guide, and sample brochure for the Dorchester School Aquaponics Farm & a series of youth-centric events to connect the kids in Dorchester.

Reg Tower, the President of Moving Forward Co-operative, reported back to the Social Innovation Academy that “from the first week we met, the sincerity and commitment of the Fellows was clear. With the guidance of our SIA team, we will be connecting with our youth at a level that will last and regenerate community involvement for years to come.”


SIA & Riipen welcome students, all across Canada, to join our programs:

  1. Social Innovation Fellowship Program
    A national social impact training program for youth, 18-30, living anywhere in Canada. The Fellowship is a 10 hour/week program through which Fellows have access to all training modules, workshops, and programming at no cost. Fellows are first in line for internships with impact firms in Summer 2022.
    Join us from September 2021 - March 2022: apply by March 14, 2021
  1. Level UP
    This project is funded by the Government of Canada’s Work-Integrated Learning Initiatives. Level UP brings businesses and students together on short-term, project-based, paid, remote internships. Each project is 80 hours long and executed over 2-8 weeks. Projects are flexible to fit both the business and student’s schedules and goals. At the end of the project, students are compensated by Riipen with a stipend of $1400.
    View eligibility criteria and apply to a project today.

About the Authors:

The HSBC Social Innovation Academy (SIA) is a national non-profit training the next generation of social impact leaders. SIA is generously supported by HSBC Bank Canada and powered by the UBC Sauder Centre for Social Innovation & Impact Investing.

Riipen is one of the world’s largest online work-integrated learning marketplaces, where organizations of all sizes connect with educators to collaborate with university and college students on short-term projects and competitions. Our mission is to “enable all students from all backgrounds and geographies to access work-integrated experiential learning (WIEL) to support learners of all backgrounds to bridge the skills gap, gain career clarity, network with potential employers, and find jobs they love."