By: Anabia Adnan

Food is a basic human need and a fundamental part of human existence. In developed countries such as Canada, many of us are privileged in not knowing hunger.  However, it may be surprising to learn that in 2017-18, 1 in 8 households in Canada was food insecure. That’s 4.4 million Canadians, including more than 1.2 million children.[i] 1 in 5 Calgarians worry about having enough money for food.[ii] These numbers have significantly increased since COVID-19 started last year in March.

In this interview, we talk to food activist and long-time agricultural warrior Paul Hughes, who is the founder of Grow Calgary.

Grow Calgary is a non-profit organization that advocates for the basic rights to food and shelter. Run entirely by dedicated and passionate volunteers it is the largest urban community farm in Canada that harvests non-GMO, pesticide and contaminant free food and donates it all to various local food banks and compassionate food access agencies in Calgary.

Since they began operating, Grow Calgary has donated to more than 40 compassionate food access agencies in Calgary, feeding vulnerable Calgarians a million meals, and have had 20,000 children and 36,000 volunteers come out to the farm.

What was the idea that led you to start Grow Calgary?
When I started working on the policy side of urban food production in 2008, there wasn’t much happening in Calgary. What really bothered me was that our food system was addicted to canned and processed food, and there weren’t many fresh food options available. Being involved with the policy aspect of food production was frustrating as there were ideas and potential solutions but not much was being implemented. I wanted to get dirt under my fingernails and do something tangible and that’s when Grow Calgary was initiated in 2013.

On May 15, 2013, a group of dedicated volunteers harvested the first crop on Canada’s largest urban agricultural farm on an 11-acre parcel of land just west of Canada Olympic Park. They are now located in Balzac, AB. 

As an organization, what would you consider your biggest impact to date?
There are two aspects to the impact that Grow Calgary has made over the years. First is the physical aspect of growing food to feed people. Secondly, there is the inspiring side of the impact that shows that feeding Calgarians locally sourced, healthy and fresh food can be done. Grow Calgary has fed vulnerable Calgarians a million meals, which is a huge accomplishment for a small farm. To date, we have had 20,000 children and 36,000 volunteers come out to the farm and enjoy a hands-on farming experience, inspiring them to make healthy food choices.

What are the future plans to expand Grow Calgary?
Our vision is to launch something like this across Canada, where every city should have numerous large community farms. Calgary alone, could accommodate well over 1,000 such farms; growing enough food to feed the majority of us. Such community farms strengthen community health and economic resiliency and provide opportunities for productive land use.

How has COVID-19 impacted food insecurity?
COVID-19 has significantly impacted food security primarily because of the devastation that the pandemic has brought on the economy and people’s lives. The economical devastation caused by COVID-19 has led to job losses and business closures and sadly, many people who were previously doing well, have slipped into the sector of being vulnerable. We anticipate 2021 to be our busiest year. Every single food item that we grow this year will have a place to go.

Can you talk a bit about Grow Calgary’s newer initiative for providing shelter to vulnerable Calgarians?
The initiative to develop microhomes is inspired by United Nations Article 25, which is the universal declaration of human rights and encompasses the right to food and shelter. We were growing food but realized that we needed to also incorporate the housing shelter aspect.

A microhome is a small dwelling typically between 100 – 500 square feet and reflects a minimalistic, sustainable, and affordable way of living for homeless and vulnerable Calgarians.

Unfortunately, microhomes do not have a place within the current provincial building code and local zoning bylaws. Grow Calgary aims to highlight the viability of a microhome as an affordable, sustainable, compassionate living space with hopes of re-evaluation to fit microhomes within the local and provincial regulatory framework. 


Grow Calgary believes that there is still room to grow – reach out today and volunteer to be a part of the real food change!

More about Paul
Paul Hughes has been a mayoral candidate for Calgary in 2010 and 2017, a TEDx & World Food Justice Conference Presenter, an advocate for the marginalized, community organizer, founder; Canadian Liberated Urban Chicken Klub (CLUCK), the largest right to food organization in Canada and Farm Manager of Grow Calgary.[iii]


Learn more:
UNSDG 2 – Zero Hunger
United Nations Article 25
Grow Calgary


Article references:

[i] Household Food Insecurity in Canada – PROOF (
[ii] Basic Needs – United Way Calgary and Area (

Volunteer profile – Jasmine Cha

Hello from Jasmine Cha

We have some amazing volunteers at UNAC-Calgary, and Jasmine Cha, Director of Innovation is one of them.

For National Volunteer Week, we had the pleasure of learning more about her and why she’s passionate about volunteering.

When did you get involved with UNAC-Calgary, and in what capacity?
I started with UNAC-Calgary in October of 2019 as a Social Media Contributor on the Communications Committee. I was completely new to the field of Communications but was patiently welcomed and taught and ended up taking over the Director of Communications role when my predecessor stepped down.

What drew you to get involved in UNAC-Calgary in particular?
While studying at University, I remembered enjoying the courses on community development and the sustainable development goals the most, but I pretty much forgot about them after entering the workforce.

It was after a layoff, however, that I was pushed to rethink my goals and priorities, and it was actually while volunteering for a women’s empowerment event that I connected with my passion once again.

I met someone who worked for the national UNAC office, and we talked about all the local opportunities here and how to get involved. It was through another mentor though, the present National Regional Representative of the Prairies, Mehreen Kapadia, that I got the chance to join UNAC-Calgary.


What is your role and what are some of initiatives and projects you’ve been involved with?
I currently hold the new role of Director of Innovation. Once we as UNAC-Calgary develop and launch more programming, I’ll be excited to measure and analyze the fruits of our labours.

I like to dabble with web design as a hobby, and a big and fairly new project that I’ve worked on is the new UNAC-Calgary website. By working on the redesign myself, UNAC-Calgary saved a lot of money that we can now put towards programming. It was an honour!

What motivates you to stay involved?
I’ve always been a do-gooder who believes in that Gandhi quote, “be the change you want to see in the world”. I enjoy being a part of what I believe in, and am excited to see it through to the end. It’s also amazing to see everyone else in their journeys, and you realize, (warning: incoming cheese) we’re all in this together!

In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does?
I feel like we at UNAC-Calgary will reach lots of Calgarians to realize the SDGs in our own backyard. Even if it’s through the education of youth and giving them the right tools to take their own action, I believe every impact is a big one that’ll lead to positive change.

Up to this point, we have been funding amazing efforts that align with the SDGs for programs led by the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation, Junior League of Calgary, Youth Central, GlobalFest and more. We’re always glad to support the effort of realizing the SDGs locally in Calgary, but I’m really eager and excited for what the future holds for us.

What other organizations or causes do you support?
I have had the opportunity to volunteer for many organizations whose causes I am passionate about.

Currently, along with UNAC-Calgary, I volunteer for the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP Canada), because I believe in sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. I mentor a young Rising Star at Wedu Global because the future is female. I’m an emergency responder for the Canadian Red Cross, and more recently I got involved with the International Telecommunication Union’s Generation Connect-Americas Team as a Facilitator to create a Call to Action document in hopes to focus ICT Development in the North and South America.

What message do you have to share about the importance of volunteerism?
There’s no universal reason for why you should volunteer — the act of volunteerism is wonderful enough.

Whether you volunteer your time in person or remotely to learn a new skill, to grow your network, or just to give back, at every opportunity, you gain as much as you give, and then some!


The global is the local – why UNSDGs should matter to Calgarians

By: Angelina Patoka

In the Western world, particularly in highly developed cities, there is frequently a nonchalance to global governance. Even though Sustainable Cities and Communities is the eleventh Global Goal, many Calgarians (like many urban citizens in the West) seem to think of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) as distant endeavours, which are geared towards aiding ‘poorer’ countries in the spirit of internationalism and sometimes paternalistic post-colonialism.

However, in truth the Global Goals relate to a multitude of diverse and interconnected issues that do affect cities like Calgary. ‘The global is the local’, and what is truly irrelevant is whether one’s city is Conakry (Guinea) or Calgary.

Considering this, where does Calgary stand? How do the Global Goals relate to our municipality?

UNAC-Calgary talks to Patrycja Drainville, Calgarian, sustainability practitioner, Global Compact Network Canada board member to learn more.

“Global frameworks have always set the tone in the direction for action,” says Patrycja. She frames interest from a holistic point of view, wherein Calgary and Canada take part in what she describes as “the closest thing the world has to a sustainability strategy.” In short, the UNSDGs and the Global Compact represent unprecedented multi-stakeholder governance with a strong emphasis on accountability.

It may seem like this approach isn’t anything new or innovative; after all philanthropy existed before the United Nations itself. However, the 2015 Goals and the Global Compact are in fact the first de jure instances where non-state actors are formally included in the sustainable governance of the world and the communities that surround them.

This is a dramatic shift from the realist politics of the twentieth century, when the majority of political energy concentrated all authority and accountability in the hands of sovereign states. Such pluralism entails greater social responsibility that can be addressed by a variety of groups with different resources and versatile problem-solving tools.

In other words, the SDGs are important for Canadian and Calgarian businesses because sustainability is much more than developing technologies for the sake of efficiency. It is about societal investments which aim at uplifting communities and maximizing the potential of as many people as possible.

The benefits of considering ‘the local as the global’ are further amplified by the direct impact of the UNSDGs and the Global Compact. These frameworks enable every country to assess and consistently measure its own progress in a timely fashion as we edge closer to the deadline of the 2030 Agenda.

International information exchange can also aid a country with inadequate resources recognize what areas ought to be prioritized or changed in its quest for sustainability. For instance, Patrycja notes that Canada prioritizes four areas: climate change, gender equality, economic equality and indigenous reconciliation.

The pan-Canadian framework includes federal commitments like data collection by Statistics Canada that contributes to an imperative domestic and international information pool, and a 2018 $49 million commitment over a thirteen-year period to enhance coordination across all levels of government and civil society.

Patrycja anticipates the increased cascading of these federal initiatives down to the provinces and municipalities, as well as increased action at every level within society.  She notes that positive changes regarding sustainability and corporate accountability are already happening.

These changes are mobilizing the investor community, civil society, government and businesses in new and innovative ways. Investors have been particularly vital to capturing the attention of many different CEOs and CFOs, as a company’s sustainability is fast becoming a key consideration in trade and regulation.

This is precisely where networks like the Global Compact can find opportunities to aid companies that are interested in sustainable strategy that would in turn help bolster an entire community.

Businesses hold just as much power to lead the way towards sustainable strategies, and this power is rooted in a company’s willingness to accept accountability and transparency.

Even in Calgary, the practice of SDGs is not based on the oil and gas industry alone. Some of the most prominent local employers that align themselves with sustainability, and are indeed Participants in the Global Compact’s network, include TELUS and Nutrien. As an example, the latter is a Canadian fertilizer company that is also invested in Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Considering the ongoing pandemic and recent economic downturns, it isn’t surprising to see how this Goal may be of relevance to Canadian communities and the future preparedness measures of the Canadian government.

Patrycja recognizes that not all companies in Calgary have global ambitions. However, she points to the fact that with global tendencies shifting towards practices like carbon neutrality, even the smallest local businesses can find a way to integrate themselves into the larger global picture.

“No matter how big or small your organization is, there is a role for you to play,” says Patrycja. Networks that are aligned with the UNSDGs provide advocacy arms that can propel one into shaping and advancing Canada’s sustainability agenda, as it is a way of giving a voice to smaller businesses that feel muted amidst policy discourses.

One thing is clear: sustainability is the future, and an increasingly globalized Calgary is well on its way to be more sustainable than ever before.


Patrycja Drainville, Associate Director, Sustainable Finance, Scotiabank

Patrycja is an award-winning, sustainability and ESG professional in the Canadian business community. She currently works with Scotiabank’s Sustainable Finance team to provide ESG advice and solutions to corporate, financial, public sector, and institutional clients and deliver on the bank’s commitment to mobilize $100 billion of sustainable financing by 2025. Patrycja has extensive experience advancing sustainability strategy with medium and large North American energy companies leading the way in ESG integration, corporate strategy and reporting opportunities for the sector. She also held the role of Chair, representing the oil and natural gas sector in the development of the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable & Transition Principles and Taxonomy.

Patrycja holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from the University of Calgary and is currently working towards her MBA at Dalhousie University specializing in Sustainable Finance. She is board member of the Canadian network of the UN Global Compact, an active mentor and board member of the University of Calgary’s sustainability student association Fuse Collective and was awarded the 2018 Young Women in Energy Award, recognizing women in the oil and gas industry for their leadership, innovation and community service.

Meet water and sanitation warrior – Laura Kohler


By: Rida Rehmani

It’s clear to see that Laura Kohler is passionate about her work and the impact CAWST water and sanitation projects have on the lives of people around the world.

The Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) is a world-renowned Canadian charity and licensed engineering firm that has its roots in Calgary. CAWST addresses the global need for safe drinking water and sanitation by building local knowledge and skills on household solutions people can implement themselves.

Senior knowledge and research advisor, Laura Kohler joined CAWST in July 2016. She has a PhD in Civil Systems Engineering and MSc in Environmental Engineering, both from the University of Colorado Boulder, and a BA in Civil Engineering from Carroll College in Montana.

For World Water Day, March 22, we sat down with Laura to find out about her work leading sanitation projects in Africa and South Asia.

What drew you to join CAWST?
I joined CAWST specifically because of the type of organization it is.

In my first few years in the development sector, I worked with Honduran municipalities to design and implement water supply systems. In that role, I struggled with how some of the work was being done. While unintentional, I realized that I was taking jobs from highly capable local people, which didn’t sit right with me. Ultimately, this led to me going back to school to address my own knowledge and skill gaps and later joining CAWST.

When I came across CAWST at a conference in 2015, their approach intrigued me. CAWST focuses on capacity development to support different stakeholders, practitioners, and professionals, who implement water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs and services locally. CAWST strengthens the capacity of local people and organizations to make their own decisions and meet the WASH needs in the areas where they work.

Which project has been your favourite and what impact did it make to the local community?
I love my work because of the people and professionals I get to work with globally. Professionals such as emptiers (among others) do the real and often thankless job of emptying and transporting fecal sludge to be treated and disposed of. They face health and safety risks, and often social stigma due to the nature of their work. This isn’t easy. It’s our job to consider the challenges they face and how best to support them to address those challenges. These professionals protect the health and welfare of people and the environment by doing their job, so it seems reasonable that we can work to make it a bit easier.

Laura Kohler, bottom left, in Lusaka, Zambia in 2018 with emptiers from Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda

In 2018, I led a CAWST project to understand the challenges with servicing latrines and septic tanks, including but not limited to emptying. The same project also identified how existing trainings by academic programs, institutions, and NGOs serve to address those challenges.

As we were exploring, we ended up working with a number of emptiers from across Africa to articulate their needs, who historically had been talked about in discussions about sanitation service delivery, rather than included directly in the conversation. In 2019, the Pan African Association of Sanitation Actors (PASA) launched, which was a step-change in history. While CAWST wasn’t directly involved in their formation, we were excited to participate and celebrate their official launch. Since then, emptiers have had a distinct and strong voice at the table, while envisioning and troubleshooting sanitation service delivery across Africa.

How has COVID-19 impacted the 2030 water and sanitation UN Sustainability Development Goal (SDG)?
According to the UN, as of 2018, 2.3 billion people still lacked basic sanitation services and 4.5 billion people worldwide lacked safely managed sanitation services.

Even before the pandemic, we were estimated to be off-track to meet 2030 SDG – 6. The pandemic has further affected our progress and has added additional complexities to service deliver in a number of ways.

It is estimated that 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy (half of the global work force) lost work either partially or completely within the first month of the crisis. Continued WASH services, such as emptying, require that households are able to pay, even if the amount is small, to have their latrines and septic tanks routinely emptied to avoid additional environmental and public health hazards. This has caused a ripple effect where household financial limitations affect the frequency of emptying services, both affecting the livelihoods of the emptiers as well as presenting an added public health risk of overflowing latrines.

Additionally, training and support activities have migrated online, which unintentionally excludes participants who have unstable internet, low bandwidths, or no mobile device to connect. So while certain frontline workers continue to take risks for the safety of others, the type of support they can access has been greatly affected by COVID-19.

How can Calgarians support UNSDG 6 – clean water and sanitation?
I’ve noticed is that the SDGs are less known domestically. I have observed this in Calgary as well. At the end of the day, the SDGs are global commitments, so awareness in our own city is the starting point. These aren’t just problems which impact the poorest countries of the world – these are global concerns and we are all responsible.

Laura facilitating an exchange with emptying service providers to understand their challenges and the knowledge and skills required to address them to inform better training.

What I hope for is that we understand the value of the services that we have and often don’t have to think twice about — like access to clean water. Unfortunately, we don’t have to look beyond our own borders to realize that not everyone has that same access. This realization makes it easier to comprehend the challenges that other countries face.

Here is my plug 🙂 Please consider supporting CAWST by volunteering and donating, so that we can continue to do what we do. Our doors (while virtual at the moment) are always open, if you would like to learn more about what we do and how you can contribute.

Learn more:
UN Sustainable Goal 6 – water and sanitation

Talking Global Goals on the holiday table (Calgary edition)


By: Rida Rehmani

Our holiday tables might be a little smaller this year, but they needn’t be short of interesting and thought-provoking discussions.

Here are some facts and questions which highlight why the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); also known as Global Goals, should matter to Calgarians. Share and debate them with your family and friends – sitting next to you or joining you via Zoom.

Goal 1: No Poverty – 189,000 Calgarians live in poverty.
Where and how have you seen or experienced poverty in our city? Do you think its hidden or visible?

Goal 2: Zero Hunger – 1 in 5 Calgarians worry about having enough money for food.
When you go grocery shopping, how closely do you pay attention to the increases and decrease of the prices of your food basics?

Goal 3: Good health and well-being – In Alberta, 18 per cent of the population – about one in five people – don’t have a regular doctor.
Do you think the frequency of doctor visits is impacted by having or not having a regular doctor?

Goal 4: Quality education – 20 per cent of Calgary youth do not complete high school on time.
Why do you think academic performance vary among school districts and communities in Calgary?

Goal 5: Gender equality – In Calgary, women make only 63 per cent of what men earn. The gap is even wider for Indigenous and racialized women.
Are you surprised by how high wide the earnings gap is between men and women? Why or why not?

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation – ~60 Indigenous reserves in Canada are under long-term drinking water advisories, half of which remain unresolved after more than a decade.
Do you know the two sources of our city’s water?

Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy – Approximately 91 per cent of electricity in Alberta is produced from fossil fuels.
How different would your day be if you didn’t have electricity?

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth – 1 in 2 Calgarians worry about not being able to save for the future.
Do you have a rainy-day fund? How long can it sustain you?

Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure – Approximately 19 per cent of small businesses in Alberta are at risk of closing due to COVID.
How important is it to have a diversified economy?

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities – 1/2 of Calgary’s Black and 1/2 of Calgary’s Indigenous population believe Calgarians are not accepting of people from diverse backgrounds.
Have you ever experienced or witnessed discrimination against someone? How did it make you feel?

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities – The City of Calgary’s 2020 Sustainability Direction, is an integrated, innovative and long-term approach for achieving a more sustainable city.
How can you contribute to a more sustainable city?

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production – In 2019, the average household in Calgary produced 350kg of garbage.
Do think you’re a responsible consumer? Why or why not?

Goal 13: Climate action – Alberta has experienced the three most costly disasters in the country’s history. The Fort McMurray wildfires at $3.58 billion, Alberta floods at $1.7 billion, and Calgary hailstorm at $1.2 billion in damages.
What are some ways you think your community will be impacted by climate change?

Goal 14: Life below water – Almost all the water that is removed from the Bow and Elbow Rivers for use in Calgary is returned to the Bow River system after treatment in Calgary’s wastewater treatment plants.
In your opinion, what is the biggest threat facing Alberta’s fresh water resources today?

Goal 15: Life on land – There are currently at least 41 Threatened or Endangered species in Alberta, 15 of which are listed by the province and 37 by the federal government.
Can you name any of the species on the threatened or endangered list?

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions – Calgary, a city of ~1.2 million people, currently has only one Indigenous liaison officer who is responsible for improving relationships between police and Indigenous residents.
Why is greater representation of Indigenous People and minorities important to have in our Judicial system?

Goal 17: Partnership for the goals – The Alberta Council for Global Cooperation (ACGC) is a coalition of organizations located in Alberta, working locally and globally to achieve sustainable human development. What should be Canada’s role in funding sustainable human development around the world?


Facts shared in this article are from:

Goal 1: Vibrant Calgary – Poverty Snapshot 2020; Goals 2, 4, 8: United Way Calgary and Area; Goal 3: CBC article, dtd. Sept. 2019; Goal 5: Women’s Centre of Calgary, Goal 7: Canada Energy Regulator; Goal 9: Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) news release dtd. July 2020; Goal 10: Calgary vital signs report; Goals 11, 12, 14: City of Calgary; Goal 6: Global citizen; Goal 13: Government of Alberta; Goal 15: Alberta Wild Species General Status Listing; Goal 16: Calgary Alliance for the Common Good 

A year of change…


UNAC Calgary members and Board of Directors meet for the virtual 2019 Annual General Meeting

Members of United Nations Association of Canada (UNAC) – Calgary branch joined the Board of Directors yesterday for the 2019 Annual General Meeting.

If there was one word to use to describe what 2019-2020 was all about for UNAC Calgary, it would be – “change”.

While our external activities were paused due to COVID-19, behind the scenes, things were moving and shaking as we focused on organizational governance, including re-evaluating our board structure and hiring new Board of Directors.

In October 2020, we onboarded two new directors – Director of Community Relations, Wanda Rumball, and Director of Communications, Rida Rehmani. We also created the new position of Director of Innovation, which sees Jasmine Cha in role. And, in early 2021, we look forward to introducing a new Director of Program Development.

More the merrier! Joining the UNAC Calgary team in furthering our strategic priorities, are volunteers on three new sub-committees: Communications, Community Relations, and Program Development.

Our 2021 vision exciting…

Planning is underway to expand the scope and reach of our work to connect and promote individuals and organizations in Calgary whose work aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Also, in development – a new program to engage with Calgarians in implementing SDGs on a local level.

Here’s to a brighter and (fingers crossed) a COVID-19 free 2021.

By: Rida Rehmani

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