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Eliane Ubalijoro
Executive Director - Sustainability in the Digital Age
Part of the Spotlight on Montreal’s International Organizations

Montreal at the Nexus of Sustainability and Innovation

Takeaways

  1. Montreal is home to a host of leading research institutions on both sustainability and artificial intelligence, creating a hub for scientists and industry leaders.
  2. Canada’s official commitments to sustainability in the form of policies, its budget, and declarations will enable the country to lead globally on sustainability.
  3. Both government supports and the high quality of life in Montreal enable local institutions to easily access top talent from around the world.

Action

The thriving collaborative environment and network of experts in Montreal have greatly enabled institutions and researchers here to attract key talent and initiate much-needed projects to help advance the sustainability agenda. With strong commitment from the government, Canada and Montreal are set to become leaders in this field.


How would you describe Sustainability in the Digital Age and what it seeks to achieve? 

Sustainability in the Digital Age leverages the digital age to drive transformative systems change for a climate-safe, sustainable, and equitable world. We operate under four main interrelated work streams: Research and Innovation, Training and Networks, Policy, Standards and Best Practices, and Collective Foresight and Intelligence.


What are some of Montreal’s top advantages for international organizations? 

First of all, Montreal is a great, multicultural city, with great food and entertainment. Montreal is at the nexus of sustainable science and artificial intelligence expertise. We have Yoshua Bengio and the Montréal Institute for Learning Algorithms (Mila), which is one of the top artificial intelligence institutes in the world. Montreal is also home to other headquarters such as the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Future Earth, Group on Earth Observations – Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, and the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative

“Montreal is at the nexus of sustainable science and artificial intelligence expertise.”

Being in Montreal connects us to a lot of different institutions that are studying earth systems, climate change, and biodiversity. We have access to five Quebec universities and various research institutes like Ouranos. The provincial government is very engaged and we also have access to institutes like Artificial Intelligence and Digital Technologies (OBVIA), which is looking at artificial intelligence on the ethical side. Montreal is a great place at the nexus of all of these areas of research that are important to what we do.


What is the availability of talent in Montreal and how do you gauge Canada’s immigration policies? 

The new Budget announcement is very pro-climate change research. Canada’s 2021 Budget is going to increase our capacity to do more work in Canada for leadership in climate change and artificial intelligence. This is a great time to be here. The institutions I listed and others like IVADO and the International Centre of Expertise in Montréal for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence show that there are so many institutions here to attract global talent that are willing to move, be agile, and really want to contribute to these nine years before the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) deadline arrives. 

“Canada’s 2021 Budget is going to increase our capacity to do more work in Canada for leadership in climate change and artificial intelligence.”

This is a great time for Canada to be attracting talent from all over the world. These are all highly qualified personnel. In terms of Canada’s policies and our desire to lead in research and innovation, these are all great assets that make us attractive to talent. We have attractive spaces for them to live in and we also have new policies that are going to be more helpful for families with children, making it also a very feminist agenda in terms of bringing equity to the space. Canada is really well-positioned to attract talent to come here with their families and thrive on both a personal and a professional basis.


What supports exist for international organizations looking to establish themselves in Montreal? 

Montréal International is a stellar partner to help attract organizations to Montreal. They are great at supporting organizations to set up offices and network to meet other organizations. They also have training sessions in human resources, workplace labour laws, and public relations, as well as resources that allow you to have a lot of support while you are establishing in Montreal. Also, whenever you have events, they are a great support to build success for the event.

We have been very happy because they have provided us with initial startup funding in 2015 when Future Earth first came here and again in 2021 for our expansion with Sustainability in the Digital Age. This is critical to help support staff, operations, and fundraising, especially so for non-profits like us who mainly function on project-based funding because it gives us a core budget that helps us work on the highest quality project submissions while we grow our funding and team. 

We have also benefited from Tourisme Montréal in the past for events that we held, as well as from partnerships with McGill University and the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program from where we sourced some of our interns. We have benefited from several federal programs to hire recent graduates and early-career employees. There are also programs like the Mitacs Accelerate program and funding from colleges and institutes in Canada, which have been all really helpful to growing our team.


How do Montreal’s ethnic diversity and multilingualism impact its attractiveness as a destination for international organizations?

Being a bilingual society is a huge advantage. In Montreal, institutions or organizations that work in both English and French can set themselves up and have high-level staff that speaks both languages. The ethnic diversity of Montreal is reflected in the beautiful culinary and artistic communities that are available in the city. Diversity is important in terms of the richness of the types of talent we get and the ability to boost our global reach. It is an amazing system. We see this diversity not only on the levels of ethnic diversity and multilingualism, but also in the richness of the landscape in terms of digital capacities, earth system sciences, climate literacy, and science communication. Montreal is a really vibrant city beyond our multilingualism and variety of voices but also in terms of the diversity of scientific voices we have access to. This is really important. 


How does Canada’s brand factor into international organizations’ decision to establish operations in Montreal? 

Canada has a great brand and right now is a great time for Canada. Canada can lead the world in terms of the post-COVID global economic recovery. The budget is strong on building green economies and technology-driven jobs with greater inclusion and diversity. Canada is also a member of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, an amazing initiative championing a global deal for nature and people. This is about how we protect 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030. Canada has allocated $17.6 billion towards its green recovery with a goal of conserving 25% of its land by 2025 and reaching 30% by 2030. Canada has set aside $5 billion over 7 years starting this year for the Net Zero Accelerator, a program for fast-tracking decarbonization projects. 

“Canada has allocated $17.6 billion towards its green recovery with a goal of conserving 25% of its land by 2025 and reaching 30% by 2030.”

Montreal is really an amazing place for us and for our work. This is an important place to showcase the Canadian brand and research and innovation on the global stage. One of the things SDA is a part of is the Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability, which is in support of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Roadmap on Digital Cooperation

“We see ourselves continuing to be in Montreal because of the amazing network of researchers here and the dialogue taking place on the SDGs and digitalization.”

We see ourselves continuing to be in Montreal because of the amazing network of researchers here and the dialogue taking place on the SDGs and digitalization. This is a great time for Canada and for accelerating a global deal for nature and people. The budget, leadership, and science we have will lead us where we need to go and help the whole planet.


What is the future of Sustainability in the Digital Age in Canada?

We want to expand our research and the scope of work we do. We launched the Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age and we have a number of signatories around Montreal. We are looking to grow a new social contract for the digital age that includes everyone, to help accelerate open and transparent access to data and knowledge, and to grow prosperous economies that respect people’s privacy. Public-private collaborations are going to be very critical in the digital age to help us achieve the SDGs by 2030. 

Targeted communication is really important to accelerate digital and climate literacy locally and globally. Montreal is a great place for research and innovation and so we look at our work growing at that interface. This is very important for us because we also see that targeted communication is really important to accelerate digital and climate literacy locally and globally. We are looking to engage and educate people so that we will have a climate-literate and digitally-literate world to help us accelerate the agendas related to digitization and sustainability.

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Eliane Ubalijoro
Executive Director - Sustainability in the Digital Age

Bio: Eliane Ubalijoro is the Executive Director of Sustainability in the Digital Age as well as the Global Hub Director in Canada for Future Earth. Her decades of experience span academia, science-policy, and the non-profit and international development sectors. She is a Professor of Practice for Public-Private Sector Partnerships at McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development, where her research interests focus on innovation, gender, and sustainable development.

Organization Profile: Sustainability in the Digital Age (SDA) is a not-for-profit that explores leveraging digital capabilities to drive transformative systems changes for a sustainable and equitable world. They conduct research, perform training and networking initiatives, and advocate for and advise on policies and best practices. They also collaborate with other research organizations such as the MIT Centre for Collective Intelligence