World University Service of Canada
About Chris Eaton
Chris Eaton is the Executive Director of WUSC (World University Service of Canada), a non-profit global development agency that improves education, economic, and empowerment opportunities for youth — with a particular focus on refugees and women.
With a diverse background in international development, Chris has worked extensively in Canada, Eastern and Southern Africa and South and Central Asia on market systems development, governance and education programming.
Prior to joining WUSC, Chris was Chief Executive Officer of Aga Khan Foundation Afghanistan from 2005 to 2009. He has also held senior roles at Aga Khan Foundation Canada since 1999.
Chris spent most of the 1990s in Uganda, working for the Netherlands Development Organization. There he focused on capacity building for local governments and communities.
Chris has bachelor’s (1989) and master’s (1991) degrees from the University of Toronto, in international development and political science, respectively.
He is the past chair of the International Forum for Volunteering for Development, and a current board member of the Equality Fund - an initiative supported by the Canadian government to galvanise philanthropic and private investment funds in support of gender equality. Chris is also a member of the Criterion Institute’s Power of Policy Advisory Committee which seeks to ensure that innovative finance advances social and gender equality.
Refugees and access to university education. Executive Director of World University Service of Canada, Chris Eaton, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss support for refugees and work with UNHCR + UNESCO
World University Service of Canada (WUSC) is a Canada-based organisation dedicated to expanding education, economic and empowerment leadership opportunities for youth in Canada and around the world, with a particular focus on refugees, displaced youth and young women.
WUSC has its origins in the 1920s and today has a team of approximately 15 staff in Canada and a strong presence in the frontlines of the developing world. They’re actively supporting refugees from eastern Africa – Uganda, northern Kenya, Malawi – and the Middle East – Syria and Iraqi refugees based in Jordan and Lebanon. They’ve done some work in Myanmar and are exploring needs in Latin America.
We also hear how their current operations are being negatively impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, they were due to assist 140 refugees to come to Canada for the start of the 2020/2021 academic year but that’s on hold for now due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Chris provides useful insight into the difference between the opportunities available in many developed countries, such as Canada, and countries of first asylum – the countries where refugees first go – which are usually in the global south and often struggle to provide higher education opportunities for their own populations, even without any refugees in the equation.
The pathway to higher education for refugees is full of challenges. Funding is a hurdle; scholarships are often restricted to specific countries of origin, religion, age; the equivalency of academic qualifications is not always straight forward to assess; university admissions processes can be cumbersome for many reasons; and even in the final country of destination incoming refugees may experience xenophobia, racism and many cultural challenges. WUSC tries to assist refugees to overcome all of these challenges.
WUSC is fortunate to engage with like-minded organisations, such as the Shapiro Foundation. Chris notes how Ed Shapiro is a philanthropist who is interested in expanding opportunities for refugees. He has engaged with a number of charities, both in terms of helping expand the work going on in Canada and, also, in exploring how Canada can share its expertise to help the work being undertaken elsewhere.
WUSC has been working very closely with the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) around expanding education pathways for refugees globally. They’re part of a global effort to share and develop capacities in other countries to do this kind of work. Chris sheds light on a report WUSC prepared in conjunction with UNHCR and UNESCO (“Doubling Our Impact: third country higher education pathways for refugees” – Feb 2020) which is useful reading for anyone interested in making an impact in this space.
The key takeaway Chris shares with listeners: Think about the challenges that you’re trying to address, at the scale commensurate with the challenge itself. This has been a key piece for WUSC as they think of the growth of their own programming.
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