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Centre for Building Sustainable Value · Helen Schreyer

Imagine: Lessons from the Arctic that warmed my heart

Mar 18, 2021

Sheila Wattcloutier Hires Jan2020 1

Helen Schreyer is an HBA Candidate pursuing a combined degree with business and psychology and is a member of the HBA Sustainability Certificate.

Ivey Business School is located on the territories of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lunaapewak, and Attawandaron peoples. We pay respect to the land and to Elders past, present, and future.

Pablo Picasso once said, “Everything you can imagine is real.” Unfortunately, our ability to imagine has become very limited.

Last week, students at Ivey Business School had their imaginations stretched by a visit from Sheila (Siila) Watt-Cloutier. Watt-Cloutier is an Inuit climate activist; environmental, cultural and human rights advocate; and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. She has given TEDx Talks (Human Trauma and Climate Trauma as One, 2016) and written memoirs (The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet) and served as the Canadian President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). Several of our students have followed Watt-Cloutier’s career closely, and it was an honour to have her speak with us.

The occasion was Ivey’s Worldchangers event, an annual highlight of the Sustainability Certificate Program. Over the year, our cohort has focused on the theme of climate change and environmental stewardship, and it goes without saying that Watt-Cloutier is a worldchanger in this space.

As a woman, I am also personally touched to have met Watt-Cloutier just days after International Women’s Day. We live in a world where one in three women experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime, where two-thirds of illiterate adults are female, and where women earn 35-40 per cent less than men employed in comparable positions.[i] Women like Watt-Cloutier are swimming upstream in this world. Her work is not easy. She has engaged with global decision-makers for more than a decade, and in doing so she offers a new model of transformational leadership. I was touched by Watt-Cloutier’s soft power. She speaks with passion and urgency. She speaks with confidence based on a cause. But she also speaks with kindness, and our call ended with tears of appreciation on both sides of the screen.

What I’ve taken from Watt-Cloutier’s message is that we need to increase agency – not in a corporate or political context, but as individuals, families, and friends. We need to imagine a world run by value-based economies. We need to imagine a world built on social enterprise. We need to imagine what could happen, rather than resigning to what is happening. When we do this, what is possible becomes what is probable, and what is probable becomes what is present. Watt-Cloutier speaks of this in terms of the Arctic (and overall environmental) restoration, economic restructuring, and socio-political reform. She speaks of these things as deeply interconnected, and she highlights Indigenous Knowledge as a foundation upon which change can be built.

Watt-Cloutier called us to imagine, but really, all we need to do is remember. There are people who have walked this earth before us who have exemplified sustainable living – both with the land and with each other. And so, we must remember. We must reimagine. We must relearn.

I started this reflection by observing that our imagination is limited. And it is. We are limited by growing up – so we must learn from our children. We are overwhelmed by busyness – so we must slow down. We are disconnected by urbanization – so we must return to the land. And we are siloed by individualism – so we must connect with each other. Imagination is not something we do on our own. It is something we share together. Fifty years ago, the world heard John Lennon sing Imagine for the first time: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”[ii] Let us not be the only ones who are dreamers. Let us call upon others to dream with us. “I hope someday you’ll join us/ And the world will live as one”[iii]

Thank you Siila. Nakurmiik.



[i] Olorunshola, Y. (May 25, 2016). 7 of The Most Appalling And Outrageous Gender Inequality Facts. GLOBAL CITIZEN. Retrieved from 

[ii] John Lennon. (1971). Imagine. Lyric retrieved from

[iii] Ibid.