Sierra Bilton is an MPNL student in our Sixth Cohort:

“Exploring cutting edge issues facing the field of philanthropy and brainstorming how to solve them is what drew me to the MPNL program. But collaborating with over 25 other passionate thinkers in the field of philanthropy made me recognize how unique the program is, specifically for the Summer Institute. My cohort, the sixth of the MPNL program under Carleton’s SPPA faculty, is chalk full of incredible people—both those having worked in the sector for large portions of their careers and those just entering the sector—just as I’m sure all other MPNL cohorts are. All of these people are eager to make change in the sector or create new, innovative solutions to the problems facing philanthropy and nonprofits.

The Summer Institute, an in-class, two-week intensive learning opportunity, on Carleton’s beautiful campus is a special experience. Despite nerves and anxiety about the very valuable, but vast, readings leading up to the institute sessions, I now can’t say enough good about the experience both as an introduction to the program faculty and staff but also to the history, present, and future of the philanthropic and nonprofit sector in Canada.

The people I met at the Summer Institute exemplified the diverse range of approaches and intellects needed in the field—frontline workers, program organizers, advocates, fundraisers, researchers, policy makers, board members, and leaders. Spanning at least 30 years of difference in age, from the youngest to the more experienced, and coming both from across the country as well as internationally, the perspectives that were shared in animated classroom discussions brought to life the complex and constantly evolving issues that make the sector such an exciting one. The advantage of sharing the experience of the Summer Institute holds value not only for the rest of the program, while interacting online in class discussion forums or group projects, but also beyond graduation when personal connections  that will anchor a wide-ranging network of MPNL alumni and instructors.

The structure of the Summer Institute involves two classes—PANL 5001 and 5002—which are broken into two morning/afternoon 3-hour classes with breaks and evenings free. Many of the classes include guest speakers who offer context and remarkable insight to the more academic analyses covered in class. International comparisons and case studies also shed light on the way the sector operates in different contexts. After each lecture or guest speaker, conversations would quickly spark over how change could be made or offer innovative ideas to address the complex issues we were learning about. For the first Summer Institute, class material covers such topics as legal and regulatory environment, new models of social finance, cross-sector collaborations, donor relations, government engagement, and the origins behind the nature and conduct of philanthropy, which have led to the way Canada’s third sector operates.

For those not from Ottawa, as I am, there is accommodation in student residence dorm rooms on campus. Many of my cohort members chose to stay at Airbnbs near Carleton’s campus, which I would recommend as the food option on campus are somewhat scarce in the Summer beyond Tim Hortons and the campus graduate pub, Mike’s Place* (whose Indian food quickly became a welcome change to soup and sandwiches at Tim’s for many of us while on campus). For dinner I would recommend exploring nearby Bank Street by taking the number seven bus (a transit pass is included in your tuition unless you opt out). Kettleman’s bagels on Bank Street (open 24 hrs) are—in my humble Albertan opinion—worth your time. Also take the opportunity to explore the capital city—Byward Market is a good spot for a drink and Parliament and the Rideau Canal are both nearby.

While my nerves certainly got the best of me ahead of the experience, the program staff are incredibly adept at organizing intro and information sessions, meet and greets, and group activities and were always flexible to meet or answer any questions along the way. Many of my cohort expressed similar feelings of nervousness facing the complex topics discussed, but leaning into that place of vulnerability is what makes the institute so special and the connections made so powerful. Having had the opportunity to meet and get to know my cohort members and some of the MPNL instructors has already enhanced my experience of the program and given so much depth to my learning and knowledge. I was continually challenged throughout the Institute to re-examine my assumptions and to look at concepts from different angles I previously had not. It is the diversity of perspectives and willingness to look deeply at issues facing the sector that contribute most to educational depth of the Summer Institute experience.”