2021 Talent Award Winner: Maïka Sondarjee

Video: Maïka Sondarjee - Talent Award - 2021 Impact Awards


Maika Sondarjee :

I would say that the main question is, how can we be more egalitarian, how can we be more inclusive in the international sphere. So, at the same time, it refers to how can bodies like the World Bank be more inclusive, but also, when we’re teaching international relations, how can we include more feminist perspectives, the perspectives of researchers from the Global South and students’ perspectives: promote more academic democracy. So, in all these areas, it’s really how can we be more inclusive, but internationally? For me, the importance of winning an award like the Impacts Award is what it represents: that it’s a young woman who hasn’t taken a traditional path, who comes from a background that is also culturally mixed, and who does research that is more for the general public than it is for academia, necessarily. It’s important to me that we value this kind of research and I’m pleased that SSHRC places importance on research that is a little different, that tries to be transformative, rather than to only be published in major journals.

Maïka Sondarjee has been described as one of a rare variety of academics whose research is merely an extension of their values and community involvement. By bestowing her the 2021 Talent Award, SSHRC recognizes someone with a host of talents who only recently obtained her PhD (in political science, University of Toronto, 2020) and is already considered an expert in development studies.

“I definitely have a different, more social profile compared to the classic profile and I’m pleasantly surprised to be recognized, and also to have my work valued outside the university,” says Sondarjee. She says she’s both thrilled and surprised. But, it’s not the first time the researcher, author, faculty member, communicator and activist has been lauded. Last year, she received a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, ranking first out of 162 candidates. She has also received the Royal Society of Canada’s Alice Wilson Award.

“I’ve been so lucky,” she says. “I feel like I’ve won the life lottery. And that’s only heightened my awareness of existing and persistent inequalities, particularly between the North and South.” She grew aware of inequality at an early age, when she travelled to Madagascar, her father’s birthplace, for the first time. The trip undoubtedly played a vital role in guiding her research work on international development and cooperation. As well as a diligent researcher, she is also an activist, and believes her role “goes beyond the pursuit and creation of knowledge; I also have a responsibility to share it with the public.” It’s a role she takes very seriously. The media regularly calls on her to comment on gender, governance, solidarity and international development issues. She has also contributed numerous analyses and opinion pieces as a contributor for daily newspaper Le Devoir, establishing her reputation as a public intellectual in Quebec.

“The media plays a crucial role in the democratization of knowledge,” she says. “I don’t organize protests .... My activism is to publicly share my understanding of different forms of domination.”

Sondarjee is not only an engaged academic, but also a woman of action. A volunteer and active with various non-governmental organizations, she also helped found the Informed Opinions network in 2018, an organization whose mission is to amplify women’s voices to “ensure the perspectives and priorities of qualified women from diverse backgrounds are equitably reflected in Canadian society.”Footnote 1 According to a study commissioned by Informed Opinions, women’s voices make up only 29% of those heard on air or cited in Canadian media, a mere 7% increase over the past two decades.Footnote 2 Informed Opinions features a directory of 800 speakers trained and ready to make their voices heard.

If one of Sondarjee’s talents stands out above the rest, it is her skill as an educator, which has earned her accolades from the University of Toronto and Université de Montréal. The fulfilment of a long-time dream, it is also what gives her the greatest satisfaction.

“I come from a family that recognized the importance and necessity of education. At every level of education—elementary school, high school and CEGEP—I could see myself as a teacher there one day. When I got to university, I realized I could also be a university professor!” 

Sondarjee was recently hired as an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of International Development and Global Studies.

About the award

The annual Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements in SSHRC-funded research, knowledge mobilization and scholarship, as well as the highest achievements resulting from a SSHRC fellowship awarded.

The Talent Award recognizes outstanding research achievement and career potential from a SSHRC doctoral or postdoctoral fellowship or scholarship holder.

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