In fall 2016 the Lifelong Leadership Institute (LLI) launched the Leadership by Design (LBD) program which provides innovative leadership development opportunities to GTA youth of Black and African-Canadian heritage. While all students have varying capacity for leadership and will perform leadership roles within their families, social circles, schools and wider community, we wanted to amplify these skills plus add the strategic initiative of inspiring and facilitating seat-at-the-table leadership. We focus on leadership development because leadership skills not only enable good, effective and responsible leadership in all spheres, but they also influence employment decisions and overlap with skills required in most endeavours including entrepreneurship and good citizenship.

We want LBD students to acquire the skills of an authentic leader who is able to influence and inspire others to accomplish defined objectives and to model exemplary leadership through the practise of these skills. What are these leadership skills? They are mostly the soft skills that start with the mindset of ‘getting things done’ and include decision making, effective communication, self-awareness, self-confidence, reliability, resilience, teamwork, persuasion, networking, time management, empathy, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, civic responsibility and intellectual curiosity.

A major challenge for the LBD program is how best to effectively teach leadership soft skills, inculcate a leadership mindset, inspire a lifelong pursuit of proficiency at these skills and to do so outside of the regular Monday-to-Friday high school program. We do our work cognizant that a significant amount of education takes place outside of the formal classroom and that the ability to strive is often based on our willingness to grasp available opportunities. The Leadership by Design program is all about providing enriched opportunities to Black youth in an environment that is supportive and encouraging. Education and learning are not products that can be neatly packaged and sold and they are not ‘things’ which are handed out in a clean transaction. The challenge for the LBD program is motivating students to seize the many opportunities the program offers. It’s a challenge that constantly consumes our organization and it’s a challenge we are up for.

The Lifelong Leadership Institute has a value which declares that that which is to be done, must be done very well. Otherwise stated, we think that everything our organization does should be exemplary…we should endeavour to be ‘best in class’. In our stewardship of the Leadership by Design program, the LLI pulls out all the stops to deliver well-conceived and well-executed programming. We do so in the context of being a learning organization that is fully aware that our program must be committed to continuous improvement.

This September 2021 marked our sixth year of operating the Leadership by Design program.

Who are the students in Leadership by Design? They are students who identify as Black and they are from high schools across the GTA – from Hamilton to Newmarket to Oshawa to Toronto and in between. Each year, we admit some 60+ Grade 10 students and offer service spanning the Grade 10-12 years (i.e. 3 years) and into university or college. Students transition through the program as distinct cohorts. This academic year, we will be serving six cohorts of students – three cohorts will be in high school and three cohorts will be in post-secondary studies.

The Leadership by Design program is based on ten pillars of programming and these are constantly reviewed. Together, these ten pillars provide LBD students with opportunities for leadership development, career exploration, responsible citizenship and encouragement to serve their schools and community. What follows is a brief synopsis of each of the ten pillars of LBD programming.


The Leadership by Design program normally schedules 10-12 Saturday sessions each academic year and attendance for each is around 200 persons (students, parents and volunteers). These sessions start at 9.00 a.m. and end early afternoon. Sessions are sited at universities (UofT; Ryerson; York; UOIT) and this normalizes the university setting and experience for students. Saturday sessions are about collective learning, forging relationships (student-to-student and parent-to-parent), community building and infusing students, parents and volunteers with a deep sense of belonging.

Saturday sessions are highly structured with separate learning tracks for students and parents.

Special Note: With the persistence of the COVIC-19 pandemic and the requirement for physical distancing, our Saturday sessions will be held online until circumstances allow a return to in-person sessions.

PILLAR #2: THE MENTORSHIP ECOSYSTEMThe mentorship program that is delivered by the Leadership by Design program has evolved with the learning we gained from general practice and field experience. Rather than a one-dimensional mentorship program, we now provide a mentorship ecosystem which surrounds the mentee with variants of mentorship experiences. Most experiences provided by the LBD program involve some mentoring – both formal and informal.

The nature of the Leadership by Design program allows it to target multiple strategic outcomes, one of which is career exploration. Our work is shaped by the definition of career exploration as the “process in which an individual chooses an educational path or training or a job which fits their interests, skills and abilities”. Each year, the LBD program does more in terms of career exploration and we partner with universities and corporations in doing so. We present Black professionals to talk about their career trajectories. As well, we run workshops on OSAP, funding post-secondary studies and scholarship application. Students are encouraged to explore career options and the various post-secondary programs and institutions that will be the pathway for career fulfilment. We also provide scholarships.

Encouraging young students to build their leadership capacity invariable involves distilling leadership into a set of important soft-skills and having students (i) learn these skills and, (ii) continually practise them. As previously noted, these soft skills include, but are not limited to the following: effective communication, self-awareness, self-confidence, reliability, resilience, teamwork, persuasion, networking, time management, empathy, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, civic responsibility and intellectual curiosity.

The civic engagement pillar of the LBD’s program focuses on rights and responsibilities, fulfilling specific civic responsibilities such as being well informed and on exercising the right to vote. It also seeks to augment the civics instruction offered in high school by encouraging a deeper exploration regarding what it means to be a Canadian and a Black Canadian. It also dwells on the importance of democracy and notions of the ‘greater or public good’.


Most LBD students seek out and deliver service to their community. The need to accumulate specific hours of community service in order to graduate from high school is well understood. Most LBD students will acquire these hours and then exceed them. The LBD supports students’ search for effective community service. This includes providing information regarding volunteer opportunities.

Simply put, we regard social capital as ‘networking’. Networking is a major leadership soft skill and it is also a major workplace skill. It is very difficult to advance in the workplace without competence in networking. Teaching this particular skill requires that we convince LBD students of its importance in much of what they do in life and in career. It also requires that we provide them with networking exemplars who can ‘show the way’. The more opportunities LBD student have to attend a variety of social settings where they can see networking being practised, the better their social and networking skills will be.

A critical attribute of good, effective and responsible leaderships is curiosity. Curiosity is nicely described as the ‘starting point of interest”. We encourage our students to be intellectually curious and their schools offer the same motivation. In our effort to ‘cultivate the curious mind’ we encourage and facilitate student attendance of events such as conferences, symposia and workshops. As well, the Leadership by Design program hosts interesting guest speakers and interrogation of important issues. Encouraging student pursuit of deeper knowledge is ongoing.

Mindful that our partners have capacity to offer important programming to our students, we partner with universities (University of Toronto, York University, Ryerson University, Ontario Tech University), corporations (Cisco Canada, Google, CIBC, RBC), cultural organizations (Tarragon Theatre, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the National Ballet); democracy-promoting organizations (The Samara Centre for Democracy); leadership-supporting organizations.

Here is an example of an innovative partnership that benefits LBD students:

-The Study Buddy program that delivers 1:1 tutoring/mentoring services to LBD students during the academic year. This program is coordinated by the Diversity Institute, Ryerson University. The subject tutors are teacher candidates from the faculties of education from Laurentian University, Ontario Tech University and Queen’s University.

Our Leadership by Design program includes parents as full participants. Parents accompany their students at Saturday LBD sessions and the LBD schedules a special ‘parents track’ which explores topics of value. Parents are partners who collaborate in encouraging LBD student engagement and participation.

During academic year 2021-22 the LBD program will be enriched by the following opportunities. LBD students may opt to pursue some of the following new and innovative learning opportunities.

  1. PURSUE CODING: The Leadership by Design program will offer digital-technology classes spanning beginner to intermediate-level coding: HTML; CSS; JavaScript; Python.
  2. PURSUE STEM: The University of Toronto will offer special science, technology, and mathematics enrichment classes for LBD students in Grade 10 who have a love for these subjects.
  3. PURSUE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: LBD students who are interested in a career in digital technology will explore the pathway to a career in artificial intelligence.
  4. PURSUE ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Ryerson University will provide a course in entrepreneurship.
  5. PURSUE LAW: LBD students who are interested in a career in law will explore the pathway for this career field.
  6. PURSUE DIGITAL MARKETING: LBD students who are interested in exploring career opportunities in the world of multinational media and digital marketing communications will have an opportunity to do so. This activity will be provided by corporate partner Dentsu Aegis Network.
  7. STUDY BUDDY TUTORING SERVICE: LBD students will have an opportunity to receive free subject-based tutoring. This tutoring service, started May 2020. Students are tutored by teacher candidates from Ontario Tech University, Laurentian University and Queen’s University. This special program is coordinated by the Diversity Institute, Ryerson University.
  8. LEADERSHIP SCHOLARSHIPS: At this time, a number of scholarships, valued at $5,000 each, will be available by competition to LBD Grade 12 students as they transition into post-secondary studies.

In summer/fall 2021, twenty-four scholarships were exclusively available to Leadership by Design students who were enrolled in post-secondary studies. While scholarship availability is subject to change, the LBD hopes to make scholarships available to qualifying students each year. The four 2021 scholarships were:

PepsiCo Leadership Scholarship
Value: $5,000 (22 scholarships at $5,000. Each)
Donor: PepsiCo Foods

G. Raymond Chang Leadership Scholarship
Value: $5,000
Donor: Donette Chin-Loy Chang

Trevor L. Massey Leadership Scholarship
Value: $5,000
Donor: Donette Chin-Loy Chang

Ojo Engineering Entrance Scholarship
Value: $2,5000
Donor: Remi Ojo and Toye Ojo

CIBC Leadership Scholarship
Value: $5,000
Donor: CIBC Bank

Apply to Leadership by Design if you meet the following criteria:

  1. You self-identify as Black or African-Canadian.
  2. You are enrolled in Grade 10 academic courses in the current academic year (i.e. 2021-22).
  3. You are enrolled at a high school in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
  4. You are a Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident of Canada.

Here are the key deadlines:

Friday,December 17, 2021: Early application deadline. Applications received by this date will receive priority consideration. The admissions process will move quickly. We will evaluate applications as we receive them. Hence, apply early.

Saturday, January 15, 2022: Final application deadline. Applications received after January 15 will be considered if space remains in the program.

Be guided by the following:

Step 1: Complete the LBD Application Form.

Step 2. Have at least one parent sign the application.

Step 3. Submit the application as quickly as possible, before the deadline, via email to the following email address:

Step 4. Within two days we will acknowledge receipt of your application

There are two basic admission criteria:
  1. Assessment of your academic achievement in core Grade 9 courses.
  2. Assessment of your potential to improve your leadership skills via the LBD program.
  • Here are the key admission steps:
  1. You submit your application. We acknowledge receipt of it.
  2. We assess all applications and select those eligible to move to the next admissions stage.
  3. We invite selected candidates and their parents to an online orientation session (via Zoom). Atthis session, candidates and parents will be provided insights into the LBD program and have anopportunity to have their questions answered.
  4. The Admissions Committee may schedule a mandatory personal interview, via Zoom, with selected candidates. Here, the Admissions Committee will question selected candidates about their interest in building their leadership skills and, their willingness to seize the many opportunities the LBD program offers.
  5. The Admissions Committee will communicate its decision to selected candidates by email.

Q1. Does it matter which high school I attend?

A1. No. You may apply if you are a student of any public, Catholic, French or independent high school. This includes schools within the following school boards:

-Halton District School Board (HDSB)

– Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB)

– Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB)

– Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB)

– Peel District School Board (PDSB)

– Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB)

– Toronto District School Board (TDSB)

– Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB)

– York Region District School Board (YRDSB)

– York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB)

– Durham District School Board (DDSB)

– Durham Catholic School Board (DCSB)

– Any French Language School District.

– Any independent School

Q2. If I apply, how will you communicate with me?

A2. All communications are via email and all communications with you are copied to your parents. Hence, you must provide your personal email address and that of your parent(s). As well, you must regularly monitor your email.

Q3. Explain Part 2 of the application form which deals with special learning opportunities.

A3. The LBD program will admit students with interests and strengths in any subject area: arts, English, social sciences, languages, mathematics, sciences and information technology. The LBD program will provide support to students wanting to explore careers in any of these disciplines.

Last year, we added two new opportunities which target LBD student with a strong career interest in mathematics, science and technology. To facilitate our planning, we ask applicants to identify whether they are interested in participating in STEM and/or coding pursuits.

About PURSUE STEM: The University of Toronto will offer special science, technology, and mathematics enrichment classes for LBD students in Grade 10 who have a love for these subjects.

Should you indicate a love for science, technology and mathematics, you will be placed in a special STEM-LBD group that will receive special classes by UofT over the next three years in preparation for admission into a University STEM-based program. This service is free.

About PURSUE CODING: The Leadership by Design program will offer digital-technology classes spanning beginner to intermediate-level coding: HTML; CSS; Javascript; Python. Skills learned will include computational skills, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.

Should you be interested in learning how to code, the LBD program will provide coding classes during the academic year. This service is free.

Q4. What is the role of parents?

A4. Parents are critical partners in the Leadership by Design program.

-At least one parent is required to sign the application form.

-In many of our in-person and virtual LBD sessions, parents are expected to participate.

-The Leadership by Design program is well known for its high degree of parental participation.

Q5. Why is there such a lengthy Parental Consent section on the application form?

A5. Parents partner with the LBD program in working towards the personal, social, academic and career success of students. Participating students who are under age 18 are deemed Vulnerable Persons by law and both the LBD and parents have a duty to ensure the well-being pf students is protected. Part of this involves up-front communication and understandings. The parental-consent language supports this as well as the effective administration of the LBD program.

Q6. If admitted, do I have to re-apply for each subsequent year?

A6. No. Once you are admitted and commit to the LBD program you are provided services and support for the remainder of your high-school years and into your post-secondary studies. This is a multi-year multi-level program which requires your full commitment. Our intent is to support you all the way.

Q7. When will LBD student meetings be scheduled?

A7. Most meetings are scheduled on Saturdays (an average of one per month) and on school PA days. Chances are some special sessions, such as Pursue STEM, Pursue CODING and Pursue ENTREPRENEURSHIP may schedule a few days during school March Break. The schedule for the academic year 2021-22 will be shared at LBD admission orientation sessions.

Q8. What is the cost of the Leadership by Design program?

A8. There is no charge. The program is free.

Q9. I plan to have my child apply for the 2021 LBD program. Should my child not gain admission does the Lifelong Leadership Institute provide some level of service?

A9: Yes. Should your child not gain admission into the Leadership by Design program your child will still receive service from the program. This service will include informative bulletins and invitations to special LBD events and webinars. Encourage your child to apply for LBD admission.

Q10. I’m in Grade 11 this academic year. May I apply?

A10. No. Only students who are in Grade 10 in the current academic year will be admitted.

Q11. If I apply after January 15, 2022 will I be considered?

A11. Applications received after January 15, 2022 will be considered if space remains in the program. It’s best to apply early.

Q12. I have additional questions. Who should I ask?

A12. Questions may be directed to