Katie Gingerich

Katie is a guest contributor for Ashoka U's Student Changemaker Stories campaign. She is a graduate from University of Waterloo and currently co-founder and Executive Director of The Ripple Effect Foundation.

The Recurring, Slow-Burn Question: “Who, Me?”

This blog is part of Ashoka U’s Student Changemaker Stories: a campaign bringing together diverse student changemaker perspectives to shift the narrative around what it means to be a changemaker and who can be one – on campus and beyond. Each story concludes with a note of gratitude and call-to-action from the author.

“If not you, then who?”

I was sitting at my desk six months after graduation, trying to connect with stakeholders, feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped. I often found myself sharing these thoughts with my peers, “Who am I to do this?”

Elle Crevits, a fellow entrepreneur, spoke with steadfast assurance, “You’re the one who has made people excited about this. You’re the one who is bringing the right people into the room to build this initiative. You’re the one who is working hard and making this happen. Why not you?”

While it was true that I was spending much of my spare time conducting research, working to develop programming with educators and peace practitioners, and build local support for peace education programming, I was still unsure whether I was ready to bring this work into fruition.

TREE programs invite learners to bring their whole selves to conflict, including their relationships with themselves and with others.

Elle’s words have come back to me regularly as I express my changemaking through my work with The Ripple Effect Education (TREE), a non-profit organization that equips young people with the tools they need to resolve conflict and seek justice.

My Changemaker Journey

When I began studying Peace and Conflict at the University of Waterloo, I was passionate about responding to global conflict and injustice. In high school, I was an advocate for several international relief efforts primarily through fundraising, but I hadn’t considered how to start taking small steps to make change in my own community. It was my first conflict resolution class that brought me closer to understanding this passion. Until then, I had not considered my own approach to interpersonal conflict, and the relationship between healthy conflict management and peaceful communities.

My changemaker journey has been a slow burn, made up of monumental moments of encouragement and micro-moments of quiet, determined work. To each monumental moment, I learned to eagerly respond, “Why not?”

This question, which became a cheerleader of possibility, led to some of the most courageous moments of my life.

Learning to Apply the Question

In my third year at the University of Waterloo, my academic advisor encouraged me to coordinate Peace Camp – a day camp program at Conrad Grebel University College. I leaned into my uncertainty and said, Why not?” The changemaker in me enthusiastically said yes.

Peace Campers on a reconciliation learning trip to the Woodland Cultural Centre.

I spent two years working to create exploratory space for young people to discover their own peace-related passions through Peace Camp. Together, we learned about peacebuilding in local and global contexts through summer camp programming and began working with schools to bring peace education to classrooms across the Waterloo Region.

Later as I was finishing my undergrad and my commitment with Peace Camp, the director of the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement encouraged me to build upon the momentum of my time with Peace Camp in the centre’s Epp Peace Incubator. Again, I leaned in: “Why not?”

As an incubator participant, I began working towards the peace education initiative that would become TREE. I had inspiration, resources, and mentorship which supported this development.

The Ripple Effect, In Full Effect

As TREE began to take shape, I was encouraged to apply for funding from the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation. Yet again, I responded, “Why not?”

Our application was successful and this small project suddenly became my new full-time pursuit. It was overwhelming to receive tangible support from my community, and I still marvel at the fact that I get to do this work.

Sharing about our work with our community in the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement.

TREE began working with local classrooms and community groups in 2016. Since then, TREE has facilitated over 500 workshops with nearly 5,000 young people. Our programs have given youth tools to have tough conversations, manage their emotions, understand their own identity, build empathy, and to believe that peace is possible.

Transforming My Question

I never expected or planned to become the founder of a purpose-driven venture – not because I didn’t believe in myself, but because there seemed to be too many obstacles to actually make that happen. I found myself asking, “Would we resonate with teachers? Would we create the impact we knew was possible?”

Along the way, I felt encouraged through my growing confidence and expanded capacity as a changemaker to transform the question “Why me?” to “Why not me?”

Now, in my role as the executive director of TREE, I have the privilege to create opportunities for students and recent grads to build their own professional skills as changemakers, advocates, instructors and facilitators. Members of our team have gone on to implement, embed, and strengthen their work with the peacebuilding skills and competencies they practiced with TREE.

That’s what we do at The Ripple Effect; we are the initial drop of inspiration, knowledge, and awareness of social justice and positive conflict management that spreads out into other areas of our lives, wider and wider as we grow. Sometimes, the first drop is the most significant one.

Closing Words from Katie

Interested in reading more student changemaker stories? Jump back to our full list of stories and contributors!