Changing the Future: One Inspired Collaborative Project at a Time

Sabrina Gamrot

Goal 16: Life Below Water, Ezetta Anderson


“Change depends on the involvement of young citizens,” said Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, at the opening reception for the photography exhibit, Our Sustainable Future in Toronto. Her comment was met with an overwhelming applause.

It’s approaching 5 p.m. on Wednesday, January 21, 2019 and already the daylight is disappearing. As Dowdeswell speaks to her audience, the window behind her is obscured by a flurry of wet snow. But the energy on the other side of the window, in the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite at Queen’s Park, is warm.  Standing in front of Dowdeswell is a large business-casual crowd; media, government workers, artists, parents and children. They all applaud and laugh as Dowdeswell, Henry Kim (director and CEO of the Aga Khan Museum) and Fredric Roberts (Fredric Roberts Photography Workshop) make their way to the podium to give their opening remarks.


Goal 10: Reduced Inequality, Aria Noori


Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Reduction, Zeina Alisibai


In 2015, the United Nations released their ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, a blueprint to help achieve a better and more sustainable future for generations to come. Included in this agenda were 17 key goals; ranging from clean water and gender equality to education initiatives.

In that same year Canada and 192 other UN members accepted the plan, in aims of meeting all 17 goals before 2030.


Goal 13: Climate Action, Nusrat Bashar


Four years have passed since the 2030 Agenda launched. Has the world become more sustainable? Perhaps. One thing is for certain – people have become more aware of the urgency of these goals. Today’s reception is just one example. Our Sustainable Future aims to capture each UN goal through the lens of a camera. In partnership with the Aga Khan Museum and the Fredric Roberts Photography Workshop, 20 new-Canadian high school students (who’ve never used a camera) took it upon themselves to introduce the Agenda’s goals through a different medium.


Goal 15: Life on Land, Khaliq Nazari


Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Yana Makhailava


Their journey can be traced back to 2016, when these Toronto students first attended Roberts’ workshop at the Aga Khan Museum. Roberts, a retired Wall St. executive and award-winning photojournalist, has been touring his workshop around the globe for years in hopes of “empowering high school-aged students around the world through photography.”

While it was the third exhibit highlighting the work of Toronto students, it was the first attempt to showcase the UN goals.  “The first thing we tell them is that this is not an art class,” says Roberts.  “We are teaching them to use photography as a language for self-expression, self-confidence and self-empowerment.”


Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, Alim Kuttchi


The first two days of the workshop are dedicated to the technical aspects  of the camera: F-stops, lighting and aperture settings are all taught to the students. “We teach each student how to manually use a camera and how to manually focus – nothing automated,” says Roberts. This is the stage where the students first get their feet wet. The next few days are when their ideas start to take root. “They go right to the camera and within a few hours they’re taking really good pictures – with zero history in photography.”

After the 8 days are completed, Roberts’ students emerge as much more than evolved photographers. “To use the word photo-journalist is too broad, they are using photography as a language for self-expression, self-confidence and self-empowerment, hey are much more than that.” he says.


Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being


Peace and Justice Strong Institutions


Seventeen year-old Aria Noori was one of Roberts’ students, who had five of her photographs displayed at the exhibition. She dedicated her photographs to the initiatives that demonstrated the dichotomy of  “easy to see” yet “easy to ignore.”

As she explains, here in Canada, many take for granted the access we have to privileges like clean drinking water and education. Noori aimed to show that the goals aren’t Canada-specific but are global issues.

“People will see the pictures and say ‘oh maybe we’re not affected by this goal but other people are’,” she says. “Countries cannot work by themselves, we all have to work together and collaborate.”

Out of her five pictures, Noori’s favourite is the one she captured for goal six, ‘Clean Water and Sanitation.’ It shows two hands cupping a small amount of water. The connection between dwindling water supplies and the water slowly seeping through the hands is hard to ignore.

“I didn’t think [this project] would affect me that much but, it changed my mind. Like holding a camera, taking pictures makes me happy. Even if it’s not a good picture,” she says.


Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, Aria Noori


Goal 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal, Zeina Rangwala


The year 2030 is 12 years away and the future of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains unknown. Are the goals achievable in such a short timeframe? It is difficult to predict. The goals are lofty and the territory is vast. However, inspired, collaborative educational presentations such as Our Sustainable Future will continue to build awareness of the Agenda and its goals, driving the general public to push their elected representatives to meet the goal of a more sustainable future.

The future of Our Sustainable Future? Now that’s easier to answer. After it finishes its tour at Queen’s Park, the exhibit will be moved to the Aga Khan Museum in North York, where it will be exposed to a broader audience. The message of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will continue to be spread. From there, Roberts and Kim are looking to the tour the exhibit across Canada. After that, they are hoping to bring it to the global stage, influencing more people in all UN member countries.

– Sabrina Gamrot