Sara Austin (BA Honours in IDS and Women’s Studies, 1998),
Founder of Children First Canada and Chief Executive Director of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, Calgary
Sara Austin is passionate about lifting children out of poverty and addressing issues of violence against children.
“Those two issues have been at the forefront of my career,” says Austin.
From 1998 to 2015, Austin worked with World Vision. Austin held several positions in her 17 years with the organization, including child rights intern in Thailand and director of the president’s office in Canada.
Working in the charitable sector for 20 years, Austin says she was “dismayed by the lack of progress for kids in our own country.” So, in 2015, Austin founded the non-profit organization Children First Canada. Austin also acts as the lead director on the board of directors.
Austin says the mandate of Children First Canada is centred on the “vision of making Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up.” The organization focuses on raising public awareness and lobbying the federal government on issues of child wellbeing.
In 2017, Austin was appointed the CEO of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre (SKCAC) in Calgary, Alberta. The SKCAC responds to issues of child abuse, provides support and raises awareness to combat the stigma surrounding abuse.
I saw an opportunity to use my international experience to help kids in our own country and to really galvanize action at a community and national level.
For Austin, the most rewarding part of her career is “the opportunity to make the difference in the lives of kids. Not only in my own community, but across the country.”
“I saw an opportunity to use my international experience to help kids in our own country and to really galvanize action at a community and national level.”
Austin grew up in Toronto, but moved to Halifax to study at Dalhousie University. She started her undergraduate studies in 1994.
“My experience at Dalhousie was amazing,” says Austin. “I’m a huge Dalhousie fan.”
Whether it was getting involved in the student union or studying abroad in Cuba, Austin says the IDS program provided her an opportunity to “not only gain academic knowledge, but gain practical experience.”
That combination of passion and skills is the sweet spot where you can really have an influence.
Austin advises students in the program to combine their skills and passions.
“That combination of passion and skills is the sweet spot where you can really have an influence,” says Austin.
Austin graduated from Dalhousie University in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in International Development Studies and Women’s Studies. In 2006, she received a Master of Studies in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford in England.
I have been able to apply my academic training and knowledge to improve the lives of kids here in our own country
In 2014, Austin spoke at the United Nations when a law she designed went into force. Called the “Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure,” the law allows children to file complaints against their governments when their rights are denied.
While Austin does not currently work overseas, she says the same principles she learned in the International Development Studies program directly apply to her work within Canada.
“I have been able to apply my academic training and knowledge to improve the lives of kids here in our own country,” says Austin.
For Austin, the biggest takeaway from her International Development Studies degree was to translate what she had learned into action.
“Don’t just do research that sits on the shelf,” says Austin. “It has to jump off the page.”
“That has really followed me throughout my career.”
Don’t just do research that sits on the shelf. It has to jump off the page