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Unsubscribing from neutrality: The On Canada Project

An interview with founder and editor-in-chief Samanta Krishnapillai.

January 10, 2023

6-minute read

Our Schools / Our Selves (OS/OS): Can you tell our readers about the On Canada Project?

Samanta Krishnapillai (SK): We are an independent Canadian media source with over 170K followers that launched in June 2020. We use a warm and witty tone to invite more Canadians into critical conversations about the future of our country and world.

At its heart, the On Canada Project is a love letter to the Canada – and the world – we all deserve to live in.

Our ultimate goal is collective liberation - but that isn’t possible without disrupting the status quo which centers white supremacy, capitalism, the patriarchy, and other systems of oppression.

We believe that the first step to disrupting the status quo is making sure we can all participate in conversations about the future of our country and world. We know that knowledge is power and our goal is to put the power back in your hands - Because remember, an informed demographic is a mobilized one! You shouldn’t need a PhD to engage in conversations about the future of our country – it’s going to take all of us. So we leverage credible sources, lived experiences and experts, and pair this with a decolonial mindset.

That’s really what we’re trying to do here at OCP; trying to bridge information gaps and invite more people into conversations by using a conversational and compassionate tone to bring a credible and critical lens to the issues that matter the most right now.

OS/OS: Why did you start? Who contributes?

SK: In May 2020, I felt frustrated with the lack of pandemic communication that centred systemic inequities and marginalized communities. Where were the strategies for what to do if you lived in a multigenerational apartment or shared a bedroom? If you were an essential worker – like at a grocery store -- how were you supposed to keep safe?

With a few friends and collaborators, we did an open call on the internet to ask for volunteers to help unpack issues of public health so that everyone had the information they needed to make informed decisions. The On Canada Project was officially launched on June 1, 2020.

Since then we’ve had over 500 volunteers rotate in and out of our team, offering their insights, lived experience, and creativity to the work we’re doing. Now, as we transition from passion project to social enterprise, our team is smaller but still includes some of the most incredible people you’ll ever meet.

Our teams – including our writing team – are 85-90% from marginalized communities. When we create something for a client as part of our consulting work, we work hard to ensure that 80% of our staff on these projects are from marginalized communities, particularly QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour).

OS/OS: Who are your key audiences? Is that changing?

SK: If you care about human rights, and are open to learning and unlearning, the work we do is perfect for you. Our social media focuses on Millennials and Gen Z - our tone of writing on Instagram reflects that – but we have a growing Gen X and Baby Boomer community too! The work we do off social media -- including OCP Learns – is directed at all generations.

OS/OS: Why do you think your audience has grown as quickly as it has? What are you responding to that others haven't?

SK: We have consciously unsubscribed from neutrality – because you cannot be neutral when you talk about human rights – - which allows us to bring warmth, wit and nuance into critical discussions about human rights, justice and collective liberation. We use pop culture, nostalgia for Millennials and Gen Z and trends to bring humour and relevance to what we’re talking about.

We take a community approach to the work we do. While we aren’t experts on the issues we talk about, we are expert compassionate communicators. So we leverage our community to find leaders, people with lived experiences, experts, etc to support our work, do instagram LIVES with us, and collaborate with. We also believe in community over competition - so we amplify other creators or leaders with smaller followings than us because when we rise we want to lift others too.

OS/OS: What have you learned over the course of this work? (you can include mistakes you've learned from -- and what you've done/changed as a result -- or what you've learned from your audiences)

SK: I have a long list of mistakes I've made and lessons learnt on my phones Notes app. The lesson that’s made the biggest impact on us is: just because an issue is sticky or uncomfortable to tackle, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed.

OS/OS: What issues seem to be resonating most with your audiences?

SK: Indigenous justice, dismantling white supremacy, far right radicalization -and how to combat it, and the future of work

OS/OS: Do you see the On Canada Project as popular education – building and promoting civic and social literacy and engagement?

SK: The On Canada Project has two major arms -- the social media content people see on our social media, and a consulting arm that is publicly launching in early 2023. Our consulting arm is paid work do, both off social media and on it and we’ve been really fortunate to have worked with a number of partners, including on one of our newest offerings, OCP LEARNS.

OS/OS: How do you see the On Canada Project evolving/growing?

SK: My business partner, Gina Uppal who joined OCP in June 2021, and I have an idea of where I want the On Canada Project to go: tv shows, documentaries, masterclass-like platform for bite-sized videos that allow you to unlearn, an annual summit and activations in between But more importantly, we know what we want the On Canada Project to represent.

We want people to unsubscribe from neutrality with us when discussing human rights. We want to normalize solidarity with communities people aren’t personally part of. We want people to stop thinking about the ways things have always been done and start coming up with innovative and inclusive solutions. And we want to do all of this while centring marginalized folks, co-creating with community and always remembering that our individual and organization unlearning journeys are ongoing too -- meaning there is always room for improvement, growth, knowing better and doing better.

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