Leah Shannon: Manager, People’s Programs at Affirm

Posted: 08 February 2022

Leah Shannon, a manager at People’s Programs, graduated from Lower Canada College in 2006. LCC is a K12, coeducational school located in Montreal, Quebec.

Reflecting on her career path and choices since leaving school, Leah believes that it was only when she was at university that she realised how different her education had been compared to those of her peers. It was these differences that she believes provided her with the lenses that have informed her approach as she builds healthy, inclusive, and diverse communities in her work. As she aims to build and evolve the company culture, it is important to her that there is a strong sense of belonging. She is purposeful and strategic in her approach to creating inclusive experiences that are “delightful, surprising and supportive” to employees, much like those experiences she had at school.

Leah shares that when she was growing up, she was not aware of the inclusive and holistic nature of her education. “I don’t think I realized it until I got to university where I met people from different types of school settings. I realized that my opportunities were unique.”

She shares that being in a classroom with people from different backgrounds enriched her appreciation of multiple perspectives. Diversity “brought a different lens to history or physics, or whatever subject we might be studying. It’s the exposure and the cultural sharing that you get that is very different to some other schools.”

Much later, during her postgraduate studies in Global Health Science at Oxford University, she was surprised by comments from her peers who marvelled that at the differences between British and American cultures. Two cultures that she felt had more in common than most. “It was really interesting to hear someone in their mid-twenties just experiencing that cultural difference now. There’s just so many ways that people and societies operate. Cultures can be much more different, matriarchal, or perhaps more communal.” Leah reflected that at school there were always opportunities to meet people from different contexts and cultures. It was these encounters that supported cultural sharing and are ones that Leah feels very lucky to have experienced at a young age.

Leah’s insightful approach to cultural diversity was developed through experience. Early opportunities to travel awakened her passion for global health. Through her experiences with Round Square, in particular her participation in an international conference in South Africa, she felt encouraged to broaden her worldview and open her mind to the possibilities of “thinking beyond” her immediate environment. “I feel very lucky that I had those opportunities throughout my educational experience,” she adds.

Attending the Round Square Conference in South Africa was inspirational for Leah. Upon her return, she, and another attendee, began fundraising, volunteering, and raising awareness for HIV and AIDS. They connected with the Stephen Lewis Foundation, “a progressive, feminist organization rooted in the principles of social justice, international solidarity, and substantive equality. The SLF was created with the express purpose of supporting community-based organizations working on the frontlines of the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Leah’s experiences with the projects motivated her to learn more. Her volunteer work led her to choose an undergraduate degree in Global Development and Health Studies, which she quickly followed with a Master of Science in Global Health. It was during her postgraduate studies that she spent time in Mali and Kenya, continuing her research into HIV and AIDS and Health Programming.

New adventures and challenges do not phase Leah. In fact, she believes that Curiosity and Independence are the two Round Square Discoveries that continue to guide her choices in life.

“I’m open to whatever else is out there! I want to keep learning and doing things differently – and question things. I think that independence teaches you to get involved and try new things, it develops your self-confidence. Because I’ve done things on my own before, I feel competent in my ability to navigate traveling on my own, to live in new cities and take on new jobs.”

Connecting with people, something that Leah calls, “growing roots in different directions”, is important to Leah; she believes that a schooling focused on experiential education encouraged her to seek out and value connections beyond her academics.

“I do think that being involved with Round Square is a pretty unique opportunity. There is a need for more understanding in the world and going beyond the academics, to the values needed to be well-rounded, is so important.”  

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