Impact Stories

Celebrating the trailblazers of the Public Policy Institute Class of 2023

The Public Policy Institute (PPI) Class of 2023 embarked on a transformative journey in January to acquire the knowledge, skills and vision needed to shape the future of public policy and create positive change in our communities

Congratulations to the Public Policy Institute (PPI) class of 2023 as these ambitious and inspiring changemakers deepened their understanding of how to influence the public policy process.

The Public Policy Institute at United Way British Columbia has long been recognized as a hub of excellence in public policy education. By combining theoretical knowledge with practical experience, the Institute equips non-profit leaders with the tools necessary to navigate complex policy landscapes and effect systemic change.

The Public Policy Institute Grad Class of 2023 and faculty pictured on June 22, 2023

One of the hallmarks of the Public Policy Institute is its commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive learning environment. The 2023 class is a shining example of this principle, representing a rich tapestry of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.

A diverse range of topics were represented in this year’s cohort, including seniors, food access, healthcare, immigration, animal protection and mental health, to name a few.

The year 2023 brought its own unique set of challenges. The rising cost of living is resulting in increased demand for non-profit services.

Our society needs compassionate leaders and forward-thinking policymakers now more than ever. The graduating class of 2023 is armed with an array of new skills, including policy and research analysis, stakeholder engagement and understanding implementation, monitoring and evaluation processes.

Dedicated public servant helps to pioneer change

Former BC NDP leader and finance minister Carole James is the faculty lead at the Public Policy Institute. With over 30 years of experience in BC politics, James brings a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to the Institute.

“I think I remind people about how many public policy issues come to the table of a decision maker. Certainly, in my experience as finance minister, there were hundreds of thousands of proposals that would come forward,” Carole says.

“You really need to be able to talk to decision makers about why your issue is important, why your issue should come to the top of the pile, and whether it’s municipal or Indigenous or provincial or federal governments, why they should look at your issue, and how it may help them with something that the public is struggling with.”

Former BC NDP leader and finance minister Carole James is pictured speaking at United Way BC’s Public Policy Institute

Carole says one of the biggest takeaways is that students often gain valuable insights from each other, not only the instructors.

“The big surprise often is how much they learn from each other and how much support they can give each other. They just don’t have time to make those connections and the Institute gives them a chance to do that,” Carole says.

Participants bring their policy idea to the Institute in January, and six months later, they’re ready to present their proposal to policymakers.

“Hopefully you’ve gained some confidence to be able to feel comfortable in taking your issue forward and have some tools to help others recognize how important your policy issue is,” Carole says.

We thank Carole James for educating graduates on how to possess the power to address some of society’s most pressing challenges head-on and shape the future of public policy.

Ida Goodreau Alumni Award Winner

Ida Goodreau was a formidable force for the Public Policy Institute as a faculty member and the non-profit sector as a leader. PPI wanted to honour her legacy by naming an award in her honour by establishing the Ida Goodreau Alumni Award. 

This year, PPI is honouring Erin O’Melinn, the Executive Director of Hub Cycling. Erin played an integral leadership role in gaining government support for universally accessible school cycling education in BC. Erin graduated from the Public Policy Institute in 2014.

Hub Cycling Executive Director Erin O’Melinn is pictured at Go by Bike Week

At the time, the “Bike Right” initiative did not have any public funding and awareness was low. HUB Cycling and its partners have since reached over 21,000 students in over 200 schools with transportation cycling education, including in-class and on bike training. Funding exceeds $500,000 annually from the Province of BC.

Erin credits the Public Policy Institute for equipping her with the tools needed to take the policy proposal to the next level.

Erin learned to tailor the “Bike Right” proposal to help meet the province’s climate change goals, as cycling is a sustainable mode of transportation, with benefits around health, affordability, equity, and access.

“It’s the long game. Policy change and programming change at a broad level takes time and patience, and that’s what they told us in the Public Policy Institute is you’re going to be putting in a lot of hard work and shaping things, developing them, making collaborative relationships, relationships with government, and you may not feel progress, but once you get it shelf ready and a political window opens, then it’ll be ready to push through the window,” Erin says.

BC’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Rob Fleming, is pictured at a “Bike Right” cycling education class

“Because we could relate it to climate, they had that funding available, and because we can relate it to education and affordability, that helps them free up funding to allow these programs to run, and so it was progressive,” Erin says.

Erin says she is grateful to be acknowledged by the Public Policy Institute and to receive such an award.

“It’s important to celebrate successes. I think we work so hard in the nonprofit sector and we’re always pushing to do better, and I think we do also need to stop and appreciate the progress that is being made,” Erin says.

Public Policy Institute Faculty Lead Carole James is pictured with Ida Goodreau award winner Erin O’Melinn

Partners foster lasting impact

Since its inception, Public Policy Institute participants have benefitted from the first-class facilities and support provided by UBC Robson Square, in partnership with UBC Community Engagement, but UBC brings more to the partnership than just a full-service classroom experience. They also provide support to our non-profit partners, making it easier for them to connect with UBC resources and people that can help support their work as they transition out of the Institute.  

This year, PPI participants also met with staff from the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs to learn more about their MPPGA Global Policy Project. Some PPI students expressed interest in applying to work with Masters students who can support them with the public policy challenges their organizations are facing.

Special thanks to Earnscliffe Strategies for returning as a supporting sponsor of the Institute. We appreciate your ongoing commitment to the program and for sharing your experience with our participants.   

From all of us at United Way BC, thank you to our sponsors for helping make positive social change possible in communities across BC.

What’s next?

Once again, congratulations to the remarkable individuals of the 2023 class of the Public Policy Institute at United Way British Columbia. The work you do is vital, and the future is bright with you at the helm.

PPI is excited to welcome the new 2024 cohort and will be accepting applications by aspiring changemakers soon. To learn more about the program, visit: Public Policy Institute | United Way British Columbia (