Zoe Todd

Top 40 Under 40 2010

Photography Constantine Tanasiuk

Age: 27

Job Title: PhD candidate, University of Aberdeen

Why She’s A Top 40: She has raised more than $48,000 for social causes and research in the last four years, organized volunteers for local causes and is an advocate for Aboriginal rights.

Key To Her Success: She is “pedal power” personified and combines persistent volunteerism with academic smarts to fight for causes she believes in.

In the heyday of Klein government cutbacks, circa 1994, 11-year-old Zoe Todd stood on the crowded steps of the Alberta legislature with her mother, protesting health-care cuts.

“I remember asking my parents what happens when social services are cut? What does it mean for people like us?” she recalls. “That really instilled in me a sense of questioning what went on around me and being aware of how people are impacted by bigger forces, like government.”

It was a formative experience in her evolution as a social rights advocate. At 17, Todd began attending the Seminar on the United Nations and International Affairs (SUNIA), a program run for top Alberta students at the Goldeye Centre in Nordegg. Among the youth mentored through the program, some have gone on to Ivy League universities, others to work at the UN. In 2005, Todd became SUNIA’s co-director, helping to organize speakers and provide seminars and workshops for students.

After her time with SUNIA, Todd continued to develop her diplomatic skills by working as constituency assistant to MLA Raj Pannu in 2006. In 2009, she led a campaign for the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society calling for bicycle transportation plans to be updated.

Todd is also a successful fundraiser. In all, over the last four years, she has raised nearly $50,000 for various social issues, including Aboriginal research and cycling advocacy. It’s this kind of determination that earned her notice as a contestant in the 2007 CBC show Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister.

Coming from a Metis heritage, Todd is sensitive to social inequalities. “I’m Aboriginal, so I am interested in the Aboriginal experience. Part of being Aboriginal is being able to trace your roots.”

That interest inspired her to do graduate research on the impacts of oil and gas development on northern Aboriginal communities. This fall, she moved to Aberdeen, Scotland, to pursue her Ph.D studies. She had to sell her beloved bike to help finance the venture – but before even getting to her new home, she had already found a loaner bike and a local cycling advocacy group.

Though unsure about her career aspirations beyond her doctorate, Todd says she plans to return to Edmonton and pick up where she left off. “Edmonton has the second-largest urban Aboriginal population in Canada and I’m curious about how [we] can make sure Aboriginal people are a part of the city rather than considered as a problem,” she says. “I think there’s more we can do to address our roots.”

If 11-year-old Zoe could see herself today, she would smile, knowing the future is in good hands.

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