Matthew Cimone (Class of 2006): Global Connections

Matthew Cimone

Looking for global connection

For Matthew Cimone, at the heart of international development is connection. He has always dreamed of bringing the unknown closer, starting with his childhood ambition of becoming an astronaut. When his vision prevented him from reaching space, the IDS co-op program presented another opportunity to bring the world closer.

“My first day of class was the day the World Trade Centre towers came down,” recalls Matthew. “I sat in International Studies class and everyone was silent. At that point we didn’t know how many people had died, but we did know that it wasn’t an accident, that the US was under attack. The professor scrapped his lesson plan and we discussed why we thought this was happening. I knew I was in the right place.”

Matthew Cimone with Right to Pay coaches in Sierra Leone

Matthew (front, second from left) poses with Right to Place coaches during his IDS Co-op placement in Sierra Leone (2005).

Grassroots leadership

Being on placement with Right to Play in Sierra Leone helped Matthew connect what he learned in IDS classes, such as Project Management, with reality. His role was to coordinate programs for children affected by the country’s civil war. In Freetown, he discovered community leaders who were already running programs for these affected kids. All he had to do was help them add sports and physical activity. The realization that some of the best work in international development was being done by local leaders, not by international organizations, has become a major part of Matthew’s current work.

A similar realization emerged as he completed his thesis, a requirement for graduation from the IDS co-op program. Matthew looked at how Canadian youth get involved with international development issues. He found that young Canadians need to have ownership over their own projects locally to really feel engaged, and for that engagement with global issues to last.

Matthew Cimone in Sierra Leone

Matthew and Esther, the namesake of Matthew's latest initiative, Esther's Echo (Sierra Leone, 2011).

Connecting others with development

After graduating, Matthew set his sights on helping others connect with global issues in a meaningful way. He served as Goodwill Youth Ambassador for the United Nations Office for Sport for Development and Peace as a direct result of his IDS co-op placement with Right to Play. As a youth speaker for the Canadian International Development Agency and Free the Children, he reached over 40,000 students in 100 schools across Canada with a message about community development and social change.

Esther’s Echo and Esther’s Arts are Matthew’s latest initiatives to help inspire community-led development. Matthew met Esther Kanu, an entrepreneur and artisan, while on his IDS co-op placement in Sierra Leone. She makes beautiful textiles and uses the funds to support a school she established for war-affected children. Matthew saw an opportunity to connect Esther with a larger market for her textiles, while at the same time allowing Canadians to make direct financial contributions to small-scale entrepreneurs in developing countries using information technology. Albert Berry, one of Matthew’s professors from the IDS program, now sits on the organization’s Board of Directors.

Matthew Cimone at the Smithsonian

Matthew (second from right) poses with the rest of the Chasing Atlantis team in front of shuttle "Enterprise" at the Smithsonian for the space shuttle launch (2011).

The world from space

As if there wasn’t enough on his plate, next January, Matthew will start a Master’s degree in the University of Victoria’s International Community Development program. Matthew hasn’t abandoned his connection with space either. Last year, what started out as a road trip with some friends to see the launch of the last space shuttle turned into an “accidental documentary” called Chasing Atlantis. This project helped him describe how his two passions – space and global citizenship – are connected:

“When you’re in orbit around the planet and you look towards the earth, you can’t see borders or separations between peoples. But you can see the environmental damage caused by war and conflict,” says Matthew. “And when you look the other way, into the galaxy, you also see that our planet is unique. There’s not really another place for us to go. It should make us consider how we treat the planet and one another.”

Profile written by Kate Jongbloed (Class of 2008)