Maggie MacDonnell grew up in rural Nova Scotia and after completing her Bachelors degree, spent five years volunteering and working in Sub Saharan Africa, largely in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention. After completing her Masters degree she found her country was beginning to wake up to the decades of abuse that Canadian Indigenous people have lived through, including assaults on the environment and enormous economic and social inequality.As such, she sought out opportunities to teach indigenous communities in Canada and for the last six years has been a teacher in a fly-in Inuit village called Salluit, nestled in the Canadian Arctic. This is home to the second northernmost Inuit community in Quebec, with a population of just over 1,300 – it cannot be reached by road, only by air. In winter temperatures are minus 25C. There were six suicides in 2015, all affecting young males between the ages of 18 and 25.

Due to the harsh conditions, there are very high rates of teacher turnover which is a significant barrier to education in the Arctic. Many teachers leave their post midway through the year, and many apply for stress leave. Her current school has no Principal as he left after six weeks on stress leave.

There are tremendous gender issues in the Inuit region of Nunavik where teenage pregnancies are common, high levels of sexual abuse exist, and gender roles often burden young girls with large domestic duties. Maggie, therefore, created a life skills program specifically for girls which has seen a 500 percent improvement in girls’ registration in life skills programs that were formerly dominated by boys. This includes securing over $30,000 in funding to prepare hot meals for the community. She also created a partnership with the daycare center where her students would work in the classrooms with experienced day care workers. They would gain valuable on the job mentorship and improve their understanding of early childhood education. Maggie also secured over $20,000 for an in-school nutrition program where students prepare healthy snacks for their fellow students.

Also, in areas of high deprivation, isolation and limited resources, teenagers often turn to drinking and smoking, even drugs and self-harm, as forms of escape and release. She, therefore, quickly established a fitness center which has become a hub for youth and adults in the local community who are embracing a healthier lifestyle. It is relieving stress, helping young people grow stronger physically and mentally.

Maggie’s whole approach has been about turning students from “problems” to “solutions” through initiatives such as “acts of kindness” which has dramatically improved school attendance. In addition, her students, despite their own challenges, have fundraised over $37,000 for Diabetes Prevention. Maggie has also been a temporary foster parent in the community, including to some of her own students.

In 2017, Maggie won the prestigious $1 million Global Teacher Prize from the Varkey Foundtion in recognition of her work in Salluit. She was chosen from among 20,000 initial nomination and applications from 179 countries.




As an educator in a community that has experienced decades of abuse, including assaults on the environment and enormous economic and social inequality, Maggie MacDonnell sought out opportunities to teach indigenous communities in Canada in order to pay it forward and make a difference. With a teaching approach centered upon turning students from "problems" to "solutions" through "acts of kindness", Maggie has dramatically improved school attendance. Learn many lessons on ways to encourage student participation and attendance rates, re-engage with local communities, and create empathy for communities of people that often struggle with a lack of resources.


In this talk, Maggie shares her journey as a teacher for seven years with an Intuit Indigenous community in Kuujjuaq, a village in Nunavik, an area with many social challenges in Northern Quebec. Her inspirational stories recount her efforts to improve school attendance levels and help reduce violence and substance abuse amongst the youth. Her examples include encouraging students to work in community kitchens attending suicide prevention training and hiking through national parks to understand environmental stewardship.


From the palm trees of Eastern Africa to the tundra of Northern Canada, Maggie MacDonnell has developed sport and recreation programs for such diverse populations as Congolese refugees to Inuit youth. With a strong belief that physical activity is a tool to cultivate resilience in high-stress, low-resource environments, Maggie shares her research and experiences in play based peace-building curriculum, including how to build safe play spaces, camp-wide teacher training, and the implementation of inclusive play programs for girls, women and children with disabilities. She will also guide audiences through the use of sport as a tool in challenging and transforming gender relations.

You have done extraordinary things in exceptional circumstances and have showed enormous heart, will and imagination.
— Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau