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From Science to Social Justice

Louise Adongo (MSc’04) discusses the importance of connection while reflecting on her years on campus
By: Alexandra Montana

Louise Adongo was prepared to embrace the unknown when she moved to Canada to study at Mount Allison.

“I still remember Dr. Ireland picking me up at the Moncton airport,” she says. “I was wearing a down jacket on September 8 and everyone was thinking ‘you’re going to freeze come winter.’ But on the opposite side of the hemisphere, it was the height of summer.”

Originally from Nairobi, Kenya, Adongo relocated to Gaborone, Botswana with her family, where she pursued a Bachelor of Science at the University of Botswana. It was during this time that she developed a keen interest in biochemistry. While contemplating furthering her education abroad, Adongo hoped for the opportunity to study in North America, where her siblings had settled.

As luck would have it, her undergraduate work on orchids caught the interest of Dr. Robert Ireland, professor emeritus of biology and biochemistry, which led to her pursuing her master’s degree at Mount Allison. It was while here that she realized her deeper passion was for understanding how the field of biology and biochemistry impacts people’s lives.

“The gift of that degree was that it contextualized my life experience and what I was interested in doing for work,” she says.

Adongo graduated from Mount Allison with a Master of Science in biochemistry in 2004 and a Master of Applied Health Services Research (MAHSR) from Dalhousie University in 2009. Learning about the social determinants of health and having an interdisciplinary background in both science and health helped set the stage for her career.

“It’s in the DNA of our family to use what we have to give back and to be community oriented in our work,” she says.

Adongo worked for the Province of Nova Scotia in various roles involving community volunteers and reforming rigid structures before transitioning her career towards community development, changing systems, and centering equity.

In 2021, Adongo was hired as executive director at Inspiring Communities, a non-profit based in Nova Scotia that advocates for equity-focused systemic change in Atlantic Canada.

“It was after the pandemic had started, after the racial reckoning of June 2020, and during a time when people were starting to understand the potential catastrophic impacts of climate change,” she says. “All of a sudden, social purpose organizations had to become social justice organizations and climate organizations and really understand how a pandemic would impact not only an organization’s staff but also the communities we’re working in.”

The organization’s aim is to use systems change and social innovation tools to support community members as individuals, or as cohorts, to create options and solve systemic issues. Their goal is to build equitable, thriving communities by creating collaborative partnerships.

“Anyone can be a change maker,” Adongo says. “We know it takes a lot of courage to step forward and say ‘I'm not just noticing that something is wrong. I want to do something about it’ — but we want people to know that if that's you, then Inspiring Communities is interested in hearing from you. We want to work with you to do something about the things that we know are not working.”

Adongo says that the social connections and experiences she had at Mount Allison, knowing she had strong relationships and people to rely on, helped her feel less alone while being away from home. She really appreciated the University’s small size and tight-knit community and fondly remembers being invited to George’s Roadhouse by a friend.

“I was often the only person of colour in certain contexts, but it still was magical, and it meant something to me that a friend invited me to have that experience,” she says.

She’s still glad to be part of the Mount Allison family and to have had the unique experience of attending university in a small town.

“Meeting other alumni, even if we weren’t there at the same time, creates immediate understanding of each other from that connection to Mount Allison,” she says. “It’s really powerful and reinforces the importance of shared experiences.”