In April, Allison Furniss learned she was named as one of the 2020 scholars to receive a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholarship that aims to train leaders through mentorships, collaborations and project initiatives. (Submitted)

Yukoner named as Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholar

Allison Furniss pursuing PhD studies in Cape Town, South Africa

For Allison Furniss, it seemed like a long shot.

At the same time, being one of only 16 per year to receive a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholarship meant a plethora of opportunities for her as she pursues her PhD studies in sociology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. So even if it was a long shot, it was one that seemed worth taking.

In April, Furniss learned she was named as one of the 2020 scholars in the three-year leadership program that aims to train leaders through mentorships, collaborations and project initiatives. It’s a process where applicants have to first be selected by their university and then be shortlisted by the foundation. Interviews with those selected are then conducted and the list is narrowed further until the 16 scholars are selected.

It was a huge surprise and an honour when she learned she would be among the 16 to receive a scholarship this year, Furniss said in a May 25 interview from Cape Town, where she is wrapping up her master’s degree in sociology at the University of Cape Town. Her PhD will be building on the research work she did for her master’s in justice and transformation, focusing on expressions of resistance among female coltan miners in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

She did research — specifically using ethnographic and feminist epistemologies methods — aimed at gaining a better understanding of the production chain for digital technology and wants to continue her work looking at the micro-politics of mining through a gendered lens.

“I think there’s a huge gap,” she said of the sociology research focused on mining.

She plans to return to the eastern DRC to continue that research for her PhD in the next year or so, depending on restrictions around COVID-19, as part of her program includes a year of fieldwork.

While her focus right now is on that research and beginning her PhD, Furniss is aiming to eventually work in international human rights advocacy.

For now though, Furniss is focused on her studies and the programming through the three-year scholarship.

As Furniss noted, in the coming weeks foundation scholars like herself are set to begin leadership training and a mentorship with previous scholars and others.

While it will all happen virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, typically there’d be a number of events she would attend to meet in-person with her colleagues.

Scholars receive up to $40,000 each year for three years to cover tuition and living expenses along with another up to $20,000 each year for research and travel expenses.

In taking on the scholarship, scholars commit to attending foundation events such as the Institutes of Engaged Leadership and Retreats in their first year, planning and taking part in a conference in their second year, and working on a creative project with other foundation scholars, mentors and fellows in their third year along with volunteer service throughout the program.

Furniss said she’s excited about the opportunities to work with and learn from others who have benefited from the scholarship.

In 2018, Furniss received the Rotary Club’s global grant scholarship, which allowed her to pursue her master’s studies. It was during that work that she realized she wanted to continue pursuing her research through a PhD.

Her interest in the University of Cape Town goes back to the four years she spent working in Tanzania and Namibia in leading initiatives focused on sport for social change. Through that, she was able to visit Cape Town and fell in love with the city as well as the university.

Attending Cape Town University was soon a goal for Furniss that she’s now achieving.

“It’s an incredible university,” she said highlighting the accomplishments of many of the lecturers at the school.

Some sit on United Nations councils, another helped write the South African constitution, and the list goes on.

Along with her work in South Africa, Furniss worked in Whitehorse as BYTE’s outreach coordinator and as what was then Yukon College’s (now Yukon University) student engagement coordinator.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at