Scholar Spotlight - Joelle Weir

University of Toronto Laidlaw Scholar Joelle on her research into the paradox of plenty, and creating change through podcasting.

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Joelle Weir, a Laidlaw Scholar at the University of Toronto, on her research into the paradox of plenty, and creating change through podcasting.

The Paradox of Plenty is a political and economic theory explaining why well-resourced countries have low GDPs and aren’t experiencing the same growth as others thanks to globalization and technology. We often don’t even recognize that some of these well-resourced countries (my research specifically addresses the DRC as one example) were colonized and continue to feel the repercussions of colonization.

Colonization is often seen as a thing of the past but we fail to see how it fits into some aspects of globalization. Conflict over natural resources is what keeps many developing nations outside of our Western bubble from gaining real grounds in governance by stigmatizing them as poor and corrupt - thus, unfit to manage what is rightfully theirs. My paper explores how different aspects of colonization are manifested during significant political periods and concludes that what scholars use to explain poverty (The Paradox of Plenty) is simply a legacy of colonialism. 

Where did your passion for this research originate?

I’ve always had a passion for international development, diplomacy and how things get done. My introduction to this topic was in tenth grade when my class studied world history. We were required to do a research project on geographical regions and the region’s history of diplomacy with America. I presented on Sub-Saharan Africa and how they were very poor and not developing, but it was very surface level and not representative of the whole picture. So, my teacher took me aside to tell me it was a strong project but very interdisciplinary and complex enough to go beyond our 10th grade curriculum. Then, I was reminded of this topic in 12th grade, when my economics teacher gave me a book to read called Confessions of an Economic Hit Man in which John Perkins gives a detailed description of how the U.S. economy preys on developing nations by getting them into debt, never delivering, and then using that debt to gain access to natural resources, politics, social spaces, etc. That was the moment that I knew I wanted to re-do my 10th grade project the right way. 

Podcasting for change

When I took a public speaking class in my senior year of high school, I immediately fell in love with the idea of speaking to and articulating a certain topic to a large number of people. I learnt that I was capable of being an awesome public speaker because of my natural inclination to foster connections with people and share an experience that will encourage growth and education.

My passion for podcasts naturally emerged out of this. Six Feet Apart is a podcast I developed with three of my fellow students because I wanted to talk about how COVID-19 has impacted social and political spaces. We've talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, essential employees, online learning, and much more over the course of the summer and received so much support from our U of T community. 

The project has come to an end because of the start of school; however, I have continued to use my voice and exercise my platform through a new sister podcast called A Future For Us, in which I talk about all things social and environmental journalism. This includes a recent special featuring Canadian journalist Angelyn Francis and American Environmental Justice Professor Malini Ranganathan. I will never stop talking about what I believe in and continue to give Generation Z a platform to reflect and speak out.

Top leadership tips

⚡️ Always find chances to educate yourself on how to speak to people.

⚡️ Articulate your goals to make sure you are on track to go where you want to go.

⚡️ Admit where you’re wrong and learn from it.

⚡️ Don’t compare yourself to other people (via timeline, level of skill, talent, etc.) Everyone goes at their own pace and getting there is winning. NOT getting there the fastest.

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

Being a Laidlaw Scholar means sharing a community with like-minded people who help you to continue learning inside and outside of the classroom.

Which particular leaders inspire you the most and why?

I will always be inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt and how she used her position as First Lady to revolutionize the rights of children, women and minority communities. She recognized that she had a real responsibility to initiate the change she wanted to see in the world and nobody had to tell her to do it. Roosevelt was a very pubic figure who knew how to use her platform to give others a voice and I strive to take initiative like her and start using my voice more. 

When we think of leaders, we think of older and more historical figures but we have some awesome 21st century leaders who are even in the same generation as us! Case in point - Malala Yousafzai. I remember reading her book for 9th grade English class and thinking about how much I took my education for granted. It made me realize that education isn’t just a term we use for learning in school: it’s a mindset. I completely changed my thinking about what I could be and how I could help others by empowering and educating them, starting with myself.

Getting ready to indoor skydive at iFly in Conneticut

Describe a scene from the future you are striving to create:

I invision a future in which we realize that education goes above and beyond school and professions. It’s a lifelong tool that we can use for personal development, fostering relationships, spreading awareness, and pursuing goals. Education is something that we must not take for granted because we can harness it to create A Future for Us ;) <-- also the title of my new podcast show.


Quick-fire Questions

📺 Currently binging: The Boys on Amazon Prime *chef’s kiss*; The Toast of London - a really funny British show.

The Boys (TV Series 2019– ) - IMDb.     Toast of London (TV Series 2012– ) - IMDb

🎵 My quarantine anthem: Wouldn’t It Be Nice - The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys - Wouldn't It Be Nice (1966, Vinyl) | Discogs

📚 My top book recommendation: The Florios of Sicily by Stefania Auci

Amazon.com: The Florios of Sicily: A Novel (9780062931672): Auci, Stefania:  Books

🎧 Podcast obsession: Six Feet Apart & A Future for Us. Both Available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Six Feet Apart is a podcast I’ve been working on ALL SUMMER about how COVID-19 has impacted social and political spaces. Check it out!

Six Feet Apart     

🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: General Tso’s Tofu.


Joelle is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholar at the University of Toronto. The programme uniquely funds both undergraduate research and leadership development, and aims to develop a new generation of leaders who are skilled researchers, embrace data-based decision making, and believe it is a moral imperative to lead with integrity. 

Find out more about the Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship.

Nikol Chen (she/her)

Digital Content Manager, Laidlaw Foundation

Hello! My name is Nikol and I look after the Laidlaw Scholars Network.

I am originally from Kazakhstan and I studied Human Sciences at UCL. My final research explored the potential effects of design on patient wellbeing in hospitals, and I also took modules such as Ethnographic Documentary Filmmaking, Anthropology of the Built Environment, Art in the Public Sphere, and other less interesting-sounding things :)

Drop me a line if you have any questions about the site, or if you'd just like to chat! I am always down to meet interesting people, so let's get [virtual] coffee ☕️

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