Patrick Canagasingham, COO (Chief Operating Officer), Habibat for Humanity International

I consider myself very fortunate to have been selected to pursue the MA, Human Rights, when it was first introduced in 1995. Having immensely benefited from the interdisciplinary nature of the programme, upon graduation, I gained practical and leadership experience with humanitarian non-governmental organizations in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.

I have held a strong passion for human rights since I was a young boy. I was born and raised in Sri Lanka, and I mention this because living in Sri Lanka helped shape what I wanted to do in my life. Growing up, I experienced the challenges that came with living in a part of a world that was no stranger to poverty and conflict. My father was a public servant who worked hard to serve his community, and he impressed upon us at a young age a strong call to service. When he passed, it was up to my mother, who was a young child bride and then became a young widow, to raise me and my siblings. It was during this time that I was exposed to a very different world that included gender inequalities and disparities. It was a truly eye-opening experience for me, and it inspired my passion for human rights. When my family and I arrived in Canada in the late 80s, I made a commitment to myself to work in a sector or industry that would positively impact people and communities. As I’ve navigated and advanced in my career working with organisations such as World Vision Canada, Children Believe, and now Habitat for Humanity, my passion for human rights and advocacy has only grown stronger and deeper.

I had a deep desire to be a change agent and I knew I wanted to focus my career on social issues, primarily around human rights. I attended York University in Toronto and graduated with a degree in political science, but I realised that if I wanted to pursue this passion, I had to do more. I needed to specialise and ground myself in the academic side of social issues and human rights. I looked for programmes in Canada as well as in the United States, and while there were related programs, they weren’t specific to human rights. I later heard about this new programme at the University of London, the MA Understanding and Securing Human Rights, and after learning about the programme and its curriculum, I was convinced that this was the programme I needed. I was impressed with the University’s rich history, high reputation and strong alumni, and I knew that was where I was meant to be.

I found the MA extremely useful. The interdisciplinary nature of the programme stretched me intellectually with regard to human rights issues. The programme made it a point to engage practitioners within the field of human rights to contribute in very pragmatic ways, such as leading and participating in lectures or providing input to help shape the curriculum. Having the opportunity to engage with colleagues who shared the same passion I had, as well as learning from those who were in the field day in and day out, really helped shape my personal and professional goals.

Read the full interview here.