Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning: Creating Equitable Knowledge Mobilization Between the Global South and North

Gina Antonacci
Member Spotlight

In 2022, Humber College launched the Bhutan Education and Skills Training (BEST) project, a five-year, $4.8 million (CND) initiative funded through the Government of Canada to support the reformation of the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system in Bhutan’s technical training institutions. The project unites Humber College, Bhutan’s Ministry of Education and Skills Development, 10 national TVET institutions across Bhutan, the private sector, and local civil society organizations. The project is focused on building institutional capacity to support students who are often marginalized, such as women, low-income families, and individuals with disabilities.

Humber follows an end-to-end approach in its international development work, with projects focusing on equitable access to higher education and skills training, completion of training with industry-relevant skill sets, and successful transition to employment through entrepreneurship or jobs in the industry, with the goal of equitable education for all.

Changing the Role of Postsecondary Institutions in International Development

International development relies on the expertise of specialists from multiple sectors and professional fields; however, Humber has been working to change the way academic institutions can be dynamic partners that engage in projects through a comprehensive and equitable lens. Historically, international development has inadvertently formed one-way relationships when delivering capacity building from the “knower” in the Global North to the “learner” in the Global South. Through the BEST project, Humber and partners have exemplified how development should instead use local knowledge and ways of learning to enhance and strengthen long-lasting change.

Humber has been engaged with Bhutan for over 15 years through development projects implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Education, nongovernmental organizations, and postsecondary institutions, aligning with Canada’s and Bhutan’s strong histories in the education sector (“Canada’s partnership,” 2018). Although Bhutan is a small country, with a population of less than one million, it has significant recognition in the world as being an innovative leader in development through the Gross National Happiness (GNH) framework, a holistic model of development that uses indicators focused on people’s daily lives instead of leaning heavily on economic growth to measure national success. 

Using Local Knowledge: Bhutan’s GNH Framework

GNH was included as a cross-cutting theme in the BEST project due to significant national and international development achievements, including that:

  • Constitutional mandates require 60 percent of Bhutan to be forested, leading to the country becoming the world’s first carbon-negative country (National Statistics Bureau, 2023; United Nations Development Programme, 2019).
  • Tertiary education rates grew from 3,820 in 2007 to 11,259 in 2017 (United Nations Development Programme, 2019).
  • Ninety-eight percent of the population had access to safe drinking water in 2017 compared to 82 percent in 2007 (United Nations Development Programme, 2019).
  • Real GDP growth averaged 7.8 percent from the 1990s through to the 2010s (Gross National Happiness Commission, 2011).
  • In 2022, Bhutan ranked as the 4th least corrupt Asian country, behind only Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan (Transparency International, 2022).
  • In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal that embodies the Millennium Development Goals, the precursor to the Sustainable Development Goals (“Happiness should,” 2011).

Given GNH’s potential to refocus development on the people it serves, the BEST project has worked to ensure that capacity building is not just focused on the North-South directional relationship, but also on incorporating and honouring the knowledge and expertise already existing in Bhutan. This approach has created an ecosystem of co-creation between Canadian and Bhutanese partners.

Facilitating Knowledge Sharing and Co-Creation Activities

In October 2023, a delegation of Humber staff went to Bhutan to participate in and lead a two-week training session on themes related to the BEST project, including embedding GNH in TVET and postsecondary education. Concurrently, leadership from the Bhutanese institutions and government agencies visited Humber in Toronto for capacity building in leadership and management of TVET institutions.

Bhutan to Humber

At Humber, Dr. Gina Antonacci, Senior Vice-President, Academic, led the Bhutanese delegation, including principals of several TVET institutions, through knowledge exchange around aspects of and comprehensive issues in postsecondary institutions that resonate locally and globally. The topics included:

  • Leadership and institutional management
  • Change management
  • Approaches to and models of work-integrated learning and apprenticeships
  • Accessibility and gender-friendly and disability-friendly institutions
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Environment sustainability initiatives and green spaces on campuses
  • Teaching and learning
  • Student health and wellness and other support services
  • Student recruitment and marketing strategies  
  • Student enrollment models

During their learning journey in Canada, the participants prepared and presented a comprehensive strategic enrollment management plan designed to meet the needs of their TVET institutions. In addition, participants met with their Humber counterparts and shared their expertise and experiences.

According to Antonacci,

Working with our Bhutanese partners has strengthened Humber. This project has provided Humber faculty, staff, and students with an exceptional opportunity to learn and grow as we work to together to address both local and global issues that impact the postsecondary landscape.

A Bhutanese participant noted that,

Humber College is a shining example of what learning institutions should strive for. The overall atmosphere is warm, welcoming, and forthcoming. All the resource speakers were willing to share their experiences, knowledge, and skills, and [were] also eager to learn about our practices and experiences. All opinions were valued and respected. We look forward to our long-term engagement and collaboration with Humber.

Humber to Bhutan

Dr. Kent Schroeder, Senior Advisor, Research, Evaluation, and Learning, from Humber College’s International Development Institute, worked with TVET trainers and leadership in Bhutan to operationalize GNH into their postsecondary institutions. These workshops and consultations were based on the foundational knowledge of local partners to give ownership to the capacity-building activities. The primary outcomes of this trip included:

  • Incorporating GNH into TVET training: Participants used Bhutanese knowledge and experience to co-create a GNH action plan for each TVET institution that includes strategies for infusing GNH into curriculum and pedagogy. This approach shifted the direction of expertise from hierarchical distribution to a horizontal process that can be shared across Bhutanese and Canadian institutions.
  • Stakeholder meetings with GNH stakeholders: Ongoing dialogues with stakeholders revealed practices that were already in place to support GNH in institutions’ strategic plans, including cocurricular activities in environmentalism, mental well-being, and community vitality, which are domains within GNH.
  • Co-creation of a GNH in TVET manual: Based on the workshop and consultations, a manual on incorporating GNH into TVET curriculum design and pedagogy was coauthored by all workshop participants.

“Collaborating with TVET trainers to design strategies for incorporating GNH into Bhutanese TVET institutions was a wonderful experience of co-creation," said Schroader. He continued,

Not only did it ensure that Bhutan’s national GNH development strategy is incorporated into its TVET sector, it provided food for thought for how postsecondary institutions in Canada can foster a more holistic approach to education based on Bhutan’s experience.

Final Thoughts

Sharing knowledge and good practices with the aim of collaboration and equity builds good global citizenship at the institutional and individual levels. International development projects foster innovation and critical thinking by applying knowledge in different contexts while adding indigenous ways of knowing and learning to a global understanding of best practices in education and other sectors. The BEST project will continue to provide opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to engage with a lens of equity and sustainable development.


Canada’s partnership with Bhutan has evolved into a multi-dimensional relationship: Ambassador Patel. (2018, December 10). Kuensel.

Gross National Happiness Commission. (2011). Bhutan national human development report 2011. United Nations Development Programme.

Happiness should have greater role in development policy – UN member states (2011, July 19). United Nations News.

National Statistics Bureau. (2023). Statistical yearbook of Bhutan 2023.

Transparency International. (2022). Corruption perceptions index 2022.

United Nations Development Programme. (2019). Bhutan human development report: Ten years of democracy in Bhutan.

Dr. Gina Antonacci is Senior Vice-President, Academic, at Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Opinions expressed in Member Spotlight are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.