Lauryn Oates

Human Rights Activist, Champion of Education for Women in Conflict Zones, Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal Recipient

Lauryn Oates

Lauryn Oates is a women’s human rights activist focused education in conflict zones.

It was in 1996 that, at age 14, Lauryn read a newspaper article describing the new regime in Afghanistan called the Taliban, and their treatment of women and girls. She wrote up a petition demanding that the world respond to the Taliban’s misogynist policies, and has continued this work ever since, working in close partnership with a variety of Afghan women’s organizations and international charities.

Lauryn is Executive Director with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, a Canadian charity that leads education projects in Afghanistan including teacher training, village libraries, literacy classes, schools and training programs, and the Darakht-e Danesh Digital Library, an award-winning repository of open educational resources in languages spoken in Afghanistan.

She did her doctoral research in northern Uganda, working with teachers there to create local language educational materials for their classrooms through digital technology.

Lauryn is a fierce proponent of the universalism of human rights, and frequently speaks out for global citizenship in the Canadian and international media. She is the recipient of several awards and distinctions, including a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal awarded by the province of BC.

In 2008, The Globe & Mail named Lauryn as the first of Ten Canadians to Watch in 2009. She holds a BA in international development (McGill University), an MA in human security (Royal Roads University) and a PhD in language and literacy education (University of British Columbia). She has taught graduate students at the School of Humanitarian Studies at Royal Roads University since 2014.

Please contact us for more information or to book Lauryn Oates for your next event.


  1. Mapless

    We often think of leadership as calculated, considered and planned. But sometimes there is no script to follow. The nature of leadership means occasionally ending up in unexplored territory. The mapless leader may be called on to create their own template for action, and to innovate in the absence of prescriptive tools to apply in situations that are unfamiliar. This is both an exciting and a scary place to find yourself. Lauryn will walk through the framework of thinking she has sought to apply in her two decades engaged in the unfinished struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan, and in her work as an aid and development worker focused on education in war zones, having worked in some of the world’s most dangerous places. She draws on her efforts to support innovation in the teams she leads to solve what seem to be intractable problems, in difficult places. She discusses her notion of “ethical intelligence,” of how to confront our habit of “tribal thinking,” and what to do when you are told to mind your own business. From a humorous interpretation of her past experiences and stumbling towards answers – navigating without a map – to thoughtful reflection on what she has learned about courage, compassion and finding the commonality that is so often elusive in our interactions with others, she incites us to think about the world differently, and about our own capacity for action in it.


  2. Igniting Minds

    How is information turned into knowledge? Under what conditions do people learn? What is the role of education in the development of societies? What kind of teaching fosters critical thinking and problem solving? This presentation is about the relationship between agency and education. It considers the power of education to transform individuals, their communities, and ultimately, whole societies. From the magic inherent in the moment when a child learns to read to the power of literature to bring hope during the darkest moments in our history, Lauryn delivers an enthusiastic ode to learning, and in particular, to the pivotal role of teachers in igniting young minds. Drawing from her work advancing education in Afghanistan, she shares insights that ring true in the mud classrooms of rural Central Asia as much as in the modern classrooms of the industrialized world. She makes the case that human capital is what drives societies and economies forward, and is what gives us the tools to solve seemingly insurmountable challenges, and it is for this reason that teachers carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. In the milieu where Lauryn works, this duty can be a deadly one, and accounts of the bravery of students, teachers and parents committed to learning, under perilous circumstances, strikingly attest to this. Invested with the extraordinary responsibility of preparing the generation that will inherit a world marred in conflict, hostility and inequalities, good teaching has the power to save lives, revolutionize thinking, and even to end wars.


  3. On Being A Witness

    On a daily basis we are affronted with news of pain and suffering, near and far. As aspiring global citizens, how do we respond in a way that is ethical and compassionate? This presentation is about how we practice empathy and courage in our daily lives, in navigating a world complicated by inequalities, poverty, and oppression. Lauryn had the unique experience of stepping onto the tarmac of Kabul International Airport when barely out of her teens, shortly after the fall of the Taliban regime, and discovering for herself a land that has long been both romanticized and acutely misunderstood by outsiders. In the years that she has since spent ‘commuting’ between Canada’s sleepy west coast and the stirring deserts and mountains of the depths of Central Asia, Lauryn sharpened a conviction that we must do a better job defining and then defending the values we stand for, even when it is hard to do so. Turning to historical precedent, she demonstrates how we have in the past managed to challenge injustices, and topple unjust institutions and regimes. From the role of individual ‘positive deviants’, to the astounding promise evident in the empowerment of women and girls, she gives us hope through stories of transformative social change underway in the most unlikely of spots, in bringing forth a message that is ultimately one of hope, but also an urgent call to action. With an emphasis on our shared humanity, Lauryn challenges complacency and incites us to think of the world as our own backyard, and to confront injustices whenever and where ever they occur on our watch.


I couldn't have asked for a better or more impactful presentation than the one you delivered.
Colin W. Reichle
Edmonton Commonwealth Society
The audience feedback received has been excellent. The personal experiences you shared brought today’s Afghanistan into much clearer focus for our members. Your stories of the progress and determination of the Afghanpeople, despite the injustices and the obstacles yet to be overcome, were most enlightening and encouraging.
Dale Bent
Elder College Board of Management
I wanted to thank you so much for being a part of our event. Your presentation really resonated with our audience and I have heard many people say that they were incredibly moved by your words and your message; one comment in particular sums up what I’ve heard “The presentation from Lauryn Oates made me teary eyed about how far we’ve come as women and how much more we need to overcome in order to ensure all women feel empowered”. You are a very impressive person and that really came across to our group. Thank you so much again for being part of our day! I have nothing but overwhelmingly positive feedback about the event and you were a big part of that success.
Program Manager, Justice Institute of BC
I just wanted to thank you again for coming into our school yesterday. You were fabulous! We are so grateful that you gave up your time to come speak to us, and we are inspired by what you do. Thank you so much.
Grade 4 Teacher, Begbie Elementary
Words cannot express how much your presentation was appreciated by the delegates. I received so many appreciative comments about your message… You were one of the main reasons why our Conference was such a success and that each of us left with a clear message of hope and appreciation…
Organizing Committee Member, Rotary District 5040

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