Pay it Forward initiative puts smiles on hundreds of faces

Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013
Free hugs were being doled out liberally during the Pay it Forward event on Dec. 3. / Photo: Leslie Schachter

Free hugs were at a premium during the Pay it Forward event on Dec. 3. / Photo: Leslie Schachter

By Neale McDevitt

Over the years, the end of final exams has inspired any number of spontaneous displays of pure happiness, including high fives, chest bumping and uncontrollable giggling. But what was up with the 100 or so students boogying in the streets at the crossroads on lower campus on Tuesday, Dec. 3 – two days before finals kicked off?

“People were just dancing and having fun,” said third-year International Development student Salima Visram. “The positive energy was amazing, and definitely something everyone needed.”

Fostering that happiness and positive energy – and diffusing it across campus – was the sole objective of Tuesday’s Pay it Forward event.

The initiative was the brainchild of Visram, who got the idea while doing an exercise on generosity in Anita Nowak’s Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation class at the Desautels Faculty of Management. “The idea inspired by the movie Pay it Forward, which is about doing random acts of kindness to total strangers without expecting anything in return. This was my way of giving back to McGill,” said Visram. “My professor and classmates were really great when I approached them with my idea. They all took on different roles.”

The event opened at the crossroads with a bang, albeit it a very quiet one. Dancing to a playlist posted online by a marauding group of happiness peddlers called the Silent Disco Squad, headphone-wearing revelers – including Santa Claus – shook their money-makers gleefully. Bemused passersby couldn’t help but smile at the celebration going on in front of them.

Off to the side, a wading pool full of balloons invited people to get in touch with their inner child and to make new friends. “The only rule was you had to sit there with a total stranger and get to know them,” said Visram. “Some of the balloons had instructions on them like ‘Tell me about your greatest fear,’ or ‘Tell me about the best place you’ve ever travelled to.’ Some people stayed for 20 minutes – total strangers at the beginning but friends at the end.”

With spreading happiness as the goal, some Pay it Forward participants headed to the libraries where they dispensed some 200 care packages and free hugs to stressed students preparing for their exams. The packages contained candy and messages of encouragement. They also held what Visram calls “mission notes,” that encouraged each recipient to return the favour and do something nice, or leave a note for the person studying beside them. “If you got the note, you had to do it for someone else,” said Visram. “It’s all about paying it forward and creating a ripple effect that will have a positive impact on someone you don’t know.”

Visram is becoming very adept at creating ripples of happiness. When celebrating her 21st birthday in Vancouver in September, all she wanted was to make people smile so she and two friends took to the streets armed with smiles and sidewalk chalk.

“We started writing nice messages on sidewalk, and before we knew it, literally hundreds of people came by and asked for chalk,” says Visram. “The whole area was filled with different messages and positive quotes. It was really beautiful.”

Visram says she plans to organize a similar event this spring just prior to final exams. “Honestly, I just to make people happy,” she says. “Hopefully they spread that happiness on to people around them, and so on. I guess it is my way to try and make the world a better place.

If Tuesday’s Pay it Forward event was any indication, most people will accept the free hugs with, well, open arms.



BCom students show support for Centraide

‘Tis the season to pay it forward at the Desautels Faculty Of Management, it seems, as their Management Undergraduate Society (MUS) has just committed $5,000 to the McGill Centraide Campaign. This is the first time the student society has given to this annual campaign and Joël Taillefer, President of the MUS, hopes that this gesture will encourage others to follow in their footsteps. “The MUS is extremely proud to support Centraide. We hope to inspire other student groups across McGill to give what they can, no matter how big or small, to this great cause,” said Taillefer.


Watch a video of the Pay it Forward event below.

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