The Leaders by Ivey
The Leaders by Ivey

Episode · 2 years ago

Charitable emergency mindset

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This year has created an emergency mindset for charities. Just ask Melanie Thomas, Senior Director, Emerging Opportunities, Community Foundations of Canada about the rapid response required to meet the needs of those hit hardest by COVID-19. In this episode, Melanie talks about implementing a nationwide emergency assistance program in only 9 business days. Anyone who wants to learn more about the relentless pace of the rewarding work in the charitable space should tune in. Resources and links: To find out more information, resources, or connect with your local community foundation to find out the pressing needs in your community, please visit: www.communityfoundations.ca To learn more about how COVID-19 is impacting the charitable and nonprofit sector in Canada, please visit: www.imaginecanada.ca To learn more about how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector in Ontario, please visit: www.theonn.ca

Insights in wisdom lie within every business decision. Welcome to the leaders by Ivy podcast, where we discover hidden narratives and unlock key learnings for our own leadership and career journeys. Hey, I'm Matt Quinn. If you're looking to lead in the not for profit sector and want to hear about all of the amazing benefits of this, you need to stay tuned. This time on the leaders by Ivy podcast, we're joined by Melanie Thomas, hba Eleven and senior director of emerging opportunities for the community foundations of Canada. I hope that you enjoy and take away all of the many ways that you can get involved. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us today. Melanie. Could you maybe, for those that haven't had a chance to meet you or check out your bio on Instagram, tell us a little bit about yourself and what's your connection with ivy? Yeah, happy to all. First of all, to thank you so much for having me. Such an honor to come back and to talk to my to my Alma matter. And so my name is Melie Thomas. I graduated from Ivy as an HBA eleven, which time is ticking and I think I'm very close to my tenure, which is wild. After IV I finished my business and then I went directly to law, and so I'm definitely fulfilling the millennial story type of flipping through industry. You. So, I got my license, was called to the bar in Ontario and then I immediately went into banking and I did that for a few years while doing some work overseas and international development, and then I landed in philanthropy in Canada, and so I just love new opportunities and so my role right now is is kind of my dream job. I'm in charge of emerging opportunity. So every day just looking at things we've never done before and try to feel how we can scale them and create more social impact. But my personal life, I love traveling. You know, this not the time of life for you get to do that. So I just dream about traveling, love SELSA, dancing and connecting with friends. So yeah, that's a little bit who I am now. I want to come back to something because you kind of glossed over it. So originally law and then banking and then international development. There's got to be a theme here. You mentioned that sometimes it's a generational thing to try. Want to try a bunch of new things. What has led you to want to try all these different things to land where you are today? Yeah, you know, it sounds very sporadic and I can't say that I had planned every move ahead of time, but when I was a kid my parents took me to India, which is kind of my motherland, and it was at seven I was at first exposed to what poverty can look like, and so as a kid that always just impacted my thinking and you know, what's my role? What am I going to do about it? I've seen something, you can't just forget what you've seen. And so actually coming to business school is a very intentional decision. To say, I'm not sure how that's going to play out, and more of an international or social social space, but I think that there's a really tangible skills that I can get from business I can apply there, and then similarly in law, and so I've been kind of bouncing in my career so far between very corporate work and then very social work and until I landed in philanthropy, which is a kind of beautiful in between where you're dealing with money. You know, philanthropy their kind of backbone is money, but you're doing with a mindset of impact. So it was a weird roller coaster of a career so far and I'm sure they'll be some more twist and turns ahead, but it was it was kind of planted years ago and the path doesn't have to be one that's straight from one one connection to the next. For those that are listening, that are have that same mindset and are experiencing the same thing, you know, of a calling and knowing that it's building skills towards that calling what helped you as you transition from different roles, but, you know, with a clear seems...

...like there's a clear threat of wanting to give back. What advice do you give to students or others that are maybe struggling with that? How did you manage it? Yeah, you know what IV one of the best program goes a part of that. Really was central to my experience that Ivy was a leader project and it was just immediate way that I could, you know, be learning as a student but immediately apply it and to work with small, small enterprises in Eastern Europe and to consultant, to teach, and so I love that kind of mixing of what seems like two separate worlds that that they aren't, and so, you know, my advice is students, it's just say yes, like as opportunities come up, even if they don't pay, if somehow you can squeeze your finances to make it work, say yes to opportunities that will push you. Say Yes to working with people that you can learn from, like see it as a part of the investment, like you're paying tuition right, like just as much as you can. I know I say that and it's it's not easy to do, and working for free in a summer very little finances is is on easy thing to say yes to, but the payoffs on what I learned from those experiences that were outside the box, you know, contribute to the rest of my career for sure. And it's cool the the leader project is still ongoing even in the midst of covid challenges. Right now. I know that they're planning some blended and online initiatives rate as we speak now. So that's cool that you that you did that while you're at at Ivy, and it's still is a great opportunity for students to get involved. Now I want to go to next. Can you tell us a little bit more about you? You know, you mentioned philanthropy and some of the work that you're doing. Could you talk a little bit about the organization? Yeah, so I work with community foundations of Canada and so you may or may not have heard of us, but we are in national network of a hundred ninety one commune foundations. So in the question is what the Communy Foundation we you know, Commu foundations are philanthropic organizations. They direct grants, investments leadership towards community initiatives and so across country we have more than ninety percent of communities have access to a commut foundation. Collectively, our network manages over six billion dollars and it's a boot on the ground type of network. So our commun foundations, they have community in the name, they know their communities, they know what the needs are, they work with partners locally to serve and so at the national level my role is to look for opportunities, things we've never done before, to say how can we skill impact and usually with at a national level. And how is that shifted, you know, with the the last year being being what it is. You know you've mentioned traveling before and opportunity to go to different communities. You know, how is the organization shifted? How are you spotting opportunities that lie within? You know, the challenging times. Yeah, so, you know, like many organizations, regardless of your industry, as the pandemic hit, we had to say okay, but we were working on all of these projects. What are we pausing? What are we pivoting and what are you proceeding with? And so something how to go on pots and some are still on pause. But as we are, you know, working with commune foundations who are working directly with charities and nonprofits, we just immediately heard the neat right as covid hit. You know, those who were in vulnerable context before covid it just got worse. And so, if you think of homeless shelters had to start limiting its capacity or turning people away, persons with disabilities didn't have the same access to programs and services and some were in isolated circumstances, and the list goes on and on, and so that really became okay. Well, work community foundations. How do we respond to the needs of community? And a lot of my work with, you know, with team members, was doing the advocacy piece at the beginning, saying hey, government, federal, provincial, musical, Hey, this is the needs. It's so great and what we...

...saw before, covid is is in a much more dire position now and I want to go back to those meetings because many of us listening, myself included, I've had to have some of those meetings where we talked about what are we going to do moving forward, and those are exciting and fun, lots of opportunities. But then there's the difficult conversations around what are we going to stop doing, and that must be hard for you in that position wanting to give back and that's the core good of the of the organization. How did you manage those conversations internally and do you have any tips for those going through that tough conversation about happened to cut things? You know, how did you manage it? Yeah, it wasn't easy and I feel like it's not a onetime decision. It's a question you keep ask yourselves as a week proceed are we still pausing this? Are we still a bit to proceed with this? So we continue to pivot this and so you know, thankfully, I had my team internally to talk through. Okay, how do we see this holding out? What new priorities have popped up in the meantime? And so, you know, we rarely work in isolation and so we work with many partners, and so part of it was calling partners and saying, how are you doing, what are you seeing? We were working this project. We both put on a shell for now, or should you take the lead or should I take the lead? And so it's relationship management right in the midst of limited capacity. So not a Oneandone, it's a constant communication because things are changing so rapidly. For the things that you are able to continue doing, can you talk about, you know, some of the things that you're most proud of or excited about moving forward? Yeah, I mean, for for my work, because I was really in the exploratory models and some of them are they were on pause and now they're in the pivot piece. But my work really shifted on that advocacy piece to government saying there is this dire need, we need to act now, communities, charities on profits or trying to serve those who are in the most vulnerable context, and so I did get a call from the government of Canada saying we're going to create a three hundred fifty million dollar emergency community support funds and we'd like Tommy foundations of Canada, along with United Way and Red Cross, to implement this. And so that has taken over my year in two thousand and twenty is definitely defined by that work of saying, you know, from from when I got the call and when we sign the agreement with government, we had nine business days to go from words on a paper to implementing a nationwide program that got money to charities and nonprofits serving those invulnerable context. How do you do that in nine days? What was the key? What what enabled you to get, like you said, from the paper to to to implementing so quickly? Yeah, we had to get really crystal clear on what were the principles as we work right because there's so many pieces to this. So what are the key principles? So we focus in on to the first one is this is emergency funding. So just because we've done something in a certain way before, it has to be with an emergency mindset, which means it cannot take very long and it has to be done virtually because all of us are working from our homes. And the second one was around equity. We know, even in the early days of Covid, we saw it and it's you know, and it's the evidence shows now of how covid impacted those disproportionately. And so how do we create an equitable framework in the way we do this so that those users or at the center? That comes from how the applications formed, that comes from how we create awareness that it comes from how decisions are made. And so, you know, once we kind of created those key principles of emergency and equity, we needed a team. So there is like three of us working on in early days and you know, I just felt like I created these to do list and I felt like this mountain of work program design, of creating awareness, of onboarding community foundations, of government relations and and and every...

...day I was like we've only moved to pebble. We've probably got in one thing off the list. And so our team of three within days through to a team of eighteen, and you know, this diversity of experience and skill sets, technology, design, storytelling, community engagement, and it was just incredible to see, once that team came together, how the program unfolded. And I want to you mentioned that the United Way is also a big part of, you know, the implementation here. In a recent conversation with current Peter, she works for Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Ray, she talked about how different organizations work together. Can you talk about, for from your example, how did you work with some of the other organizations to make this happen? Yeah, so we were working so closely with United Wese Cemetery, Canada and Knadive Red Cross, and you know, all of us had different agreements of government, but collectively we were implementing the three hundred fifty million dollar emergency comunity support funds. And it's interesting because I go back to that relationship building. You're trying to implement a fund with partners you never actually met and you don't have the benefit of saying, let's go for coffee, let's have lunch, let's get to know each other, let's build that trust. But you know, it was an amazing experience of how really three strangers and three strangers a team's can come together and say, well, we're going to create a unified front, we're going to do this together. So our teams were talking at least on a weekly basis, if not every day as we were making our individual plans and processes and and to communicate to the public as united front. And so I think that was such a key gem that came out of this process is how, even in a virtual context, even with people you never met, how you really can work together to to deliver something at a national scale. I you know, I want to you talk about communication, you talk about the regularity of the communication. You've got a common mission between the different organizations. was there anything else that stood out as okay, this was a key to getting this to work, to sort like one meeting. was there a tool that you use to make this happen? Yeah, I would say, you know, having a level of trust and transparency and and leaning into both of those, and those go hand in hand. It's hard to be transparent if there's on trust and without trust, how we're going to get to transparency? And so, you know, between us saying we're just going to we're going to talk to each other honestly about what's working well, what's not working, and when things aren't working, maybe you know one of us can help the other around the table, and so really being diligent to say we're going to set a meeting at least once a week. It's in our calendar still, to say we're just going to give updates and also, here's my cell phone number, so call me anytime and we can work it through. And so that type of level just goes from kind of walking and you know, when you we talk up partnerships a lot, but you know, real partnership is that you're actually walking and lock step together, and so I'm not sure how I do that without trust, transparency and constant communication. Is there anything looking back that you have done slightly different or a lesson learned through, you know, this rapid, rapid implementation and lots of partners and not to mention a huge geographic region? HMM, you know, I as you say that question, I think I think we make up at ten little pivots a day, like it's just a constant because it's emergency mindset is, you know, you make a plan and by the time the weeks that something change in terms of realities. But so there's just kind of this this mindset saying we're going to constantly on our toes, willing to pivot on our decisions and our implementation. But if I take a step back, you know some of the key learnings and changes that we had made. So one, if I go back to the key principle of equity, and so we this firm belief that organizations that represent the community they serve are better equipped to serve them. So if I take an example of food hampers, food security was a big issue across the country because of Covid and so you say,...

...okay, well, we know that this low income community needs food hampers, but it matters what's in the hamper and it's the community that's part of that. You know, the organization that's part of that community that knows. You know, I'm I'm e Sindian. So I want to curry, to know that's going to make you feel at home. It's not just any food to fill my belly. But actually, how do you how do you know the cultural nuances of those you are serving? And so we know that. But when we launched on May nineteen and we it was we're already in the market, like we're not asking that question. How do we know? We know who they're serving, we don't know who the organizations are. And so, you know, that was a piece that said, it's really hard to make a substantial change like that once we're already launched, but it's the right thing to do. It's going to lead to better decisionmaking. And so, you know, a few weeks in we made a pivot update, or application form update or resources went with some new messaging to say we're going to prioritize organizations that represents the community they serve. And so I think keeping that equitable mindset in in the details, like an application form, like a decisionmaking matrix, matters. And so this is one yet one piece that we really had a pivot post launch now, with so much challenge and change happening so quickly. You know, as a leader it's always important to sit back and reflect on the good that you've done and share that with your team. Can you think of, you know, any stories of a vulnerable group or a person that's given you feedback that makes go this, this is why I do this. If you had any of those moments that you that you could share with us? Yeah, it's definitely like the gold mine of this job is hearing the most incredible stories of how communities are serving one another in the midst of a global pandemic and for the team because it was like long day, sleepless nights, early mornings, weekends. You know, if you know my IV days, I compared to the forty to our report that just kept going. You know, to do that you have to sometime say why aren't you know? It's I'm so exhausted. And so that North Star is to the why and the whole team really rallied over. Why are we doing this? What is the critical funding that the communities need? So a couple of examples. In in left, for de Alberta, there was a there is a project that's helping prisoners who are being released from prison early because of Covid to have transitional housing because, as it get released early, a lot of them don't have a place to go, so the end up homeless or in shelters, and so there's a program to help them transition. In SURREYBC, there's a project to help women who are homeless were at risk to know about how to protect themselves around coronavirus, to get them peeping. Need to get them groceries, basic basic needs. There were camps that were redesigned for for children so that it could be outside, but to do it safely. There are stories of individuals who were deaf and blind and living at isolation and you know in their day to day that they need to touch, they need to touch for the communicate with the world and being unable to do that, having them have a support person to work with them and kind of navigate these new realities. So the stories are coast to coast to coast of just incredible ways organizations and communities are pivoting to respond and you know, it's digging deeper into some of those stories and those are both great to hear. It's In'to enlightening. It's things we don't often see in our maybe our day to day and sitting sitting here in London, you know, how has covid impacted those that we're already having, you know, very challenging times? Can you maybe dig and dig into that a little bit more, because that's something that our audience should know about and you know, then the follow up is how can we get involved? How can we help make a difference? Absolutely, you know, I in the last couple weeks I've been engaging virtually with about two hundred organizations across the country, specifically from black, indigenous and other racialized communities. And as we...

...go back to that question around equity, how do we support organizations that represent the communities they serve? So many racialized communities, the organizations that serve them are grass roots and when you're a grassroots organization you are often left out of funding opportunities. You don't have the charitable status, you don't even have nonprofit status. And so as as I heard from these communities right across the country tell of the great needs of their of their community, the racism towards Asian communities across the country because of Covid the you know, unwilling to go to local businesses or restaurants because of systemic racism. And and we know that racialized community are getting hit harder. And then the systems are built in a way that they can access funding. And so you know that that piece hit hard. It hit really personal. I was still constantly I'm thinking about Kay, well, what can we do? That's that's a more long term piece. So what can we do specifically in this program to make pivot and to help those organizations? And there's there's a there's a variety of kind of changes that we made to help but we know that that's not going to solve it. And so where could we lead our voice into our relationship with partners and government and other stakeholders? And so you know, I would say to anyone listening if there are communities that you know of that you can offer funding to, that are grass roots, that you can offer any services to to help them, those groups are in need, that they are, they are showing up as much as they can and incredible ways to serve, but they are often left out of our our funding structures. Where can we go to get more information, like what's your organizations website? What are some some blogs or resources that a listener can go and say I want to learn more about this because I want to get involved. What would you suggest? Yeah, I would definitely recommend. You know, our website is www community foundations, with an St Dot Caea, and so please us a there and you can find a map that shows a local commun foundation your area. So talk to your local Commun Foundation. They are in touch with nonprofits, charities qualified don't Hes, nonqualify, Donte grassroom organization. So so be in touch with them as to you know, how you can support locally. But I would also want a kind of industry level. If you're interested in this topic, Imagine Canada has been doing credible reports and research on what is the current state in Canada, on Tara nonprofit CK network, specifically to Ontarios, looking at how is covid impacting nonprofits, and so there is so much information out there. I think for us as individuals, I can feel overwhelming. I know I can feel overwhelm thing the global pandemic. I can acknowledge that there are systemic areas. But what can I do? And so, you know, I think we, each of us have incredible spheres of influence and if covid has shown us anything, it shows how individuals are interconnected. And so what can you do as an individual and your sphere of influence? If your student who's a classmate you haven't seen or heard from lately, check check in on that. That makes the difference. When you're looking at summer jobs, ask the companies what what they what their work is around diversity inclusion. If you're a parent, expose your kids, have discussions with them about the inequities in our world. I knows as when I was a kid, my parents that with me in it and it made a profound impact in my life. If you're CEO, what platforms do you have? Whose voices do you amplify? WHO's at your decisionmaking table? You know, the list goes on. So I think it's so important that we don't get caught up in there's this big problem and there's nothing I can do about it, when there's actually very tangible things that we can do in our day to day that's that's fantastic and a great list of resources. I want to go next to you know, when you think about ivy or business grads in general, we think of entrepreneurship, big banks,...

...maybe starting your own business. You know, going back to your reasons for a pursuing a career in the not for profit. Talk about your reasons, but also almost talked to the the current students or those thinking of a career change right now, convince and talk to those great reasons for think giving not for profit a a real good hard look, because there's some amazing opportunities in the area. Yeah, you know, I I'll admit so, before being in this role full time and then this in the sector full time, before I was in private practice and after that I was in, you know, banking, and so there's a perception that this nonprofit, charitable philanthropic sector is slow. You know, you kind of go there to chill out at the end of your career. I have been amazed at the hustle, at the innovation. I think I have worked longer hours some days and I worked in the you know, in the law firm, but just this impetus for change. And so it's a question of there's so many ways that you can give back. There's so many ways that you can use your skill sets. You might have study to be a consultant or work in consumer package goods or an eyebanker, and that's awesome and there's so many things you can do from that role as well. But our skill sets are transferable, and so it's through your volunteer time, through a career change, through mentorship, there are so many avenues for you to use what you learned, what you're learning to apply elsewhere. And you know, I'll say leaving the corporate world, so to pursue a job full time into a sector I was new too, was a risk and it's a whole other podcast about the story about making that change. You know, it's not all flower and daisies. If you want it, you want to make big changes in your life, it takes risks and it takes some sacrifice to make that happen. I'm so glad where I've landed. I feel extremely privilege and my daytoday work and the people I get to work with and it was worth the risk. But it took them real hustle and grind to figure out a pathway from lawn banking over to philanthropy. And you know the last thing I want to want to ask you is that, you know, Canada's known as a caring country. What I'm hearing from you is there's always more that we can do. We can give back in so many ways, you know, through our through our funds, through our time, through our skills sharing. What would you leave the listeners with? You know, how would you motivate and push our listeners to get involved? You know, as I mentioned, we're known to be caring. Are We caring enough? How do you push the audience? What would you like to leave them with? Yeah, I have been so inspired. You know, even before the launch of the sign I was so inspired. I was hearing stories, because our network is right across this country. I was hearing stories of how individual showed up for their community and Cope. It's not over, unfortunately, and we know whenever there's a vaccine and whenever it's safe to give each other hugs, they're still going to be lasting social economic impacts. And so, you know, I push, I want to push any of you listening today to really look at your spears of Inflo and really look at those who may be excluded and find ways at an individual and corporate level to include them, because you know, I am concerned that there are groups that are going to be left behind. But I think it's your individual and corporate acts that we go from grouping left to have behind you to changing systems and and creating a Canada that we are proud and it's vibrant and in sustainable and it's inclusive. Melanie, thank you so much, so much for taking the time to not only just share your journey, but to share what you're seeing and what you're seeing in your job across Canada, in communities big and small. What I'm really hearing is that you know, as Ivy Grads, I'm an Ivy Grad, we have had such a great up opportunity to learn, to advance our...

...skills and there are tons of opportunities for us to continue to make Canada a caring and giving country where communities don't overlook anybody. So thank you so much for taking the time. Thank you for having me. This was an an honor and a pleasure. Thanks again for being with us and I hope you joined us next time for the season two finale. Be Sure to rate, review and subscribe. See you next time.

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