I do a little bit of everything, so on a typical day I prepare a financial statement for our board of directors, do radio interviews, write a newsletter, help prepare a legal submission, work with new volunteers - anything and everything related to figuring out how we as a community can make Lake Ontario swimmable, drinkable and livable.
I did my first undergrad degree at Ryerson University from 1996 to 2000 in radio and television arts. I'm still at Ryerson very slowly getting a second undergraduate degree in public administration through their part-time program.
It is a bit of a left turn to go from radio and television to an environmental non-profit organization. People are often surprised I don't have a science or law background, but what I learned in RTA helped equip me for working in the non-profit sector.
If you think about it, it's essentially the same thing: how do you take an idea or a message, put it into a format the public would be interested in, make the info interesting and engaging and put your point across in the most effective way possible? What RTA taught me more than anything else is the concept of an audience - identifying an audience and speaking directly to it.
I spent a lot of years working on theatre productions, musicals and concerts and in school making television shows and scripts. Transitioning from the realm of working on one project followed by another to the realm of working on a whole bunch of things simultaneously that go on for years and years is a significant change. The people I met at Ryerson who got me interested in environmental issues probably ended up sending me on the career path I'm on now.
When I was studying radio and television, I was really interested in the tools and techniques, but something was missing. I really wanted to roll up my sleeves and be involved in what's happening in the world, and covering it as third party didn't allow me to dive into the issues the way I really wanted to.
Public administration provides important theoretical explanations for understanding systems and why things work or don't work. It provides a vocabulary for understanding organized systems, and the applied classes Ryerson offers are geared toward helping people working in the real world. If you're taking a marketing class, you're creating a marketing plan for the organization you're working for.
That approach is extremely helpful, but I don't think academia prepares you for real life, where everything you say and do has a consequence. The whole idea of academia is that you're free to explore, and in the charitable sector you don't have that freedom because the health and safety of the environment are directly affected by the choices you make every day.
To do this type of job, you have to have a bit of a chip on your shoulder. You need a toughness, faith or confidence that what you believe is important, right and true.