NAME: CASSANDRA MATHIES
YNPN OTTAWA MEMBER SINCE: 2014
FIELD OF FOCUS: PROJECT MANAGER FOCUSED ON SOCIAL IMPACT
How long have you been with YNPN?
I’ve been a member of YNPN Ottawa for 4 years, with last two as a member of the board.
So you have been in from nearly the beginning. Why did you join?
I joined because I was working for a small nonprofit that worked mainly with overseas partners. I was looking for a way to engage in the sector in Ottawa, one that offered face-to-face networking. I also completed an MA program where many of my peers ended up in the Governmental sector. I found that they had access to great professional development and networking opportunities that were not readily available for a young nonprofit professional. YNPN allowed me to connect with people in the nonprofit community, especially young people who are at the beginning of their careers and are also looking to grow their professional network. Seeing the benefits of YNPN first as a member helped me decide to become a board member and deepen my engagement to help support and grow YNPN
And how did you get into the nonprofit sector?
Before enrolling in my undergraduate studies, I was privileged enough to take some time to travel. I taught English in China and Thailand with a nonprofit for a few months, and during this period volunteering with vulnerable communities there, I noticed that many of the disadvantages affecting these communities were structural issues that required a structural response. This is really what propelled me to first study Political Science and Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Waterloo and then to go on to my Masters in Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. During my studies, I was able to connect, through volunteering and CO-OP work placements, with nonprofits doing great work in different ways to address structural or governance needs of communities facing societal injustice. Two such organizations were Mennonite Central Committee and SOS Children’s Villages, both whom do great work in different areas. This was also a glimpse for me into how diverse the nonprofit sector is! I knew there was a lot of room to engage and that it was going to be about finding a fit with the right organization.
How does one “fall” into nonprofit work?
It can be difficult to “break in” to the sector, but I was fortunate that while completing my graduate studies I was able to find an organization that really interested me and provided me with an opportunity to grow my career as a recent graduate. I do have a passion for working with community-based organizations and seeing the impact of the project I am working on at that level.
I don’t necessarily set my sights only on the nonprofit sector, but I have found that it has fit the collaborative way that I like to work.
And so did you just find the job or did you know, was it a networking in?
It was networking and timing! I had recently returned to Ottawa after completing an internship with the Canadian Embassy in Bangkok and I had coffee who let me know if a position she knew of through her network. The organization had just taken on a large project that they required surge staff for. I loved the work and jumped at the opportunity when they offered me a permanent position and I ended up staying there for five years! There are many different ways to get into the sector, but the best advice that I can offer is really knowing what is out there, where the needs are, and letting people know what you are interested in what they do and what you are able to contribute. And then ho
Connecting with an organization like YNPN can help greatly with this effort!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done so far?
At CANADEM the main project that I worked on was the Standby Partnership. My organization, CANADEM, was one of 45 partner organizations providing support to UN agencies responding to humanitarian emergencies throughout the world via the secondment of gratis personnel. I think just being involved in that, to meet with the different UN partners and be one piece of this whole partnership mechanism and see how we all come from our own organizational perspectives and priorities was very inspiring. We would all come to the table, discuss the same mechanism, and how together we could strengthen it. It was something that I was proud to be a part of over the past four and a bit years. I think to be able to see more of the global impact of what it is that you are doing, even though you could be just one small piece in something much more significant, motivated me to keep doing the work. Most of us aren’t in the field and sometimes we can forget the value of what we do behind the desk. All those things still have an impact on the larger structural change.
What’s next for you?
After 11 years in Ontario, I have now landed back home on the West Coast, Victoria to be exact. I am excited for the opportunities ahead to engage within the non-profit sector in the city, particularly organizations that work in partnership with the community on social change initiatives. I look forward to continuing to develop professionally, and to apply my skills in project management and stakeholder engagement in ways that are beneficial to the city I now call home! I know that my time in Ottawa and from working with YNPN has provided me with a solid foundation, and I will continue to explore opportunities for meaningful collaboration and networking here in Victoria.
So you will be hunting out a similar organization to YNPN now that you are out west?
Definitely! I have already been able to connect with a couple of groups here, and I hope to continue engaging with them. It’s important to know that the people you connect with when you're five years into your career may be the same ones you'll still be connected with 10 years down the road in some capacity. I am also a firm believer in lifelong learning, and that no matter what industry or sector you come from it is important to continuously build our knowledge and skills that we are prepared to contribute to a rapidly changing world. Just because something worked well once or have been in place for a long time does not mean that you don’t re-evaluate and develop good (or better) practice. I believe the nonprofit sector will thrive on innovation!
As your time at YNPN Ottawa comes to an end what is your hope for the nonprofit you’ve been such an integral part of?
I have a longer view on where the organization could go, but for the near future, I really hope that YNPN continues to grow in its role as a “connector” or young professionals. That it remains a forum for people to engage with. Whether it’s face-to-face networking opportunities with other nonprofit professionals in Ottawa, opportunities for career development or even opportunities to give back to the community. I think an advocacy role is something that could be possible further down the road as well.
A strength of YNPN is that it is membership driven, and so the board wants to hear from the membership on what they want, and together make it happen!