Experts give talk on growing role of advocacy in nonprofit work

On Tuesday, Oct. 10, a panel of experts gathered in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Social Science building to discuss how nonprofits work, and to give students a taste of their field.

The talk featured Suzie Dunn from Feminist Alliance for International Action, Matthew Cole, executive director at Carleton University/Algonquin College Attendant Services, Harriett McLachlan, deputy director of Canada Without Poverty, and Keenan Wellar, co-leader and director of communications at LiveWorkPlay.

The event, organized by the U of O’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN), covered a variety of topics in the nonprofit sector related to advocacy. The panelists shared their experience in the sector and talked about how, more and more, nonprofits must make advocacy a part of their work, and how to make sure these groups are effectively representing those they’re trying to help.

One encouraging sign according to the experts was the number of students in attendance, something the organizers said can be hard to get in the nonprofit field.

Cassandra Mathies, one of the event’s organizers, is a board member of YNPN and a graduate of GSPIA. She said that many universities tend to focus more on government roles for development students, and less on the nonprofit sector.

“I thought this event would be an interesting way to collaborate on what it’s like to graduate from (GSPIA) and go into the nonprofit sector,” she said. “Government jobs might not be for everyone, they might be looking to take the skills they’re learning in public policy and international relations and bring it into another field.”

Akshay Talekar, a third-year biochemistry student at the U of  O, is the founder of a nonprofit called Youth Employment Help Centre, which provides employment services for youth at risk of poverty. He also sits on the board of YNPN.

Talekar said since starting his own nonprofit, he’s gotten highly involved in the nonprofit community in Ottawa. “I just started meeting people at networking events,” he said. Through these connections, he eventually joined YNPN.

“I think I have a very specific voice as a student nonprofit founder,” said Talekar. “I think it’s a role that needs to be filled if students want to have their voices heard in the nonprofit field, or any field for that matter.”

Talekar said the discussion on how to do advocacy right was especially important to expose to students. “It’s good to make students at the graduate and undergraduate levels aware of the right way to do things… how to make sure everyone is represented equally.”

As for getting involved in nonprofits, Talekar said there’s no time like the present. “Just do it, don’t be scared … a lot of people say ‘it’s not the right time,’ but there’s never going to be a ‘right time,’ it’s always about finding where you can impact the most people.”

“If there’s any one advice I could give it would be to just do it. It’s going to be daunting, it’s difficult, it’s a very steep learning curve, but at the end of the day it is quite worth it.”