Environmental NGOs and board candidates come together for Diversifying Environmental Sector Boards event
The rapidly changing landscape of our global climate calls for innovative and effective leadership like never before. For environmental not-for-profit organizations, which educate the public on our ecological reality and provide us with the tools to better interact with the natural environment, it is vital that their leadership remains relevant to the diverse make-up of our communities.
On June 7th, representatives of environmental NGOs and hopeful board candidates gathered together at TD Bank Tower in downtown Toronto for the Diversifying Environmental Sector Boards event, presented by DiverseCity onBoard and TD Bank Group.
The evening combined a board matching mixer with keynote speeches from the Honourable Glen R. Murray, Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, as well as Dean Marie Bountrogianni of the Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University and former Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and Helen Burstyn, Chair of Evergreen and Distinguished Visiting Professor in Social Innovation at Ryerson University. After the speeches, representatives of environmental organizations from throughout the region met and mingled with DiverseCity onBoard candidates who are interested in serving on environmental non-profit boards and committees.
Mary Desjardins, Executive Director of the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, provided opening remarks: “We are very pleased to be a strong supporter of DiverseCity onBoard in its important work in changing the face and calibre of governance across Canada. Boards need to become more diverse so that they can not only strengthen their capacity and become more effective bodies, but so that they may also better reflect the communities that they serve. Boards are a precursor to social cohesion. Effective governance is vital to the health and future of our communities.”
Dean Marie Bountrogianni touched on her own experiences in board governance in her remarks: “I have been on boards with St. Peter’s Hospital board, my local hockey board… Sitting on these boards, you learn that processes are very important. My experience working on a wide range of boards has not only taught me the rules, but has also equipped me with a diverse set of experiences—you contribute on these boards in ways that are immeasurable. As Immigration Minister, I remember attending boards only to find that there were very few people representing diverse backgrounds, women and ethnic communities. It was starkly obvious that we had work to do and we still have work to do. That’s my experience. I want to congratulate this organization.”
Citing a recent BBC report which declared Toronto the world’s most diverse city, Helen Burstyn noted the connection between diversity within organizations and relevance in the communities they serve: “”If Toronto is the most diverse city in the world, our city institutions should be representative and reflective of that diversity. And that’s not the only reason to change the hiring and recruitment of volunteers. Diversity is good for creativity and for morale. As an environmental NGO with a mission to create more sustainable cities, Evergreen also realized that becoming more diverse would make us more resilient and relevant.” As Chair of Evergreen, Burstyn took a leading role in driving diversity. “This became our strategic plan and priority for the organization. We began with a diversity audit and did a re-think of our recruitment and diversity practices. We developed a matrix to help identify the gaps, and also began posting more vacancies online. The other thing we did is work with DiverseCity onBoard to identify those who were more representative of the communities we served. We can be much better at representing who we are in this city and in this country.”
In his keynote address, Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray made a strong case for increasing diversity in the environmental sector: “It is interesting how cultural views and values inform climate change. This is why it is important to celebrate diversity. The environmental group I share responsibility for has to embrace the much more diverse community that is in this province and certainly in this city.”
Minister Murray gave an impassioned speech outlining the considerable challenge which climate change presents to our society. Citing the specific example of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, their cultural relationship with the environment and unique perspectives on development, the Minister called on environmental groups and the populace at large to consider diverse cultural perspectives as a cornerstone of their efforts. “Our diversity and ability to absorb culture and understanding for complexity—that is our central strength… You can count on our help and support. The leadership [DOB is] showing is transformational, respectful, and is taking us beyond a simple celebration of diversity.”