150 Profiles: Lena Bunzenmeyer

As we mark the 150th anniversary of confederation, The Philanthropist is profiling Canadians from across the non-profit sector and putting a face to 150 individuals who work or volunteer in Canada’s social sector.

Name: Lena Bunzenmeyer

Current role in the sector: International Technical Advisor, CAWST (Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology)

Years working and/or volunteering in the non-profit sector: 10 years, give or take.

Lena Bunzenmeyer profile picture

What was your first job in the sector or a defining moment?
My first international development position was an internship in southwestern Uganda in 2002. We were implementing water filters in a community that had very little access to water due to long droughts. It struck me as strange that we were giving people water filters to treat water they didn’t have. In some cases they didn’t even want them in the first place but they were free. Given that it was a short-term internship, there wasn’t much in the way of education or follow-up once they had the filters in their homes. It was a classic case of ‘best intentions, poor execution’ and I knew there had to be a better way. That’s what has kept me going all these years.

Describe your desk/workspace.
Our office space is mostly open-concept, so my desk has no walls. I have several plants on my desk, which makes me happy. Although it also means I’m constantly begging my home-based colleagues to water them when I’m working overseas. I have a lot of Post-it notes, which I have repeatedly attempted to move to my Trello page but my paper addiction keeps getting the better of me. The cleanliness of my desk surface tends to be an indication of how on top of my work I am; therefore, I try to keep it as organized as possible.

What are you reading or following that has expanded your understanding of the non-profit sector?
I don’t read as much as I feel I should. It tends to be a jumble of development blogs and newsletters that I subscribe to (The Guardian’s Secret Aid Worker and The Development Set are particular favourites). I am taking an extraordinarily long time to read The Idealist’s Survival Kit: 75 Simple Ways to Prevent Burnout, by Alessandra Pigni. The underlying premise is that people usually assume that humanitarian workers are susceptible to burnout due to extreme work environments (conflict zones, long times away from family and friends, crazy hours) but it is often mediocre, or even toxic, work environments that cause people to burn out.

What do you think our sector needs to be thinking about?
As a sector, funding is always a big challenge. There needs to be an acknowledgment that fundraising takes time and effort (and money!). In my field, we are often measured by how much funding goes directly to projects, without recognizing the significant amount of administrative work that is required to achieve those results.

The second challenge is keeping good people. Most of us work in non-profit because we are passionate about our causes. Organizations must work hard to ensure that staff feel supported and that their work has value. It is so easy to believe that people move to for-profit work because of the money, but my experience has been that it is more often due to disillusionment with the work, or the work environment, that causes people to shift.

Do you know someone we should profile as part of this series? Email us at philanthropistprofiles@gmail.com

Lena Bunzenmeyer is International Technical Advisor for CAWST (Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology).