150 Profiles: Jess Tomlin

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: Jess Tomlin

Current role in the sector: President/CEO of The MATCH International Women’s Fund

Years working and/or volunteering in the non-profit sector: 18 years.

Jess Tomlin profile picture

What was your first job in the sector or a defining moment?
My earliest role in the sector was working for a women’s shelter in rural Ontario, but one of my first jobs was actually as a bartender. I was a women’s studies major mixing drinks to pay tuition. What I heard and saw in that job was my biggest education on the everyday realities of women.  

I’ve had unbelievable opportunities to work with women around the globe. I distinctly remember working with widows in Afghanistan. They had virtually no social or economic safety net, so they formed a collective. When their funding was cut, they protested in the streets. This is when I truly began to understand the power of women’s innovation, resilience, and determination. This thinking has defined the way that The MATCH Fund does philanthropy.

Describe your desk/workspace.
The MATCH Fund just moved to a shared philanthropy space in Ottawa that brings together entrepreneurs, innovators, and funders. My desk is across from the kitchen table where, we all know, the real work gets done. The MATCH Fund actually started around a kitchen table 40 years ago. To this day, it’s where our best ideas are born. That said, my “office” always looks different. Sometimes it’s on the bluetooth on the way to school pick-up. Other times, it’s when I’m out for a run. Like many women, I’ve adopted a ‘work-life integration’ strategy that allows me to incorporate family, work, and personal needs more fluidly.

What are you reading or following that has expanded your understanding of the non-profit sector?
Throughout the workday, I am constantly plugged into the geopolitical, human rights, and innovation insights that inform The MATCH Fund’s work. Recent pieces about challenging the status quo and how we absolutely have to stop using the word “empowerment” to describe our work have inspired me. To be honest, I’m grateful for a little escapism and have a rolling stack of ‘chick-lit’ by my bedside. My best friend makes sure I have a constant supply. I love her for that.

What do you think our sector needs to be thinking about?
As funders, we must not be contented with the status quo of philanthropy. Money is power. Our grantmaking decisions tell the world who we trust to get the job done. All too often, grassroots women’s organizations are left out. If we are fundamentally going to shift power, then philanthropy has to meet these leaders with brave financial support. The strength of human rights movements, sustained over time, will recalibrate the state of the world. In this moment, Canada has a powerful role to play. The potential for true leadership has never been more ours for the taking.

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

Jess Tomlin is the CEO of The MATCH International Women’s Fund, was just named the Most Innovative Women of the Year, a Gold Stevie Award for Women in Business.