150 Profiles: Senator Ratna Omidvar

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: The Honourable Ratna Omidvar, C.M., O.Ont.

Current role in the sector: Independent Senator for Ontario, Distinguished Visiting Professor, Global Diversity Exchange (GDX) at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University

Years working and/or volunteering in the non-profit sector: 33 years.

What was your first job in the sector or a defining moment?
My first job in the sector was as first as a volunteer at St. Stephen’s Community House in Toronto. This volunteer experience quickly turned itself into contract work at the agency, which is a well-known settlement house near the Kensington Market. I saw first-hand how successive waves of immigrants moved into the neighbourhood, worked hard, and then a generation later moved out to the suburbs. It struck me then that every immigrant goes through the same journey of arrival, rejection, and renewal, no matter when they came to Canada or from where.

Describe your desk/workspace.
My current office is beautiful. It is located right opposite Parliament Hill and I have a wonderful view out from my window of the Supreme Court of Canada and the Ottawa River. My desk has an array of current affair magazines and newspapers including the Economist and Hill Times.

What are you reading or following that has expanded your understanding of the non-profit sector?
The Report of the Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities has been a go-to resource for me as I continue to engage charities and non-profits on their abilities to advocate. This report illustrates a tangible alternative to the Canada Revenue Agency regime – one that differentiates between public policy dialogue and partisan political work, and focuses on an organization’s overall purpose rather than its day-to-day activities. I highly recommend it to any non-profit professional who wants to see their policy recommendations come to fruition here on Parliament Hill along with the latest edition of The Philanthropist!

What do you think our sector needs to be thinking about?
Canada’s non-profit sector organizations need to be thinking about how they encourage diversity and inclusion, from its board members and employees to its lists of volunteers and supporters. While non-profit leadership often visualizes the sector at the head of the pack, recent research from the Mowat Centre has debunked our assumptions that our current practices are in fact best practices. We need to make innovative approaches to this problem more ‘open source’ – easy to share amongst our peers in the sector, and easy customize to another organization’s unique needs.

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


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