150 Profiles: Ilona Dougherty

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: Ilona Dougherty

Current role in the sector: Managing Director, Youth & Innovation Project, University of Waterloo

Years working and/or volunteering in the non-profit sector: 20+ years.

Ilona Dougherty profile picture

What was your first job in the sector or a defining moment?
I was literally born into the non-profit sector. Growing up in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, my brother and I use to play Annual General Meeting instead of playing house. My parents had taken us to so many meetings, we just followed their lead. I chaired the meeting and my brother was the one who handed out the agendas. My defining moment in the sector came when I was 14 years old. After having been asked to babysit at an environmental conference, instead of just playing that limited role, when I heard the organization was looking for board members, I raised my hand and got elected to the board. I always encourage young people to not be afraid to speak up. You never know what might happen and you will never regret it.

Describe your desk/workspace.
I work from home. So most important for me is my view out of my window, my orchids, and a cup of tea. I am also on the road a lot, so I can work from anywhere. I try to keep things as comfortable as I can while I travel. A cup of tea is never far away and I always try to make sure I work from somewhere where I can take a break to meditate or chill as needed. Over the last few years my personal wellbeing has become as important to me as my work.

What are you reading or following that has expanded your understanding of the non-profit sector?
My understanding has been most profoundly influenced in the last few years by The Wellbeing Project. Their tagline is “Wellbeing inspires welldoing”. It has been a tough lesson to learn and to actually implement but it is core to how I approach my work now. Only if I am well, can I do good things for my community and beyond. Founded and run by several amazing Canadians, this project inspires me to be a better sector leader every day.

What do you think our sector needs to be thinking about?
My work right now is all about making the economic case for youth engagement. It is about taking something that a small group of dedicated people in the non-profit sector have been working on for many years, and translating it from something that is seen as “a nice thing to do” into a social and economic imperative. I wish the sector would think more about getting outside of the sector, understanding how to impact public policy (I LOVE what Ontario Nonprofit Network is doing in this regard), business and how to change how mainstream society thinks about the issues we are working on. We need to become more focused on how best to do our work to have maximum impact – which often means partnering with unlikely allies – rather than getting stuck in the way things have always been done.

 

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

Ilona Dougherty is Managing Director, Youth & Innovation Project at the University of Waterloo.