150 Profiles: Karen Sherbut

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: Karen Sherbut

Current role in the sector: CEO (volunteer) and Chairman of the Board, The Safe Haven Foundation of Canada

Years working and/or volunteering in the non-profit sector: Over 30 years. I have had the privilege to sit on multiple volunteer boards, and have been seconded to positions in the philanthropic sector since the late 1980s. By 1995 my life did a complete 180, and my career turned to volunteerism in serving homeless and at-risk teenage girls, and I haven’t looked back since.

Karen Sherbut profile picture

What was your first job in the sector or a defining moment?
While my journey up the career ladder has spanned both the corporate and entrepreneurial sectors, I have never considered philanthropic work a real “job.” Instead, I have seen it as a lifelong pursuit of giving back to society.

Everything happens for a reason. My defining moment, unbeknownst to me at the time, began with running away from home at 16. It culminated some 20 years later, whilst exploring dreams and possibilities with my soon to be husband. There was the affirmation that deep down I already knew that I desperately wanted to create opportunities for today’s homeless teenage girls that I wish I would have had.

Describe your desk/workspace.
My workplace is not my desk and my desk is not my workplace. In a sunny third floor corner of my home sits my neat and orderly desk, which, if nothing else, is kept so to prevent a fire hazard from the candles I have dotted around the space. My desk is indeed my home base, a great place for strategic development and thinking; however, my workplace travels with me wherever I go. Thanks to phones, tablets, and laptops, (and me most often being the passenger in the car, thanks to my husband) a drive longer than 10 minutes means a conference call, and the dining room table has seen more board room meetings than dinners!”

What are you reading or following that has expanded your understanding of the non-profit sector?
I am a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks and consider myself a well-learned professional, versus a well-read one. I surround myself with some amazing thinkers, challengers and change makers. For years my greatest learnings have been from these incredible individuals.

I still love the page turners from Stephen R. Covey to Leo Buscaglia, where you are compelled to read a few paragraphs, or a few pages, and then sit back, reflect and think about what you have just read and how it applies, or how you need to make it apply, to your own world.

What do you think our sector needs to be thinking about?
I believe the world today needs to stand together more than ever. Interdependence and collaboration: working together, and smarter, not just harder. Instead of duplicating services, let’s work together to increase those services at a lesser cost to the community. Let’s look at the social return on investment; let’s educate our donors/investors on their impact on the very fabric of society; and let’s work on educating, inspiring, motivating, and engaging our community to be part of a better world.

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

Karen Sherbut is CEO and Board Chair of The Safe Haven Foundation of Canada, based in Calgary, Alberta.