150 Profiles: Marcus Youssef

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: Marcus Youssef

Current role in the sector: Artistic Director, Neworld Theatre; Chair, Vancouver Creative Space Society; Canadian Fellow, International Society of Performing Arts; Editorial Advisor, Canadian Theatre Review

What was your first job in the sector or a defining moment?
First job: running a program for Kingston Employment and Youth Services, in which 16 young people who were then referred to as “early school leavers” spent the summer creating and performing an original show inspired in some way by their lives. And they were paid as full-time employees, through a program administered by the Ontario government. Clearly it was the early 1990s, just before almost all programs of this kind were axed across North America in support of a neoliberal economic agenda to reduce the size of government.

Describe your desk/workspace.
I pile things, and the piles grow larger. I’m more likely to move the piles around than I am to go through them. What’s interesting to me is how rarely I need anything from these piles. Which is probably a credit to the incredible team I work with. In terms of workspace, I am blessed to be part of a partnership of independent theatre companies that took over an old garment factory on Vancouver’s East Side in 2009. It’s called Progress Lab and has a beautiful studio, funky offices and lots of shared space.

What are you reading or following that has expanded your understanding of the non-profit sector?
My go-to resource for thinking about non-profit cultures and issues is NonprofitAF. It is written and run by Vu Le, Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps, a nonprofit in Seattle that promotes social justice by developing leaders of colour. It is the place where every critique and frustration I have felt about the sector and then forgotten about is named, analyzed and responded to directly, clearly, generously and with one of the more hilarious senses of humours I’ve encountered on the web. Look at the website’s name. It used to be “nonprofitswithballs.com”

What do you think our sector needs to be thinking about?
In my corner (culture) I think it’s about questioning (and/or resisting) the presumption that everything digital must be good. I think we need to remember that a lot of what we do is about authentic face-to-face contact, and that in fact this is something that our collective public discourse sorely needs right now. When someone says, “innovation” or “disruption” these days, I’m immediately suspicious. I think buzzwords are always dangerous, because they allow us to be lazy, and to avoid being specific, transparent and clear about what we want, and what we mean.

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


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