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Today, I was invited to talk about my journey into my role. I was offered 8-10 minutes to talk about how I got to my role in the immigrant-serving sector. Trying to explain my work in such a short time is a feat itself. I spoke to a group of 22 students, alongside 3 other panelists.

I remember what it was like to be early career and unsure of what to do next. For me, leaving the safety of my undergraduate degree was daunting. The safety of being in the same role and the same expectations of me were shifting and there was no roadmap to where I am now. I can’t imagine how much that is compounded by graduating during a pandemic.

I talked about the roles I have, how I approach my work, a bit about the kind of work I do, what folks say about working with me, how I got here and questions to ask yourself.


Partway through the session, I realized that it might be easier to give students a way to ask more questions outside of the panel, so I quickly put together a survey and sent it their way.

8 students responded, all of whom are first-generation Canadians themselves.

I figured that instead of sending them each a separate email with just one question answered, I would summarize the overlapping questions and share my responses with all of them. And then I figured that might be helpful to others too, so I wrote this blog post.

Here are the 5 questions:

1. What skills do newcomers/Youth have to succeed in Canada? 

– your story

I think it is really important to spend time exploring and owning your own story. We each have one and each one is worth telling. Through the work of the DIA, we focus on elevating and amplifying stories of first-generation Canadians and Youth in a variety of ways. Like The Stories of Us project I mentioned, you can actually share your story with us there if you are so inclined.

2. How do you assess “innovation” in the sector?

– impact

I think it is really important to think about what happens after the work is “done.” Often times the work that I get to participate on ends because the funding runs out long before we know if the work has actually paid off. And there is a lot of glorification of the “next” practice and getting rid of what is already here. In May 2020, I presented “Inside Innovation: Co-designing with Newcomers“.

3. How did I get to my role? 

– continuously learning

I believe that as soon as you think you are an expert then you are done – that is why I think of myself as a learner instead. I mentioned that I have two degrees, but I also have over 10 years working on the nonprofit sector and 3 specifically in the immigrant-serving sector. To me, I got to my role by being open to new opportunities, by knowing what I could offer and solidifying my values. This took time, it definitely wasn’t something that I had sorted out from day one. So don’t forget to have patience and perseverance.

4. What does a day in my work look like? 

– always changing

The best part about my work is that it is always different. I get bored easily. I am at the point of my career where I get to pick and choose. I favour projects where I get to focus on stories, building new partnerships, testing out new ideas and being able to share my learning. Right now that looks like presenting at conferences and delivering training sessions, running workshops, developing engagement tools, coaching others and researching.

5. How do I get involved? 

– show me what you can do

I am always looking for new talent and people to bring into our work. I am impressed when someone can show me that they cared enough to do research on their own and then propose to me what they can do and why we should do it together.

It was a pleasure to get to share my experiences with a room of folks who are so eager to make an impact.

Jenn found herself in the nonprofit sector 15 years and has spent her professional and personal life since then guiding conversations through questions and yearning for imagination. Jenn identifies as second-generation Chinese-Canadian, a Mama to two kiddos, a passionately struggling idealist, a recovering perfectionist (aka Super Virgo) and navigating pandemic-induced anxiety. Jenn exists professionally as a designer, researcher and facilitator. In her (limited) spare time, she can be found crafting, eating junk food, cuddling with kiddos and floating in water.

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