They say beginnings are always tough; I like to say fortune favours the bold and courageous. Both apply to Kara Eusebio who moved to Canada at the end of 2016. Today, Kara is the Senior Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Invest Ottawa and a 2019 Forty Under 40 recipient. But at first, “it was a hard adjustment and it was more difficult than expected to make friends, get involved in the community, and of course, find a job.” She faced many rejections before landing in a temporary data entry resource development position at Cornerstone Housing for Women which provides emergency shelter and safe, supporting housing for women in Canada’s capital city.
Working at Cornerstone helped Kara understand the organization and its mission well and meet new people and volunteers. However, it also uncovered some gaps, including the fact that the demographics of the main donors and volunteers (retirees) weren’t aligned with the women living at Cornerstone (where the average age is 30). “I wanted to volunteer with other young professionals,” said Kara.
What happened next?
Well, I asked myself how to involve more young professionals at Cornerstone and I pitched the idea of setting up a Young Professionals Advisory Board (YPAB) to the leadership team. I thought it would be a great place to learn about how non-profit boards function, how to make an impact on a board, and create a credible training ground as well as a place for young professionals to volunteer together.
How did you get young professionals interested in joining YPAB?
I reached out to current volunteers and young professionals I knew and asked them to join. I also purposefully reached out to people who were representative of the demographics or life experiences the women at Cornerstone had had because I wanted to make sure that the YPAB was representative, diverse, and inclusive.
YPAB members represent different educational and professional backgrounds but it is essentially a coalition of the willing, young professionals looking for a way to make a difference and bring attention to the housing crisis and people experiencing homelessness in our community.
It wasn’t too difficult to get people involved actually. Many young professionals were already looking for like-minded folks and were questioning how to make a difference in our city, so this really resonated with them. In addition, while many people think of homelessness as a political issue, there are YPAB members from all three major political parties.
When was the first meeting of the Board and what does the Board focus on?
Our first meeting was in September 2017.
YPAB consists of community focused young professionals who are interested in supporting Cornerstone’s fundraising efforts, want to spread community awareness about homelessness, want to volunteer with other professionals and learn how to advocate for a cause they believe in. To my knowledge, there is nothing quite like the YPAB in Ottawa.
How many Board members are there today?
We started with 9 members in 2017 and now have over 21 members. We’re continually looking for young professionals who want to make an impact.
What are YPAB’s successes to date?
To date, the YPAB has raised more than $6,000 in support of Cornerstone’s services.
In mid-2019, our volunteer coordinator reported that Cornerstone has experienced a significant shift in volunteer demographics: 75% of volunteer applicants are now between the ages of 24 and 35. We see this as a huge testament to the impact that YPAB has had on increasing awareness of Cornerstone and its mission.
Organizing the first event felt a bit like hounding people and we were so worried it wouldn’t be full and now tickets for our events sell out a week in advance. People really are looking for a way to give back to the community which is great because homelessness is on the rise here in Ottawa and people are not sure how to take practical action. That’s what the YPAB is here to help with.
What is the relationship between Cornerstone’s corporate board and YPAB?
The corporate board is very supportive and its members often come to YPAB events. They support our governance training and knowledge sharing. Some of the members are former public sector and private sector leaders which makes for a great opportunity for YPAB to network and learn from their experience.
I stepped down as Chair of the YPAB in June 2019 and am now serve as the liaison between YPAB and the corporate board.
What does YPAB mean to you and what is your vision for the Board?
The YPAB isn’t mine, it is ours, it is everybody’s. And after two years as Chair, I decided to step back and give other members the space to be leaders and to really thrive in their own way.
In 10-15 years, I hope to see that young people in Ottawa know what the YPAB is, see it as a great opportunity to get involved in their community. I don’t want it to look the same as it does now. I want young people to continually step up, challenge the status quo, make it better and strive to serve those who are experiencing homelessness.
How can one join YPAB?
YPAB has a rolling application process on Cornerstone’s website and once you submit an application, you will hear back within a couple of weeks.
There are three committees one can get involved in, including: events and fundraising, marketing and communications, and community engagement and advocacy. It is possible to serve on one or more committees before joining the board itself if you want to give it a try and see if it’s a fit for you and your skills.
Do you see yourself as a leader?
I see myself as a leader because I was able to develop my vision, articulate it, bring people along and have a positive impact. However, I also think that it is just as important to empower others and help them discover their own talents and skills.
A leader should establish that vision and have that passion, but they can’t just lead by themselves. When I asked the people to join YPAB, many said they’d join but didn’t know how they could contribute. So I suggested roles for people based on their skills and interests (to chair the events committee, for example). A leader identifies a talent in another person when he/she isn’t even aware of it him/herself. Sometimes people think that leadership is pushing a huge rock up a hill by yourself, but it is about identifying passions and channeling other people’s skills.
What leadership challenges have you encountered?
I think it is especially hard for women and people of colour to see themselves as leaders in the traditional sense. It is sometimes hard for me to identify someone who looks like me who’s currently serving in a position of leadership or power. Sometimes women of colour feel pushed to do things extremely well because there is more pressure on them to represent the entire community, which is impossible.
What advice would you give to someone who is on a path towards leadership or has an idea they want to put forward?
Remember that championing your own vision no matter what can lead to dictatorship which is not leadership. Leadership is inspiring people and setting a pace, cultivating others’ unique leadership styles.
Sometimes you will fall in love with your ideas so much that you will actually be in danger of killing them. That is when you need to pause and consider what types of leadership, skillset and talents are right to apply at this point of the growth process.
What has recently resonated with you?
“First, Break All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham.
I read this book in graduate school and I’ve been re-reading it lately.
What are the book’s key messages and takeaways?
There are so many gems in this book. I think the main thing that I’ve been thinking about lately is that sometimes, people are not going to do things the way you want them to and you shouldn’t try to make them. If you try to force them, they will stop trying, they will resent you and you will never discover that other perspectives might be just as valuable as yours. Ask yourself, “is this a wrong direction or is this just not the way I would do it?”