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A Grad's Story: Success in the Nonprofit Sector


Alum Kate Boyle holds a master of education with a specialization in adult education and community development from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. She is currently training to become a certified professional coach with the Coaches Training Institute. We spoke with Kate to find out what it's like working at an innovative non-profit organization.

Why have you chosen to work in the nonprofit sector?

I always choose roles and organizations that have missions that resonate with me. These have always happened to be in the nonprofit sector. This is why I’ve worked in this sector for my entire career, since I was a teenager.

How does the work that you did in the Masters program at OISE complement the work you do now?

As Program Manager, Learning and Curriculum Development for Studio [Y] at the MaRS Discovery District, I work with the rest of my team to design and deliver an innovative, applied project-based learning program for emerging social innovators and leaders aged 18 to 29. A large part of my role focuses on developing our curriculum, which focuses on Leadership, Problem Solving, and Systems Change.

I apply the things that I learned at OISE every day. My M.Ed provided me with a really strong understanding of adult learning theory, innovative approaches to pedagogy, and working with diverse learners. I also learned a lot about community development and social movements, which relates very directly to our Fellows’ work in social innovation and systems change.

What was the transition like for you to go from one nonprofit organization to another? Was there a common thread among the roles?

Before working at MaRS I worked for the Loran Scholars Program, which is a national leadership development program for university students across the country who demonstrate exceptional character, service and leadership. While the roles have many differences, the values are very aligned and the participants in both programs have a lot in common. For these reasons my transition was pretty smooth.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your current role as a Program Manager at Studio [Y]?

Two things share the spot at the top of the list: relationships and creativity. I really cherish the relationships that I have with both Fellows and staff in this role. We strike a balance between supporting each other and challenging one another to be and do our best. The creativity comes with this being such a young program, in such a dynamic environment. We have just begun our third cohort, and while we kept the best elements from the previous two program designs, this third iteration is nonetheless quite different. I really enjoy the creative process and challenges that come with that.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role at Studio [Y]? How do these challenges differ from those you experienced in your previous role?

The same two things that are most rewarding are also most challenging: relationships and creativity. Sometimes it can feel difficult to invest so intensely in others’ flourishing. The creativity involved in designing the program is also challenging. That challenge is a very welcome opportunity for growth, but we need to get through “the muck” to create something that we feel proud of.

In my last role, I did not see the Loran scholars every day as I do in the Studio, and so the relationships weren’t as intense. The program was also mostly designed when I came into the role, and so my energy was focussed more on refining and delivering the program. It was less creative.

What misconceptions (if any) do you think people have when considering a career in the nonprofit sector?

I’m not sure. I know that many people would assume that careers in the nonprofit sector are undercompensated, and while that isn’t entirely untrue, I have always been able to find roles where I could do work that I love and be paid fairly.

If you could change the sector in just one way, what would that look like?

I think that in the coming years we are going to see a lot more cross-sectoral collaboration to address problems at a systems level. This is already happening all over the place. I think that we have a steep learning curve ahead of us in order to figure out how to do this really well.

What piece of advice would you give to those who are transitioning from one organization to another?

Embrace this opportunity to learn! And stay in touch with your previous organization: you could find lots of opportunities to collaborate and share information.