A recently introduced certificate program, delivered by Luther College and the University of Regina’s Centre for Continuing Education, is building important leadership capacity in Saskatchewan’s volunteer and non-profit sectors.

Maria Fernanda Martinez CNSLI’18 sits in her office at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Regina where she works as the donor services coordinator for the Archbishop's Appeal.

“It’s an excellent position for me because one of my favourite areas in the non-profit sector is fundraising,” she says of her job, which includes a fundraising campaign whose proceeds support ministries, programs and Catholic charities in Southern Saskatchewan. “I’m also really happy because I never thought I’d secure a satisfying job so soon.”

Martinez moved to Canada at the end of 2017 in search of professional advancement. Her non-profit work experience in her native Colombia was extensive, including, at one point, managing corporate contributions for a private company. Just before leaving, she was the funding lead in a non-profit organization. She had the experience but lacked academic credentials.

“I was researching different programs that matched my non-profit interest,” she says, adding that she was drawn to shorter courses and ones that complement her existing experience in the non-profit sector. That’s how she happened upon Luther College and the Centre for Continuing Education’s Certificate in Nonprofit Sector Leadership and Innovation (NSLI).

“It fulfilled all my criteria,” she says. “It was short so I could do it in one year and I could work part-time or full-time while I completed it. So I applied and was accepted.”

Under the directorship of Yvonne Harrison, the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Studies Network (NVSSN), located at Luther College at the University of Regina, oversees delivery of the five-course NSLI Certificate. It’s the first formal program of study on the non-profit and voluntary sector in Saskatchewan.

Harrison draws from her extensive non-profit and voluntary sector background, rich in scholarship and innovative research. As a faculty member at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the State University of New York at Albany (University of Albany, SUNY), she was awarded the President’s Award for Exemplary Public Engagement and received grants to increase access to non-profit leadership education and research by proposing a series of massive open online courses on improving leadership and governance in non-profit organizations. Those courses currently enrol about 19,000 people in 162 countries.

Maria Fernanda Martinez
Although Maria Fernanda Martinez had a lot of non-profit experience in her native Columbia, the NSLI Certificate program fit nicely with her availability and those skills she wished to acquire. (Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

“And they are working on critical social justice and economic issues, often in countries without functioning governments,” she says, explaining that students are encouraged to use the course and open source materials she and co-instructor, Professor Vic Murray of the University of Victoria, developed to teach, conduct research and provide a service to help boards reach higher levels of performance. This includes Board Checkup, a free online tool students and boards use to conduct confidential assessments of board performance, and Guidelines for Improving the Effectiveness of Boards of Directors of Nonprofit Organizations, the SUNY Open Textbook, which has been downloaded over 11,200 times.

She says that even in more stable economies where there have been a growing number of governance failures, there’s a movement for boards within the non-profit and voluntary sector to beef up governance processes to be more efficient, effective and accountable.

“So, universities are giving back to the communities, not only by sharing the knowledge and resources they have, but also by shaping education and research to generate real, usable, practical knowledge to help them respond to real world problems,” Harrison says.

To that end, the NSLI certificate program follows a largely applied experiential learning model, intentionally connecting students to organizations in the community through academic courses in one way or another. This is what, in part, appealed to alumna Hannah Sackville BA’18, CNSLI’18.

Hannah Sackville (left) was one of the first students to complete the NSLA certificate. She’s seen here with administrative assistant Vivya Natana. (Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

“While you’re learning about cost analysis and mission drift as issues within an organization, for example, you’re also consulting with a local non-profit that’s struggling with those issues,” says Sackville, who currently works for the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan. “You’re doing research that can inform their future decisions, depending on how well you’ve done your job, of course,” she adds.

Sackville was among the first cohort to graduate from the program and currently sits on the NVSSN Advisory Committee. During the program, she remembers working in various capacities with local non-profits, including the Regina Bridge Club, the Indian Head Grand Theatre, the Joshua Mutafya Foundation and the Mennonite Central Committee.

“We were always learning from each other and working together to innovate,” she says of projects that she and her classmates undertook. Sackville says these varied from boosting revenue development streams, to strategies for recruiting volunteers, to deciding — in the case of one particular charity — what to do with an unused space.

The experiential learning aspect of the curriculum is a highlight of the program that resonated with Martinez.

“There’s no playing around,” says Martinez, who worked as a research assistant with NVSSN before graduating in autumn 2018. She was especially impressed by all the projects that had students design proposals to address specific challenges faced by local non-profit organizations. “You get to help real non-profit organizations do better by offering valuable proposals that can be developed further.”

Canada has the second largest non-profit sector in the world with an estimated 170,000 registered charities and non-profit organizations. According to Imagine Canada, an umbrella organization that represents the charitable sector, more than two million people are employed by non-profits. These institutions contribute $176 billion in income and account for more than eight per cent of Canada’s GDP.

For Sackville, being included on the NVSSN Advisory Committee — first as a student and now as an alumna — has served as a professional development opportunity.

“I get to work with a lot of people who are executive directors of organizations or who are practitioners in the community and who are supportive and conscious that, while I may not have their level of experience as a practitioner, my input on matters to do with NVSSN is valuable,” she says.

According to Sackville, recurring statistics have revealed an age gap on important committees and boards, with younger people not adequately represented. People her age, she supposes, may not even consider themselves suitable for those leadership opportunities, but formal training like the NSLI certificate can equip them with the necessary skills and confidence to seek out those opportunities.

Harrison agrees. She says that formal academic programs on the non-profit and voluntary sectors not only foster the development of knowledge and leadership capability, they generate knowledge and resources that non-profit and voluntary organizations can use to further develop and grow.

(Left to right) Hannah Sackville, Yvonne Harrison, and Vivya Natana are just three of the individuals who see a bright future for the NSLI certificate program. Canada has the second largest non-profit sector in the world with an estimated 170,000 registered charities and non-profit organizations. (Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

But Harrison says those statistics are based on data collected from incorporated charitable and non-profit organizations of a certain size, which Canada Revenue Agency tracks. These data don’t include the unincorporated voluntary associations or the contributions from volunteerism. “So, the sector’s actually much larger than we know,” she explains, “and what those social contributions add up to economically? It’s a whole lot.”

This is why Harrison sees it fitting that the province with the highest rate of volunteerism in the country (58 per cent) has an academic program like NVSSN to play a supporting role in enhancing contributions and building sector capacity in Saskatchewan.

One way NVSSN does this is by organizing gatherings like the Common Threads Conference, which brings people together to discuss emerging issues and trends within the sector. “That’s where the seeds of innovation begin,” Harrison says. “And that can inform education, it can inform research and it can inform service.”

“We see our program as an academic pathway,” Harrison says. “Our community and students are now saying, ‘We would like to see a course on this or that, more accessible, affordable and flexible courses, and a degree or a minor or a major because this is what we need to succeed or want to study and do.'"

Last year’s conference addressed the question: How do we become more representative of the communities we serve? The conference featured a panel of local experts, talking circles and a keynote by Patricia Bradshaw, dean of the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University and a professor of Management. Bradshaw’s keynote drew from research she had conducted and published on diversity and inclusion in the governance of non-profit organizations in Canada.

Participants, including students and local practitioners, left the conference with protocols, practices and evidence that diversity is a powerful tool that has transformed non-profit boards and organizations. The conference also planted the seed for a new NSLI course – Managing Diversity in Nonprofit Organizations – which launched in the winter 2019 semester.

“We see our program as an academic pathway,” Harrison says. “Our community and students are now saying, ‘We would like to see a course on this or that, more accessible, affordable and flexible courses, and a degree or a minor or a major because this is what we need to succeed or want to study and do.’”

“Absolutely,” says Martinez about the idea of a degree option. She says graduating from the program has sharpened her interest in areas of the non-profit sector not tackled deeply by the certificate.

Sackville, too, says a degree program or more robust formalized education in the non-profit and voluntary sectors will open doors for early career workers. “I think that charitable and non-profit organizations in Canada are moving in that direction,” she says. “They want to mitigate talent gaps down the road, and hiring and retaining qualified staff is the way to do that.”

For more information on the program, click here.


Iryn Tushabe is a Ugandan independent journalist and writer living in Saskatchewan. Her literary journalism has appeared in Canadian publications, including Prairies North magazine, and in Uganda’s New Vision newspaper.

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FLUID is a photographic portrait series by Los Angeles-based photographer Blake Little. The project began in 2017 as a simple casting call. The response was overwhelming. What Little recognized at the time was the pivotal and seismic shift in the history of the human identity spectrum that saw transgender, non-binary, gender fluid, Two Spirit and + subjects at the forefront. As an artist Blake felt compelled to begin recording the regular, activist, and celebrity subjects on the vanguard while paying particular attention to diversity of class, race, age, and geographic location of his subjects.

With the support of the University of Regina’s MAP, Queer City Cinema and other supporters, portraits were taken at the University in March. Little has captured a range of details in his models – from confident, poignant, or emotionally raw physiques and skin surfaces to carefully considered attire. Each portrait is constructed collaboratively with the model. Little’s subjects are “in-between,” “out,” or elsewhere on the gender spectrum. Each is a sensitive marker of degrees on the spectrum that can read as both expressive and open, or formally reserved.

The touring exhibition of 40 colour portraits and a publication have evolved in close consultation with Aaron Devor, founder and academic director of the world’s largest transgender archives, and founder and host of the international, interdisciplinary Moving Trans History Forward conferences and professor of Sociology at the University of Victoria. The FLUID exhibition will begin to address pertinent issues and concerns to a broader public, such as: Is gender over? What are the new semiotics of gender representation? Is post-gender the new international civil rights movement? What are the protocols and issues to be addressed in the making of photographic representation of trans, gender fluid, non-binary and Two Sprit + models? Answers to these and other questions will undoubtedly challenge expectations.

- Wayne Baerwaldt



Evie Ruddy Evie Ruddy

 “It seems to me we’re in a post-Pride era of diversity and gender neutral inclusion in public and private life, with issues being discussed in university forums as well as public school classrooms and corporate board rooms. As a photographer and a viewer there is perhaps an unconscious aim to have my own understanding of gender representation (informed initially by the culture wars of the 1980s) refreshed and perhaps corrected. I am so thankful to my models that came to the University of Regina to be photographed, simply for allowing me to work with them. In many ways I, like others, are being encouraged to listen in and learn about gender diversity through photographs and moving images. My procedure then is, first and foremost, to observe and interpret with sensitivity. The portraits and the social process behind their production at the University of Regina and elsewhere will continue to generate public discussion around why we find these images so powerful, alluring and, on occasion, so difficult to process. Each portrait subject invites new forms of characterization by us as observant interpreters.”

-Blake Little

Asher Chen Asher Chen

Blake Little was born and raised in Seattle, Washington and moved to Los Angeles in 1982 after graduating with a photography degree from Seattle’s Central College. He is best known for his ability to capture, with an honest intimacy, the energy and personality of his subjects. His portraits subjects have been diverse, from luminaries such as Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Samuel Jackson, kd Lang, and John Baldesarri, to rural Canadians in his series New West. Little’s work has been exhibited in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Calgary, Kansas City, St. Louis, San Diego, Lethbridge and in Japan. His work has been appeared in the London Times, New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and other media outlets. Four monographs on his work have been produced: Dichotomy in 1997, The Company of Men, 2010, Manifest, 2012 and Preservation, 2014.

Madi Schenk Madi Schenk

Wayne Baerwaldt is an art, photography, architecture curator and a Michele Sereda Artist in Residence for Socially Engaged Practice within MAP at the University of Regina. He has co-produced exhibitions, events, symposia and publications that trace performative elements, with an emphasis on cross-disciplinary investigations of unstable forms and disputed identities.

Apple Fluid Apple Fluid

Aaron Devor, initiated and holds the inaugural position as the world’s only Chair in Transgender Studies. He is the founder and academic director of the world’s largest transgender archives, and founder and host of the international, interdisciplinary Moving Trans History Forward conferences. He is the author of numerous well-cited scholarly articles and three enduring books: FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society (2016, 1997), The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future (2014), and Gender Blending: Confronting the Limits of Duality (1989). He has delivered more than 20 keynote addresses worldwide and won many awards for his transgender work, including the Virginia Prince Pioneer Award, a national Equity Award, and awards from the University of Victoria for Outstanding Community Outreach, and for Advocacy and Activism in Equity and Diversity. His book about the transgender archives was also a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

He is an elected senior member of the International Academy of Sex Research, and was chosen as a Fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. He is historian for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) and has been involved in writing versions of the WPATH Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People since 1999. He is also overseeing the translation of Version 7 into world languages. Devor is a former dean of Graduate Studies (2002-2012), a national-award-winning teacher, and a professor of Sociology at the University of Victoria.

Visit Blake Little’s website at www.blakelittle.com

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It’s been 26 years since Denis Carignan BA'93 walked across the stage to receive his Bachelor of English Literature from the Saskatchewan Federated Indian College (now First Nations University of Canada) at the University of Regina.

The goal of the company is to create and leverage a pool of 1,000 Indigenous software testers across Canada by 2022.

He is the first to admit being president of a company was not something he would have predicted back then, but that’s exactly what happened.

Sitting in a coffee shop armed with a laptop and a smartphone he has everything he needs to start his day as president of PLATO Testing – a software testing company. Established in 2015 in New Brunswick, it employs 60 Indigenous testers and has offices on or near Indigenous communities in Fredericton, Miramichi, Sault Ste. Marie, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and most recently Regina.

The goal of the company is to create and leverage a pool of 1,000 Indigenous software testers across Canada by 2022. Carignan joined PLATO Testing as its president in September 2016, but his connection to the company began long before then.

It is a tale of being the right person in the right place at the right time. He readily shares his story of how he became the leader of a cutting-edge IT company with anyone who asks. In fact, PLATO Testing serves as a concrete example of what true reconciliation can be.

(left to right) President of FHQ Developments Thomas Benjo, FHQTC Tribal Chief Edmond Bellegard and Keith McIntosh, president and CEO of PQA Testing. The three were on hand for an April 2 partnership announcement that officially launched PLATO Sask Testing, the only dedicated software testing company in Saskatchewan.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

Carignan, a member of Pasqua First Nation near Fort Qu’Appelle, believes his education and work experience helped lay the foundation for him to transition into the role he enjoys today. Shortly after receiving his first degree in 1993, he landed a job with what is now known as Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). As a requirement of his job, he returned to the University of Regina where he received a degree in French.

“It was one of my lifetime goals to learn another language,” says Carignan, who was happy that he was able to learn French without leaving Regina.

He married, had children and worked at INAC for more than two decades. Things likely would have remained status quo had it not been for some changes within his department that required him to move from the Prairies to the Maritimes.

He says the decision to create an IT company that employs Indigenous people seemed viable based on some simple statistics. McIntosh says there are currently 190,000 IT jobs in Canada that need to be filled and, at the same time, there are pools of untapped labour available on any First Nation.

In 2015, while he was living in New Brunswick, he applied to be part of the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference (GGCLC). The conference brings together 250 emerging leaders from across Canada to participate in the two-week program. Attendees come from the private sector, government, unions and non-profit organizations and are divided into 16 study groups and sent to a specific region within the country.

At the end of the two weeks, each group presents a report to the Governor General.

Carignan’s group was sent to south eastern Quebec, which included Montreal and a number of eastern townships.

What made this event different from others was the timing.

“The conference took place just prior to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) final report,” says Carignan. “During our study group tour there were a number releases coming out related to it."

Having spent the majority of his career working on the Indigenous file for the federal government and also being an Indigenous, he began fielding a lot of questions about the TRC report and the 94 Calls to Action.

Keith McIntosh, founder of PLATO Testing and president and CEO of PQA Testing, one of Canada's leading independent IT testing firms.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

Among the group asking questions was Keith McIntosh, president and CEO of PQA Testing, one of Canada’s leading independent IT testing firms located in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

“It was June 8, 2015, Keith and I had a conversation just about what could be done to make a difference to create sustainable employment for Indigenous Canadians,” recalls Carignan.

McIntosh wanted to know if there were programs within government that could help train people to pursue careers in the knowledge economy such as IT. Little did Carignan realize, how significant that conversation would be, not only in his life, but in the lives of Indigenous people across Canada. The seeds for PLATO Testing were planted during that conversation.

Like Carignan, McIntosh can recollect details of the conversation almost verbatim. What motivated McIntosh to start PLATO was his desire to make a difference. He says the decision to create an IT company that employs Indigenous people seemed viable based on some simple statistics. McIntosh says there are currently 190,000 IT jobs in Canada that need to be filled and, at the same time, there are pools of untapped labour available on any First Nation.

Such a business is sustainable because the only thing a person needs to become a software tester is training and a strong Wi-Fi signal.

McIntosh recalls how during the GGCLC, his study group, which included Carignan, visited Montreal.

"We had dinner on fine china and drank out of coffee cups that were so fine that you could see the person sitting opposite of you," he says.

The next day the group visited a K-6 school located on the Kahnawke First Nation.

"It wasn't a mainline school, but they were teaching the children the Mohawk language," says McIntosh. "The little kids came running out to see all these important people and as the doors of the school opened, you could smell the water. It was a bad water smell."

He couldn't believe the stark contrast in basic living conditions that existed in Canada.

“From the schoolyard you could see the skyline of one of the most beautiful cities in North America and the water in this K-6 school was not drinkable," says McIntosh. "That was not right. That was embarrassing."

It is a realization that has stuck with him.

“I see us developing individuals in IT and I see these Indigenous professionals becoming very highly qualified developers. We are looking at growing our business in the tech sector,” he adds.

When the TRC released its 94 Calls to Action, McIntosh looked at what he could do in terms of reconciliation. He found his answer.

Action 92.1 states: Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.

Although McIntosh knew what he could do, he needed a bridge between his company and First Nations – that’s where Carignan came in.

McIntosh needed someone with knowledge about potential funding sources for training and education opportunities. He also needed someone with a clear understanding of Indigenous culture, as well as someone who was well versed in the historical and contemporary issues facing Indigenous people.

McIntosh laid out his idea of creating a network of Indigenous software testers across Canada that could compete for lucrative contracts from any company in the world, while never having to leave their home communities.

Carignan knows the realities many face while living on-reserve and trying to earn income. Jobs are almost non-existent on most First Nations and many have to leave their own communities to find work or to pursue education or training opportunities. If jobs come to reserves, the spinoffs are immeasurable.

A smile immediately comes to Carignan’s face when he recalls the last words he spoke to McIntosh after their conversation about building a business that will not only train, but employ 1,000 Indigenous software testers.

(left to right) Keith McIntosh, Denis Carignan and Thomas Benjoe on the occasion of the April 2 launch of PLATO Sask Testing.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

“I said you build it and I will come work for you,” he says with a laugh.

Three months after he uttered those words, McIntosh called him and asked when he was going to come work for him. Carignan, accustomed to moving at the pace of government, underestimated the speed at which McIntosh moved. When he received the call he had to make a serious decision to move from something stable to something with no guarantees. Although he knew he wanted to be part of what McIntosh was building, he had his family’s future to consider.

After some juggling, he said goodbye to his 9-to-5 routine, his office space and coworkers. Carignan says changing jobs has invigorated him and although he admits much of his work has been conducted in coffee shops and his meetings are conducted via Skype, email or phone, it’s been worth it.

“Sometimes it was like, ‘I have to go to work,’ and you drag yourself to work,” says Carignan. “Now, I’m excited about the day.”

Witnessing first-hand the impact PLATO has had on individuals and communities has been extremely rewarding. Carignan says it’s great to see Indigenous testers being a positive influence in their communities, in their work placements, and within their own families.

When Carignan moved back to Saskatchewan he immediately went to work at expanding PLATO in Saskatchewan. Once again he relied on his knowledge about Indigenous governments and securing training dollars.

Being a member of Pasqua First Nation, he approached the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) to talk about a potential partnership. He says FHQ Developments already had a proven track record when it came to business and, although it has a diverse portfolio, it did not possess any IT businesses.

President of FHQ Development Thomas Benjoe, a First Nations University of Canada graduate and a 2017 University of Regina Alumni Crowning Achievement Award recipient for outstanding young alumnus.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

Carignan set up a meeting with the president of FHQ Developments Thomas Benjoe CA’09, CHTGEM’09, DAdmin’09, BBA’11 (FNUniv). Benjoe says each year his company reviews an average of 25 business proposals. It took a few follow-up meetings with Carignan and McIntosh before the ball started rolling on the new partnership between PQA Testing and FHQ Developments to create PLATO Sask Testing.

“I really want us to be seen as leaders, leading in economic development and being able to lead in new sectors and establish new ways of doing business,” says Benjoe. “It is something we have really been focused on in our strategies and to be the first with a tech company in the province is really important for us because we know the potential it’s going to create.”

Benjoe says Carignan’s determination and his passion for PLATO are what piqued his interest in the IT company.

“When we create these new companies we have to make sure their values are aligning to our values,” he says.

On a personal level, Benjoe says it’s been great to work with Carignan. (Carignan’s home First Nation is one of 11 member nations of FHQTC.) Both are FNUniv alumnus, which is also a plus.

“It showcases the University and its ability to develop strong talent,” says Benjoe.

He says it’s great to work with other alumni on a common goal and that he is eager to create a better future, not only for Indigenous people, but for all of Saskatchewan.

PLATO Sask Testing plans to train 25 to 30 software testers immediately and begin working on procuring contracts.

“I see us developing individuals in IT and I see these Indigenous professionals becoming very highly qualified developers. We are looking at growing our business in the tech sector,” he adds.

Carignan says changing his career path was daunting, but when he realized McIntosh was willing to create a company that could potentially compete with organizations from around the world, he knew it was worth the sacrifice. He adds that someday when his children look back on his career they will know their dad did something good because it was the right thing to do.

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