Camilo Garay recently joined CivicAction as the Senior Manager of Development. A DiverseCity Fellow alum, he brings a commitment to building a more inclusive region that values diverse leadership and provides a platform for all stories to be heard.
How would you describe your 2020 Fellows experience? What were your biggest take-aways during the program and now as an alum?
It was unpredictable! As the first completely digital cohort, at times it felt difficult to settle into the program or identify clear takeaways – probably a similar experience to everyone trying something new during COVID-19! Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this program and built a lot of great relationships with CivicAction staff members and other Fellows.
The top three things I learned:
- “Leadership is like sailing a boat – you can’t see past the horizon which can be scary, but you find the courage to keep moving forward into the unknown.” – Julie Lautens
- “Incremental change is never necessary. We can make radical change anytime we want; we just need to have the courage to do it.” – Tim Hockey
- DiverseCity Fellows are among the most incredible people in the GTHA…Period!!
We’re hearing phrases like Build Back Better and Inclusive Economic Recovery more often as we work to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic. Why are programs like DiverseCity Fellows so important, especially now?
I’m not sure if I actually believe that programs like this are more important now than ever. I think initiatives like DiverseCity Fellows have always been important!
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the disparities and inequities that have always existed in communities across the country, but I don’t believe Canada was built with an inclusive foundation or ever had an inclusive economy. I would argue that our country was built by excluding and erasing many communities.
That is why the DiverseCity Fellows program was created more than a decade ago – long before COVID-19 – as a way to address power imbalances and relentlessly combat systemic racism. For as long as equity-deserving communities face unique barriers, programs like DiverseCity Fellows will be needed.
In May, you were hired as the Senior Manager of Development at CivicAction. Congratulations! Can you tell us more about why you decided to apply to this position and what you hope to achieve in this new role?
The people first and foremost – culture is king! CivicAction does such an amazing job of not only curating some of the most incredible people in the GTHA for the Fellows program, but also the staff team. I really wanted to be a part of such a compassionate and driven team.
I am looking forward to helping CivicAction sharpen our focus on inclusive leadership. Power inequities and racism are still prevalent in our workplaces, especially in management and executive roles. I want to breakdown these barriers because we need new perspectives in leadership – across sectors and industries.
What kinds of past experiences are you finding useful in your new role at CivicAction?
Growing up, I experienced poverty, trauma, and participated in illicit activities. I learned very quickly how to change my plan and adjust in any given situation. Throughout my career, my ability to pivot has been a valuable skillset. With CivicAction transitioning into our new Three-Year Strategy, there is requirement to adapt and innovate often. I continue to find myself leaning on my previous non-traditional experiences for support.
Making a job transition during a pandemic is no easy task. What advice would you give to other people making the same step? What has this experience taught you?
Be patient with yourself, be patient with your colleagues, be patient with leadership, and be patient with the organization. I also suggest leveraging all the benefits Work From Home offers such as eating every 30 minutes like my colleague Laurel Sallie does or taking meetings off-camera from the comfort of your couch, both of which would be far more difficult working from the office!
You’ve also recently joined the Board of Governors at Ryerson University. What are some things you’ve learnt thus far by sitting at that leadership table?
Leaders must trust first!
I will never forget one of my first experiences on the Board. We were discussing the allocation of a set of funds for a new initiative. The conversation was lengthy – everyone weighing in with how they thought the funds should be used. Then one of my colleagues reminded us that we hired our staff based on their competencies and Ryerson’s core values, and we must trust and support them as they pursue this new endeavour.
I thought that was a powerful moment in leadership that speaks to the idea that leaders are not the sole keepers of information or the subject matter experts on all things. As leaders we must always extend trust and support to others as they work to drive impact.
Authenticity in leadership is important. How do you bring your full self to work and what advice would you give to organizations working to create welcoming workplaces?
I think it is always important to ask ourselves why it feels difficult for so many people to bring their true, authentic selves to the workplace. If we understand that our workplaces and public institutions are rooted in systemic racism, we can see that “social norms” are driven by a white, Eurocentric, cis-gendered, heteronormative narrative that should not be upheld.
I also try to remind myself of 2 things:
- My differences are necessary. We do not need more conformity; we need more variety.
- I have nothing to lose. I am not rich, I am not famous, I’ve already experienced poverty – what’s the worst that can happen?
My advice to workplaces? Reimagine your ideas of “professionalism”. The current definition is rooted in white supremacy and is used to further marginalize communities. Professionalism is inherently exclusionary and should be abandoned by organizations that aspire to promote diversity and welcoming workplaces.
The other 2020 Fellows say they can always count on you to be full of energy and focus on connectivity. What message (anything at all!) would you like to extend to your entire peer group of Alumni?
Post restriction party coming to a neighbourhood near you in 2021!! Whoever has the largest backyard, hit me up and I will take care of the rest!