From Toronto to Montreal and back again, 2011 DiverseCity Fellow Vani Jain‘s leadership journey has had many twists and turns. In her recent return to Toronto, Vani is taking on the role of founding Executive Director at The Daymark Foundation where she will be seeking positive community impact in the areas of mental health and food security.
How would you describe your Fellows experience? What were the biggest take-aways for you both during and post program?
It was a really great growth experience. I learned a lot about myself, what drives me, and what kind of contribution I want to make to society. I also got to know some incredible people that continue to inspire me to this day. A big takeaway for me is the diverse ways that we can use our time to help advance positive change.
Why are programs like DiverseCity Fellows important?
There are lots of ways that we, as young professionals, can invest in ourselves. As a year-long offering with multiple learning opportunities, the Fellows program was a transformative experience.
In October, you were named the first Executive Director of the McCain Family’s new Daymark Foundation. Congratulations! Can you tell us more about the Daymark Foundation and what it hopes to achieve?
Thank you! The Daymark Foundation is focused on transformative impact in the area of mental health – a cause that is near to my heart, and one that I’ve worked on for most of my career.
What’s it like to help build an organization from the ground up? What kinds of past experiences are you finding useful?
It’s an exciting challenge, and an opportunity to make sound strategic decisions from the get-go. In any mature organization, you can find yourself doing things just because that’s just the way they’ve always been done, or basing decisions on implicit assumptions about your purpose and values. It’s been a great experience to start with a blank slate and really ask ourselves: what defines us? It’s similar to creating a new project within an existing organization, but at a different scale.
Making a job transition during a pandemic is no easy task. What’s your experience been like? What has it taught you?
Typically a first day on a new job involves putting on a “first impression” outfit, walking the halls to meet colleagues, going out for lunch with your boss… I started my first day staring at an empty inbox in my bedroom (possibly in jogging pants). Seriously though, it’s been a good opportunity to slow down and use this time to read, reflect, make new connections. One learning for me is that I had normalized having a full calendar of back-to-back meetings – slowing down initially felt uncomfortable. Now, I value the time spent on the more solitary, deep work.
You’ve just recently moved back to Toronto for this role. What’s changed since you left?
I’m trying to move back but man, pandemic moves are hard! I’m really excited to be back in my hometown after more than nine years away. The biggest change for me is that I now have kids, as do many of my friends and family members. Balancing work life, home life and civic contributions is a different experience at this stage!
Toronto and Montreal are known for having a bit of a friendly rivalry. What are some things that Toronto could learn from its Quebecois sister when it comes to civic engagement/issues?
One of the starkest differences I have found between Toronto and Montreal is around cycling – Montreal is so much more bike friendly! Our bike sharing system (Bixi) is widely used by people of all ages, and people really find it an easier, more enjoyable alternative to driving.
You’re known for your expertise in building community. Strong, collaborative communities will be essential in rebuilding after COVID-19. What advice would you give Fellows and other leaders who want to be part of these efforts?
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us how vulnerable certain people and populations are, and while we were all living through the same uncomfortable experience, I think more people were cognizant of their privilege. For example, there was more attention paid to supporting local businesses or ensuring the needs of isolated seniors were met or being sensitive to the efforts of frontline healthcare providers. I hope we can maintain this awareness over time and continue to think about the unique challenges and needs of others.