YPDaily: Anita Nowak

One look at Anita Nowak’s advice to other young professionals and you’ll see exactly what makes her notable. As the founding Integrating Director for the Social Economy Initiative (SEI) at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, here’s how she’s looking to make a difference in today’s world…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
As the founding Integrating Director for the Social Economy Initiative (SEI) at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, I am responsible for integrating social entrepreneurship and social innovation into the Faculty’s teaching, research and outreach. As a faculty lecturer, I also have the privilege of teaching Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation to phenomenal undergraduate students.

As a Senior Fellow with the Sauvé Foundation, I am currently writing a book with the working title Empathic Action: A Force for Good whose Time has Come.

On the heels of the inconceivable mass killings that took place in Norway and Newtown, in response to man-made suffering happening across the globe in countries such as Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in reaction to climate disasters brought on by our insatiable and unsustainable over- consumption, and as an antidote to the unprecedented levels of illness in our society, which include depression, anxiety and addiction, I believe we are desperate for a different way of being in the world.

Exploring this zeitgeist, my book is meant as a call to action based on empathy. Informed by neuroscience, positive psychology, social movement theory, secular spirituality and new world consciousness, I will invite readers to adopt a philosophy of Empathic Action in five domains of life: 1) on a personal level; 2) in our families; 3) in our communities; 4) in our schools & universities and; 5) in our organizations.

The book will be replete with inspiring examples of everyday people engaged in empathic action – some of whom have since become major agents of social change. And each story describes how they have reaped unimaginable personal rewards. In so doing, I hope to make a convincing case that adopting an Empathic Action mindset has game-changing implications for self and society.

Anita walks past social entrepreneur, Mary Gordon, founder of Roots of Empathy, at an event hosted by the Social Economy Initiative on October, 2012. 

Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
In 2011, I worked as a post-doc research consultant for the European Research Institute on Cooperatives and Social Enterprises. As part of a feasibility study, I conducted an exhaustive mapping project with 150+ leading business schools around the world to identify if/how social entrepreneurship education was being delivered, as well as the best practices of different programs & curricula.

Upon my return from Italy, I met with Dean Todd of the Desautels Faculty of Management and discussed the opportunity I felt McGill could and should seize to become Canada’s leading university vis-à-vis social entrepreneurship & social innovation teaching/research/outreach. That conversation led to some fundraising and that’s how the Social Economy Initiative was born.

I am inspired daily by my role and responsibilities because I believe wholeheartedly in developing a pipeline of engaged global citizens who are committed to positive, sustainable social change.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part – by a wide margin – is my interface with students and Sauvé scholars. Back in 1997, when I was a BComm student, I had a major light bulb moment that changed the trajectory of my life. So, I thrive on providing space for other light-bulb moments to happen. Bringing inspiring speakers onto campus,

showing thought-provoking films in my class or meeting students in my office who want to advice about their career choices (or life!) are all ways in which I feel I am making a contribution.

The most challenging part of my day is carving out time to write my book.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
On a speaking tour with my second or third best-selling book and growing my Empathic Action Foundation!


What does success look like to you?
The phrasing of this question can be interpreted in two ways. First, it could mean what success looks like to me in general. Taken this way, I believe success involves being aligned with one’s purpose in life and living in a state of gratitude and flow. Second, it could mean what success looks like to me personally. In this way, I would have to say making a meaningful contribution to the world as an agent of environmental and social justice. Also, intentionally endeavouring to live each day as the best version of myself possible.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
In my academic career, defending my dissertation. It was an out-of-body experience for me – one that I shall never forget.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Travel. Read. Stop watching (so much) television. Know that when you work in the service of others, the universe will reward you. Be true to your own goals and dreams. Learn more about the power of intention and law of attraction. Work hard. Meditate. Send snail mail – especially thank you notes. Take risks. Ask for help. Be tenacious. And be kind.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
My commitment to the non-profit sector runs deep, having served on Boards and Committees or as a volunteer for the following organizations: Artistri Sud (2011-12), Association of Fundraising Professionals (2006- 7), Media Awareness Network (2006-7), Action Refugiés Montreal (2006), Leave Out Violence (2002-3), Montreal Sexual Assault Centre (1997-8). I also participated in a sustainable development project for a native hill tribe in northern Thailand (1999) and conducted a needs assessment for a women’s collective in Kigali, Rwanda (2008).

The non-profit organization for which I have a very big soft spot is Room to Read. I’m friends with its founder, John Wood, and am blown away by his relentless commitment to bringing literacy to children everywhere across the globe. He is quite literally changing the world.

I also recently supported the efforts of a teenager in Portland.

What to you is notable?
Red lipstick worn by a fabulous smile. Holding the door open for someone when you are in a rush. Children’s laughter at the park or on the playground. Communicating deeply with someone without a spoken language in common.

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