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From implementation to amplification: My journey from humanitarian organization to consulting

  • Posted on February 24, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes

When I signed in back to work after the holidays and went to our Avanade intranet, I was greeted with a “Happy Anniversary” message confetti and all. It is hard to believe that it is already a year since I first joined Avanade as an employee. Being a new year and seeing this message made me reflect not only on this last one year but also this phase of my career. This first year has been an amazing one: I was warmly welcomed into a wonderful family, connected with brilliant people, met many great nonprofits and was able to make an impact on some of them. It also made me reflect on how I came to this point. Prior to Avanade, I was the Chief Information Officer of the Canadian Red Cross (CRC) for 10 years, a fact I often share with my new colleagues from Avanade, Accenture, Microsoft and our nonprofit clients. We generally strike up a conversation and I tell them about my background, and without fail, the first things they say is “wow, why the change?” (You must understand, most nonprofit employees are “lifers.”) To understand the “why” behind the change, let me share my journey with you.

After spending many years in the software development industry, I joined the Canadian Red Cross in 2006 as their lead for Quality Management and Planning. I went on to take on the role of CIO while still facilitating the 5-year strategy development of the CRC along with being on the working group of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) 10-year strategy development. It was an incredible 10-year journey as CIO – dealing with domestic and global disasters and crises to the more day-to-day transformation of the CRC. On the technology side, there were a number of changes made both big and small that ranged from Unified Communications to Print Anywhere to Digital Transformation. I had accomplished all the strategic goals that I set out with CRC by mid-2017 and I knew it was time for my next adventure, so I left at the end of 2017 to take some time off and reflect on what I wanted to do “when I grow up.”

It was a great honour to work at the CRC and to meet and work with amazing people from around the globe – not just colleagues at the CRC but also the wider Red Cross and Red Crescent family and the broader nonprofit sector through NetHope and NTEN. The hard-hitting question I put to myself during this career transition was “How do I follow that?” I knew I didn’t want to be a CIO of just any company; most important for me was that I still wanted to make a difference, and in a big way. Luckily for me, in the spring of 2018, Avanade approached me to do some contracting work to support them on a bid for a global nonprofit who were embarking on their digital transformation journey. I knew Avanade well because of their incredible support of our digital transformation at CRC and highly respected the people, culture and expertise. Naturally, I took the contract opportunity and figured it would be a great short-term engagement while I figure out what was next.

The Avanade engagement went great, and I found it interesting being on the other side of things. The day we presented to my first nonprofit client, I had lunch with the evaluation team. As we chatted generally about the humanitarian world, they commented that it was nice to have “one of us” (someone who had lived and breathed the sector) on the other side. They said that it made them feel understood and not simply lumped in with public sector (which is often the case with nonprofits). It was a lightbulb moment for me as I realized how I could amplify my impact by taking what I learned at CRC and working across multiple nonprofits. I knew I could really help to make a big impact on the sector! But now, the question was how?

Then later that year, Avanade asked me to help them with another nonprofit bid. It was around the same time that Avanade announced at the NetHope Summit in Dublin that they were starting their Tech for Social Good program, making a strong commitment to the nonprofit sector. I knew immediately that Tech for Social Good was a perfect home for me, but I wasn’t sure initially how committed Avanade were going to be. Luckily, I didn’t need to make the decision at once, as Avanade were happy to continue our relationship on a contract basis, which worked for me as I had time to make a proper assessment. The two years that followed (2019-2020) were very busy with everything from presales to presentations at events and webinars to some staff augmentation with our nonprofit clients. I had the privilege to work with Avanade staff around the globe and was very impressed by the caliber of people as well as the positively unique culture of the organisation. Everyone had a passion to make a genuine human impact. In September 2020, Avanade took the step to make nonprofit part of their industry program.  This gave me the signal that the strong commitment to the sector was for the long-term. So, when they approached me at the end of 2020 to become an employee, the only question I had was “when can I start?”

My wife often says, “everything happens in threes,” and seeing this is my third major career move, I will have to agree with her. I am definitely #AvanadeProud and believe I’ve found my home. I work with an amazing global nonprofit team that want to make a big difference. I’m thrilled to make a genuine human impact in the nonprofit sector with them and to add to that journey, we plan to start a regular podcast on the nonprofit sector to seek different viewpoints and advise organizations on their transformation journey. That’s my story! Thanks for reading. And if you’re interested in being a guest of the podcast, please reach out to me via LinkedIn.

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