AIDA MWANZIA

DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS AND PARTNERSHIPS, ETHOS LAB

With 5 years of facilitation experience, Aida is skilled at bringing people together to discuss critical topics, create new possibilities, and transform the way that teams interact with one another. She is driven by her mission to connect and empower youth through transformative educational programs. Aida’s roots in Kenya, upbringing in Gambia and experience in Canada inform her desire to shift the narrative about misunderstood places, people, and systems in order to positively shape how we engage with the world around us. She currently runs her own facilitation business in Vancouver and is the Director of Operations and Partnerships at Ethos Lab. Learn more about Aida and her journey in the interview below!

LENA'S CAREER MAP

ABOUT AIDA

SIA: Tell us a bit about your journey. What are you doing now and how did you enter this space? 

Aida Mwanzia: For the past 3 years, I’ve been
working in the education field and non-profit space. This has involved working as a Youth Outreach Worker for Pathways to Education, as the Coordinator for Global Initiatives and Youth Engagement at the YMCA, and as the Director of Operations and Partnerships at Ethos Lab. For the past 5 years, I’ve been doing facilitation and consulting work as a contractor, and recently launched my facilitation business this year. My facilitation practice is dedicated to supporting transformative spaces for young adults to learn and shape the world around them in ways that are aligned with principles of social, environmental, economic and political justice. The two programs I’ve most recently facilitated are the LEVEL Youth Public Policy Program hosted by the Vancouver Foundation, and the City Shapers program hosted by CityHive. I currently spend half of my working life as a freelance facilitator, and the other half working as a staff member at  start-up called Ethos Lab.

 

 

I knew that I enjoyed working with youth and young adults from my experiences working as a Teaching Assistant and as a Global Lounge Community Animator at UBC, and a mentor of mine referred me to Pathways to Education where I interviewed and successfully landed my first job out of university. While at UBC, I was selected to be part of a program that trained us in a methodology of participating in ‘concentrated conversations’, and ever since I’ve been drawn to all of the meaningful ways I can bring people together to discuss and act on some of the most pressing issues of our time.

SIA: Did you always want to work in the impact space?

AM: I’m not sure I’d necessarily consider my work as part of the impact space, as much as I’d say that my work is dedicated to social justice and liberation. Coming to the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples for university really accelerated my learning about decolonization and
how to engage in positive social change from a framework that understands how systemic change is necessary to eliminating the forms of descrimination that are so prevalent today including ableism, racism, classism and sexism to name a few.

Listening to a community’s needs and working with them to target root issues of social and environmental challenges by enabling or developing systems for continuous positive change.

Lena's definition of impact

SIA: What’s next for you, what are your long-term goals?

LC: This is a tricky question because of the ever-evolving nature of the social innovation and social finance space. Novel opportunities arise each year as a result of the rapid growth we’re seeing in this sector. It’s difficult for me to imagine a dream job, as it might not even exist yet!

 

My current position at New Market Funds is a perfect example of that – just a couple of years ago, the Investment Readiness Program did not exist, and I would not have been able to have predicted that I would now be coordinating these projects. While I may not be able to picture my dream job, I know that I want to continue to work in the impact space in Canada, but the specifics are still unclear to me.

DAY-TO-DAY, CHALLENGES, MISCONCEPTIONS AND SKILLS

SIA: Could you walk us through a typical workday?
LC:  My primary responsibility is project management – my role is to ensure that our team is on track to meet our quarterly objectives, both on time and on budget. As our projects are funded by a federal government grant, I am in charge of liaising with the team at ESDC and producing both financial and activity reports for them. Beyond this primary responsibility, I also support each of the three projects through their different activities, including reviewing and processing grants to our Small Communities partners, conducting research, attending meetings with different stakeholders, procuring website developers, etc. In general, I make sure that the operations of our team run as smoothly as possible so that everyone can work efficiently and effectively

SIA: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?

LCI find that meeting the needs of a diverse team is one of the most challenging aspects about my job. Each individual has their own working style and it’s important to be flexible and adapt so that our work can be carried out seamlessly.

SIA: Are there any misconceptions about the space you’re in?

LC:  While impact investing is gaining popularity, it continues to be seen as a riskier investment that does not generate financial returns. We’re working to debunk that myth!

SIA: What are some skills required in your position on a day-to-day basis?

1. Being able to adapt to many different situations and tasks, all while trying to perform them at a high level.

2. Organization – making sure that there are effective systems in place so that our operations are effective

3. Having a strong understanding of the space, its actors, and the policy environment in which they are working.

SIA: What are some personal characteristics that you value in someone?

LC: I find that having a general ‘yes, I’ll go do it’ positive attitude is really important. I really enjoy working with people that are organized, take initiative, and practice systems-thinking.

REFLECTIONS & ADVICE

SIA: Knowing what you know now, would you have done something differently with respect to your career?

LC: Thinking about my education specifically, I wouldn’t change a thing! My undergraduate degree gave me a system understanding that led to the development of my worldview and the way I think about environmental issues. Building on this foundation, my master’s degree allowed me to develop hard skills in data analysis, investment practices, and the integration of sustainability into business practices. If anything, I would have like to have integrated more hard financial skills earlier into my academic career.

SIA: Could you share with us the best life or career advice you’ve received?

LC: Ask yourself: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”, then go out and do it! It’s important to challenge yourself, take risks, and feel uncomfortable in certain situations – it’s the only way you learn and grow.

 

I found that students at Columbia played very active roles in their communities and often started new clubs to meet the collective interests of their peers. My advice is that if you don't find a club that you’re interested in, go out and start it yourself!

Advice for current students

Key Takeaways

Lena’s interview contains many gems and we feel lucky to learn from and share her story. A few insights that stuck with us are:

  1. Build a community around topics and issues you care about if it doesn’t exist already.
  2. Systems-thinking and holistic approaches are very important to understand and work within the impact landscape. 
  3. The social innovation and social finance space is ever-evolving and new opportunities are coming up constantly.

We are so grateful for Lena’s contribution to our Career Maps. If you want to learn more about the social finance space, or about the work New Market funds is doing, reach out to Lena on LinkedIn.

 

Interested in learning about other folks in the space? Check out our other Career Maps