Jess Tang is the Outreach and Partnerships Lead at Shad Canada, an enrichment program for exceptional high school students. She facilitates and builds programming that furthers the potential of the next generation of changemakers & leaders. Prior to working with Shad, Jess was a Volunteer and Student Programs Coordinator at the Sauder School of Business, and she has volunteered her time as a speaker, coach, and director. Read more about Jess below.
SIA: Tell us a bit about your journey. What are you doing now and how did you enter this space?
Jess Tang: If anyone is looking to work for a charity, not-for-profit, or any kind of social enterprise, you have to do it because you believe in a values based organization. This was certainly true for me! In choosing where I work, I’ve always looked to where I have the deepest sense of gratitude toward. When I graduated from UBC I felt incredibly grateful for the experience I had at Sauder, and I worked there to help build up a community for the alumni in a space that I was passionate about. But I was also an alumni of Shad’s programming, and incredibly grateful for the experience that this had given me.
When I was in university, Shad would host alumni events, and this was how I stayed peripherally in contact with them; I started to build relationships with people in the organization and they knew me. Eventually they approached me for a year long contract position, which I took and loved. After that, I took all four of my vacation weeks every year from Sauder to help run a four week volunteer-led program that Shad puts on every summer.
About four years later, a new CEO came onboard – I had a seat at the table when he unveiled the new strategic plan for Shad because of my volunteering, and I sent him an email after that describing how I could fit into that plan. After that, I was offered a full time position for the role that I’m in now.
There was no posting for that, and no interview – what I want students to take away from that story who are reading this is to not be afraid to advocate for yourself! Of course taking time off to volunteer at your dream company isn’t a path that most could take, but keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the organization, go for those coffee chats that we were told to do in school (and never wanted to), and good things can happen. The hardest part is trusting this process because the payoff timing is unknown. If you can be patient, it is incredibly worthwhile.
SIA: What is your definition of impact?
JT: Everyone wants to change the world, right? But that’s not a constant concept; there is no one world! There are 8 billion interpretations of it; the way I see it is, if you can change one person’s perception of themselves and their world, that changes everything. At Shad, we teach a lot about leadership; the way you treat people and the legacy you build create impact. I focus on interpersonal interactions like that because it is so important to be genuine. If you’re not authentic in these, then it is inauthentic for you to be in social impact.
SIA: Did you always want to work in the impact space?
JT: Absolutely not, I had no idea! To be honest, in school I didn’t know much about what was outside student involvement at Sauder. I was very much wrapped up in that bubble. Having good mentors helped me look for opportunities that aligned with my values as I approached graduation. This made me more thoughtful and selective in what I applied to. My advice to younger students would be to define your values, know the environments in which you thrive, and look for alignment with that.
SIA: What are some of the issues that you care about that you’re able to contribute to with your work?
JT: My direct work focuses on accessibility of services and underserved communities. The programs we run are for youth across Canada; they come, spend four weeks in our program, and the idea is that they leave it better changemakers and leaders. You have to apply to get in and it’s competitive. This is why we are so aware of the accessibility issue; we never want financial, social, or demographical barriers to prevent a youth from experiencing Shad.
Through outreach I’ve learned a lot about what “underserved” means in Canada. It’s rural and small towns that can’t access the resources that larger communities can, who we do outreach for across the country. It’s the indigenous students who are severely underrepresented, for whom we try to build thoughtful partnerships in their communities to serve them better.
SIA: What’s next for you, what are your long-term goals?
JT: I consider myself really lucky in that I love Shad and believe in the mission so much that I don’t see myself leaving any time soon. I’m lit up by my work there, and I believe in our values. The organization emphasizes innovation, growth, and scalability, and I want to be there in the long term.
SIA: Could you walk us through a typical workday?
JT: My job title is Outreach and Partnerships Lead, so there are two main parts of my job. The first is outreach; in a nutshell, my aim with that is to make sure as many students and teachers across Canada as possible know about our programs. In our recruiting season, I’m on the road for 8 weeks at a time, driving from small town to small town in a rental car. On Sunday night, I’ll fly to a province; then from Monday-Friday, I drive from town to town giving as many presentations as possible at different high schools. It’s definitely a grind and I get to see lots of small places that most people might not think to visit! Public speaking is a huge aspect of my job of course, and I have to find ways to convince teachers to let me into their classrooms. Generally that means going to conferences and setting up booths to build up those relationships.
On the partnerships side of things, I spend a lot of time cold calling to work out how we can collaborate with other organizations to deliver value. This is more unique to the social impact space; there are other organizations like Big Brothers and the YMCA working toward similar goals to what we do, so it makes sense to partner up.
SIA: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
JT: Recognizing that working with underserved populations can be slow, and being ok with that. This can be especially hard with the mindset pushed in business school of driving toward solutions. Initially, my metric was how many applications we received; the more the better. But now, I look at how many are coming from underserved communities; indigenous, small towns, or financially disadvantaged families. I could easily go to Toronto or Vancouver and get a ton of applications, but going from 20 indigenous applications to 30 is a massive step even if it doesn’t sound like much! This is what I’ve had to learn to better recognize as good progress.
SIA: Are there any misconceptions about the space you’re in?
JT: The biggest one I would push pack against is that you can’t make a decent wage working in social impact. There are organizations that do not pay very much, but there are plenty that pay a good living wage!
Another is that you need to wait before entering the impact space. I hear from so many students that they plan to enter it after they build their skills; we need people that take that path, but we also need people now. If you know now that you’re lit up by this work and it’s what you want, then I would encourage you to build a career in it from the ground up.
SIA: What are some skills required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
JT: Public speaking, relationship building, and management skills. I’d like to emphasize that last one, because it really applies to any sector. If you want to advance, you have to know how to manage people. Being able to motivate and empower a team enables you to have a bigger impact at your work!
SIA: What are some personal characteristics that you value in someone?
JT: Work ethic – there’s no substitute for that. I also love to see a willingness to ask for help, which goes hand in had with initiative. It takes initiative to ask for help!
SIA: Knowing what you know now, would you have done something differently with respect to your career?
JT: There is so much I would have done differently! The main thing I’d highlight is ensuring that egos never get in the way of building positive relationships, and to be someone who is more concerned with getting it right than being right.
SIA: Could you share with us the best life or career advice you’ve received?
JT: There really is too much to fit in one answer so I’ll keep this brief. What you do matters, but who you are matters more. This feeds in to a lot of different insights; you have to know yourself and your values, and focus on yourself more than your work. Additionally, I would say look for mentors and seek them out wherever you can!
We feel very lucky to learn from Jess’ experience and journey. A few insights that stuck with us are:
We are grateful to Jess for sharing her experiences with us. If you want to learn more about Shad Canada, youth education and serving diverse communities across Canada, reach out to Jess on LinkedIn!