Transcript – Episode 45: Chat with GCWCC Champion Duane McMullen and volunteers

Welcome to the GAC Files, a podcast about the people, issues and ideas driving Global Affairs Canada.

And now introducing your host, Global Affairs Canada’s deputy minister of International Trade, John Hannaford.

John Hannaford: Okay, hello everyone. It’s a real pleasure to have the opportunity of hosting another conversation with our colleagues about our workplace and our community as a department.

This will be our last recording of 2020. And we thought we should focus on the charitable campaign for this year. And we’re fortunate to have with us Duane McMullen, who has been our very active champion over the course of this year. But we also have several other colleagues: Danielle Leroux, Jillian Corry and Kara Houston, who will each share with us the experiences that they’ve had relevant to the campaign. And some reflections on the importance of the campaign this year. And obviously, this has been a most extraordinary year for a number of reasons. And, you know, we always place great importance on the campaign as a way for public servants to make a contribution over and above their jobs to our community more generally. And our community is hurting. You know, the effect of the pandemic has been felt particularly hard in some quarters. And I think we need to be mindful of that as we consider our charitable contributions. And so this is an opportunity for us to think a little bit more broadly, to be thinking about how we can make a contribution, as I say, over and above the professional contribution that we make every day. And I’m very grateful to my colleagues joining me today to have this conversation. So let me start with Duane. Duane, first of all, thank you so much for taking on the responsibility as our champion for this year. It’s an interesting year to be doing this job, I would think. You know, it certainly presents challenges as we think about how we have had to adjust our working methods within the department. You know, our working methods with respect to the charitable campaign had to be adjusted to it. And maybe just to ask you a little bit about how your experience has been and how you see the campaign unfolding this year.

Duane McMullen: Thanks, John, and I’ll say: an interesting year—that’s an understatement, and everybody understands that. We’re all familiar with the combined campaign, and this year it’s needed more than ever. As you mentioned, John, our communities are under stress—our communities in the workplace, our communities of our colleagues who are working in every province across Canada, in particular our communities of colleagues who are at mission abroad. Things are particularly challenging for them. And we have several more months to go, as we endure those challenges. Yet we are all, I think, well aware that in terms of the struggles and challenges we face, they are small in comparison to the challenges that others face. And so the combined campaign is particularly important this year for us to show our support for our communities, both in the workplace but also the communities that are important to us outside the workplace, wherever those may be. And the campaign is an amazing opportunity to do that. For us, this year—and I’ll speak more about this later—the other opportunity we have is the migration to SIGNET-E, which is, I think, by the time you’re seeing this podcast and will [SOUND CUT OFF], those are some tremendously powerful tools to help us work remote—effectively remote—and we’ll be using the campaign [SOUND CUT OFF] in February to help people get more familiar with the tools of SIGNET-E at the same time as we helped bring the campaign to a successful conclusion for this year. I think I’ll pause there, because I know there will be some really interesting contributions from my colleagues, and I can come back on this or any other points later in this conversation.

John Hannaford: Maybe before we do turn to the others, Duane, what would you say? What’s been the single most striking thing for you this year as you’ve been dealing with some of the specific challenges of conducting this kind of a campaign in the environment we’re in?

Duane McMullen: Well, when we started the campaign from the beginning, we knew that it had to be almost purely virtual. And the campaign in the past has been very physical, very in-person. It’s been hard to avoid if you come into 125 or 111 or 200 Promenade du Portage: the campaign is right there, all around you. There’s a certain energy level. We didn’t have that this year. And then when we looked at the virtual tools to try to create some sort of semblance of that in an online remote kind of way, those tools didn’t really exist. So we’ve been working hard to build those tools. And the concept is we’ll be able to start showing those tools, particularly in January and February, and those tools will be a permanent legacy to the campaign. So that’s been a striking change, and frankly it’s been a challenge. But I think it’s also an opportunity for the campaign this year, but also an opportunity to create a lot more functionality for campaigns in the future that will, in theory, become more like blended campaigns with an in-person component but also a much stronger virtual component.

John Hannaford: Okay. Maybe we can turn to Danielle for your experience related to the campaign. You’re an administrative assistant at our embassy in Washington and very experienced with the campaign. What are your relevant experiences?

Danielle Leroux: Hello. Thanks for the invitation to your podcast today. I’m happy to have been part of the big Global Affairs Canada family since just last July. That said, I’ve been in the public service since 2010, so for the various annual campaigns of CCM, TGC, GCWCC. I discovered the campaign for the first time through my spouse, who started his federal government career in ‘95. So we’ve been contributing to this famous campaign since ‘95. And he was also the campaign champion in the Americas Branch in 2016. When I started my own federal government career, I took full part in the different activities and events, whether the best chili contest, or a bake sale or the springtime challenge where we started to run in October. So it’s clear, because we think of ourselves as privileged, we always thought it was good, it was our duty, to contribute as much as we could to the campaign, and we see that as our little gesture in the big picture, the overall picture. Even so, things changed fairly dramatically in 2014 when our daughter got--and here’s where it gets more difficult. I’m sharing it with you because I think it’s important to know that our colleagues can also go through difficult times. So our daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. And we found ourselves on the other side of the coin. And we really got a lot of support from the community. We got help from different organizations, like our peers, from health organizations, whether for parking expenses at the hospital, various gift cards for coffee, meals, gas--we really were supported different ways. Flavie, our daughter, got a computer to help her in her studies; she even got to apply to have her lifelong dream, which was to go to the Rio Olympics in 2016. But, unfortunately, she didn’t get the chance to see Rio because she died in January 2015. And after that, we took advantage of the community support again, as grieving parents. And we could take advantage of that to get through and to keep on living and to come back from what happened. And the effect that had was, for us, we still give the campaign—in fact, I will say, more generously. And what changed is that we decided to target certain organizations that supported us with the hope, in our turn, to help grieving families or children who might have need of support to get back on their feet or to keep going.

John Hannaford: It’s really a tragic story, Danielle; it’s so difficult. Thank you very much for sharing that with us, though, because it’s so important that we think about these campaigns not only in the abstract terms of money raised but in the actual effects that they have on people. So thank you very, very much. Jillian, maybe I can turn to you just to share your own experiences with the campaign and the importance it has for you.

Jillian Corry: And thank you for the invitation this morning. Personally, the campaign is very important to me. My family has many instances where we’ve had the services of either hospitals or the Ronald McDonald House or the various organizations working for cures to autoimmune diseases or cancer, which have supported our family. And so it’s very important to me to give back and to show that every dollar does make a difference and that good work is being done with that money. And it’s felt on the receiving end of those people who receive that care.

John Hannaford: That is absolutely critical to be reminded of, so thank you, Jillian. Kara, maybe you could share with us your experience as well.

Kara Houston: First, I really want to thank Danielle and Jillian for sharing their stories. I think, as you said, John, it’s so important to remember that these impacts are felt in every part of our community: our colleagues, our neighbors. There are so many incredible charities out there that just do amazing work, whether they’re impacted—whether it’s personally impacted to you or not. There’s just so many opportunities to participate. And I think for me, one of the most amazing things about being a part of the campaign is being a part of that aggregate and helping, whether it’s new public servants or maybe lost donors—folks—to remind them that maybe this year all you can do is 5 dollars a paycheque or 1 dollar a paycheque, and you feel that there’s no real point to doing that. But when you look at the aggregate of what the public service can do: if everybody donated 5 dollars a pay, the incredible impact that we would see in our communities would be so far-reaching. And I think, especially this year, where we know much more visually and when we feel it much more deeply. How many of our neighbors are struggling and are having a rough year, whether that’s lost income or additional stress or mental health or whatever the case may be, it is to really use this to create that lasting change and bring people back in and remind them we can do this as a public service and to come back and to make those donations. And I think we’ve seen a spike in our donors in ACM and it’s been so inspiring and so amazing to see people come back and say, you know, I kind of had forgotten about the campaign or I hadn’t donated in years. And I think it’s just... it’s amazing to see.

John Hannaford: Yeah, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how we are fortunate, really, in a lot of ways and to think about how we can, as public servants, do what we can to share the good fortune that we have had, at the same time recognizing that we’re also—we’re all—struggling, and we all are in worlds where we may need assistance. And so there is a real dynamic here, which I think is really important for us to participate in just because it causes us to reflect and think about our place in society. Duane, maybe I can turn back to you: any reflections on what our colleagues have shared?

Duane McMullen: Well, I think, John, you’ve said it well, and I’ll just echo the thanks that Kara had for Danielle. Thank you for sharing. That must have been hard, Jillian, as well. But it just illustrates that not only can we contribute to our community, but our community contributes to us. We’re helping ourselves by helping others. And in many ways, I think that’s what Global Affairs Canada is all about: that’s our corporate mission. We’re trying to make the world a better place. We’re trying to make the world a friendlier, safer place for Canadians, but also for everybody. And that applies at the macro level, but also at the micro level in each of our communities that are important to us. It could be as small as our family or as our work unit or as a neighborhood where we live. And even, as with the combined campaign, when you go into E-pledge, you can select any registered Canadian charity. If it’s registered by the Canada Revenue Agency, you can find it on the E-pledge form and you can allocate some or all of your donation to that particular charity. It’s a great way to do your giving in 1 go and cover a whole bunch of charities that mean something to you—not just charities that do work in Canada or do work in Ottawa. But we all know, especially in Global Affairs, there are some amazing charities that do some fantastic work and have a huge impact abroad. And many of the places where we work abroad and many of the places where we have missions and those missions are struggling. Because of the coronavirus and working remote and the FSD 64 evacuations, all those things we know well, right now, that are the reality of our daily lives, you can use the campaign to make a contribution to charities that are working really hard and doing great work in that particular country, wherever that is. So this is a great opportunity, as well, to think beyond just ourselves and our workplace and our city in Ottawa, our country and Canada, but also how we can contribute to making all of the world a better place.

John Hannaford: Well, thank you Duane. I don’t think we could say that any better than you’ve just done. So thank you, and thank you, colleagues, for participating this morning. I really am very, very grateful. And I know these are difficult conversations to have. And I appreciate your courage and candour in participating in them. So thank you very, very much. Colleagues, more generally, I’d just like to remind you that we have the public service employee survey that was just recently launched, and this is an extraordinarily important tool for us to measure the well-being of our organization generally. So I just really want to encourage you to participate in that so as to provide us with the insights that we need in order to continue to make this a better place. But thank you to all of you for helping make this a better place. I really do appreciate it, and it’s been a pleasure to get a chance to chat with you this morning.

Thank you for listening. And we look forward to you joining us for future episodes of the GAC Files, a podcast about the people, issues and ideas driving Global Affairs Canada. Don’t forget to join the conversation online using #GACfiles.

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