By Karen Kelly
CEO of the VGH (Vancouver General Hospital) and UBC (University of British Columbia) Hospital Foundation
Master of Arts, Public Administration (’87)
In the beginning, Barbara Grantham’s decision to pursue a degree in public administration was simply practical: the job market was dismal in the 1980’s and she was moving to Ottawa for family reasons.
“I decided to give it a shot and by my late-20s, it became clear how profoundly important that decision and that experience was,” says Ms. Grantham. “Not just the degree—10 years of living in different parts of the country changed my view and sense of national identity. I developed an appreciation for the complexity of this country at Carleton.”
When she returned to Vancouver, she began her job search in a market that was shedding government jobs. So she began cold-calling nonprofit organizations.
“It started with a few little contracts—writing, editing—and then I got a tiny contract with the United Way and that was my foot in the door. They made me part-time, then full-time, and I was on my way,” she recalls.
Today, she is the CEO of the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports innovation, research and capital investments for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, the largest, most complex health authority in Canada, serving over one million British Columbians.
Recent funding projects include revitalized operating rooms, a lung cancer screening pilot program, support for vulnerable women in the inner city, and research on new treatments for brain and nervous system disorders.
“In many ways, health care foundations are becoming the ‘venture capital’ that can help to drive innovation in the public health care system,” says Ms. Grantham.
She believes Canada’s health care system can be better, and would like to see new methods of delivering certain services, yet acknowledges it would be “very, very hard.”
“It’s a tough conversation to have because we are deeply entwined to what constitutes health care in this country,” she says.
But she draws on her knowledge of Canada’s regions—and the skills she learned in the School of Public Policy and Administration—to continue to make the case for broader nonprofit involvement and investment.
“Every single day, I call upon the skills in negotiating, organizational behaviour, and finance that I learned in Public Administration,” she says. “I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work in a mission-based sector that fits with my own values.”
Her advice to new graduates? Consider the nonprofit sector.
“My advice? Government is only one option. This sector employs more people than Canada’s natural resource industries combined. The future is extremely bright.”
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