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Made by a passion for social change

Lindsay Glassco, BA’87

President and CEO, Plan International Canada

Lindsay Glassco, BA’87; President and CEO, Plan International Canada

If I had to do university all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I chose McGill for its global reputation, the opportunities it offered, and its location in the heart of Montreal. My time at the university set the stage for my career in international development, helping me discover my passion and turn it into my career.

Finding my passion

McGill provides a tremendous learning opportunity beyond the classroom. I was heavily involved in extracurricular activities and can honestly say that they helped define me, my passions and my beliefs.

This exposure led to leadership opportunities which included helping organize the Winter Carnival, being elected as VP Arts, and then later VP Internal Affairs of the SSMU (Student Society of McGill University) and being a member of the varsity ski and rowing teams. I enjoyed all aspects of organizing social events and working with committees to enhance the student experience. I recall how proud I was to receive the Scarlet Key Award for doing work I genuinely loved.

One unforgettable McGill moment was when I joined forces with a peer to organize a massive charity fundraiser on the lower field, a location which, at the time, had never been used for an event. The party came with a hefty price tag as the tent rental alone was $15K to accommodate heaters and wooden floors for dancing. Organizing an event of this scale was a huge learning experience for me – from budgeting, to writing media press releases, to securing a sponsor, marketing the event, and staffing it.  The fundraiser was a huge success, but the hard lesson came when I received a phone call at 7 AM the next morning from the university asking, “What are you doing about clean-up?”. I had not anticipated the lower field being carpeted in empty beer cups. Seems like a small issue now, but it was then that I learned the value of resourcefulness and determination to make things happen quickly. I also learned the importance of attention to detail and contingency planning – something that has been relevant throughout my career, to this day.    

As a student, I was also exposed to political activism and social causes, which laid the foundation for my interests in global issues. I was at McGill when the university divested from companies in apartheid South Africa and I represented my fellow students in a Parliamentary Commission on Quality of Education. Being a student politician exposed me to a diverse and competing range of opinions and taught me the importance and benefit of listening to different perspectives. We all have a role to play in effecting change, even if we’re only a small part of a larger ecosystem. My McGill experience also instilled in my core a need to engage in meaningful work where I could apply my skills and passion for social change and improving lives while also learning from others.

Following my passion

Following your dreams and living the life you envision for yourself often involves taking risks. Early in my career, I left a comfortable sports marketing job for a two-year volunteer opportunity in Lesotho. It was a leap of faith and I wondered if I was doing the right thing to leave a steady paying job to volunteer half-way around the world. Spending those two years as a high school teacher in Seforong – a rural mountain village with no water or electricity – confirmed for me that even one person can have an incredible impact on the lives around them, and that I was on the right path. I went back to university to get a master’s degree in international development and that set me on my way in the sector I am happily working in today.

My career path has not been linear. I have learned that life’s journey can be bumpy and there will always be challenges and unexpected events. It’s how you choose to deal with those events and what learnings you pull from them that will set you apart and determine your success.

Over the years, I’ve come to also recognize that what has allowed me to succeed as a leader are qualities that have been outliers in the traditional leadership model: emotional intelligence, empathy, sensitivity, humility and vulnerability. So, my advice to you, dear reader, is that following your heart and being true to yourself – even if it takes you down the path less travelled – can bring true happiness.