Gillian Hewitt Smith
Executive director and chief executive officerInstitute for Canadian CitizenshipBased in Toronto, national in reach
Ever heard of a serial community builder? Meet Gillian Hewitt Smith, 38 . For more than 16 years, Ms. Hewitt Smith has volunteered almost 10,000 hours to help marginalized populations. She began her trajectory as a community builder while obtaining a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Sociology (major), History and French (dual minors) from Queens University, where she mentored low-income students in the public-school system.
Upon moving to Toronto, she became a pioneer of the “buying local” movement with the STOP Community Food Centre and then she helped establish a community of young people dedicated to the exploration of arts in the form of Business for the Arts.
After 15 years in the private sector, Ms. Hewitt Smith took the helm of the not-for-profit Institute of Canadian Citizenship (ICC) and became the driving force behind its Cultural Access Pass (CAP) program. Now she targets a very distinct community: the approximately 170,000 people who become new Canadian citizens every year.
What is the initiative?
CAP provides new citizens and their children with free access to cultural attractions across Canada. This means that the doors are wide open in St. John’s (The Rooms), Saskatchewan (Prince Albert National Park), Toronto (Art Gallery of Ontario) and 997 other places in Canada.
We want new Canadians to be involved in Canada by removing barriers to involvement. Since 2008, 50,000 people have used this program. The youngest beneficiary of CAP is 5 and the oldest is in his 70s.
Opening doors for new citizens is an important step to welcoming them to Canada and the richness it offers in terms of arts, outdoor spaces like our national parks and to our history. It’s a win for new Canadians, a win for cultural organizations looking to expand their reach and grow their membership, donor base and volunteer support.
I am proud of the 75-per-cent increase in fundraising we have secured, but what matters most are the individuals . I am thinking about one client in particular, a woman in her 30s who was an arts programmer in China. She used her CAP pass to explore Canada’s cultural landscape with the goal of finding work. She now works with a variety of cultural organizations to develop their inclusion practices for new citizens and she volunteers for the ICC.
In the words of my mother, I am a 48-hour person packed into a 24-hour day.
What discourages you?
Otherwise sensible, generous people who speak out of fear and ignorance about newcomers and what they might “do” to Canada. I have heard the stories of hundreds of new Canadians and I can tell you what they want to do: Live freely and in peace, work hard, raise their families and give back to the country they have chosen to call home.
What have you lost?
We will expand into travel and tourism, sports and civic engagement. On Canada Day this year we will announce a new national partner to help new citizens explore their country. I cannot say more than that but it is a game changer.
Russell Peters. His type of humour is only possible, perhaps ironically, when there is a strong level of respect for, and acceptance of, difference. Russell is truly a product of Canada.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Farah Mohamed is president & CEO of the G(irls)20 Summit. Send suggestions for Action Figure to firstname.lastname@example.org.