Alejandra Bravo is manager of leadership programs at Toronto-based Maytree, a private charitable foundation committed to reducing poverty and inequality in Canada and to building strong civic communities. She has held the role for five years.
What is your background and education?
I left Chile as a child after the military coup in 1973 and came to Canada. I grew up in a very political family in the sense of caring about community and wanting to make a better world. I was a political activist and a community activist, and at the same time got a BA in Latin American studies at the University of Toronto and worked. I consider my volunteering and all the experiences I had working in political campaigns, working in community organizations, as part of my education, because that's where I built a lot of my skills and learned a lot of my life's lessons.
How did you get to your position?
After the 2006 Toronto municipal election, in which I ran for City Council, I had preliminary conversations with Maytree. They were looking for people to work in the leadership side of their activities. I pitched a program that would encompass all the tools that people need to participate more in civic life. That morphed and became the School for Civics program, which I've run since 2007.
What's the best part of your job?
We get to identify, train and support emerging leaders, and it's a really privileged position to be in. It's constantly rewarding. We're working positively to improve the social and economic prosperity of a region by using the talent of the people here.
What's the worst part of your job?
Having to say no. There are a lot of people we could train and a lot of good work that we could support, but we have to choose strategically. We want to be able to deliver on what we commit to, so it does require walking away from some opportunities and some needs.
What are your strengths in this role?
My strength is that when I have an idea, a dream, I can find a way to make something happen, even if it's just incrementally. For example, I wanted to do a broader-impact civic literacy program and it has taken time but we launched it this year. That impact we're going to deliver is that 900 residents in a low-income neighbourhood are going to learn how to positively participate in government decision making.
What are your weaknesses?
I feel challenged when I need to confront people with critical feedback or bad news. Having difficult conversations – that's something I need to work on.
What has been your best career move?
By far, coming to work at Maytree has been my best career move. Not only do I get to do leadership training but I'm engaged in a lot of interesting conversations about policy, and that has allowed me to learn and to apply all of my different skills in a way that I feel like I'm making a contribution.
What has been your worst career move?
Jumping into the wrong job and not taking time to think about what my next move was – I did that when I was younger. It was the wrong job for me and it was a bad choice at the time. But I learned from my mistakes and I moved on. I think I learn more when I've made a mistake or failed at something. I always tell my kids, "If you're not failing, you're not trying."
What's your next big job goal?
It's a building-blocks program. We're training people to train others who will have a significant impact in the region. My goal is to make sure we reach our numerical targets, but we're also supporting local collaborations, where people make something tangible in their communities, and it's highly diverse, low-income communities, often with low voter turnout.
What's your best advice?
Go where you feel you're making the best contribution. There are a lot of different factors when you're trying to plan for the future, but going to bed at night knowing that you're making a contribution is priceless to me. And that can be anywhere, not just the non-profit sector. Do more of what you're good at. Build on your strengths.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
A lot of the job market is not apparent. You don't necessarily gain a position by applying to a public posting. Sitting on a board, volunteering in the community, bringing your skills to bear outside of paid employment is a good way to build a network based on your interests.
Most of my career, I've been tapped on the shoulder, invited to apply because of the work that I've done. I think people overlook the power of contributing in that way because it has a massive payoff in terms of the network you build and exposure that you get to new ideas and new people.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Dianne Nice is The Globe and Mail's Careers & Workplace Web Editor.
If you know a Canadian executive with an interesting career, contact Globe Careers .