Beyond Numbers · June 2008
By Michelle McRae, Editor
The Institute’s Community Service Award recognizes CAs who’ve gone above and beyond in volunteering their skills for the betterment of the community. This year’s winners are Lisa Ethans, CA, and Suzanne Siemens, CA.
“I feel really blessed in my life,” Lisa Ethans explains, “so I believe it’s important for me to give back.”
And give back she has, donating a considerable amount of time and energy to several charitable organizations while also serving as a mother to her teenage niece and maintaining a full-time career as a partner in Financial Advisory Services with Deloitte & Touche LLP in Vancouver.
Lisa currently chairs the Honorary Board of Big Sisters of BC – Lower Mainland; serves on the board of the Minerva Foundation for BC Women; co-chairs the Minerva Foundation’s First Nations Leadership Program; acts as a mentor for the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs; and chairs the Chief Joe Mathias BC Aboriginal Scholarship Society.
She has been active with Big Sisters for approximately 15 years, and co-founded the organization’s First Nations Mentoring Program in 1999. Since its inception, this program has served over 75 aboriginal girls.
“I first became involved with Big Sisters because of its whole initiative of mentoring girls and young women,” she explains. “And I soon saw an opportunity to further extend this mentorship into aboriginal/First Nations communities.”
Lisa has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to First Nations issues—a passion that first took root on a professional level.
“I recognized a need for aboriginal leaders and First Nations to be able to access comprehensive financial advisory services to assist them in treaty negotiations, joint ventures, and economic development,” she explains. “In other words, to help them acquire and manage the wealth and resources they need to begin to heal their communities and move forward.”
And so it was that Lisa founded Deloitte’s Aboriginal Client Services Group in 1992, which she currently leads.
“Before this, First Nations did not have access to a service provider with Deloitte’s reputation or breadth of expertise,” she says.
Through her work with First Nations clients, Lisa realized that extensive outreach was still needed at the volunteer level. She has worked to bridge the divide ever since.
In addition to founding Big Sisters’ First Nations Mentoring Program, Lisa founded the Chief Joe Mathias BC Aboriginal Scholarship Society in memory of the late Chief Joe Mathias to support his vision of post-secondary education for all First Nations people. Since its inception in 2002, the Society has provided over 40 scholarships to aboriginal post-secondary students. Lisa currently serves as the Society’s president.
She has also worked to develop and adapt the Minerva Foundation’s programming to create a new initiative called “Combining Our Strength,” a partnership of aboriginal and non-aboriginal women that aims to further the development and empowerment of aboriginal women.
“Having seen the success of Big Sisters’ mentoring program, I was eager to run a similar initiative with Minerva that targeted aboriginal women,” Lisa says.
Further to this end, she recently agreed to join the board of the Minerva Foundation and co-chair the Combining Our Strength Council, helping to develop and implement programming for the initiative.
Lisa seems to manage this and her numerous other volunteer commitments with aplomb.
“It’s all about prioritizing your time and being organized and flexible,” she says. In 2005, she received a Leader in Finance PEAK Award from the Association of Women in Finance. The following year, she received a Big Heart Award for Outstanding Contribution by a Volunteer from the Big Sisters of BC – Lower Mainland. She now adds the Institute’s Community Service Award to this list.
“It’s wonderful to receive this award, but at the same time, I think there are so many people who do so much more. And there’s so much more that I think I could do—that I want to do,” says Lisa, adding: “My 18-year-old niece Amelia, who is essentially my daughter, makes me realize just how worthwhile and important this work is every day.”
In addition to holding the CA designation, Lisa is also a chartered business valuator and a CPA (Washington). Her past volunteerism includes serving as a judge for the 2006 and 2007 PEAK awards for the Association of Women in Finance; a member of the Minerva Foundation’s Finance Committee (2003-2004); a founding member of the Working Group on Accountability and Governance, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; and as a board member of the Children’s Wish Foundation.
“To me, ‘giving back’ is a collective responsibility that all individuals and businesses share in caring for each other and the planet,” says Suzanne Siemens.
As an active volunteer in the community and the co-owner and vice-president of a socially and environmentally responsible company, Suzanne models this ethos both at home and at work. Her company, Lunapads International Products Ltd., manufactures, distributes, and e-tails natural and organic feminine hygiene products, and regularly donates its products to women’s organizations, locally and globally. So far, for example, the Vancouver company has helped improve the lives of hundreds of women in countries like Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Swaziland.
Suzanne joined Lunapads in 2002, and was invited that same year to join the board of the Georgia Straight Alliance (GSA), a charitable marine conservation organization.
“I was pregnant with my first child at the time, and unsure that I could commit and make a meaningful contribution,” Suzanne remembers. “But once I learned that the GSA is the only not-for-profit focused on protecting the marine environment in the Strait of Georgia—where I’ve lived all my life—I dove right in.”
Acting as both treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee for most of the past six years, Suzanne helped the GSA weather some financially challenging times. She helped revise and update its financial tracking and reporting systems, improve budgeting processes, and develop new policies on finance-related issues.
As a member of the Fundraising Committee, Suzanne worked closely with staff to build the GSA’s Business Partners program. She also used her personal and professional networks to help the GSA secure major financial contributions and form business liaisons with socially responsible companies. Most recently, she compiled the budget for a GSA funding proposal that is currently before the provincial and federal governments.
In addition, Suzanne lent her experience in human resources management to the Personnel Committee, and provided the board with valuable strategic planning advice.
“I feel fortunate to have been in a position to make a difference, simply by doing what I can with the skill set that I have,” she says. “And I’ve really enjoyed working with the dedicated staff and board members. I have tremendous respect for them.”
To bolster morale during lengthy strategic planning meetings, Suzanne has even hosted and catered meals for staff and board members, enlisting her family’s help in the process.
“Being able to involve my family in my volunteer work has been the most rewarding part,” she says. “I want my children to become caring adults. Now my oldest son is helping me volunteer at GSA community events—he’s an environmental advocate in the making!”
She admits, however, that making time for community service can be difficult: “I’ve found it very challenging to find the time to give full attention to my board responsibilities while also running a small business and having two babies. I couldn’t have done it without the support, patience, and understanding of my family and co-workers. My husband Craig Siemens often took time off work to help take care of our children, and my business partner Madeleine Shaw was equally supportive.”
For their inspiration, Suzanne also gives credit to two mentors.
“Joel Solomon* is a visionary social investor who has shown me how to combine business and philanthropy to achieve long-term community solutions with the triple bottom line in mind,” she says. “And Bob Elton, FCA, the CEO of BC Hydro, is a long-time friend whose collaborative leadership style I admire, and whose advice and encouragement I have greatly appreciated over the years.”
So how does it feel to know that she, herself, inspires others?
“I feel incredibly honoured and touched to receive this Community Service Award,” she says. “It’s a very special way for me to end my final year as a GSA board member. I’m really going to miss being an active part of the organization, but know I’ll stay involved in some way. I’m also looking forward to helping a new organization, whichever one that may be!”
In addition to volunteering with the GSA, Suzanne is coordinating a new environmental program for the North Star Montessori Elementary School, and is a regular guest speaker with the University of Victoria’s business school. She previously volunteered with the Deep Cove Parent Participation Preschool, and as a dragon boat racing coach.
*Solomon is the president of Renewal Partners, an independent investment company focused on entrepreneurs with a triple bottom line. Lunapads is one of Renewal’s investments.