UFred Alumnus excels as community leader

Chris Pettman becomes Executive Director of NPO, first First Nations to sit on town council

Chris Pettman, a graduate of the University of Fredericton’s (UFred) Executive MBA (EMBA) program, is the first of his immediate family to attend university. In fact, Chris didn’t have an undergraduate degree, so his familiarity with a university setting was non-existent.

Having worked for the non-profit organization (NPO) Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre (CFEC) for several years in his community of 100 Mile House, B.C., he was encouraged by the Executive Director at the time to take on some formal education. UFred’s EMBA program considers experience in the workforce a major admitting factor, rather than basing admission solely on an applicant’s educational background. This was particularly appealing to Chris, as it made furthering his education possible.

Chris has sat on more than 14 boards in his community since 1993 and is dedicated to giving everyone fair choices and resources needed to meet their goals. After researching UFred and reading about the Social Enterprise specialization, he was immediately convinced.

As a First Nations person, he strongly believes in the representation of visible minorities and the need for more First Nations people in positions of governance, leadership and politics. At 45 years old, Chris enrolled in the Social Enterprise Leadership (SEL) stream of the EMBA program, as it closely aligned with his passion for social injustice advocacy and working for the betterment of his community. Because the program is offered entirely online, it fit his schedule of home, family, work and community obligations. Chris has a wife, who is a child and youth mental health worker, and two children.

He says the ease and the support he felt from Day 1 of the program from professors and classmates alike was paramount, and that everyone’s knowledge, education and experience that was shared was valuable.

“Everyone involved regarded our time together in the virtual classes as sacred, and everyone was treated with – and in turn, treated others with – respect,” he said, adding that he was able to glean a lot of important insights from his classmates.

“Not only did I have enriching course materials and knowledgeable instructors who responded to each and every question that I had regarding every aspect – from paper writing to presentations, theories and beyond – I also had a diverse cohort who had experience in many facets of business, health, leadership, insurance, and politics to learn from and to share my experiences with.”

Chris says the courses that were specific to SEL made the biggest impact on him, and he was able to apply what he was learning to his NPO immediately.

“In our NPO, we had a burgeoning social enterprise in the guise of a child care centre, and the organization really didn’t recognize it as such. As the courses unfolded, I was able to better analyze the ‘business case’ of the daycare, and relay to both the Executive Director and the Board of Directors that the child care centre was indeed a social enterprise,” Chris said.

He adds that through what he learned from his EMBA, the child care centre is now demonstrating a modest profit that helps support the organization as a whole.

Chris was particularly interested in the concept of “social return on investment.” His education gave him the opportunity to provide valuable input to influential policy makers regarding this issue.

Every year, his organization is mandated to demonstrate and complete various reporting outcomes. Chris says that through the SEL specialty track, he learned that applying the traditional business return on investment to NPOs delivering social services is “wildly inaccurate.”

Chris used the financial value of supporting at-risk youth as an example, given his continued advocacy for serious issues facing today’s youth.

“Although there is no concrete way to measure this deliverable, we know the societal costs of at-risk youth when they are disenfranchised, drop out of school, become involved in gangs, the justice department, and experience adverse emotional attachment and/or physical harm. One youth left without positive role models or safe primary attachment can cost society hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to the relatively low cost of providing at-risk youth with social and emotional supports.”

While the SEL stream provided insights that helped him navigate better options for his NPO, Chris says the most important thing he learned throughout UFred’s EMBA process was his ability to push past his own limitations. He learned that he was more than capable of completing his degree. Chris says he was successful with his projects and deliverables, and his grades reflected that.

“Sort of like the learning in the Wizard of Oz; I had the ability to accomplish my dream of obtaining a master’s degree my entire life, I just had to take the proverbial ‘leap of faith’ and do it,” he said.

Chris has no doubt that without UFred and his EMBA, he would not have been able to assume the position of Executive Director of his organization in 2017.

“There are so many nuances to leadership, finances, organizational structure, boards of governance, etc; in order to properly understand these aspects of leadership, you need to study them and apply the learning to your everyday life,” he said.

Chris adds that the trickle down effects are still palpable. As recently as October of 2018, he was voted in as 100 Mile House’s first First Nations Town Councillor. He says he now has the confidence to sit on the town council and feels empowered to bring entirely different perspectives to the table.

“Through my heritage as a member of the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, I bring indigenous ideals to the town council. With my NPO experience, I bring the voice of vulnerable families, youth, and children to the table. Both groups often do not have a voice nor are adequately represented in leadership and policy making,” he said.

Chris proudly hangs his EMBA on his office wall to demonstrate to his children and others that First Nations people are more than capable of completing post-secondary education and becoming leaders and role models for other indigenous people not only in Canada, but throughout the world.

“It is important to have diversity in places of leadership, to ensure that all perspectives are represented, that all voices are heard and understood. In this way, we will have greater involvement and engagement with policy makers, and the end result is more inclusive communities, creating a better sense of belonging for all.”