A Chat with Darshana Dhunnoo of Breast Cancer Action Montreal & FemmeToxic

Kickaction: Did you always know that you wanted to work within the non-profit sector?

Darshana Dhunnoo: When I was growing up, I wanted to do many including being a classical musician to professional athlete to marine biologist. I ended up going to university and doing a BSC in Psychology. By trying to find jobs that would allow me to gain more experience in the field I was studying in, I found myself being drawn to positions in the non-profit sector.

Kickaction: Who have been some of your greatest influences?

Darshana Dhunnoo: My parents, who are the most hard working people I know and who have made a lot of sacrifices for their children. I draw a lot of motivation from their drive, their focus and their patience. I am very lucky to have parents who have always pushed me to work to my potential and achieve the absolute best in life.

For the last couple of years, I have been very lucky to work with and learn from people who have a lot of experience and who have given me the opportunities that have made me who I am today. These people have taught me a lot and continue to inspire me to do the work that I do.

Finally, two years ago, I got the opportunity to meet and talk with the Dalai Lama who made me realize that in a world full of complex issues, the answer can be as simple as always remaining truthful and honest to oneself and remaining compassionate. I carry these words in my heart everyday.

Kickaction: Did you encounter any obstacles when you first got started?

Darshana Dhunnoo: Yes! I remember calling and visiting an organization every week for two months before they accepted to give me an interview. I knew I wanted to work there and I was not ready to let go. They created a position and hired me.

Kickaction: What does a typical day at work look like for you?

Darshana Dhunnoo: When I walk into the office, I start with a cup of tea. I check and respond to my emails and organize my day based on my weekly work plan. Then it is planning and organizing events, preparing workshops, recruiting and organizing groups of young people to take part in collective actions, organizing focus groups to test run new workshop materials and managing volunteers and social media. It is a lot of work and the trick is to be very organized.

Kickaction: Tell us a bit more about your educational background. What program(s) did you take and how did you find out about it?

Darshana Dhunnoo: I come from a scientific background. I did pure sciences throughout high school and entered the Faculty of Science at McGill University. After a year of doing pre-med classes, we had to choose our majors and Psychology was the only major that interested me. I loved being in the program and learned a lot from it. Towards the end of that program, I wanted to explore other fields and I registered for various business, political science and educational psychology courses. These classes contributed to a more rounded degree. The important thing for me is to always listen to and nurture my curiosity.

Kickaction: How did you get into the position that you currently hold? 

Darshana Dhunnoo: My contract was coming to an end with my previous job. One of my contacts had worked with the organization I currently work with and told me that they were hiring for my position and that I should apply. I applied and I got the job. This position was obtained by keeping in touch with my network.

Kickaction: What do you love most about your job?

Darshana Dhunnoo: I love developing and giving workshops! It is the most amazing feeling when you are able to connect with so many different people over the same issue. I especially love working with youth because they have so much to say and they have so much energy. I am still trying to find the best way to explore that energy.

I also have to say that I love the creative space that my organization has allowed me to have to fully develop my program. We are young people with experience and new perspectives which are qualities which can benefit the non-profit sector a lot.

Kickaction: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Darshana Dhunnoo: The people I worked with have been either amazing or really difficult to work with. I have noticed that some people work in the non-profit sector for the wrong reasons. This means that they do not have the skill or intrinsic motivation to develop and build this field. They also tend to have a strong emotional connection with their work and  it becomes very challenging to critically look at that work to see how effective it really is. My advice would be to follow your gut feeling – if something feels off about an organization or the work that they do then something is probably wrong. Never feel scared to be completely honest!


Kickaction: What advice would you give girls who are thinking about pursuing a career in the non-profit sector? 

Darshana Dhunnoo: First of all, ask yourselves why you want to work in this field and what you would like to accomplish. It can be as simple as learning more about a certain issue to developing skills to have a direct impact in society. Secondly, always research the work of the organization you are interested in applying to. Critically analyze how and why they do their work. Do not be carried away by what you read on their website or what you see in their videos. Many organizations invest a lot of money in their communications strategies and do not practice what they advertise. If it is too good to be true, it probably is. Finally, try to fully understand anti-oppression and social justice practices. It will help you distinguish organizations that work according to those values.

Kickaction: What do you see as the most pressing issue for girls locally and/or globally at this time?

Darshana Dhunnoo: We absolutely need to have more women in politics. It is ridiculous that young women growing up locally and globally see mostly men in positions of power making decisions that directly impact them. I believe that seeing more women in positions of leadership will definitely help young women feel confident to aspire to be in such positions.

I also believe that the misrepresentation of women in media continues to be an issue. Over the last decade, young women around the world have had an increased exposure to media. The manner in which women are depicted in pictures and videos have become the norm young women feel obliged to conform to. A lot has been done to address this issue and I do not see much changing. So we should continue to focus our attention here.

Kickaction: What gives you your inner strength?

Darshana Dhunnoo: While my work is full of challenges, it is also full of very inspiring moments. I focus my attention on those moments and I try to make them last as long as possible. I also like reminding myself that I am very lucky to be able to do what I love. Most importantly, I always take the time to close my eyes and look within myself. As long as I am being true to myself, I feel happy and strong.

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