Michelle Douglas likes to say she has a great sense of humor in all things except governance.

This approach has served her well both in her professional career and as a volunteer and advocate for social justice.

For the past three decades Michelle has worked as a federal public servant in Canada, where she currently serves as the Director of International Relations for the Department of Justice Canada. Michelle provides policy support and advice to the federal Minister of Justice, and has represented Canada at international meetings of the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States and at G7 economic summits.

Michelle also maintains an active life as a volunteer and champion for social justice. She previously served on a number of boards of directors, including as chair of the 519 Community Centre and the Foundation for Equal Families.

She has worked as a volunteer for over 25 years on LGBTQ2 equality issues in Canada and abroad. This work took on a personal meaning in 1989 when she was honorably discharged from her position in the Canadian Armed Forced under under the military’s “LGBT purge.” In response, she launched a landmark legal challenge against the military’s discriminatory policies against LGBT service personnel, which resulted in the ending of these practices in 1992.

This passion for social justice and accountability combined with her professional experience made her a natural fit for WE Charity’s Board of Directors, where she has served as Chair for over a decade.

Michelle and the other board members provide legal and financial oversight of WE Charity’s operations. This work includes approval and review of the charity’s annual budget, oversight of independent audits, the ongoing review of WE Charity’s financial activities, and review and analysis of WE Charity’s domestic and international projects.

Michelle holds a Bachelor’s Degree (Law) from Carleton University in Ottawa. In 2017, she was recognized by Carleton University as one of its “75 Distinguished Alumni.” In 2012 she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Michelle resides in Ottawa with her partner, Nabila.

Q&A with Michelle

What skills do you bring to WE Charity’s Board of Directors?

For the past 30 years, I have been a public servant in Canada and really, I think service and public service are at the core of something that is important to me. I have had a longstanding career as a public servant, where I’ve learned a lot about values and governance and really ensuring the integrity of systems.

I’ve also spent my whole adult life being a social justice activist, so I think those two experiences, both professionally and personally, coming together are a beautiful fit as chair of the board at WE Charity.

What is the role of the Board of Directors?

The board is an entity that oversees the governance of any charitable organization. At WE Charity the Board of Directors looks at the finances, we have a fiduciary duty or a trust relationship that obligates us to ensure the highest degree of standards and integrity in the conduct of the business part of the organization.

As a board, we oversee the strategy of what we are doing as an organization. So, we come together, people from varied backgrounds, bringing all our skills and experiences as volunteers to assure the organization is properly run, run with integrity, all the rules are followed—and that’s really what the role of the Board of Directors is about.

Why is governance so important?

I like to say I have a great sense of humor in all things but governance. It’s something I’m very focused on, as is the whole Board of Directors at WE Charity. I think it’s so important because at the bottom line of all charitable organizations is their operational integrity. Do they conduct themselves with the highest degrees of standards and respect for the donors and all stakeholders that come together to support any charity?

I think governance is essential, because if you don’t have high-quality oversight and mechanisms to assure the books and records are properly kept, the leadership is in place, that the policies are there, it has the potential without that to undermine a great organization. The great thing is, I think we do that with the best and highest standards that we can always attain.

How does the board deliver on its mandate?

One of the things that I think is important for all supporters of WE Charity to know about, and those who are interested in learning more about us, is the kind of rigor we pursue as Board of Directors’ members.

We want to make sure that the finances are maintained at the highest degrees of integrity, that our engagement in all aspects is done with the most current high standards that we can bring and that the executive team is absolutely leading the organization in a way that aligns with the highest standards that we can set for them.

As Board of Directors we have to make sure that the organization is complying with all the government rules, and with all legal requirements. And that’s something we take great care and attention to assure is done.

We meet regularly, we have conference calls and in-person meetings to make sure we have eyes on all of the books and records of the organization. We have Board of Directors members going out to have a look at the operations globally and we work collaboratively with the executive team to make sure we understand well how the books and records are maintained.

We provide our own expectations to the leadership team and then follow up to make sure those standards are not only met but it’s also really nice to see that they’ve actually been exceeded.

What is one achievement of the board you’re especially proud of?

Thinking back from the earliest days I was involved in the organization, from 2003 to 2004, there are a lot of exciting things that have happened that the board has been directly involved in, but I think now the most special experience I’ve been part of is the development of the WE Global Learning Center.

It’s an amazing space where the potential for big ideas and operations to thrive is limitless. And it’s incredible to see so many different people coming together, from incredibly generous donors who have given very special, tailored and focused donations to ensure that the building could be built. Many people coming together with dreams and visions for an incredible space, for sponsors who dream what youth might do with their new technology or big ideas that young people have.

This space is a game-changer for WE Charity. I think we can’t even imagine some of the potential that might emerge from here. It’s a beautiful space. It’s a space filled with light. For me it’s a very hopeful space and optimistic space. I’m so proud of it, we’ve done it with integrity. It’s a jewel for us organizationally and I think it’s really the power it holds for young people that is most special.