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Woman of the Week: Angie Draskovic

Angie Draskovic is someone who puts others before herself and firmly believes in the power of faith — faith in religion and faith in humanity. As President and CEO of Yonge Street Mission, Draskovic has seen first hand the difference this kind of faith can make in a person’s life.

Draskovic always had a passion for helping others, but it took her a while to figure out how she could put her abilities to use. Prior to her time with the Mission, she spent 16 years working in telecommunications. It wasn’t until she took a maternity leave that she began to re-evaluate what she wanted in a career, and that led her down a spiritual path of self-discovery and altruism.

 “I started to investigate what I really wanted to do and at that stage I had a greater sense of what my skill set was – marketing,” Draskovic said. “What I was passionate about was advocating for the poor and marginalized. That led to taking my skill set, marketing and sales, and having that benefit the poor and marginalized.” 

She worked in non-profit fundraising for a season before venturing out on her own to found the ZOË Alliance, a social enterprise that empowers village-based businesses in developing countries by providing a platform for their products. Shoppers can purchase hand-crafted items from businesses across the world knowing they were making a real economic difference in the lives of the people who created them.

The goal, Draskovic says, is to allow communities to grow alongside the business. It’s a concept called social sourcing and sustainable employment. The for-profit business encourages ethical employment and uses part of the funds collected to help create infrastructure within that community.

“I went alongside indigenous business owners and helped them develop products and business plans. Instead of it being a crafty business without much profit they were able to develop a growing businesses and more steadily employee people in the community.”

When ZOË Alliance was doing well as a successful commercial business, Draskovic felt like it was time to move on. She was on the board of the Yonge Street Mission at the time, and when a position opened up for the CEO’s role, she immediately felt drawn to it.

“I grew up, like many people we serve, in a single-parent family on social assistance. I know what it’s like to live in a rent-geared family,” she said. This history helped her connect with both the staff and the people the Mission worked for.

For Draskovic, working at the Yonge Street Mission is exciting and incredibly important. The people she serves count on the Mission. As she says, it’s not a career or a sector, “it’s a vocation.”

“I think the one thing I like about working at Yonge Street Mission is that it is an organization that has great historical depth and experience,” she said. “We are trusted, which gives us the opportunity to step into being a leader in the city around to truly reducing, or dare I say it eliminating, chronic poverty in Toronto.”

In addition to her work at Yonge Street Mission, Draskovic also sits on the advisory panel for Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. She says there is no “intellectually defensive argument” for the lack of resources spent on poverty reduction. At the same time, she acknowledged the bureaucracy that has led to resource limitations, saying that Toronto is doing what it can with the parameters it has to work with.

She said there are a few things that can be done to make an honest difference in the poverty gap. The first is to have faith in people and believe they can move up from poverty. Draskovic says too many people believe that those in poverty can’t change. “That’s a community thing. How do we respond to someone who dresses a little different than us and conducts themselves in a way that’s uncomfortable?”

Businesses need to provide jobs at a meaningful income so that families don’t require social assistance. As a founder of a for-profit business, Draskovic understands that making money is important, but many businesses put this profit before their community and the wellbeing of their employees. The increase in minimum wage in Toronto is a good start, she said. “If we could pay everyone enough to live on – that would be the biggest thing we could do. We would stop feeding it.”

Resources for poverty also need to be more proactive and preventative rather than reactionary. There are programs in place to help those who are below the poverty line; however, that help disappears the moment that person or family makes a little more money, which in turn throws them back into poverty. “It’s punitive,” Draskovic says. “We assume we have to make sure you don’t game the system and this prevents you from earning income and working your way out of poverty.”

Yonge Street Mission is currently executing a research project to determine specific policies that, if changed, would drastically reduce poverty in Toronto. Once these policies are identified, Draskovic will focus on providing evidence and business case studies for public partners with the goal of transforming Toronto. “I’m excited,” she said. “We will see. I’m newer to the sector than many of my colleagues so perhaps that makes me optimistic, but I can’t imagine doing anything in a way you weren’t playing to win. Winning in this case means reducing poverty.”

When Draskovic isn’t working, she is studying part-time in an attempt to finish her master’s in leadership and management.