Just over 40 days into her role as QMUNITY’s new Executive Director, Dara Parker answers twenty questions about her background, her priorities and how we can help.
“This is a very exciting time for BC’s queer communities,” said Jeffrey Preiss, Chair of the Board in announcing Parker’s appointment last month. “Over the past number of years QMUNITY has significantly expanded our reach as BC’s queer resource centre. Dara’s experience in community planning, non-profit administration and local government is a huge asset in making our vision a reality.”
Q: Tell us about your background.
I am trained as a community planner and have a mix of non-profit and public sector experience. I have worked in both program delivery and social policy development. I have also actively volunteered with the United Nations Association in Canada and am currently the co-president of the Vancouver Board.
Q: Your last job was with UN-Habitat – can you tell us about that and how it prepared you for this role?
For the last three years I have consulted with UN-Habitat, however during this time I also worked as a Social Planner for the City of Burnaby and subsequently ran the Western Canadian office of Cuso International. These experiences have all contributed to preparing me for my role at QMUNITY by providing experience in program management, policy development, communications and relationship building.
Q: You spent time in Lesotho with CIDA – tell us about that experience.
My work in Lesotho was one of my most formative experiences to date. I first lived there during 2003 when I worked for the Lesotho National Olympic Committee developing a youth engagement program using sport as a tool for development. I returned in 2005 and 2006 to write my Master’s thesis in community planning evaluating the social impact of the program I had developed. I am proud to say that almost ten years later the program remains operational and fully managed by local Basotho, and that I am still in contact with some of the youth who remain involved in the program to this date!
Q: You’ve traveled and lived in over 45 countries – do you have a favourite?
Impossible question. There are some places that are great to visit, and some places that are great to live in. I do have an affinity for Latin culture and most recently I spent almost a year living in Spain. I definitely have a soft spot for their gastronomical feats, keen fashion sense and warm nature!
Q: Is there one particular moment in your travels that stands out for you?
I spent six months living in China and one night while eating out at the invitation of local colleagues, I mistakenly asked “What kind of turtle soup am I eating?” (which begs the question, how many varieties of turtle can I name?). The answer, “Uh… endangered”. Oops.
Q: What was your “a ha” moment?
I was very deliberate in my decision to leave policy work and return to the non-profit sector. While I believe that there are many ways to positively effect social change, my strengths lend themselves to the social service sector. Realizing this was an “a ha” for me.
Q: You have a long history in various community organizations – what attracted you to this type of work?
For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to social justice issues and human rights work. I can’t explain what the genesis of this drive was beyond a desire that the world should be fair. Unfortunately that’s not the case and resultantly it has informed everything that I’ve done; from my early experiences with Kids Help Phone to my work in international development to my desire to become a planner and focus on social policy issues. My work has always been closely entwined with my quest to address injustice and my desire to be a changemaker – I took Ghandi’s words to heart.
Q: You have a Masters in Planning from UBC – how do you see that degree helping you in your new role?
My Masters’ degree was by far the most positive educational experience I’ve ever had. I came into the program with a strong background in social sustainability, and left with a new world view that could not separate environmental and economic issues from social ones. This enhanced perspective informs everything I do and provides insight into the big picture. On a more practical level the program provided me with the ability to conduct strategic planning, build community and understand the policy tools that can help facilitate our mandate. Finally, planners are a fantastic group of diverse people that I can always call on to contribute – I value that network enormously.
Q: What attracted you to the job at QMUNITY?
Everything. The opportunity to lead a strong organization with a robust history delivering relevant and vital services was a no-brainer. The fact that our work is in the human rights sector in an area that is close to my heart, made it that much more exciting. I am thrilled to have been offered this opportunity.
Q: What are you immediate goals for QMUNITY?
I have three immediate priorities for the organization:
- To conduct some strategic planning, central to which will be a community consultation to help identify the priorities of the Queer community.
- To diversify our funding strategies and increase our resource development in order to ensure a more sustainable future.
- To pursue a new office space that will meet our needs by being accessible, having storefront visibility and accommodating the capacity of our programs.
Q: Where do you see QMUNITY in five years?
I think QMUNITY is poised for growth. We have a great organization with a committed staff and Board, strong core programming, a fantastic volunteer corps and we deliver necessary and relevant services. In five years I see enhanced program and service delivery in a new office space, and an increased geographical scope. Fundamental to achieving this vision is increasing our resources so that we can build upon our excellent foundation and identity as the resource for queer people in BC.
Q: If time and price were no object what would be your blue sky plan for QMUNITY?
A new space is the obvious and immediate priority, for the aforementioned reasons (accessibility, visibility, capacity, and functionality). If time and price were no object it could be a pretty fabulous space! Beyond that I would love to expand on our program delivery and build up regional presence so that we could provide more services to people living across BC. Having regional offices is a pipe dream for now, but with no limitations…
Q: What are you most looking forward to doing at QMUNITY?
Meeting people in the community. This is my first professional involvement in the queer community and I’m looking forward to building relationships with old and new!
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge for QMUNITY?
The struggle of every non-profit is how to ensure stable, sustainable funding in order to deliver our vital services. Central to our mission is guaranteeing that we have the resources to meet the needs of our community while continuing to advocate for queer people across the province creating spaces for our perspectives at the table.
Q: How can the LGBTQ community help you?
I love the diversity of our community! I am constantly learning from people’s stories and experiences and the richness of this diversity is what draws me to the community. Being a member of the LGBTQ community means bringing a unique perspective to a situation and that means thinking outside the box. This is always helpful.
Q: If you could be doing anything, what would that be?
Honestly, right now I feel as though I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. I am working in the human rights sector out of Vancouver, my favourite city in the world, in a role where I hope I can be a social changemaker. Perhaps the only thing that could improve this opportunity is a few mandatory exotic travel trips as part of my mandate.
Q: You’re also a snowboard instructor – how did that come about?
I’ve been teaching snowboarding in Ontario and BC for 15 years and it is a combination of my love of sport and experiential education that drew me to it. Most recently I’ve been teaching an adult women’s camp at Grouse Mountain which is a fantastic opportunity for adult women to empower themselves through sport. It’s also a great way to physically ground myself in my body – the perfect antidote to staring at a computer all day!
Q: What’s the last book you read?
I love reading and am an avid reader of all things fiction. I just finished a book called “Still Alice” about a Harvard Professor who is diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease. Now every time I forget a word I start to get panicky!
Q: What’s the last movie you saw?
Can I tell you the last good movie I’ve seen? Incendies – what a fabulous, traumatizing, complex film. I was very moved.
Q: Cats or dogs?
Dogs, no question.
Meet Dara Parker
Dara is a community planner with a background in diversity and inclusion and over 14 years’ experience working in non-profits and local government. She began her career working in international development and has travelled to over 45 countries, spanning five continents. Her CIDA-funded youth engagement work in Lesotho (Southern Africa), inspired her to return to pursue a Masters in Planning at the University of British Columbia, with a focus on how to build inclusive cities.
Dara’s notable achievements include: working for Kids Help Phone, the United Nations Association in Canada, the City of Burnaby, and Cuso International. For the last three years Dara has consulted with UN-Habitat on their inaugural Youth Advisory Board, helping mainstream youth participation throughout the organization.
Dara volunteers as Co-President of the United Nations Association in Canada Vancouver Board, promoting public engagement on global issues. Most recently Dara took a sabbatical year travelling in Colombia and Spain to learn Spanish and write about the intersections of culture and sustainability. An active athlete, Dara can be found teaching snowboarding on Grouse Mountain or playing volleyball around Vancouver.