Pathways of Philanthropy: Justin Wiebe Makes a Career of Giving Back
“I was fortunate to grow up in a home with my parents who always encouraged me to explore and to really think outside the box and chart my own path,” Justin Wiebe recounts. He is a citizen of the Métis nation who was born, raised and now lives in Saskatchewan. He lives in the woods these days but growing up he also spent a lot of time in Alberta. Wiebe feels fortunate to have spent time with his grandparents and great-grandparents, elders who had stories to tell and who inspire him.
“As a young person, I knew early that I had a responsibility to find ways to be in service of my community and to help leave the world, big or small, a little bit better than how I found it.”
Academically, Wiebe thrived thanks to his teachers, the supportive environment he was in, and his mom’s commitment to education and insistence he read half an hour before bed every day, creating a commitment to learning. His brother’s experience was more difficult, which taught him school systems need to be responsive to different types of learners.
Wiebe came into a career in philanthropy by luck because he didn’t have connections in the industry or an understanding of what it was initially. He trained as a teacher and studied urban planning and community development. His master's degree focused on planning and supporting communities to do the things that they want to do. In the end, he stumbled into a job at a philanthropic foundation and was brought into a world of people and organizations that have funds to flow into important and impactful work.
“I'm here in service of our people in our communities to make sure our communities get the resources they need to do good work, and to transform their communities on their terms.”
A typical work day includes a lot of emails and meetings, but also spending time with people and their ideas. “An aspect of my work is to is to really build open and trusting relationships with communities and organizations, and to work with them to think through and really develop out ideas for how they're going to do something, how they're going to make change in their communities, how they're going to shift systems,” he shares. Part of that work is also technical, writing up proposal applications, submitting documents and staying in touch to monitor progress.
His advice for Indigenous young people considering a philanthropic career is to reach out to him or other Indigenous people working in the field. He suggests looking to Indigenous-led foundations and funding or community organizations to find out how to engage with them. Local Friendship Centres often have connections to philanthropy and other nonprofits or charities as well.
“The skills that we build through our various educational journeys often have much broader use than we might initially think,” he expresses, thinking of how he went to school to be a teacher and learned transferable skills in facilitation and engagement that have helped him in his philanthropic career. “People are looking for young Indigenous people who have ideas and who have vision. I think it's about being and recognizing how valuable you are, and that you can contribute meaningfully to any business or any nonprofit or government. You have value and your skills are useful, and anyone would be fortunate to have you,” he encourages.
Having a strong support system of community, family and friends helped him overcome barriers in his own life. He feels it’s important to recognize often the sources of barriers people face are from sources outside their control, like racism, oppression, sexism, and homophobia. “Those aren’t things that we've built for ourselves, they're things that have been imposed on us. They are out there. They're not they're not disappearing. But when you have the people and the support systems around, you can make that a little bit easier so you're not shouldering all those difficult things alone,” he says.
Wiebe wants to continue serving communities, living in his homelands and solving big problems. “My broader hope for the future is that we continue to tackle and address some of those barriers, and more deep, complex things that are making it difficult for our people to truly prosper, to truly be proud of themselves. We've come a long way, but there's still a long way for us to go. It's our responsibility, as Indigenous people, to continue to drive that and continue to push for things to be better,” he muses.
He is a man with a big vision he shares with conviction. “My hope is a future where Indigenous young people, regardless of where they live in the country, have meaningful opportunities to connect with their lands and ceremonies, that they know their languages and practice those things every day. But at the same time, they have access to great schools and meaningful employment opportunities where they can make decisions about what's best for them, whether it means staying home or going somewhere else, whatever decision they make, they can have a good job that values them,” he declares.
What that looks like in practice is a world where it’s possible “regardless of where they live, to be both a person who knows deeply who they are, and knows what it means to be a Michif or a Cree person, and all the teachings and the language and the ceremony that goes along with that and also the CEO of a business or the vice president of a bank or work at a foundation like I do, and maintain those connections to home into their communities. My hope is that increasingly there's opportunities for people to do all those things,” he concludes.
Justin Wiebe grew up in a home with parents who always encouraged him to explore and to really think outside the box and chart his own path. Now with a career in philanthropy, he gets to do that for other people, helping communities thrive on their own terms and contributing to bringing big ideas to life. He knew early on he had a responsibility to give back and he’s making good on that in a field of work he didn’t know existed in the past but now sees as holding a key to a brighter future.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.