You wouldn’t be faulted if you have driven by 4300 Riverwood Park Lane in Mississauga not having any idea of the beauty and picturesque enclave of property that sits nestled along the banks of the Credit River just beyond the entrance. The 60-hectare (150 acre) park sits in the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and traditional homeland of the Wendat, Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee nations. 

Peel Leadership Centre has had the opportunity to work with two organizations – Visual Arts Mississauga (VAM) and The Riverwood Conservancy – with offices located on that property. On both occasions PLC supported the organizations’ strategic planning processes.. As part of its client services approach PLC conducts a post engagement check-in with clients to do just that; check-in to see how the organization is doing in bringing its strategic plan to life.

Recently Nicole Salmon, PLC’s Manager of Organizational Development, had the opportunity to connect with Annis Karpenko, VAM’s Executive Director, to have that three-month check-in conversation after the completion of the Strategic Planning process.  Below is a brief edited excerpt of their conversation. 

PLC:  Hello Annis, so lovely to speak with you.  When we spoke towards the end of January, little did we know how different the world would be in three months! But here we are, 10 weeks into a period of social isolation and physical distancing — terms that are now part of a global vernacular.  How are you doing through this period?

Annis: All in all I am doing well. Our VAM team has really responded to the entire situation with grace, perseverance, and flexibility and though it may sound like a cliché, they have really displayed some ‘out of the box thinking’ during this entire period.  It may seem weird to hear this, but we are in a good place given the circumstances we find ourselves in.

PLC: PLC has been talking about the Future of Work and the importance of agility and adaptability as being critical elements for organizations of the future to embrace and adapt.  Based on what you have said about VAM’s response to this crisis, the future is indeed here.  

So it’s May and it’s been exactly three months since PLC worked with VAM in developing its three- year Strategic Plan. Has COVID-19 slowed down the implementation of the plan?

Annis: Quite the opposite.  It has accelerated the implementation.  As you know, one of the priorities we identified in the plan was to explore some new things and initiatives over 18 to 24 months.  Well, COVID-19 has accelerated those plans because we had no choice but to leap right in and try new things.  We will see what ends up sticking beyond the current crisis, but we know some things will stick and become part of the ongoing experience VAM has to offer the community.

PLC: Your voice is upbeat and it sounds like you have found a way to cope with the challenges presented by COVID-19.  What’s your coping secret?

Annis: At first it felt quite overwhelming.  As the ED, in addition to working through what the closure meant for VAM, I also felt I was holding the emotional space for everyone – our staff, our instructors, our volunteers, our clients and program participants.  But I have an amazing and truly committed team working with me at VAM and without them, it would have been untenable and next to impossible to have gotten through the last two months.  

In addition to having a great team, I have always been a proponent and adherent of good self-care practices.  Throughout the entire period, I have relied on those practices to help me cope with the stressful circumstances presented by the pandemic. 

PLC: Can you walk us through from the point when you first heard that, with the exception of essential services, everything was being shut down. As the ED of a non-profit organization that generates a substantial percentage of its revenues between the spring and the fall, what went through your mind?

Annis: First of all, it wasn’t clear early on how long the measures would last.  Despite that, my number one consideration and motivation was to find ways to keep our various constituencies engaged – from our board, staff, instructors, program participants, funders, volunteers and all our other supporters. The number one concern was not income or revenues – it was keeping people engaged.  

With the help of a tech savvy Co-Op student, we quickly got up and running in the online space.  We scheduled regular staff meetings for all staff, team-based meetings and one-on-one connection points. Within a couple of weeks we refreshed our website and we added a COVID-19 section. We communicated with our external audiences via email and our eNewsletter.  Again communicating quickly and often has been the key.

PLC: So, in the last two months what has VAM done to weather the impact of the pandemic?

Annis: As mentioned, we had a tech savvy Co-Op student that stepped in to help us get connected online.  That was critical because it allowed us to not only stay connected but to quickly pivot to provide and offer online programs and instructions.  We were fortunate that a number of our instructors already had experience with the online space so we quickly tapped into their expertise and continued and/or created new learning opportunities.  Our funders and City of Mississauga have been terrific. We had to act quickly and be willing to experiment and try and test new things. 

PLC: Annis, PLC is pleased to have the opportunity to work with VAM and support the organization in developing a VAM driven strategic plan. It’s definitely great to hear that VAM’s Strategic Plan is an iterative plan that, despite the unexpected disruption of COVID-19, continues to provide direction for the organization.  Thank you for your time and wonderful to connect with you.  All the best to you and the entire VAM team.

Annis: Thank you Nicole.  We are pleased with our progress and extend our thanks to PLC for helping us develop a Strategic Plan that we fully own and embrace.  It’s a pleasure connecting again.

PLC extends our thanks to Annis Karpenko for taking the time to speak with us and sharing an update about VAM’s experience with COVID-19 and the impact it has had on the implementation of its strategic priorities.

Your PLC Team

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