Emma Lewzey (BA ’95) chose Glendon Campus as the place to earn her undergrad degree because of its small size and the opportunity to speak French. She came out as a queer woman on campus and joined the Glendon Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Organization (formerly GLABA). She found that having this supportive community of like-minded students was critical to her university experience. Emma was also a women’s studies major and appreciated the forward-thinking and progressive environment in the field and the representation of queer authors and professors in her studies, an uncommon experience in 1990s academia.
Emma is now the founder and lead consultant at Blue Sky Philanthropy with 25 years of experience in the not-for-profit sector, including at Toronto’s iconic 519 Community Centre. When asked how her studies led to her career choice, Emma said “Oh, there was a direct link to working in the social sector. I knew I wanted to work in an organization that aligned with my values and where I could make a difference.” Her first job after graduation was as an executive assistant in a women’s organization. A few months after joining, she was tapped to write a fundraising appeal for a special project, and it was notably successful. “That’s how I became an accidental fundraiser,” she says. “And I thought, what better way to benefit an organization like this than raising money.”
Emma also became an accidental entrepreneur. After a 20-year career fundraising for various organizations in the arts, health care and social service, she decided to take a career break. While taking some time to decide her next move, former colleagues and friends began to contact her about taking on short-term fundraising projects. One of her early projects was with York’s Lassonde School of Engineering on a project to increase resources for women engineering students. Fast forward six years and she now works with a diverse number of organizations around the world. “It was unplanned but such a happy accident. I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point,” she says.
In addition to previously serving as vice-president, equity and inclusion on the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Toronto Chapter, Emma recently joined York’s Sexuality And Gender Advocacy (SAGA) alumni network. “It’s a good time and an amazing opportunity to come back and collaborate with alumni of all ages, experiences, and identities,” she says. “Our mission is to impact the experience of current students. The reality is that it’s not that much easier to come out now than it was when I did in 1993. Queer students should not be dealing with the same things we were dealing with then, and we have a much better awareness about how intersectional identities are impacted by racism and transphobia, for example.”
Her advice for current students is to enjoy the moments despite the stress. “While in school, it seems so stressful but it’s a precious experience. Take advantage of the supports and groups available to you. I still have very dear friends that I met in GLABA. They are an important resource and community throughout life.”