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Christine Gelowitz, RPF

Chief Executive Officer, Association of BC Forest Professionals

Q: Do you have a life philosophy?

A: The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland said, “If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.” I agree, which is why for the past 20 years, my guiding philosophy in both my personal and professional life has been “What you expect to happen, will happen.”

While this philosophy holds several different sentiments for me, a driving one is about goal setting and the importance of doing this in all aspects of one’s life — work, family, physical health, mental health, spiritual, financial and social. Without setting goals, no matter how big or small they may be and periodically having an honest reflection on my progress towards them, my learning and growth, as well as my achievements, would not have been as fulfilling.

I have tempered this with a second guiding philosophy: the journey matters as much as the destination. This has helped remind me of the importance of appreciating and having gratitude in the moment, not to take things too seriously, and to enjoy the people around me.

Q: What adjectives would your colleagues use to describe you?

A: Collaborative

Astute

Tenacious

Benevolent

Strategic

Big-picture thinker

Q: Did you have an important early influencer in your life? Could you reflect on their role in shaping you and perhaps preparing you for your career journey?

A: During a part-time job in my university years, I had the good fortune of working for a person who took a personal interest in me and became my mentor for many years. She often would describe her role as my mentor to be about helping point me in the right direction and to open doors that otherwise may be closed to me. She also made it very clear it was my job as the mentee to walk through those doors on my own two feet and merit.

Often, when time has passed and we gain more experience, we look backwards and see more clearly the potential outcomes of different paths and choices that were laid before us. Having the guidance of a mentor early in my career helped me to better weigh and balance the critical and sometimes path-altering decisions, with foresight beyond what I was capable of at that time. Because of my early experience working with a mentor, I continually sought mentors along my career path to this day. Some have been more formal arrangements than others but all held such value and importance for me. I am thankful for all the wisdom and guidance, and the gift of critical feedback, even when it was sometimes hard to hear. Whatever my successes have been, and without under-valuing my own efforts and contributions, I recognize a part of my success is shared with the great mentors I have been fortunate to have.

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Q: Do you have a non-work-related activity that you think benefits you / enhances your effectiveness at work?

A: I became a parent once my career was established, and to my surprise, I found that having a child helped make me better at my job. This was completely unexpected given how exhausted I was some days as a parent (but at the same time totally fulfilled). I certainly did not have the ability to recognize this could be possible when I first came back to work from maternity leave. I recall the third day back at work while trying to juggle all my new and old responsibilities, finding myself crying in my car in the driveway at 8 p.m. after realizing my one-year-old daughter was already in bed for the night and I had not seen her since 7 a.m. that morning.

After that tough day, I realized I needed to approach my work and career in a new way while still honouring my family commitments. I stopped trying to achieve the elusive “balance” between work and home, and instead started getting explicitly clear about what was most important to be done and what was not to be missed — both at work and home. I became more principled, and hence more selective, about what made it onto my priority list and what rose to the top. I gained a new perspective that helped me become a better leader and manager. While I had always tried to be understanding, I could now better internalize how to best support the people on my team with meeting their family responsibilities. I also learned to “switch off” work mode when I got home because I had a little person waiting for me who deserved my undivided attention. It continues to be challenging but I know my role outside of work as a parent has helped make me a better leader and more effective employee.

Q: What do you see as the most pressing challenges to the association sector (or your industry) currently? Do these keep you up at night — or do you have an approach to build resilience and stay ahead of the curve?

A: Public trust in large institutions and scientific information is evolving, and as a result, so is the governance landscape in which associations operate.

The World Economic Forum identified lack of trust as one of six critical driving forces reshaping civil society to 20301. Timothy Caulfield, author of Why Gwyneth Paltrow is Wrong About Everything: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash, says there is a growing distrust in traditional sources of information while the public has more tolerance for pseudoscience, or “bunk,” on social media and readily believe celebrities over experts. Vaccines come to mind for me as an illustrative example.

Public trust is a foundational requirement for self-regulating professions like the Association of BC Forest Professionals. Science is the foundation of professional practice of the association. These changes in civil society are a concerning evolution for both the association at large, and as an individual regulated professional.

In a world where trust is so hard to build, yet so easy to loose, this is a complex challenge to solve. I believe before trust comes awareness and transparency. If the public does not know who the association is, or what it does, there is no real opportunity to build trust. And although social media is a challenge because it can spread misinformation so rapidly, it represents one of the best opportunities for associations to raise their profile and awareness with the public at large through targeted campaigns over a sustained period. At the individual level, the professionals who make up the association can also play a major role in maintaining and growing public trust. To paraphrase Timothy Caulfield, in public discussions and debates, professionals can encourage people to look for a body of evidence (not just anecdotes), and use critical thinking to be aware of conflicts of interest. Remind the public that just because something is popular or new, doesn’t mean it works. And testimonials, no matter how compelling, aren’t evidence.

About Christine and the Association of BC Forest Professionals

The Association of BC Forest Professionals is responsible for regulating BC’s 5,400 forest professionals and is the largest professional forestry association in Canada. As the association’s chief executive officer, Christine is responsible for all aspects of the association’s business operations and works closely with the president and elected council to set the strategic direction of the organization and ensure strong governance practices.

1   The Future Role of Civil Society, World Economic Forum, January 2013

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