Tapping into new networks is a two-way street

Nidhi Nijhawan

DSC_5033You may want to call it serendipity. Just when the Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences was looking for a board member with a background in business and accounting, Nidhi Nijhawan, a successful chartered accountant and hobbyist photographer, wanted to stretch her wings further.

With a strong desire to make a difference, Nidhi was now looking to volunteer with a board that would value her experience as the Chief Financial Officer and Controller at Medical Futures Inc., a niche pharmaceutical company that sells both pharmaceutical and natural therapeutic products in North America. “There are so many benefits to joining a board. And for me I’m really looking forward to being exposed to new experiences and tapping into networks that I would not normally come across in my career,” says Nidhi.

‘Getting it right the first time around’

While the crossing of their paths might have been by chance, both Michener and Nidhi had worked towards finding the right fit. “One important lesson I learnt from my hobby is that it’s not about getting the most pictures; it’s about trying to get it right the first time!” says Nidhi. So to set herself on the right track, she first linked up with Maytree’s DiverseCity onBoard in November 2013.

At Michener, the board was gearing up to meet the needs posed by Ontario’s adopting a more community-based approach to health care. Being a premier provider of clinical health education in the province, the institute had a vital role in preparing its students for the changes ahead. “Nidhi brings a whole new perspective and community-based view of running service organizations that employ our graduates as well as having the business and accounting skills we were looking for,” says Cathy Fooks, Chair of the Michener Board Nominations Committee.

Along with bringing in financial acumen, the Michener board wanted to address another issue – that of having more diversity on its board. “While introducing diversity is not stated in our formal documents, it has been something the board has paid attention to in the last five years,” says Cathy. “Historically we relied on the personal networks of the board and senior management. This time however we wanted to reach out more broadly. So we used the Maytree [DiverseCity onBoard] program and received a number of excellent candidates.”

Helping avoid ‘group think’

Cathy believes going outside the networks of existing members really enhances the perspective and wisdom on the board. It ensures that it doesn’t get into a “group think” mentality. “Our student population is a very diverse one. So ensuring that the Board is more reflective of that diversity helps us to understand what students are looking for in our programs as well as future employment options.”

It is a win-win situation. While Nidhi looks towards gaining valuable leadership experience, the Michener board added a member with the credentials they were looking for. With the board recently implementing policy changes to work more efficiently with management, Nidhi couldn’t be happier about getting her first chance to prove herself outside of academics and work.

On how she views the challenge of being a rookie board member, Nidhi points to growing up in Markham where her family was one of the few visible minorities around. “Since then the demographics have changed and Markham has thrived because of the hard work put in by people of diverse backgrounds, many of whom are relatively recent immigrants,” she says. “I’m always impressed with the good work ethic, willingness to learn and dedication that they bring to their jobs. And I hope I have inherited some of these qualities!”

She again dips into her hobby to express her view on diversity. “There are so many components to a successful photo, such as how it’s framed, the lighting, the focal point or even the angle. Sometimes ordinary things can become extraordinary if we just change the way we look at them.”