A Path of Purpose


January 3, 2020

Words by: Jelena Bojic

Photography by: Tatyana Semenova

Getting to know Jennifer Martin.

When Jennifer Martin moved to Edmonton, one of the first fundraising events she attended had a guest speaker, then-mayor Stephen Mandel, who said the words that have stayed with her ‘til this day. “Our community gives each of us so much. Every one of us should be able to articulate how we’re giving back at any given time.” That statement aligned so well with Jennifer’s vision of life; spending years as a broadcast journalist, she was always giving back by supporting many charitable organizations, and leading the way for communities to speak about mental health issues openly and without stigma. Martin takes center stage naturally; camera ready, with a lovely personality and a big smile, she looks like she’s ready to host a TV talk show. But she moved on from a media career to running the not-for-profit organization Junior Achievement, that empowers and inspires young people — where she serves as the President and CEO for Northern Alberta & NWT.

What did that path look like, from a broadcast journalist to CEO of a charitable organization?

It has been an adventure full of twists and turns! I had been laid off several times because the news industry is shrinking as people spend more time on social media and Netflix. So, when the phone rang with management opportunities at Shaw and then their subsidiary, Corus Entertainment, I accepted. Continuing disruption in the media business led me to explore non-profit roles. It was always something that interested me because I am passionate about our community and helping others. In my twenty years in Edmonton I have always volunteered on one charitable board or another.

It sounds like storytelling is a thread that is present throughout your whole career. Would you say this is one of your favourite things to do?

For sure! If you can make people feel something, whether it’s anger, empathy or even pride in accomplishing something, you can make things happen. It can be in a social media post, a speech, an email or a video…the format doesn’t really matter.

How would you describe yourself as a leader?

Decisive. Innovative. Strategic. And I like to get s#*t done!

When you reflect on your career change, what are some of the skills and talents you gained in the media world that serve you well today as the CEO?

Being a good communicator – capturing people’s imaginations. Also, taking charge, assessing what is going on and figuring out how to get creative and tackle things from there.

As a role model to young women who are interested in leadership roles, you look like a perfect example of a confident and strong person. Would you say you’ve always had that confidence and strength, or is this something that you’ve had to work on?

I’ve always been an extrovert and had tons of self-confidence, but for a time many years ago my self-worth was a challenge I worked on. My husband, a former police officer, tragically took his life in 2011 and the years in our home before and after that were extremely difficult. With really good support around me, I pulled myself and my sons through that. It made me realize how strong I am. We all need to be mindful, and strong enough to stand up for how we want to be treated by the people in our lives.

Thank you for being so open and sharing this difficult story. How did this hardship make you look for ways you can support others who are going through a similar journey?

I just didn’t want anyone else to experience what my family and I endured, including my husband. Because I have a profile in Alberta, I was approached to speak at various first responder symposiums and mental health fundraisers. From there, I was asked to join the board of the Lt. Governor’s Circle on Mental Health and Chair the Critical Incident Stress Management Foundation – Canada, which helps public safety personnel cope with trauma on the job and build resilience beforehand too.

There are some warning signs that, due to the economy, charitable giving may be in decline this year. Where do you see the future of philanthropy in Alberta?

I believe in the generosity of Albertans, but as the President & CEO of Junior Achievement Northern Alberta & NWT, I know charities MUST adapt and in really major ways. JA has found bold, successful new ways to continue our passion for empowering youth to succeed, even during Covid.

“If you can make people feel something, whether it’s anger, empathy or even pride in accomplishing something, you can make things happen.”

I love the story of your first year at JA where you decided to host 5 events during the pandemic, keeping in mind all Covid-19 restrictions but being incredibly innovative. Can you talk a little bit about that?

JA held the first live auction on Zoom in North America, if not the world. We had Zoom staff in California tuned into our Virtual Night Out in case the crew at Production World here in Edmonton hit any snags (they didn’t). When Covid hit, it was ‘lay down and die’, or ‘get after it’! So we started creating truly fun, engaging, worthwhile virtual events and virtual / in-person hybrids when rules allowed for that. They can go south very easily so we look at them like a show and a party combined and get wildly innovative and really put our heads into, ‘How will that idea roll out, how will it feel for our guests? How long should it be? How can we make it interactive?’ Our third event was postponed during the most recent lockdown but we’ll reschedule. Our 4th and 5th pandemic era events are coming up. The JA Northern Alberta Business Hall of Fame is February 17th and Leading Ladies, our International Women’s Day event will take place online in March.

You are a true creative problem solver. What is your strategy for tackling issues that seem difficult to resolve?

I can’t lie, I look at a problem and just try to understand what is going on from all angles, and then the ideas just start flowing. We’re all hard wired with our own unique strengths. I’m also unafraid to try unconventional things! But I rely on my team and my mentors to keep me in check, ha-ha. I’m also a big believer in calling on people who are in a strong position to help me. No one can be successful all alone. All my jobs have always involved problem solving.

What are your favourite ways to unwind and relax?

I love to cook great food and fill my home with special people! My boys are so special and always a riot. I love to travel, golf, hit the mountains and ski or hike. My parents have a cottage in Ontario so I love being on the water anywhere, skiing and tubing. Love watching the Oilers, and Sundays are all about football!

When you think of luxury, what are the first three things that come to mind?

Not having to work for a pay cheque! But for now, same as anyone else I suppose, amazing food, wine, clothes, cars, vacations…but I’ll take a loyal, fun friend who truly cares about me before material stuff. Well, both would be nice, right? But seriously, I’ve learned the secret to being rich is being happy with what you have. I’m definitely happy.

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