All in a Day’s Work

Dawn Devoe, World Vision Canada’s general counsel, gets serious about doing work that matters

Haitian children spend time singing and dancing with a World Vision volunteer at a child-friendly space—a return to normalcy after weeks of disaster.
Dawn Devoe, general counsel.

Hunger, earthquakes, poverty, AIDS, hurricanes, war. These are challenges faced by people all over the globe every day, and as a Christian humanitarian organization, it’s World Vision’s mission to provide some relief. In order to make that happen as quickly and as smoothly as possible, Dawn Devoe, World Vision Canada’s general counsel, spends her days working on the back end—negotiating international contracts, managing external counsel, dealing with employee matters, and more. Devoe took a quick break from her duties with the Mississauga, Ontario-based organization to share with Advantage just how busy—and fulfilling—her job can be.

Advantage: What brought you to World Vision Canada? 

Dawn Devoe: I came from the oil industry, where I worked as a legal counsel for several years. When World Vision came on my radar, I had taken a hiatus from work to spend time at home with my family. Out of the blue, I got this call from my former law clerk, saying she had now transitioned her practice to World Vision and that they were in urgent need for someone with my expertise. I started off with a six-month contract, with them still not entirely sure what I was getting myself into. My second day on the job, the earthquake hit in Haiti. I got to see what this organization was really about. These people hit the ground running and were working around clock to ensure relief efforts were getting to the people in Haiti. I fell in love with them.

How have you been able to apply your experience with the corporate world to World Vision? 

I would credit my corporate experience—in particular, the several years of experience I gained working in the oil industry—with helping me navigate the daily high-stakes environment that exists at World Vision. The negotiation process itself doesn’t change, except that in the corporate world you’re often dealing with trying to preserve your employer’s interest. The subject matter changes significantly in the nonprofit context. Here, you’re working to help your people get aid, get relief efforts to the field, and essentially ensuring children will be fed at the end of the day.

Since coming to World Vision, what are some of the bigger projects you’ve been involved with?

The projects that come out of Haiti continue to be ongoing. The earthquake was absolutely devastating, and a significant portion of the work that I have is to support our program’s people there. Also, famine was just declared by the UN in the Horn of Africa, so there’s a real sense of bringing relief efforts to that region as well.

What are some of the bigger challenges you have faced?

Our challenges at World Vision’s legal department are probably twofold. We’re committed to being good stewards of donors’ funds, which means ensuring that the maximum amount of dollars gets to the field. A lot of the time, we rely on our external counsel partners, who have been invaluable to us.

The other big challenge that I have found is there’s constant, new learning about the various jurisdictions that we operate in. Depending on where we’re negotiating contracts or where our people are located, it requires different responses.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking of making the change from the corporate sector to a nonprofit?

I would say not to make the mistake that the NGO [nongovernmental organization] world is any less competitive than the commercial world. It’s just that your opponents get larger. Instead of competing with an ambitious colleague or aggressive opposing counsel, what you’re dealing with is a famine sweeping through a country, and you’re racing against time to get to the children.