Alumni Features: Jane Hilderman
February 5, 2018
SPPG’s series featuring MPP alumni caught up with almuna Jane Hilderman, Executive Director of Samara Canada.
Jane Hilderman (MPP Class of 2010) is the Executive Director of Samara Canada, a nonpartisan charity that works to strengthen Canada’s democracy to better serve Canadians. Jane joined Samara after working on Parliament Hill. She holds degrees from the School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto (MPP) and Queen’s University (BAH). Jane is also a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, which seeks “to make Canada better known to Canadians and the world.” Originally from Camrose, Alberta, where she grew up on a family farm, Jane uses running to explore her new home, Toronto.
What was your path to working at Samara?
The short story is that I accidentally missed the turn-off into public service. But there is, of course, a longer story.
I met Alison Loat, then Executive Director of Samara Canada, at SPPG where she was teaching a course on the role of the nonprofit sector in policy making. I took her class and enjoyed it immensely, but I never thought at the time that I would work for Samara. I wanted to be a public servant! So much so that I had also dismissed a thoughtful observation from another professor who suggested my background might be suited to working in the nonprofit sector. I even spent my summer between first and second year working in the OPS. So what changed?
Well, after I graduated from SPPG, I applied to the nonpartisan Parliamentary Internship Programme in Ottawa, which I thought would help round out my policy foundations. “PIP” has been around for over 40 years and should be better known for how fabulous it is. For 10 months, you are on the democratic frontlines working with two different MPs — a rare opportunity to traverse government and opposition. You also undertake study trips to other countries and provinces, as well as conduct an original research project. And you get paid (a modest stipend)! You meet fascinating people — senior public servants, journalists, leaders, advocates.
As the internship ended, I wanted to bring together my SPPG training and my intensive Hill experience in my next role. I had two offers: stay on the Hill or work for Samara. At the time, I thought Samara was a less predictable prospect, but therefore more interesting for a two-year stint. Six years have passed, and I’m still at Samara. And I was right! I did not predict I would become the Executive Director in my late 20s. It’s been quite a ride.
What’s your favourite thing about working at Samara?
I thrive on watching what we can accomplish together as a small but mighty team. Samara is typically comprised of seven people with a budget of less than $1 million dollars, which makes our national mission to strengthen democracy ambitious (or foolhardy!). We work in a pretty collaborative environment, and each role, including my own, touches many elements. That variety suits me, and I also enjoy seeing projects through from their earliest stages to their public release to getting feedback from Canadians.
By investing six-plus years at Samara, I’ve also gained the privilege of observing how an operating environment can change and an organization can mature. The health of democracy has grown more salient since when I started in 2011. Samara’s work has also gained greater traction and recognition, whether that be media coverage, testimony at parliamentary committees, or advice to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I wake up each morning knowing that I work on an important issue that I care deeply about.
How does your work use and build on the skills that you learned at SPPG?
The skill from SPPG that I continue to draw on the most may surprise you: narrative storytelling. This was something that was most heavily explored in my capstone course experience. In practice, I’ve seen how good ideas don’t always get the traction they deserve unless there is a compelling “story” that “sells” them. Rigorous analysis and evidence still matter–but many policy jobs require you to deliver more than that, especially as you move into leadership roles.
In retrospect, what parts of your experience at SPPG do you think were the most valuable?
Building and maintaining relationships with both professors and classmates are top of mind. The degree is not just the letters after your name, it’s the people you got to know along the way. They give advice, make connections, and give you ideas — not just as you exit SPPG, but for years to follow.
What advice would you give current or prospective students to make the most of their time at SPPG?
I really appreciated the interdisciplinarity of SPPG, which enabled me to take courses from different schools (e.g. Dalla Lana, Rotman, Munk, etc.). I valued graduating as a “generalist” with insights on how different fields applied their own policy lens and language. It’s helped me be more adaptable and creative.
As a student, it is easy to feel that you need to become an “expert” in a policy area, but don’t undervalue versatility and diversity when it comes to finding a job and planning a policy career. Or indeed, in planning any other element of your life!.