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09 Mar

Alumni Features: Vass Bednar

March 9, 2018

SPPG’s series featuring MPP alumni caught up with almuna Vass Bednar, Senior Policy Associate at Airbnb.

Vass Bednar

Vass Bednar (MPP Class of 2010) @VassB is a Senior Policy Associate at Airbnb and chaired the Expert Panel on Youth Employment for the federal government in 2016-2017. She previously served as Associate Director of the Rotman School of Management’s Martin Prosperity Institute, where she worked with urbanist Richard Florida on a range of economic geography projects. A proud millennial wonk, Bednar has also worked as a Senior Advisor at Queen’s Park and has completed the Action Canada and Civic Action DiverseCity fellowships. She opened TEDxToronto (2012) with a talk about How to Make Public Policy More Fun and is also the co-host of Detangled, a pop-culture and public-policy radio show.

How did you come to work at Airbnb?

I was working at the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management as the Associate Director of the CITIES program, mostly engaged in neighbourhood-level economic analysis. I spent a lot of time thinking about how cities were changing and what those changes meant for policymakers. On top of that, I had recently become a “host,” casually sharing my condo at Queen & Gladstone while I considered moving in full-time with my partner. While I enjoyed being at the university, I missed the pace of political work and wanted to flex my policy skills in a more applied setting. After spending time considering “business approaches to public policy,” at the MPI, it made sense to transition to the private sector and work on public policy issues related to home sharing. The intersection of technology & policy is a fascinating space to be in.

What is your favourite thing about working at Airbnb?

It’s really a moment in time for the legitimization of the sharing economy. My favourite thing about working at Airbnb is the ability to concurrently work across all three orders of government, across the country. It’s inter-and-intra-jurisdictional and fairly new, and there are lots of learnings to impart from other jurisdictions. On top of that, people are really passionate about data and research projects that can bring user insights to life. Overall, I enjoy the political pace of the work, the people, the self-directedness and collegiality.

How does your work use and build on the skills that you learned at SPPG?

SPPG takes an integrative approach to policy-making – you can’t view any one policy challenge or opportunity in isolation. Complementing that with numeric skills, a deep appreciation of the policy process, and an awareness of context prepared me to excel in this type of a role. I also make public presentations, chair meetings, and draft reports – three things that being a graduate student can help you rock.

In retrospect, what parts of your experience at SPPG do you think were the most valuable?

The elective at the Statistics Canada Research Data Centre (RDC) that’s at Robart’s library was one of the most impactful electives I took. We constantly joked about how we were going to flunk it because it was so difficult. But completing the course was satisfying and we came out with much more sophisticated statistical skills. I am often designing research projects or data pulls that will help to illuminate part of a policy discussion we are having, and I was able to refine that skill in that course. In my second year at SPPG, I also audited Alison Loat’s course and was in the pilot group for Karim Bardeesy’s course on leadership.

What advice would you give current or prospective students to make the most of their time at SPPG?

I always encourage current students to stretch themselves through electives. They can either affirm your current areas of interest or add another dimension. Make the most of your time in graduate school, it will pass quickly!

I’d also suggest interning in a totally different sector/industry than you think you ultimately want to work in. It’s difficult to get other policy experience, and a luxury to have the time stamp that the internship affords. Collect as many perspectives as you can! You’ll be more empathetic for it.

Ten years after kicking off with math camp, I am still enjoying and benefitting from friendships forged at SPPG – solving policy challenges, sharing information, encouraging and amplifying each other.