McKenna Centre Director Goes to Ottawa
Long-time StFX community member Mary Coyle, was the first female director of the Coady International Institute and Executive Director of the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership has been appointed to Senate as an independent, representing Nova Scotia in early December. Coyle, who had previously worked at the University since 1997, has recently moved to Ottawa to begin her new position. The Xaverian caught up with her earlier this week.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey? When did you start working in the development field? What does this work mean to you?
In grade eight I attended Expo 67 in Montreal. That world fair was the first time I became aware of and excited by the big world beyond our borders. I also got very involved in the Oxfam Miles for Millions, fundraising walks that year and later became an organizer at my high school. Those Oxfam experiences further heightened my international interests as well as my growing passion for social justice. In 1980, my husband and I took our 3 year old and 6 month old daughters to Botswana to live in the village of Kanye. We were working in rural development alongside our Batswana counterparts. Two and a half years later we had learned a lot and we returned to Canada with another Botswana born daughter and a keen desire to learn more about best practices in development.
How did you come to StFX, what lead you to the Coady, the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership and then to the Senate?
I came to StFX 21 years ago as the new Director – first woman – of the Coady International Institute. I was 42 years old and had worked in Indonesia and Botswana, had completed a Master degree in Rural Planning and Development and had been the Executive Director, for a decade, of a leading Canadian organization working internationally and all across Canada in the field of micro finance. I was very excited to come to StFX to help build on the important work of the Antigonish Movement pioneers. I was very impressed by the respectful, practical and effective “ Masters of Their Own Destiny’ community-based approach of the Coady. I was made Vice President early in my tenure and worked to revitalize both the Coady Institute and the Extension Department. I also served as International Liaison Officer for the university. I stepped down from the Coady after 13 and a half years of service but continued to support the Institute in a variety of ways including up until this present moment. I was very happy to assist in the start up of Coady’s Indigenous Women in Community Leadership Program and its International Centre for Women’s Leadership. I continue to work with Coady and its partner organization in Haiti and I am actually going to South Africa with the Coady team later this month. Taken up the helm of the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership was a natural transition for me. I had always worked hard to connect Coady with StFX students and worked with the early team that established the Development Studies program at X. We also worked to create and grow the Coady Institute’s youth programs including internship programs for recent graduates. Coady’s main purpose is leadership development as is the McKenna Centre- we just have different target groups. With the McKenna Centre, I have really enjoyed working with faculty, staff and students to create practical and inspirational leadership programs and opportunities for a wide range of our student body.
Did you ever think you would be beginning this new position?
I am still pinching myself that I am actually a Senator in the parliament of Canada. It is such an honour while at the same time it is a magnificent opportunity.
What does your new position entail?
As a Senator I have an important role in reviewing, improving upon and passing (and in some cases initiating) legislation – it is said to be the chamber of sober second thought. We also have a role in initiating studies on issues of importance to Canadians and ensuring that all of Canada’s regions and population groups are taken into consideration by our government.
What do you hope to bring to the Senate in Ottawa?
I hope to bring my life’s experience – career, family and community- as well as my sincere devotion to the well being of our country and our planet. I know how to work hard and I enjoy making good things happen with others.
I know you are involved with the McBain-Riley Award, what is the importance of this award in allowing students to pursue their research abroad?
The MacBain Riley Award provides StFX students with financial support to pursue international leadership development opportunities of their own design. Getting out into the world to compliment the high quality learning opportunities we have on campus is a priority of the McKenna Centre.
What advice would you give to women who are looking to pursue leadership roles?
Do it – be brave – find your allies – support others – don’t allow criticism to bring you down. Leadership has many guises – you will find yours.
Is there anything else you would like students to know?
Yes come see me in the East Block – I am also still back and forth to Antigonish so I hope we can keep having opportunities to connect. I need your ideas and input.