Outgoing Dogwood Board Chair Jennie Milligan reflects on where we have come from and where we are headed next
In 2006, recent law school graduate Jennie Milligan was working for the Attorney General’s office, sorting documents in a basement room in downtown Victoria. On her lunch break one day, she went to the Victoria Public Library for internet access and happened upon a posting seeking board members for an organization called Dogwood Initiative. The rest, as they say, is history.
This summer, after seven years as Dogwood’s Board Chair, Jennie passed the position on to Jessica Dempsey and took up a Member at Large seat. In August, I sat down (virtually) with Jennie to reflect on her years of service.
Q: What was it about Dogwood that inspired you to join the board after seeing that posting in the Victoria library?
A: I had wanted to go into environmental law, but was unable to secure an articling position in that field. I was looking for an opportunity to stay involved in environmental issues.
I was attracted to Dogwood because it was not the usual ENGO that wants to protect a certain area – it was much more political and strategic. I liked the focus on community engagement and democracy. It seemed more effective over the long-term. Giving power back to people, ordinary people having control over resources, empowering citizens to take back control from government and corporations – that idea has stayed with Dogwood over the years.
Q: What have you seen change and stayed the same over the past few years, especially as Dogwood is developing a new strategic framework for the future?
A: I think Dogwood is now incorporating social justice and reconciliation as well. There was always a focus on working with First Nations at Dogwood, but now it is much more on the radar of everyone in Canada and it’s time for Dogwood to incorporate reconciliation into how we do things.
Dogwood has always focused on holding governments accountable between elections, keeping up the pressure. That’s unique. If the government had to make climate change the most important thing in every decision, they wouldn’t be doing the things they are doing.
Q: What was your favourite part about being the Board Chair?
A: Working with the staff and other board members. I really liked everybody as individuals and admired everyone for their hard work and dedication and ideas. I’ve been impressed by the skills brought to the board meetings. And, they were fun people to hang out with at retreats! The stuff Dogwood does I don’t do in my job – I don’t think about campaigning and organizational structure.
Q: What was the most challenging thing during your time as Chair?
A: The transition to the Executive Team. Former Executive Director Will Horter helped create a management team that continued beyond his tenure. I think the Executive Team embodies Dogwood’s values by having a distributed leadership model. It shows Dogwood is willing to try something new and work hard at it, but it’s not the typical management structure for a non-profit in Canada.
Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the future of Dogwood?
A: Thinking about the glory days of growth and money coming in, it felt really good! This is a harder time. We have to work harder now.
I’ve seen Dogwood grow a lot and feel proud of what it has become. Now the organization is at a stage where we need to reassess and reflect on where we’ve been and plan for the future.
I’m hoping Dogwood will continue to have campaign success, like Ban Big Money, on the #Vote16BC campaign and others. But I’m also hoping we can go beyond a campaign to campaign approach and try to create lasting change where every single government decision is informed by climate change and every single corporate decision is informed by climate.
We need to change the way people approach decision-making.
Dogwood thanks Jennie Milligan for her dedication to shaping our organization and our community.