Love of Learning: Everyone Has a Culture

Written by Anneli Janssens of Alberta Health Services, and originally in the Provincial HIM (Health Information Management) newsletter.

Love of Learning

Everyone Has a Culture

By: Anneli Janssens, Learning & Development Specialist

Communication, Learning & Development, HIM 

The last week of January was a good week. I finished some projects;  received some positive feedback; spent time with family; was home alone; and attended an amazing, online presentation by Roxanne Felix-Mah, Co-Executive Director at the Multicultural Family Resource Society called Diversity, Inclusion and Equity: Strengthening Your Work at AHS.  Roxanne facilitated her session to an audience of 73 employees from the HIM Provincial Standards and Strategies teams on January 30, 2019.  During the presentation, I took many notes in the hopes of being able to capture and share the highlights of the information presented, as it was very meaningful for me. 

In the recent months – even years -- we have seen a shift in our workplace culture to raise awareness of diversity and inclusion and Roxanne brought a fresh outlook to add to our experiences.  My perspective of diversity has always landed on our differences and the thought that it’s very personal or that it has many dimensions didn’t really cross my mind. At the onset, we were invited to follow simple guiding principles and to keep learning through those perspectives:

  • Everyone has wisdom

  • Assume best intent

  • Stay curious

Diversity was defined as “the broad range of human differences,” inclusion as “valuing our differences, seeing these differences as strengths.”  In other words, diversity is not to be tolerated, but valued.  Inclusion requires action – it asks you to accept, understand, include, and belong to. These are all action verbs and in order to be inclusive you must act so.  Inclusivity leads to equity, which by definition is “recognizing and removing barriers to ensure equal opportunities and equal outcomes for all people.”   I’m sure you’ve all seen this picture before? The premise being:

Equality = Sameness: Giving everyone the same thing only works if everyone starts from the same place. This creates an assumption that everyone benefits from the same supports.

Equity = Fairness: By providing everyone the supports they need, we make it possible for them to have access to the same opportunities.

In the last image, supports or accommodations are unnecessary as the barrier itself has been removed.  

Equality Versus Equity.png

This brought us to talk about culture. We often think of culture on the basis of ethnicity or “ethno culture,” but it is much broader than that and is present in many different places. Milton Bennett defined culture as “the way we do things around here.”  We have cultural interactions with every person we encounter in a combination of different ways. It’s more than gender; age; race; or sexual orientation; all of which are considered “internal dimensions” or things we cannot change.  Our external dimensions include things like marital status; parental status; work experience; educational background; religion and recreational habits. These can change over time and affect our personal or individual culture.  Then there are the organizational dimensions – things like management status, union affiliation; work location; and field of work.  Each of these has a culture of its own and these combinations create our personal culture. 

Our culture is the “lens” through which we view life. All these combinations affect how we look through our life. For example: Our siblings – we were raised by the same parents, went to the same schools, ate the same food, participated in the same familial traditions and yet, we can be very different based on our educational or organizational culture. Our “lens” changes with our experiences and how we process and look at things.

Very few people will have the same combination of lenses as you will. You can experience a cultural event simply by walking into a room with other people. Don’t assume that behaviours or attitudes are a result of one thing – they are so much more than that.

Diversity and culture is not just about other people. It’s about ourselves. It’s about self-awareness and knowing ourselves; and what our sources of culture and diversity are in our lives. We all have a lens through which we view life. What are yours?

Our 2018 Annual Report is Now Available

At our Annual General Meeting, we shared our latest Annual Report. Highlights from 2018 include:

  • Helping 4540 community members who identified their needs and goals, and took steps with MFRS towards improving their well-being.

  • Working with 248 Syrian and Arabic-speaking families at the Family Support Office with economic, social, community, and health aspects in their lives. 

  • Assisting 23 families in crisis with costs such as rent, medication, and food through our Emergency Support Fund. 

Read our full Annual Report here.

MFRS Executive Director Announcement

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After an extensive Executive search over the last 4 months, the Board of Directors are excited to welcome Roxanne Felix-Mah and Ashima Sumaru-Jurf as the new Co-Executive Directors of the Multicultural Family Resource Society.  Roxanne and Ashima are well-regarded leaders in the immigrant and refugee sector whose values align with MFRS’ participant driven and relational practice.  Those who have worked with Roxanne and Ashima know both come with amazing expertise that will continue to foster the creative innovation MFRS has built over the last 13 years.  It is a very exciting chapter for MFRS as Roxanne and Ashima take the leadership helm in the Fall!

Roxanne Felix-Mah

Roxanne Felix-Mah

Ashima Sumaru-Jurf

Ashima Sumaru-Jurf

What does it mean to have two EDs?

Roxanne and Ashima have been working together in a shared leadership model for over five years in a variety of contexts. In their last position, they were co-Managers of six different teams comprised of 32 staff and spread out over four locations. They also managed more than 12 budgets and many different funder relationships. Roxanne and Ashima are unique in having a seamless way of working as a joint-management team to fulfill everything that is required of their position and we are confident they will bring that combined set of skills to MFRS.

As a team, Roxanne and Ashima bring skills and experience in strategic planning and operational management; partnership development and stakeholder engagement; program development; and leadership modelling and mentorship. They both have comprehensive knowledge of community development and the immigrant and refugee sector; exceptional facilitation skills and a strong understanding of policy processes.

Ashima particularly has skills and experience in organizational development and effectiveness, family literacy, diversity and inclusion, anti-oppressive practice, learning and development, and intersectional policy analysis.

Roxanne also brings skills in stakeholder consultation, public health, mental health and social services, youth programming, community-based research and evaluation.

Roxanne and Ashima look forward to working with you and learning together about how to best meet the needs of the community members that MFRS serves. They will be fully taking on the ED position on September 1, 2018 but will be working on knowledge-sharing and transition planning with Winnie throughout the months of July-October 2018.

Message from Winnie

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Dear MFRS Family and Friends,

I want to thank everyone for the amazing opportunity to serve the Multicultural Family Resource Society for the last 10 years.  While I have a mix of emotions leaving my position at MFRS to spend time with my family and to pursue other opportunities, I know the organization is in a strong position and making a real difference in the lives of newcomers in Edmonton.  This decision did not come easily as I am extremely proud of all that MFRS staff and board members have accomplished during the past ten years and hold dear to my heart the relationships I’ve built during my time as Executive Director.

It is these caring relationships that sets us apart from other organizations because MFRS staff and volunteers create this magical space where everyone feels welcomed and a sense of belonging.  I am continually inspired by the people involved with MFRS, who have taught me so much about resilience, generosity, and joy. I give my deepest gratitude to all who have been so supportive of MFRS and of me personally over the years: staff, board members, and, of course, our partners and MFRS members. Without you, the organization would not be as strong and vibrant as it is.

I am so honored to have been the leader of this incredible organization, and even though I am stepping down from my role at MFRS, I know I will be involved in a different capacity in the future.  I truly believe for an organization to continue to grow, it needs new ideas, perspectives and change. Change is inevitable, and I look forward to working with the Board and staff during the next three months for a seamless transition as we welcome a new Executive Director into our MFRS family. I will watch with much excitement and anticipation as the new Executive Director stewards MFRS towards our vision creating an intercultural community network of support for immigrant and refugees in Edmonton.

I leave you with this quote that I hope sets the tone for the next chapter of MFRS:

"Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up." - James Belasco and Ralph Stayer

All my best,
Winnie Chow-Horn, Executive Director, Multicultural Family Resource Society

Executive Transition Announcement

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Dear Members, Donors, Partners, and Funders,

On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff at MFRS we are writing to inform you that our Executive Director Winnie Chow-Horn, will be stepping down from her role with the Multicultural Family Resource Society (MFRS) in the next few months. Winnie has expressed the mixed emotions that came with making this decision and we echo these sentiments as she has been an amazing leader to all of us, advocate for the communities we support, and most importantly an incredible friend to everyone at our organization. We wish her all the best as she looks to spend more time with her family, and we are forever grateful for the time and dedication she put in to MFRS as a board member and as the Executive Director.

Since joining MFRS, Winnie has worked to grow the organization to be able to better support the children, youth, and families who access our programs. Winnie has been a strong voice for immigrants, refugees, and newcomers and her advocacy work has left an impression on everyone she had the opportunity to meet. Winnie sought to collaborate and build relationships with community members, partners, and funders across the city of Edmonton and the province in an effort to improve the supports and programs MFRS could provide to those we serve. Winnie became the first ever Executive Director for MFRS and it was under this new position that the organization saw many accomplishments, including:

  • Growing our reach and increasing the amount of individual donors
  • Increasing the number of MFRS staff
  • Helping to support new programs for different cultural communities
  • Co-developing a program to empower young girls which seeks to teach them to be proud of their identity
  • Supporting the settlement of Syrian refugees
  • Acquiring a role for a Fund Development Officer who brought in the infrastructure to provide MFRS with stability and long term funding solutions

Her focus was never solely on MFRS, but also on helping partners to support immigrant, refugee, and newcomers as they move beyond settlement and into a life of social inclusion. Winnie’s leadership has inspired her team to continue to look forward for innovative ways to support our communities, and advocate for those whose voices need to be heard, but may not always get a seat at the table.

The Board of Directors will be heading a search committee to find Winnie’s successor and a succession plan will be fully executed to ensure a smooth transition. We will be circulating the posting for the next Executive Director in the near future.

We cannot thank Winnie enough for the dedication, passion, enthusiasm and motivation she has given to MFRS over the years. We are forever grateful Winnie, for all you have done to support the communities we serve, and we will miss you dearly. Please join us in wishing Winnie well. If you have any questions or concerns during this transition process, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly at



Tristan Robinson

Chair, Board of Directors



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