Q&A with Dave Toycen, President & CEO, World Vision Canada

I help children and adults in Canada develop a relationship with a child living in poverty overseas, and then provide support to create a new future.

October 31 st 2008

Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, "The Questions" in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.

Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?

Dave Toycen: I help children and adults in Canada develop a relationship with a child living in poverty overseas, and then provide support to create a new future.

"Emergency relief situations in the world come with little warning so I must be ready to move and delegate key things to support staff at the drop of a hat."
—Dave Toycen
Dave Toycen

Comment: What first drew you to this work?

DT: It all began because I needed a summer job during the summer prior to the last year of seminary. In addition, I was a social activist and World Vision's mission to the poor attracted me and became something I learned to love and be extremely passionate about.

Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?

DT: World Vision gave me a tremendous opportunity to try new things, even when I had little experience to show for it. It was back in the days when the organization was smaller and growing very fast. I learned that if you were trustworthy, you had a reasonable idea, and you were a person who produced results, there was more opportunity than you could handle. I also benefited greatly from colleagues who were a generation or half a generation ahead of me who were willing to spend time encouraging me and also gently prodding me in those places that were full of rough edges.

Comment: What is the best advice you've ever been given?

DT: One of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given was to learn the difference between problems and conditions. Problems can be solved, conditions can only be mitigated. A condition is something that will always be with us, a problem is something that needs a solution. When you get these two situations confused, your expectations are wrong and you can create more damage than help. Another valuable piece of advice came from my father. He always said, "Be ready to turn the page." In other words, don't hold grudges, move on. The future's much more important than the past.

Dave Toycen with a group of children in Myanmar
in Myanmar

Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?

DT: Reading the Bible and participating in a faith community are the anchors for my daily life. They keep me on the right path and they inspire me to do better and more. I also find great inspiration from reading a variety of books. Many from Christian thinkers but also from secular thinkers who are struggling with the same issues that I face daily. I've also been blessed with friends and work colleagues who have been transparent with me as well as encouraging and loving.

Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?

DT: I like to begin with a devotional reading, a Bible reading and a prayer. This ensures that my burden for the world doesn't exceed my joy in the Lord. Then I review the calendar for my work day to make sure that I'm prepared and ready to engage with staff in meetings, conference calls and external visits.

Comment: What are your favorite tools?

DT: I like to work at a standing desk, especially as I get older. It's good to be standing rather than seated for so much of the day. I use a BlackBerry on a regular basis and I enjoy having my laptop with me. I'm also a strong believer that as important as email can be, a phone call or a face-to-face conversation can do twice as much.

Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.

DT: I've particularly enjoyed leading the task force that overhauled and renovated the World Vision brand for the organization internationally. It was a lengthy process but I was extremely pleased with the result and I learned even more how to function effectively in a global organization with many interests and competing priorities.

Comment: How do you plan your work?

DT: I work from a set of defined goals and objectives for my position and then do my best to see that my time is spent working on those priorities. However, I am the spokesperson for the organization and I must be available on very short notice. Emergency relief situations in the world come with little warning so I must be ready to move and delegate key things to support staff at the drop of a hat. I depend very heavily on my Office Director and my executive assistant to keep the priorities in front of me and to make sure I'm following up on the various details. I believe follow-up from my office is very important because it sets the standard for the organization. How the CEO behaves with some of the most basic disciplines of office life is a significant factor.

Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?

DT: My work is deeply connected to my family, to my faith community, to almost everything I do. However I think it's also important that I have other things outside of work that give me perspective as well as relaxation. For example I'm a strong participant in the life of our church, including frequent times in which I've exercised leadership. Also I have been a member of a small men's group and I participate in many church activities because my wife is the Director of Parish Life and Programs at our church. However I do bring my World Vision work with me so that the sermons I hear, the worship I participate in, all in a serendipitous way feed into my World Vision responsibilities as well. I also practice the discipline of a quarterly day away at a retreat centre where I simply read and reflect. My wife and I enjoy the arts, especially theatre and film. I exercise regularly with a preference for running and doing regular workouts at the health club I belong to.

Topics: Justice