Paper airplane, yellow, with black backdrop and jet reflection

I M Possible – Meet Mark Brogno, Director, Special Events & Community Partnerships, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation, Hamilton


Q. You’re a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University and Durham College. What experiences and skills did you develop in your higher education that led you to where you are now?

My university and college experiences definitely shaped my career path, but in ways I had not anticipated. Like many incoming students, I thought I knew exactly where I was headed with my commerce degree, and what I would be doing 4-years after graduating (working in big business, of course!).  The academics were informative, but during my time on campus, I found out more about myself as a person, and what was important to me through other elements of university life as well.  One particular experience stands out. It happened during business ethics class. During discussions and debates with classmates, I realized that some of my peers leaned more towards profit-driven outcomes versus ethics-inspired decision-making. I realized that I just thought differently than some of my classmates when it came to that.  It was the first time I found myself wondering if I might struggle with some of the dynamics of a more ‘cut-throat’ business environment. Some of my other interests and extra-curricular activities started to point me in the direction of wanting to ‘do good’ and feel like I was doing something positive every day with my career.  That’s when work in the not-for-profit sector started to look like the right fit for me. It’s still business development, just a different kind of business.


Q. We were initially introduced when Orbis spearheaded the Take Care of Each Other initiative, which saw food donations delivered to food banks and frontline workers in Hamilton, at the onset of the pandemic. In your work as Special Events & Community Partnerships for St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation, how important has community support been for your team during this time?

It’s been truly inspirational. Working at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation, I am used to seeing generosity every day from members of our community who want to build a healthier Hamilton by giving to our Hospital.  But the way the community rallied behind St. Joe’s during the COVID-19 pandemic was beyond anyone’s expectations. The volume of donations of coffee, donuts, pizza, flowers, hand soaps and sanitizers, gloves, gowns, masks, and more actually caught us off guard.  It was so important for us to make sure these offers made their way to our frontline workers—because companies like Orbis really wanted to help and our frontline workers needed the fuel and the feeling of knowing how appreciative the community was and continues to be for the way our healthcare heroes are putting their lives on the line to take care of us during the pandemic.

Q. Coming up to a year in a global pandemic, you’ve been working close to the frontlines. What skills and competencies do you think have been the most important for frontline workers in getting through this time?


A. I want to be transparent here and say that I can’t possibly compare working at a Hospital Foundation with working in a healthcare setting during the pandemic. But my wife is a nurse, so through her eyes and what she has imparted to me during this time, I would say that resilience, perseverance, and flexibility have been essential to her.  It has been an exceptionally challenging time for our frontline workers – what they have had to face day after day, for longer than anyone expected, has pushed the boundaries of what anyone could have envisioned at the beginning of this. It’s all so new, and our healthcare workers are learning on the fly, being redeployed to new units, working double shifts, and showing unwavering courage and compassion—despite their own exhaustion and fears. They’re nothing short of heroes – in every sense of the word.


Q. Universities and colleges use Orbis solutions and insights to support student and graduate potential fulfillment through experience. What experience do you now know is integral to your field, that you wish you knew then (when studying in university and college)?


A. There’s an old adage that “it’ll never feel like work if you love what you do,” and in my experience, it’s true. Aligning your passion(s) with your chosen field is the type of ‘experience’ you want to test out in the university and college setting. Find something you are passionate about and then cultivate opportunities where you can find out if you may want to make a career out of it. That could mean volunteering somewhere, pursuing an internship, or just talking to people in a similar profession. Keep in mind, that salary Is just one part of job satisfaction. There are many ‘perks’ of employment that are tied to remuneration or status, which are certainly important to consider… but ultimately, and it’s so simple – we’ll be happy with our jobs if we are doing something that makes us happy.  University and college are perfect places to figure that out – to challenge ourselves and follow our instincts.


Q. Popular belief is that we should move from the term ‘soft skills’ to ‘human skills’, this being the idea that skills like communication, empathy, respect, and building interpersonal relationships are foundational to a human approach to business. If you had to give everyone in the world one soft skill right now, what would it be?

A. To listen more. Not listen and then immediately respond, but simply listen. I think it’s evident that we all have different opinions, views, and perspectives shaped by our own unique experiences. I don’t see that changing, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But I think if we just listened to each other more, and took time to absorb and reflect on what we heard instead of immediately telling each other what we think, we’d grow and learn from that, and a lot of misunderstandings could be avoided. It’s especially difficult right now in this virtual environment, but I think it’s something we’d all benefit from – talking less and listening more.


Q. Who or what inspires you and how does this inspiration guide your career path?

A. Inspiration – where it comes from and how it drives me, has changed so much over time.  I used to be inspired by individuals and groups who would accomplish, for me anyway, extraordinary things.  When I was younger, athletes like Michael Jordan and teams like the Edmonton Oilers – really inspired me, and I took many things from the way they prepared, performed, and conducted themselves.

Today though, it’s ordinary people who I find more inspiration in. And it’s in ordinary things that they do – nothing necessarily heroic or exceptional.  Importantly, they do these things for others. And the impact becomes even more profound when they do things under the radar and are shocked, or even embarrassed, by the attention it brings them.  It just seems so genuine and altruistic.

When it comes to my career, I’d say this is a reflection of where I find the most satisfaction.  I’ve always preferred working behind the scenes. That’s probably why I now find inspiration in people who also like staying under the radar, and finding a way to make a difference without much fanfare.

Q. When hiring for your team, what type of candidate do you look for?


A. Meeting the experience and skills identified for the role are obvious requirements but finding the right fit for our team and organization is just as important, especially because we’re a relatively small team of four people.  Who the person is, what they value, how they work, all need to align with our organization’s values, as well as be a fit with the culture in place with the current staff.  Interviews are an opportunity for a person to sell themselves – that they’ve done their homework on us as an organization, and to convey their skills are a good fit for the role – but selling the type of person they are by making sure they talk about themselves and what is important to them is also a crucial determining factor. Similarly, I like when candidates ask good questions, show they’ve done their homework on our organization, and even sometimes offer up ways we could be doing things differently. It shows initiative, and that they are making sure that St. Joe’s is a good fit for them, just as much as they are a good fit for us.


Q. You’ve worked for St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation for over five years. What is the greatest takeaway from your career within the organization?


A. So far, one of the lasting impressions I’m sure that will hold true when my career at the Foundation concludes is that there are so many generous organizations and individuals in our community who are invested in improving healthcare options – and not just for themselves, but for everyone. And it’s not just about donating money to feel good about that and/or for the acknowledgment of doing so – they take the time to get involved in driving solutions and positive outcomes. They want to be a part of a better tomorrow for everyone.  The good in people has really shone through at St. Joe’s. Especially at a time like this, I am so grateful to have been a part of supporting the Hospital and healthcare workers who are seeing us through the COVID-19 pandemic.


Q. Before working for St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation you worked for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and MS Society of Canada. Each organization shares incredible positive impacts on society. What advice do you have for recent graduates looking to get hired in a role that empowers them to have a positive impact?


A. Wow, that’s an interesting question that I think warrants a bit of added perspective to answer.

With breast cancer, I remember speaking with the visionary leaders who established CBCF decades ago, sharing that early on, women diagnosed felt ashamed and that they had to hide that diagnosis – from society, friends, and even their husbands – the reaction was less-than supportive in so many ways.  But that is no longer the case with breast cancer – the pink ribbon and associated events and partnerships helped bring breast cancer into the mainstream and turned it into a cause that people rallied around, changing that perception.

That in many ways parallels where we are with mental health and addiction currently, and hopefully where we are headed.  As a National leader in that field, St. Joe’s is working to eradicate the stigma associated with people dealing with mental health or addiction-related concern.  It is still not easy for so many to share a diagnosis of a mental health ailment or addiction – even with their own family, friends, or employer.  There is still judgment, and because of that, there remains work to be done to get to the point where people facing these health challenges are seen in the same light as someone with cancer or heart disease.

So, I guess my advice is to identify something that is really important to you and think about how you want that ‘something’ to change.  It doesn’t have to be momentous like changing the stigma associated with breast cancer or mental health, which can take years or decades to see real and meaningful change – but it does have to be important to you.  And then look at ways you can become involved in that cause.  It can be a position within an organization that specifically has a mandate to impact that cause, or it can be with a company that has their own Foundation or corporate social responsibility effort that may allow you to make that difference.  Of course, you can also consider volunteering your time, too. The important thing is to identify what positive impact you want to make, and then research the various avenues to do that.


Q. This pandemic is an incredibly challenging time for humanity, and it is difficult to find a silver lining (and maybe that isn’t even the right word). This said, if you had to pinpoint one sign of hope, to share with those looking for it – what would that be?


A. I want to answer this question by first acknowledging that a silver lining is no consolation to so many who have lost so much… the pandemic has taken everything from some people. But a couple of things come to mind, First, I’m not sure it’s a silver lining, but I think often of how much worse it could be, especially as we watch other countries around the world struggle to keep the virus under control. We are truly fortunate to live in Canada and have the healthcare system we do, so we have to remember that during times like these.

Secondly, I have to say that science has been a silver lining during COVID-19. From developing rapid testing mechanisms for the virus to having access to four effective vaccines in less than a year, it’s truly remarkable what researchers are capable of and some of that research is happening right here at St. Joe’s.  Science has offered us hope amidst a very dark and challenging year.

I also hope that this pandemic and the lessons it has taught us will inform change in how we do so many things – how we take care of our elderly; how we ensure our frontline workers are adequately prepared for our next health crisis; how our governments can more react more quickly on-the-fly and make decisions to mitigate the impact.  It’s been an unprecedented time, and how we dealt with it was bound to have missteps.  A silver lining might be that the next time society faces something similar, what we are going through now informs and mitigates the impact of it on the next generation… hopefully, a very long time from now.

Q. Favourite quote?

A. One of my ‘favourites’, from a popular sports movie, that I think is relevant right now is:

It ain’t about how hard you hit.  It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.’

There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has hit all of us hard. But we must persevere. We must learn, grow, and ultimately move forward. What other choice do we have?