By Hailey Eisen
Laura Isidean is nearly a decade into what she calls her “second act.” As a volunteer, non-profit Board member, and advisor, Laura is fulfilling her desire to give back in a meaningful way. After nearly two decades working in capital markets, Laura decided to transition to something completely different.
“I had a really rewarding career,” Laura recalls. “I started on the buy side, moved to the sell side, and had the opportunity to work on the trading floor in what was a thrilling and fast-paced environment. I was very fortunate.” The first inkling that she was ready for change came in 2013 when she, her husband, and her daughter took a family sabbatical to Asia which included living in China for six months. “We adopted our daughter from China in 2010, so this was a ‘roots trip’ — an immersive opportunity to experience the culture and learn the language together as a family.”
Stepping away — as it has a tendency to do — helped provide more clarity for Laura on where she was at in her career and where she wanted to go next. While in China, she began thinking about her next steps. “While I recognized that the decision to permanently leave my job came from a very privileged position, I felt the need to contribute to society in a new way.”
After leaving Scotiabank where she’d been for the past 16 years, Laura began to get involved in a number of charities and non-profit organizations, following her personal interests and the causes that mattered to her. “Then, life threw a curve ball my way,” Laura recalls. “In 2014, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
During that extremely difficult time, Laura turned to Wellspring, a cancer support organization that she’d learned about through their annual fashion show fundraising event she’d taken clients to.
“Knowing I could turn to them for programs and services while I was undergoing treatment proved to be an integral part of my recovery,” she recalls. From then on, Laura was committed to giving back to the organization that had helped her and her family so much. “I joined the Board of Wellspring five years ago and became Chair in 2021.”
“I was lucky enough to find not one, but two organizations that really resonated with me for different reasons — and the life-changing impact this work has had on me, is that it’s really given me a true sense of purpose.”
But Wellspring wasn’t the only organization Laura devoted her time and resources to. She had already come across the Canadian Red Cross (CRC) while looking for an opportunity to join an organization at an advisory or governance level, and was drawn to their local and global impact.
“I was lucky enough to find not one, but two organizations that really resonated with me for different reasons — and the life-changing impact this work has had on me, is that it’s really given me a true sense of purpose,” she says.
Laura’s first position with the Red Cross was in a volunteer advisory role with the Toronto Region Council, supporting CRC management in all aspects of operations within the GTA. “That was my initiation, in a way, learning how the organization operates within the city,” she says. “My role has evolved since then and now I support different levels of management with the CRC from an advisory standpoint, provincially and nationally, with a focus on volunteer engagement.”
Volunteer engagement is something she’s especially fond of. “The Red Cross has thousands of volunteers, and I get really excited about contributing towards making sure their experience is a positive one,” she says.
But it’s not just through volunteer work that Laura contributes to the Red Cross. She has also become a donor through the Tiffany Circle — a community of women philanthropists committed to furthering the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross locally, nationally, and around the world.
Laura found out about the Tiffany Circle through a fellow volunteer. She invited Laura to join her at a conference in Winnipeg hosted by the Tiffany Circle. “I was instantly inspired by the women I met and their commitment to the organization. I was drawn to the warmth of the Circle and the common purpose they all shared,” Laura recalls.
Joining the Tiffany Circle provided Laura with a new level of involvement and a way to contribute to the organization financially as well. “I believe many women like to give to charity in a more engaged way — they want to not only write a check, but also feel connected with the organization they’re giving to.”
She says women’s giving circles are filling this need by forging connections between like-minded philanthropic women. Within the Tiffany Circle, Laura is a member of a national steering committee that’s examining this idea of active philanthropy. “We are working to raise awareness around the ways members of the Tiffany Circle can engage with the CRC that are meaningful to them.”
Through the Tiffany Circle, Laura has also become a Red Cross ambassador within her own community, hosting disaster preparedness workshops to help empower people to feel more prepared for unexpected circumstances that could happen in their own lives, such as climate disasters.
“I feel so fortunate to be part of such an inspiring and empowering group of women who share my commitment to make a meaningful contribution to the work of this important organization.”
The philanthropic aspect of the Tiffany Circle is also very important to the organization. The annual financial contributions help the Red Cross deliver disaster management programs, forge Indigenous community partnerships, provide Emergency Field Hospital and medical specialists to communities after disaster and disease outbreak, and build and staff community and mobile health programs reaching women and children in crisis zones.
“I feel so fortunate to be part of such an inspiring and empowering group of women who share my commitment to make a meaningful contribution to the work of this important organization,” Laura says.
When approached for advice on how to manage a career shift into professional volunteerism, or how to know where to begin getting involved in a meaningful way, Laura typically suggests women do a bit of introspection to determine what causes and issues matter to them most.
“For me, the Canadian Red Cross was appealing in part because it’s the largest humanitarian network in the world, and in part because it’s there to support individuals and communities in a wide variety of circumstances. Whether conflict, climate disaster, or pandemic, we know these sorts of things can happen to anyone at any time.”
Knowing how to contribute is also important. “If you’re in the thick of your career and don’t have a lot of free time,” Laura says, “financial contributions are always needed. Your contribution will look different depending what stage of your career you’re in — and that will change with time. Find what works for you and go from there.”
Since the COVID pandemic, many people have begun to think about what type of community members they want to be and how they want to contribute. “Ultimately, we all have a role to play,” Laura says. “Everyone, at every stage, can contribute in some way. The key is to think about what causes are appealing to you.”
As a mother to a 12-year-old, Laura feels even more committed to setting a good example. “I’ve always instilled in my daughter, from a young age, the responsibility to be an active contributing member of the community we live in and that notion has been embodied in our lifestyle,” Laura says.
No matter what you do or how you do it, the important piece is to do something. “If you are fortunate enough to live in a safe community, to have all of your needs met — schooling, healthcare, career opportunities — then I think we all have the responsibility to lift up those around us.”