Nicholas Luff seems to be a living example that you never know exactly which lessons you’ll take with you from university.
“I had an experience in university where a professor come in on the first day classes and said, ‘Look, I just want you to know that everything we’ve taught you for the last three years of Economics really works well on paper, but it will never work well in practice,’” says Luff.
“It made us think that we weren’t the only ones thinking that way — the professors were, too. But no one knew where to start to make that change.”
After graduating with a BA in economics from McMaster University in 1995, Luff spent eight years in the corporate sector as a project manager and technology specialist, even working at military contractor Lockheed Martin in system support, before realizing he had to make a change for himself.
“As much as I enjoyed the work and loved the experience of learning the skills, there comes a point in your life where you’re looking for that passion and sense of social responsibility,” Luff says.
With that realization, Luff shifted his focus. While he still works with corporate partners, he now spends the bulk of his workday committed to helping non-profit organizations and public institutions.
Between 2001 and 2008, Luff worked as a consultant for a variety of international groups, including the World Health Organization and the Canadian International Development Agency, as well as post-secondary institutions in Canada and Switzerland and government agencies in emerging nations throughout Asia and Africa.
The passion Luff has followed is to pass on the best practices in program management, strategic planning and partnership that he learnt while on the for-profit side of the fence, so these groups can find new ways to thrive in a changing world.
Currently director of health and wellness with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, which provides support to our growing refugee population, Luff manages a team of physicians, specialists, nurses and coordinators who deliver health programs and services as the refugees transition into existing community and health services.
Luff is also on the board of directors for the Fig Tree Foundation, a local non-profit that raises funds for and facilitates cooperation between Calgary-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work internationally.
“I think that one of the weaknesses of NGOs today is that they don’t take the time to learn the language of corporations,” says Luff. “Each of the three key sectors — corporate, government and non-profit — need to learn a language that allows them to understand one another. If we’re going to make this world a more sustainable place we need to find more innovative ways for all of us to communicate while harnessing our respective strengths. Effective partnerships built on equity and trust will be the corner-stone of this success.”
Why he’s the top: He has taken what he learned in the corporate sector and applied it to work with a variety of non-profits, including the World Health Organization.
The key to his success: When he came to a fork in the road, he turned his back on a safe ascension of the corporate world for a professional life focused on his passion for helping others.