Children in a Malawi school sit down for a meal. Photos courtesy Mary’s Meal

Executive’s life takes a divine turn

  • May 16, 2020

Sheri McConnell has no doubt some divine intervention was involved in her taking on the role of executive director of Mary’s Meals Canada in March.

McConnell, who has 20 years of experience as a strategic executive in the non-profit industry, was flying back to Toronto from Calgary after interviewing for a senior role with a major charitable organization. She knew that the interview went very well and that a job offer was imminent. 

“As I was flying back, I had this check in my spirit that the (job) just wasn’t right,” recalled McConnell. 

She opened her laptop and connected to the in-flight wi-fi to discover that life had a different plan in mind for her. There was a message in her inbox from former World Vision colleague Leah Swindon, the current executive director for Mary’s Meals USA. 

“She said in the letter that she had been thinking of me, and she told me that Mary’s Meals Canada would be looking into hiring an executive director.”

That immediately set a chain of events in motion. “I think it’s a story of providence and sovereignty if I could use that word,” she said.

McConnell researched Mary’s Meals, which was founded in 1983 at a Catholic retreat centre in Scotland, and was moved by the organization’s global vision to ensure “every child receives one daily meal in their place of education and that all those who have more than they need, share with those who lack even the most basic things.”

Its work stretches across 19 countries on several continents, including Africa, Asia and Europe.

“It gripped me,” said McConnell. “It made me feel like this is the right place. I felt that I could contribute to this mission and that all of my experience has led me to Mary’s Meals.”

She enters her role with experience in conceptualizing fundraising and marketing campaigns, crafting national engagement strategies and developing hundreds of future leaders while working for organizations such as World Vision Canada, Global Aid Network Canada and Compassion Canada. 

It was an eye-opening trip to Juarez, Mexico, as a teenager that ignited the aspiration within McConnell to devote her life towards helping others. 

“I saw poverty in a way that I had never seen it before. It got to my heart. I think it was at that moment that I started to position my life experiences and education towards wanting to serve in a missional and cause-centric way.”

McConnell said she strives to build professional teams by engaging in a “process of discovery.”

She compares teamwork to a beautiful mosaic pattern. 

“Everybody represents a specific part of that beautiful mosaic. Without that one piece, the picture would be incomplete. 

“When I look at what we are trying to grow, I am always looking for pieces to fill the mosaic. Every person brings such a unique perspective, gift and skill set to the cause, and it’s exciting and it’s true collaboration.”

Jill Mowser, Mary’s Meals Canada’s fundraising co-ordinator, says the collaborative relationship with McConnell has been an exciting experience.

“I have been with the Canadian organization for many years and the steady growth through the continued generosity of Canadians has been inspiring. Now, with Sheri’s experience, we are poised to increase that rate of growth even further and to reach so many more children in need.”

Within two weeks of McConnell assuming the mantle, the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. 

“Because of COVID-19, plans that were outlined for spring and summer and campaigns that were ready to roll — we had to fully pivot.”

Despite the impact of the coronavirus, Mary’s Meals has been able to continue providing over a million children in Malawi and Zambia with food each day, making deliveries at homes instead of at schools.

McConnell is proud of the creative initiatives that the Canadian team has formulated during this time, particularly one called “Little Acts of Kindness.” 

Mary’s Meals Canada invites Canadians through Little Acts of Kindness to support people in their community by walking dogs, shovelling driveways, completing shopping trips and leaving kind notes. The organization is mailing Little Acts of Kindness kits to anyone who wants to participate in this endeavour.

“It has taken off. We are getting requests from all over Canada,” said McConnell. “People who don’t even know what Mary’s Meals are saying ‘we are very interested’ in learning about what we do.”

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