Karen Nancy Dunnett 1951-
CFUW President 2016
“My nature is to figure out how things work.”
From the time she was a young girl living in Sydney, N.S., Karen lived a well ordered life – of her own design. A dynamo in the making, when she was about 10 years old she hung a chart in the kitchen
detailing her weekly activities: daily piano practice, choir, CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training), family chores. It made sense to her to keep track of things. Over the years she added to her list swimming lessons, debating, every intermural high school sport, curling and founding a book reading group. Her father encouraged his four children to take advantage of all opportunities that came along and he saw absolutely no difference between girls and boys. He took her hunting for rabbits and expected her to mow the lawn. And to add to her list, she took accelerated classes in high school.
In university Karen studied History at Mt. Allison University in Sackville, N.B. It was then that she came to realize that we need to be global citizens “What was happening in the developing world happened,” she says, “because of what the developed world did. We cannot separate ourselves from that history.” She graduated in 1972 and went on to obtain a degree in education. She taught for a short time, married, moved to Moncton in 1974 and became a working partner and co-owner of an import distribution and chocolate manufacturing business for two decades. When they required a forklift operator she learned to be one. They needed a skilled staff so she researched the latest hiring methods and acquired a staff that stayed with them for years. To figure out how to run a packaging machine properly, she went to Toronto to learn what to do and to apply it.
During this period of her life she had three active boys but also directed her energies into her community, serving on a Home and School committee, downtown residents association, the Board of
Directors of the Beaver Curling Club and the Moncton Branch of Save the Children Canada.
While on the national board, and subsequently national president of Save the Children Canada (SCC) her guidance with hiring a new ED, bringing Save the Children BC into the SCC fold , and gaining Save the Children Canada’s agreement on a new integrated international symbol for all Save the Children organizations worldwide illustrates her gift for far-sightedness and strategic planning.
In 1981 Karen joined CFUW Moncton and with her flair for organization she held all executive positions over the years. Just prior to her presidency in 1984-85 she attended her first national AGM in North York (Toronto) in 1982 where she was exposed to audiences of engaged women from across the country; the program so impressed her that she volunteered the Moncton Club as host of the national AGM in 1990. Often when attending subsequent AGMs, she has had members recall what a good time they had in Moncton with simultaneous English/French translations and a fun evening of lobster and river boat rides.
Because Karen’s penchant is to figure out how things work she joined several CFUW Committees over the years including Finance, Advocacy, Human Resources, Risk Management, Governance, and Membership. The issue of declining membership was a concern as far back as the early 2000s, she says, a time when there were insufficient financial resources to provide help to clubs and few ideas about what initiatives to take. Many clubs, for instance, had little or minimal familiarity with website use so the committee developed initiatives such as Club in a Bag support kits, membership teleconferences throughout the year, small club grants to attend the AGMs, recognition for membership increases with prizes. For a time membership decline was kept under one percent.
While on the Advocacy Steering Committee a detailed list was created of all the Canadian organizations with which CFUW had networked and how CFUW could refine our alliances for a more targeted approach to Advocacy issues. This was followed by choosing strategic ones on which to focus annually, building proper timelines and using election tool kits.
As VP Atlantic (2010-2014) Karen chaired the newly formed Human Relations Committee which developed a multi-layered system for an annual evaluation of the Executive Director (an important duty of a Board of Directors) that involved input from board members, staff and relevant committees and then compiling a report for the Board. In addition she helped develop the new Respectful Treatment Policy.
In 2016 Karen became National President and what attracted her to the post were two factors: her interest in the bigger picture and in the organizational structure itself. She felt that in order to be effective in its mission, CFUW needed a well-honed system to optimize the impact that clubs, regional
councils, Board and office could have as a whole. “For me it wasn’t about being the leader in the
traditional sense,” she says, “but rather contributing in a collaborative way to make long-lasting
change.” During her brief time as leader she faced two factions that were arguing and fighting among
themselves about international representation, an issue that remains unsettled to date. She believed
that dissension used up time, energy and resources that could be better used to listen non-judgmentally to each other and work out a solution together. Friction was not in her style of
Her inaugural speech was optimistic. She told her audience that “it felt like one of those times in history when we can help society leap forward. We need to use our organization to accelerate the momentum and ensure that all girls and women have equal opportunities and equal access to quality education within a peaceful and secure environment.”
In retirement she is a part-time teacher, president of her Moncton Club, and still committed to making our world a better place to live, ever hopeful that CFUW will continue to use the collective power of women to achieve this.