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Our incredible capacity to make a difference

Dr. Joy Johnson

As the old adage goes, “if you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk.” For Dr. Joy Johnson, president and vice-chancellor at SFU, it’s important to demonstrate her commitment to building a world-class university by also making philanthropic contributions.

“If I don’t donate, I don’t feel like I can ask anyone else to donate,” says Joy, who has been giving back to SFU since joining as vice-president, research and international in 2014. As president, Joy holds multiple fundraising-related meetings every week to foster relationships with SFU’s generous partners and understand what drives their philanthropic ambitions. During these interactions, people often ask how she’s giving back—something Joy is very comfortable talking about given her passion for students and higher education.

“Giving back aligns with my values, it’s who I am, and I have the privilege to do so,” Joy explains. “This is a stressful time for all of us, but we need to dig deep and think about what each of us can do to help our community get through this.” 

There is a common misconception that government funding and tuition fees alone enable universities to do so much, but to adequately provide much-needed student financial aid, enhance our communities, and advance innovation and research that improves lives requires private investment, says Joy.

As a beneficiary of bursaries and awards throughout her own nursing studies, Joy credits her success to the generous donors before her. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without donors who recognized the power of education in impacting lives and communities,” she says. “That’s why I give to SFU. I deeply believe in this great institution, its students, and our incredible capacity to make a difference.”

Joy is excited for the opportunity to work with philanthropic partners who want to affect transformative change and empower the next generation of change makers through SFU. She cites the global research community, and the speed in which they developed a COVID-19 vaccine, as a prime example of how investing in universities will help society tackle and solve some of our biggest problems.  

What some people might consider an insignificant amount, like a small monthly donation, can make a lasting difference. Collectively they can “move mountains,” as Joy puts it, especially in these times of adversity. No matter what the amount, donations can contribute to emergency funding for students with unexpected financial barriers as a result of the pandemic—such funding allows SFU to ensure that no one is left behind.

Looking ahead, Joy hopes to invest in SFU’s bright minds with a planned gift. It’s never too early to start having these conversations with the university, she says, and that knowledge of an incoming estate gift can make an impact on SFU’s plans for the future. “You need to think about the kind of legacy you want to leave behind,” she adds.

For Joy, SFU’s students are the driving force behind her philanthropy—a sentiment she believes will inspire anyone to donate. From advancing COVID-19 research and unlocking the potential of big data, to supporting reconciliation and equity, diversity and inclusion efforts, SFU is providing the tools and resources for students to lead change. “Look at SFU’s students and what they’re hoping to accomplish, and the vital research we’re doing,” says Joy. “We have big ambitions for the future.”