A Lawyer on a Mission

  • August 30, 2021
  • Lynne Yryku

A Lawyer on a Mission

Meet Josh Vander Vies, the recipient of the Scholarship for In-House Counsel Living with Disabilities for  the 2020 cohort the CCCA's Business Leadership Program for In-House Counsel, which he recently completed. Offered in conjunction with the Rotman School of Management, this is the only program in Canada that provides in-house counsel with the strategic business focus they need to succeed. Participants come from every sector and industry, bringing their unique perspectives and experiences to enrich the learning and networking. 

Let's start with an introduction. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your work?

Josh: I am a lawyer focused on creating and defending Canadian not-for-profit organizations, charitable status and charitable gifts I work to protect the integrity of sport and the rights of athletes. I work to advance inclusion, accessibility, and support in the Canadian disability community and beyond.

My pre-lawyer life as a professional speaker and now-retired Paralympian, led me to the charitable sector, my current role as in-house counsel to CHIMP: Charitable Impact Foundation (Canada), and keeps me connected to meaningful files in Canadian and international sport.

In the last few years, I founded the Canadian Disability Foundation and was honoured to become a member of the Disability Advisory Group for the federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Disability Inclusion.

Why did you enrol in the Business Leadership Program for In-House Counsel?

Josh: I enrolled to bring my skills and experience as a not-for-profit lawyer and a sport leader to the next level. In my sport leadership, I wrestle with the systemic issues that enable states like Russia in the anti-doping crisis, abusers like Larry Nassar in the athlete abuse tragedy unfolding across the world, and high-profile newsmakers like FIFA and World Athletics.

In doing so, I have come across few answers. Instead, I see a recurring concept that good governance in sport requires a hybrid application of governance concepts from both the not-for-profit and business worlds. The Business Leadership Program for In-House Counsel was a fantastic bridge for me from my not-for-profit and sport experience to get deep in the weeds of in-house counsel leadership concepts in the business world.

Those concepts will help me keep cultivating high-performance governance with integrity and appropriate risk management in my daily tasks of gift acceptance, gifts to qualified donees, and management of assets such as public and private shares, real estate, and life insurance. After close to a half-century, Canada’s charity sector is finally seeing some much-needed movement towards reform thanks to leaders like Senator Ratna Omidvar. As changes unfold, I will need every iota of knowledge I gained at Rotman in strategy, personal management performance, negotiation, financial literacy and effective communication.

I am particularly eager to apply thinking stimulated in the program on the agent-principal problem to non-share capital corporations – the legal entity of most charities and not-for-profit organizations. After that, it may be time to tackle the incredibly difficult concept of effective charitable activities and their monitoring. This is critical both for the passionate philanthropist who wants to do good in the world, and for the business that wants to steward its stakeholders, reinforce its corporate integrity and chase sustainability.

How did you feel being awarded the Scholarship for In-House Counsel Living with Disabilities for this cohort?

Josh: I was honoured to receive the scholarship. An electric wheelchair user born without much of my arms and legs, I have more experience than most in identifying individual and collective disability issues and knowing when to engage each.

I have no choice but to contribute my disability experience to the critical and ongoing recognition of diversity. Diversity is not simply a right thing to have on leadership teams and in organizations; it is a performance indicator.

I think we are still quite far away from finding answers to the questions raised each time we are reminded of the extreme difficulties faced by equity deserving groups. Many of those barriers were carefully and deliberately built over centuries. When the burden of shouldering this struggle as a representative of all disabled people invariably gets to me, I remember the teachings of tennis legend Billie Jean King: pressure is a privilege.

What is the best advice you have ever gotten?

Josh: My dad passed along NCAA basketball coach John Wooden’s fundamentally powerful advice to me many times: “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

Find out more about the CCCA's Business Leadership Program for In-House Counsel, including upcoming dates and deadlines.