Born and raised in Winnipeg, Ms. Susan Lewis gained a deep appreciation of community when she began working for, and volunteering with, social service organizations. She learned the value of providing opportunities for others, and our communities are richer for it.
While earning her arts degree at the University of Manitoba in the 1960s, she worked at Marymound, an agency in Winnipeg, helping girls close to her own age in need of a safe and caring environment. As her empathy for others grew, she realized she wanted to pursue a career that would enable her to make a difference in the lives of others.
Ms. Lewis joined United Way of Winnipeg in 1973 and a year later became the first female United Way campaign director in the country. In 1985, she became the organization’s president and Chief Executive Officer, again breaking ground as the first woman to do so in Canada. Along the way, she has been a highly respected leader and mentor within the United Way movement across Canada and in the United States. She stepped down in 2014 after a distinguished career with United Way of Winnipeg. Under her leadership, the organization transformed from primarily a fundraising organization to a change-maker that improves lives and builds a better community for all.
Ms. Lewis developed a model for community involvement known as Journey Forward, focused on engaging the public in identifying the most pressing issues and mobilizing leaders from all sectors in a collective effort towards finding solutions. Her ingenuity and vision have played a crucial role in enhancing much-needed social services to all parts of the city. She spearheaded the construction of the new United Way headquarters with the intention that it should contribute to the city’s core area community, as well as support the revitalization of Winnipeg’s downtown.
Ms. Lewis believes change is impossible without outstanding leaders and dedicated individuals working their “everyday magic” of voluntarism together. One of her proudest achievements is the creation of the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council in 2006, bringing together senior leaders from all sectors in a comprehensive and sustained effort to finally put an end to poverty in this city.
In 2011, Ms. Lewis received the Order of Manitoba and in 2015, was honoured with the Order of Canada. She views philanthropy as an opportunity, a chance to invest in one’s own community, and her commitment to bringing communities together reminds us that each one of us can make a difference.
For her tireless work helping those in need and as an outstanding example of leadership and altruism at the highest level, the University of Manitoba is proud to bestow upon Ms. Susan Lewis a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.