ANTIGONISH: The new executive director of the Coady International Institute and Extension Department at StFX University says this is an important juncture in their history; their future is bright and by working together, they are hoping to build on their strengths.

Gord Cunningham, who assumed the role of executive director after the former vice president of the institute and extension department, Dr. June Webber (who led the institute since 2015) stepped down on March 8, after recommending that with the new administrative structure and fiscal realities, Coady would be best served by an executive director.

With over 30-years of experience in community economic development, community-based microfinance and asset-based community development in Canada and around the world, Cunningham transitioned from his former role as assistant director to lead the institute during a time of controversy with its management style.

“Coady has been through a very difficult period and longstanding and senior colleagues are no longer with us. I want to acknowledge the important contributions they have all made to the success and reputation of the Institute,” Cunningham said, in the Coady’s monthly newsletter. “At the same time, I am excited about the amazing talent and energy of our current team of colleagues, the support we are getting from St. Francis Xavier University, and the opportunities before us.”

Recently, Kent MacDonald, the out-going president of the university advised in a letter addressed to the campus community that proposed involuntary lay-offs have been avoided within the Coady International Institute after five staff members accepted voluntary lay-offs while several took different positions within the university.

The restructuring of the Coady comes following the university’s announcement late January of having to cut expenses and one-third of the Institute’s staff after Global Affairs Canada discontinued their core funding of $3.1 million.

Cunningham explained it gives him a profound sense of hope the work that has and continues to be done in the classroom to ensure Coady has a sustainable future.

“Education, innovation, and partnerships are core to Coady’s future direction. Programs that benefit women, youth, Indigenous, and other historically underrepresented groups will remain our priority,” he said. “Coady will deliver nine on-campus education programs and blended learning certificates in 2019 with the first participants arriving in May.”

On top of the loss of funding, the institute was also dealing with an annual operating deficit of up to $700,000.

On October 2, James Edward Marlow, the former finance director of the Coady was arrested and charged with theft and fraud over $5,000. Marlow was fired from the university on July 19 after being accused of creating fake invoices and depositing cheques into his personal bank account, misappropriating approximately $250,000. Following Marlow’s arrest, The Reporter learned from Global Affairs Canada they proceeded with their own investigation and determined approximately $30,000 worth of federal money was misappropriated, which the federal department said the university was responsible for and has since repaid.

For Cunningham, it is his firm conviction that this is the moment for Coady to make a unique global contribution to breaking down outdated and unhelpful notions.

“It is clear the big issues of our day, such as inequality and climate change, make no such distinction. Local innovation is happening everywhere,” he said. “My dream is for Coady to become a place where innovative local leaders from all over the planet convene, share about, and learn together, ways to address the opportunities and challenges they face.”

In June, the Institute is offering a new course Social Enterprise for Inclusive Economies in which they hope to have a mix of both local and global participants, while later this year, they will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the prestigious Katherine Fleming Award. Using this award as a model, it’s believed they can establish multiple scholarships to create a solid and independent avenue of support for their education program.

Over his first 100 days as executive director, Cunningham will be focusing on two main areas; building a positive workplace culture and putting in place a new fund development strategy.

“We all want to come to work each day with a spring in our step, know that our work is valued, and feel that we are making a difference in the world,” he said. “I also envisage a new fund development strategy having two main components: building up our scholarship pool and our programmatic funding.”