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Kirsten Goa has no shortage of things to do in a day. But in January, the mother of five took on a side gig as board chair for La Leche League Canada, a non-profit group that supports breastfeeding mothers. “I’m really good at giving away my time for free,” Kirsten says with a laugh.

The new position may not come with a paycheque, but it did give Kirsten a valuable opportunity to re-engage the organization’s members. “That was what I brought to the table,” she says. “We needed to pick up the phone. We needed to survey them.” Kirsten isn’t worried about solving the group’s overarching problems just yet. First, she’s asking members what brought them to La Leche League in the first place — and what their vision is for the future.

Public engagement has been a recurring theme in all of Kirsten’s work, but it took her a while to realize there was a term for it. What she did know was that whenever she met an acquaintance for coffee, she came away from it energized and full of ideas. And not in a strictly networking sense, either. “We’re a social species, and I think it’s really fundamental to our biology to be connected to each other,” she says.

For Kirsten, public engagement has clear benefits for the city, but it’s also a means of building empathy within communities. Residents who are concerned about people parking on their street, for instance, might just not know who their neighbours are. “People get territorial when they feel isolated,” Kirsten says, adding that empathy isn’t a feeling. “It’s a skill. And if we can meet people with empathy, then we can get underneath the problems, and we’re more likely to find solutions.”

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