Stefan Wittman has lived his entire life as the younger sibling of his brother Michael who has Cerebral Palsy. His upbringing uniquely shaped his worldview as he developed a profound understanding of the challenges that people with disabilities face on a daily basis. His parents were tireless advocates for Michael’s inclusion and integration, and Stefan has adopted that philosophy. Stefan obtained his JD and MBA degrees from the University of Victoria and currently works as a lawyer in New Westminster.
Stefan has for the past 3 years served on the Plan Institute Board as both a board director and treasurer and this September will be stepping into the position of Board Chair.
Can you give our readers a bit of background on how you learned about Plan Institute and what inspired you to join the board?
Disability has been a central component of my life, as I grew up watching my older brother navigate the challenges of living with Cerebral Palsy. I was aware at a young age of PLAN through my parents’ involvement, but really only knew of the organization by name and didn’t know much of what it was about. And I should admit that when Plan Institute was created in 1999, I was completely oblivious to its existence. I was 17 years old and planning the next steps toward my own independence. Just the same, I did remain very connected to my family throughout University (I even moved back home in the second year!), and the continued concerns that my parents and my brother had about his future and all that building a meaningful, full, and secure life entailed.
When I went to law school in 2008, I recall some rumblings of the creation of the RDSP. Again, I can’t pretend that I was keenly interested in the details, though I began to speak to my dad more about his role on the PLAN board. I think I had it in my mind at that time that if I returned to Vancouver to start my legal career, I would naturally become more involved with PLAN. It wasn’t until fall 2015 that I expressed a real interest in getting involved, and it was really only then that I began to understand the distinction between PLAN and Plan Institute, and namely, the latter’s role in education and policy development. It became all too obvious to me that the natural fit for my legal and business education and my desire to contribute to my community was with Plan Institute and officially joined the board in 2016.
During your time on the Plan Institute board there has been some significant change and growth at Plan Institute. How has that impacted your role as a board member?
I think the most significant thing over the past 3 and a half years has been the untethering of Plan Institute from PLAN, on both organizational and financial fronts. There was uncertainty when I first joined the board in 2016 about even the continued existence of Plan Institute, let alone how ambitious its vision and mission should be. The organization is now in a much more self-sustainable place than where it was, and I am excited for the focus to return to social innovation and leadership in the community.
How has your participation on the board as a member helped to prepare you for the role of incoming Board Chair starting this September?
Good question, because I do foresee things being a bit different moving forward, given the growth I just mentioned that Plan Institute has experienced. But despite that, I think having sat on the Board previously chaired by Ted was of great value. We are all imitative beings at some level, and it’s hard not to lead in a manner that we are accustomed to being led. To that extent, I hope that I absorbed his ability to engender respectful discussion and invariably bring purposeful resolution to those discussions. Other than that, I certainly believe that my experience as treasurer and familiarity with understanding not-for-profit financials will help ensure that I don’t lose sight of Plan Institute’s financial health.
Looking forward, what are some of the things that you are looking forward to at Plan Institute and what’s one thing you would like to leave our readers thinking about?
As touched on above, I am really looking forward to the focussed conversation on where we can drive policy and be the stewards and leaders that Plan Institute’s founders intended. We are also in the process of welcoming new members to the board and I am really looking forward to the new composition growing together. I am excited about where we can take things in the coming years.
Thank you to Stefan Wittman for taking the time to speak with us and for all your contributions to Plan Institute.
If you have a story you wish to share with us as part of our 20th Anniversary Celebrations, please contact Caitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.