Skip to main content
InterviewFeb 27, 2024

Volunteer of the Month: Vanessa Eckstein RGD

Interview with Vanessa Eckstein RGD
Headshot of Vanessa Eckstein RGD

This March, the RGD thanks Vanessa Eckstein RGD for her contributions to the RGD community.

“I started working with the RGD, as Communications Coordinator, in 1999. That year, I had the privilege of working alongside Vanessa—and Jean-Pierre Lacroix RGD and Carmen von Richtofen, who was the RGD's Executive Director at the time—to create what would become DesignThinkers. The conference, and similarly the RGD, would not be what it is without Vanessa's contributions. Her commitment to thoughtful design, passion and generosity have made a massive impact on the organization. Through the years, she's been there and ready to help in any way she could. Although I don't remember her serving coffee, I have no doubt she did—or would if we needed her to.”
Hilary Ashworth, RGD Executive Director

How long have you been volunteering with the RGD and in what capacity?

I have been volunteering with the RGD since its beginnings in 1998. From Board Member to Vice President, from helping ideate and organize the first DesignThinkers conference to mentoring, judging, designing, speaking, participating in panels or even serving coffee — if needed.

What experience/memory stands out for you?

I still remember sitting at my studio with Hilary, just the 2 of us with barely any budget trying to organize the first DesignThinkers. With the heartfelt belief that we were starting something truly valuable and making international invitations—no internet at the time—trying to convince prominent thinkers and designers to participate. I am in awe of what Hilary and the RGD team have achieved since then and how DesignThinkers has transformed into this incredible international event.

What is the most surprising/unexpected thing to come out of volunteering with the RGD?

For me the true gift is always about humanity, about the people you meet, the friendships you make and the conversations you have that help someone reframe or rethink their own story. A word at the right time can inspire someone to take a courageous step—to help open the possibilities for someone, to instill hope. This is the most rewarding feeling for me!

What have you learned about the industry since volunteering for the RGD?

I have lived and worked in many cities—New York, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, LA—and I was so incredibly humbled to find such a generous and warm community as the RGD when I moved to Canada. This is not just about the industry but about OUR industry. We are fortunate to be participants in a Canadian industry that cares about each other and is willing to see itself as part of a larger whole.

Based on your experience volunteering with the RGD, how would you describe the role of the organization in the industry?

I truly believe that the RGD as an organization is at the very core of our industry—advocating, creating space for conversations, expanding opportunities, bringing us together, building community. The many initiatives from the Creative Earners Salary Surveys to participating in relevant talks about the issues that affect us today, to creating Mentorship programs and conferences, the RGD's role is not easily defined but profoundly felt. 

Why would you recommend it to other Members who might be thinking of getting involved?

I do believe in the role we all play in shaping the community we are part of, in honouring the values we hold true, opening space for others and sharing the learnings along the way. We all need mentors that help nourish deep conversations or respond to our own recurring questions. This shared experience is the true value of our design community and this is what you will experience volunteering with the RGD.

Do you have thoughts on what you might like to do as a volunteer with the RGD in the future?

I have many thoughts — always excited about opportunities to keep pushing boundaries and opening space for voices that NEED to be heard.


Related Articles

Image of grads tossing their hats
Image of grads tossing their hats

Vanessa Eckstein RGD

business cards for the Coalition for Engaged Education
business cards for the Coalition for Engaged Education

Karen Ng-Hem RGD, Stephanie Strawbridge RGD, Taralyn Carver RGD, Cassandra Wesenhagen RGD