Miranda Eng – MSc '13
Despite her public service background and inclinations, Miranda Eng recently swapped a job with Canada’s federal government for a consultancy position that has given her a more hands-on role in engaging with communities on shaping government projects and policies that may impact their lives.
About Miranda Eng
Tell us about your educational background and early career
I am a non-business business kid. I started off by doing a bachelor of commerce degree, majoring in finance, at the University of British Columbia, here in Vancouver. After graduating in 2009 I did what most business kids do not do and joined the Federal Public Service. My parents were both public servants and I was born and raised in Ottawa, the capital of Canada and a major government town, so I feel like democracy and public service are definitely coursing through my veins!
When I was with the Feds I worked in executive support and advisory roles and was involved in change management, employee engagement, leadership development and strategic management, which gave me a lot of experience and exposure. After a couple of years, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to take leave to do a master’s. I was working in strategic management at the time, so doing my master’s in strategic management and planning at Smurfit was a good segue.
I had a few reasons for choosing Smurfit and Dublin. In North America we don’t have many one-year, accelerated programmes. There are a lot of very fancy and expensive MBAs but because I had done a bachelor of commerce I wanted to do something more focused and a bit more research-based so a European master’s in business suited me better. Also, I had a one year leave from work so I needed to fit it into that timeframe, and I wanted to go to an English-speaking European country. Another point in UCD’s favour was the fact that my now-husband is Irish.
When I returned from Dublin I stayed with the Feds for another two years as part of my leave agreement with them. But I was ready for something different – I wanted to be more public and community facing so I left around two years ago and went into consulting and to a role that is very much that.
What does your current role involve?
I now work as a senior consultant – essentially a project manager – for Context: An Argyle Company, which recently went through a merger and is now the largest independent engagement and communications company in Canada. We work mainly with government clients to engage communities, the wider public and/or stakeholders to have their say and their voice in projects that impact them.
The work has a few different prongs. We have education programmes that are all about ensuring that people are aware of and understand an issue or project that might impact them. This is particularly hard when these projects are about things that are slightly unsexy but technical and complex – like transportation policy or flood barriers. Another prong is the actual engagement work – we design and facilitate different ways for people to provide their input, whether that’s online or in person. There are demographic groups often excluded from public processes, and so a key role I play is finding ways to hear from underrepresented groups on projects that will likely disproportionately impact them.
A third prong is reporting: it’s all about studying the input gathered from communities and the public, analysing for it for themes and putting together findings and recommendations for governing bodies behind the engagement programme. I see it as our responsibility that they understand the public’s perspective – their concerns, issues and opportunities – and that it informs their decisions. It’s also a crucial step to share this report with the public to thank them for their time and for transparency.
My work focuses primarily on public projects, ranging from infrastructure to policy. It’s adjacent to what I was doing with the Feds, but is more community and public focused and providing advisory services from a different angle. It’s sort of a conduit between the public and government. Public engagement is a study in human behaviour, and it absolutely puts into practice my master’s degree and thesis focusing on behavioural change. On paper and based on economic theory, a public policy or project can aim for social good (hopefully), yet we know it can garner intense and emotional opposition from personal impacts and perceived consequences, which are valid. So my work is like user-centred design, where with public input, the intent is to better design and shape the policy or project to be more people-centred.
What motivates you?
I care very much about building a healthy and equitable and sustainable society. I really believe that humans have different factors and different lived experiences that affect how we operate and go through this world. What motivates me is the possibility of shifting to a system where people of different genders, races and social backgrounds have equitable opportunities and voice.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would say I have a democratic or participatory leadership style. I’m very team-based and I think that comes from having a background in team sports. I genuinely believe you’re only as good your team and having a strong group of people and a trustful relationship between everyone really sets you up for success.
Who or what has influenced or inspired you?
My parents have been a very big influence. Watching the life of any immigrant and seeing them experience the hardships and challenges they go through to move to another country and make it work is incredible. I am where I am today because of them and their sacrifices.
Also, I have some very strong and bright women in my life. On the back of leaving the Feds and moving to a consultant role I’m at a time in my life and career when it’s all very intensive and time consuming. Surrounding myself with influential and inspirational people – particularly women – who work towards balancing and prioritising relationships in a world that is very busy and where the social norms are to be very busy and be successful has been very inspirational for me.
On a macro level, the film Crazy Rich Asians has been very inspirational. I’m Chinese-Canadian and have waited my whole life to see someone like me on the big screen – and she was an economics professor! So that representation was a big deal for me, knowing that our stories are starting to be told and are becoming more mainstream.
The second global piece of influence and inspiration was the Repeal the Eighth campaign, which I watched intently from afar. I was living in Dublin and going to the Smurfit School when Savita Halappanavar died so I felt connected to it. Watching women and communities mobilise and exhaust themselves and people flying home to vote was incredibly powerful. It was incredibly exciting and inspiring to see the public participation in Ireland, particularly among younger people.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
It may sound cheesy but getting the 2014 UCD Smurfit School Student of the Year award was a big deal for me. It was such external recognition that I’ve never had before, and walking in a room when my name was announced, hearing people clapping, giving a speech – basically the Oscars. I felt honoured even to be nominated.
This past January I ran an 8km race, which was a big achievement because I’d been struggling with a chronic neck injury and pain since 2014. It was debilitating and I was off activities for years with intense rehabilitation. Personally, that was a big deal to get back on my feet.
I’m also looking forward to doing an encore via webinar of a presentation I delivered at the International Association of Public Participation last fall. It was on a guiding framework and tactics for public engagement to be more equitable and inclusive to hear from those not often heard, co-created with members of Vancouver’s Chinatown. It was a very personal and challenging pro-bono project that I led, and I feel proud and humbled to share it with an international audience in July.
Any failures you’d like to share?
I am a recovering perfectionist so failure is a very triggering word. I look back on times in my life where I worked so hard or was so brutal to myself because of that tendency. When I think about that time it makes me sad at how much pressure I put on myself to strive to be better, to be good enough and to be successful. It’s destructive. That continues to be something I work on.
What are your tips and advice for success?
Being in the business world, and coming from business school, I think it’s particularly important to define what success looks like for you and to strive for it on your own terms. Success is often defined for us but I do think it’s essential to have your own definition.
I believe in the power of communities so I think it’s vital to surround yourself with strong friends or a partner or colleagues who can be your safe space, especially when you are dealing with things that are hard. I’m a firm believer in the value of having a mentor or mentors – someone who has a similar lens or experience who can guide and advise you through challenging parts of your life.
I would also always recommend spending time outside as it helps you stay humble and grounded. When you walk into the mountains or you’re camping under the stars, you realise that you’re small and the world is very big. Having that humility is very helpful.
What are your plans for the future?
Professionally, it’ll be a case of staying par for the course in my work. And finding time for frequent trips back to Ireland, other parts of the world, and the outdoors.
I would love to teach someday. I don’t know what that looks like, but it’s in the back of my mind.
How has your degree benefited your career and/or personal life?
Professionally, it helped me with a big career shift from government to consulting, and gave me the critical thinking skills and knowledge to be good at what I do. Personally, I would suggest this to anyone: behavioural strategy and science should be widely studied to help us better understand ourselves, other humans, our irrationality, and the way our brains work. I also reconnected with my now-husband while I was doing my master’s degree, so big bonus there.
What is your fondest memory from your time in UCD Smurfit/Quinn School?
A very outrageous Halloween party that I co-hosted with my flatmates (including a fellow Smurfiter) – and we invited most of Smurfit.
What are your main interests outside work?
I run, bike, explore the outdoors. I also love food, eating, making or baking. I stay busy doing those things with friends and family.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you
I played American football for over 10 years, half the time as a wide receiver and the other half as the quarterback.
What piece of technology can you not live without?
Does lip balm count as technology? I can’t live without it.
What is your pet hate?
Yippy, high pitched small dogs. There are a lot of them in Vancouver.
And what is your favourite band or musician?
I don’t have one, but I love Prince and I listen a lot to cool women like Maggie Rogers, Caroline Smith, Solange and Robyn.
What’s the last performance you went to that you loved?
Robyn, and I indeed loved her.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
I like making pies, both savoury and sweet like steak and Guinness pie.
Where is home and why?
Vancouver, Canada. My best friends and family are here; it’s a playground as we are surrounded by mountains and ocean; it’s a heterogenous and diverse society; it has a fun scene; it’s progressive; it does not often dip below 0 degrees C; you won’t die from cycling around; and it has really good food. You can find noodles on every corner.
What are your insider tips for visitors to Vancouver?
Third beach in Stanley Park in the summer. Wear a helmet when you cycle because we have laws here. The aquarium really is amazing but there are also cool jellyfish tanks in the Vancouver Airport. Take the ferry to Vancouver Island (and go to Tofino if you can). And do the Whistler thing too, but opt to do your hikes or river rafting in Squamish (but do not climb the Chief on a weekend). Brassneck and Strange Fellows are excellent local breweries. And have a drink at the Keefer Bar while you wait for a table at Bao Bei.
Name three things on your bucket list
Two immediately come to me:
- Learning how to do a flying scissor takedown (a martial arts move – refer to Ilsa Faust in Mission Impossible or Black Widow in most of her movies)
- Going back to New Zealand and doing the Tongariro Pass (aka Mount Doom)
What charities or causes are closest to your heart?
Social and racial equity is very important to me.
I am on the board of directors of a non-profit in Vancouver’s Chinatown called the Hua Foundation that works in the area of social and racial equity. We do things like incubate youth-led community initiatives, conduct research and community engagement to advocate and inform culturally respectful public policies, and generally empower Asian-identifying youth to advance social change.
I also support work and organisations that lift up and provide opportunity to people experiencing homelessness, like Megaphone here in Vancouver and Simon Community in Ireland.