Alumni Profile

Natalie Angell Besseling, a York alumnus

Natalie Angell-Besseling

Degree: Bachelor of Arts (International Development Studies)
Faculty: Faculty of Arts
Graduated: 2006
Current Position: Executive Director, Shanti Uganda Society

Current Career: As Executive Director for The Shanti Uganda Society, I am responsible for overseeing all organizational activities and working collaboratively with our Board of Directors to carry out our long term vision. This includes speaking on behalf of the organization, inspiring and leading staff, volunteers and board members, developing and overseeing programs in Uganda and working with our team to secure funds.

Why I think I'm living a great life: I'm able to witness the power of women lifting themselves out of poverty and birthing their babies in an environment that is supportive, gentle and empowered.

As the Executive Director of Shanti Uganda, I have been sharing my time between Uganda and Vancouver since 2007. I believe so strongly in the power of grassroots women's initiatives and in addition to sitting on the Advisory Board for the Women Like Us Foundation, I enjoy speaking around North America on issues surrounding Infant & Maternal Health and HIV/AIDS.

After years of supporting birthing women in Uganda, in 2010 I returned to Vancouver to give birth to my own daughter at home in water. I now live in Vancouver with my husband and daughter and we just recently returned from leading a group of 14 participants on a 10 day retreat to visit the Shanti Uganda Birth House.

How I got here: While I was in University, I worked at OCIC in Toronto. I was blessed to experience working with a handful of local organizations working in the global south. After graduation, I decided to become a yoga teacher and birth doula and my interest in maternal health inspired me to go to Uganda to volunteer with birthing women. My experience in Uganda was life- changing and I kept going back.

What I did when I felt unsure/lost about my career direction: After graduation, I found myself applying for jobs with organizations that I didn't really believe in simply because I needed a job. Stepping back and becoming a yoga teacher allowed me to connect in with the values that were important to me in a career path and also enabled me to do the self-development that is so needed in this line of work to avoid burn-out.

Thing that made the biggest difference: Conscious Activism - Really facing and figuring out why I'm drawn to this work, dealing with my own personal stories and experiences and creating a strong foundation to embrace failure and allow surrender.

How I'm using my degree in my career: I believe so strongly in the International Development Studies program at work. So many of the students I graduated with are doing amazing work and many of us still keep in touch.

The strong focus in community based, participatory, grassroots development has a deep foundation in our organization and the work we do on the ground. Everything from program development, to community meetings have benefited from my experience at York and in the program and I continue to seek guidance from the previous IDS program coordinator who has been a great support over the years.

What I've learned: Figure out your personal goals and values and then create opportunities that nurture and feed your passion. Align your goals with your values and the people and places that inspire you.