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Marcia Nozick/Hersh Shefrin

By MYRON LOVE

On Wednesday, May 8, former Winnipeggers Hersh Shefrin and Marcia Nozick were back in their home town to accept Distinguished Alumni Awards from their alma mater, the University of Manitoba, in recognition of their efforts to help improve the lives of people in their adopted communities and beyond.

 

 

 

 

Shefrin, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in Behavioural Finance, says that he was really touched to have received the award for Lifetime Achievement.

Nozick was recognized in the category “Distinguished Alumni for Professional Achievement”. At the presentation, Nozick was described as an “Innovator in Community Economic Development” for her leadership in preparing for and finding employment for thousands of individuals living in Vancouver’s depressed East Side. “I was very happy to receive this award,” she says. “It means a lot to me. I still think of Winnipeg as my home.”

When Marcia Nozick left Winnipeg for Vancouver in 1995 to pursue a Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University, it is highly unlikely that she ever imagined that, just a few short years later, she would be leading a temporary work placement program that would be dramatically changing the lives of so many people.
Nozick is one of the founders of and long time CEO of EMBERS  (the Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society), a community economic development charity with a mission to create economic and employment opportunities for people living on low incomes in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“We have become the largest employer in downtown Vancouver and the East Side,” she reports. “Last year, we had 2,000 people on our employment roll. We place about 300 people a day in temporary work positions – largely with developers and construction companies with whom we have an excellent relationship. They appreciate the fact that we don’t exploit our workers.
“And for employees who prove they are reliable and good workers, we pay for training for better paying, full-time positions– mostly for the construction industry. One hundred percent of our profits go toward the benefit of our workers.”

EMBERS, Nozick notes, serves some of the neediest members of society – recovering addicts, recent parolees and newly-arrived immigrants. “These are people whose lives are in a state of flux,” she says. “We provide breakfast, coffee and counseling in addition to jobs.
“It is hard for people who have been out of the workforce for many years to get a job. You begin to feel better about yourself when you do find work. We have had a lot of success.”

Nozick’s life journey started in River Heights. In 1988, she graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Masters Degree in City Planning through the Faculty of Architecture. For the next few years, she served as the part time co-ordinator of the Province’s Healthy Communities initiative.
During that period, she also wrote a book, “No Place Like Home”, which focused on how to create alternative communities that benefitted their residents.
She also taught piano during that time.
In Vancouver, she taught for a number of years at Simon Fraser.

On moving to Vancouver, she settled near the East Side where she was struck by the enormous economic disparity she saw between the area where she lived and just a few blocks away. Hastings Street was home to addicts and the homeless, while nearby Gastown had become home to well-to-do residents.
EMBERS, she explains grew out of a community organizing process in reaction to concerns about the East Side undergoing gentrification. “We were looking for ways to help low income people become involved in the economy which would, in turn, help them with housing,” she says. “The idea we came up with was to create a non-profit employment and training program.”
That was in 2001. Today, Nozick is on the go from 5:30 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. almost every day. “We can have as many as 50 people in the office first thing in the morning who are waiting to be dispatched to jobs,” she says. “And because we are dealing with a high-risk population, we have to be prepared for trouble-shooting. Every day is different. You have to be prepared to work on the fly and think on your feet. There are problems to solve all the time.
“Still, it is wonderful to see people’s lives changing for the better.”
* * * * * 
Shefrin’s expertise is in behavioural economics – a field that explores how psychological forces drive economical and financial decision-making. Over the past four decades, Shefrin has been a pioneer in this area, with research into self-control issues, ethics and risk management. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes, has written for The Wall Street Journal, and has had his work profiled by the BBC.
The Peretz School graduate says that his original goal in life was to be a physicist. However, while studying physics at the University of Manitoba he took an introductory economics course taught by Professor Cy Gonick. That course strongly captured his interest, and as a result he switched from physics to mathematics and economics.
Shefrin left Winnipeg in 1970 to further his studies at the London School of Economics, where he earned his Ph.D. It was at his first position – at the University of Rochester – where he began studying how psychology impacts economic behavior.
“Many of my friends, as well as my wife Arna, had studied psychology in university,” he says. “Through discussions with them, I came to understand the need to include the human dimension in economic models. But I found little mention of psychology in the professional economics literature.”

In Rochester, Shefrin met fellow economist Richard Thaler, who had just begun developing a series of thought experiments to identify the role of psychology in economic behaviour. Shefrin and Thaler began a productive collaboration about the role of self-control in economic decision making. Two years ago, Thaler received a Nobel prize for his various contributions, and in making the award, the Nobel committee emphasized the work that Thaler and Shefrin had done together.
Through Thaler, Shefrim met two outstanding Israeli psychologists – Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (also a Nobel Prize winner), whose pioneering work provided critical psychological foundations for behavioural economics.
“In the 1970s, as far as I can tell, Thaler and I were the only academics referring to ourselves as behavioural economists,” Shefrin notes. “Now, Behavioural Economics is a recognized sub-field of economics.”

For the past 40 years, Shefrin has been teaching at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business where he currently holds the Mario Belotti Chair in the Department of Finance. He has published widely in the area and writes for both academics and lay people. His most recent book, “Behavioral Risk Management”, was published in 2015. This book argues that the most important risk management disasters in the preceding fifteen years all have psychological pitfalls at their root.
“When it comes to managing our finances, we are often our own worst enemies,” he observes.

At 70, he is still writing and teaching. He says that his newest project focuses on applying behavioural insights to climate change. “The threat to our planet from global warming is monumental,” he states, “and we are underreacting to that threat.”
He says that he still comes back to Winnipeg every few years. On a previous visit, his wife Arna was chosen an Alumna of Distinction in the University of Manitoba School of Dental Hygiene. On this most recent visit, he followed in her footsteps as an Alumnus of Distinction at the university, an honour he describes as “extremely moving.”

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