Q&A: How Nicole Mclean is adapting to a new normal.

Nicole is a true-blue Nova Scotian who loves to communicate with people. She spent 10 years working in a corporate training position at Scotiabank and then co-founded InStage in 2017. InStage creates V.R. Training simulations for soft-skills and was originally created to help Nicole practice for large group presentations. Since 2017, Nicole has been driving the reach of InStage to include 1000’s of users at Fortune 500 companies and large post-secondary institutions. Nicole shares how InStage is navigating the pandemic, from what area of the business is receiving the greatest focus to what she is doing to stay positive.


What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

With the recent spike in demand for interactive online learning, InStage is focused on partnering with post-secondary schools to help them adopt VR technology adaptations that work online. Nearly all educational institutions believe that VR technology will play a key role in the future of education, so we are helping them start this process of bringing in technology and learning best practices.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

The most important problem we are trying to solve is filling the soft skill gap between what students have and what employers expect. It has never been more urgent to help prepare students to develop these skills which requires a lot of practice. Students can now practice in V.R. Simulations for interviews, presentations, storytelling, objection handling in safe environments that also allows for repetition and real-time analytics.

What has been your most successful solution so far?          

Adapting to this new world and continuing to innovate to add value to our clients.       

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?             



I love associating myself with people I admire so I can continuously push myself both work-wise and personally. 


What advice do you have for businesses struggling with their finances?

Test your innovation with the market and see if it adds enough value for clients to pay.

What has surprised you? 

The biggest surprise is how things have changed since pre-COVID days. Continuing to adapt and innovate is essential.

How far ahead are you planning? 

In the short term, we are looking forward to the fall as schools are reopening. But planning is a 6 month to 5 year project at least.

What keeps you positive?

Positivity comes from your mindset and also who you are surrounding yourself with. It’s important to be connected with positive influencers. I love associating myself with people I admire so I can continuously push myself both work-wise and personally. 

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Covid-19 has created a lot of new problems for entrepreneurs to solve. Entrepreneurs should be looking at how the world is changing and what the new world will need rather than dwelling on the economic issues.

How Carinne Chambers-Saini launched the DivaCup — and brought menstrual cups to the mainstream

By Karen van Kampen


Fresh out of business school, 24-year-old Carinne Chambers-Saini set out to revolutionize the menstrual care industry. She teamed up with her mother, Francine Chambers, to create the DivaCup, a reusable silicone menstrual cup that collects rather than absorbs menstrual flow. 

“I thought, we are going to change the world with this,” says Carinne. “I had a completely unrealistic view of how things would evolve. No one would take us seriously.” It took a year to find a supplier willing to develop and manufacture the DivaCup, and another year for the approval process as a class II medical device. Then came the biggest hurdle: getting the product listed. “The retailers just laughed at us and said, we’ll never carry this,” says Carinne. “That was definitely one of the hardest blows because we were so excited about the product and we knew what we had.” 

In 2003, DivaCup was turned down by all mass-market retailers. But the mother-daughter duo never gave up. “You keep going, no matter what,” says Carinne. “That’s the grit that people talk about.” Years of patience and hard work has paid off. Today, DivaCup is sold in 60,000 stores in more than 30 countries, bringing the menstrual cup to the mainstream, and its CEO and co-founder is being recognized as an industry trendsetter. Carinne was the 2019 winner of the TELUS Trailblazer Award (now the Innovation Award) — a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, that is granted to an entrepreneur with outstanding leadership who has set standards for originality, quality and successful management. 

The daughter of two entrepreneurs, Carinne says the creating part of business has always excited her. In high school, she worked at her mother’s jewelry store in Kitchener, Ontario, helping with buying and creating custom pieces. In 1992, Francine saw an ad for a menstrual cup. “That started the whole journey,” says Carinne. Reflecting on their own experience with a menstrual cup, as well as customer feedback, Carinne and Francine set out to create an improved, modernized version. 

The initial setbacks with mass-market retailers proved to be a blessing in disguise. Carinne and Francine were running the business from home, assembling packages in their basement, and realized that they weren’t ready for mass market. They focused on the natural market instead, and gained a loyal following at eco shops, natural food and outdoor adventure stores. It took five years to get listed in every Whole Foods region in Canada and the U.S. By 2011, DivaCup was listed in 3,000 natural and niche stores in Canada and the U.S. 


“We had to change our story and show retailers how the DivaCup could bring profit into the category, and how it was a destination product that people would be looking for.”


Diva International began building its team, setting up its headquarters and taking the business to the next level. Carinne stopped doing sales meetings with her mom. “It’s hard to get taken seriously when you are your own sales team,” says Carinne. “You just don’t have the credibility.” Then came an opportunity that would catapult DivaCup into the mainstream.

In 2012, a company had pulled their ad from the jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square at the last minute. The rep trying to fill the space was a fan of the DivaCup and called Carinne with the opportunity. The ad would run four times an hour, 24-hours-a-day for a year. It was a lot of money, “but something in our gut kept telling us we have to do it,” says Carinne. “As an entrepreneur, your best asset is your gut and intuition.”

A new buyer for Shoppers Drug Mart saw the DivaCup ad in Times Square, and suddenly Diva International was viewed as a real player in the industry. “We had to change our story and show retailers how the DivaCup could bring profit into the category,” says Carinne, “and how it was a destination product that people would be looking for.” In 2013, they brought on Shoppers Drug Mart as their first national account. 

With Shoppers on board, they approached other mass-market retailers with their success story. But there was still a lot of work to be done. It took five years to bring on the remainder of the mainstream retailers — including CVS that in 2015 started carrying DivaCup in almost 10,000 locations. Yet being listed in the mass market isn’t necessarily the magic bullet that will solve all your problems, cautions Carinne. To succeed, “you have to build the demand and build the market for your product,” she says. For Diva International, this includes investing in education on women’s health and menstruation, which has become one of its core missions. 

The DivaCares program aims to expose the global issue of period poverty in which girls and women lack access to menstrual products. “It is happening in North America, right here in Canada,” says Carinne, who points out that one in seven girls in Canada has left or missed school due to lack of access to period products

DivaCares also fights discrimination around menstruation by helping to normalize the conversation. At home, Carinne talks openly to her daughter and son. “Boys need to be part of the conversation,” she says. “It should not be something that’s reserved only for girls. It just propagates the taboos and shame around it.” 

As a certified B Corporation, Diva International uses its brand as a force for good, says Carinne. As an entrepreneur, she says it’s important to “think about how your business can become a vehicle for contribution and change in the world.”


Q&A: How Eyra Abraham is adapting to a new normal.

Eyra Abraham is a Founder/CEO of Lisnen, a Toronto-based startup that develops technology for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  Initially, she started her career in tech then pivoted into marketing and communications within the public sector. Her love for technology and innovation drew her back to founding her company. As someone who is hard of hearing and knows the problems the hearing loss communities face too well, Eyra’s mission is to make the world safer and inclusive by applying advanced technologies. Eyra shares how Lisnen is navigating the current landscape, including what has surprised her most and her advice to fellow entrepreneurs. 


What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

Lisnen focuses on supporting the needs of people living with hearing loss through creative solutions that can make a difference in their lives.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

My company is solving an issue impacting millions of people with hearing loss, those who often have the desire to integrate into the “hearing world” but are challenged by the fact that we live in a society that mainly communicates through sounds. We are building an inclusive solution to remove the barriers to allow them to participate in society fully.

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Lisnen is developing a mobile application to help people with hearing challenges gain situational awareness by utilizing artificial intelligence. Our app will help users detect specific sounds like fire alarms and sirens, giving visual and vibrational alerts using their smart devices.

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

Our customers, especially during COVID, need the support of closed captioning and sign language interpreters when engaging in video conferencing meetings. For the most part, we’ve been corresponding with them by email and video conferencing.


Be continuously learning. Use this time as a learning opportunity to better understand the people you serve.


What has surprised you? 

I’m surprised that more companies, especially during the COVID pandemic, are starting to have a stronger desire for inclusive technologies to support their stakeholders living with a disability, especially as specific demographics are getting older. They are beginning to realize that the needs have evolved, and the technologies of the past can’t continue to work the same way. We are heading in the right direction, and many people will have an inclusive future ahead of us.

How far ahead are you planning? 

We have a short term plan where we are taking things day by day to ensure that we are serving our communities’ needs and wants. Our long term plan is to fulfill our mission.

What keeps you positive?

What keeps me positive is being surrounded by people who contribute to make our society a better place. Of course, my friends and family’s company and enjoying the simple everyday pleasure keeps me positive.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Be continuously learning. Use this time as a learning opportunity to better understand the people you serve. The information you gather will create opportunities and allow you to continue to support your customers throughout their lives.

A conversation with Candies Kotchapaw on COVID, Inequality, and Black communities

I first met Candies Kotchapaw at the Top 25 Women of Influence celebration on March 3, where we presented her with an award for the work she’s been doing as the founder of Developing Young Leaders for Tomorrow, Today (DYLOTT), a leadership incubator focused on Black youth.

The inspiration for DYLOTT came from Candies’ own experience with systemic racism in academia — she holds Master and Bachelor degrees in Social Work, and a diploma in Child and Youth Work — and an understanding of the need to make spaces of influence more accessible for Black communities, from education to corporations to the public sector. She’s now at home with her 7-year-old and 17-month-old, figuring out how to pivot DYLOTT to best serve Black communities in need, and how to raise the funds needed to do it

Much like with Indigenous communities, a conversation about the impact of COVID on Black communities extends much further than health. While Candies sees an opportunity for positive change, it’s clearly a challenging road ahead. 

 The interview has been edited for length. 


Let me start by asking, how are you doing?

I was having a conversation with another BIWOC person today, about how Black community members are sharing their experiences, and people are in shock that this actually happens in Canada. And I said to her, I don’t think I’ve ever been as triggered as much as I am triggered now. And it’s because of the spotlight — all of the sudden, all these things are being put out in the open, and discussions are raw, and conversations are really hitting the core of what we’ve been experiencing for such a long time. So how I’m doing is, I’m not sure. 

There are times that I have media trauma. With social media and mainstream media, everything comes home with you. It’s in your living room, it’s in your bedroom, it’s in your kitchen — wherever we have a screen, it’s there with you. And Black community members have been put on the stage, and now we are expected to perform, in a way that we’ve never been conditioned to perform, nor have we been given the opportunity to prepare. I’ve never been invited to speak this much in all the years that I’ve been active in program development. The best term that I can use is just truly overwhelmed by it all.    


And through all of this, you’re figuring out how to keep DYLOTT moving forward. How has that journey been?

Before COVID-19 hit, we had just come off our closing activities for 2019. After having experienced a tremendous amount of success for our pilot year in different programs, we were ready to bring them to other Black communities across Ontario and then nationally. Over October, November, and December we were building our strategic direction — operationally, financially, and in terms of the personnel that we’re going to bring on board — and had started conversations about going after an Ontario Trillium Foundation Grow Grant. That would have been multi-year funding, so we wouldn’t have to be in the precarious position of looking for funding every single year.

In January, we started to write the grant and were communicating with potential partners to come on board and support the program. By February, COVID started to take root and our steering committee and our board members began to talk about what we should do. By March, everything was shut down. Fortunately, we were already doing virtual conferencing — everybody who is in DYLOTT works full-time, or has part-time work or school work — so we were doing conference calls at 9:30 at night when our children went to bed. 


And what about that strategic growth plan? Are you continuing in the direction you were discussing, or has COVID changed things? 

The work really has shifted from ‘How do we prepare to roll out our current programs?’ to ‘Is there an opportunity to prepare Black youth for the transition into the future of the work?’ Because we know that the digital age is already here and our communities are already left behind.

When COVID hit and we had to adjust to learning at home, there were pockets of information coming out saying that Black communities don’t have access to reliable Internet, we don’t have access to reliable technology. We already knew those things were happening — but it was an opportunity for us to say we need to create access to those technologies that are going to be mandatory in the digital age, during the recovery period and beyond. 

That’s a mountain of a job, because how do we reach out to these people using the virtual space when they don’t have the access to the virtual space? That’s a road-map that we need to create to make sure that we don’t leave anybody behind, but we recognize that is going to be slow, it’s going to be long, and I’m sure it’s going to be treacherous. 


Looking at the issue of learning from home, the Ontario government made big announcements about distributing laptops and tablets to disadvantaged students — but it’s community organizations like DYLOTT that are recognizing the gaps in the program. Should the government be working with you more closely on efforts like distributing learning devices? 

I absolutely think we should take the lead here, because we know those communities that we’re working with, and have an understanding of the needs of the people who participate in our programs. We can provide training, and help families to adjust to the new demands and technological requirements that they’re being presented with. The assumption is that we just provide them with the technology and they will figure it out. That’s not always the case.

I can draw on the example of my seven-year-old daughter. She had a Google Meet meeting every Wednesday with her teacher and her classmates for an hour. The only thing I got from her teacher and from the TDSB [Toronto District School Board] is: ‘Here is the link to the Google Meet, and the time. Log on when it’s time.’ I could figure it out, but what about those families who are technologically illiterate? What about those families that have children with a learning disability, with autism, with all the other challenges that come, the exceptionalities that children have? What do you do to support those families? 

I think the assumption is that people will just get by and figure it out, but you can’t have those assumptions when you’re dealing with a population of people that have already been marginalized within society. COVID really has rolled back the curtain on all the inequities that exist.


“I think the biggest positive that I can take from COVID is that it has opened up the lines of communication, where I think they were locked or non-existent before. Even through social media, there’s access to people that I think before as a Black person I would have never had the opportunity to engage with.”


For DYLOTT to provide these services, you need funding. You’ve set up a GoFundMe page, but that’s far from the multi-year support you were hoping to secure at the beginning of the year. What does the financial part of this equation look like? 

At the end of April, the federal government announced $350 million of support for the nonprofit sector and community. That generated a lot of interest of course from community organizations. We had several different workshops on how to apply for this grant and how to gain visibility. But the thing that I realized about this whole process, is that if you’re not a well-established organization, if you haven’t been around for a long time, or if you don’t have a mechanism that you’re connected to other organizations that have visibility, you get passed over, always.

While at DYLOTT we were talking about, ‘How do we put an application together?’,  other organizations were already out there doing that work, they were already planning their response, and how they would access the funding that was out there. We could not get a hold of anyone. No one was listening to us. We were floundering in a way, because we didn’t have visibility.

That day when I decided to put that tweet out and I tagged Jan [Frolic, SVP at Women of Influence], I tagged her because I knew that in order for us to get a support team, someone else who knew about us had to pick it up. That’s the only way that an organization like DYLOTT can get any support.  And when we got visibility, now all of a sudden a lot of people are calling and they’re all saying, “Hey, what are you guys doing?”

It’s not that organizations aren’t doing the work, they do the work and they’re doing very important and impactful work, but if someone else doesn’t recognize the value that the organization is providing, that work gets unnoticed and they end up falling by the wayside. 


And what about at the community level, the individuals that you work within your programs? Or other organizations in this space? What are you hearing from them? 

What we’re hearing is the things that we already knew existed, the challenges that we already knew existed — like mental health, which was never a priority area for social determinants of health for Black communities. All of a sudden, it’s a priority. If all of a sudden it’s a priority — we never got a chance to sit down and deconstruct what mental health looks like within that community, and we’re expected to have solutions for all those challenges, we’re expected to have the people who can address those challenges.

For me as a social worker, I know for a fact that there aren’t enough Black mental health workers to support our community, because there has never been that focus put on the need to provide Black mental health services. 

Also, of course, the challenge with technology and the barriers that presents. One of the questions that we’re discussing with organizations like ours is ‘What training do we need to provide?’

But what agency do we have to answer that expert question? I don’t feel like I’m an expert right now. That’s the reality. I think it certainly is an opportunity to address something, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect that we have all the answers, especially right upfront, right now. We need the space to figure out strategies to address all the different social determinants that are happening all at one time.


What in all this gives you hope? Is there anything that is happening because of COVID that you believe can help us build a better future? 

Yes. Definitely. Even in all this horribleness, all the terrible, tragic impact that COVID has brought with it, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that COVID has brought many opportunities for people who are Black and for people to collaborate. I think the biggest positive that I can take from COVID is that it has opened up the lines of communication, where I think they were locked or non-existent before. Even through social media, there’s access to people that I think before as a Black person I would have never had the opportunity to engage with.

The major thing that gives me hope is that people are recognizing the value of contribution from Black communities. They are recognizing that there is capacity for agency within Black communities. And they are recognizing that there are a plethora of experiences that are valuable. 

Now, the spotlight is being shone on our communities, and we’re saying, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity for self-governance. There’s an opportunity for economic independence. There’s an opportunity for collaboration on a level that there has never been.’ I’m certainly very happy for that.

A skincare line is thriving in the pandemic — by pivoting, and staying the course

As Vice President and National Lead, Women Entrepreneurs at BDC, Laura Didyk used to spend most of her time traversing the country, interacting with women business owners. Now working from home, she’s keeping those conversations going — starting with the founder of Ellie Bianca skincare, Evelyne Nyairo. 


When Evelyne Nyairo was 16, she moved from Kenya to Canada on her own. Full of ambition, optimism and courage, she managed to put herself through both a Bachelor and a Masters of Science degree with a focus on the environment and chemistry. 

A serial entrepreneur, she’s been a longtime client of BDC. In 2013, she launched Ellie Bianca — an all natural, environmentally sustainable, and socially conscious skincare line. Speaking with Eveylne, it’s clear that her now sixteen-year-old daughter Ellie provided far more inspiration than a brand name. Ellie Bianca is a company built on Evelyne’s desire to be an example to her daughter of what women are capable of, and to empower other women to succeed (from sourcing ingredients from women-run co-ops in Chad and around Africa, to mentoring other women entrepreneurs in Canada and around the world).

I caught up with Evelyne to find out how the pandemic has been impacting her business — Ellie Bianca has launched three new products since the start — and what’s keeping her motivated.


LAURA: Let’s start with the most important question — how are you doing? 

EVELYNE: It has been good. Business has been busy — we’ve been going non-stop, which has kept my mind off all the trouble. And I’m loving the fact that I am at home, and I see Ellie every day.


LAURA: I know your daughter Ellie inspired the name of your brand, Ellie Bianca, but I don’t know the whole story of how you got started in skincare. Can you share a bit of that?

EVELYNE: Well, prior to Ellie Bianca, I was running an environmental engineering company, working mainly with oil and gas clients. I travelled all over the world for projects, and on one of those trips, I found myself in Central Africa, in Chad. One of the first things I noticed was how beautiful the women’s skin looked. They were just glowing. I’ve always loved skincare products, so I asked about it, and it turns out they were using shea butter. In the south of Chad there are shea trees all over. Being the scientist that I am, I started researching shea and other species native to this eco-region, understanding the chemical properties and associated skin benefits.

Another thing I quickly noticed in Chad was how hard the women worked. They’re on the farms, they are in the market selling — and sadly, the men are on the other side of the market drinking beer. On my second trip, I had been working in the hot sun the whole day, and I asked my guide where I could buy some mangoes. He takes me to this wild mango field where the husband is sitting on the side enjoying the shade, and the kids and the mom are working. 

It is the woman who helps me, who gives me the mangoes, but when I go to pay her, my guide snatches the bill and tells me I have to pay the man, because it will be seen as a sign of disrespect if I don’t. After some protest I reluctantly did it, but in that moment I was brought back to the boardrooms right here in Calgary, where I’ve dealt with some of my own challenges. And I thought, this happens everywhere in different forms. I knew I had to do something, to start something, that was going to advance women. I thought of my own daughter, Ellie, and other young girls like her. They need to see women overcoming challenges, they need to see us rising and they will learn to do the same.

I started off sourcing shea butter from women-run co-ops in Chad, and now everything we do, from our ingredients to package design, we make it a priority to support women. We are also an all-woman team. 


LAURA: You launched in 2013. Fast forward to 2020, and you have a broad skincare line that you’re selling worldwide. And then the pandemic hits… 

EVELYNE: When the lockdown began, I kept getting all these notifications from Service Canada saying, ‘We are short with hand sanitizers.’ They were calling on industry to step forward, so I started to think, what will it take if I was to formulate this? I went to the office and I started putting a plan together. 


LAURA: What was that process like, planning and formulating and launching a new product during a pandemic? 

EVEYLYNE: There was so much to consider. Figuring out the ingredients, testing the formulation, sourcing everything for production. I needed to do costing and pricing. Figure out bottles, UPC codes, and labels. I needed to get government approval, get the NPN number from Health Canada. First and foremost, I needed to keep my team safe, so there were about seven days where I was just working by myself during the day in the office, then in the lab at night, trying to coordinate everything from financing to packaging, with people in different time zones. We had our first shipment to our distributor by April 17, and launched online on May 1. 


LAURA: Is that your quickest go-to-market for a product?  

EVELYNE: Yes, that was definitely the quickest product I have ever launched. It’s funny how everything came together, from my label designer to the ingredient supplier. It was just nonstop, fire after fire, but then everybody was rising up to help. UPS was working with me through the night, making calls, getting packaging from China. They made sure that at least a few of my bottles made it on the flight coming into Canada — because there was a limit of 100 kilos a day from China. I was shocked by how everyone just jumped on to make it possible for us to get those products into market.


“For me, I’m doing it for my daughter, I’m doing it for my daughter’s friends, because if they don’t see us do it, if they don’t see us excelling, they will continue going around in circles. And there’s nothing that gives me more happiness than when I see another woman succeed.”


LAURA: And you launched another new product — Radiance Serum — on April 3rd, just three weeks after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. I’m assuming those plans were in the works prior, so how did you have to adapt? And how did it go?

EVELYNE:  I had been formulating the Radiance Serum for the last two years, to support the physiological changes that happen as women transition into menopause. Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly I was wondering, what do we do? Do we launch the product? Do we not launch the product?”

I consulted with my team, and we agreed we just had to continue as if there was no pandemic going on. There were a few things we had to change, of course. Normally we would have a demo program going and all of that got cancelled — we quickly adapted by providing samples to stores, so they could continue to build that brand awareness for us. We had to focus on our online presence as well, and make sure that we’re providing an easy experience to buy online,  including free shipping in North America. 

It was nerve-wracking, but I kept telling myself, ‘Trust the process.’ And then our first batch sold out within two weeks. Actually, in terms of launch success, this has performed better than any other new product of ours.


LAURA: That’s amazing. You’ve had success pivoting quickly with hand sanitizer, and staying the course with your Radiance Serum. What do you think helped you through two great launches?

EVELYNE: It’s a few things. Like I said, trust in the process. Are you going to be scared? Yes. Are you going to doubt? Yes, but do it anyways. The plan has to continue, because ultimately, when I look on my wall, I see my targets, I see the goals. So, I keep working on the plan, adjusting it as we go, being flexible, but always bearing the targets in mind. This is a little detour, but still, the destination hasn’t changed. 

The other piece is taking care of yourself, because stress is such a big deal. I’m always taking those mental health days, going to the mountains where my phone doesn’t work, taking that step back, and thinking, I’m still strong enough, I can be resilient, there’s absolutely nothing that does not have a solution to it. 

It’s also thinking about what motivates you, which for me, is my daughter. When all this happened, I was motivated to build something that, a few years down the road, she can say, ‘You know what I saw when we had the pandemic? My mom launched this new product and this is how we survived.’ I strongly believe that young girls can not be the women they don’t see.


LAURA: It sounds like it really comes back to that original mission of yours, to build a brand that inspires your daughter and helps women?

For me, I’m doing it for my daughter, I’m doing it for my daughter’s friends, because if they don’t see us do it, if they don’t see us excelling, they will continue going around in circles. And there’s nothing that gives me more happiness than when I see another woman succeed. I just want to see as many women as possible build big businesses. We need to move away from that idea of, ‘I’m doing my own little thing in the corner.’  

My mother was one of the pioneers in our county in Kisii, Kenya, talking about gender equality and development for women. I don’t want her work to be in vain, in a world where we’re still talking about the same thing over and over. We have it in our power as women to take action, but sometimes we need someone else’s help to conquer that fear so that we feel more confident to actually jump in the water — somebody has to start swimming in that cold, deep water first. 

My advice: Be the first to jump in, and you might just be giving someone else permission to do the same.


Hockey legend Cassie Campbell-Pascall opens up about the importance of sport — even during a pandemic.

For Cassie Cambell-Pascall, hockey is more than just a career. She recently spoke with Lisa Ferkul, Director of Hockey Sponsorship at Scotiabank, on the return of the NHL, supporting women’s hockey, and the new documentary she’s featured in, Hockey 24 — highlighting stories of community hockey from across Canada.  


With NHL training camps set to start on July 10, hockey fans are excitedly getting closer to the return of a season that was put on hold nearly four months ago. But to equate Canada’s official national winter sport with just the NHL would be selling it short — it’s more than one league, and to many, it goes far deeper than just armchair entertainment. 

Cassie Campbell-Pascall would certainly agree on both counts. One of the most successful and recognized players in women’s hockey, she won 21 medals with Canada’s National Women’s team, including six golds at the World Championships, and two Olympic gold medals while captain — the only Canadian hockey captain, male or female, to achieve that feat.

Since retiring in 2006, she’s kept her focus on the game — as a broadcaster for Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada (and the first woman to do colour commentary on the show), and a Scotiabank Teammate, acting as an ambassador to the organization. 

She recently checked in with Lisa Ferkul, Director of Hockey Sponsorship at Scotiabank. Over the eight years, they’ve worked together on programs like Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada — where they annually coach side-by-side — Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest, and the Scotiabank Community Hockey Sponsorship Program, their business relationship has developed into a friendship, built on a mutual love of the good ol’ hockey game. 


LF: I know we’re here to talk about hockey, but let me start by asking: how has this pandemic been for you? How have you and your family been coping?

CCP: I would say for the first three weeks, I took advantage of a mandated break that I probably would have never taken for myself. I was just coming into the busiest time of my season, where I was heading off to the Women’s World Championship and then I was going to go straight into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Then all of a sudden this hit, and you’re told to stay home. And so for three weeks, I kind of went off the grid — I didn’t do anything on social media, I spent time with my family, got jobs done around the house, and became a homeschool teacher, like every other parent out there that has their kids at home. 

And then you start to think, this is serious, people have lost their lives. I made a list of things I could do. I started a program called #JoinTheMovement, where we just try to get people to get active across the country. I supported Ronald McDonald House in Calgary — I’m an ambassador for RMHC — by buying meals with my family. I’ve had my great days and I’ve had my really hard days, where you’re scared and you wonder, is life going to ever be normal again?


LF: Yeah, the biggest thing for me is keeping perspective. I feel lucky that no one in my immediate circle has been severely impacted by the virus. And I’m very fortunate to work for Scotiabank — the bank has been extremely supportive of its employees. I wasn’t travelling as much as you were for work, but I had a pretty busy professional and social calendar, so I’ve been finding that this has been a time to slow down as well. But I do miss going to hockey games.   

CCP: Well, we know the NHL is coming back, but there’s so much we still don’t know. I mean, they have a plan that they’ve set out, but it all kind of depends on everything. For me, as a broadcaster, I don’t know whether I’ll be live at the venue, or broadcasting from a studio in Toronto, or from home here in Calgary. 

The one thing I can say for sure is we want the teams to play for the Stanley Cup. I believe hockey, and sport in general, can really help people get through this. I’m hoping it comes back sooner than later. 


LF: I totally agree. Hockey matters to Canadians. And by that, I mean hockey right down to the community level, right down to the kids starting out. You were seven when you first started playing, right?

CCP: Yes, and when I started, I think like so many young girls of my generation, it was because I had an older brother who played, and I wanted to be just like him. There wasn’t a girls’ league or minor women’s hockey at the time. I’d go to the rink and I’d be playing mini-stick hockey in the corner with some tape balls and all the other siblings. Finally, I just said to my parents, ‘Why can’t I play?’ They were worried about me getting picked on, but they let me play and I loved it so much. 

I loved it so much that I didn’t listen to the people that I heard, loud and clear, say ‘Girls shouldn’t play hockey’ as I walked into the rink. I loved it enough to ignore being made fun of and just kind of store those things in the back of my brain. And when I made my first Olympic team, those things kind of came out, like, that’s kind of funny you said that. 

You’re a lot younger than me, but I know you played hockey growing up, and you still probably were told that as a girl you shouldn’t play. 


LF: Yeah, I don’t know about a lot younger, but I did have the opportunity to play girls’ hockey, whereas when you started out you were playing with the boys and there weren’t many women hockey players to look up to. Fortunately, that’s changed. 

CCP: I think it’s been so important that people like you are in positions of strength at organizations like Scotiabank, because you fight for us behind the scenes, and fight to make women’s hockey just as much a part of the branding and marketing plans. I think that’s what has changed. 


“And I think for me, I get to sit in NHL arenas all the time, and call NHL games, and I’ve played at the highest level of women’s hockey, and sometimes you just forget about what hockey is really about — which is our kids.”


LF: Well, at Scotiabank we really believe that hockey is for everybody, and that we need to do our part to make it inclusive to everyone — which is such a great segue into Scotiabank’s Hockey 24. This documentary that we put together — with help from award-winning filmmakers, Scotiabank Teammates like you, and a lot of Canadians — is really about how community hockey in Canada isn’t just one story, it’s millions of stories. 

CCP: It’s such an important message, and I’m so glad I was able to be a part of it. The day it was all filmed on, November 17, is my daughter’s birthday, and we were participating in the Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest here in Calgary, and she was there with all her current teammates from this year and a bunch from last year, and she was just so excited. 

And I think for me, I get to sit in NHL arenas all the time, and call NHL games, and I’ve played at the highest level of women’s hockey, and sometimes you just forget about what hockey is really about — which is our kids. And it’s not only about trying to make some great players, but I think you want to try and make them great people, and this documentary really showed that hockey has the power to do that. 


LF: I don’t know if you know the background, but originally Hockey 24 was set to premiere during Hot Docs, an international documentary film festival here in Toronto. And when isolation was imposed and the live festival was cancelled, we called our friends at Sportsnet to release it on broadcast on May 24 — in the middle of a pandemic, in the absence of the game we love on the ice. 

CCP: Well, I think when it was released, I think people needed it. People needed to share in these messages of adversity and how people overcame them through hockey. Those were the stories that I was looking forward to seeing, which don’t often get told. And I think with Hockey 24, to have those grassroots stories told by Canadians and produced by Canadians — I mean, it’s something that’s never been done before, so I was definitely excited to be part of it that day, and then to see the final product.  


LF: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. There were so many inspiring stories — like the stories of Nicole, or Ainslie — that really conveyed how hockey is more than just a sport. 

CCP: And I’ve seen that in the other work I do with Scotiabank’s hockey initiatives. About a half-dozen times, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the kids I taught at Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest back when it started, 15 years ago, who are now coming back as an instructor for the program. 

That’s really powerful to me because that means she’s come through Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest as a six or seven year old, she’s found a love of the game, she saw a role model in someone who played on the national team or at a high level, and she just kept loving this game. Right through those teenage years when it gets tough, right through those years when you’re going off to university and you have no idea what you’re going to do and no idea what you’re going to take, but you know you’re going to play hockey — and it kind of grounds you through that. And then you’re back at this program that helped influence you at a young age, and I find that cycle very powerful. I know we lose a lot of girls at the age of 12 to 14 in sport for a variety of reasons. And so to see that evolution of a young player, to have met her a long time ago and then see her again and who she’s become as a person, who she’s become as a leader, those are some powerful moments. That’s when you realize you’ve had an impact, you’ve made a difference. 

That’s why, with Scotiabank, to support the women’s game as much as you have behind the scenes, I can’t even thank you enough. The impact that this company has had on women’s hockey is second to nobody. I know it sounds corporate and cliché, but it’s true — I’ve worked with a lot of different companies over the years where I’m there as the token woman, and I’ve never been made to feel like that here. So I just want to thank you for being you, and for pushing things behind the scenes, and for being a great friend.


LF: Well I’m going to echo the same sentiment. Thank you for being a Teammate, confidante, and such a dear friend.

Meet Edith Lassiat: from 20 years as a global luxury marketer to exhibiting as an artist in Europe and the USA

Edith Lassiat’s career journey has taken her around the world. From 20 years spent in marketing for brands including Cartier, YSL, and Descamps, to exhibiting as an artist in Europe and the USA. She’s also been an art critic (she’s the founder of contemporary art magazine Exporevue), an art director for galleries, and she’s edited four books. Since 2014, Edith has turned her focus to helping women who want to contribute to changing the world for the better, through business coaching, speaking, online programmes, and Leadership Masterminds and MasterClasses. Married for 35 years, she’s a mother of two. 


My first job ever was… Marketing Assistant for a small European company in wallpaper business. It took me to Germany, Austria and then 1 year in New York. I loved the idea of being involved in design and decoration. I created a ”collector’s” collection for US Market called “Tête à Tête”…  The premisses of my artist flair :-). With my own sketches and a poem inside. Soooo French! 

15 years later an old stylist of a group I was leading a negotiation within New York, asking me about the reason of my good level in English, suddenly understood I had also worked in wallpaper business and smiled at me saying: ”Tete à Tete”, it was YOU?

My love for art began… Very early, I think I’ve always loved art. Painting, sketching, sculpting, photographs… I remember I offered my father, who was a fine musician, a portrait of Debussy done by myself when I was 14… 

I decided to pursue a career in marketing because… it was for me the best way to travel around the world, discover and understand as many cultures as I could. And because I felt I would meet incredible people… It actually happened, I worked with Yves Saint Laurent and became part of the outstanding world of Cartier.

My proudest accomplishment is… To have been recruited at 28 years as area manager, to supervise half of the world for Cartier. A jump into an incredible world, and a reward as it turned into a successful challenge, and gave my career huge momentum.

My boldest move to date was… To quit marketing and de-luxe industry when I was 39, in order to explore my passion for art. I chose to learn the art of Quattrocento (15th century in Italy, a period of the genius of Renaissance painters) with a Master, Pierre Yves Gianini. I became an artist who could exhibit in USA and all over Europe. 


Be yourself, push the limits, connect with your Higher Self, and trust your intuition, and nourish JOY at each moment of your life!


I surprise people when I tell them… 

  1. That I landed twice in VENICE in a private helicopter with my husband… and that I learned to fly for the sake of love. I did it in order to be part of his passion, even though I was really scared of piloting.
  2. That I quitted my first job and safety, when I was 24, to spend one year in South America, with as little as 4 $ a day. To find out who I really was !
  3. That even though I accomplished so much, I am still the ”Champion of Imposter Syndrome”… It is my very best friend. I never really could get rid of it! But together we can do miracles :-).

My best advice that I like to share…is to be yourself, push the limits, connect with your Higher Self, and trust your intuition, and nourish JOY at each moment of your life! LESS IS MORE WITH JOY!

My best advice from a mentor was…be authentic, focus on your Genius Zone, and dare to be excellent…

I would tell my 20-year old self… stay with me, express your dreams and desires. Together we can make all our dreams come true. See what we already did !!!

My biggest setback was… well, it was my best gift as well… ”My 1 million $ lesson”. We made a very bad investment 15 year ago, which could have put us down. It really scared me, but also gave me the strength to do all that had to be done. In the end, I got out of this nightmare, stronger, more confident, and closer than ever to my husband.

I overcame it by… understanding that there was a hidden gift, that I had an inner strength which was limitless, that I was guided, that it was worthwhile fighting, that my ego had no place at the time, and that I would really grow through this challenge. Also, I understood that money is not the most important thing in life, love is a higher value. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

A conversation with Pam Palmater on COVID, racism, and Indigenous communities

Speaker: Dr.Pam Palmater, Mi’kmaq lawyer, professor, activist and politician. Interviewed by Stephania Varalli, Co-CEO, Head of Media at Women of Influence 


Within the first few minutes of the conversation, one thing is clear: it is impossible to understand the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous people living in Canada without knowledge of the centuries of struggle that came before it, and the racism, oppression, and genocide that they were experiencing already.

On these topics, Dr. Pamela Palmater is an authority — a result of more than 25 years of focus on First Nations issues, studying, volunteering, advocating, and working as a lawyer, Associate Professor, and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. A Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick, Pam has spoken internationally on Indigenous issues and authored three books on the subject; her latest, Warrior Life: Indigenous Resistance and Resurgence, just became available for preorder.

We spoke with Pam on June 3, the one-year anniversary of the release of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. On the same day, Pam published an article that shows through statistics that Canada has a racism problem, and Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check.

And so the conversation started not on COVID, but on injustice.







June 3, 2020 – one year of Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls


COVID as an excuse


Lack of sex and race data collection during the pandemic 


The most at-risk group without a plan and funding


Delays in the pandemic within First Nations communities


Indigenous land, the pipeline and a violation of basic human rights


Equal rights for everyone


Growing up in Canada without knowing about the genocide and racism around us


What is a good Canadian ally?


Lifting other voices and why change does not come overnight


Q&A: How Harleen Kaur is adapting to a new normal.

Harleen is a former NASA engineer. She worked primarily on satellites and NASA’s New Horizons probe (which is currently on a mission to explore dwarf planets past Pluto). After NASA, Kaur became the first female VP at Rolls-Royce Jet Engines. Harleen approached the news problem as an engineer might: “Having worked with satellite camera technology so powerful it could spot pipes leaking, it is unimaginable to me that we still don’t have access to a set of crystal-clear, undisputed facts about what’s happening on the planet.” She shares how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her work at Ground News, the most important problem in the news that she is solving, and a reminder to other entrepreneurs. 


What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

Growth! We are at a stage where we have more and more users paying for our product each day. With a product that meets a market need, our main bottleneck is the number of people we can make aware of our product. Our best channel has been putting our product in front of people via social media, our new website, our Blindspot Report newsletter, and letting people see what news they have entirely missed out on.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

Getting consumers to burst their Content Bubbles. Content bubbles are one of the most dangerous things that tech has ever created. While they give us funny videos and captivating articles, they also exacerbate any convictions that we hold. Simply put, being fed content that we disagree with is bad for engagement and consequently, bad for business. A person’s worldview is shaped by their newsfeed, rather than the other way around.

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Ground News Pro has been very successful in providing hundreds of thousands of consumers the most diverse perspectives on a single news story, so a normal person who is not a journalist can understand news without Bias and Geopolitical agenda mixed with it. People are so happy with this solution that we have over 10k paying consumers, while there are thousands of free news products out there that they can use.

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

Given that we have hundreds of thousands of customers, we heavily rely on analytics to understand their feedback. We actively communicate with customers through email and video calls. We also ensure that we reply to every single Review so that customers feel like we appreciate their feedback, even if it is negative.

With the team, we have heavily relied on Slack and Google Meet during this testing time. We have started new traditions like remote team lunch, where everyone orders the food delivery and we share lunch on the video call.


The news industry has gotten a new spotlight in this pandemic and I’m sure other startups can find fresh unaddressed opportunities in the new normal.”


What has surprised you? 

Everyone is aware of News Bias on how they cover stories, but the total lack of coverage by left-leaning or right-leaning media on certain topics has totally surprised us. We started making coverage distribution charts and have discovered certain topics get very lop-sided coverage. We recently started doing a weekly newsletter called the Blindspot Report, which has more than 100k subscribers.

How far ahead are you planning? 

One thing that we have done well is not to plan the company forward, but to plan the market’s need backward. We took a laundry list of issues in the news industry that were in the path of our mission to create a better informed and more critically thinking public. Issues like misinformation, sensationalism, bias, special interests, echo chambers, corruption, and lack of financial sustainability for news outlets. Now that’s not the nicest list of things, but with thoughtful application of technology; I can say we’ve managed to create solutions that deal with about half of those issues. We have a path forward on the more complex ones, and when we think about company and product line expansion, that’s what we think backward from: what resources do we need to end this issue in the news people read.

What keeps you positive?

Deliver value to our subscribers. Every week I send out the Blindspot Report newsletter, highlighting the 5-6 news stories of the week which have the most lopsided coverage from left-leaning or right-leaning media. Within 10 minutes of sending it out, we have over 10,000 opens and a flurry of activity from positive reply emails, social media mentions, and people opening up their wallets to subscribe to Ground News Pro. It is a very positive feeling to know that so many people look forward to our work. 

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

If you can weather the Covid storm which is in no means easy there is opportunity on the other side. Static circumstances help large companies keep the status quo, turbulent times mean startups like ours can make strides that were not possible before. The news industry has gotten a new spotlight in this pandemic and I’m sure other startups can find fresh unaddressed opportunities in the new normal.

Q&A: How Julia Rivard Dexter is adapting to a new normal.

Julia Rivard Dexter is an innovative tech entrepreneur focused on impact, one of the top 50 Canadian women in STEM, former Olympian, and mother of 4. Julia has founded and led several successful technology ventures, including as CEO of Google’s first North American premier GoogleApps partner. Currently, Julia’s is Co-Founder and CEO of Squiggle Park | Dreamscape which aims to improve literacy rates for children worldwide through a hyper-engaging game platform. In 2019, their digital games for reading won the title of “most innovative education technology” at the Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, Florida. Recently, Rivard Dexter was recognized as “Best-In-Class” Rally Social Enterprise Accelerator. Julia is also a member of the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s, Economic Round Table for the Digital Industries, and a member of the Board of Nova Scotia Power. In this What Now column, Julia shares the importance of online educational resources during the pandemic and the advice she has for businesses struggling with their finances. 


What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

Right now we are focused on diving deep. Since we launched our newest literacy game in January 2019, we have seen rapid growth with millions of users playing. This has given us the opportunity to dig into huge amounts of data to draw insights that help us understand our users more. These insights help us continue to improve how we deliver literacy learning in the most effective, and engaging ways through digital games.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

Kids today will spend 10,000 hours video gaming by the time they graduate high school. This is the same amount of time they will spend in every class over the same period if they have perfect attendance – gaming is not going away. As time spent gaming has increased, kids literacy rates have been on a steady decline, and most kids now report they have no interest in reading at all by the time they are in high school. Given the direct link between reading, and comprehension, and that ability for higher-level reasoning, there are massive impacts to low literacy both individually, and collectively as a society.

Parents eyes have been opened. During the recent COVID-19 crisis, and the overnight shift to homeschooling, parents have become painfully aware of the need for valuable, rigorous ,and engaging online tools for their kids. They are tired of arguing with their kids about screen time, and many have given up, but this is not ok. As parents, and learning guardians, we have to be stewards of the right kind of online activities for our kids, ones that are designed to help them reach their potential in life. We wouldn’t let our kids eat sugar three meals a day, why are we complicit in allowing dozens of hours of unregulated weekly online time.

We help solve this problem by developing games like Dreamscape, which are as fun as the video games kids play to keep them engaged. The difference with our games is the learning engine that delivers each player personalized reading, and comprehension skill development based on the best literacy research, and aligned with the curriculum. Kids love the game, and spend 6x more time reading each week than the average. The added bonus for parents, and teachers is the ability to see the reading time spent in the program dashboards, assign content for kids to work on, and help address specific reading skill gaps that are identified.

Ultimately, we have found a trusted, and effective way to motivate kids to love, and learn. Imagine that…guilt-free screen time!

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

When we launched Dreamscape, a game focused on literacy for kids in grades 3 to 8+ we knew we had something special but we weren’t sure how kids, and teachers would respond. Feedback from both has been so powerful, and we know we have really delivered a program that addresses a real need. Here is an example:

“I used Dreamscape when teaching middle school last year, and now 3rd grade this year. My middle school students who struggled with reading had such an increase in their reading test scores they were removed from reading resources. All my students, at every level, are obsessed with Dreamscape!” Cathleen Fracis, Taylor Ranch Elementary, Grade 3-5 Teacher


Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you will be amazed at how far you can go.


How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

We do everything online. Since we are a digital company this has been a part of our fabric since the beginning. We use the best online collaboration tools to keep meetings engaging, and try to add elements of learning and fun in everything we do. Our mentor program for teachers allows us to connect on a regular basis with hundreds of wonderful educators who provide us with product feedback to help with continuous improvement.

We stay connected to kids through online class visits where the class can provide their candid feedback on the Dreamscape game, and how we can build features they love. We also use this time to bring in team members to share their experience with the kids on how they became game developers, and designers, customer support people, and testers. This is an engaging way to help inspire kids to see different career paths aligned with what they love.

What advice do you have for businesses struggling with their finances? 

We have always tried to be disciplined in our spend, and this is an important piece of advice for all businesses. There is little value in investing in something without understanding the impact it will have on what you are trying to achieve. The other important piece of advice we have followed is how critical it is to truly understand your business model and product-market fit. When you have done both successfully, the feeling is more like riding a wave than pushing a boulder up a hill.

Finally, it is easy to think you need the financing first to drive a sustainable business to achieve your purpose but this thinking is misguided. Instead, if you focus on your purpose to drive a sustainable business, the financing will come much more successfully and from the right sources.

What has surprised you? 

I have been surprised about how much work we have ahead of us to improve our education systems to be successful for all kids.

How far ahead are you planning? 

When we think of the asset of our business, the learning engine, we are thinking 5-7 years ahead. Internally we stay focused on the year ahead, and our planning is broken down into quarterly, monthly, and weekly initiatives to make sure we are all aligned, and achieving initiatives that will help the company win.

What keeps you positive?

Time with my kids keeps me positive. Being able to be focused on what is in front of me gives me a feeling of balance. I also am inspired every day by the team members around me, and feel most positive when I see them achieving something exceptional either personally or professionally because they have been given the environment to succeed at our company. Finally, I love winning, so seeing us achieve the targets we set out to reach is something that feels great. It means we are having a positive impact on improving literacy learning, and building a business that will scale, that is why we do what we do.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you will be amazed at how far you can go.

Q&A: How Ugochi Owo is adapting to a new normal.

Ugochi Owo is the founder and CEO of Flindel, a reverse logistics and prop-tech startup focused on automating commerce returns. They make returning anything ridiculously easy for consumers of retail businesses and viable for retailers. They make it possible for consumers of retail stores to drop off their returns from the comfort of their homes, without risking the exposure and inconvenience of venturing outdoors. Ugochi shares with us how her company has adapted to the current landscape, advice on financial resources available, which solutions have been more successful, and which area of her business has been getting the bulk of her focus.


What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

In light of COVID, we have had to direct much of our resources towards supporting the surge in demand for our services. Retailers are looking to optimize the experience of their consumers and profit off of every return, while property managers are eager to partner with us towards increasing the safety of their tenants.


What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

We are making the headache of commerce returns a thing of the past. We believe in a future where returning anything will be as easy as ordering a pizza from your phone.


What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Our services for property management groups towards helping increase the safety of their tenants have been our most requested offering in light of the pandemic. We’ve made it possible for tenants to drop off their returns from the comfort of their homes without having to risk exposure and be inconvenienced to head to the store or post office. This model has especially been proven a necessity in light of COVID-19, and is why our business is quickly becoming among the leaders in this space. Property Managers are eager to integrate our amenity into their spaces to continue their ongoing responsibility of keeping their tenants safe. We are looking forward to continuing to support this initiative.


How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

Tools like Workplace by Facebook, frequent email updates, and check-ins are great for keeping everyone connected.


“Keep going, regardless of how tough things may seem currently, the path always clears for the determined. Remember why you started this journey and keep moving forward.”


What advice do you have for businesses struggling with their finances?

My advice is to find creative ways to increase cash flow, especially during these times. One of my favourite stories is that during the 2008 US Presidential elections, a struggling company at the time paid off over $20k worth of credit card debt by producing limited-edition cereal named after the leading candidates, Barack Obama, and John McCain. That company grew to be what we all know as Airbnb and is now worth more than the five largest hotel chains combined. There is always a way for the determined. Do what you need to do to ensure that the business survives.


What has surprised you? 

What makes the startup industry so magical is its pay it forward culture. Most people are willing to share their stories, grant a listening ear, or make introductions because someone once helped them on their journey. I love this and I try to do the same as well and make myself available for upcoming entrepreneurs. My Twitter DMs are always open @ugochiowo 


How far ahead are you planning? 

As the economy continues to shift, we are collecting data points to aid in our prediction of what the future will look like. We try to have as much foresight as possible by looking at patterns in historical data for our industry. We think both long term, short term, and give ourselves the grace to learn as we go while understanding that no plan is ever truly concrete. No one would have been able to predict the sheer economic impact of the pandemic, however, the flexible entrepreneur is able to make adjustments accordingly.


What keeps you positive?

Imagining the future and the impact of what we’re building fuels my optimism. We are so excited to be surrounded by incredible minds who are driven by the sheer determination to build something that will have a long-lasting impact on this industry.


What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Keep going, regardless of how tough things may seem currently, the path always clears for the determined. Remember why you started this journey and keep moving forward.

Q&A: How Anne Genge is adapting to a new normal.

Anne Genge is CDM 2020 Global Cyber Defense Award Winner – ‘Most Innovative Woman in Cybersecurity.’ She is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/C) with a specialization in small business and healthcare. In 2017, she co-founded Alexio Corporation, now a national and global award-winning cybersecurity firm. Alexio is Canada’s award-winning automated data protection suite for small businesses. Security automation has never been more relevant as millions of people have moved to working from home without the same safeguards of corporate network security. Alexio provides an automated multi-layer approach to computer endpoint security virtually eliminating manual processes, labour, and the problems associated with variation of human talent. Anne and her team are champions in the use of automation and machine-learning to solve data security and cyber-risk for small to medium-sized businesses nationwide. She shares how Alexio is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic; what are the company’s successes, financial resources, and which areas of the business are getting the bulk of her energy.  


“With cybercrime heading into the tens of billions of records stolen and potentially trillions of dollars in damages, we are proud to recognize Anne Genge as an award-winning innovator that offers a new approach to defeat these criminals.”

Pierlugi Paganini, Editor-in-Chief, Cyber Defense Magazine.


What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

Having spent my entire career serving the healthcare industry, I understood we were likely in for a long haul when COVID hit. Like most people, I was unnerved by the uncertainty, but I knew that standing still would not be an option. My instinct was ‘I need to be helpful and I need to stay relevant’. We quickly put our energy into pushing out tools and supportive content to our clients and prospects which ended up connecting us to them in wonderful ways that might not have happened otherwise. You learn a lot about people through common calamity. 


What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

On the ‘giving back’ side of things, we immediately partnered with hEr VOLUTION to raise funds to help girls get access to the technology they need for online learning (See here)

From a business perspective, our mission has always been to solve data security in smaller organizations; primarily healthcare clinics. These entities are the guardians of the most sensitive information about an individual and yet they have very small budgets and resources to do it. We deliver enterprise-class cybersecurity and training at a price suitable for any sized clinic, even those with just one computer.


What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Our subscription-based cybersecurity solution Alexio Defender allows any sized business to get best-in-class cybersecurity and offers built-in cybersecurity training. We have helped hundreds of healthcare professionals across Canada. In the past year, we have won national and global awards for our cutting-edge technology and approach.


“It is amazing how a shared tragedy has brought people into a place of gratitude for what really matters. It is true… ‘you are not really rich until you have the things that money can’t buy’.”


How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

We were lucky as an organization as we had always leaned heavily on remote connectivity. Having been seasoned already, we became even more valuable to our clients because they quickly had to adapt to this, and we were able to provide great value to them by walking them through the video conferencing landscape. Again, we often drifted off into conversations that had more to do with navigating struggles together as human beings, not just ‘seller and buyer’.


What has surprised you? 

A wonderful surprise has been the ‘coming together’ of people. It is amazing how being apart, has actually made me more connected. This has happened with my clients, and also friends, and family. It is amazing how a shared tragedy has brought people into a place of gratitude for what really matters. It is true… ‘you are not really rich until you have the things that money can’t buy’.


How far ahead are you planning?

After the initial shock and paralysis, we decided to use the downtime to overhaul our processes. We are now planning quarterly initiatives 12 months out as well as keeping the 5-year goal in sight. We are doing this with the idea that the industry will still be cludgy as we will still be navigating without a vaccine. 


What keeps you positive?

I have an amazing team who have all rallied around the same mission which puts people before profits. I was blown away by our operations manager who, the minute we launched the hEr VOLUTION cause marketing campaign, bought a whole year subscription to our own product just to kick-off the program. It is things like that which put a smile on my face every day…I am surrounded by people (virtually) who make it a daily goal to just help where they can. It is the best of humanity shining through.


What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

My father was a serial entrepreneur. Some stuff worked and some stuff did not. It will always be that way. I never saw him stop. He accepted that some steps would be big, and some would be small, but we need to move forward regardless. This, along with being kind to ourselves is really important. If it were easy everyone would do it, and we are all unique warriors!

Q&A: How Alexandra McCalla is adapting to a new normal.

Alexandra is an ex-business consultant who has also worked at numerous scaling tech start-ups in Toronto and Silicon Valley, gaining experience in strategy, product management, operations, and client services/sales. She then turned her attention to the drone industry, joining AirMatrix as their Chief Operating Officer to build the future for our skies. She was recently awarded the Communitech Fierce Founders $100k prize and has been featured on Women in Drones. She shares how AirMatrix is navigating the current landscape, from what areas of the business are getting the most energy and focus to the financial resources that they have tapped into. 


What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?

Right now customer contracts and deployment, alongside building the team and strategy for international scale.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

Due to a lack of infrastructure, drone operations are unable to scale safely and efficiently in cities to benefit all sectors and aspects of society. With the rise of COVID-19, contactless modes of transportation, like drones, will play an increasingly pivotal role in society.

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

AirMatrix helps cities and enterprises prepare for, manage, and enable drone operations by building millimetre precise drone roads for dense urban environments. With our network of drone roads we provide a software application for the 3D routing, and command and control of multiple autonomous drones simultaneously. Here’s a quick 2-minute video describing what we do.

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?

Through regular zoom and google hangouts. Particularly scheduled one on one time with employees. This has been particularly important for new team members who we have hired and onboarded completely remotely. Building team spirit, even without meeting in person, has been a key to our recent successes.


“Focus on knowing, and healing, your inner critics and coping mechanisms – it will be the silent killer or winner to your success as a leader.”


What financial resources are you tapping into?

We have been accessing support through the NRC IRAP Innovation Assistance Program (IAP) as well as the $40k business loan. We are also a part of the Communitech Fierce Founders Intensive Track program and the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network.

What has surprised you?

Government/enterprise selling cycles and adoption has accelerated significantly over the past 6 months. The urgency and understanding of our value proposition are ringing louder than before.

How far ahead are you planning?

At the start of the pandemic we planned to make sure we could reach the end of the year, now we are planning into the end of 2021. With our experienced acceleration, we must capitalise on this momentum to scale.

What keeps you positive?

My team and our vision. Both internally around building a company of supportive people and externally on empowering the world with technology that can better help us deal with situations like the pandemic.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?

Focus on knowing, and healing, your inner critics and coping mechanisms – it will be the silent killer or winner to your success as a leader. 

A conversation with Pam Palmater on COVID, racism, and Indigenous communities

Within the first few minutes of the conversation, one thing is clear: it is impossible to understand the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous people living in Canada without knowledge of the centuries of struggle that came before it, and the racism, oppression, and genocide that they were experiencing already.  

On these topics, Dr. Pamela Palmater is an authority — a result of more than 25 years of focus on First Nations issues, studying, volunteering, advocating, and working as a lawyer, Associate Professor, and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. A Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick, Pam has spoken internationally on Indigenous issues and authored three books on the subject; her latest, Warrior Life: Indigenous Resistance and Resurgence, just became available for preorder. 

I spoke with Pam on June 3, the one-year anniversary of the release of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. On the same day, Pam published an article that shows through statistics that Canada has a racism problem, and Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check. 

And so our conversation started not on COVID, but on injustice.  

The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the complete discussion below.


Do you think the pandemic has been shining a bigger spotlight on the issues that Indigenous people in Canada face, or has it been a distraction? 

To me, COVID-19 has been used sadly as an excuse to deflect from the multiple crisis Canada was in prior to the pandemic. For months, we were in Wet’suwet’en Strong protests, that were anti-police violence, anti-police racism, anti-state oppression and breach of Indigenous rights — but even prior to that, Canada was already in the worst human rights crisis that it has ever faced. 

The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls found as a matter of fact and law — not theory or academic research, but fact and law — that Canada is guilty of historic and ongoing genocide, that Canada’s laws, policies, practices, actions and omissions are a direct cause of the crisis level rates of exploitation, disappearance and murders of Indigenous women and girls, and that Canada demonstrates it has a manifest pattern of intention to destroy Indigenous people — and that hasn’t changed, despite using different policy names. Everything is still about accessing our lands and resources and essentially assimilating Indigenous people, and they ignore all of the violence and premature death and ill health and poverty conditions as part of that. 

And so we should all be very concerned about COVID, but every pandemic in history has always disproportionately impacted Indigenous people, and in particular, Indigenous women. Indigenous people were overrepresented in H1N1, in terms of hospitalizations, intensive care, and death, and pregnant Indigenous women were also overrepresented in hospitalizations during that time.


Considering H1N1 disproportionately impacted indigenous communities in Canada, is anyone looking at those stats right now with respect to COVID?

Indian Affairs, which is so-called Indigenous Services Canada,[1] has been very criticized for not collecting enough data. They were reporting exceptionally low numbers, and so First Nations, knowing that this data was wrong and presenting the worst picture possible reported their own data to Ryerson University’s Yellowhead Institute — not all First Nations in Canada, but they got a large group to submit their numbers — and the numbers were almost three times higher than what Indian Affairs was reporting.

And that doesn’t even include all of the First Nations. If you don’t know where COVID is, who is infected, how can you contact trace that? How can you prevent it? First Nations for the last few months have been complaining that they haven’t been sent tests. There’s been no concerted, purposeful, intentional focus on the most at-risk, health-compromised population in this country, which is First Nations people.

Knowing that, do you think there has been an appropriate response?

The COVID pandemic should have resulted in a doubling of the effort to make sure that Indigenous women and girls are taken care of. That simply hasn’t been the case. There have been outbreaks in prisons, and Indigenous women are the fastest-growing population and already overrepresented in prisons — they represent 42 percent in federal corrections alone. Indigenous girls represent as high as 98 percent of the youth corrections population. 

So if you think about institutions and how they’re natural fermentors of the pandemic because of the overcrowding, lack of hygiene, lack of access to health care, then we know that Indigenous women and girls are at the highest risk because they are overrepresented in all these institutions. It’s just beyond belief that Canada didn’t immediately act on Indigenous women and girls with the report, but didn’t also immediately have a gendered pandemic plan for Indigenous women and girls, to target them first and foremost for protection. 


What gives you hope in all this?

I think the hope that I see is the ways in which specifically First Nations and Indigenous women have addressed murdered and missing women and girls, land-based protests and land-based defense, and even this pandemic — by asserting their own sovereignty. And we may be doing so in an underfunded capacity, in a marginalized, oppressed capacity, in a context of ongoing genocide and pandemic risk — but we continue to show our strength, and our resilience, and our leadership, and our commitment to our sovereignty as nations, to continue to do this for our people. 

There are literally a thousand stories of Indigenous women and girls serving their communities. They’re the most underserved, but they’re out there volunteering for elders, they’re cleaning, they’re bringing supplies, they’re advocating. They’re literally on the front line. And there are still women out there on the front lines of land defense and that’s where I find my hope. In the assertion and defense of our sovereignty and our territory, despite the overwhelming and monumental barriers, and the risk to our lives.

It’s really important that we get these stories out, and show Canadians that this is where hope is, supporting Native people in asserting and defending their sovereignty and territory, and the right to make decisions for themselves, that’s what will get us out of this. Canadians are starting to see that the things that we were advocating for and protesting against were the very same things that were going to benefit Canadians. So when we’re trying to defend clean water for First Nations, that’s actually a benefit to all Canadians, because we’re not going to live very long without clean water or farmable land. And similarly, when we’re defending human rights and civil liberties, that’s for everybody. And it’s a very slippery slope to say it’s okay to breach those rights for Native people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for Black people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for immigrants, now it’s okay to breach those rights for poor people — it never ends, and so we have to have an absolute stop against the breach of human rights, and that benefits all Canadians.


And what can all Canadians be doing to be better allies?

You don’t have to be working in a social justice advocacy organization to advocate loudly and strenuously and continuously. If you look at the Wet’suwet’en Strong solidarity action, again for most of the large marches and protests and rallies, the majority of them were Canadians, and again politicians took notice of that. So every letter, protest, large behind-the-scenes influence or donation — all of that makes a difference. But the thing is, it has to be vocal. It has to be aggressive. And when I say aggressive, I don’t mean violent — but it has to be pushy, and it has to be continuous, because that’s the only way it’s going to work.



[1] The Harper government replaced the minister of Indian Affairs with a minister of Aboriginal Affairs in 2011; the Trudeau government changed it to minister of Indigenous affairs in 2015, and then split the department in two — to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and Indigenous Services in 2017. It wasn’t until July 15, 2019, however, that the Department of Indian Affairs Canada was legally replaced. Many Indigenous activists, including Pam, saw the change as “more superficiality than substance.”

Meet Monique Peats, clinician and co-founder of an award-winning health tech

Monique Peats has always had a passion for helping people, and her resume proves it; she’s an awarded clinician, entrepreneur, co-author, international presenter and health tech innovator. Recognizing the challenge of stigma, shame and accessibility had long plagued those seeking support, she co-founded Life Recovery Program (LRP): Inward Strong — an award-winning, simple and practical online program for people coping with addiction, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues. Based in Waterloo, she also maintains a private psychotherapy practice. 


My first job ever was… delivering a small local paper, the Waterloo Chronicle, at the age of 12,  as well as babysitting. I remember a neighbour hired me to look after her 3-month-old, and I knew nothing about babies. I laugh now, because I have no idea what she was thinking when she decided to leave her newborn with a 12-year-old (it may have had something to do with the fact that I lived two doors down and my mom was at home during the day so able to help at any time). Upon reflection, that’s who I am — curious and open — so even if I don’t fully know how to do something, I’ll try my best and allow myself to experience what often ends up being a growth-full moment. 

I decided to go into psychotherapy because… I simply wanted to help people, to try to make a difference. This desire to help people was quite strong even at a young age.  I tossed around several possibilities: lawyer, doctor, pastor, teacher, then clinician. During my studies at a private college, I stumbled on “systems thinking” and family therapy and became intrigued, and my passion and desire to help individuals and families navigate life evolved from there.  

My proudest accomplishment is… I’m extremely proud of my ability to be present and in the moment, even when it’s scary or painful. My dad passed away unexpectedly on May 21, 2020, and a few days later, I found a letter I wrote to him several years ago for Father’s Day expressing how amazing he was and how much I love him. Being present and in the moment causes me to give freely, express, share and process my thoughts and feelings without hindrances. We’ve all been impacted by the pandemic and the residual painful impact spotlighted in the media of injustice, inequality, disparity, pain and grief — and yet, I choose to feel it all, including the joy and gratitude of the gift of my life and all that it entails.  

I navigate my challenges by… As an entrepreneur, founder of an awarded online wellness program, who also juggles a private practice, being authentic with myself and others is imperative. I believe this perspective enables me to navigate some of the most challenging times and experiences both personally and professionally. It’s not always easy, yet authenticity of self enables me to acknowledge, reset, move through and adjust accordingly. 

My boldest move to date was… choosing to leave a salaried, secure job to work for myself as a clinician in private practice, to fully lean into my desire to be present with hurting people as they navigate some of life’s toughest journeys, and to take the leap to become a founder of a company that addresses the most stigmatized issues, mental health and addiction/behavioural.  Our company has experienced stigma because of the issues we’re trying to help resolve, yet it’s worth the bold effort because people are receiving help, one by one.

I surprise people when I tell them… that I co-hosted a late-night talk show and sang back-up for a friend who was a guest on City TV.

My partner and I started an online wellness program because… we both have clinical backgrounds and recognized that there aren’t enough qualified people to help all of the hurting souls who deserve access to mental health and behavioural health resources. We were saddened by the many stories and stats of people losing hope, suicides, broken relationships, and that so many experience blocks to access.


“Don’t lose your passion, don’t forget why you decided to do it in the first place, rest, laugh and have fun.”


My best advice to people starting out as an entrepreneur is… don’t lose your passion, don’t forget why you decided to do it in the first place, rest, laugh and have fun — if you believe and have passion, surround yourself with people who balance out your skills, focus on gratitude and choose to not take it personally, you’ll experience the satisfaction of knowing that you made a difference, whatever that means to you.

My biggest setback… occurred a few years ago when we finally received funding, had an amazing new team member, and focused on what seemed to be the right vertical to target our sales. Everything seemed so promising, we predicted the best financial targets to date, based on all of the opportunities and positive leads. Then it all fell apart — our targeted ‘perfect’ vertical that all of the market research validated had high need, high stigma (both mental health/addiction/behavioural issues etc..) and high desire for our self-directed anonymous solution, ended up having a low response to technology, meaning they weren’t open to utilizing an online solution. We were gutted. The role of stigma and shame was not accounted for in the market research. On top of it all, a key member of our team experienced a personal trauma.  The ripple effect was that we had to cut back and go back to a skeleton team. It was a devastating blow and we were all exhausted.

I overcame it by… choosing to not lose hope, resiliently recharge, refocus and rebuild. Remembering why we started all this, which is our desire to help meet a need that continues to devastate lives and families, has enabled us to focus on new verticals and opportunities that expanded our vision. We are now exploring opportunities in both Canada and the US.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… maintain a healthy balance consistently and rest to recharge. The only time I take a break and experience true reconnection with myself is when my husband ‘forces’ me to book a holiday someplace far away, which often involves hiking a mountain, exploring a new country or city.  Rather a tricky undertaking during a pandemic. I juggle my private practice, our company, and a personal life, which means that I am tired and exhausted a lot of the time — yet I love what I do and I am so grateful for it all and the amazing impact our online Inward Strong program is having on the lives of so many. I am a passionate person by nature, yet my goal is to be more passionate or compassionate towards myself, be more attentive and more mindful to notice when I need a break — so that I can chat with friends, read a book, take a course or whatever it may be that sparks my curiosity. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend time with friends and family, and then complete the four workshops and courses that are waiting in my inbox before they expire.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I took a course in hang gliding, sat on various boards, use to be involved in church ministry, sang in several vocal groups, performed in numerous musicals as well as performed and travelled as a soloist in a variety of venues across Canada and the US, and co-chaired and co-hosted the first Bell “Let’s Talk” event in the Waterloo region.

I stay inspired by… holding on to hope and faith. I know that there is a need, I know we have an awesome solution, and many have shared the power of our program and how it has made a positive difference in their lives. Inward Strong works — sometimes it’s easy to forget when you’re in the trenches that it really does work! — and for that I am grateful.

The future excites me because… Covid-19 has caused the tide to change in so many ways, and I believe the diversity that is now being highlighted across the board will become the new complexion of our world, it will become the norm rather than the novelty, at least that is my hope. 

My next step is… to choose to stand in hope for a better future for all of us, that diversity on all counts will become the new normal and to become a stronger voice that leads others towards hope, help and healing in whatever way I can, including and especially through our online resource.

25 Women to Watch: Succeeding in a COVID World

Canada51 was launched in 2020, with a mandate to grow into a collective of organizations, and individuals unlocking capital to invest inclusively in women-entrepreneurs and women-led companies. As a first step, we have convened our first Canada51 Capital Council. We have partnered with Women of Influence to amplify the stories of these women and their companies, and over the next few weeks you can learn more about them as part of the Women of Influence What Now series.


by Danielle Graham 


2020 has been a year of disruption and change. We are living through the first pandemic of our lifetimes; Millennial’s second financial crisis and the inequalities of our systems are more exposed than ever. Amidst the chaos, there is also an opportunity to break things down and rebuild, to expose what wasn’t working and find solutions to make it better.

Even while facing less access to capital, struggles in the start-up phase and outdated prejudices about women in leadership, women’s entrepreneurship is accelerating within Canada and beyond. In the spirit of collaboration and like-minded missions, Sandpiper Ventures from the east coast and The51 from the west, have come together to launch a new, national partnership to unlock capital and invest in women-led startups across Canada.

The result of our combined knowledge and shared networks is called Canada51.  This inclusive network is intended to grow to include all key organisations and people across Canada who see this as a social mandate and financial and economic opportunity.  Canada51 is committed to increase the participation of women as investors and business leaders and amplify the success of women tech entrepreneurs. 

Within Canada’s technology sector, only 25% of the 4,000 angel and seed-funded software companies have raised enough capital to see them through to the end of 2020. Entrepreneurs are now prioritizing survival by reducing burn and/or production costs. The devastating impact of mothballing exciting growth opportunities and reducing overhead became evident when Statistics Canada reported the second-highest unemployment rate on record at 12% with over 2.4 million Canadians filing employment insurance claims. 

If businesses don’t make it out of this crisis, not only will the impact on the lives of these entrepreneurs and their employees be devastating, the economic engine of this country will cease to exist. Subsequently, Canada’s burgeoning technology ecosystem, one that was just starting to make strides in enabling diverse founders, will become a shell of its former self, with the effort of many over the previous decade amounting to nothing. The silver lining is that COVID-19 is paving the way for a new, higher-tech future, with the potential for faster technology adoption at all levels of society. 

Recognizing that the innovation engine is what keeps our economy running during this crisis, we have been continually inspired by how entrepreneurs have stepped up and built critical solutions in the fight against COVID-19. Within the tech startup ecosystem specifically, we have had countless conversations with founders from coast to coast who are positioning themselves to weather this storm. 

Canada 51’s COVID-specific response is one of the first of many collaborations to amplify women entrepreneurs nationally. We are all investors focused on women founders, and these are founders we’ve known over the years from our programs, community engagement and portfolios. They are forward-thinking and performing exceptionally well even in such challenging times because their tech solutions are exactly what’s needed for our future economy.

These founders are examples of the resilience, strength and leadership our communities need. Below they share their perspectives on the future, and the lessons they are from COVID-19 as we collectively pivot. 

  1. Drones

Alex McCalla, COO & Co-founder of AirMatrix

AirMatrix helps cities and enterprises prepare for, manage and enable drone operations by building millimetre-precise drone roads for dense urban environments. Learn how AirMatrix is helping high-density cities create safe, scalable and efficient transportation systems here.

  1. Fake News

Harleen Kaur, CEO & Co-founder of Ground News

Ground News is the world’s first ‘News Comparison Platform’ aggregating news from 50,000+ publications globally, across the political spectrum. Learn how Ground News provides consumers with deeper coverage analysis to address the problems of misinformation, political bias and sensationalism here.

  1. Artificial Intelligence

Erin Kelly, CEO of Advanced Symbolics

Advanced Symbolics is a market research leader, with Polly, its proprietary Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. Learn how Advanced Symbolics helps businesses and governments better understand their audiences here

  1. Artificial Intelligence  

Donna Litt, COO & Co-founder of Kiite

Kiite, a leading provider of AI solutions for sales, helps sales teams capture, organize and share their documented and tribal knowledge. Learn how their tech sales training program, operating as Uvaro, equips recruits to pursue or grow their careers in tech sales here.

  1. Cybersecurity

Anne Genge, CEO & CO-founder of Alexio Corporation

Alexio Corporation is an award-winning CyberRisk prevention software and training company for healthcare practices and other small to medium-sized businesses. Learn how Alexio specializes in delivering enterprise-class cyber-security to smaller networks here.

  1. Digital Health

Kristal Lewis, Founder & CEO at Senior Care Connect

Senior Care Connect offers a web platform that easily connects those seeking a caregiver with caregivers offering services for hire. Learn how Senior Care Connect is giving families peace of mind and reducing the cost of care delivered here.

  1. Education

Julia Rivard Dexter, Co-Founder & CEO of Squiggle Park

Squiggle Park, one of the fastest-growing EdTech games of 2018, uses a scientifically backed reading methodology for Pre K-2 students to accelerate mastery of skills development in phonemes, phonemic awareness, word work, spelling and more. Learn how Squiggle Park helps students master the skills required to become a strong reader here.

  1. The Gig Economy / Remote Work

Bobbie Racette, CEO & Founder of Virtual Gurus

The Virtual Gurus is a Talent-as-a-Service (TaaS) platform that matches businesses and entrepreneurs with onshore, Canadian and US-based virtual assistants using a proprietary algorithm. Learn how The Virtual Gurus provides an inclusive, cost-effective solution here.

  1. Utilities

Elaine Kelly, COO & Co-founder, Klir

Klir’s integrated water regulatory compliance platform helps water utilities manage their compliance and regulation more effectively. Learn how Klir is helping make water safer here.

  1. Mobile Apps / Artificial Intelligence

Eyra Abraham, CEO & Founder of Lisnen

Lisnen is a mobile application that provides safety and situational awareness to people with hearing loss using AI. Learn how Lisnen is making life easier and safer for the deaf and hard of hearing here.

  1. Financial Services 

Marina Mann, CEO & Co-founder of EatSleepRIDE

EatSleepRIDE Motorcycle GPS® (ESR) is a social, tracking and safety platform for motorcycle riders, with its smartphone technology using mobility tools coupled with AI to improve safety and reduce motorcycle-related injury. Learn how Eat Sleep Ride Mobile is powering new kinds of insurance and making motorcycles more accessible and safer here.

  1. Digital Health

Huda Idrees, Founder & CEO at Dot Health

Dot Health is a mobile platform for the secure retrieval and storage of Canadians’ medical records from any healthcare provider. Learn how Dot Health is connecting the world’s healthcare information here.

  1. Virtual Reality

Nicole McLean, Co-founder of Instage

InStage makes VR speaking experiences, combining believable VR experience with useful analytics. Learn how InStage is increasing the speed that speaking skills and content are learned here.

  1. Delivery Services

Ugochi Owo, CEO of Flindel

Flindel is leading returns solution for online merchants globally with a focus on automating commerce returns. Learn how Flindel is empowering retailers to thrive by optimizing returns here.

  1. Digital Health 

Alexandra Greenhill, Founder, CEO & Chief Medical Officer of Careteam

Careteam Technologies is a cloud-based, AI-enabled digital collaboration and communication platform that enables care planning, patient engagement and offers a set of tools that integrate with other technologies. Learn how Careteam Technologies is helping clinicians collaborate, adapt, coordinate and accelerate their move towards patient-centred care here.

  1. Biotechnology

Bethany Deshpande, CEO of SomaDetect

SomaDetect is an agricultural technology company connecting dairy farmers with the milk-quality indicators most relevant for the management of their production. Learn how SomaDetect is enabling dairy farmers to identify problems early and produce the best possible milk here.

  1. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

Farah Brunache, CEO & Founder of Lagatos

Lagatos empowers digital underserved communities by helping run hyper-localized and accessible IaaS platforms. Learn how Lagatos is addressing the growing digital divide here.

  1. Accessibility

Maayan Ziv, CEO & Founder of AccessNow

AccessNow is a mobile app and web platform focused on connecting people to accessible experiences. Learn how AccessNow is empowering people to search for, rate and discover places and experiences that meet their accessibility needs here.

  1. Identity Tracking

Leanne Bellegarde, CEO of AKAWE Technologies

AKAWE Technologies provides inclusive digital blockchain solutions that embraces diversity through a unified governance process and distributed service model. Learn how AKAWE Technologies is enabling communities, economies, and nations here.

  1. The Sharing Economy

Sarah Selhi, CEO of SpaceiShare

SpaceiShare is a sharing economy platform and that helps property owners manage and monetize their idle spaces. Learn how SpaceiShare is enabling more market transparency and providing renters with affordable space solutions here.

  1. Real Estate 

Monila Joroszonek, CEO & Co-founder of RATIO.CITY

RATIO.CITY provides data-driven insights that can be converted into actionable strategies for cities. Learn more about how RATIO.CITY is helping build better, more livable cities here.

  1. Resource Extraction & Safety

Shelby Yee, CEO & Co-founder of RockMass Technologies

RockMass Technologies is the fastest digital rock mechanics tool for collecting structural orientation data underground. Learn how RockMass Technologies is enabling mines to operate safer and more efficiently through streamlined and digital data collection here.

  1. Music

Laura Simpson, Co-founder of Side Door

Side Door is a platform that matches artists with hosts, builds direct connections and simplifies the show-booking process with easy and transparent digital tools, building communities through the shared experience of art. Learn how Side Door enables artists to monetize their online performances here.

  1. Accessibility

Alwar Pillai, CEO of Fable Tech Labs

Fable Tech Labs has built an online platform that connects researchers, designers and developers with people with disabilities, with the goal of making it easier to create an accessible digital product. Learn how Fable Tech Labs is making it easier for digital teams to engage people with disabilities in product development here.

  1. Personal Care Services

Alicia Soulier, CEO of SalonScale Technology

Launched in 2018, SalonScale Technology has created the world’s first digital colour bar scale for stylists. Learn how SalonScale Technology is providing smart technology solutions and digital tools to help salons succeed here.

In the Canadian tech ecosystem, we have the power of problem-solving and the capacity to build scalable tech-enabled solutions with top-tier talent. I expect to see an increase in the number of technology startups in 2020. Historically, start-up creation spikes post-crisis. Smart, highly capable founders who were let go from corporate roles see this time as an opportunity to “go for it”. Intelligent investors will work hard to find, back and support these entrepreneurs as they look to build the next wave of generation-defining technology startups.

The last few months have a deeper need for these tech solutions and a newfound openness to rapid change that is being readily applied. These founders have not only responded quickly to the crisis, but they were already forward-thinking within their respective sectors, leading the way through the challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19. I am hopeful for the continued adoption of these innovative technologies and I know that these startups can play an integral role in the future of tech.

First-hand, I have witnessed the incredible technology being built, some are category leaders and have the potential to change the industries mentioned above for the better. We all are affected by the impact of this crisis and our entire global culture is shifting. These tech founders are ready to lead us into that future.

Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham

Danielle Graham is an Investment Principal and Co-founder of Sandpiper Ventures. She has extensive experience across the angel ecosystem in Ontario, particularly the Toronto-Waterloo tech corridor and is a Venture Partner to the Archangel Network of Funds. Danielle has spent her career investing in, amplifying and enabling diverse founders to scale their businesses and succeed.

Meet Gabriella Rackoff & Zoe Share: Toronto-based marketing & tech professionals & Co-authors of a kids’ ABC book about the pandemic

Toronto-based marketing professionals, Zoe Share and Gabriella Rackoff, are both moms to two-year-olds. Gabriella is a brand strategist and creative director. She joined an early-stage startup and grew a small marketing division into Eighty-Eight, a boutique agency serving startups, the tech space, and forward-thinking companies of all sizes. Most recently, she led brand strategy at Jiffy, a Toronto-based home services startup. Kindergarten teacher turned creative agency owner and mom Zoe Share, has always dreamed of publishing children’s books. Both spend a lot of time reading with their kids, and they had the idea of creating a kids’ book that was relevant to what we’re experiencing now, while still feeling fun and positive. A serendipitous conversation led to them deciding to work together to create this book and get it out to parents. ABC–Stay Home with Me is an alphabet book designed to be fun for parents to read with young children while being relevant to the current global pandemic. Each spread was illustrated by a Canadian illustrator (13 in total) who generously donated their time and skills to make this project a reality, and two local print houses offered their printing services to cover the initial run of 1,000 books, which have almost sold out since our launch on April 29.


My first job ever was…

Zoe – a lifeguard and swim instructor.
Gabriella – a sales associate at Caban, a furniture and lifestyle concept store by Club Monaco that was awesome but doesn’t exist anymore.   

The idea for ABC Stay Home With Me came to me… 

Zoe – when Gabriella approached me with the idea to do a children’s book, and I met her energy and we simply began creating.
Gabriella – I was reading with my son shortly after the lockdown started.

My boldest move to date was…

Zoe – leaving a clear path of teaching to become an entrepreneur.
Gabriella – having a child. Building a career was something I gravitated towards without really thinking about it. Deciding to become a parent was a complicated process.

I surprise people when I tell them…

Zoe – that I avoid caffeine.
Gabriella – I never learned to drive, and my parents don’t have licenses either. I’ve always lived downtown and didn’t think I needed it. Now learning is on my to-do list.  

My best advice to people interested in publishing a book is… 

Zoe – to let your creativity lead you, there is always room for creativity even if there isn’t a traditional publisher available.
Gabriella – these days you don’t need anyone’s permission. We completely self-published. A couple of things we found useful: build an audience so you have someone to sell to, and think about marketing angles along with the book.  


“Every job has aspects and days you don’t like. In the long run, your work won’t suffer because you took time for yourself.”


My biggest setback was… 

Zoe – working on my own mindset and believing I can reach my own wildest dreams.
Gabriella – my own self-doubt. Always.

I overcame it by… 

Zoe – making time to think, journal, and surround myself with people who get it.
Gabriella – I think this is a case of paying attention to your successes and realizing that everyone makes mistakes and the consequences usually aren’t as bad as you think. 

Work/life balance is… 

Zoe – a lie, but worth working toward. You can have both, but often not at the same time. There are costs to stakeholders in your business or to people in your personal life when you prioritize one over the other and there are costs to yourself in pretending that you are doing it all well. I recommend owning this fact and getting used to leaning in and out of balance.
Gabriella – different for everyone. loving what you do certainly helps, but every job has aspects and days you don’t like. In the long run, your work won’t suffer because you took time for yourself.   

What I’ve enjoyed most about creating ABC Stay Home With Me is…

Zoe –  working with reading the book with my daughter. She loves “mummy’s book” and it is an honour to help nurture her love of reading through my own.
Gabriella – getting validation through the amazing response we’ve gotten from people media. It’s great to do something for yourself, but this was an idea that I really wanted other people to connect with, so it was great to see that.

Working in marketing before creating a book helped me…

Zoe –  to have strategic goals and direction within an otherwise passion-driven project.
Gabriella –  package the idea, sell the concept to the illustrators initially, and then to the media.   

I stay inspired by…

Zoe – learning new things. Collecting information from new books, news articles and people keeps my creative brain strong.
Gabriella – Reading, listening to podcasts, and visiting design websites.

The future excites me because…

Zoe – I feel I am equipped to help revitalize the economy and the way people think about giving.
Gabriella – it’s unpredictable! As society evolves, there will continually be new opportunities to create a culture that does good. 

Meet Gabby Nobrega: Principal at Breakthrough Communications and Consulting Inc.

Gabby Nobrega is a natural business-builder, senior executive, and mentor. Her passion in life is helping organizations grow, transform, and protect their corporate reputation while fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion. Her career runs the gamut from launching video games for Nintendo, working on initiatives that have shaped advertising to kids and social influencer activations, pop-ups and private events for TIFF sponsors to press tours for Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and helping companies manage high-profile crisis events spanning class-action lawsuits, employee fatality, and CEO misconduct. Following successive senior roles and achievements, Gabby put her entrepreneurial passion to work launching Breakthrough Communications and Consulting Inc. Today, she consults CEOs, senior leaders across multinationals, SMEs, not-for-profits, and foundations on their own brands, presentation skills, and media training.


My first job ever was… delivering the newspaper. I recall having to drudge through the snow, carrying what were heavy (Saturday) papers, waking up early to ensure the papers were there bright and early, having to collect the monies owed and submit them. It taught me about responsibility and the value of hard work at an early age. I had several jobs during my University years and my first job out of University was in PR. I fell into it. I had just graduated with a BA in English and one in Labour Studies there were few jobs in unionized environments for women, I was downtrodden and took a job to pay off my student loans. It was kismet.

I launched Breakthrough Communications and Consulting because… it was the right time to take my experiences in agency, at a large trade association, and a Fortune 100 company, and create a role that allowed me to bring a full scope of services from business development through crisis communications (and all that lies in between) to a range of cross-sector companies. There was a tremendous risk but significant upside to growing something and have a material impact in helping companies breakthrough. I’ve often told people that I’ve had more unique experiences in my career than some people have an in a lifetime from helping public companies steer through very high profile crisis events, and orchestrating multi-partner fundraising campaigns that benefit children in need, to working with A-list celebrities at a world-renowned film festival. It’s a large and exciting scope that leverages my career experiences, strengths, and passion. 

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… there are a few: among them the opportunity to pursue your passions and self-direct many choices including the assignments you choose, along with some flexibility. While there is autonomy, I have also found it to be a wonderful experience growing an extensive network with people across a range of companies that I otherwise might not connect with and learn from. The scope has forced me to keep current in several areas and always push myself to think outside a narrow role or vertical. I can approach a project without bias and a much more holistic perspective. The journey has also been fraught with disappointments and risk forcing discipline that large companies have. My advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to look at the fundamentals, insurances, legal, trademarks; create policies around scope creep, be flexible, know your worth, and negotiate fairly and with transparency. Think long term when it comes to your business growth and in your partners’ success.

My proudest accomplishment is… the number of people who have either reported into me, or I have mentored, or coached and we are friends many years later; they’ve gone on to great things and they have shared with me that I had a hand in their amazing journeys. That and managing the press tour for Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton during her Canadian “What Happened Tour.”

My boldest move to date was… getting on a plane, flying to New York, representing Canada as part of a global pitch for IBM with Lou Gerstner in the room. I had been on an Apple computer and had to convince the executives I could manage their business along with global teams who were all tech experts. We won the pitch, and I learned firsthand what it meant to rise to an occasion.

I surprise people when I tell them… the unvarnished truth. What it’s like being an entrepreneur, married to an entrepreneur, both facing risks, headwinds, trying to figure out what’s best for your kids, including a child with Down Syndrome with several health complications. I’ve often told people my life reads like the opening of a book: “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope and the winter of despair.” Thankfully, there’s been much more light and laughter than darkness.


“Amidst chaos, we’ve seen compassion, creativity, and courage flourish. That excites me and gives me hope.”


My best advice from a mentor was… realize that each person will leave the same meeting with an entirely different perception including about you, be careful to own yours and manage it.

I would tell my 21-year-old self… success is not your title or compensation, it’s your reputation and your integrity, the rest will follow.

My biggest setback was…  finding myself in a situation where the fit was not right. I believe in similar situations too many of us see the wrong fit as a personal shortcoming. I think if we do that, we risk selling ourselves short. That‘s not an excuse to not learn and grow, it means you have to place a premium on the culture as much as you may the role.

I overcame it by… reflecting as part of my self-awareness journey and opportunity to learn and grow as a leader; seeking the input of others who were unbiased and could offer a balanced perspective and advice; showing-up and actively pursuing opportunities to advance to the organization’s success notwithstanding, and move on.

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… “give it your all, but don’t give it all away.”  What I mean by that is we often forget to look after ourselves in our desire to chase it all; be it success in our career, the proverbial pursuit of ‘work-life balance’ inner peace, you name it. I spoke on a panel this year about when this hit me like a ton of bricks during a women’s conference I was attending. The speaker was retiring and wanted to share this advice with those of us in the room. I recently was on a panel and wanted to pay it forward by sharing the same advice. It resonated with many people in attendance and in social media posts that event, leading me to believe this is something others may be facing.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I nearly died. Gave birth to a disabled child 11 months later. I’m grateful for both. They have shaped my life in countless ways, from my ability to appreciate the small stuff.

I stay inspired by… reading, chasing my passions like cooking and travelling, and by surrounding myself with a circle of people who want to do good for others and invite me to be a part of their journeys.

The future excites me because… there is a crop of emerging leaders who want to change the world, who are fearless, principled, and have access to digital platforms and networks that can create global movements. Amidst chaos, we’ve seen compassion, creativity, and courage flourish. That excites me and gives me hope.

Maryam and Nivaal interview Julie Carrier

In our first interview for our Perspectives column, we had the opportunity to speak with one of our biggest role models and mentors, Julie Carrier. We have had the pleasure of working with Julie for the past few months now, and she inspires us with her dedication and passion for helping others every day. We’re so excited to share her perspective here with you today.


Would you be able to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about your work?

 Yes! My name is Julie Carrier, and I’m a leading authority, author and global speaker on authentic confidence and leadership and do a lot of work supporting women of all ages on how to be even more bold and show up in bigger ways. I am honoured that I was recently recognized by Leading Global Coaches and Thinkers 50 as the #1 Coach for Young Women in the World.

Amazing! You didn’t always do this work. Would you be able to share a little bit more about your journey to how you decided that this is what you want to do, and perhaps talk a little bit about what you did before this and what your career looked like?

Before I became a speaker and an author, and somebody who uses applied neuroscience to teach interactive leadership education for young women and women, I worked as a senior management consultant in leadership development at the Pentagon where I taught leadership skills to executives. What most people don’t know is that before all of these successes, my life actually started very differently. In high school, I had crippling anxiety and self-doubt and tremendous fear about stepping outside my comfort zone. If I could go from someone who was afraid to raise my hand in class to someone who now has spoken around the world for audiences of 20-70,000, I believe anyone can learn how to be confident and it’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about sharing this message with women and young women.

That’s such great advice for not only young women and men, but for everyone. Would you be able to share some of your tips for how women can maintain their confidence in the workplace, or in their everyday lives?

The number one thing I would like to start with is revealing a toxic myth that we have been conditioned to believe — that confidence is either something that you either have or that you don’t. What research shows, just like my life experience shows, is that confidence — just like you would learn how to ride a bike, or just how you would learn to cook, or just how you would learn to create a Powerpoint — is actually a learned skill. 

You can actually learn how to leverage the power of your brain and use principles of neuroscience to learn how to be confident. While I normally have a 60-minute keynote or a three-day seminar to teach this, in the time we have I can share a highlight. I developed this brain-friendly learning quote which basically summarizes hundreds of pages of research on confidence: “Fear knocked. Courage answered. Then Confidence arrived and Success showed up.” 

Think about that for a moment. Confidence does not just happen. It is developed as part of a process that usually happens in this order. Let’s start with the fear knocking. The reality is that fear knocks any time you are getting ready to do something bold and new, whether it’s asking for that promotion, or applying for that job, or getting ready to share that big post on social media — you are stepping outside your comfort zone. The feeling of fear is actually a normal human physiological reaction to stepping outside your comfort zone. 

Sadly, because so many have never been taught the science of confidence strategies and the confidence formula, here is where many people give up because they think that because they feel fear, it’s a sign that they are not “confident enough” to make it happen. They have been given the wrong equation.

The difference between successful people who take bold action to realize their goals and those who don’t, is that successful people feel the fear and push forward to do it anyway. This is called courage. When you practice courage this is what develops confidence. It’s that confidence which will then allow that new thing you did to start to feel like something that’s second nature to you, and that confidence multiplies your success. While this is important, what I especially love is teaching the authentic confidence formula, science and strategies that actually help so many others translate the knowledge and research into action! 

Amazing! That’s so inspiring. On that note, would you be able to share a little bit more about the science of confidence? Especially the Default Mode Network you talk about? What you have to say about that is so inspiring as well, and we think that our audience would really love to hear about that.

Thank you for asking that question! I’m so glad that you’ve been to so many of my different programs and have heard me speak about this because most people have never heard of the Default Mode Network and I’m so thrilled that you asked about it. The science of confidence actually starts with the science of understanding self-doubt. When we understand the science, we actually become empowered and equipped to work with our brain instead of against it. 

One of the reasons why we feel fear when we step outside our comfort zone is actually because of a very outdated part of our brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN). This is a co-activated set of brain regions that has very outdated programming that thinks it’s keeping us safe by keeping us small (and stuck in our comfort zone). If someone is worrying about how they are going to fail at that big project they have not started, ruminating on something that didn’t go well in a presentation or criticizing themselves about how they won’t fit in during an important social event with new people, they can often thank their DMN. 

Just like the heart has the responsibility of pumping blood, and the lungs have the responsibility for breathing oxygen, the DMN has the responsibility of generating this Automatic Negative Chatter. The science of confidence starts with understanding that what we often believe is negative “SELF talk” is actually not you at all. It is actually Automatic Negative Chatter generated from the DMN part of the brain that has very outdated programming. This awareness is actually the foundation of many strategies I teach that help you build confidence and get your power back.

And it’s so amazing to see where you’ve reached now, and the amount of people that you have impacted through your conferences and events you speak at. In working with you, we see how hard you have to work for everything that you do, and it’s incredible to see the impact that you have been able to have. Moving onto the topic of life amid COVID-19, how do you manage to stay positive, and I know that you probably aren’t able to stay positive all the time, but what advice do you have for women during this time, because it is uncertain and things are really changing. How have you changed the way that you are thinking and perhaps developed a routine during times like these?

This is an uncommon answer to your question, but it’s very true and I want to share it. Positivity is actually a math problem. Everything we do in our day is either a plus or a minus as it relates to our energy, time and attention. I call it the Full Can Principle. Have you ever noticed that if you have a full, unopened can of soda or sparkling water and you try to squeeze that can, it’s almost impossible to actually crush it because of how it’s filled up inside? On the other hand, if you take an empty can, it’s super easy to crush. People operate the same way. What influences whether or not you cave under pressure has to do with how much you are filled up inside. So if someone is feeling down, negative, tired, drained and unmotivated, myself included, that often means that “your can is empty.” 

Even if you don’t feel like it, these emotions are a message that you need to take conscious action to fill yourself up. The natural state of a healthy mind is actually positivity, hope and optimism. When we get depleted, overwhelmed, and stressed out our abilities to be and feel positive start to lessen. Especially now, I recommend that each person creates a restoration list and a daily routine that involves taking time to fill yourself up. For example, my list includes working out and running with my dogs, making myself a healthy breakfast, spending time doing prayer and meditation, and making myself a beautiful cup of tea before I start work! These are not luxuries, during times of increased stress, these are necessities! I try not to actually do my work until I have completed those other items on my list. 

It feels counter intuitive, but if I don’t add those positive restore items into my day, over time, I feel more and more empty and depleted and I get cranky, I get worried and negative. Positivity really is a math problem. You have to spend time adding in things that restore and fill yourselves up to counteract all the negative drains on our energy and time, and this equipped us to be and feel more positive and show up to best serve others.

That’s such great advice. Thank you so much for sharing that. To bring positivity, hope and optimism to youth, it’s been exciting to work together with you to offer Virtual Youth Summits during this time. Could you tell us a bit more about that initiative and how you’re supporting youth during this time?

Absolutely, so here’s what’s interesting — I’m a speaker, and a coach and an author, and most of my work, typically is live at events and speaking for organizations. In this time of cancelled events, it was important to pivot and figure out how to serve differently. Because in this time of distance learning, students have never felt more disconnected. So many things have been cancelled — after-school activities, their in-class activities, their sports and even their summer camps. 

Students are really seeking an opportunity to connect and find meaning and hope in some really challenging situations. In order to help this underserved population, I am so honoured to team up with both of you, and the award-winning, amazing UN Youth Champion and role model from High School Musical, Monique Coleman, to start offering these interactive, immersive summits that are virtually held online so students can join from the convenience and safety of their home. Even though it is a virtual event it is still a live event! 

We’ve had so much positive feedback. In fact, one principal that hosted one of our Virtual Summits for her school had such an incredibly overwhelming positive response of parents emailing and calling and thanking her for the positive impact it had on their teens, that she actually hosted a second one just two weeks later. We are finding that students are almost desperate for this opportunity to think about the future and build hope and optimism for the future. In fact, one of my favourite quotes that one student said was, “This made my whole life!” and she posted it in the chat with tons of tear emojis. 

It’s been so successful that we’re actually filling spots for a global tour right now — that’s the beauty of virtual events, we’re not limited to just one location. So we’re doing a global event tour and we are accepting nominations from different schools and organizations to host their own event. So we actually showcase students from the school or organization right alongside our celebrity role models and we do really cool experiential exercises that bring students together. 

And it’s not only helped the students, but it has really uplifted me too. These kids are very resilient. And shout out to you too! They love you as speakers and I’m thrilled that we’ve created this together, it is awesome!  

Thank you for taking the time to read this article! We hope you were as inspired by Julie’s amazing insights and words as we are. You can find out more about Julie’s work by visiting @juliemariecarrier across social media and @juliecarrier on Twitter, and find out more about our Virtual Youth Summits initiative with her, by visiting virtualyouthsummits.com!

Meet Dr. Marwa Al-Sabouni: an Architect who co-founded the only Arabic website for architectural news

Dr. Marwa Al-Sabouni is a Syrian architect and author; among many prestigious accomplishments, she is a Prince Claus laureate 2018, and a BBC 100 Women 2019. Her acclaimed book ‘The Battle for Home’ was shortlisted by The Guardian as one of the best architectural books in 2016. Her TED Talk has been viewed over 1 Million times, and Prospect Magazine named her as one of the Top 50 thinkers around the World. Marwa is an accomplished international public speaker and has spoken on many platforms around the world including, the Sydney Opera House, and the World Economic Forum. She runs a private studio with her partner in their city Homs and she is co-founder of Arch-news, the world’s first and only website dedicated to architectural news in Arabic. 


My first job ever was… an architect at the city’s university engineering office (the government had a policy of automatically assigning young graduates into its public institutions, mine was the above). 

I decided to be an architect because… I scored that much in my A level exams. 

My proudest accomplishment is… writing The Battle for Home. 

My boldest move to date was… to quit the government granted job because it was not fulfilling. (I tried to change things for about a year, reaching a deadlock, I gave it up). 

My dream architecture project is… every project is a new challenge and a new experience from which one hopes to grow, learn, collaborate, and contribute. 

The idea for The Battle of Home came to me when… I was reflecting on the connection between the conflict that was taking place right outside of my window and the shape of my city’s built environment. 

My experience writing The Battle for Home was… eye-opening and soul searching. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I stayed the whole time during the war in my city. 


“Every project is a new challenge and a new experience from which one hopes to grow, learn, collaborate, and contribute.”


My best advice for people interested in architecture is… think as a user, imagine as a maker. 

My best advice from a mentor was… when you have a message you must have the wisdom of delivering, it is your job to think of the best way of delivering your message, you never drop it down off your shoulders, you must place it carefully. 

My biggest setback was… facing war at the outset of my productive life. 

I overcame it by… patience and having faith. 

Work/life balance is… working as a way of living. (when you love your work and consider working as your role in being). 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… ride horses. 

Being an architect and author is… my passion and my craft. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m (trying to be) a good horseman. 

I stay inspired by… minds that see details (by the craftsmanship of any vocation, and by storytelling). 

The future excites me because… it holds the ‘potential’. 

We are committed to amplifying BIWOC voices + Canadian BIPOC organizations that you can support

Dear WOI Community, 

Where do we begin? 

It is important for us to say that we condemn racism, that we stand in solidarity with the Black and Indigenous Communities in the fight for change, but that is not enough. 

It is important that we invite Black Women, Indigenous Women, and Women of Color to share their different lived experiences on our platform, so we can amplify their stories in their words. But this is not enough. 

What we commit to, and what we are asking those members of our community in a place of privilege to join us in, is to do the work it takes to better understand these stories, to read and listen and learn, to recognize this struggle hasn’t lasted weeks but hundreds of years, and to always ensure our allyship comes with action — donating funds, lending privilege, and showing up how we are asked and needed, not how it suits us best. 

Sometimes, we will get it wrong. But we are learning from our community — and we will continue to learn from our community to make us a stronger voice for all. 

As a first step, we’ve donated to Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow (DYLOTT), a Black focused leadership incubator program based in Toronto, and founded by Candies Kotchapaw, one of our 2020 Top 25 recipients. We encourage those who can, to join us. We have also compiled a list of other Canadian BIPOC organizations that you can support:

Black Youth Help-line 

A not-for-profit offering Helpline services Canada-wide, and serving as the point of contact for calls to their professional services from youth, families, school districts, and a variety of youth-serving stakeholders. Service in French and other languages available upon request.

Black Lives Matter Toronto

A movement founded by Black Torontonians to resist anti-Black racism, state-sanctioned, institutional violence, and fight for Black Lives.

Black-led Mental Health Support

A fund set up by 3 Black Registered Social Workers (RSWs), Susan Bascillo, Yemi Otukoya, and Melissa Taylor to support low/no-cost virtual mental health care for Black clients in East York, Toronto and across Ontario.

Harriet Tubman Community Organization

A non-profit agency dedicated to building meaningful and developmental relationships with young people between the ages of 8 – 25 years old experiencing socialization, particularly youth of African descent.

Black Women in Motion

A youth-led organization working to empower and support black womxn, and survivors of sexual violence. The organization works within an anti-racist, intersectional feminist, trauma-informed, and survivor centred format with the knowledge to create relevant content, economic opportunities, safe spaces, and educational tools for black womxn. 

Black Health Alliance

A community-led registered charity working to improve the health and wellbeing of Black communities in Canada. By incorporating research, strong partnerships, and people; the organization can build innovative solutions and create lasting changes in the Black community.

Justice For Regis

A fund created by the late Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s family to pay for organizing her funeral service and to raise awareness about the incident.

Toronto Protester Bail Fund

A fund created by Strapped TO, a Black queer party collective in Toronto, to raise funds to assist in paying for private legal counsel and have the potential to create asset collateral for bail hearings. 

Indian Residential School Survivor Society

A provincial organization in BC with a twenty-year history of providing essential, culturally-based services to Residential School Survivors, their families, and those dealing with Intergenerational traumas.

Legacy of Hope Foundation

A Canadian, Indigenous-led charitable organization that works to educate and raise awareness about the history and intergenerational impacts of the Residential School System, Sixties Scoop, and other means cultural oppression against Indigenous (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) Survivors, their descendants, and their communities.

Sisters in Spirit

A charitable service that provides programs and a safe and welcoming environment for all Aboriginal women (cisgender, transgender, and two-spirited people) and their children in the Greater Toronto Area.

5 books to help you open your eyes up to realities beyond your own

As a black woman, I feel inspired by the important conversations the world is beginning to have about authentic representation, diversity, and race; but at the same time, I am filled with anguish at the length of time that it has taken, and the price we — black people — have paid to start this much-needed dialogue on and around anti-racism. Over the past few days, I have had many non-black people reaching out to share their support, genuine sentiments of solidarity, and annoyingly — their shock about the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in the US, and similar incidents that have been happening to black people around the world for years. That shock stems from privilege — in 2020 there is no room, and no excuse, for not educating yourself on realities beyond those of your own, and I too am challenging myself to know better, be better, and do better. If you are keen to get started on your journey to getting clued up, here are five books to add to your June reading list. In a bid to support, not only BIPOC authors but also enterprise, I encourage anyone interested in these books to buy them from BIPOC or independent bookstores, or your local library.


By Ony Anukem



For multiple perspectives… 

New Daughters of Africa


New Daughters of Africa is the follow up to Margaret Busby’s internationally acclaimed Daughters of Africa, originally published in 1992. Margaret struck gold again with her latest anthology. She brings together fresh and vibrant voices that have become prominent around the world in the past two decades, from Antigua to Zimbabwe and Angola to the United States. Over 200 women writers celebrate in the heritage that unites them; key figures include Margo Jefferson, Nawal El Saadawi, Edwidge Danticat, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinelo Okparanta. Their writing takes many forms: speeches, journalism, poetry, extracts from longer works, and short stories arranged in order of the women’s birth decades — a chronological reminder that African women have been creating art for many centuries. Each piece exhibits an uplifting sense of sisterhood, honouring the strong links that endure from generation to generation, and addresses the common obstacles women writers of colour face as they negotiate issues of race, gender, and class and address vital matters of independence, freedom, and oppression.




For children… 

Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea 


Now more than ever, it’s important to be having conversations and teaching children about diversity and race. Last week, Meena Harris, the niece of former 2020 US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris, released an empowering picture book about two sisters who work with their community to effect change, inspired by a true story from the childhood of her aunt and mother — lawyer and policy expert, Maya Harris. One day, Kamala and Maya have an idea, a very big idea: they would turn their empty apartment courtyard into a playground. This is a story of children’s ability to make a real difference, and about the power of a community coming together to transform their neighbourhood. Wondering how to broach a conversation on diversity and race with little ones? This children book is an excellent start, particularly for children ages four to six.




For insight into the cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples in Canada and beyond… 

All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward


It’s important to realise that in Canada, we cannot bring about meaningful anti-racism reform without addressing the historical and current treatment of Indigenous communities.   Award-winning author Tanya Talaga explores the startling rise of suicide among youth in Indigenous communities in Canada and beyond. From Northern Ontario to Nunavut, Norway, Brazil, Australia, and the United States, the Indigenous experience in colonized nations is startlingly similar and deeply disturbing. As a result of this colonial legacy, too many communities today lack access to the basic determinants of health — income, employment, education, a safe environment, health services — leading to a mental health and youth suicide crisis on a global scale. But, Talaga reminds us, First Peoples also share a history of resistance, resilience, and civil rights activism, from the Occupation of Alcatraz led by the Indians of All Tribes, to the Northern Ontario Stirland Lake Quiet Riot, to the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which united Indigenous Nations from across Turtle Island in solidarity. This book serves as a powerful call for action, justice, and a better, more equitable world for all Indigenous Peoples.




For the untold story of Canada’s involvement in Slavery…

The Hanging of Angelique


When asked where the transatlantic slave trade took place, the first countries that most people would think would be the US, Caribbean, and Latin America. Afua Cooper’s The Hanging of Angelique completely demolishes the myth of a benign, slave-free Canada, revealing a damning 200-year-old record of legally and culturally endorsed slavery. Afua tells the astonishing story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave woman convicted of starting a fire that destroyed a large part of Montréal in 1734, and condemned to die a brutal death. In a powerful retelling of Angélique’s story — now supported by archival illustrations — Afua builds on 15 years of research to shed new light on a rebellious Portuguese-born black woman who refused to accept her position as a slave. Afua takes Angélique’s hidden and marginalized story, and places it at the centre of Canadian national consciousness.




For a critique of heteronormative and patriarchal structures…



In telling this story from the perspective of an unnamed, ungendered narrator, Dionne Brand uses Theory to make a bold statement about love and personhood, and the intersectionality of race and gender. The story begins when its narrator sets out, like most graduate students, doe-eyed and naively ambitious about writing a thesis on the past, present, and future of art, culture, race, gender, class, and politics. A transformative body of work, that its author believes will integrate and thereby revolutionize the world. While trying to complete this huge undertaking of a dissertation, three lovers enter the story. Each galvanizing love affair — representing, in turn, the heart, the head, and the spirit — shakes up and changes the narrator’s life and, inescapably, requires an overhaul of the ever larger and more unwieldy dissertation, this book promises to make you laugh, cry, and reflect.

How one employee’s story inspired Scotiabank to enhance their benefits plan for everyone.

When Eileen Bonetti saw her child struggling, she knew she had to do something to help. 

Eileen’s daughter, Ashley, was assigned male at birth. In 2016, at the age of 22, Ashley came out as transgender. 

“But what we realized was that Ashley coming out was just the tip of the iceberg,” says Eileen, Director, Country Relationship, Chile, International Banking at Scotiabank. “Underneath, there was a lot of pain and anxiety, which led to severe depression.” 

It’s well-documented that transgender youth face increased mental health challenges. A 2017 study by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) found that transgender youth had a higher risk of reporting psychological distress, self-harm, major depressive episodes, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. The 2015 Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey found that 1 in 3 trans youth had attempted suicide in the past year. 

Seeing the pain that her daughter was in, Eileen was overwhelmed with worry. 

“Being a parent of a child who struggles with depression is really paralyzing,” she says. “You don’t know what to do.”  

To get some help for Ashley, Eileen looked to her employee benefits plan to fund therapy sessions. Ashley began therapy and was covered up to her twenty-fourth birthday, but after that, she was no longer eligible. After a call to her insurance company, Eileen discovered that her benefits only cover dependents for mental-health support if they are under twenty-five years of age and studying full-time. It was a heavy blow.

“I had all these benefits, but I couldn’t use them for the person in my family who really needed it,” she says.

Eileen reached out to her Scotiabank manager and he suggested she connect with Scotiabank’s Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG) for advice. Their mission is to help create an inclusive and supportive environment for LGBT+ employees, customers, their allies and friends. Eileen attended a meeting of the ERG to share her story.

“I remember that day. They all hugged me and they said, ‘You’re in the right place. We are going to work with you on this,’” Eileen says. “I felt very secure and very supported.”

The group asked Eileen to share her story and perspective as an LGBT+ parent through a series of panel discussions they were organizing throughout 2019. Through these panels, Eileen was able to relay the roadblock she encountered in trying to use her benefits for Ashley’s therapy. 

Ayman Alvi, Director, Global Benefits, Scotiabank Total Rewards, was in the audience for one of Eileen’s talks, with other members of his team. Ayman says the issue she raised resonated with them.

“We are always incorporating employee feedback, and the experience Eileen shared was a powerful one,” Ayman says. “We want to provide flexibility in our benefits to try to meet a wide variety of needs, and this seemed to be a gap.”

Ayman says the team reached out to their benefits provider to understand how they could expand eligibility for their employees’ mental health benefits. They were told the federal Income Tax Act does not allow for increasing the age of children who can be covered by benefits (Scotiabank pays up to $3,000 per year, for a variety of mental health professionals) — so those benefits could not be changed. 


“People think, I’m not going to say anything because nothing will happen. Or, I’m afraid to ask. And you know what? Things happen. You just need to speak up and ask.”


Undeterred, they found another way to address the gap. Scotiabank already offered a Wellbeing Account where employees could allocate benefit dollars towards mental health-related expenses. So the team updated that policy to allow for reimbursements for mental health-related expenses for any family members, such as adult children, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles.

“We assume that there are many in the bank who may be dealing with similar concerns, whether it be an adult child, an elderly parent for whom an employee has caregiving responsibilities, or another family member who needs support,” Ayman says. “We believe this is an important and valuable resource to provide our employees and therefore the right thing to do.”

The changes came into effect earlier this year. When Eileen found out, she was relieved and grateful that she would be able to access funds from the Wellbeing Account to pay for Ashley’s therapy.  

“I thought, Oh my God, this is really life-changing,” she says. “I wrote an email to HR to say thank you and that I appreciate the bank for listening. Being listened to — that’s really touching.”

Eileen says Ashley is now doing well. She’s “building up her confidence,” working part-time and engaging with a writing coach to write a book. “The therapy has made a difference,” Eileen adds. 

June is Pride Month and at Scotiabank, the company works to raise awareness for the inclusion of LGBT+ communities and build futures that are free of discrimination, where LGBT+ people feel safe and open to be their true selves. In 2019, Scotiabank was the first Canadian bank to sign the UN Global LGBTI Standards of Conduct for Business to strengthen its work around human rights and in promoting equality for LGBT+ people.

For Eileen, Pride means visibility in the community. That’s why it’s important for LGBT+ people, their parents, and other allies to share their stories to open up hearts and minds.

“I think that listening to these personal stories can really make a difference. That’s when it clicks. There are so many stories out there and one will resonate with you and then you will be an ally with passion,” she says.

Through this experience, Eileen says she has learned a lot about herself. 

“What I learned is that I’m stronger than I thought I was. As parents of LGBT+ children, we come out too. If I didn’t take part in that panel discussion at the bank, nobody would know. It’s a step for me too to say, ‘I’m the parent of a trans kid.’ So you find out how courageous you are,” she says. “I also learned that unconditional love is very empowering — that is what empowered me to fight for a good cause.”

Eileen says she’s also learned that the actions of one person can make a big difference. She encourages others to speak up in the workplace if they see something they think should be changed. 

“People think, I’m not going to say anything because nothing will happen. Or, I’m afraid to ask,” she says. “And you know what? Things happen. You just need to speak up and ask.”

Meet Vanja Bannan: Founder of the highly creative communications consulting agency BannComm

Vanja Bannan cites fleeing war-torn (former) Yugoslavia in 1992 as a child as a defining moment in her life — her family’s struggle and determination to thrive taught her the importance of perseverance and the power of building relationships. Cultivating strong relationships through chemistry, empathy, and respect became one of Vanja’s core life strategies. In 2014 Vanja Bannan founded BannComm, a modern communications consulting agency specializing in highly creative digital marketing solutions – based on these principles. Despite multiple personal setbacks, including some heartbreaking ones, her resilience carried her through: today, Vanja and her award-winning teamwork with some of the leading companies in culture, architecture, and technology.


My first job ever was… working at Timothy’s World of Coffee. My family had recently fled the vicious conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and my brilliantly resourceful parents purchased the franchise in order to survive. My sister and I worked long, long hours alongside mom and dad. We all wore a lot of hats, we were tired more often than not, but we were together and we were alive. I was 15 years old.

I launched BannComm because… it served two important purposes for me. First, I was fascinated with the constant evolution and innovation of the communications sector. I needed a job that wasn’t chained to a cubicle, a job with dynamism and a constant pressure to thrive. A firm that pushed the digital envelope was the ticket.

Second, BannComm was my rock throughout several huge life challenges. It was one thing I knew I had complete control over, during times when life decided to throw a lot of curveballs my way.

My proudest accomplishment is… going from ESL to LSE! The mirrored acronyms are a coincidence: English as a Second Language and The London School of Economics—but they are a constant reminder for me. I came to Canada with limited English skills, something that puts many immigrants at an immediate disadvantage. But through hard work and resilience, the situation can absolutely be flipped 180 degrees. 

Fluent in English, I graduated from LSE with a Master’s of Science in Communications in 2007. The effort made to get through my academic career was as much for myself as it was for my family: a way to say thank you to my parents for all their sacrifices, to show them that it was absolutely for something. That is what I am most proud of.

My boldest move to date was… falling in love and building a life with a man who had cancer. 

When I met Brian, he had already been diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As we started to fall in love, I had a lot of conservations with myself and my support network. Tough ones. But in the end, I decided I wasn’t going to base my life on a “what if.” 

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… learning how to ride the rollercoaster and leading by example for my children. The highs in this life are high, and the lows are really low. But it’s forced me to grow a thicker skin and made me more mature. I’ve learned how to better accept feedback, in all its forms. Every hard lesson was a good lesson in the end.

And since I am the business, and the business is me, my children get to experience facets of the rollercoaster. I try to show my children what hard work and perseverance looks like every day, and I know they’ll be better for it.


“Heartbreak will make you stronger. Lessons, good and bad, will make you wiser. You will end up where you are supposed to be.”


The most difficult thing about what I do is… learning how to cope with risk, yet still, always be taking it and meeting it head on. Risk is everywhere. There’s risk in sitting and doing nothing, there’s risk in betting it all. I feel like many people have a limited relationship with risk and understanding its nature and how you invite it or mitigate it. It’s scary stuff, and exciting stuff, and necessary stuff. Difficult, always. Essential: you bet! 

I surprise people when… I tell them about my personal obstacles. I’ve shared some of the big ones here already. In person I can come across as bubbly, positive, and living a charmed life. Behind the curtain, there are hardships, grave mistakes, and ugly cries. 

My best advice from a mentor was… it’s actually not from a mentor, it was from a psychologist on a TV show of all places. They spoke about removing the word “just” from your vocabulary and paying attention to how damaging it can be to your tone, your frame of mind, your ambition. The word “just” is weak. It does nothing but undermine your efforts: everything you have done and everything you are trying to do. Think about this! Take for example: Hi, I am just following up on the email I sent vs Hi, I am following up on the email I sent. “Just” is an unnecessary placeholder. I took this to heart and it truly changed my overall attitude and the way I do business.

I would tell my 21-year old self… to worry less, to trust her gut and intuition. To as quickly as possible internalize the fact that lack of control is inevitable. Heartbreak will make you stronger. Lessons, good and bad, will make you wiser. You will end up where you are supposed to be.

My biggest setback was… my husband and I struggled with fertility. In the end, it worked out—we have two beautiful kids—but dealing with it all put my growth plans for BannComm on the backburner for some time. I was distracted, scared, vulnerable. 

I overcame it by… leaning on BannComm! Despite being backburnered, BannComm was still there for me. It was my first creation and the one element that wasn’t completely out of my control when all else seemed to be. It served as an oasis of stability and calm, a port in an otherwise soul-wrenching storm.

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… non-existent. I rarely give out advice in general; I do not think I have all the answers. In the rare case that I do, it’s going to be something I have lived and followed as well. I strongly believe in dialogue vs monologue. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… how incredibly important relationships are to me. They are the core resource that I rely on for everything good in my life. My job title and web bios surely imply that relationship building and maintenance is a top skill, sure. But it can be hard for me to succinctly express the depth to which I value and respect the power of a strong relationship.

One thing that is keeping me motivated is… leading by example for my children—Theodore and Vivienne. This experience with Women of Influence and all that led up to it has only further crystallized how important it is to be a role model for them. Vivi or joiedevivi as I affectionately call her especially motivates me. As a girl growing up in today’s rapidly evolving world, she is beginning to face her own challenges, ask her own questions, and become her own woman. Being her guide is my greatest honour. 

My next step is… to continue helping my clients navigate through this aggressive, pandemic-catalyzed digital shift, and prepared them for the post-COVID-19 digital world.

Sarah Jordan on how she became CEO of Mastermind Toys in January — and how she has transformed and inspired the retailer since.

By Hailey Eisen 


Within the first 100 days of becoming CEO of Mastermind Toys — Canada’s largest speciality toy and children’s book retailer, with 69 stores across the country and online — Sarah Jordan faced store closures, work-from-home protocols and other unprecedented ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It was certainly an untraditional way of starting out as a CEO of a retailer,” says Sarah, who stepped into the role in January. “This is going to be an experience that will be a defining one for leadership, at least in my lifetime.”

While Sarah says her first priority was (and still is) the wellbeing of her employees and customers, she’s embraced the opportunity to lead the company through the transformation that she committed to deliver. She passionately believes that employee experience drives customer experience — and has empowered her team to keep Mastermind special, to be bold and scrappy and to come out of this stronger together.

Digital transformation is among Sarah’s top priorities. From increasing Mastermind Toys’ social media presence (hosting daily storytime readings and weekly virtual birthday parties), to improving digital capabilities and online shopping, to expanding upon the sense of wonder for shoppers online and in-store, Sarah is taking the Canadian retailer to the next level.  

There’s no doubt Sarah is taking things in stride. “This experience has lent itself to my strengths, giving me the chance to rally the organization to get behind and believe in my vision for the future.” One of her strengths is building a diverse, powerhouse team. She has proudly reshaped the leadership team to include balanced gender representation.

In order to ensure success in the best of circumstances, but especially in trying times, Sarah says a clear vision and strategy with constant communication is critical. With Mastermind’s signature wrapping paper adorning her Zoom background, Sarah is hosting virtual coffee chats, company-wide town hall meetings, and more intimate conversations with employees, all with the intention of building momentum, celebrating successes, and managing with a clear focus. She is also passionate about bringing the philosophy of Mastermind Toys to life — Play Is Kids’ Work — and has been leaning on that founding principle in making decisions. “I’m reminded through this time that play plants a tiny seed of curiosity in a child’s mind that grows into knowledge that lasts a lifetime,” she says in one of her emails to Mastermind customers as they navigated closures, curbside pick-up, and reopenings.

“At Mastermind Toys, we know that play is a central and critical part of kids’ lives. We want to inspire imagination, wonder, education and development, and empower Canadian families to help their kids become lifelong learners,” she says. That mandate couldn’t be more timely given that, due to COVID-19, schools closed early this year and children have had to learn in new and different ways at home.

With her own two kids taking on the unofficial role of Mastermind toy testers, Sarah is able to bring work home in a way she couldn’t in previous roles. She’s also aware that as a 38-year-old mom, she’s in the minority among retail industry leaders — very few store chains in Canada are run by women. “I’m motivated and excited to show that leadership comes in a variety of forms.” 

Sarah has always felt comfortable doing things her own way — she affectionately credits her parents for instilling that “can-do” attitude. In university, she studied engineering chemistry. Growing up she loved math and science. Upon graduation, she took a job in consulting with Accenture. At 24, she enrolled in the MBA program at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. “Yes, I was the youngest in my MBA class, but I never focused on that,” she recalls. “I really liked the business world and wanted to build that foundational skillset — to up my game.” 

Through the MBA program, Sarah was able to successfully transition to a business management career. A key element was learning different leadership styles through the school’s team-based approach. “It gave me a chance to reflect upon what type of leader I wanted to be and to learn from others in a safe space.” 


“Be unapologetically authentic; don’t feel the need to adopt a classic or traditional style of leadership. Leading through difficult times is certainly easier when you’re doing what you love.” 


Sarah’s academic journey came full circle when she started as a lecturer with the Smith MBA program last year. “I’m passionate about making sure more young women see leaders that they can see themselves in, both in educational and business settings.” 

Even without having that advantage herself, Sarah stepped into the role of CEO at Mastermind with confidence — succeeding the company’s co-founder, Jon Levy, who’d been at the company’s helm since 1984. That self-assurance came in part from the years of experience she had tackling retail and banking transformation as a consultant with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where she worked with Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, boards, and a host of stakeholders, driving change from the outside. She left BCG in 2017 to join Scotiabank with the desire to focus on transformation from the inside. “I transitioned from a consultant to an operator and leader with an agenda for innovation and value creation,” she recalls. 

Ready for another career leap and excited to get back into the retail space, where her true passion lies, she joined Mastermind Toys. She credits what she calls her “personal board of directors” for helping her step up. “Mentorship and sponsorship from my personal board have provided the compass for my success,” she says.

When advising others on how to create their own personal boards, Sarah suggests recruiting people who will cheer you on, provide advice, give tough love when needed, hold you accountable and remind you to celebrate along your journey. Ideally, your board will have a variety of perspectives and will include managers, coaches, professors, sponsors, mentors and peers who have grown up alongside you in your career. Sarah’s board also happens to include her spouse, whom she met while doing her MBA. 

When asked to share other tips for young leaders, Sarah says “be unapologetically authentic; don’t feel the need to adopt a classic or traditional style of leadership.” And play to your passions. “Leading through difficult times is certainly easier when you’re doing what you love.” 

Looking ahead to the next few months, Sarah is optimistic that Mastermind will come out of the pandemic crisis stronger and ready to embrace “the next normal.”

“As a retailer that focuses on multi-generational customers — grandparents, expecting mothers, kids and kids at heart — we plan to lead the way in terms of providing innovative experiences that have wonder and delight around every corner while keeping health and safety paramount,” she says. “We have reimagined our experiences. Our customers can now choose their own adventure — in-store, online and curbside — and we will continue to provide new and flexible ways of shopping while managing the complexity that lies ahead.”  

5 equity-based strategies to get you started on making Black lives matter in the workplace.

We’ve all seen the news and the inhumane treatment of Black people globally. 

Here in Canada, we’ve seen many Black people and allies alike take to the streets, during a pandemic, no less, to protest the racist treatment of Black people. 

CNN host, Don Lemon, puts the gravitas of the effect of racism into perspective by juxtaposing it with a global pandemic. In a recent broadcast, he states that there are two major crises that are killing Black people, COVID-19 and Racism. 

As you enter the physical and virtual workplace this week, know that your Black employees, customers, and partners are seeing the world through a different set of lenses than you.

The conversation surrounding race can no longer be avoided. It’s time to lean into your courage and leverage your Emotional Intelligence for a more equitable workplace. Here are 5 equity-based strategies to help you get started on making Black lives matter in the workplace:

1. Bridge The Empathy Gap with Black Employees - Reach Out and Demonstrate You Care

Your voice matters, especially when you are a leader or an influential figure and especially if you are white. Leaders have to be bold enough to state the obvious and call out racism. The conversation can no longer be avoided because it is hard. We have to have it Now.

Masai Ujiri, President Toronto Raptors

Your voice matters, especially when you are a leader or an influential figure and especially if you are white. Leaders have to be bold enough to state the obvious and call out racism. The conversation can no longer be avoided because it is hard. We have to have it Now.

Masai Ujiri, President Toronto Raptors

Instead of asking how their weekend was, or the generic “how are you,” here are some useful conversation prompts you can use to open up a dialogue with racially diverse employees. Note that they’re already carrying #Racial and #EmotionalTax, so be proactive and don’t wait for employees to come to you. Reaching out, putting out a statement and taking action also let your customers know that you care, that Black lives and not just Black money matters. Not saying anything is saying loudly that Black lives don’t matter. If you are uncomfortable with this, then you are on the right track.

  • I’ve seen the news, and I don’t know what it’s like to see Black lives of loved ones killed and threatened daily. Let me know how I can support you.
  • I know that racism and anti-Black racism exist in Canada and I will do my part to do better, starting today.
  • I’m here to listen.
  • I’ve donated to x organization, if there are a few others you’d like to suggest, let me know.
  • How can I be helpful to you?
  • What would support look like for you?
  • Is there someone else you would like to speak to other than me? (Having someone who looks like you eases that burden of emotional tax and gives an immediate sense of “being seen and heard.” Ensure that there are racially and culturally diverse wellness practitioners in your EAP – Employee Assistance Program offerings to increase relatability.)
  • How can I make your day easier?
  • I don’t want to assume that you are okay or that you are not – I want you to know that I am here for anything you need.


2. Address The Elephant In The "Race" Room

The Majority of Canadians who are Black (54%) or Indigenous (53%) have personally experienced discrimination due to race or ethnicity from time to time, if not regularly, in the workplace.

Race Relations in Canada 2019 Survey by Environics Canada

The Majority of Canadians who are Black (54%) or Indigenous (53%) have personally experienced discrimination due to race or ethnicity from time to time, if not regularly, in the workplace.

Race Relations in Canada 2019 Survey by Environics Canada

The Race Relations in Canada report was published before COVID and the racial trauma we are all witnessing today. Racism does exist in the workplace. There are overt and covert, (or explicit and implicit) forms of racism. As noted below – these covert socially acceptable behaviours are what we call the “Elephant in The Room.” Throughout the years at KDPM’s Institute for Inclusive Behaviour, our inclusion work has largely focused on helping leaders understand the harmful impact of overt and covert racist behaviours on the health and well-being of Black and other racialized groups.



Effectively addressing the elephant in the “race” room begins by increasing accountability at all levels, starting with the individual responsibility to learn about White SPF – white supremacy, privilege, and fragility unlearn the covert socially acceptable behaviours that are killing and harming Black people. White people must relearn less harmful behaviour that reflects one’s values, and it starts with acknowledging the “elephant in the room” – racism and anti-Black racism exists in Canada, this isn’t just the US problem. Inclusive leadership behaviour that reflects your organization’s mission and vision must include anti-Black racist behaviour (this begins with understanding your White SPF). If your leaders are unaware of what anti-Black racist behaviour means, how can you ensure that your leaders are inclusive? Find an example of what not to do under the Amy Cooper file. Dr. Sarah Saska, Co-Founder & CEO, Feminuity says:

“Many white leaders are quick to vilify the Amy Cooper’s of the world, while in the same breathe, reminding the world that they are *not like her.* That they are the ‘good’ white people who would never do such a thing. That they are *obviously* not racist. In my experience, the quickest way to determine if a white person has done the work is to show them another white person behaving badly to see how quickly they try to separate from them or position themself as different, as better. As white people, our worlds are viewed through a lens that honours, elevates, and privileges whiteness. This means we need to do the work. In the process, we will find dark, ugly, and unspeakable things that we must reconcile within ourselves. We need to say these things out loud to ourselves and to other white people and we need to think about how they came to be ‘true’ for us. Working to combat anti-Black racism is something we must work on every single day.”

3. Your Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Strategy must be Human-Centered

Don’t allow your discomfort to reduce what’s happening in the world to an “equity for all” moment. Be okay with saying capital “B,” Black.

Shavonne Hasfal McIntosh, Head of Diversity and Belonging, Shopify

Don’t allow your discomfort to reduce what’s happening in the world to an “equity for all” moment. Be okay with saying capital “B,” Black.

Shavonne Hasfal McIntosh, Head of Diversity and Belonging, Shopify

Inclusion begins with ‘I.’ To address anti-Black racism in the workplace, leaders must embrace a new radical human-centred model of equitable leadership and integration. 

Over the years, our work has revealed that most inclusion strategies place leaders at the helm of leading without examining their role in implementing and executing organization-wide strategies. Leaders who lead without reflecting and embodying these understandings work to reinforce a unique dissociation between leaders and employees. This dissociation supports and contributes to what Leesa Renee Hall refers to as the “intellectualization of racism.” Hall contends: 

“Intellectualization of racism, the process of thinking about or discussing a subject in a particular way without involving your emotions or feelings, is a defence mechanism designed to prioritize your need to be seen, acknowledged, or congratulated. Intellectualization is the reason you see me as a resource, and not as a person. Intellectualization is the reason you spend hours commenting and replying to dozens of posts, and not taking action to uproot your unconscious biases. Intellectualization is the reason you seek stats, facts, and data, rather than believing the words that a person of African descent uses to describe their lived experience.

Thus, inclusion strategies that are human-centred are better able to ensure a more equitable approach that puts human stories and experiences at the centre of relatedness.

Developing and implementing accountability frameworks is the single most significant action organizations can take right now to ensure equitable outcomes are realized.

Kike Ojo-Thompson, The Kojo Insitute

Developing and implementing accountability frameworks is the single most significant action organizations can take right now to ensure equitable outcomes are realized.

Kike Ojo-Thompson, The Kojo Insitute

Many organizations and diversity and inclusion leaders have intellectualized their inclusion strategy. At KDPM’s Institute For Inclusive Behaviour, we use inclusive journey maps highlighting the lived experience for all humans. Eradicating anti-Black racism isn’t the responsibility of Black people, rather it is the responsibility of those who are upholding and, in some cases, contributing to the systemic barriers and policies perpetuating the status quo. 

Here’s what a human-centred design can look like with a focus on social issues that may challenge an organization’s inclusion and human optimization goals, known as what we call the “Elephant in The Room.” 

  • Placing race at the center of your workplace culture and leadership design allows for Black employees to share their leadership experiences from hiring to advancement to exiting the workplace.
  • Exploring White SPF – white supremacywhite privilege, and white fragility allows White and non-Black employees an opportunity to uncover their blind spots, biases, both conscious and unconscious, and the role their experiences and action play in creating more barriers or upholding barriers that impact racialized people.

The intersections of our identities will also provide insight into where there are other complexities and barriers and provide more in-depth insight into their experiences as well.

4. ERGs as Equity Partners: Re-ImagineERGs and their Strategic Involvement

This is a time for leaders within the corporate space to practice compassion for their Black staff. It’s necessary for them to engage and have a meaningful discussion about their Black experience, to listen intently, and to be proactive in their allyship by educating themselves on how they can do a better job of creating a more equitable society.

Meryl Afrika, President, Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals

This is a time for leaders within the corporate space to practice compassion for their Black staff. It’s necessary for them to engage and have a meaningful discussion about their Black experience, to listen intently, and to be proactive in their allyship by educating themselves on how they can do a better job of creating a more equitable society.

Meryl Afrika, President, Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), specifically, Black Employee Resource Groups, are much more than social groups. ERGs must be treated as equity partners. Most corporate companies are not supporting, including, or leveraging Black ERGs as much as they could be. To start, are the members of your ERGs being compensated for their efforts? They should be, otherwise, their contributions are unpaid, which can further pay equity. Reflect on the role your Black ERG can play (or currently plays) to determine if they are positioned as an equity partner. What would be different? Would the leadership roundtable look different? Would there be more diverse voices, stories, and experiences at the table? Would there be a higher representation of Black leaders at the decision-making table? If the answer is no and has been no for a while now is the perfect time to begin.

Reflect on the role your Black ERG can play (or currently plays) to determine if they are positioned as an equity partner. What would be different? Would the leadership roundtable look different? 

5. Prioritize the Well-Being of Black Employees

When people experience racism, stress is tripled for a person of colour. It shortens their life, especially when there is nothing a person can do.

Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO, The Wellesley Institute, source: Race, Mental Health and The Workplace

When people experience racism, stress is tripled for a person of colour. It shortens their life, especially when there is nothing a person can do.

Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO, The Wellesley Institute, source: Race, Mental Health and The Workplace

Racism and inequity are health issues. Every morning, Black people prepare to protect themselves from unfair treatment and negative attention inside and outside the workplace. They experience acts of bias, exclusion, and discrimination so often that they’ve grown to anticipate it daily. This adds up to an emotional tax, which research has shown impacts their overall health and well-being. Now examine the weight of this during COVID and this time in history. 

Here is an insight into an employee’s experience:

“On Friday I had to sit through a weekly check-in video conference with my co-workers, who spoke about their weekend plans and other light-hearted topics, while I sat there smiling and trying to hide the fact that I was emotionally devastated. A wound deepened by the fact that not one person engaged with me offline to see how I was feeling about what is happening in society today, but instead only engaged with me to see where I was at with that next deliverable. I know that I am not alone in having experienced this deafening silence.” 

If your Black employees called your Employee Assistance Line right now for the double emotional tax, will they have access to racially and culturally diverse wellness experts? Will they have access to a Black Therapist, Holistic Wellness Coach, etc.? Or, will they be subject to a white therapist or coach, who is likely to have far less understanding of their experience?  In the words of American writer, professor, editor, and social commentator, Roxanne Gay in her New York Times piece:

“Eventually, doctors will develop a coronavirus vaccine, but Black people will continue to wait for a cure for racism.” 

CEOs, diversity and inclusion leaders are part of the cure for racism. Don’t expect your Black employees to continue to bear the weight of exclusion. Hire Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour to help start the conversation on what can be done differently and pay them the same rate you pay white people. Support and donate to organizations doing the work in our communities and most importantly, commit to a year-long journey required for anti-Black racism, unpacking white SFP and equity work. As reminded by Dr. ABC, Equity work is courageous work:

“Why are we not seeing the change we so desire? It is because persons with power and authority to make changes are not making those changes. Many of our leaders have settled for the checked-box approach. Equity work is courageous work. Equity work is transformational and transformative work. Equity work is ethical and moral work. It is not paper-work. It is not something we get to check off on the meeting’s agenda. I say to leaders – you are not hopeless and helpless, use your power and privilege to dismantle systematic oppression and create access, opportunity and space for equity-seeking groups. You have to be more than upset and concerned; you have to be intentional and deliberate about equity and inclusion.” – DR.ABC, May 30, 2020, Ph.D., M.Ed., B.A., Dip. Ed., OCT, University of Toronto, Faculty (Adjunct) – Graduate Studies

Do the human thing. Your employees, customers, and colleagues are Black – how will your show that their Black lives matter?

Action You Can Take Now

Support the Black experts quoted in this article by donating to their organizations and organizations we support through KDPM Institute For Inclusive Behaviour:

Black Health Alliance

Black Lives Matter

CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals


Leesa Renee Hall


The Kojo Institute

Karlyn Percil

Karlyn Percil

Karlyn Percil is the CEO of KDPM Consulting Group, and the founder of SisterTalk Group — a diverse women’s network, where she facilitates a 7 week self-discovery program for women. You can learn more about Karlyn and find more of her writing on her Perspectives page. To book an anti-Black racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion conversation or consultancy session or to explore any of the points above further, contact us bookings@elmgmtgroup.com.

FOIRE AUX QUESTIONS : Comment Mandy et Rebecca s’adaptent-elles à une nouvelle normalité?

En 2004, les sœurs Mandy et Rebecca Wolfe ont fait un acte de foi et ont ouvert Mandy’s Salades gourmandes, le tout premier restaurant à Montréal où l’on peut créer soi-même sa salade gourmande. Seize ans plus tard, les copropriétaires ont construit un mini-empire qui comprend huit emplacements courus, et elles prévoyaient une expansion locale et internationale en 2020. Mais lorsque la COVID a frappé, les activités courantes ont été interrompues et les plans de croissance ont été mis en suspens. Les deux sœurs nous expliquent comment elles naviguent dans l’une des industries les plus durement touchées, comment elles se remettent de l’impact initial et comment elles adaptent leur modèle d’affaires au nouvel avenir des services alimentaires.En 2004, les sœurs Mandy et Rebecca Wolfe ont fait un acte de foi et ont ouvert Mandy’s Salades gourmandes, le tout premier restaurant à Montréal où l’on peut créer soi-même sa salade gourmande. Seize ans plus tard, les copropriétaires ont construit un mini-empire qui comprend huit emplacements courus, et elles prévoyaient une expansion locale et internationale en 2020. Mais lorsque la COVID a frappé, les activités courantes ont été interrompues et les plans de croissance ont été mis en suspens. Les deux sœurs nous expliquent comment elles naviguent dans l’une des industries les plus durement touchées, comment elles se remettent de l’impact initial et comment elles adaptent leur modèle d’affaires au nouvel avenir des services alimentaires.


À quels aspects de votre entreprise consacrez-vous le plus d’énergie et d’attention? 

D’une certaine manière, nous revenons à nos racines, à savoir un concept de plats à emporter pour la gastronomie décontractée. Depuis seize ans que nous préparons des salades et des gâteries pour Montréal, nous avons agrandi nos salles à manger et incité les clients à manger sur place, mais en raison des directives sanitaires et gouvernementales qui ne permettent que les plats à emporter et la livraison pendant cette pandémie, nous devions revenir à notre concept original de 2004.

Quel est le problème le plus important que vous essayez de résoudre?

Nous essayons d’être le canal et le pont les plus sûrs et les plus utiles entre nos fournisseurs et nos clients. Quand il est devenu clair que la situation allait s’aggraver avant de s’améliorer, nous avons pris contact avec eux et avons essayé de trouver un moyen de faire parvenir le plus de nourriture possible au plus grand nombre de gens possible, notamment les travailleurs de la santé dans les hôpitaux et les CHSLD (établissements de soins de longue durée) les plus touchés.

Quelle a été votre solution la plus fructueuse jusqu’à présent? 

Dans toutes nos décisions d’affaires et d’entreprise, nous nous imaginons à la fois à la place de notre personnel et de nos clients pour déterminer ce qui est le plus nécessaire ou souhaité en cette période éprouvante. Et pour tout le monde, c’est la sécurité, la sûreté, l’emploi et des aliments frais et sains. Du côté des clients, c’était certainement une occasion d’étendre notre offre aux boîtes d’épicerie et aux boîtes-repas. Rebecca et moi sommes à la maison avec plusieurs enfants, et préparer trois repas par jour en plus des collations sept jours par semaine devenait vraiment fatigant. L’une des meilleures choses que nous ayons faites a été d’élargir notre gamme de produits pour y inclure des boîtes de tacos à faire soi-même, des boîtes pour les enfants, des boîtes de grignotines, des boîtes de smoothies et de déjeuner, et plus encore.

Comment êtes-vous restée en contact avec vos clients et vos employés? 

Une chance qu’on a la technologie en cette époque d’éloignement social et physique! Nous avons organisé d’innombrables réunions virtuelles, conférences téléphoniques et, lorsque c’était nécessaire, visites d’emplacements. Nous avons tissé de solides liens avec nos clients par l’intermédiaire des médias sociaux, Instagram étant notre moyen favori de communiquer, de sonder et de rester en contact. Notre équipe s’est vraiment soudée en ces temps difficiles, dans un véritable esprit d’harmonie. Nous sommes très reconnaissants envers notre équipe centrale, notre direction et tous ceux et celles qui viennent travailler avec un sourire sincère, prêts à rendre quelqu’un d’autre un peu plus heureux aussi.

Quels conseils donneriez-vous aux entreprises qui ont des difficultés financières?

Une des choses qui nous ont sauvées est de savoir que nous ne sommes pas seules dans cette situation. La plupart des personnes que nous connaissons, en particulier dans notre secteur d’activité, ont été très durement touchées par cette pandémie. Le fait de savoir que nous sommes tous dans le même bateau a certainement apporté un peu plus de compassion, de compréhension et d’humanité dans un monde des affaires parfois froid. C’est l’occasion de renforcer les relations – avec votre propriétaire, votre personnel, votre banque, les investisseurs, vos fournisseurs, etc. Chaque entreprise est liée à une économie plus vaste, vous ne pouvez pas isoler la vôtre sans que cela n’ait d’incidence sur tant d’autres facteurs et secteurs. Si vous pouvez construire un pont vers « l’autre côté » (ce que nous appelons la fin de la COVID, peu importe quand elle surviendra!), même si ce pont est frêle, branlant et instable, ça reste une voie qui vous évitera de vous égarer dans la forêt, dans un ravin. Parlez à votre banque, voyez quelles dispositions peuvent être prises, et essayez de rester ouvert aux nouvelles façons de faire des affaires en ces temps difficiles.


« Soutenez-vous les uns les autres. Personne n’est votre concurrent ou votre ennemi en ce moment. Nous souffrons tous et essayons de comprendre ces nouvelles voies sans carte, alors essayez d’être un peu plus gentils et compréhensifs.»


Qu’est-ce qui vous a surprise? 

L’effusion de soutien et le sentiment de communauté qui nous entoure – qu’il s’agisse des voisins, des autres propriétaires de restaurants, de nos clients, et de notre personnel qui nous a remonté le moral et nous a indiqué la voie à suivre avec optimisme et leadership même les jours où nous étions déprimées – nous ont montré que les gens peuvent vraiment être étonnants dans les moments critiques. Comme l’a dit un jour un homme sage et bon : « Quand j’étais jeune et que je voyais des choses effrayantes dans les nouvelles, ma mère me disait : “Cherche ceux qui aident. Tu trouveras toujours des gens qui aident.” »

Quel est votre horizon de planification? 

Il y a eu des moments tristes depuis le mois de mars… Nous planifiions ouvrir un restaurant à Toronto l’année prochaine, notre premier livre de recettes devait être lancé le 19 mai dernier, et tous ces rêves et projets sont maintenant sur pause tandis que nous essayons de déterminer comment nous allons nous en sortir. Nous sommes super contentes que l’été arrive et que le beau temps permette aux gens de sortir un peu plus – même s’il faut respecter les mesures de sécurité –, et nos ventes reprennent quelque peu par rapport à la dévastation que nous avons subie en mars et avril. Que va-t-il se passer en automne et en hiver? Personne ne peut le dire. En ce moment, nous prenons les choses une semaine ou un mois à la fois et nous nous concentrons sur ce qui compte le plus : la santé, le bien-être, la sûreté et la sécurité de notre équipe et de notre famille.

Qu’est-ce qui vous fait garder le moral?

Redonner aux autres et les aider. Rien n’est plus agréable que de se sentir utile dans les moments difficiles. Qu’il s’agisse de donner des repas gratuits au personnel de nos hôpitaux et CHSLD, ou de préparer des boîtes d’épicerie pour les demandeurs d’asile qui ne peuvent pas se rendre aux banques alimentaires parce qu’ils sont des mères célibataires avec de jeunes enfants ou ont peur de prendre les transports en commun, chaque petit geste compte. En faisant partie de ce mouvement, en voyant tant d’autres personnes se porter volontaires pour apporter leur aide et leur contribution, nous gardons l’espoir et retrouvons notre foi dans la bonté de l’humanité.

Quel message voulez-vous faire passer aux entrepreneurs en ce moment? 

Il faut rester simple, revenir à l’essentiel… Nous vivons à une époque très minimaliste, et les gens dépensent beaucoup plus pour ce dont ils ont besoin que pour ce qu’ils veulent. Comment pouvez-vous les aider? Où pouvez-vous faire preuve de souplesse pour vous adapter et rester à flot et survivre? Soutenez-vous les uns les autres. Personne n’est votre concurrent ou votre ennemi en ce moment. Nous souffrons tous et essayons de comprendre ces nouvelles voies sans carte, alors essayez d’être un peu plus gentils et compréhensifs. Et en cas de doute, aidez quelqu’un – tout le monde y gagnera.