Q&A: Nicole McLaren, founder of Raven Reads, guided her Indigenous subscription box business through supply-chain challenges.

Nicole Mclaren

Nicole McLaren is an award winning Métis entrepreneur from British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Combining her passion for supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs and leveraging her extensive knowledge of industry supply chains and economic development, Nicole was able to turn a small book club into Raven Reads, the world’s first Indigenous subscription box. With thousands of subscribers across Canada, the U.S., and Europe, Raven Reads continues to grow at a rapid rate while giving back to local communities. Through the success of the business, Nicole has been able to invest over $400,000 back into the Indigenous economy and over $2,000 to literacy programs for Indigenous youth and children.  


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

The pandemic really impacted our supply chain and ability to ship and receive products. To adjust to this, we sought out additional cash (debt) to support purchasing our raw materials earlier, allowing us to assemble our packages and ship them to customers sooner to meet our deadlines. We accessed term loan options that were offered as a result of the pandemic through our local Aboriginal Financial Institution (AFI) and via Futurpreneur. While we have increased our debt burden, we had the advantage of going into the pandemic with a fairly low debt load.

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

As an online business, we have not had to make any major changes to our approach to reaching our customers. Our current approach includes a blend of paid social media advertising, organic social media engagement, email marketing, and partnerships or collaborations. For example, this year we partnered with Pow Wow Pitch to host the execution of their annual mailer box featuring products curated from past and present pitch participants. This year, we have begun to focus more on our email marketing strategy and reducing our dependence on paid advertising. This is to reduce our marketing costs and reduce our dependency on specific social media platforms.

How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

While the pandemic did not necessarily impact our usage of technology, Raven Reads relies heavily on technology to handle our transactional activities with customers, such as taking their orders and handling order fulfillment. We are also a team that is 70% virtual and technology is what allows us to communicate and collaborate on tasks and company objectives. We are currently seeking capital to assist us in boosting our use of technology and enhance our website and e-commerce functionality. Heading into 2022, we will leverage technology better and develop digital products that not only complements our physical product, but provides an enhanced ongoing experience for our subscribers.

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

I had a baby 18 months ago and continued to operate my business throughout the entire time of having a newborn and homeschooling my older daughter. To manage all of this, I have had to employ working in blocks of time and compartmentalizing my priorities each day. I work around nap times and do what I can later in the day. I make sure I take time for myself and always get plenty of sleep when I can. I engage regularly with my team as they are what keeps me going — and they make sure I keep moving forward and continue to innovate. I also have a strong network of like-minded entrepreneurs who I can rely on if I am stuck or struggling to overcome seemingly impassable barriers in business. I keep sane by keeping busy and focus on keeping my family running. And when everyone goes to sleep, I take time for myself and enjoy a good (fictional) book or TV show.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

Being an entrepreneur, or working for yourself, is very different from working a nine-to-five job for an employer. You are responsible for setting your schedule, and no one is there to tell you if you are doing a good or bad job. We often leave day jobs thinking we will have this newfound freedom and not have to work as much. This is somewhat of a falsehood — especially if you are entering an aggressive growth stage of your business. Be sure that you have a support network around you to help on your new journey. Because you don’t have someone else to set the expectation around your work, you can be prone to overworking. It is entirely up to you to set boundaries, set expectations, and ensure you employ a practice to take care of yourself while also keeping your business moving forward.

That mystifying quality of “executive presence” — and how you can get it.

Executive woman with presence

By Gilda Joffe

How does watching a marvelous performance on stage make you feel? Curious, alert, in the zone, transformed, enthralled? And what about the performers? What keeps your eye peeled for their next move or word? What magic do they have that you wish you could emulate? 

As it turns out, it isn’t magic as we know it, but nevertheless something cloaked in a bit of mystery — it’s PRESENCE.

Presence, that indefinable something that makes you sit up and notice when someone enters a room. Something about them, the way they carry themselves, move, or speak, intrigues you and keeps your eyeballs following their every move.

I’m remembering two very well-known women ballet dancers from a bygone era that showed up long ago to the Carnegie Hall stage door where, as a great lover of dance, I had attended a performance. With a side eye and trying not to stare, I noticed that they (who had seemed so tall and magnificent on stage in their youth), were now, because of advanced age, quite diminished. However, with postures like giraffes, coupled with commanding presence, they swept in with an air of royalty!

The presence that you wish to develop, however, is far different. 

Not the alienating sort, but very much the opposite — the kind that can produce an amazingly powerful positive effect on your career. The ambiance you create around yourself determines instantly how people see you, and how they will consciously or unconsciously begin to relate with you.

So, what is this Executive Presence, and why is it important?

Shortly said, executive presence is a charismatic quality which enables others to feel trust, respect, confidence and real interest in the decisions and ideas of the person who possesses it. Furthermore, it is not a luxury to have, but a prized necessity in work and life which directly influences the productivity and advancement of an organization, and tremendously affects self-development. 

When you develop executive presence, it has a ripple effect on the people around you in whatever type of organizational fishbowl you swim, because your attitudes and behaviors:

  • Instill confidence in the person to whom you are speaking — making it easier for them to feel heard, understood, and ultimately psychologically safe to share their ideas. (It’s not hard to see how this relates to creativity, whether individually or in teams.)
  • Allow others to feel your genuine respect, thereby enabling them to mirror that respect back to themselves, and their colleagues.
  • Let you present a clear vision in an inspiring and authentic manner.
  • Show that you are able to communicate skillfully — not by fear-based demands, but by creating an atmosphere of trust and opportunity.
  • Are examples to others of how not to be afraid of mistakes, since by watching you they learn that owning up to mistakes is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Let you handle challenges with dignity and poise, qualities which affect the productivity and emotions of those in your surroundings.

And how does Executive Presence help you personally?

  • By taking responsibility for your emotional patterns and behaviors, you not only raise yourself to a higher level, but are able to show others how you handle chaos without falling apart or resorting to unproductive behaviors.
  • When you cultivate Executive Presence you show your capabilities to others in senior positions, helping them to keep you foremost in their minds for promotions and opportunities.
  • You learn to think more quickly under pressure, to stay calm and recalibrate yourself during or after a stressful situation.
  • Your self-confidence increases enormously in all areas of work and presentation. It IS possible to generally feel very confident even if you are overwhelmed in a specific situation.
  • It gives you a good understanding of how others might perceive you. Looking at yourself from an outside perspective is important to understand what physical or emotional impressions are coming across to others.
  • Your listening and speaking skills, crucial components of Executive Presence, vastly improve, so that you never appear flustered, out of your depth, or emotionally out of balance.
  • You dress appropriately with style and confidence, signaling to others what you think about yourself. If style is not your thing, hire someone to give you a few tips! Everyone needs a little advice now and then.
  • Taking time to ground yourself in your own presence, gives you a platform from which to read and understand your audience. And it is only from that vantage point that you can understand their needs and how to couple them with your own objectives. 

“Executive presence is quite similar to stage presence, so necessary for people in the public eye, since they both require the necessary skills to handle super-charged relationships with many different types of colleagues and listeners.”

To start developing Executive Presence, consider the following areas; they’ll help you assess how you come across to others both personally and professionally:

  • Engaging speaking skills: What is the pitch of your voice? How fast or slow are you speaking? What impact does this have on your listeners? What kind of sentence flow, vocabulary do you use?
  • Reassuring Body Language: Are you tense, closed and constricted? Or open and welcoming? Physical movements calm and reassuring or small and agitated? Facial expressions?
  • Outstanding Communication skills: Can you be assertive without being acerbic? Can you handle difficult people? Situations? Interruptions? Make decisions under pressure? Show authority without an authoritarian attitude? How are your listening skills?
  • High Confidence: Not only project it but feel it! Necessary to allow others to trust in your capabilities, and for others to feel your trust in them.
  • Personal Resilience: Are you on an emotionally and physically stable keel? or constantly stressed, with not enough sleep, and an unhelpful diet? Do you recognize that other aspects of your life are just as important for your life- as for your work?
  • Productive Action: Can you recover quickly from mistakes (we all make them) and continue on decisively with calm? Can you see the bigger picture? Create a vision for yourself and others? Do you have the passion to make a difference? Can you become a mentor to others?

Executive presence is quite similar to stage presence, so necessary for people in the public eye, since they both require the necessary skills to handle super-charged relationships with many different types of colleagues and listeners. In almost all high level professions you will find communication problems, difficult people, and knotty financial /artistic corporate decisions which must be made. Having “Executive Presence” means that you have acquired the kind of mindset which enables wiser decisions and productive actions. Being in command of yourself, before you lead others, is paramount if you wish to have successful outcomes in any career.

To sum it up, no matter what your career, on stage or off, in the boardroom, running a meeting, presenting to your angel investors, developing financial strategies or having an eye on a promotion, your presence and how you express your thoughts will be the determining factor in other people’s decisions about you and your capabilities. The advantage of taking time to develop your executive presence is clear, since it serves the expansion of your company’s horizons, as well as your personal opportunities!

In addition, the very same skills that produce results at work are those that we can use in our everyday lives. When we are secure in our own presence we can then go forward to deliver our gifts, realize our goals, and become the conduits for other’s dreams and visions as well.

What better possibility can there be?

Gilda Joffe

Gilda Joffe

Gilda Joffe, Executive Female Coach and former international performer, works with women worldwide to transform negative mindsets and fears preventing release of creative and business potential. Her 25+ years of coaching and performing experience, has helped hundreds of women to recast issues of confidence, performance anxiety, negative internal dialogues, imposter syndrome issues, into compelling executive presence. She is the author of Dancing With Your Muse: How to Release Fear and Embrace Creativity (Exisle Publishing) set for release in December 2021. Contact Gilda on LinkedIn or performermindset.com

Q et R : Priya Chopra, fondatrice et PDG de 1Milk2Sugars, a créé l’une des entreprises de relations publiques ayant connu la croissance la plus rapide au Canada.

Priya Chopra

Priya Chopra est la fondatrice et directrice générale de 1Milk2Sugars, une agence de communication bilingue spécialisée dans le marketing numérique et les relations publiques pour les marques de style de vie. Lancée en 2012, cette agence primée dispose désormais de bureaux à Montréal et à Toronto, et au cours des deux dernières années à peine, a connu une croissance de plus de 200 %. Ardente défenseure de l’égalité, en novembre 2020, Priya a lancé son initiative la plus ambitieuse : Double shot, une division de gestion des talents visant à mieux faire entendre la voix des PANDC et des personnes sous-représentées dans le secteur de marketing de style de vie.


Comment avez-vous géré les finances de votre entreprise pendant la pandémie?

La pandémie a démontré la nécessité pour les entreprises de se préparer à diverses situations financières, et 1Milk2Sugars ne fait pas exception. 

Avec l’aide de nos partenaires financiers, nous examinons régulièrement nos objectifs et établissons des prévisions financières pour nous aider à allouer nos ressources. Ce processus, couplé à notre budget annuel, fournit une vue d’ensemble de nos finances et nous indique comment nous évoluons par rapport à nos estimations. 

De plus, nous avons également obtenu un financement abordable qui a considérablement augmenté notre fonds de roulement. La sécurité financière est essentielle pour nous permettre d’accepter davantage de clients, de réaliser des campagnes et de pouvoir faire face aux périodes d’inactivité. Ce financement a également été crucial pour nous aider à lancer notre nouvelle entreprise, Double shot, en sachant que notre situation financière était solide. Le maintien d’une source stable de capitaux restera une priorité pour 1Milk2Sugars tout au long de la pandémie et au-delà.

Votre approche des ventes et du marketing a-t-elle changé? 

Nous avons la réputation d’offrir un service à la clientèle inégalé dans le secteur. L’attention que nous apportons à nos clients et les résultats que nous obtenons ont renforcé le marketing de bouche à oreille, au point que notre activité est désormais principalement basée sur les recommandations. Alors que nous effectuions autrefois des visites de représentant pour promouvoir notre entreprise, ce sont les clients qui viennent désormais à nous! 

Toutefois, nous ne prenons pas notre succès pour acquis. Nous mettons en pratique ce que nous prêchons et utilisons un bon nombre des techniques de valorisation de la marque que nous appliquons à nos clients. Par exemple, nous avons un responsable des relations publiques spécialement chargé d’assurer la couverture de nos agences dans les médias spécialisés, du milieu des affaires et du style de vie. De plus, nous recherchons les occasions de faire preuve de leadership éclairé qui mettent en valeur notre expertise en matière de communication de marque. 

Pour renforcer notre réputation et notre position auprès de notre clientèle cible, nous postulons régulièrement à des prix qui mettent en lumière notre activité et notre travail. Par exemple, notre agence a été désignée comme l’une des entreprises à la croissance la plus rapide du Canada selon la Growth List 2020, et nous sommes certifiés Great Place to Work®. Nous avons reçu des distinctions du secteur d’activité, notamment un prix d’excellence en communication de la SCRP qui reconnaît nos réalisations en matière de promotion de la diversité et de l’inclusion, ainsi qu’un prix PR Daily qui reconnaît l’excellence en matière de journalisme de marque et de création de contenu. Sur un plan personnel, j’ai récemment été nommée Leader inspirante de l’année par un grand magazine d’affaires canadien. 

Dans le cadre de notre stratégie marketing, nous mettons activement à jour notre blogue, « No Filter », en y ajoutant des informations et des perspectives utiles sur le milieu de la communication de marque. Nous distribuons également deux bulletins d’information destinés aux abonnés, l’un pour 1Milk2Sugars et l’autre pour Double shot, et nous maintenons de solides profils de médias sociaux pour les deux agences. 

Tous ces facteurs fonctionnent conjointement dans le but de faire de 1Milk2Sugars la meilleure agence de marketing numérique et de relations publiques pour répondre aux besoins de nos clients.

Quel rôle la technologie a-t-elle joué dans votre entreprise pendant cette période? 

En tant qu’agence de marketing numérique, la technologie est au cœur de notre activité, qu’il s’agisse de la surveillance et de l’analyse des médias, de la gestion du contenu ou de la diffusion d’informations. Ces systèmes logiciels nous permettent d’optimiser nos services et de rationaliser nos flux de travail afin de garantir que nos clients tirent le meilleur parti de leur budget marketing. 

Au cours de la seule année dernière, nous avons dévoilé une série de nouveaux services numériques, notamment le commerce électronique et le développement web, le marketing par courriel, la publicité par référencement payant et le conseil en référencement, afin d’aider nos clients à intensifier leur présence en ligne. Depuis le début de la pandémie, nous avons continué à créer du contenu en demandant à notre photographe de travailler seul en studio et de transmettre le contenu numériquement à l’équipe chargée des comptes pour les approbations pré-clients.

De plus, nous avons lancé une salle d’exposition numérique pour aider nos marques à maximiser leurs relations publiques en l’absence d’événements de lancement en personne ou d’entretiens au bureau pendant la pandémie. Cette nouvelle plateforme, la première du genre au Canada, permet aux médias de consulter en toute transparence des images haute résolution, des communiqués de presse et la tarification des produits, et de vérifier la disponibilité des produits ainsi que les détails d’emprunt pour nos clients, sur demande et 24 heures sur 24, 7 jours sur 7.

Enfin, notre équipe s’est rapidement tournée vers l’organisation d’événements virtuels dans le contexte de la pandémie. Des tutoriels de coiffure en ligne avec des coiffeurs célèbres aux séances de yoga virtuelles, nous avons misé sur la technologie et la créativité afin de réaliser des expériences de marque vraiment mémorables pour nos clients et leurs publics cibles. 

Comment avez-vous préservé votre moral (et celui de votre équipe)?

Le côté positif de cette pandémie, c’est qu’elle a révélé l’importance de la santé et a obligé les dirigeants à réexaminer leurs engagements en matière de bien-être au travail. 

Même si, chez 1Milk2Sugars, nous accordons depuis longtemps la priorité à l’équilibre entre vie professionnelle et vie privée, la pandémie de COVID-19 nous a fait redoubler d’efforts pour garantir cet équilibre comme jamais auparavant. Au cours des 18 derniers mois, nous avons mis en place plusieurs initiatives visant à rapprocher notre équipe, même si nous travaillons séparément. Certaines activités, comme les séances hebdomadaires de méditation guidée, étaient de nature plus légère, tandis que d’autres, comme les tables rondes vidéo, visaient à promouvoir la productivité et la collaboration entre pairs.

Nous avons également lancé un nouveau bulletin d’information sur les « victoires hebdomadaires » afin d’insuffler la positivité et de mettre tout le monde au courant des réalisations de l’agence, comme les nouvelles acquisitions d’entreprises, les renouvellements de contrats ou la couverture médiatique positive pour nos clients et l’agence. Pour nous-mêmes, entre collègues, nous avons créé « l’appréciation sur la sellette » : un membre de l’équipe s’assoit sur la « sellette » et tous les employés disent à tour de rôle ce qu’ils aiment et admirent chez cette personne. C’était notre façon d’insuffler la positivité pendant une période autrement stressante et inquiétante.

Quel conseil donneriez-vous aux entrepreneurs de votre secteur aujourd’hui?

Le seul conseil que je donnerais à mes pairs entrepreneurs est de consacrer du temps (et des ressources au besoin) à la définition de leur énoncé mission. Ne le traitez pas comme une réflexion après coup; c’est l’étoile polaire qui guidera votre prise de décisions dans tous les domaines, des nouvelles affaires au recrutement en passant par la responsabilité sociale des entreprises. 

Non seulement votre énoncé de mission expliquera de façon transparente aux employés et aux clients la raison d’être de votre entreprise, mais il clarifiera vos priorités lorsque des événements imprévus, comme cette pandémie, se produiront soudainement. Je ne saurais trop insister sur l’importance d’un énoncé de mission bien pensé pour gérer une équipe et diriger une entreprise prospère.

Q&A: The co-founders of Ryan Murphy Construction have successfully led their general contracting business through a few economic downturns.

Lara + Karen

Lara Murphy is one half of Ryan Murphy Construction, a woman-owned construction and contracting company based in Calgary, Alberta. Lara and her co-founder Karen Ryan met on a construction site in 2008. Acknowledging how rare it is to work with other women in the construction, renovation, and general contracting arenas, they teamed up to bring something new to the construction industry. Ryan Murphy Construction has been growing steadily and has been disrupting the industry with each of their corporate, commercial, and residential projects across Canada.


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

Events like the global pandemic and fluctuations in the economy requires us to always maintain an in-depth working knowledge of our financial performance, and goodness knows there has been a lot of fluctuation in Alberta in the last 12 years! We launched our business during the 2008 global financial crisis, made it through the Calgary flood of 2013, and persevered during Alberta’s oil and gas market decline. Our team’s agility in accommodating these changes has been crucial to our momentum, and it continues to show throughout the pandemic. 

Hard decisions had to be made about staffing; we decided that we had to put some team members on temporary leave to ease cash flow strain, and fortunately, we were able to bring people back in September of 2020. 

Before the pandemic began, we were working with strategic consultants to evaluate the business and collaborate with our team on scalability. When the pandemic hit, we actually had the time to sit with our core team and personally evaluate our company goals and strategic direction, which wouldn’t have been possible without the “down time” during the pandemic. At the time, it seemed counterintuitive because we didn’t know how the pandemic would impact the company, but the insights we gained and the changes we made refocused our business and resulted in geographical and fiscal growth.

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

During the pandemic people were shocked, sad, frustrated, and unsure of anything. Some of our clients and friends lost their businesses, and many people had lost loved ones. We knew this was not the time for traditional marketing and decided that we’d share uplifting, optimistic, comforting, and supportive messaging. Our social media posts were inspirational, humourous, informative, and provided people with a much-needed smile and the reassurance that we were in this together and were going to pull through together. 

Check-ins with clients, partners, and tradespeople were frequent and more focused on their well-being. Video calls with them became the norm and included a combination of laughter, vented frustrations, tears, and, occasionally, wine. This dedication to our clients resulted in strengthened relationships and new projects once the province began to reopen. 

How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

Technology certainly helped prove to clients that remote work is effective, and it created an alternative, efficient work life balance for our team — a new hybrid model for people to move more freely while accomplishing their goals. We were able to encourage our team to continue feeling purposeful and supported during a difficult time, while placing emphasis on their ability to be successful — both individually and collectively. Video conferencing platforms replaced our in-person meetings for project and client management, and it was also used to check in with the team when we were all working from home.

At our sites, we wanted to prioritize the safety of our clients and people in trades, so we implemented and invested in a touchless QR code system as a new approach to an onsite safety measurement for required sign-in’s, health checks, meetings, and more. This allowed us to continue to work during the pandemic and was easy for our tradespeople to manage on their cell phones.

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

Because of COVID-19, I’ve learned to adapt to having a day-to-day mindset, and to appreciate small joys and achievements more fully. Pre-pandemic, I was constantly going from meeting to meeting, gone all day from the office and from home. Once lockdowns began, there were no more events or travel (and no hair colouring!), which was somewhat of a welcomed relief — I was able to spend time with my partner Liv and our dog, Ruby, during her final days. A few months after Ruby left us, we were lucky enough to adopt two new pugs, a mother and son — sweet Rosie and hilarious Bubba. Spending so much more quality time with Liv and the “kids” has been fabulous, and we even carved up the mountains on a ski trip together. This slower pace made me able to be more productive and focused, and allowed me the space to not only imagine new personal and professional goals, but to achieve them.

Our team felt the same way, at times choosing to work from home or adjust their schedules to better suit their work and their mental health during such turbulent times. We had many more check-ins, supporting each other and sharing our experiences. This work environment has lasted, as we saw that our staff were happier and just as productive — if not more so — when they are able to have flexible schedules.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

Make time to strategize as a team — no interruptions, no rainchecks. Get everyone in a room — safely in person or virtually — and have them do exercises to define the company and ways to envision growth and enrichment opportunities. During a brainstorm session, everyone can call out words that define the company, or write down ideas for change. This dedicated time is priceless. It creates a real investment in the business, allows everyone to have a chance to share their diverse voice, and strengthens team bonds.

Why it’s important to approach philanthropy holistically — regardless of your income.

Lydia Potocnik

For Lydia Potocnik, philanthropic planning is a career as well as a passion. Trained as an Estate Planning lawyer, she began her career working in philanthropy planning for a hospital foundation in Toronto. “That role really allowed me to appreciate the work being done by charitable organizations and the impact donors can have with their wealth,” she says. 

Now, as Head of Estate Planning & Philanthropic Advisory Services with BMO, Lydia says more Canadian women are making plans for philanthropic giving than ever before. Statistically, women tend to be more strategic in their approach to giving, looking for ways to contribute time and money, maintaining meaningful relationships with charities they’re supporting, and using their philanthropy as an opportunity to be a role model for their families. 

In order to account for personal financial needs and wants — both current and in the future — Lydia suggests that women take a more holistic approach to their wealth in order to ensure that their philanthropic goals are met. A good wealth plan, she says, will look at tax planning, wealth protection, estate planning, business succession planning, and philanthropy planning, and every aspect should consider a woman’s values, goals, and concerns. 

To help simplify the process and make sense of philanthropic planning, we sat down with Lydia to discuss. 

Where should a person begin when it comes to philanthropy?  

The best place to start would be to get clear on your values and determine which causes and organizations best align with those. If you decide you want to have an impact with your giving, it’s a good idea to think about what that looks like to you. 

Do you need to have a large amount of wealth in order to be a philanthropist?

No, you don’t need to have a significant amount of wealth to be a philanthropist. This is something you can build toward throughout your lifetime. However, it is important to note the difference between charitable giving and philanthropy. Charitable giving is often a one-time donation made in response to an immediate need, such as shelter or food or medical assistance. These contributions are often emotional or empathetic and provide short term relief — like donating to an emergency response fund. Charitable donors usually don’t enter into a long-term relationship with the organization. 

Philanthropy, on the other hand, is a much more strategic — and personal — undertaking. Instead of focusing on short-term fixes, philanthropy aims to have a long-term, sustainable impact by identifying and addressing the root cause of systemic societal issues — everything from addiction and poverty, to racism and environmental causes. 

What can someone do if they don’t have a significant amount of wealth but still want to begin their philanthropic journey?

There are several things they can do. Even without a significant amount of wealth, you can still make a difference with a charitable organization. I often tell individuals to reach out to the charity and find out what is important to them and what they’re trying to raise funds for. If you direct your giving toward a specific project, then you’ll be able to see the impact of your donation and that’s going to make it a lot more meaningful to you. 

If someone is looking to become more philanthropic and has a larger amount of funds to allocate, what advice would you give them?

I would suggest they meet with a wealth advisor to determine how much they can afford to donate during their lifetime and combine this with their estate planning. By giving some money away while you are alive, you can experience the impact that you are having while also creating a legacy. An advisor can assist you with establishing goals and aligning them to your vision and values by taking a more strategic and long-term approach. They will often include the charitable organizations you want to support in these discussions. 

Why is an advisor recommended? 

An advisor will have experience helping individuals identify their goals and values and will also make educated recommendations as to how you can meet those goals. They’ll also consider your financial ability to make donations while alive and provide advice on the most tax efficient way to do so. 

How important is planning and goal setting for younger women looking to begin their philanthropic journey?

For younger women, we typically recommend they divide their income into three pools: pay yourself (your savings), pay your expenses, and then give money to charity if you can afford to do so. We recommend a similar approach to children as they learn to navigate finances with their first allowance. 

With women, it’s especially important to make sure that your own needs are met. We have found that with Millennials, there’s often a desire to get more involved when it comes to philanthropy. They often like to do things more publicly, get involved in broad-based fundraising initiatives, get their hands dirty, and get involved with the charity rather than just giving money. Boomers tend to be a bit more private and don’t always want to reveal who they are when they give money. Philanthropy looks very different to different demographics. 

Regardless, the one thing that should remain the same is the plan. Having clear financial and giving goals will help you meet them without any added stress. 

Are there any tools that can help women establish philanthropic practices earlier in their careers?

The Donor Advised Fund (DAF) tends to be ‘step one’ for a lot of women before they establish a foundation. The goal of this type of fund is to put in a minimum of $10,000 up front, which is earmarked for charity. 

The whole amount is invested and every year, you decide how much you want to give to a chosen charity. You’ll get a tax receipt for the $10,000 when it’s invested. You can also choose to skip a year of donating if your focus is aggressive investment. When you’re no longer here, you can appoint someone else to take on the fund and continue to support the charities of your choice.

Q&A: serial STEM entrepreneur Sherry Shannon-Vanstone on launching and scaling a social network.

Sherry Shannon-Vanstone

Sherry Shannon-Vanstone is a serial entrepreneur, mathematician, innovator, philanthropist, and mentor. Passionate about STEM, business, and philanthropy, Sherry is the Founder and CEO of Profound Impact Corporation, a social engagement and interaction platform that helps universities, colleges, research institutions, and social impact organizations increase connectivity, collaboration, and measure their impact. Additionally, Sherry is the co-founder and co-chair of the Waterloo Region chapter of Women in Communications and Technology (WCT-WR), and co-chair of Perimeter Institute’s Emmy Noether Council.


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

As the pandemic progressed, factors related to our socioeconomic systems shifted, forcing businesses to change their traditional models and adapt. Many small businesses and startups were disproportionately impacted due to a lack of cash reserves and borrowing power to sustain operations. Like many others, Profound Impact focused on reevaluating our current position and trajectory so we could further understand exactly what we needed to do as a business to continue to scale.

When managing our own finances throughout the pandemic, it was crucial to remain informed and ask important questions. Some of these included: How can we ensure sustainable financing and stable cash reserves? How can we adapt our business model to reduce costs, both in the short and medium term? How can we best invest in our team to keep our momentum?

Our team operated under the terms that we can always run leaner. When focused on scaling, you’re not always focused on efficiency. The pandemic forced us to reevaluate every area of spend and every contract to achieve better terms, find savings, or determine where to cut altogether.

We did take on an operating line of credit to ensure that we have the cash flow required to add functionalities and features to the digital community platform, and also expanded our product offering, including our recently launched career trajectory solution and a soon-to-be announced research/researcher matching solution.  

Prior to COVID, we decided to maintain a virtual office with rented meeting space at locations across North America. Because we did not have the overhead of an office space and because the majority of our staff are contractors, we did not participate in any of the COVID wage subsidy or rent relief programs.

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

Profound Impact officially launched its next-generation social network and interaction platform during the pandemic — a time where the capacity for in-person interactions was very limited. We leveraged this in our sales and marketing approach to position our platform as a solution during and post-pandemic. To connect with customers, we refined our messaging and positioned our platform as an inclusive digital community used to connect people and empower collaboration — two of the primary challenges that our customer base were facing as a result of the pandemic. 

We focused our sales and marketing on providing solutions to our customers within the changing technological landscape. This involved adapting our marketing strategy to expand our approaches and develop new channels for connecting with our clients. We placed an increased emphasis on social media and content marketing, exploring new ways to connect with our audiences. Profound Impact hosted a variety of webinars over the last year and conducted research to understand what pain points our customers are talking about, what challenges they are facing, and how we can provide a solution. 

As in-person events and networking shifted in 2020, emphasizing the importance and value of online digital communities became a key message in much of our marketing. As the world shifted to virtual workplaces and classrooms, people have been spending more time online than ever. The focus of online engagement, through tools such as webinars, surveys, and engaging social media content, have been essential to our marketing strategy and growth. 

Through trial and error, we’ve gained an understanding of the interests of our target audience and use that in our marketing and communications on social media and other owned channels. Ensuring the content is relatable and engaging has been crucial while doing this, emphasizing the human and relationship building aspect of our platform. For example, instead of looking at our platform as a way to grow your network, we emphasize it is a place where like minded people can foster long-term and meaningful connections. Ensuring that our messaging aligns with the needs of our customers and the current socio-economic landscape has been crucial to helping us reach our audience and grow organically while pushing towards profitability. 

How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

Technology has played an integral role in our ability to reach our target audiences and build relationships with stakeholders. At the height of the pandemic, in-person events and meetings were not an option for us to connect — whether that be internally or with our customers. Like many other organizations, we had to adapt to a completely remote environment. We not only utilized video conferencing platforms for internal and external meetings, but also seamlessly integrated it into our Profound Impact platform so that our customers can engage in more robust virtual experiences. In addition to integrating several other third-party applications, we continued our own development of features such as discussion boards, LinkedIn sign-on, and automatic uploading of profile data using PDF and other formats.

With a virtual, tech-enabled workforce, the Profound Impact team was set up for success using multiple platforms to keep close on the information that mattered. All team meetings are done virtually and synchronously at this time. 

The acceleration of digital during the COVID-19 pandemic influenced additional product offerings. We invested heavily in tech, data, processes, and people, allowing us to deploy digital strategies such as leveraging data analytics and AI, investing in privacy and security, and integrating the scalability of our product offerings at rapid speed. 

When it came to connecting externally with customers and stakeholders, our marketing approach and business model transformed to account for remote sales and marketing. To do so, we utilized our Profound Impact platform to host webinars and other virtual events. Understanding that digital communities are one of the most important tools that businesses can leverage to continue innovating, scaling, and strengthening as we come out of the pandemic, our team capitalized on building our Profound Impact digital community while leveraging our online channels and placing a heavier focus on digital marketing. 

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

It is incredibly important to remain positive when scaling a business, especially during times of uncertainty. Looking back at the past 18 months, the pandemic not only made us stronger, but I can confidently say it also made us better. Remaining agile, resilient, and purposeful during times of change will help shape a positive mindset.  

Managing a team during times of crisis has proven to be a rewarding challenge. It sounds simple, but those who believe in your mission, bring an internal sense of gratitude to your company, and are willing to see the hurdles through with you make all the difference. With that said, putting employee well-being above all else is of utmost importance. Your people are your greatest asset. Putting the health and safety of employees first, emphasizing support, and managing team morale in your organization is crucial. Some ways we’ve been able to achieve this at Profound Impact are: Our monthly all hands meeting; highlighting and matching team members’ volunteer and philanthropic donations; providing professional development programs; and timely communications. 

Some of my best tricks for staying positive would be to try to find a silver lining in every situation and ensure you set boundaries. Many of us are working from home or hybrid — and do not have a distinct boundary between work and home life. It is important to set boundaries (this can include anything from turning off email notifications, putting your phone on do not disturb, etc.) at specific times to ensure that you have dedicated time to unwind and decompress. 

On that note, prioritizing time for yourself and for your family and friends is important. Life is all about balance — and boundary setting is key to achieving that balance. This is something we encourage every team member to embody.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

The one piece of advice I’d give to all entrepreneurs is to think about the true impact your business can make on society. Businesses can be profitable and purposeful at the same time. I grew up in a time when not many girls studied Mathematics and it has always been important to me to open everyone’s eyes to what’s possible in STEM. I am able to align this societal impact with my business as an important element of how we make decisions, how we build team engagement, and how we support the next generation of tech-skilled workers. All entrepreneurs (big and small) can start early in identifying their purpose and how it will positively impact society. 

Q&A: Chef Nuit Regular, Executive Chef and Co-Owner and Toronto’s top Thai restaurants, managed weeks with zero revenue — and then pivoted.

Nuit Regular _Photo credit Graydon & Herriott

Chef Nuit Regular is the Executive Chef and Co-Owner of PAI, Kiin, By Chef Nuit, Sabai Sabai, and Sukhothai. Creating authentic Thai dishes inspired by her roots in Northern Thailand, Chef Nuit has been instrumental in transforming the Thai food scene in Toronto, Canada. In addition to operating her many restaurants, Chef Nuit has also been a guest judge on MasterChef Canada and Top Chef Canada, is a resident judge on Food Network Canada’s Wall of Chefs, and is the author of Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand, which was shortlisted for the IACP Cookbook Awards and the Taste Canada Awards. 


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

Because we closed our restaurants for several weeks during the initial lockdown of the pandemic, we had zero revenue coming in. We had to adjust how we managed our finances, and we reached out to our bank to get lines of credit approved. We always had really positive relationships with our landlords and suppliers, so they were very understanding and willing to help us out in any way they could — whether it was allowing us to defer payments, or working with us to create payment plans that would make sense with our reduced cash flow. We also signed up for various government programs, including the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), and small business loan programs, which allowed us to continue to pay our staff wages, rent, and other overhead costs, even with greatly reduced revenue.

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

I work in the hospitality industry, which is all about connecting and interacting with our guests in person. It’s been very hard these past 16 months to not be able to give our guests the full dining experience. I started hosting virtual cooking classes and events as an alternative way to connect and interact with my customers. It allowed me to have facetime with guests that I couldn’t have at the restaurants, and I could offer them something experiential and of value in return by continuing to bring my Thai cuisine and culture into their homes. I’ve also become more active on social media as a way of communicating and staying relevant and connected with my customers.

We’ve heard the word “pivot” a lot in the hospitality industry during the pandemic, and that is what we did — offering new products and services based on customer needs. When people were locked down in their homes and cooking more, we created meal kits so customers could easily cook their favourite Thai dishes themselves. Utilizing ingredients we already had available at our restaurants, we also opened an online marketplace selling Thai produce and products directly to customers, including items that are harder to find like holy basil and magrud limes.

How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

With the various lockdowns, we were mostly only able to operate for take-out and delivery, so developing deeper relationships with our various delivery app partners was essential. Before the pandemic, take-out and delivery was only about 30% of our business. Suddenly, it became 100% of our business. To maximize ease and efficiency we upgraded our POS systems to ensure they were fully integrated to streamline all online orders, including incoming orders from our various delivery app partners.

The pandemic also helped move our business into doing more contactless transactions. Many of our guests inquired about purchasing gift cards as a way to support our business. Before the pandemic, we only sold physical gift certificates, but we finally transitioned to fully electronic gift cards.

From a business operations perspective, we transitioned to using electronic invoices versus paper invoices, and made payments via e-transfer over physical cheques. This not only ensured the health and safety of our team and our suppliers, but also increased efficiency and convenience for our business.

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

I think this pandemic showed me the importance of self-care and taking the time for myself and my family. During the early months of the pandemic, I was able to spend all this time at home with my kids and my husband — time I never had before — and I loved it! I loved being present with them. I was also able to take care of myself — exercise more, get some rest, cook with my family, and do some creative things outside of work. It helped reinvigorate me and allowed me to better focus on work. I was reminded that it’s important to take the time to reset your body and your mind, and to have quality time with your family and with yourself. Now that we’re back to somewhat normal business operations, I still ensure I take time for myself and my family every day. I have my mornings off for family time — whether it’s exercising together or just spending quality time together.

I also ensure that we bring that self-care mindset and positive energy to my team. Being a chef is hard on the body because we’re always on our feet and using our hands, using very repetitive motions. I’ve implemented regular exercise breaks for my team during work, where the team will stop what they’re doing and run through a program of stretches for the hands, the legs, the back, etc. This helps loosen up the muscles and joints and helps prevent chronic pain or long-term injuries. We’ve also created a healthier staff meal program to encourage a healthy and nutritious lifestyle, and we have regular team-building activities and meetings to promote a fun and positive work environment.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

My piece of advice to entrepreneurs is to stay positive and to take care of yourself. Things may not always turn out the way you want them to, but if you approach your life and your work with a positive attitude, you can achieve anything.You also need to take care of yourself in order to take care of others — whether that’s your staff or your customers. I used to be go-go-go all the time, but the pandemic made me rethink my priorities and focus more on my physical and mental health. It hit me hard when I was forced to stop working, and I realized just how exhausted I was, physically and mentally. I discovered that I needed to have my “me” time. 

So don’t be afraid or feel guilty to take the time for yourself to enjoy the little moments in life. For me, I now start my mornings just enjoying the flowers and the birds in my backyard, and leisurely sip a cup of coffee. I make sure I set aside time to exercise. Adjusting your daily routine to ensure you’re taking time for yourself will help recharge your “internal battery,” and give you more motivation to work harder and achieve greater things at work.

5 personal branding secrets every business leader should know.

Monique Bryan

By Monique Bryan

Landing those dream clients, referral partners, speaking opportunities, publishing deals and media coverage doesn’t happen by happenstance. Some of us fail to understand that the success we see of some of our online business idols was the result of years of consistent effort, backed by strategic marketing and personal brand management. 

As PR expert Nicole Dunn says, “In establishing yourself as a brand that people trust, you’ll be able to price your goods and services at a premium, attract more media attention, be viewed as an authority in your industry and create a long-lasting platform.” 

Today, it is not enough to be an expert at what you do. It’s your job as the leader and visionary of your business to learn how to be heard and seen amongst the noisy oversaturated online arena so it’s easy for people to choose you.

Here are 5 key ways to start positioning yourself for the opportunities you want:

Secret #1: Own Your Lane And Stay In It

As the saying goes, “A confused customer never buys.” Being multifaceted and multi-passionate are great attributes to have, but we can’t expect to be top of mind for our audience in all areas at the exact same time. People don’t have the bandwidth to figure out what we do. It’s your job to tell them and then become known as the go-to in that space. The mistake some entrepreneurs make is that they diversify too soon, failing to establish credibility and trust.

Here’s a goal: Pick a lane you want to own, then be prepared to own that lane for at least five years before you start diversifying into other areas. Be good, and keep getting better. 


Secret #2: Clean Up Your Digital Houzz 

Think about the last time you hired someone for something really important, what drove your decision? Nine times out of ten it was a referral, their reputation or how they looked online. According to personal branding expert, Giuliana Tranquilini Hadade, there are over 1 billion names Googled every day, yet only one in four have any positive information on Google. It is your responsibility to ensure your online presence aligns with how you want to be perceived.

Here are some easy ways to get started:

  • Remove out-of-date and unprofessional photos, websites, and content from the internet. If you don’t own the content, reach out to those who do and make the request to have it removed or have yourself untagged.
  • Replace unprofessional and out-of-date profile headshots. (See Secret #3 for how to do this.)
  • Update your social media bios so they are clear and concise. They should tell people what you do, whom you help, and how to contact you with ease. 
  • Create a personal website where you control the message going out about you. This is online real estate that you own unlike your social media profiles, which could be shut down at any time without warning.
  • Create new content and post it online on a regular basis. This will push irrelevant and old content you may want to erase to the later pages of Google.

And remember, every piece of content you put online is either adding to your brand — or taking away from it.


Secret #3: Have A Good Headshot

Headshot with tipsWe all judge a book by it’s cover, no matter how brilliant the author; however, you don’t have to be the most attractive or photogenic person to seal the deal. You do need to look trustworthy and credible. Often people are deciding if your words can be trusted based on how credible you “look.”

They have a split second to choose you over someone else, and usually, all they have to base their decision on is a small one-inch profile photo they found on your social media, so it’s your job to put your best-polished foot forward. Hop over to your profile and ask yourself, “If I were seeing me for the first time, would I hire me, based on what I see?”


Secret #4:  Show Up On Video And Share Free Content 

According to industry experts, “…no amount of sophisticated technology can ever take the place of real, live, in-person events. That’s when you can look into a person’s eyes, read his or her body language, and sense their energy. But, the very next best thing is video, and especially live video.”

This is especially important if you sell one-to-one services, or you have aspirations for interviews by the media. If you are stepping out on your dream and you want people to decide to choose you over someone who does exactly what you do, you have to let people see the face behind the message. And the best way to do that is to create long and short-form video content and distribute it across your social media channels. 

Here are a few tips on how to get started:

  • Only speak on the topics you want to be known for (remember Secret #1: Own Your Lane.)
  • Plan what you want to say in advance. Fumbling around is not good for you or the listener
  • Focus on delivering value first. Always think about, what does my audience want to hear? 
  • Have a take-a-way for the listener, such as key action steps, a resource, or a call-to-action.
  • If you are nervous about showing up on video, ask a friend to interview you on camera versus going at it alone.
  • Wear something that makes you feel confident and like the expert that you are.
  • Be yourself and speak like you are talking to a friend.

Secret #5: Build Your Network Of Thought Partners 

“It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you” will become your mantra as you build your personal brand and your influence. Therefore it is essential that you grow and nurture a strategic network of people who can help get your name out there. And as LinkedIn has shown us, we are usually just 1-3 connections away from everyone we want.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Make a list of the “types” of people you think could propel your credibility, opportunities, or proximity to the things you want if you had them in your network.
  • Look at your LinkedIn connections or contacts list on your phone and see whom you are already connected to and add them to your list.
  • From these lists identify which of these people you think would be comfortable putting your name forward or introducing you to your dream contacts.
  • Reach out through a thought-out direct message, video message, or email and reconnect.
  • Acknowledge them for their great work and offer them your help, expertise, or a connection you think they could use. Always give before you ask.
  • If they are active on social media, go one step further and make them look good by highlighting their accomplishments and sharing their content.

These are just a few of the essential components to brand yourself and start building a reputable personal brand.Your ability to build an authentic online reputation and social media presence that people, companies, organizations and even your future book publisher can get behind is critical. When you learn that your personal brand is essential to your ability to build your thought leadership, your platform, your audience, your bank account, and your dreams, you will plan, market and show up in a whole new way.

Monique Bryan

Monique Bryan

Meet Monique Bryan, a speaker, personal branding expert, online course creator, podcast host and triple positive breast cancer survivor. Monique helps women-identified coaches, consultants and seasoned professionals package and sell their genius, build a noteworthy online presence and build their confidence as they step into the spotlight. Book a Brand Discovery Call with her team to learn more or visit moniquebryan.com.

How to get started with Socially Responsible Investing.

As social justice and climate issues become more of a concern for many, decisions around how we shop, eat, and live are often being made with our community responsibility in mind. 

For those thinking about how to align their values with their spending, Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) can be an important piece of the puzzle. It considers both financial return and social and environmental impact, giving investors the opportunity to make more conscious investment decisions.

There are a variety of approaches for socially responsible and sustainable investing — and often the best place to begin is to understand your values and priorities. Where do you go from there? Follow these four steps to help kick off your SRI journey. 

1. Get clear on what matters most to you. 

You don’t have to choose between your long-term financial goals and investing in responsibly managed companies — with the options available today, you can make investment decisions that will lead to good financial outcomes as well as have a positive impact. And you can take it one step further, by defining when and how you might prioritize one over the other. Whether you’re driven more by performance or purpose, and build your portfolio accordingly. 

Taking time to reflect on your values can also help you invest in a more meaningful way. Where do you stand when it comes to environmental responsibility, social impact, and corporate governance? What matters most to you? Are there things that you absolutely will not tolerate when it comes to investments? If you take a look at your lifestyle and the areas you tend to focus on most, this can provide a roadmap for your investment decisions. For example, if you’re committed to reducing waste and are living a “green” lifestyle, you may not want to invest in companies that are causing harm to the planet. If you’re committed to shopping locally, supporting small, women-owned, BIPOC-owned businesses, you may want to look for funds that have a similar mandate. 

Not totally sure where you stand? There is a wealth of resources online that can help. For example,  BMO’s MyESG™ is an easy, interactive tool that helps you recognize your approach to investing, get clear on what you value, and determine what kind of investor you are. 

2. Determine how your current portfolio aligns with those values. 

If you’re investing by purchasing individual stocks, you probably know exactly what’s in your portfolio. Many of us use investment vehicles that group a broad basket of stocks from a variety of companies together — like with a mutual fund, exchange traded fund (ETF), or index fund. This means you could be inadvertently investing in companies that manufacture weapons or tobacco, have environmentally detrimental impacts, or don’t pay their manufacturers a living wage. 

You can find information online about the stocks held in funds, but a financial professional can help you look more closely at your existing portfolio, determine where you’d like to make a change, and direct you toward more socially responsible choices. If you’re serious about only investing in companies that align with your values, there are a number of investment products that are specifically designed to help you do this, which can take a lot of the research and guesswork out of the equation. 

3. Understand the various ways you can make investment decisions.

It is often assumed that socially responsible investing means excluding stocks or companies based on their practices or ethics — and virtually all SRI avoids investment in sectors that are detrimental to the environment and are deemed to have an adverse effect on society — but not investing in certain industries is just one part of the equation. 

Investors may also consider positive inclusion, which means investing in stocks that promote a social benefit such as green energy, healthcare technology, and sustainable manufacturing. Thematic investing is another form of SRI where a portfolio is made up of companies that all focus on a similar theme, such as BIPOC-owned businesses or sustainable food production, for example. 

4. Know the investment approaches available to you.  

Depending on your goals and needs, the approach you take to sustainable investing can differ slightly — so it’s a good idea to know the difference between the investing strategies available to you. ESG funds, for example, use a framework that considers three factors when selecting which companies to support: environmental (the effects on the earth), social (the impact on society), and governance (how the company is run). The priority here however remains financial return. Impact Funds require every investment to have a positive social or environmental impact, giving increased priority to advancing social goals, even before financial gain. 

You can also decide between working with an investment professional or taking a DIY approach through a self-directed account. Depending on the route you take, the products that are available can change. For example, with an investment professional you can gain access to ESG solutions such as the newly launched BMO Sustainable Portfolios, a professionally managed suite of portfolios that invest in companies committed to ESG outcomes. If you are looking to add ESG ETFs to your self-directed portfolio, BMO has expanded the range of ESG ETFs including the BMO Balanced ESG ETF (ZESG)

As Socially Responsible Investing continues to gain momentum in the US and Canada, the number of products available is growing — but before you get to making those detailed decisions, don’t skip the self-reflection needed to know if taking a values-based approach to investing is right for you, and the ideal way to approach it to meet your goals. If you’re in doubt, it’s always best to ask a professional for guidance. 

Q&A: Priya Chopra, founder and CEO 1Milk2Sugars, built a PR firm that’s one of Canada’s fastest growing companies.

Priya Chopra

Priya Chopra is the founder and CEO of 1Milk2Sugars, a bilingual communications agency  specializing in digital marketing and public relations for lifestyle brands. Launched in 2012, the award winning agency now has hubs in Montreal and Toronto, and has grown by over 200% in the last two years alone. An outspoken advocate for equality, in November 2020, Priya launched her most purpose-driven initiative yet: double shot, a talent management division aimed at amplifying BIPOC and underrepresented voices in lifestyle marketing.


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic? 

The pandemic has demonstrated the need for businesses to prepare for various financial scenarios — and 1Milk2Sugars is no exception. 

With guidance from our financial partners, we routinely examine our goals and undertake financial forecasting to help us allocate our resources. This process, together with our annual budget, provides a holistic view of our finances and tells us how we’re trending versus our estimates. 

Notably, we also secured affordable financing which has greatly increased our working capital. Being secure financially is key to us taking on more clients, executing on campaigns and bridging the periods between remuneration. It was also critical in helping us launch our newest venture, double shot, knowing we were on solid financial ground. Maintaining a stable source of capital will remain a priority for 1Milk2Sugars throughout the pandemic and beyond.

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

We have a reputation for unmatched client service in the industry. The level of care we provide to our clients and the results we deliver has fueled word-of-mouth marketing to the point that our business is now primarily based on referral. Whereas we were once making sales calls to promote our business, clients are now coming to us! 

Still, we don’t take our success for granted. We practice what we preach and employ a lot of the same brand-building techniques that we employ for our clients. For example, we have a dedicated PR lead to generate coverage about our agencies in lifestyle, business, and trade media. Moreover, we pursue thought leadership opportunities that highlight our expertise in brand communications. 

To further reinforce our reputation and standing among our target clientele, we regularly apply for awards that shine a spotlight on our business and showcase our work. Notably, our agency was named one of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies by the 2020 Growth List and we are Great Place to Work-certified. We’ve been recognized with industry accolades, including a CPRS ACE Award acknowledging our achievements in promoting diversity and inclusion, and a PR Daily award recognizing excellence in brand journalism and content creation. On a personal note, I was recently named Inspirational Leader of the Year by a leading Canadian business magazine. 

Further to our marketing strategy, we actively update our blog, “No Filter”, with useful insights and perspectives about the world of brand communications. We also distribute two subscriber-based newsletters, one for 1Milk2Sugars and one for double shot, and maintain robust social media profiles for both agencies. 

All these factors work in tandem to help make the case for 1Milk2Sugars as the premier digital marketing and public relations agency to serve our clients’ needs. 

How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

As a digital marketing agency, technology is core to our business in everything from media monitoring and analytics to content management and news distribution. These software systems enable us to optimize our services and streamline our workflows to ensure our clients are getting the most for their marketing budget. 

In the last year alone, we unveiled a suite of new digital services including e-commerce and web development, email marketing, paid search advertising and SEO consulting to help our clients bring their online presences up to speed. Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve kept our content creation active by having our photographer work alone in the studio and transmit content digitally to the account team for pre-client approvals.

Additionally, we launched a digital showroom to help our brands maximize their PR in the absence of in-person launch events or deskside interviews during the pandemic. This new platform, which was the first of its kind in Canada, enables the media to seamlessly access hi-res images, press releases, product pricing, product availability, and credit details for our clients on-demand and 24/7.

Lastly, our team quickly pivoted to the world of virtual event planning amid the pandemic. From online hair tutorials with celebrity hairstylists to virtual yoga sessions, we leveraged technology and creativity to execute some truly memorable brand experiences for our clients and their target audiences

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)? 

If there was a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s that it put health in the spotlight and forced executives to reexamine their commitments to workplace wellness.

Even though we’ve long prioritized work-life balance at 1Milk2Sugars, the COVID-19 crisis had us doubling-down on these assurances like never before. Within the last 18 months, we’ve instituted several initiatives aimed at bringing our team together even as we worked apart. Some activities, like weekly guided meditation sessions, were more lighthearted in nature while others, like video roundtables, were aimed at promoting productivity and peer-to-peer collaboration.

We’ve also instituted a new “weekly wins” newsletter to spread positivity and update everyone on the agency’s achievements like new business acquisitions, renewed contracts or positive media coverage for our clients and the agency. On a more peer-to-peer level, we created the “appreciation hot seat” where one member of the team would sit in the ‘hot seat’ and every employee would take a turn saying what they love and admire about that person. It was our way of spreading positivity during an otherwise stressful and worrying time. 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today? 

The one piece of advice I’d offer my fellow entrepreneurs is to spend time (and resources, if necessary) defining your agency’s mission statement. Don’t treat it as an afterthought; it’s the North Star that will guide your decision making on everything from new business to recruitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Not only will your mission statement provide transparency to employees and customers about what your company is about, but it will clarify your priorities when unforeseen events, like the pandemic, strike out of the blue. I can’t stress enough the importance of a well thought out mission statement in managing a team and running a successful business. 

What makes an innovative small business? Dr. Nuša Fain explains.

Nusa Fain

By Hailey Eisen 

There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new hurdles and challenges for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Many are still reeling from the impacts experienced over the past 18 months, but there are also those that have made great strides in these unprecedented times, through innovation and reinvention. 

What can we learn from the businesses that thrived during the pandemic, and how can we leverage those learnings to help other SMEs post-COVID? 

According to Dr Nuša Fain, Director of the Master of Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MMIE) program at Smith School of Business, the opportunities coming out of the pandemic will benefit the small business ecosystem for years to come. She has been eagerly tracking COVID success stories, looking for clues as to what other businesses can learn from these experiences. 

“Never have changemakers been needed more than they are now,” she says. “Our goal through the MMIE program is to build the changemakers of the future.” 

With business consulting experience in the areas of product development and innovation management in both Europe and Canada, Nuša has seen ‘innovation’ become a buzzword that people love to use — but often don’t understand well. “We define innovation as creating something new that generates value,” she explains. “That value can be profit, but it can also be social impact or operational value.” 

At their core, Nuša says successful entrepreneurs have the very skills required for innovation. And creating a culture of innovation can improve productivity, reduce costs, increase competitiveness, build value and boost employee engagement.  

“Creating a culture of innovation within a team means everyone is encouraged to think outside the box, improve processes and generate value,” she explains. “Those companies that really did well during the pandemic had flexibility and a culture of innovation already in place, meaning employees were engaged, incentivized and rewarded for providing new potential solutions to a particular problem.” 

Some of the questions these companies likely asked themselves were: What are our customers’ needs? What are things we can no longer do because of COVID? How can we better serve our customers in this new environment? What can we do to change? 

“Not everything needs to be a breakthrough innovation, but those companies that succeeded took time — but not too much time — to reassess and determine what they could do differently in order to continue to thrive and meet the needs of their customers, or potential customers.” 

“Take the example of breweries and distilleries that started to produce hand sanitizer in the early days of COVID,” Nuša says. “They understood the capabilities of their manufacturing processes and they had the flexibility to change. Instead of just continuing to do what they had always done, they pivoted to add value, creating something new that was needed at the time.” 

The same was true of manufacturers in other fields who quickly shifted to create PPE and ventilators. “Not everything needs to be a breakthrough innovation, but those companies that succeeded took time — but not too much time — to reassess and determine what they could do differently in order to continue to thrive and meet the needs of their customers, or potential customers.” 

The ability to identify and create additional revenue streams is another trait that allowed some businesses to stay competitive in this new environment. “Many businesses suffered during COVID when the fixed income they were used to from their loyal customers dried up and they didn’t have an additional stream of revenue to keep them afloat,” Nuša explains.

To counter this, they had to adopt new models. One model that performed really well during the pandemic was the subscription model, taken up by many small businesses in various industries. Many restaurants and food retailers, for example, offered meal subscription services on a weekly or monthly basis, rather than just relying on one-off purchases. “This type of model builds loyalty, is often cheaper for the consumer and ensures consistency in terms of revenue generation for the small business,” Nuša says. 

Paramount during the pandemic, and essential for success moving forward, was digital transformation — for sales and customer engagement. 

“It used to be that having a website with a contact button or a phone number was enough for many businesses — but that has changed dramatically in the era of social media,” Nuša says. When it comes to communicating with customers and potential customers, social media offers a two-way communication flow that’s proved essential for many SMEs. “Not only do brands need social media to connect with customers, many customers are also engaging in conversations about brands online; if you don’t have a presence in social you’re really missing out.” 

“We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of how technology will help shape entrepreneurship and business in the future, which is why all of our MMIE students complete a certificate in disruptive technology which includes everything from engaging in branding on social media to blockchain and AI as future options.”

Some small businesses took their social media presence to new levels during the pandemic, expanding beyond bricks and mortar stores to social auctions and marketplaces. Small retailers held live auctions via Instagram or Facebook when their stores were closed, allowing them to engage with customers, keep them interested in their products and conduct sales in a more personal way without the need for in-person interaction. 

“We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of how technology will help shape entrepreneurship and business in the future, which is why all of our MMIE students complete a certificate in disruptive technology which includes everything from engaging in branding on social media to blockchain and AI as future options,” Nuša says. “With the data and analytics available, online businesses can understand their customers better than ever and cater to them in new and innovative ways.”

The shift to a more online-focused presence also opened many businesses up to audiences and customers they didn’t previously have access to. “Yes, the focus during COVID was how to support local businesses, but inadvertently many businesses gained exposure to a much wider audience base.” The key beyond COVID, then, is to stay relevant and find ways to stand out online in an even more global marketplace. While competition may be fiercer, so too is the potential to really grow. 

The best ways for any small business to move forward beyond the pandemic is to learn from the efforts that did and didn’t work, and to get comfortable with failure and the idea that risk will always be present going forward. “We know that everything will continue to speed up and the most successful businesses will be those that can innovate quickly and efficiently,” Nuša says. “This time it was a pandemic, next it could be global warming. It’s how you plan, adjust and adapt that will determine your success in these uncertain times.” 

Q&A: Jennifer Denouden, President & CEO of Avana, is reimagining real estate development to be purpose-led.

Jenn Denouden

Jenn Denouden is the President and CEO of Avana, a purpose-led real estate development company in Saskatchewan that has grown by 9888% in five years, holds 45% of Regina’s new development permits, and was named Canada’s tenth fastest growing company on the Profit 2020 Growth List. Transitioning out of a career in private banking to real estate, Jenn founded Avana in 2014, intent on disrupting the male-dominated space of real estate and property development while providing people with quality housing. Additionally, Jenn is passionate about helping women and children that are victims of domestic abuse find safe and affordable housing with privately funded housing support through her work with the Avana Foundation.


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic? 

Sadly, during the pandemic, women and children needed our business more than ever. Due to the economic downturn, homelessness has been on a steady incline in Saskatchewan. This meant that the need for affordable housing is at an all-time high. With that being said, our team has continued to grow at a rapid rate. Not only did we not lay any of our employees off, we extensively grew our team in order to continue to provide housing to people in need. Although we experienced slight disruptions due to lower processing times, we did not see a significant impact on cash flow. 

The only government program we utilized was the Canada Emergency Business Account loan of $40,000, which we repaid the same year. Because we continued to grow and expand so aggressively through COVID, the financial institutions’ hesitancy to provide assistance during the peak of the pandemic posed the biggest risk to our strategic business plan, but we were able to navigate that successfully.  

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

Like most businesses, when the pandemic initially hit, we were forced to pivot what had once been done in-person to online or virtual spaces. When you’re a rental home company that traditionally would rely on potential residents seeing themselves in the space, the pandemic made things more challenging. However, the reality is that you can either pivot and try something new, or you can attempt to stick to old habits that no longer fulfill their purpose. We chose to pivot, ensuring we still could give our potential residents the Avana experience in-person or virtually: socially distanced viewings, 3D tours of our homes, better video and photography on our listings, and a more holistic, personalized approach to every single inquiry. 

Our marketing strategy has been changing non-stop over the last seven years of business. As we grow and work our way through hypergrowth, our marketing needs change. The pandemic was simply another factor to consider when we thought through our strategy for the next few years to come. Over the last year and a half, our digital presence has grown exponentially. Sure, the pandemic put added stress on ensuring your digital marketing was where it should be, but that was inevitable. Digital marketing, social media, and engaging online content are at the forefront of the new marketing era, and COVID-19 just expedited that transition. We’ve begun investing heavily into these channels and will continue to do so. Not only have we put a heavier emphasis on our digital efforts, but we also decided to bring on an in-house marketing team. 

How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

In our efforts to implement more efficient and effective procedures, we’ve upgraded the technology and systems we use immensely. We leaned heavily on our property management platform. We needed to quickly provide leasing, maintenance, and resident support services, with as little in-person interaction as possible. This meant that we needed to digitize our interactions with residents. Our software system allowed us to communicate and engage with residents through the platform. This helped to lessen our in-person interactions and contact while still providing the care our residents needed. 

Without these platforms, we would have seen a significant drop in our ability to support our residents properly; however, we saw our positive ratings and feedback rise. This pandemic was a direct opportunity to show us some of our blindspots. A more automated, less manual cadence to our resident support processes has benefited our team and residents. 

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)? 

I avoid burnout by ensuring I still found moments for myself. My moments are my time with friends and family, the glass of wine before bed, the “geeking out” over spreadsheets, or cooking a meal. No matter how busy or chaotic things may have been or will be, I will always take opportunities to do the things I enjoy most. It also helps if you love what you do while driving with your purpose and ethos first. Before anyone starts with Avana, we ensure they have similar values and beliefs; this helps them succeed in the long run at Avana. If we do a good enough job in the recruitment process, the work rarely feels like work for the team hired. 

It is a rigorous process to find people who are so purpose-led in their own beliefs that they wholeheartedly believe in Avana’s mission, but it has proven to be the most critical step. We look for big picture thinkers who can aid in our journey towards a better future. When an organization has employees who understand that the work will lead to more significant social change, they will stay motivated. Our relentless pursuit of gender equality is inspiring and rejuvenating to our employees. Standing side-by-side every day with people who share this same passion is an immense motivator. On top of this, regular check-ins and as much communication as possible were and are vital for our team during the pandemic and beyond. 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today? 

In order to pave the way, to do something that has never been done, to change the status quo, you need to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. In order for your business to be extraordinary, you’re going to have to make hard choices — the type of choices that may keep you up at night. Stick to your values, lead with your purpose, and push past fear. Take calculated risks and trust your gut. Be unapologetic in your pursuit of becoming purpose-led. Our business changed forever when we “pivoted to purpose” a few years ago, and our hypergrowth truly began. Throughout the pandemic, it was more important than ever to stick to this approach. 

Is there crying in business?

A woman crying at work.

By Christine Laperriere

If you weren’t around for the movie “A League of Their Own,” here’s Tom Hanks (circa 1992) delivering the incredibly famous line “there’s no crying in baseball.” Clearly we can see there’s no crying in baseball, but it poses the question: is there crying in business?

A client of mine brought up a humiliating moment in a coaching session. She said, “I was recently in an important meeting and I got very frustrated. To my surprise, I started to cry. I am absolutely humiliated and am worried that this will cause lasting damage to my career and how I’m seen by others. I can’t seem to let this go — I keep beating myself up about it. What should I do?”

Yes, sometimes, there’s crying in business.

In my role, I get the opportunity to interact with hundreds of professionals at varying levels within their organizations, from CEO’s to administrative assistants. Given my work with numerous clients in leadership, this topic comes up sometimes. So if this is you, please be assured that you are not alone — sometimes it just happens. Hopefully it will comfort you to know that even the top and most impressive professionals can, on occasion, find themselves caught off guard and emotional in an important meeting.

Understand why this happens. 

It’s important to note that just because someone is crying, it does not mean they’re sad or displaying weakness — often, it can be a sign of anger or severe frustration. We may be familiar with the way some people experience these same feelings in the workplace — their external appearance looks different; their face can turn red, their voice gets raised, choice words get sputtered and on rare occasions a fist might get slammed on the table (Exhibit A: see Tom Hanks in movie clip above). Because hot-headed leaders have often traditionally been in power, our unconscious bias can sometimes feel more accepting of these responses to anger and frustration as opposed to crying as a response to anger. 

Appreciate what your emotions are telling you.

These days, more and more companies want employees who are passionate about the work they do, engaged in getting results, and willing to take risks. When we work this way we are investing a big piece of ourselves and our identity into what we do each day. If you want people to really put their heart and soul into their work, this comes with emotion. And when we are committed at all costs, crying is often a signal that someone is no longer operating at their fullest and it’s time to take a closer look at what’s happening that is causing such an intense reaction.

Assess your overall stress level. 

An emotional outburst often has more to do with how someone is managing a large load of stress rather than their response to the single issue at hand. If you have been at home, trying to keep your kids fed, entertained, and educated — all while trying to concentrate on every work-related task — don’t be surprised if during a big meeting, overwhelming emotions finally catch up to you after “staying strong” for a number of days.

Notice trends. 

As much as self-forgiveness and understanding are key to moving forward in this situation, it is important to note whether you are seeing a trend. Have you had numerous emotional spells at work lately? Is it happening at home too? Is it happening in certain types of meetings? Is there someone you feel intimidated by at work? If this situation doesn’t feel like a one-time circumstance, start to track and look for trends as to when you feel this intense trigger of emotion bubble up.  

Do damage control. 

Sometimes, it helps people move forward if they have a quick conversation to clear the air after having an emotional response in a meeting. That said, it’s important to note that being emotionally engaged in your work, which sometimes results in anger or frustration, is not a sin. If you choose to, apologize for how you made others feel in the meeting and feel free to share what actions you plan to take to help bring your best self to work. Be careful not to undermine your own strengths in the process, though; your commitment to a project or your passion for getting results are positive traits. And don’t apologize for being authentic at work. 

Christine Laperreriere

Christine Laperreriere

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential.

Q&A: Sade and Rachel Baron, founders of Sade Baron, built a personal care brand that taps into the power of natural ingredients.

Sade and Rachel Baron

Meet Sade and Rachel, the mother-daughter duo behind the personal care brand Sade Baron. Sade’s personal experience with eczema and the natural body care her grand aunt used to help treat it shaped Sade’s understanding of the power of natural ingredients — and it stuck with her throughout her life, even while she spent 35 years working as a midwife and nurse. Growing up with a mother who had a natural remedy for many skin and health ailments, Rachel had a deep understanding of the power of natural ingredients as well, and struggled to find skincare products that were natural and effective in her adulthood. Aware of the need for vegan, high-performance, gentle products, Sade and Rachel started their business in 2016, and used their understanding of botanical ingredients to craft products that contribute to our skin’s long term health.


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic? 

We definitely focused our cash flow on more activities that can get us in touch with our customers online. We focused our efforts on social media and email marketing which had been the best tools in staying in touch with our customers. The government programs have been a massive relief in keeping our business open and being able to adapt to the changing environment and purchasing habits of our customers. 


Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

We had a very different approach pre-COVID with our marketing strategy mix, and as it was changing, we adapted to making more efforts in social media, online marketing, and email tools, which were once secondary and became primary. We spent more time updating our website and improved the flow, usability, and overall product experience (descriptions, images, video). 


“Staying positive was something we had to focus on more — it’s hard to watch businesses you have known for years just shut down. We received a lot of support from our past customers, and some also sent notes to us to encourage us, which was super helpful.”


How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

We upgraded some of our tools, such as inventory management to be able to forecast better. In e-commerce, we added a few more apps to monitor and understand the data, and to translate that into what’s next. We spent on creating more unique ad content, stayed away from outdated ways of looking at ads, and reached new and old audiences. 


How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

Staying positive was something we had to focus on more — it’s hard to watch businesses you have known for years just shut down. We received a lot of support from our past customers, and some also sent notes to us to encourage us, which was super helpful. We spent some time regrouping and figuring out what we needed to work on better, and to improve our workflows. 

Sade and I did a lot of walking and optimizing our business over the last year. From email sequences, to personalized notes, calling our customers to engage on social media posts and Instagram Lives. We also identified things that we are not strong in — we outsourced or hired a contractor on a project basis so we didn’t turn our wheels out. 


What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today? 

A big motivator is a quote by Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up,” which is something we really took to heart as businesswomen. The second was to pivot, which made it easier to move quickly and listen to the customer and market. That made it easier for us to stay in business and make necessary changes within days versus months. We also created better workflows. For example, our shipping usually took two to five business days. We reduced it to one business day, so customers knew if they ordered things, it got there faster. 

Q&A: Catherine Dahl, founder of Beanworks, is disrupting the accounting industry with her venture-backed software company.

Catherine Dahl

Catherine Dahl is the co-founder and CEO of Beanworks, an automated accounting software company that is disrupting modern methods of accounting. Leveraging her 25 years of operational accounting and management experience, Catherine built Beanworks into an industry-leading software company that is widely respected in the Fintech industry. Catherine and Beanworks have also been awarded by highly respected organizations, most notably by CIX as one of Canada’s Most Innovative Tech Companies in 2020, moving on to represent Canada at the Startup World Cup finals in 2021.  


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

We are a venture-backed company and when COVID-19 hit, we decided to take more funds through internal investors only and shored up our cash position, just in case. We qualified for a couple of government programs, payroll assistance, and one program through the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). With all of that, we managed very well. We did revise down our financial forecast and played out various scenarios to ensure we were ready to alter our spending course if need be.


Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

We altered our marketing message to reflect the benefits that our software provided in a pandemic. We automate payables workflow, so when our customers suddenly went remote, it made the demand for the software even higher. We already sold and implemented our system remotely; we are a fully cloud-based company and always have been, so we did not have to change much in our day-to-day functions.


How has technology played a role in your business during this time?

We moved our staff to home-based working, and so we did have to adjust who we interacted with. To ensure our strong culture was maintained with everyone, we organized online events and tried to ensure people interacted regularly.


“Culture has always been at the forefront. As the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That means without a strong cultural base, as a business we will not survive.”

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

As CEO, my mindset has always been one where company culture is at the heart of everything we do. I obsess over it. Culture has always been at the forefront. As the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That means without a strong cultural base, as a business we will not survive. And during a pandemic, this was more important than ever. We added more mental health support. We worked through the management teams, both formally and informally, to ensure burnout was not occurring anywhere. We did regular employee surveys and focused on their work-life balance. 

Personally, I ensured I kept up my workouts with my trainer, and just moved them online. I continued with my mental health support, also online, and eventually got back to my weekly massages — it’s the best thing I do for myself! Taking care of yourself is key. I was worried in the early months, perhaps for the first 60 days, then as people do, we found a way through this strange time. Never just accept, always question is there a better way?


What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

My industry is tech, and in tech, things are never easy, and always interesting. What I have learned is that our industry is resilient and very creative. My advice to most people is never give up. Keep searching and you will find a way. The old saying, “where there is a will, there is a way,” is very true. Someone out there is better off than you while someone else is in a worse situation. Don’t take your life for granted, but know that you can find a solution to whatever problem is in front of you. Ask for help, build or leverage your network, and help others where you can. I have found that this approach to life was even more productive during the pandemic.

Q&A: Colleen Imrie, founder of The Nooks, is reimagining retail for Canadian artisans.

Colleen Imrie

Colleen Imrie is founder of The Nooks, a retail business incubator for Canadian artisans and entrepreneurs. Colleen created her business to help others build their own successful creative businesses and follow their dreams. With eight retail locations and an online marketplace, The Nooks is one of Canada’s go-to shops for handmade Canadian goods for customers, and with continued, community-based business support, it is also one of Canada’s go-to retail spaces for vendors.


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

COVID-19 provided me with the opportunity to re-evaluate our budgets and where the leaks were in the business — leaks we possibly might have not known existed. We dug deeper into the data of the marketing, social, digital, and operational costs it takes (and does not take!) to not just sustain, but to substantially scale The Nooks business and our vendors during a global lockdown. 

I decided early on that The Nooks was not going to take on any government funding, line of credits, or debt to sustain itself during the pandemic and beyond. Instead, I looked at our cash reserves, our growth strategy, and where money could be cleaned up and budgeted for two years without compromising what we stand for, or taking on money we did not raise ourselves. I released a formal COVID-19 response immediately to our customers and vendors, outlining how we are protecting our vendors and their participation with us no matter what — and the steps we were taking to do so. We protected our vendors and their investment in their business with us. No one would be burdened with paying membership fees during lockdown, and no one was going to be left behind. 

I took our 18-month growth plan and condensed it into eight months, and this was the best thing for my business. Collapsing time tested and strengthened my vision, trust, and leadership. COVID-19 challenged the business to either step up, or step aside — and we’ve successfully positioned The Nooks to be in a league of our own, dominating and leading our retail industry. 

Part of collapsing the growth plan timeline was building systems and technology, and focusing heavily on the relationships within the business. We increased membership prices by 10 to 15% before 2021, implementing both paid and free programs for my internal vendors to help continue to grow their business with us while our stores were closed, and we also hosted a virtual music festival. I continued my commitment to showing up daily for my vendors via email, phone and through our private Facebook group. The business strategy changed during the pandemic —  our integrity did not. 


Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

Our stores have always been a social hub for customers and vendors to connect as well as a retail experience, introducing our communities to the local, handmade businesses we represent. When COVID hit and our eight retail locations were closed for months, we quickly turned to our newsletters, our mobile app, website, and of course, our vendors, to keep the connection alive with our customers. We didn’t add any new channels, just enhanced our efforts towards existing digital and social outlets! We saw COVID as an opportunity to also share elements of our business that weren’t as known, and share our expertise in other areas beyond retail — like our nookSTART business program. 


“The biggest shift in my business has been the practice of alignment. Doing the work of understanding my Human Design, the blueprint of who I am, and how I “work!” I encourage anyone who feels the only way to success is with hustle, sacrifice, and “working harder” (and maybe not getting anywhere doing all those things!) to connect with their design.”


How has technology played a role in your business during this time?

Since December 2019, the development of our custom software to automate our business had been in the works. When COVID hit early March 2020, we had some components of the development ready to “test” internally with our vendors, while our retail stores were closed. While the development of our software continued, we launched The Nooks mobile app in December 2020. This allowed us to further connect with our customers and share our makers’ products, stories, and promotions in an entirely new way! Over 300 of our vendors now live on our customers’ phones countrywide! 

We had plans for an app, but the timelines didn’t make sense anymore, and we saw the opportunity to launch it during holiday, while “shipping” was the norm for getting anything — especially during the biggest gift giving month of the year. COVID helped us cut to the chase with Beta testing for our software — we did not wait for it to be perfect and pretty until we moved on to the next phase and strategy of development. The Beta testing and building co-existed at the same time. Using the “down time” some of our vendors had supported the testing, and getting quick feedback helped make adjustments and carry on without some of life’s pre-COVID distractions. 


How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

I have been studying Human Design, my energy type, and other self-development methods for over a year and experimenting with how I work best, lead, and how I am to be “seen” by others — and how I see myself. This practice and alignment has helped me put my needs first so I can show up best for my relationships, my community, team, and business. 

To recharge and reconnect I have early morning quiet time by myself in my home office with a coffee. This quiet time involves a mix of reading a chapter in a book, listening to a podcast, spiritual reflection, catching live lectures from some coaches I work with, researching new ideas, and playing in Canva! I take time to reflect and journal out my thoughts and feelings so I can read the wave of my emotions and get clarity on my next step. I do not need hours at the spa or “days off” to rest — I have daily, mini practices that work best for my life and business, and allow me to carry on doing what I love, no matter what comes up! 


What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

The biggest shift in my business has been the practice of alignment. Doing the work of understanding my Human Design, the blueprint of who I am, and how I “work!” I encourage anyone who feels the only way to success is with hustle, sacrifice, and “working harder” (and maybe not getting anywhere doing all those things!) to connect with their design. Not only does this practice and learning of Human Design continually blow my mind, it’s had a huge impact on my energy and clarity, and showed me the best way to lead myself and others. I’ve grown and continue to grow a wildly successful business for myself and for others to succeed. 

How to build a lasting legacy through trusts.

Lydia Potocnik


Many of us consider wealth and estate planning as a way to ensure that our family is well taken care of — but with the right plan in place, your money can also go towards causes that are important to you. Having the ability to leave the world just a little bit better is a powerful and very attainable goal, no matter how much money you’re leaving behind. 

Lydia Potocnik, Head of Estate Planning & Philanthropic Advisory Services with BMO, has spent decades working in the field, and uses her expertise to help guide families through the opportunities and strategies that exist to create a legacy that’s meaningful and lasting, with an impact that carries on through generations. She believes that aligning your estate with your personal values and beliefs is an important wealth planning priority. 

If you’d like to support your charitable values beyond your lifetime — passing the torch to the next generation, so to speak — establishing a trust or private foundation allows you to do just that. We asked Lydia to share her advice on getting started. 

Let’s start with a high-level understanding of estate planning. What is the difference between a will and a trust and how do you know when each is needed?

Both wills and trusts are useful estate planning tools that serve different purposes. One main difference is that a will is a legal document that directs who will receive your property at death and appoints a legal representative to carry out your wishes. By contrast, a trust can be used to begin distributing property — which can include cash, investments, artwork, real estate, and more — before death, at death, or afterwards. It is a legal arrangement through which one person who’s called a trustee, which can be a family member, a friend, or a trust company, holds legal title to property for another person who’s called a beneficiary. Depending on who your beneficiaries are and what their financial needs are, most of the time people will create a will that has a trust within it. 

When would someone typically establish a trust?

One reason a person would want to establish a trust is to provide for children under the age of majority — which is 18 or 19 in Canada, depending on the province you live in — by providing  a monthly or annual income. Trusts are also often created to protect the assets a person wishes to leave to someone with special needs to cover medication, medical expenses, or a monthly allowance for example. They can also provide for flexible distribution of assets to beneficiaries who are unable to effectively manage money or can’t be relied on to make sound financial decisions. It’s worth noting that trusts also offer greater privacy than wills because they don’t go through probate and therefore there would not be any public disclosure. In order to determine the best type of trust for your estate goals, consider the age of your beneficiaries, their financial needs, and their ability to manage their inheritance. 

Beyond providing for their families, many people establish trusts to ensure their philanthropic goals are carried out after they’re gone. How does someone go about setting that into action?

Typically, a trust will be in the form of a written, legal document. To set the process in motion it’s best to meet with an estate planning lawyer who will help draft the terms of the trust. While a trust can be used to benefit individual family members, it can also be used to benefit a charity or several charities. To do this, many clients create a private foundation, set up as a trust structure with a trustee managing the money for various charitable organizations. In this format, the charities will get a set amount of money paid out to them each year from the trust. 

Is there a benefit to setting things up this way, rather than just making a large one-time donation to a charity or charities of your choice? 

Most of the time people create a charitable trust or a private foundation as a trust structure because they want to create a legacy and ensure that some of the causes that are important to them when they’re alive will continue on when they’re no longer here. Think of it as a formal structure to give meaning to their wealth. 

A private foundation is established and operated exclusively for charitable giving purposes and can be structured as a trust or a non-share capital corporation. The individual will often be the trustee themselves while they’re still alive and will determine which charities will receive a grant each year and how it will be used. Before the individual passes away, they can appoint another trustee to step in and carry out the terms of the trust and ensure that the trust deed appoints an alternate trustee. In doing so, the charities will continue to receive a financial benefit year after year.

For many, the desire to pass along charitable beliefs and values to their children and grandchildren is important. How can a trust be used to accomplish this?

Establishing a charitable trust or private foundation is a wonderful way to pass on philanthropic values to the next generation. Most of the time, if a trust is created today by parents or grandparents, they will appoint their children or grandchildren to be successor trustees. That way, the family values and the vision to support certain causes — whether it be the environment, mental health, or supporting marginalized groups, for example — will be carried on through future generations with the trust. 

How does the trust work so that there’s always money available to give?

Typically, the money in the trust will be invested by a professional. Someone like a family member can invest the assets, but if you have a professional investment advisor one of the goals may be to grow the capital by investing it prudently and then disperse the annual income. If it’s a private foundation set up as a trust you do have to disperse 3.5% every year to charities in Canada. So, the goal is to make sure you’re generating at least that much income to meet the minimum annual disbursement requirement 

How do families decide on which causes to support and do they have to give to the same charities every year?

To help families through the process, we encourage them to meet as a group and establish a mission statement for their trust or foundation. We guide them through this process by finding out what is important to them as a family and what has impacted their lives. For example, if someone in the family has been impacted by mental health, they may choose to support mental health projects in their community. Families often accept proposals from various charities and then decide as a group which proposals they want to fund with the revenue generated by the trust or foundation. This can change. Often a family will support a specific charity for five years or so, and after that time they’ll reassess whether they want to continue to make grants to that sector or revise and update their mission statement and support another sector. 

How important is planning and goal setting when it comes to estate planning and establishing philanthropic aspirations?

For women who want to make a meaningful impact in their community, the first step is setting goals around what kind of impact you want to make and factor in your own values and what’s important to you. The second step is to meet with a wealth advisor and put a wealth plan in place. 

The wealth plan looks at everything from retirement needs, to tax planning, estate planning, business succession planning, and philanthropic planning. It allows a woman to assess how much money she has today and ask herself: can I afford to start taking a more strategic approach to my philanthropy today or do I need to hold off until I retire, or does it have to happen through my estate plan when I pass away? 

A wealth plan also allows a woman to make a thoughtful decision around philanthropy and what tools she’ll use to meet her goals. You can’t make any decisions until you understand how much wealth you have, who are the other beneficiaries you want to leave money to, and what are your own personal financial needs. It’s important to note that most trusts are irrevocable, so once you transfer assets to a trust, you can’t get that property back out. Therefore, consulting with a tax and legal professional is critical to ensuring that a trust is appropriate based on your own unique personal circumstances.


Q&A: Jolene Laskey, founder of Wabanaki Maple, is adding a twist to an Indigenous tradition.

Jolene Laskey of Wabanaki Maple

Jolene Laskey is the founder of Wabanaki Maple, a maple syrup company based in Neqotkuk (Tobique) First Nation in New Brunswick. In 2018, inspired by her Wolastoqey roots, Jolene began her journey as an entrepreneur, sharing and reconnecting people and communities with a piece of Indigenous culture through Wabanaki Maple’s syrup products. For centuries, Peoples of the Wabanaki Confederacy (Wolastoqey, Mi’kmaq, Penobscot, Abenaki, and Passamaquoddy) have harvested the sap from the sugar maple tree — Jolene is carrying on the tradition with a twist, by providing signature flavours of barrel-aged whisky, bourbon, and toasted oak maple syrups. 


How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

Initially it was scary and challenging to face the onset of this pandemic. I was very skeptical about how we would survive financially as a new company, especially since one of our biggest barriers as an Indigenous business located in a First Nations community has been securing funding for working capital. It hasn’t been easy to manage financially, but fortunately, I’ve been able to bootstrap over the past couple of years. I’ve also sought out other opportunities for securing business grants and financing for things like capital costs, which was very helpful in managing cash flow for the business. 

Similar to many businesses throughout our nation, we were negatively impacted by this pandemic. Though the Government of Canada reacted quickly by providing various funding opportunities and programs like CEBA, there were still barriers for businesses like Wabanaki Maple. We discovered too often that for one reason or another, we did not meet certain criteria or eligibility for these programs. lt felt hopeless at times, and I often wondered how we could manage financially. Thankfully, these gaps were addressed for small businesses, and eventually we were successful and qualified for financial assistance through a program called the Regional Recovery Relief Fund (RRRF). Receiving this funding allowed us to face the hardships of COVID-19 with more resistance and resilience! l’m happy and proud to say we are now a thriving, young company looking forward to more success in the future.


Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

For the most part, our sales approach has remained the same throughout the pandemic. Since we already developed a great customer base and were very familiar with who our target segments were for both B2C and B2B, we thought it best to put more focus on our social media content on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. However, in some ways we were required to transition and shift our sales approach, since one of our main revenue streams was our in-person sales at various trade shows and events. Additionally, we had to pivot some of our marketing strategy and focus more on online opportunities. 

Normally, we would have been participating at various trade shows and special events across Canada, but with the COVID-19 cancellations and restrictions, we had to adapt — so we moved to signing up for online virtual shows and venues. This really worked out well for us; we gained some traction and generated more sales through a lot of organic reach. lt also proved to be beneficial in other ways; it decreased some of our business expenses like travel and accommodations, and for the most part, the cost of fees and registrations were lower at the online events versus in person. On another note, I do believe having developed a website with a user-friendly e-commerce platform was a significant factor for our continued sales and overall growth of the company during this pandemic.


“If I were to only choose one important piece of advice to give to any entrepreneur in any industry, it would be to surround yourself and build meaningful relationships with like-minded, positive people.”


How has technology played a role in your business during this time?

Since starting this company, technology has played a very important role for us. For pretty much everything we do in our daily activities and operations, we rely on technology. I have a small but mighty team who work remotely, so in order to communicate effectively, we started adding more digital tools to our operations. We use tools like Asana and Trello which help us stay organized with various projects and events. We also use digital tools for tracking, traceability, and inventory, just to name a few. I’m always willing to try new things that may help with organizing and managing the company! 

It’s been extremely important to utilize what we have in place for Wabanaki Maple, such as our website, online store, and our social media platforms. With these tools and platforms, we can take a quick glance at any given moment to check out our analytics, financials, or any other important information. The use of technology has been a great way to communicate with both my team and others outside the business. Web meetings have helped bridge the gap throughout the pandemic. In the beginning stages of starting this company, I wasn’t much of a fan of digital tools, due to a lack of use and knowledge. I’ve definitely had a change of mindset in adapting to the digital world. Overall, incorporating various digital tools into my daily practices and managing the business has been of great value for me, the team, and the company. 


How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

For me, staying positive and productive on a daily basis can often be challenging. Personally, I’m one who appreciates routine in in my life, but operating and managing a business is just the opposite! With having to address so many different business matters both internally and externally, I’ve found that shifting from one role or another can be exhausting at times. However, I still try to maintain a certain level of routine throughout my day.

l tend to start work very early in the morning — usually at 5:30am — because I know I’m most productive during the first several hours in the morning. And if  I’m experiencing a difficult or challenging day, I remind myself, “this too shall pass.” I’ve realized that stepping away and taking time for myself to reset and recharge is what works best for me. Stepping away for me often looks like taking a long walk or hike through our nearby forests and trails with my four dogs, or simply working in my flower and vegetable garden, which I love and consider my own ‘therapy,’ so to speak. Connecting with Mother Nature helps to keep me grounded, energized, and is my self care. 

We are a small team at Wabanaki Maple, but I think that communication is key when it comes to managing our mindset. We use a number of communication tools and meet on a regular basis so we can have important social interaction with each other. We try to keep our conversations open and often have fun with them, and I also encourage my team to reach out to me if ever they need to chat. I think it’s probably been the most challenging to not have daily, in-person interaction with each other throughout the pandemic. Thankfully, we are now moving towards business as usual with many of the restrictions being lifted in our area!


What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

If I were to only choose one important piece of advice to give to any entrepreneur in any industry, it would be to surround yourself and build meaningful relationships with like-minded, positive people. In other words, a strong network of friends, mentors, coaches, or other business owners that will support you — and vice versa. They can be an invaluable asset at any stage of your business. I personally have a wonderful circle of friends, family, and mentors who I know I can count on to share their knowledge, guidance, and experience with me. There’s been countless times I’ve connected to them for their support in finding solutions or navigating through a business obstacle. Sometimes, through my experience of simply just having a conversation, I’ve gained more insight, perspective, knowledge, and confidence about entrepreneurship and business practices as a whole.

The benefits of reciprocal mentorship.

Mentor and mentee talking.

By Chantal Brine

It is well known that ‘who you know’ matters. Often, what I find missing is the context for that. Connections and relationships matter; not the quantity of those alone but rather the quality and intentionality of those relationships. Connecting with the right people at the right time/stage in your career (and life) is transformational. 

This is the lens through which I look at mentorship and why I’m on a mission to bring it to 1 million people with EnPoint. The inspiration, support, and perspective gained through mentorship, whether as mentee, mentor or both, opens doors for personal and professional growth.  

By learning as a mentee, a mentor can help you grow your career and business in a few different ways:

Deepen your self-confidence. 

Many find that increasing self-confidence is something that may be hard to do on your own. However, finding a mentor who believes in you is a huge help. 

Mentorship supports what we refer to as “beneath the iceberg stuff”: self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth, which we all may struggle with at many points in our life. Often, this twinge of self doubt may appear in small ways such as attending a networking event or in big ways such as if you’re pitching your business or an idea.  Consider how does your confidence allow you to portray who you authentically are, or how does it inhibit you from doing that? I’d argue that the inner work on “self” that you achieve through mentorship is some of the most transformative along with things like coaching and other experiential learning opportunities. Whether we know it or not, self-confidence is gained or drained each day.

For women in particular I believe this is one of the most compelling reasons to find a mentor and build a relationship that uplifts you. As a female founder and entrepreneur in tech, I’ve found mentorship to be a remedy for the widely known “imposter syndrome”. My journey to confidence building with a life-changing mentor can be found here.

Get out of your own way. 

Your mentor can help you get out of your own way by helping you gain clarity and understanding of who you are and how you’ve been putting on the brakes for yourself.  Lack of experience, limiting beliefs, negative self-talk, bad experiences of our past can compound.  They can create a heavy load to carry on your own and can unconsciously skew the way you view opportunities within your career. 

I often refer to this with the analogy of buying a pristine, beautiful, and unique mirror you love. You hang that mirror up, you use it everyday, it gets scratched, maybe a little dusty, a little dirty, maybe even foggy, making it hard to see the “real” you. Now imagine, you have someone who is polishing and buffing that mirror every day, it shines just as bright and clear as the day you bought it, allowing you to see everything

Mentorship is that mirror. As you develop the relationship(s), the mirror becomes clearer, and you will begin to get a sharper picture of yourself and your path. You are equipped now with someone who enables this regularly. Mentors help you stand firm and be proud of what you excel at through celebrating your strengths. But, they can also help ground you by shedding light on your weaknesses and blind spots in a safe environment. By doing so, your mentor can motivate you to freely explore what your interests are and where you choose to invest your time.  

Creating a plan then having a mentor hold you accountable and provide you feedback on progress is critical. Remember the mirror analogy? The mirror can get cloudy again, allowing you to get distracted and stray from who you really are, and your goals. Having someone who can help you buff the mirror every once in a while- so you don’t lose your vision- is key. We all need that help.

A competitive advantage for the ‘Future of Work’.

Mentorship can provide a critical competitive advantage -something which can be difficult to find in the ever-evolving labour market. Your relationship with your mentor can help you stand out in the workforce with their support of you owning your “unique value proposition”. As we live through the future of work, the reality of an aging workforce, and a long-awaited focus on equalizing opportunities for groups that have faced systemic barriers to employment, career journeys will continue to look different than before. Mentorship is a crucial tool that can be used to ensure you have access to the right networks and skills you need to excel in your profession. Mentors can  facilitate introductions or referrals to relevant stakeholders, help you understand the gap in your skills, and teach you the critical skills that you require within your industry. 

Bridging the Gap contributor François Bertrand, Director of Research and Innovation, Polytechnique in Montreal explains, “we need to cultivate the ‘C-Generation’ of collaborators, communicators and critical thinkers, that bring these power skills to every job.” Mentorship offers opportunities for “foundational skill” development, such as adaptability and communication skills, two things needed to successfully navigate the workforce.

Building relationships that matter.

Women in careers have faced systematic barriers that still exist today and have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. According to a report published by McKinsey & Company, while all women have been impacted by COVID-19, three major groups that have experienced the largest challenges are working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women. The increase in automation and digitalization further complicates women’s reentry in the workplace due to the need to reskill or find new career paths.

When we look at the impact of people working from home and having to take care of children and/or parents, they likely do not have the same time available to invest in career building networks. Peer groups like Young Presidents’ Organization and Women of Influence that are focused on supporting individuals in their career in intimate settings may not be opportunities that they can leverage despite knowing the advantages that come with these groups matter. As human beings we habitually look within our rolodex to  source talent, content, service providers, almost everything.  For some, not cultivating or engaging with a “network” may mean unequal access to opportunities and access  to compete.

I’ve discovered that having an intentional networking and relationship building strategy is something women in particular struggle with. To some, it often feels contrived and inauthentic, or too many pressures coalesce and the network drops. When looking at male-dominated industries, women have often been excluded from relationship building or “bonding” activities such as golf trips or sporting events, for years and are still dealing with this disadvantage. It is at these events where the connections form, informal conversations happen, and people get to deepen their understanding of who their colleagues are outside of work. 

It is critical to invest in relationships as a core pillar in your career management plan. Whether you are starting, building, or rebuilding your career, launching a business, or growing a business, relationships matter. Mentorship is an efficient gateway to other relationships. It is a vehicle to expand your network intentionally, in a manner aligned with the time you can commit, and in a way  that is career (and time) aligned. As your relationship with your mentor flourishes, they will have an intimate understanding of you, your interests and your goals. As a result, your mentor becomes your biggest advocate to those who do not yet know you. They will support in cultivating the right kind of relationships with people who they feel would be relevant to your career acceleration. 

While not every mentor can support in this way, finding mentors that can and are willing to help you build and facilitate the right network for your career goals are pivotal. 

On the flip side, being a mentor is just as beneficial for your career as it is for mentees: 

Being a mentor to help you grow.

As a mentor, you have the opportunity to share learning experiences and impart wisdom that your mentee may not have necessarily been privy to. 

Sharing these experiences with your mentee can not only help others learn and evolve in their careers, but is also a chance to self-reflect on your journey to success, how you have overcome challenges and what you may have done differently. Sharing your career journey can both deepen your relationship with your mentee and open you up to new learnings about yourself. Being in story telling mode is an active reflection for you as a mentor. Use this time to strengthen your relationship with your mentee, re-examine your career goals, celebrate the wins to date, and re-learn your own personal or professional “truths”. 

Impact another life and grow together.

No matter how long you have been in the workforce, you are never too old to learn something new, and never too experienced to learn something from someone less experienced than you. Your mentee can broaden your perspective and uncover any blind spots that you may not even be familiar with. For example, if your mentee comes from a different industry and background, they can offer insight on how different their experiences may be and shed light on their career journey to date.  This is an opportunity for you as a mentor to practice curiosity and check any assumptions you have about the world around you. As well, this mutual knowledge exchange allows you to reflect critically on current trends and social issues. Your mentee can help you diversify your perspectives and in some cases, unlearn any practices. This again will deepen your connection to your mentee.  

Strengthen your ‘relationship building’ muscles.

Particularly for someone who is building a team, mentorship is a great way for you to develop your skill set on how to build people up.   As a mentor you can learn from your experiences outside your workplace and then bring them into your organization and/or different relationships. As a mentor, your goal is to hold a mirror up to your mentee, help them see their strengths and who they authentically repeatedly. You support them by ensuring that your mentee is focused on their goals and objectives. 

Mentorship provides us with learnings that are applicable to all areas of our lives. In being a mentor it’s important to reflect on the question of “how do we show up in our other relationships as a positive force that builds people up, as opposed to tearing people down?” 

Mentorship is not a one-sided relationship. It is a dynamic and evolving, mutually beneficial relationship. Whether that’s a relationship between two people or a small group of individuals, ultimately there is cross functional and experiential learning in the mentee and mentor roles.  Throughout our career and our lives, we may take on both roles, transitioning between mentee or mentor depending the circumstances. I wholly encourage everyone to intentionally mentor and be mentored.  

Chantal Brine

Chantal Brine

Chantal Brine is a builder — of people and businesses — a believer in experiential learning, a proponent for mentorship, and an active advocate for women. As founder and CEO of EnPoint, Chantal and her team help clients create and maintain effective mentorship programs using their easy-to-use, customizable and fully automated platform. A sought-after speaker, she often talks about the importance of living an authentic life and on the impact of mentorship in advancing in one’s career.

My journey as a STEM entrepreneur — and the lessons I’ve learned on the way.

When people ask me how I got my start in reproductive medicine, I often tell them about my childhood. I was 7 or 8 when my fascination and love for biology started to develop. My dad was a scientist and taught reproductive biology. In the summers, I remember going to the lab with him and watching him work. He explained to me how to nurture a seed until it sprouts and grows into a strong healthy plant, and how a plant bears fruit like a woman bears babies. 

I was excited about science — I’ve always been fascinated by biological systems — so I knew I would study STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and that it would be medical school all the way. I am lucky to have been very supported by my parents and other people in my life. The reason we got cable when I was in elementary school was so that I could watch the first open heart surgery be performed. In high school, during a library period, we learned about the 10th birthday of Louis Brown, the first IVF baby, and I found an article about ‘the future of medicine’ that I must have read a dozen times. The meeting of science and technology, and how this would be needed for assisted human reproduction, had me hooked. 

Barriers: They exist, but belief goes a long way

While I may have always had a clear vision for my education and career path, that doesn’t mean it was a smooth journey. I was lucky that the people that surrounded me, believed in me. While some did joke that I should be a lawyer because I’m quite a vocal person — I didn’t want to study law, I wanted to be a doctor.

One area that I did hesitate was about how I was going to learn everything I needed to learn to be the doctor I wanted to be. I was guilty of serially and consistently underestimating my abilities, which unfortunately women do too much of. My male colleagues never seemed to express or show the same hesitancy while learning: I think our tendency for self-reflection to lead to self-doubt is a major chasm for women to overcome, particularly in STEM fields.

“There is something we need to do along the education journey differently, so that girls and women believe that their place is in STEM. To reinforce that their place is to have tremendous skill.”

Education: How can we prepare our children

Speaking of education, I am so supportive of how accessibility has improved. While there are still incredible gender biases that exist, there are also concerted and systemic efforts to address this and change the outcome for the future generations of women in STEM.

On the flip side, I believe that the immediacy of knowledge in the upcoming generations poses its own problems. I have three beautiful children (through IVF!), and when I watch them access Google and the wide world of the internet to get an answer to whatever it is they are thinking about or working on at that moment, it scares me a bit. They get their answer, and then they move on. It is not a piecing together of different learnings to create a whole picture, which I am concerned is stunting the curiosity-related skills that work to slowly build knowledge over time, and deep understanding of systems. 

While my love of science came from my dad, other characteristics that define me today I know that I developed through my mother and our community of ‘aunties’. The women who surrounded me, who were significant players in my life when I was growing up, were heads of university departments, leading government offices; women who were in charge in important positions. It was never a concept for me that I couldn’t be a leader, that I shouldn’t be outspoken. I had the good fortune of having a family filled with boisterous, inquisitive, well-spoken, thoughtful women — who at the same time could be kind, loving and nurturing aunties.

Mentorship & collaboration: Doing my part

I see it as part of my role as a female leader in a STEM field to act as a mentor to other women. If you see a spark, light the flame. There are no set roles for women. Girls are amazing, we are inquisitive, we are vocal, and we are scientists. Let’s tap into it, and encourage more women through mentorship to excel in STEM, in business, and in their personal lives — and especially when you dare to do it all.

You have a responsibility to set an example for the next generation of women. It is hard to be a woman. As a female CEO and single mom to three children, I have different responsibilities. It’s not that I can’t do it, but I have to make conscious choices and yes, certain sacrifices. 

“We have so much to gain from working collaboratively, building community and encouraging each other. When you find great people, nurture that relationship and strengthen your network.”

That’s another area where I have faced critique along my journey. Being a Medical Director & CEO, I have to set aside time for the business while performing my duties as a physician. I also have to set aside and protect time for my children. They need to know that they are a priority to me, even as they see me work long and odd hours. They get to see me as a tremendously fulfilled, successful woman, who is not afraid to say that what I do is my passion and it brings me joy — just as they do. 

We have so much to gain from working collaboratively, building community and encouraging each other. When you find great people, nurture that relationship and strengthen your network. Everyone has their genius — celebrate it, don’t be intimidated by it.

I’ll leave this question here: why are so many men practicing women’s health and infertility? Fertility clinics for the most part are private clinics in Canada, and women should lead more of them. Women should make more decisions within them, working together collaboratively. We can provide the medical care, and run the business. 

So what can all this be boiled down to? I guess at the end of the day I would like to encourage other women to:

  • Dream big. Once you’ve finished, amplify it exponentially — and go for it. 

  • Be strategic, make a plan, and work your tail off.

  • Don’t underestimate yourself, or other women, and don’t under-aim.

Thank you for letting me share my story, and until next time — get out there, encourage each other and dare to thrive.

7 Questions leaders must ask themselves.

Woman leader thinking and smiling

By Dr. Jivi Saran

Ready to become a transformational leader? It’s time to take your mask off.

No, not the one you’re thinking about. The mask I’m talking about is your leadership mask — the ideal and perfect role you’re trying to portray. This is a particularly common technique among people of colour and women. Performing in a leadership role is a bit like dancing in a masquerade ball. There are steps, a routine to follow, but the tempo is always changing. To avoid a misstep, many leaders cling to a routine, even if it’s not in their best interest, or even entirely appropriate to the situation.

As a Senior Business Advisor at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), I’ve spent 35 years collaborating with business leaders who want to maximize their potential and create high-performance teams. I’ve worked globally in just about every industry except aerospace (it’s on the bucket list). My secret to creating high-powered teams? Executives and CEOs must be willing to un-mask — to realize and maximize their true leadership potential.

Taking the mask off isn’t easy. It’s predictable and protective. For women and minorities who are often judged more harshly, it can feel like the mask creates a cool anonymity that’s often confused with professionalism. No one is supposed to know about the fight you had with your partner or father’s mental decline. Numbers, project deadlines, and growth are where business leaders are supposed to live and die. But that’s not tenable as a leader — or a human being.

Taking Off the Mask

Authenticity is probably the best worst-kept secret of the business world. The knee-jerk horror at the idea of feeling vulnerable is a perfectly normal response, particularly if you feel like you already receive unfair scrutiny and judgement. Yet, it’s this vulnerability — the real stuff — that often works to connect you to your team. 

Think of it like this, if you’re overwhelmed by a work task — frustrated, confused, irritated — your team members almost certainly feel the same. And ignoring this isn’t going to make it go away. A facade of cool unflappability, especially coupled with a by-the-book attitude, can make you unapproachable. At best, you miss out on opportunities to connect and emphasize with team members. At worst, it creates space for miscommunication and errors. 

Team members may be hesitant that voicing concerns may be perceived as weakness. They don’t want to mess up any more than you do. When things go wrong, pretending everything is fine doesn’t work. Acknowledge feelings of futility, frustration, disappointment — and find a way to move forward. When things go right, celebrate. Share your excitement and approval.

Authenticity is a cornerstone of leadership. Your role doesn’t end at business leader, you are also a human being. And the legacy of your company, the stuff that will live beyond your tenure, is made up of your team’s beliefs, its energy — your corporate culture. The ability to unmask, show your humanity, and adjust your course is vital. The secret sauce of leadership has always been competency, with a dash of humanity. 

7 Questions to Ask Yourself

Leading authentically isn’t just about how you present yourself to your employees, it also requires taking an honest look inward. If you’re serious about creating a high-caliber team, the sort that unlocks growth and profitability, ask yourself these seven questions about your performance:

  1. How do team members talk about you?
  2. What stories about you are shared around the water cooler?
  3. When you return home, how do you feel? Are you excited to transition out of your work role to your family role? Or are you tired and frustrated with nothing left to give?
  4. How do you WANT people to talk about you as a leader?
  5. What legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you hope to impact humanity?
  6. How much time do you waste on random thoughts every day? Based on your salary and time, assign a dollar amount. Now multiply that by the number of people on your team.
  7. Do you want to create a workplace where everyone functions with purpose, ease, and grace?

Sovereign Leadership: Preparing to Take the Lead

Removing your mask and asking these seven questions are steps on the path to becoming a sovereign leader. What does it mean to be a sovereign leader? If we return to the analogy of the masquerade ball, this is how you take the lead. Sovereign leadership is about growing into yourself as a leader. It’s where you learn how to leverage your individual industry experience, energy, and passion to create a leadership style that’s smart and approachable. In other words, you gain the confidence to listen and learn what’s happening around you and then make adjustments as needed. However, doing this means coming to terms with several factors:

  • self-identity
  • self-realization
  • self-awareness
  • and self-actualization

Leaders wear many mantles. And the higher you climb, the more will be expected. To manage, report, correct, direct, nurture, assert, and grow, you need to feel comfortable approaching team members with understanding and empathy. You have to feel comfortable being yourself — man, woman, non-binary, person of colour (or some combination of these). There’s no other way this works.

Aligning with yourself as a leader takes work, but it is a profoundly rewarding journey filled with deep, personal insights. By unmasking and becoming the best version of yourself — and allowing others to do the same, you can create a workplace that’s happier, healthier, more efficient, and more inclusive. And isn’t that the point of the whole dance?

Dr Jivi Saran

Dr Jivi Saran

Dr. Jivi Saran is a business advisor, leadership coach, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of Permission to Be You. Specializing in change management, she holds a Ph.D. in Organizational and Human Behavior and MBA in Leadership. Jivi leverages almost 35 years’ experience to increase productivity, focus, and creativity within organizations, and guides top-tier executives to reach peak-performance by changing how they teach, interact, communicate, motivate, and inspire.

Three steps for building your legacy in line with your values.

Woman lying outside and thinking

How do you leave a legacy? 

Most of us can’t afford to have our name on a building, but the advice on the opposite end of the spectrum — building a legacy in non-financial terms — tends towards vague platitudes about a life well lived. If you want to do more than dance like nobody’s watching, but you aren’t sure how to get started, here are three steps you can take: 

1. Start with a definition. 

If you take it literally, you’ll find that the basic definition of legacy is “a gift by will, especially of money or other personal property” — but its meaning and use are a lot broader. To get clarity on how to leave your legacy, begin by ignoring ‘how’ and focusing on ‘why.’ Do you want your name and story to be remembered? Do you want to make an anonymous impact that lasts beyond your lifetime? Do you want to focus on your family, friends, and close community? Do you have a broader cause that you wish to support? 

All these choices aren’t mutually exclusive — you can contribute to solving the climate crisis and leave behind a book of family recipes — but defining what your legacy means to you is the first step to taking action. Depending on your goals and what you consider most important, the way you allocate your resources to build your legacy will likely differ.    

2. Figure out your resources.

It’s important to spend time on defining your goals because reaching them requires personal resources. That’s not just referring to money — your skills and talents, your time, and even your connections are resources, too. We all have a different mix, with one thing in common: these resources are limited, so how you choose to allocate them matters. 

Start by asking yourself the question: “What can I offer?” You might find you’re able to set aside a portion of your income, or you can commit to a certain number of hours. Whether that money and time goes to charitable causes and writing your memoir, or helping pay for your child’s education and volunteering, is entirely up to you and how you define your legacy.  

3. Find your avenues, with help. 

Seeking out and selecting the method for leaving your legacy becomes a lot more manageable once you’re clear on the impact you hope to have and on what you have to offer— but you may still find countless options even after defining this criteria. Simplify the selection process by considering two more questions: Is it more important to see the impact in your lifetime, or leave a mark after you’re gone? Are your goals better served by continual habits, or singular actions?   

There’s no wrong answer, and for you it might be a mix of all of the above. If you’re unsure, you can look to role models for inspiration — how are leading activists in the cause you’re passionate about making an impact, or how are people you admire leaving their legacy. You can also find experts to help guide you. For example, you can work with a wealth planner on your philanthropic efforts, whether you want to give directly to a cause or set up a private foundation.

Remember, your legacy is not a one-time financial transfer after your death, it’s an accumulation of all you’ve done in your life that leaves an impact. With that broader timeframe in mind, it’s easy to see that your goals and values, the resources you have, and even the avenues available to you will likely evolve. If you live with intention — guided by these three steps and revisiting them as you enter new life stages — your legacy will evolve and you’ll do a lot of good along the way.  

The difference between ESG, SRI, and Impact Investing.

Women considering different investments

If you’ve ever purposefully purchased an eco-friendly product, supported a local small business, or donated to a charitable cause, you already know that the dollars you spend can help build a better future, for your community and beyond. 

Your investments can do the same thing — aligning with your values and having a positive impact — while still generating a return. There are a wide variety of approaches for sustainable investing, and deciding how to incorporate them depends on your goals and needs. We’re covering the basics of three similar but subtly different strategies — environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, socially responsible investing (SRI), and impact investing — to help you understand your options. 

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Investing

As the name suggests, ESG investing uses a framework that takes into account three factors when selecting which companies to support: environmental (the effects on the earth), social (the impact on society), and governance (how the company is run). You can focus on one area or all three, and there are even themes within each — from alternative energy to women in leadership. 

There are several companies that calculate and publish ESG scores for corporations, which makes it possible to consider a company’s ESG metrics as part of an investing decision, similar to how their performance would be evaluated. There’s no rule to say how much weight you should give to a company’s ESG score versus traditional financial analysis, but many investors consider both elements as part of their ESG investing strategy.   

Socially Responsible Investing

While ESG provides an extra layer of evaluation alongside traditional financial analysis, socially responsible investing tends to be more rigid in applying ethical guidelines to your investment decisions. It can involve excluding stocks that don’t align with your beliefs, or you can also use positive inclusion — giving your investment dollars to companies that perform better than industry peers on ESG attributes.

So, if a tobacco company has a stellar performance, an ESG investor might still consider that as part of their investment decision. In contrast, a socially responsible investor who draws the line at tobacco will refuse to invest in any stocks that benefit a tobacco company, regardless of how well they do. 

Impact Investing

As the name implies, the goal of impact investing is to generate a measurable impact in an area of need — and that can range from environmental to societal concerns, depending on your personal values. It goes the furthest to tie your personal values to your personal capital, as typically you’ll be prioritizing the positive effects of your investments over your financial returns. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t generate gains with impact investing, they’ll just be weighted with less importance compared to the specific positive impact that comes from your investment — so you might only get back the capital you put in, or see returns below market rates. Areas like conservation, microfinance, and providing access to basic services like housing, healthcare, and education often fall into this category. 

Which investing strategy is right for you?

If all these options sound very similar, that’s because they are. With ESG, SRI, and impact investing, you’re making a choice to consider environmental, social, and governance factors in your investing decision. From there, you can tailor your strategy based on how much weight you give to financial returns versus ESG factors, but you don’t need to think of these as mutually exclusive — making investments aligned with your values doesn’t necessarily mean forgoing returns.   

If you’re not sure where to get started, BMO’s MyESG™ is an easy, interactive tool that helps you to recognize your approach to investing and what you value. When you’re ready to get started, the options span everything from ETFs, to mutual funds, to sustainable portfolios, and can be self-directed or guided by a financial advisor.

According to a recent report, the value of global assets applying ESG data to drive investment decisions was $40.5 trillion in 2020, more than tripling since 2012. That means the options available are growing, too — so all you need to think about is what is right for you.  

Seven ways to green your shopping.

Woman shopping in a zero waste store

By Khera Alexander


Conversation around living a greener lifestyle continues to garner more attention, but what does that actually mean? Is it affordable? Can it really make a difference? Living ethically and sustainably is a journey that takes time to cultivate and maintain, with no singular way to do it. However, if you’re looking for some small steps you can take to make a difference in your own way, consider these 7 ways you can live and shop a little greener.

1. Rethink your everyday essentials and switch to reusable and eco-friendly items.

No one can deny the convenience of taking a short trip to a local drugstore chain to pick up another toothbrush or the ease of ordering household items online from Amazon, but there are ways to maintain that ease without having a negative impact on the environment. About half of the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced each year is for single-use and other disposable items (like that toothbrush) waste resources, leach toxins, and can take hundreds of years to decompose. Many of us have gotten comfortable with using something once and throwing it away, but purchasing items that are reusable or made of recycled materials is a helpful first step towards living more sustainably and being eco-friendly. There are options available for just about any everyday item you may need. From paper towel substitutes to reusable bags and beauty products, many sustainable and environmentally friendly products exist.

2. Shop and eat locally or grow your own produce.

While shopping and eating locally is not accessible to everyone, if you’re able, there are several benefits to it: it’s a financial investment in your local community, you have a better understanding of where your money goes and who it helps, and most often, the food you purchase is sourced from a farmer right in your city or province, which helps reduce packaging waste and gas emissions that arise from transportation. These benefits of local shopping and eating are direct results of community-driven actions taken towards sustainability. You may not be able to get everything on your list, but picking up your produce from a local shop or farmer’s market is an action that helps you, others, and your environment.

“You may not be able to get everything on your list, but picking up your produce from a local shop or farmer’s market is an action that helps you, others, and your environment.”

If you’re interested in taking on a personal project, growing your own produce is an alternative to purchasing locally. You don’t need a ton of space to grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs, either — you could start with a container or a small box that can fit comfortably by a window. This is a larger undertaking than simply heading to your local store, but growing your own food can be an enjoyable and meditative way to spend your time — and you happen to be doing something that’s eco-friendly in the process.

3. Rent, repair, shop secondhand, or invest in sustainable clothing and accessories.

Finding trendy or runway-inspired clothing at a reasonable price is ideal for just about anyone, but fast fashion heavily pollutes the environment and exploits poor garment workers around the world. To produce fashionable, affordable clothes, businesses use cheap and toxic materials and inhumane working conditions, making trends available for purchase in as little as two to four weeks. Most of these laborers are women, and almost all of them do not earn a living wage. If none of these harsh realities sit well with you, there are several ways you can be a more conscious clothing shopper. 

A great method is to purchase clothes made sustainably. Though there is no singular definition, “sustainable, ethical fashion” can be thought of as clothing, shoes, and accessories that are made in the most mindful ways possible, with positive environmental and socioeconomic impacts factored in their production. All elements of the production process, from the type of materials used (whether it be recycled, organic, or a combination), how it’s made, and who makes it, to the transportation process is considered and designed to contribute to sustainability. While purchases from brands like Free Label, Tentree, Brother Vellies, Omi Woods, or Girlfriend Collective are investments — sustainably made pieces don’t have fast fashion prices  — you can feel good about where your items come from and they will last you for years.

“Although purchasing sustainable clothes is a wonderful alternative, it’s a luxury and privilege that isn’t available to all of us. If paying for an eco-friendly item is something you can’t do, you still have options.”

Although purchasing sustainable clothes is a wonderful alternative, it’s a luxury and privilege that isn’t available to all of us. If paying for an eco-friendly item is something you can’t do, you still have options: try sewing up holes or tears in any worn clothes you already have and shopping second hand. There are several stores that provide quality used clothing at affordable prices, from your local thrift store to boutique in-store and online vintage shops.

Another way to be a little greener is by renting clothes. Canadian rental platforms like dresst or The Fitzroy give you the feeling of having gone shopping without constant consumption and a lot of clothes piling up in your closet. For a fee, these services will ship a select number of items right to your door and you can wear them for an allotted amount of time. All you have to do is ship the clothes back (often for free) and the company will take care of cleaning the items for the next rental. 

4. Repair, shop secondhand, and try purchasing other sustainable goods.

Most, if not all of us love a good deal on things like electronics and home furnishings. Being able to spend money on items we consider fairly priced and of value is important, but we often don’t have the full scope of the damage it can do to the people that made it, our own bodies, and our planet. In 2019, electronics contributed to 53.6 million tonnes of waste globally, and in the United States alone, over 12 million tonnes of furniture is thrown out every year. There are smaller, simpler steps you can take to be more environmentally friendly if you need a new nightstand or another smartphone.

If you have a tablet that’s glitchy or a chair with a wobbly leg, try repairing it first. Taking the time to send a product in or fix a piece of furniture as a DIY project can save you a little to a lot of money, depending on the item. Many times, we can be more interested in replacing or repurchasing things because of how affordable a product might be or to simply have something new, but the items we’re quick to throw away are salvageable and might just need a little sprucing up. 

“Many times, we can be more interested in replacing or repurchasing things because of how affordable a product might be or to simply have something new, but the items we’re quick to throw away are salvageable and might just need a little sprucing up.”

Have you ever considered purchasing electronics and furniture second hand? If not, this option is a way to have exciting, new items while reducing the number of products that end up in landfills. Refurbished electronics, furniture stores, vintage shops, and community-based marketplaces are an internet search away, and they can save you money while you take home a product that’s as good as new or unique with tons of character.

If you need a new couch or new headphones, try shopping with environmentally friendly brands. While we can’t ignore that eco-friendly electronics can be harder to find, brands like The House of Marley and Nimble provide products made from natural and recycled materials. Furniture and other home goods that have been made sustainably are also not the easiest to find and are more expensive, but if you can afford to invest in eco-friendly furniture, it’s something worth considering — and there are brands making quality, timeless items that will outlast any furniture that was made with cheap materials, preventing you from throwing out goods every few years when you move or redecorate.

5. Purchase from B Corp businesses.

Businesses that are B Corporations operate with the environment and people in mind. These certifications are given by B Lab, a non-profit organization that created standards for environmental and societal change organizations need to meet in order to be certified. Certified organizations don’t just focus on money — making a positive change is integral to their business goals as well. 

B Corp companies use their businesses and profits to address environmental issues, social inequalities, and treat their employees fairly. Not all businesses are able to become certified; the process is extensive and rigorous, which adds a level of legitimacy and credibility to any business that successfully becomes a certified B Corporation. To be certified means that the company operates ethically and does exactly what they claim to do, from their production processes and work environments to their environmental and societal initiatives. If you want to be more eco-friendly, you can put your money toward buying  products from certified organizations that align with your ethics and beliefs. In doing so, your money can contribute to the environment, the community, and employees.

6. Recycle, donate, and sell thoughtfully.

Instead of reflexively putting items you no longer want in the trash, consider donating them or selling them to family, friends, or on online marketplaces and consignment shops. In many cases, people would love to purchase an item you already own because they can’t afford the full price or have to prioritize more important purchases. You can help them by donating, gifting, or selling your pieces. 

There will always be items that you won’t need more than once after you’ve used it or unboxed it. Recycling the right things as much as you can is a helpful way to reduce trash and responsibly get rid of items. Recycling is different depending on where you’re located — you may need to do some research to properly dispose of items in your area — but there are a couple of things you should keep in mind as you recycle. Clothing, containers with leftovers, food waste, appliances, electric cords, plastic bags, and propane cylinders can’t be recycled alongside your traditional (clean) glass, steel, and paper products. Confirm what can be recycled in your area and learn how to responsibly dispose of these items. Combining recyclable material with what can’t be recycled will not be organized by someone else — and your entire collection of items could end up in the trash. 

“Combining recyclable material with what can’t be recycled will not be organized by someone else — and your entire collection of items could end up in the trash.”

In addition to the packaging we recycle, our old appliances and smartphones should be disposed of more mindfully. The University of British Columbia reported that in 2016, only 20% of our global electronic waste — otherwise known as e-waste — was recycled properly. E-waste is made of any electronic equipment that we no longer want such as cables, batteries, fluorescent lights, and of course, our smart devices. Casually discarding these products is more common than we realize; globally, we created 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste in 2019, with that number projected to increase as the years go on. Donating or safely recycling our electronics prevents toxic components like mercury and lead from leaking, and any material that is salvageable can be recovered and reused. Check with your local municipality on how to properly dispose of your electronics, but organizations like the Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA), BestBuy, TerraCycle, and Recycle My Cell offer services as well.

7. Resist the urge to purchase something unless you actually need it.

It’s easy to get swept up into the idea that by shopping, we will feel restored. We get excited about having new things — and we all succumb to that in our own ways. Although this is something many of us can relate to, our collective over-consumption has a detrimental impact on others and the environment. Though resisting the urge to have new things is challenging, one of the most vital ways we can shop greener is to buy less. Wait until you actually need something to make a purchase, and if you find yourself suddenly having several items in your cart, ask yourself, do I really need this? Taking a moment to pause and reflect on your potential purchases could help deter you from buying something “just because.”

5 ways you can negotiate continuing working from home.

woman working from home

By Fotini Iconomopoulos

Many of us are excited about getting the heck away from the home office and back into civilization, but others are… not so eager. 

Maybe you’re not ready just yet or maybe you want this arrangement to become permanent. Whatever the situation, there are things that you can do that will help you in your negotiation with your employer. In fact, I’ve been helping folks with employer negotiations like these for years, and COVID-19 just made working from home requests a lot easier — you’ve been trialing this (hopefully successfully) for over a year!

I always advise to keep track of the successes and wins you’ve had while working from home, and to lay the groundwork by dropping them into your conversations regularly. But even if you haven’t been doing that, you can make up for it with the steps below:

1. Position yourself for success

Before you even propose continuing working from home, make sure you make your employer aware of how well it’s been going. How did you make the transition seamless with your team? Did you increase productivity? Any big wins to bring up (despite the chaos)? Have you been more accessible without fighting traffic? If you have some quantitative results, even better. The more positive things you have to share about this remote work experience, the harder it will be for them to deny your request.

2. Consider it from their perspective

‘They’ are both your peers and your employer. Consider how your remote work will affect others. If you think they might have some objections, consider those now so you can address them and handle them before your employer has a chance to raise them. You’ll be acknowledging their concerns and building trust. Especially if you have solutions or learnings for their concerns.

3. Share testimonials and best practices

You already brought up some benefits earlier and now you can use the social smell of what others are doing and how they’re doing it successfully. Share testimonials from colleagues, clients, and other departments if you’ve got them. Other industry leaders and organizations who have already declared that remote work will be around for a while are a great way to use peer pressure to your advantage. A company with similarities to yours will be most compelling — so don’t pick some culture that seems like apples to oranges to them.

4. Be specific

Proposing a trial is usually an easy way to success (as it usually brings enough momentum to continue down that path) and you just had a lengthy trial run to work to your advantage. If you’ve figured out a formula for success, this is the time to lay out the plan. If it’s x number of days per week/month in the office, a rhythm of regular meetings or communication, specific working hours, or any other process that has made this a successful trial, be sure to spell it out.

5. Ask questions

Questions always come up because carefully crafted ones will get the others to convince themselves and make things less adversarial. Asking questions is something you also need to be prepared with in case you get resistance. Dig deeper than what they’re saying at face value. ‘How’ or ‘what’ questions are always my favorites: “How can we adjust this plan to make you more comfortable? What specifically about this is important to you?” Be ready to get them into problem solving mode before you just give up.

As I’ve said before, negotiations don’t have to be combative. Implementing a few of the tips above will make it a discussion instead of a boxing match.


Fotini Iconomopoulos

Fotini Iconomopoulos

Nicknamed “the negotiator” as a child, Fotini Iconomopoulos is an award-winning negotiation consultant, keynote speaker, MBA instructor, and author of Say Less, Get More: Negotiation Techniques to Get What You Want. Based in Toronto, she works with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small business entrepreneurs to help them achieve their goals, and is regularly featured in the media sharing her expertise. You can learn more about her work and find more of her tips at fotiniicon.com

How a decade of war in Syria has led to serious gender-based human rights violations.

Syrian girl holding Syrian flag.

By Katarzyna Rybarczyk


This year marks ten years since the Syrian uprisings against the president started and the country spiralled into a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands and pushed around eighty per cent of the population into poverty. The protestors demanded freedom and justice, and yet many were forced to flee their homes, escaping wide-scale brutality and state persecution. The violent conflict between the government, backed by Russia and Iran, and the opposition, supported by the West, as well as several Gulf Arab states, has quickly turned the country into a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.    

Since the outbreak of the war, women have been disproportionately affected. They have to not only deal with the dangers of the war but also cope with gender-based discrimination. The ongoing armed conflict has intensified gender-related violence in Syria and has led to a rise in rape cases, as well as instances of forced and child marriage.

Conflict fuelling gender-based abuse   

Syrian society, where traditional gender norms dictate acceptable social behaviours, allows for the degradation of women. As a result of the ongoing armed conflict, misogynistic practices such as domestic violence have intensified, putting women and girls more at risk of sexual abuse and oppression than ever before.    

Since the beginning of the war, more than twelve million Syrians have been internally displaced or are living as refugees. As a report published by Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom revealed, women represent around 50 per cent of all Syrian refugees. In camps and shelters for displaced people, women and girls are more susceptible to violence than men and boys. 

In these settlements, women often fall victims to sexual exploitation and, having limited mobility, cannot escape those who hurt them. Moreover, with no sources of income, many hope that marriage could bring them and their daughters physical and financial security. Sadly, young girls who are married off to older men in exchange for money end up taken away from their loved ones and find themselves trapped in abusive relationships. 

Sexual violence as a weapon of war

Over the last ten years, rape became a common occurrence and sexual violence has been used by both the Syrian government and extremist jihadist groups to achieve their respective strategic goals. They use rape to spread ‘terror and humiliation to the population’, as the UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict reported. Jihadists belonging to the Islamic State would rape girls as young as twelve years old and force them into sexual slavery. Through ingraining fear in the Syrian population, they aimed to enhance their governance and authority. Additionally, selling women to new recruits would help them get money to fund their activities. Similarly, the Syrian government and associated militias regularly rape women at checkpoints and during house searches to show their superiority and demand compliance. Rape became a tool used by parties complicit in the Syrian conflict, becoming a harmful pattern serving to demonstrate who holds more power.

Moreover, in a country where the honour of a woman is considered sacred, rape is being used to cause unrest amongst the population. Women and girls who have been raped are often the ones who have to face the consequences of the acts of their perpetrators. The patriarchal culture dictates that if a woman is raped, her honour is violated. In such circumstances, entire families experience stigma and social exclusion. Hence, in Syria, women are being killed for allegedly bringing dishonour upon their families.

Women’s empowerment crucial to restoring peace 

Looking at the Syrian war from the gender perspective and recognising how severely women have been affected by it is crucial to restoring peace. To protect and empower women, it is necessary to examine the challenges they face as a result of the war as these are highly specific to their gender. It is clear that the prevailing insecurity caused by the conflict has been particularly harmful to women. The problems that existed even before the war, have now been aggravated to the point where Syria has become the world’s third most dangerous country for women

Syrian women have to deal with dual oppression; that of years of armed conflict and that of gender-based violence. Hence, the humanitarian responses to those affected by the war need to be altered to provide Syrian women and girls with better protection. The implementation of durable peace can only be achieved if women’s rights are preserved. Otherwise, even once the fighting stops, women will have to cope with discrimination and limited possibilities to rebuild their lives. As the fighting in Syria continues, however, the world is yet to see what the position of women will be in the post-war period.

Katarzyna Rybarczyk

Katarzyna Rybarczyk

Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for Immigration News, which is a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and news around the world and helps people get immigration advice. She writes articles about the struggles of refugees and security concerns facing women around the world. Through her articles, she wants to promote human rights and raise awareness about topics that do not get enough attention. She also currently serves as a Volunteer Translator for the United Nations Volunteers Regional Office for West and Central Africa.

3 tips to get your mind focused on progress, rather than perfection.

Woman Thinking

By Annie Gaudreault


Healthy habits are actually not that hard to adopt. You might already be starting to yell at your screen in protest, but hear me out. They really are not that hard to adopt. The reason that healthy habits escape us time and time again is often because we are seeking perfection.

Does this sound familiar: “I can’t do X because I’m not thin enough, I don’t have the right clothes, I don’t have the hour I said I would devote to my workout so I’m just not going to do it at all today.” Well, this, this right here, is the enemy because every day we’re looking for perfection — the perfect time, scenario, or feeling to start our healthy habits. And when any little thing gets in the way or throws a wrench into our perfectly laid out plan, we get frustrated or discouraged and decide to, “try again on Monday.” How many times have you played that script in your head?

As a coach and endurance athlete, I can tell you that progress beats perfection, EVERY. TIME. Read that again. Progress beats perfection, every single time.

The perfect day, the perfect mindset, the perfect circumstance is so very rare. I’ve had maybe 20 perfect runs in my life, but I have had thousands of runs. Most days, the weather (too hot, too cold, too windy, too humid), my clothing (too tight, too loose, it’s falling down, it’s rubbing weird, it’s itchy), my mood (I’m sluggish, I’m tired, I didn’t sleep enough, maybe I overslept) and my meals (ate too much, not enough, drank too much coffee, not enough water) could have provided some reason to not run, but I did it anyways.

“As a coach and endurance athlete, I can tell you that progress beats perfection, EVERY. TIME.”

It’s your choice and healthy habits are really just the result of repetition. Consistently going to bed and waking up at the same time, doing your meditation or reflection, journaling, taking a walk, whatever the habit is that you want to implement you just have to do it and keep doing it day in and day out. Because most days it won’t be the perfect scenario you’re hoping for, but it’s the accumulation of a little bit at a time that will get you ahead in the long run.

When you skip the activity because it wasn’t the perfect scenario, the only person that loses out is YOU. Let that sink in. If you don’t do your exercise or your meditation or whatever else it is that you had planned, the only person who is missing out on that experience to improve is you.

The daily habits, even little ones, are progress and with them you win every time. You might not have had time to do a full yoga practice that you planned for but you did 10 minutes and that is great. You might not have had a full salad for lunch but you were able to include a side of broccoli. These are all little decisions that move you forward towards bigger impact.

In the book Atomic Habits by James Clear there is a wonderful quote: “One of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress.” And isn’t that so true? Whenever we make progress towards our goals we always feel better. In finance they talk about how you win by putting $50 a month in your savings account, even if you wish you could put $100. You’re still ahead and it’s cumulative and at the end of the year you may not have $1,200 but you do have $600 and that’s better than $0. It’s the same thing for the health bank account. Make the deposits, no matter how big or small, into your health bank account daily and watch those benefits accumulate the same way.

So how can we get rid of the disease of perfection?

Here are my top three tips:

1. Be specific.

What exactly is the habit you’re trying to implement or change? For example, saying “I’m going to exercise more” is not specific enough and can very easily be ignored or pushed to “tomorrow.” A specific habit would be, “At 5:00 I will change into my workout clothes and do 30 minutes of cardio.” You need to be very clear about what it is you want to do. Vague words produce vague results.

2. Challenge your status quo.

The idea of you is not necessarily true. What does that mean? There are a lot of stories that we tell ourselves, such as, I have to have five coffees a day to make it through, I’m not a morning person, I can’t cook, etc. I recommend challenging yourself to stick to your habit rather than succumbing to these stories. Recognize the patterns you have created and the stories you tell yourself and challenge them. Are you really not a morning person or is this a bad habit you’ve gotten into of going to bed too late? Recognize what is fact from fiction and work to change those habits.

3. Be clear about your purpose. 

Know your why, and be clear about what it is and why you want it. For example, I want to be active because I want to be able to feel strong and be independent and enjoy my life well into old age. It’s not about other people and seeking their approval because that is the weaker motivation and won’t stick. To truly change you need to dig a little deeper and find the intrinsic reason for wanting to change, something that will make you happy, feel better or bring you joy. Intrinsic reasons are very powerful and are rooted in very deep emotions, you just have to take the time to think about them and remember them every time you feel like giving up. Motivation will let you down but your why will never fail you.

So let go of the idea of perfection and let’s focus that beautiful energy on progress and moving forward, even a little bit, every single day. You’ll be amazed at the results!

Annie Gaudreault

Annie Gaudreault

As a healthy aging expert and nutritionist, Annie founded VEEV Health & Wellness to support smart and successful mid aged women to lose weight, sleep better and get more out of life. An endurance athlete with 12 marathons and 3 Ironman triathlons under her belt, Annie lives what she preaches. A prior 25+ year career as a brand consultant working with executives of Fortune 500 companies gave her a solid background to serve the wellness needs of those living busy lives. She is a regular speaker to the media, corporations and lifestyle organizations on various topics of health and is a healthy aging expert.