As head of Kids Help Phone, Katherine Hay is helping the charity evolve with technology and culture.

Katherine Hay

By Karen van Kampen

 

When Katherine Hay was a teenager, her mother recertified her nursing credentials so she could continue supporting Katherine and her younger sister as a single mother. Katherine’s older brother had just died in a car accident at the age of 19.

“My mom was and is the epitome of strength, courage, and grit without ever losing her warmth or ability to cast a safe and loving family net,” she says. 

Katherine remembers volunteering with her sister in the chronic care ward where her mother worked. “Those were good early experiences that were anchored on some tough family times,” she says. “Young, early experiences shape a bit of the mettle you might take into your adulthood.”  

Volunteering was something they always did as a family, which Katherine carried on through her own family with her two children. When Katherine decided to make a career in non-profit, “It felt deeply satisfying for me,” she says. “I knew that I was going to move the needle in some way, shape, or form.” 

For more than two decades, Katherine has been driving social change. As President and CEO of Women’s College Hospital Foundation, she led record-breaking fundraising efforts to support women’s health. In her current role as President and CEO of Kids Help Phone, Katherine is advancing Canada’s mental health service for youth as a virtual health innovator that connects with young people online, by phone, and text. Katherine is an inspiring and passionate leader, and she is being recognized for her achievements. 

Katherine was the 2021 winner of the Social Change Award, National Impact, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an exceptional leader of a registered charity, social enterprise, or not-for-profit who is dedicated to their unique brand of social change.  

“I knew that I was going to move the needle in some way, shape, or form.” 

Katherine describes her journey toward her current work as a very wavy line — “I was amassing experiences,” she says — and she didn’t start out with a vision to work in the not-for-profit sector. Katherine left university and got a job as a bank teller. She worked her way up in the bank, taking on a management role and running branches. “I learned so much in those early days in banking about customer service and team experiences that I put into play, day in and day out,” she says. 

In the mid-nineties, Katherine’s journey took a different turn when she moved with her family to São Paulo, Brazil. With her kids at school and husband at work, Katherine thought about what to do next. She finished her BA in psychology and economics remotely from the University of Waterloo. Katherine approached the Consul General in São Paolo, offering to volunteer. They created the Canadian Foundation and Katherine was appointed president of the fundraising volunteer organization. The goal was to raise approximately $25,000 for HIV/AIDS. At the time, mortality rates were high and there wasn’t fundraising to help families impacted by the condition. Katherine approached multinational corporations doing business in São Paolo. The foundation raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. “It was incredible,” says Katherine, who describes her experiences in São Paolo as “transformational.” 

In 1999, Katherine and her family returned to Canada. After many years of volunteering, sitting on non-profit boards, and doing fundraising events, Katherine realized that she wanted to make a career of it, “knowing that the work I would do could very well enable something so much bigger than me or my world,” she says. 

Katherine began doing strategy work with Big Brothers Big Sisters. She remembers making $17 an hour and thinking, I am a paid professional in this sector. “I was very proud of that,” she says. Katherine gained experience working with Families and Children Experiencing AIDS (FACE AIDS) and University of Toronto Mississauga. In 2004, Katherine was appointed Director of Advancement at the University of Toronto. Then in 2014, she became President and CEO of Women’s College Hospital Foundation. 

“If you make decisions outside your values, outside your place, and it doesn’t work out, those are your mistakes.”

Reflecting on her journey, Katherine says that while there wasn’t a specific end result in sight, she had a clear feeling that she was taking the right steps for herself while also helping others, which was important to her. 

Katherine’s mother used to tell her, “Stand in the right place, and you’ll be ok.” If Katherine aligned herself with her values, then she would find her way. “If you make decisions outside your values, outside your place, and it doesn’t work out, those are your mistakes,” she says. If you get back to your values, says Katherine, most things will find their path. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know fully what you want, she says. But you should work hard to know who you are. 

Katherine has explored the values that are integral to who she is. “If I didn’t have them, I couldn’t be me,” she says. Katherine writes her values on the inside of every notebook and looks at them often, including before she goes into a tough meeting. 

Working in the not-for-profit sector requires a steadfast belief in what you are trying to accomplish. “This is not a job,” she says. “It has to be authentic and genuinely inside you.” When Katherine was appointed President and CEO of Kids Help Phone in 2017, she was compelled by the meaningful work of the organization, which was a pioneer in virtual health, as well as the youth mental health crisis. While there is an often-cited statistic that one in five youth face mental health challenges, Katherine believes that one in one young people are impacted, whether it be personally or through a friend or family member.  

When Katherine joined Kids Help Phone, it was a well-loved organization with a solid foundation. Yet maintaining a steady state was not an option. “We’d be the Kodak of the not-for-profit sector because we have innovation and technology right in our hands,” says Katherine of Canada’s 24/7 virtual mental health service for youth. The organization needed to evolve along with technology and the fast-paced world in which youth were navigating.

“We will continue to evolve and grow, and that’s what drives us.”  

Katherine drove a new strategic direction for Kids Help Phone, positioning it as an innovation technology driven charity with a razor-sharp focus on youth mental health. Kids Help Phone connects with young people where they are, including gaming sites, social media, online chat and peer-to-peer forums, as well as by phone with professional counsellors, and text with crisis responders.  

When the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, Kids Help Phone was ready. “The world shut down,” remembers Katherine. “We did not go dark or silent. Not for one minute.” The organization went from 708 crisis responders to more than 2,230 responders active on the platform monthly. During COVID-19, Kids Help Phone trained more than 5,000 crisis responders, enabling the high number of crisis responders to be on the e-front lines. Since January 2020, Kids Help Phone has interacted more than 11.3 million times with young people in every province and territory in both official languages; a dramatic increase from its 1.9 million interactions with young people in 2019. Wait times remain on average five minutes. 

While COVID-19 has exacerbated young people’s anxiety and mental health challenges, there is a youth mental health crisis beyond the pandemic. Canada has the third highest youth suicide rate in the industrialized world and suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people in Canada. The silver lining is Kids Help Phone, says Katherine. “Not only are we here,” she says, “they’re reaching out.”  

In the future, Kids Help Phone will continue to find innovative ways to connect with young people and provide mental health support. “We will continue to evolve and grow,” says Katherine, “and that’s what drives us.”  

How Janét Aizenstros turned her digital consultancy into one of the fastest-growing companies in the Americas.

By Karen van Kampen

 

Growing up in Guelph, Ontario, Janét Aizenstros was exposed to “a lot of goodness” within her community-focused hometown. “I grew up in an environment where I was free to be myself, which being a woman of colour, given the current social narrative, isn’t always true for many women of colour,” she says. 

As Founder and CEO of Ahava Digital Group, a women-led digital consultancy, Janét has built a conscious media company that provides ethically sourced and verified data to help companies connect with women consumers. What began as a one-woman operation in 2011 is now one of the fastest-growing companies in the Americas, with revenues over $1.5 billion (USD). 

Like other entrepreneurs she has connected with over the years, Janét discovered early in life that there was something uniquely different about herself. “In childhood, I felt very present,” she says. “That level of presence, that level of insight is what has been able to carry me through life.” Janét’s high level of empathy has benefits as well as detriments, she explains. “You feel things on a totally different level.” 

Janét was exposed to business in her teens when her mother started her own cleaning company. Janét would accompany her mother to commercial buildings and chat with owners about their business. “I was very fascinated by what they did,” she says. 

Moving to Toronto at the age of 17 cultivated Janét’s passion to become a business person. She graduated high school early and got a retail job at the Eaton Centre, where she worked alongside many strong women. “I spent a lot of time walking the streets, seeing the business people, the hustle and bustle,” she says. 

At 19, Janét completed a program called Master’s Commission, an intensive discipleship program. Her interest in spirituality began as a young child. “I was once an aspiring pastor,” she says. Yet Janét came to realize that entrepreneurship was the right path for her. 

“It started as a woman who had many gifts that she wanted to share with the world.”

After many years building a professional career in banking, management consulting, and advertising, Janét left the corporate world to focus on her family. For 18 months, she stayed home with her two children — both under the age of three. She launched her one-woman creative agency, Ahava Digital, from her basement. 

“It started as a woman who had many gifts that she wanted to share with the world,” says Janét, “And life circumstances — that I wanted to shift — which presented challenges that I would have to navigate and pivot cautiously through,” she says.

Influencers became interested in Janét’s work. Demand continued to grow as she worked with companies and then larger organizations. In 2013, as Ahava Digital focused on social media, Janét began connecting with her professional network. “This path led me to introductions to influential people I’ve known over the years that gave me an opportunity and opened doors for me,” she says. 

In 2016, Ahava Digital became more data focused as clients sought pinpointed metrics on their ideal customers. At the time, Janét was working on her dissertation for her PhD in metaphysical sciences while  simultaneously completing her executive MBA. While gathering data for her PhD research, Janét discovered an American data centre that was looking for an investor. In late 2017, Janét acquired the data company and its technology, and started on a growth path. Today, Ahava Digital Group has a presence in more than 15 countries with more than 550 employees, and their National Intelligence File contains data on 197 million American households — all ethically sourced and verified.  

Ahava Digital has gained the moniker of conscious business, which Janét embraces. “Canadian values are what shaped who I am as an entrepreneur, especially as an employer,” says Janét, which includes putting people first and focusing on environmental, social, corporate governance, and sustainable development goals.  

She carries those values beyond her company, too. In 2020, Janét established scholarship programs at the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo to support people from marginalized communities who wish to pursue careers in business and engineering. Money can be a barrier to entry, dissuading many people from even applying, she says, adding, “Money should never be the reason why somebody does not fulfill their dreams.” 

“We have to offer value in any situation that we walk into and understand that we should be expectant of receiving value as well.”

Janét says it’s important to focus on how we can give back in life — but it’s also healthy to expect reciprocation. “We have to offer value in any situation that we walk into and understand that we should be expectant of receiving value as well,” she says, adding, “Understanding those that pour out also need to be poured into.” 

For Janét, giving back also includes mentoring other women entrepreneurs through an American organization that focuses on leadership from a biblical perspective. It’s about leadership, wellness, and mindset. “Honestly, it’s the best work I’ve ever done in my entire life,” she says. 

Reflecting on a key takeaway for other women entrepreneurs, Janét says, “Successful women are not afraid of being themselves. I want to stress this concept to women.” In the beginning, Janét had people trying to steer her path, and if she had listened to them, Ahava Digital Group would not be what it is today. “It takes a very strong personality to stand alone and be that lone wolf,” she says.

Her approach has clearly worked. Among her many achievements, Janét’s company was ranked twelfth on Canadian Business’ 2020 Growth List, with Janét being the first Black Canadian woman sole founder to be recognized within the list’s top 20. That same year, Janét was also the first person of colour to win the Canadian Business Employer of the Year award. In 2021 she became the first Black woman to receive the Excellence Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours an entrepreneur who has built and managed a successful business over a decade through timely innovation, strategic thinking, and smart execution.

Looking to the future, Janét is excited to focus on her legacy initiative — the institute that she created to support the wellness of women in business. The Wholly Living Research Institute focuses on emotional intelligence around business and explores leadership from a wellness perspective, providing a safe space for women to share experiences. 

“Leadership is the place I was meant to be,” says Janét. “I come alive when empowering women. It gives me joy.”

How Michele Romanow is equalizing access to funding with Clearco — a global leader in the venture capital industry.

By Karen van Kampen

 

For 15 years, Michele Romanow has disrupted industries with her innovative business ideas. At 28, the serial entrepreneur became the youngest Dragon on Dragons’ Den. By 35, she had been named to Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list, and had six business launches under her belt. Her latest venture, Clearco (formerly Clearbanc), has been shaking up the venture capital industry with its revenue sharing model since 2015. The tech unicorn is the world’s largest e-commerce investor, with a valuation over $2.5 billion. 

“If you want to change something in this world, the best way of doing that is becoming an entrepreneur,” says Michele.

As Co-founder and CEO of Clearco, Michele was the 2021 winner of the Innovation Award, a category of the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards that honours a forward-thinking entrepreneur who has demonstrated outstanding leadership within her company and industry while setting standards for originality, quality, and successful management.  

Michele has been leading change since launching her first venture in 2006 as an engineering student at Queen’s University. Curious about sustainability in business, she decided to take a high margin product like coffee and see if she could remove all of the waste. Michele used giant composters with red wiggler worms — that eat 10 times their body mass every day — and sold the soil from the coffee grounds to local farmers. Everything was biodegradable or compostable. The Tea Room was North America’s first zero-consumer-waste café. 

“Running a small business and running a big business are really not that much different.”

It was an amazing learning experience — from building the café, to hiring, managing, and motivating 80 student employees, and responding quickly to crises. “Running a small business and running a big business are really not that much different,” says Michele. 

In spring 2008, Michele had just graduated from her MBA when she discovered the worldwide supply of caviar was down by 95%. With approximately $100,000 in winnings from business plan competitions, Michele and her business partners, Anatoliy Melnichuk and Ryan Marien, launched Evandale Caviar. They drove to Canada’s East Coast and built a fishery from scratch, “which is everything it sounds like,” says Michele. “Boats, Fisherman. My hands knee-deep in fish.” 

Then in the fall of 2008, the recession hit. “I’m 21 years old and I’m selling the world’s most unnecessary luxury product,” she says. Michele took a job for a year as director of strategy for a large retailer. Then in 2011, Michele co-founded the e-commerce platform Buytopia.ca. Two years later, she co-founded Snapsaves, an app that she sold to Groupon in 2014. It was her first big break as an entrepreneur. 

In 2015, Michele became the youngest judge on Dragons’ Den, bringing a unique perspective on potential investments. “I am the closest to the picture, because I am still starting and building businesses,” she says.  

Michele began to question why founders were using equity, the most expensive capital, to fund ads and inventory, which had a fixed return. It sparked an idea: Instead of taking 10% of the company, she suggested 10% of revenue until her capital was paid back, plus 6%. “We invented the category of revenue sharing,” says Michele, which disrupted the venture capital industry. 

This became the first Clearco deal. Today, Clearco has invested $3.2 billion in more than 7,000 different founders in 10 countries around the world. 

Michele understands how difficult it is for founders to secure capital. For the first 10 years, she says no one would fund her. With the Clearco 20-minute Term Sheet, no personal guarantee is required — the numbers speak for themselves. Rather than going through the lengthy fundraising process, founders are provided a term sheet within minutes that sets out the amount and terms of capital. 

“The narrative has always been women don’t build enough companies or their companies are not successful. What we’re showing is if more than half our portfolio is women, they are out there and they are building great businesses.”

The process eliminates bias in the venture capital decision-making process. “We are just using data to make our decisions. We don’t hear your pitch. We don’t know what gender you are,” says Michele. “As a result, our portfolio looks so much different than the conventional VC portfolio.” 

A third of Clearco founders are BIPOC, and a large percentage of its founders do not have a post-secondary education. “We really believe that if you have data and a great business, then you should have democratized access to capital,” says Michele. 

Clearco backs 25 times more women than the VC industry average. “The narrative has always been women don’t build enough companies or their companies are not successful,” says Michele. “What we’re showing is if more than half our portfolio is women, they are out there and they are building great businesses.” In 2017, Michele co-founded the Canadian Entrepreneurship Initiative — with Sir Richard Branson as the entrepreneur-in-residence — which encourages and supports women entrepreneurs.  

In addition to founder-friendly capital, Clearco provides business-building tools and resources to help companies grow. This includes ClearX, that introduces founders to potential buyers. Clearco has sold 12 of their founders’ companies within their portfolio.

Michele’s passion for entrepreneurship is also passed on to Clearco employees — approximately 20 companies have been launched by former staffers. “We call our onboarding school Founder School,” says Michele. “We believe that when you come to Clearco, you should learn everything it takes to be a founder. Our mission is to help founders win.” 

Michele’s best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Start now. It’s never going to feel like you’re perfectly ready,” she says, comparing launching a business to jumping into a swimming pool. “You know you’re going to jump in that water, and it’s going to be cold. And you have to jump. You have to be cold, because as soon as you start swimming, you figure out how to do it.”

How Inuit advocate Siila Watt-Cloutier has been making climate change a human rights issue.

Siila Watt-Cloutier

We are honouring Siila Watt-Cloutier with the 2022 Top 25 Women of Influence Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Ricoh Canada, for her outstanding contributions as an environmental, cultural, and human rights advocate. Born in a small village in Northern Quebec, she entered the residential school system when she was 12 — which ignited her desire to help others and be of service to her community. She began her career in the Nunavik education system, and eventually became a voice for Inuit rights on the global stage, shining a spotlight on the ramifications of climate change on communities.

By Sarah Kelsey | Illustration by Tess Goris @tessalexandra.art

 

“There is always reason to hope,” Siila Watt-Cloutier says, when asked about the current state of the world. “The pandemic is teaching us to do things differently — that’s positive.”

As an Inuit leader and one of the world’s most recognized environmental and human rights advocates, Siila has spent her career shining a spotlight on the ramifications of global climate change on communities, especially for Indigenous Peoples. She’s encouraged leaders and individuals to evaluate how their policies and actions have impacted their citizens. She says the COVID-19 pandemic has given everyone the reality check needed to realize the way we do things — whether in business or culturally — needs to change. 

“The pandemic is opening hearts and souls to find solutions to address climate change; it has exposed the unresolved issues of racism in the Indigenous and Black communities,” says Siila. “We’re in a space where we need to address these issues as we’re all connected. Change is coming, and there is hope in that.” 

The path to Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.

Siila, pronounced see-la in Inuktitut and she-la in English, was born in Kuujjuaq, Northern Quebec, an old Hudson’s Bay outpost formerly known as Old Fort Chimo, and was raised by her mother and grandmother, two “remarkable women who overcame incredible challenges to care for and feed their families.” 

Until she was 10, she lived a traditional Inuit way of life, travelling by dogsled and learning the importance of community, culture, and respect for nature from her elders. She was then sent away to various places by the Canadian government, landing first in Nova Scotia with a family when she was 10, then Churchill, Manitoba at a residential school at the age of twelve, and then Ottawa for high school. 

It was around this time that Siila began to feel a pull toward helping people. “The government-run residential school system was hard and we were 200 Inuit kids together,” she says. “I had to become a model of survival, so I drew my strength from what I learned from my grandmother and mother. I wanted to help others and be of service to my community.” 

Not one for mathematics or science, and more of an introvert than an extrovert, she moved back to her hometown when she was 18 and began a career in education, first in Kuujjuaq’s healthcare centres as an interpreter and later at the Kativik School Board, an institution that administers education to 14 Nunavik communities in Quebec and that incorporates Inuit culture, language, and values. 

“When I returned to Quebec, I began to witness first-hand the dramatic changes that were happening within Inuit communities, the addictions that had started to set in and the breakdown of traditions,” Siila says. “There was so much going on and so many issues that weren’t being dealt with, especially for our youth.”

She had never wanted to get into politics, seeing it as more her brother’s arena (Charlie Watt, a former Canadian Senator from Nunavik who spent 34 years in office) — “but I realized if I put myself in a leadership role, I could help.”

“I had to become a model of survival, so I drew my strength from what I learned from my grandmother and mother. I wanted to be of service to my community.” 

She began to look for opportunities to leverage her knowledge of the educational systems in Quebec on a larger scale, which led to her work as the Inuk advisor to the Nunavik Education Task Force. It was there that she and her colleagues produced a document with 101 recommendations for change called “The Pathway to Wisdom.” When she got elected to the Makivik Corporation in 1995, she focused on how she could help guide the youth, producing a video called “Capturing Spirit: The Inuit Journey.” Both highlighted the extraordinarily rapid decline of Inuit Society and the weaknesses of the educational systems in Inuit communities to support youth and individuals through such tumultuous changes. 

It was that work which eventually led her to move beyond regional politics, and got her elected to lead the Canadian branch of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), a body that represents approximately 165,000 Inuit in the Arctic, predominantly located in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Russia. After 7 years in the role, she was elected Chair of the ICC, leading all four countries for four years. Her former role with Makivik had put her in a position to advocate for Inuit rights on a regional and national level, while the ICC role made her “the defender and protector” of those rights internationally. 

“It was almost overnight that I became the spokesperson for the Inuit around the world,” Siila says, and it wasn’t just issues of education she was dealing with. “I entered the organizations at a time when much work and research was being done about the health impact of pollutants and toxins on the communities. These pollutants, carried though weather patterns from afar, were contaminating the Arctic food chain and accumulating in the bodies and nursing milk of our Inuit mothers. Climate change was also impacting an individual’s ability to safely hunt.” 

Strengthened by what she calls her “maternal instinct to protect what I love,” Siila gave a voice to this issue on the global stage and went on to play a critical role in the United Nations negotiations that banned the use of Persistent Organic Pollutants (commonly known as POPs, like PCP and DTT). In 2007, while ICC Chair, she launched the first legal action linking climate change to human rights, particularly in the context of the Inuit. Her book on the subject entitled The Right to be Cold (translated into French, Le Droit au Froid) is internationally renowned. 

Today, Siila is considered one of the world’s greatest advocates for the rights of the Inuit of the Arctic. For her work, she has won and been nominated for dozens of awards, including a nomination for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Al Gore. She became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2006, received the Right to Livelihood Award in 2015, and has been recognized as a Champion of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Programme. Siila has also received many honorary doctorates from universities in Canada and one from the USA. 

A leader to learn from.

How does someone who never wanted a career in politics or on the international stage cope with stepping into the limelight?

“I had some remarkable in-person help in the absence of being able to be close to my elders. I was also able to draw on the strength I had to develop as a child,” she says. “I’ve had to do a lot of healing. I had to get to a place that enabled me to honour the fact I was put in the places I had been, so I could learn to thrive.”

As an introvert, Siila gives herself time to prepare for big events and some space to recover from them when they’re over. (For any introverts interested, Siila recommends the book Quiet by Susan Cain.)

She says it’s vital for leaders, regardless of their industry or their day-to-day schedules, to discern what their weaknesses and strengths are so they learn how to harness each. Understanding what could trigger an emotional response can help one prepare for a scary yet important task that has to be accomplished. “No one can lead from fear,” she adds. 

Perspective is also key. “To me, leadership means never losing sight that the issues at hand are so much bigger than oneself. It’s about clarity, focus, and looking inward to lead with strength. One should never project their own limitations onto others.”

Siila believes that personal transformation is an absolutely critical component to anyone’s growth as a leader.  

“To me, leadership means never losing sight that the issues at hand are so much bigger than oneself. It’s about clarity, focus, and looking inward to lead with strength. One should never project their own limitations onto others.”

“I staunchly believe in personal transformation as the way to move forward,” Siila says. “One of my favourite quotes is by Marianne Williamson: ‘Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.’ If we want to create change, we have to look within ourselves.”

It’s also important to remember that growth is continuous. Once you feel like you’ve mastered a task, there will always be something else to overcome. Resilience is key. 

“Growth, transformation, it’s an on-going process. I still continue to learn about the challenges that life throws my way. I feel quite blessed that I’ve had a lot of freedom to trust within my own world.”

The way forward.

Before the pandemic hit, Siila says she was busier than ever, travelling the world speaking out on the trifecta of climate change, health, and human rights — largely because leaders and the global citizenry were finally starting to see the connection between the melting ice caps and the disruption of the way we live. Now, however, much of that in-person advocacy has come to a halt because the current focus is on overcoming the pandemic and not saving the environment. Still, Siila presses on, writing articles on the subject, doing webinars, and giving TED Talks. 

“My focus now is to continue to humanize climate change. It’s understanding pieces from a human scale and our history and the consequences of our actions that will help us see that trauma, both human and the planet’s, are one in the same… we are one family.”

Siila has also moved into a new space of educating leaders, with a goal of getting them to show up more authentically for their teams, whether they work in politics or business. She’s currently writing a book about heart-centred leadership and gives motivational talks to organizations. Her goal is to help those in a position of power envision a new way forward, one that’s intentional and that leans on the Indigenous wisdom she grew up with

“We’re finding in the Inuit world that the solutions to our problems, to addressing the trauma and the health and social issues, lie very close to home and within ourselves,” she says. “The world that is seeking a better and more sustainable way, the Indigenous belief that we are all connected, it’s the medicine the world seeks. If we can address our problems this way, we can contribute greatly to solutions.”

She adds there has never been a better time to envision and believe in a better, brighter future. 

“It’s a time of great pause and a change of great perspectives. A new way of doing things is coming.”

Venture capitalist Brittany Davis is helping underestimated founders get funded.

Brittany Davis

If you ask Brittany Davis how she chose her career — she’s a General Partner at Backstage Capital, a venture fund investing exclusively in women, people of colour, and LGBTQ founders — she’ll point to the systemic barriers these entrepreneurs face in accessing capital. 

However, her origin story is a lot more personal.  

While doing her undergraduate business degree, Brittany completed an independent study project on Black Wall Streets: prosperous enclaves of Black Americans, served by and supporting Black-owned businesses. The one in Tulsa, Oklahoma was well known on account of its size (more than 35 square blocks, with hundreds of businesses) and its demise (The Black Wall Street Massacre, one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States, which had its 100th anniversary this year), but Brittany learned there were several Black Wall Streets operating in the early 20th century, including one in her home state of North Carolina.  

“The takeaway from the project was that we do need to have a concerted effort on funding,” says Brittany. “There were a lot of Black business owners that had really thriving businesses, and they were able to get them up and running with that first infusion of capital. I wanted to be that person that could catalyze other businesses.” 

At the time, she wasn’t thinking specifically of venture capital — she knew about it structurally, but didn’t know anyone that had a career in the field — but saw the need for a separately managed pool of equity or debt-based financing for Black-owned businesses. She brought her pitch to Bank of America, where she ended up working for five years in a traditional finance role. 

Then, after earning an MBA from Harvard, Brittany launched her own startup building AI software for fashion ecommerce. Runway Technologies ultimately failed, but it sparked an interest in supporting other people’s visions — she kept meeting fellow founders of color that were struggling to get funded and felt compelled to help.

“There were a lot of Black business owners that had really thriving businesses, and they were able to get them up and running with that first infusion of capital. I wanted to be that person that could catalyze other businesses.”

“That’s when I was actually looking for roles in venture based on this diversity thesis. I was interviewing with a lot of mainstream funds. Just coming out of Harvard Business School, I had a company, I worked in finance, I also spent some time in tech. These are all of the things that I’m explaining that I can do. I have that background, but what’s going to make me unique is that I’m bringing a lens of let’s invest in more women and people of color,” explains Brittany. “I interviewed quite a bit without finding a real landing. Most VCs I did not hear back from after I explained, ‘This is what I’m trying to focus on at your fund.’”

It was a long road. Brittany interviewed for about five months, eventually finding her way in by focusing less on big, traditional funds and moving to more early stage investments. Arlan Hamilton, the founder of Backstage Capital, had a similar story. “The reason she started the fund was that she could not find a job in venture, even as an apprentice” says Brittany. In fact, she sent over 100 emails applying to apprenticeship roles, and got no’s from all of them. “Her road was actually trying to find a job.”

Brittany first met Arlan in 2016, when they were both on the judging panel for a Black founder’s pitch competition. At the time, Brittany was working at a fund called Village Capital. Though her role didn’t have an explicit diversity lens, their model allowed for a personal focus on finding and investing in more women and people of color. 

Arlan, on the other hand, was just getting started with Backstage Capital, which she had launched in September of 2015. “I’d heard about this woman putting together funds for underrepresented founders,” says Brittany, “but this was Arlan before she started doing public speaking. She was very reserved and quiet.” 

At the end of the competition, Arlan ended up investing in the top five founders. It was a lightbulb moment for Brittany.  

“I thought I had to do it within funds, and then to see how her approach was, ‘Let me actually get some funds and do it myself,’ I was like, ‘Okay, that fast forwards my plan of having to work for years and years and see if I can change the industry from the inside,’” explains Brittany. “I remember thinking, one way or another I’m going to find a way to work with this woman, because this is exactly what I’m doing.”

That opportunity came in early 2018. Arlan was looking to build out the investment team, and she brought Brittany on as Head of Deal Flow. In a typical venture firm, a lot of that role would be finding new companies to invest in. At Backstage, the deals were coming to them. In addition to having built a strong brand and presence in the ecosystem, Backstage had launched open applications for investment through a form on their site. It was a groundbreaking idea within venture, explains Brittany, because the model had always been that you had to network your way in. 

Over a thousand founders applied. Brittany oversaw that inbound deal flow — not only managing the investing that Arlan wasn’t doing herself, but also figuring out how to build a framework that captured the way Arlan thinks about investing, so that Backstage could scale beyond its original founder. 

“I was really passionate about figuring out how to take those unique things that I loved — a lot of the investing that Arlan was doing was a lot of the same companies that I would have invested in — and create a basic framework that other people could learn and adopt, but with the freedom to bring in their own perspective.” 

“She explained some of her first investments, and how she thought about deals,” says Brittany. “I was really passionate about figuring out how to take those unique things that I loved — a lot of the investing that Arlan was doing was a lot of the same companies that I would have invested in — and create a basic framework that other people could learn and adopt, but with the freedom to bring in their own perspective.” 

Using the criteria she identified, Brittany and her team went from seeing about 450 companies to investing in five. Her next big project, the Backstage Accelerator, added another 24 companies to the portfolio. Launched in the spring of 2019, the 12-week development program worked with founders in four cities — Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, and London — to help build their community and network and prepare them for future investment. 

“The core of our thesis is investing early with underrepresented founders, so that we can catalyze their progress in getting additional capital,” explains Brittany, adding that they’ve been the first investor for over half their portfolio. “A lot of times we’re catching them before they have something to really evaluate in a quantitative sense; a lot of it is thinking about future potential.”

That means their investing framework must be less metrics-driven (x number of users, or x dollars of revenue, for example). The evaluation used by early-stage funds often includes criteria like who is on the team, what’s the potential market size, and what makes the product unique. Many investors also use pattern matching, which means looking for similarities with founders that have already been successful, such as the schools they went to or the companies they worked at. 

“When you hear the term pattern matching, it’s always usually looking for that Mark Zuckerberg type,” says Brittany. “That’s just going to get you more of the same. Arlan used to say she pattern matched for grit.”

So, Brittany added grit into their scorecard, which enabled recognition for what the founders had accomplished with the limited resources they’d had. She even added that gut feeling — the spark or connection with a founder — because it was something Arlan often described when talking about her investments. 

“We’re really talking about some of this stuff because for a lot of our founders, the journey can be a long one, especially not getting adequate resources,” says Brittany. “We look for where they can push past those things, and the founders that have done the best in our portfolio essentially have demonstrated a lot of that grit. I was trying to build that into how we think about investing so that we’re not just using the same standard metrics. We’re using something very specific to Backstage, and so it’s authentic to us.”

“Yes, we really are just getting started. There’s a lot of work we can do to help diversify who’s investing and who gets investment.”

Creating a scalable version of Arlan’s investing process was foundational for Backstage — but it was just the beginning. Brittany wants to build a firm, not just a single fund, and ultimately enable more people to get involved in venture.

“I think that’s core to the end outcome of getting more resources to the founders,” she says. “That’s something that I’m always thinking about and was passionate about to begin with in my career. I have seen that journey through Backstage, and yes, we really are just getting started. There’s a lot of work we can do to help diversify who’s investing and who gets investment.”

The work they’ve already done to provide access, resources, and education for people who are interested in investing has been varied, from sharing lessons through Arlan’s book, It’s About Damn Time, to offering an introductory course on Investing as a Catalyst, to helping with a Harvard Business School case study that, in Brittany’s own words, sends a message to the world about who business leaders are and who they can be. In October they launched a pilot Apprenticeship Program, bringing on 20 would-be investors for a three-month stint working with the investment team on deal flow review, as well as being taught the Backstage philosophy on investing, how to build a fund from scratch, and more. 

Their biggest effort, however, came earlier this year, in the form of a crowdfund. Recognizing the need for operational capital — Backstage now supports 180 companies — as well as the potential of an engaged community that understood the importance of their work, they saw an opportunity to not only bring in resources, but also to further their mission of exposing a broader group to venture capital investing.  

Typically, a fund raises capital from accredited investors, which limits the pool to about 2% of the wealthiest individuals. In 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought in a rule called Reg CF, or Regulation Crowdfunding, that opened the door to non-accredited investors. In their first crowdfunding round, Backstage reached the max of $1 million in about eight hours — the fastest equity raise ever on Republic, the investing platform they worked with. In March, the SEC changed the rules of Reg CF to allow for up to $5 million annually, so they opened it up again. A total of 6,755 investors — Brittany included — purchased the equity available, the majority of whom had never invested in venture or private companies before. 

“That was the best way to share a piece of what we’re doing with the people who really want to help build the organization that we have,” says Brittany. “Then they in turn get a lot of exposure to venture. Long-term, hopefully, they’re getting a return on this too, and I believe that they will, but I do think the huge benefit is the exposure to venture.” 

And that is the long game — a more inclusive population investing will result in more inclusive investment, whatever the source. On that front, things are looking up: Since Backstage launched a little over six years ago, several other funds with a diversity-focused mission have entered the space (over 70 in the US, by Harlem Capital’s count), and they often come with a collaborative attitude — which all serves to reduce the time of getting resources to founders.

In the broader venture capital ecosystem, Brittany says the biggest change over the last few years has been a growing awareness of and conversation around the issues that underrepresented founders face. “One thing that’s helping is data points. I’m seeing a lot more of the numbers being shared,” she says. “I couldn’t actually point to the lack of venture capital in dollars for different demographic groups when I was starting.”

I still think we have a ways to go with creating that real fear that you’re missing out if you’re doing what you did 5, 10 years ago — which is just looking around you, most likely at people in similar networks, similar schools, similar demographics as you.” 

There’s also more data on the opportunity cost, whether that’s studies highlighting the benefits of diverse leadership teams, or estimations of the amount of money being left on the table (according to Morgan Stanley, the inequity in funding for multicultural and women business owners is costing the US about $4.4 trillion in GDP annually). 

“It hasn’t fully moved the needle on the outcomes. Black founders still get less than 2% of venture capital; women founders are the same,” Brittany points out. I still think we have a ways to go with creating that real fear that you’re missing out if you’re doing what you did 5, 10 years ago — which is just looking around you, most likely at people in similar networks, similar schools, similar demographics as you.” 

Brittany believes the missing piece for more traditional VCs is representation at the success level, which would essentially create the opportunity for a new pattern match. “But I want people to understand what it takes to get to the Mark Zuckerberg point. If you’re not getting resources early on, it’s really hard to get there.” 

Simply put, these underrepresented, underestimated, and underfunded founders have a longer road to returns compared to those who haven’t faced the same barriers. 

“The timeline might not be the same, but I think the outcomes could actually exceed some of the businesses that are getting more funding,” says Brittany. “It’s just that there is a bit of time for them to get the capital and get to work. There’s a starting runway that you need that these companies didn’t have.”  

That leaves a chicken and egg situation; the founders need proven success to get mainstream funding, and they need funding to achieve big success. So, what happens in the meantime? 

“You have people like Arlan who are saying, ‘I can do this, and whether you believe it or not, I’m going to take the steps and prove a thesis.’ She’s doing the things that a lot of people told her she couldn’t do,” says Brittany. “Being successful with what we have, I think we’ve proven a lot.”

 

How Vicki Saunders of SheEO built a new financial model for a better world.

Vicki Saunders

When it comes to financing, women business owners face significant barriers when securing capital compared to men — but how bad is it?

“51% of the population are women, yet we receive 2% of the capital,” explains Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO. “That’s statistically impossible without massive bias designed into our systems and structures.”

A serial entrepreneur who has made a career of fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, Vicki Saunders’ latest venture was designed to directly tackle the issue of gender inequity. Launched in 2015 in Canada and now also in the US, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, SheEO is a not-for-profit company that has made an entirely new model of financing for women-identifying and non-binary entrepreneurs.

Built on a foundation of ‘radical generosity,’ the five-year loans SheEO provides have zero interest. There are no requirements for collateral, and a simplified process for applying. And when the money is paid back, everything gets reinvested back into a perpetual fund to support the next round of business owners. 

“When I was getting started with SheEO, people would say to me, ‘There’s nothing wrong with making money on an investment,’ because that’s how it’s always been done,” says Vicki. “But you don’t have to make money on everything. This is a radically different way of thinking about investing — it’s more about a collective ensuring capital is flowing to innovators who have been consistently put to the margins by our systems and structures. We need to rethink what we are investing in, for what kind of future.”

The capital is provided by a diverse community of women-identifying and non-binary individuals. Known as Activators, they come from all walks of life, varying in experience and ranging in age from 11 to 95. In addition to a monthly contribution of $92, they commit to sharing their expertise, networks, and buying power. “We have weekly community calls which are designed for us to get the support we need from one another,” says Vicki. “Everyone in this community has something to give, and we offer it up in a radically generous environment full of trust and love.” 

“All of the businesses we support are focused on creating a social impact, and that happened organically. When we first started, the businesses that would always be chosen were the ones trying to make the world a better place in some way.” 

Each year, Activators democratically vote in their country on the Ventures that will be supported. The businesses who apply to SheEO come from a broad range of sectors, but they all have a few things in common: they are majority women- or non-binary-owned and led; they’re revenue-generating (from $50k to $2M); and they’re “tackling the World’s To-Do List” in their own unique way.

“All of the businesses we support are focused on creating a social impact, and that happened organically,” explains Vicki. “When we first started, the businesses that would always be chosen were the ones trying to make the world a better place in some way.” 

The ‘World’s To-Do List’ is based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to address global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. SheEO selected Ventures not only identify which of the 17 SDGs they are working on, but also measure their impact related to those goals.

Removing the requirement for a financial return has made it simpler to focus on supporting the businesses on their own terms, leaving space for new models and new approaches to emerge. “Many of our Ventures would not have received funding at this early stage unless they are privileged to have friends and family with capital. We are focused on creating more equitable systems and getting capital into the hands of those with brilliant innovations that help us get to a better world. And, in a community that comes from a place of radical generosity, we’ve experienced that businesses that look ‘uninvestable’ through a traditional lens can literally transform almost immediately when hundreds of women get behind them and support them as customers, advisors and connectors.” 

Even by traditional metrics, the results are impressive: About 95% of the loans are repaid, and in the last year alone, the 63 Ventures in the program created 772 environmentally and socially sustainable jobs, and experienced 65% growth in revenue. Those successes, Vicki explains, wouldn’t have come about if not for the power of the deep relationships between Activators and Ventures.  

“Yes, we’re providing capital in a radically different way, but the money is only one piece of it. Our community-based approach is what’s most valuable, as we offer support and connections, and we’re customers,” says Vicki. “The entrepreneurs who have been funded through SheEO would never run a business alone again.”

“Yes, we’re providing capital in a radically different way, but the money is only one piece of it. Our community-based approach is what’s most valuable, as we offer support and connections, and we’re customers.”

The connections are fostered with the help of several events, from fireside chats to the annual SheEO Summit. Their Learning Circles feature topics ranging from the power of email marketing to the creation of sacred space through Indigenous teachings. Since the pandemic started, everything has been pushed online, but Vicki says that’s actually been beneficial. “The virtual transition really worked well for us. We were able to connect more with our community from across the globe.”  

In 2020, SheEO hosted 263 Zoom calls, and reached over 8,000 guests through virtual events. They also welcomed nearly 1,500 new Activators, growing the community by over 30%. This year, largely enabled by $1.2 million in funding provided by BMO, they’ve gone from 20 to 44 Ventures supported globally, including all 23 Canadian applicants. 

“BMO’s investment in SheEO is helping a growing number of women-owned businesses affected by the pandemic to have the opportunity to grow and prosper,” says Vicki. “We are excited to have the opportunity to double the number of ventures for the first time since we launched in 2015 — and we’re particularly excited that BMO has matched our lending terms at 0% interest, recognizing the power of our unique ecosystem.”

Of course, the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. SheEO’s relationship-based, impact-focused ecosystem is doing far more than providing loans, generating jobs, and increasing revenue. “It’s showing the world that another way forward is possible,” says Vicki.      

“Our current economic system isn’t working; it’s built on inequality and it’s unsustainable. We’ve lost our sense of community, and we don’t know how to say, ‘maybe we have enough,’” she says. “That’s why SheEO is redefining how things are done.” 

Vicki believes the old system is dying, but that we’ll continue to be held back if we don’t foster an entirely new mindset. 

“We have this inertia. Even though we’re not happy, we just keep doing what we’re doing because it’s easier, because we know how. And overcoming that inertia takes an incredible amount of force,” says Vicki. “It takes a stretch of the imagination to think in a non-transactional way. Everything in this world is transactional. What if instead we asked, ‘How can I make things better?’ We all have excess capacity. We all have a talent we can share. Maybe you’re a storyteller or a super-connector — whatever it is, there’s a way you can contribute.”

Roxane Ducasse went from working in government to Walmart’s leadership program.

Roxane Ducasse

By Hailey Eisen 

Having a behind-the-scenes view of the frenzied buying patterns of Canadians during the early days of the COVID pandemic would have been interesting for anyone — but especially so for someone with a statistics background, and who likens supply-chain logistics to a puzzle ready to be solved. 

For Roxane Ducasse, whose career with Walmart Canada has spanned nearly five years, the pandemic provided indelible lessons in resilience and the ability to pivot on a dime. 

And, while she says she’s had great opportunities to learn over the past year, Roxane actually began to hone these skills earlier in her career — when she pivoted from a five-year job with the federal government, to a full-time MBA, to Walmart’s D.A.R.E. leadership development program.

“I completed my undergraduate degree in statistics in Ottawa and, like many in that city, I got a part-time job with the government,” she recalls. “Once I graduated, I was offered a permanent role with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in operations performance management.”

Part of Roxane’s role was the development of an operational forecasting model aimed at reducing processing times for citizenship applications — work she felt was rewarding. Still, a few years in, she began to think about her career goals and long-term plans. “Being so young, I didn’t want to stay in the public service forever,” she recalls. “As much as I loved it, I didn’t want to be boxed in.” 

It was around this time that she began to research MBA programs, thinking the degree might be a good way out of government and into the private sector. She attended a few information sessions and was quickly sold on Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. “I go for that gut feeling when making decisions, and I didn’t get that feeling from any other school,” Roxane recalls. 

“Being so young, I didn’t want to stay in the public service forever. As much as I loved it, I didn’t want to be boxed in.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to leave a permanent position and a pension. Roxane says many colleagues tried to convince her to take a leave of absence rather than quit her job to go back to school. But she knew leaving her job would propel her forward to finding her next career move. She resigned from the government and began the MBA in January 2015. “I didn’t want to have one foot out the door; I decided to pivot, and knew I would land somewhere else in the end.” 

During the year of her MBA, Roxane felt that she was at her physical and mental peak. One reason for that is she joined Smith’s Fit To Lead™ program — which emphasizes goal setting, fitness, healthy eating and balance. She came to realize just how many usable hours there were in a day. “From 7 a.m. boot-camp, to a day full of classes and team meetings, followed by running club, and social outings at 10 p.m., the program really pushed me and I experienced a tremendous amount of growth that year.” 

It was through an on-campus recruiting event that she discovered Walmart’s D.A.R.E. program. “What appealed to me about the program was that you learned from the experts on the ground floor — spending two years in the stores before going to work in the head office,” Roxane explains. 

When choosing between the Walmart program and a senior consulting role she was offered, Roxane says it came down to Walmart offering her the biggest personal growth opportunity — a people leadership role which both scared and excited her — and the fact that working in retail was nothing like any job she’d held to date. 

In her first year with Walmart, Roxane joined a store in Oshawa and learned everything from cashing out customers, to slicing deli meats, to unloading a truck. In her second year she co-managed a store in Whitby, her hometown. “I led an incredible team of 200 associates alongside my seasoned store manager and oversaw the operations of a $75M Supercentre — it was truly a life changing experience.”

Not only did she learn a lot about herself as a leader, but she also gained a tremendous amount of respect for associates at the store level in the retail industry. “Working alongside people who had been with Walmart for years, gaining their respect, and working as a manager for them to make sure they had the resources they needed to do their jobs effectively, that was a really important part of the job,” Roxane recalls.  

“Your reputation is your legacy — people will not always remember the numbers you put out or the details of the projects you worked on, but they will remember how you treated them and the impact you had.”

After two years in stores, Roxane moved to Walmart’s head office in Mississauga, Ont., where she did a few more rotations as part of the D.A.R.E. program. “I worked in pricing analytics, logistics, and supply chain. During that time, I took on a project analyzing Amazon’s pricing strategy and how Walmart’s online prices compared,” she explains. 

Roxane decided to pursue a permanent position in supply chain management, a role she’s held since July 2019. This landed her right in the middle of product shortages, out-of-stock suppliers, and empty shelves when COVID hit in early 2020. “There was a lot of pressure on the supply chain both in terms of keeping up with customer demand and readjusting to increase supply.”

Roxane says the pandemic taught her that you can never really take for granted what’s going to happen next. “We’ve all learned to think outside the box, push the envelope, and work in ways we once thought unimaginable,” she says.  

As a mentor to other young women within Walmart and as a member of the Smith School of Business alumni network, Roxane has lots of advice to share. “When you’re young, starting out in your career, you may be brought into a meeting and feel hesitant to speak up. What I was told 10 years ago, and what I tell other young women in the workplace is, ‘You were invited for a reason.’ Establish your credentials and your background, tell them why you’re an expert in the topic at hand, and then speak up,” she says. “Also remember, your reputation is your legacy — people will not always remember the numbers you put out or the details of the projects you worked on, but they will remember how you treated them and the impact you had. Always strive to have a positive impact wherever you go.” 

How Camille Orridge achieved her definition of success: making a difference in the lives of others.

Camille Orridge illustration

We are honouring Camille Orridge with the 2021 Top 25 Women of Influence Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Ricoh Canada, for her outstanding contributions to social change and healthcare equity. Over her 50+ year career — during which she climbed from ward maid to CEO — Camille has always prioritized patient and community needs, collaborating to build groundbreaking programs and initiatives that have had a positive and enduring impact on people’s lives. 

 

“It’s certainly not the title. It’s certainly not the money,” says Camille Orridge, reflecting on her definition of success. “For some people, it’s who’s your network? My network is usually more community-based than it is high flyers.” 

That’s not to say she hasn’t spent her share of time with high flyers — whether on the countless advisory groups, committees, councils and boards she’s been on, or in senior executive roles at healthcare organizations in Toronto.   

While CEO of the Toronto Central Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) — a not-for-profit corporation funded by the Ontario government, serving close to 20,000 clients monthly — Camille managed an annual budget of $190 million and a staff of 480, working across various office locations and in 24 hospital sites. In her next role as CEO of Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), one of 14 health regions responsible for planning and managing local health care services in Ontario, she was in charge of allocating $4.2 billion to over 170 hospitals, long-term care homes, and community agencies, serving approximately 1.15 million Torontonians and hundreds of thousands of others who came to the area for care. 

But all those big numbers don’t seem to matter very much to Camille either, at least not with respect to how she measures her success. Her view has evolved over time, but right now she likes a definition she heard recently: success is when not you, but other people can say that you and the work you have done have made a big impact and a difference in their lives.

And by that definition, Camille is undeniably successful. She’s had an immeasurable impact on the healthcare of Canadians, especially marginalized populations — largely because she’s prioritized helping others over personal advancement or ego.  

“Throughout my career, nowhere in that journey was I conscious of ‘I’m achieving this, and I’m achieving this.’ It has always been, ‘What’s the work? Who am I connected with about the work?’” says Camille. “It’s later in life, as you look back, you see it. There are people who go on boards and do things to build their resume. I must say for me, and most of the people I worked with, building, we got into it with the activism approach, not a career-building approach.”

An unlikely beginning 

Looking back to the very start of that 50+ year career, it’s interesting to see that healthcare wasn’t always Camille’s plan or passion. 

In Jamaica, if you didn’t become a secretary, you became a nurse or a teacher. I failed typing twice,” Camille explains with a laugh. “Then, when I was thinking of applying to nursing — and in those days, you go to England to train — I was 18, I got pregnant, and that was the end of that.”

At 20, she made the move from Jamaica to Canada, arriving on December 3, 1967. Her mother and aunt were already here and working at a hospital, and she followed in their footsteps, finding a job as a ward maid at Toronto General.  

“I would say the greatest predictor of me ending up in hospital was the fact that for so many immigrants, hospital was the preferred job because it paid well and was pensionable,” says Camille. “Those are the jobs you went after, not because they were great jobs, but because they provided stability.”

“My involvement in politics was not as a politician, but it was how to make the system work better for people. Then that became part and parcel of the job for me.”

She had aspirations of becoming a ward clerk, but “in those days, not a lot of Black people were allowed to be ward clerks.” Eventually, Camille moved to Toronto Western to work as a medical records clerk. That opened up some opportunities, because the hospital paid for her to do a correspondence course to become a health record technician — and the learning didn’t stop there.

“I figured out very easily how to do the job in half the time,” explains Camille. “I found ways to make the job easier, creating space for myself — because everybody was happy, the job was done — and I used that time to learn other jobs. In about a year, I knew several jobs in the department, and it interested me.” 

Unfortunately, she also struggled with a supervisor who she quickly outshone. She was looking for other jobs when, in 1972, Michael Manley and The People’s National Party (PNP) came into power in Jamaica. Camille moved back to work at a hospital there, so she could participate in the democratic socialist political movement. 

Her family had always been politically engaged; she grew up with them talking politics, and strongly supporting the PNP. “My family were working class and poor, but they knew that education was the way out, and then they were very political with a party that valued education,” says Camille. “There was always, ‘Which policy is going to make our kids’ lives better?’ It was always about the kids.”  

Growing up in an environment that emphasized improving the lives of the next generation left a lasting impression on Camille. “My involvement in politics was not as a politician, but it was how to make the system work better for people. Then that became part and parcel of the job for me.”

Moving up and making change 

Several years (and an undergraduate and master’s degree) later, Camille moved into a VP role at the Home Care Program for Metropolitan Toronto. “That’s where I saw that you can really make a difference,” she says, pointing to two specific hiring practices that she helped change.  

First, the organization had shifted their staffing model, requiring every nurse to have a degree. “What that did was immediately disadvantage all these nurses of colour, particularly those who had gone to England to train,” she says. “They grandfathered the nurses — and it meant that if you were working at one hospital, you couldn’t go to another if you didn’t have a degree.” 

Camille found an ally in HR, and helped push through a change in policy: “If they had a nursing designation and were qualified as nurses, we were not going to demand the degree.” 

Another hiring practice was offering full-time jobs to the pool of women already on board as casual workers. “That was usually white women nurses who had babies, and wanted to come back into the work world, but not necessarily full-time — and as casual they had control over their hours,” explains Camille. “Over time, our full-time staff were all white, middle-class women, because poor Black women couldn’t take a part-time job; they were always looking for full-time. We weren’t diversifying our workforce based on the way we hired. We saw that and changed our hiring practice.” 

“My goal, to be quite honest, was never data. My goal was to reduce disparities. Data is simply a tool to get there.” 

Camille learned that if you could identify systemic barriers in your job, you could work within your job to change them — a lesson she carried  with her as she continued to move up in her career. By the time she became CEO of the LHIN in 2010, she had already identified the issues that she wanted to address. 

“The acute care system was so dominant,” says Camille. “If the government was ever going to put money somewhere else, all you needed was one super-specialist with two or three high-power patients talking about how they couldn’t get treatment for their valve change. Everybody then says, ‘Of course, you got to give the hospital that money.’ But most people spend 80% of their lives outside of the acute care system.” 

She recognized it was also important to fund the services that made a difference in the quality of people’s lives day-to-day. “For me, going into the LHIN was about building capacity in those services, increasing their role, and having the services they provide recognized.” And that meant working with community groups, says Camille. “Most of those services came about, not because government saw the need and funded them, but because communities saw the need and funded them.” 

At the same time, evidence-based decision making had become a big thing in healthcare — which had a similar outcome of disadvantaging marginalized groups, particularly the Black community. “You don’t make any decision without evidence, and I realized we were not part of the evidence,” says Camille. “At the same time, we knew, for example, that our children were being taken away at a greater rate by Children’s Aid. Every Black person knew that. We knew we were being stopped by police more than everybody else. We knew those things, yet, when you talked about them, it would get dismissed because you didn’t have the evidence.”

Within that setting, the need to gather data became an important one — but it was only a first step. “My goal, to be quite honest, was never data,” says Camille. “My goal was to reduce disparities. Data is simply a tool to get there.” 

Collaboration and community involvement

Even as CEO of one of Ontario’s 14 LHINs, Camille still encountered major barriers in shifting the system to a new way of thinking. “To be quite blunt, you’re at a table with 13 other CEOs, and none of them have the same interest in the populations I was concerned about. Their interest was their product services. Their interest was acute. Equity and diversity were not major issues for them.”

Her approach was to connect with allies in the same space, who had some common interest in moving the agenda — from hospital CEOs, to leaders in community health centers and community agencies, to her board chair, Angela Ferrante. “I always think activism is a team sport and not something you do alone,” says Camille. With an equity goal in mind, she was able to build a network willing to collaborate on initiatives that made a significant difference. 

One of the best examples was Language Services Toronto, a shared telephone interpretation service for non-English patients, launched in 2012. At the time, interpretation services were offered at a few hospitals and community agencies, but it was a costly endeavour, and limited in scope. Camille advanced the work that was already underway, collaborating with those who had identified the issue. The result? Toronto hospitals and community agencies were brought together to bulk-purchase professional phone interpretation services. Not only did this raise quality and access, it also decreased costs. For immigrants and others with limited English proficiency, it enabled them to better understand information and instructions about their health, to ask questions, and communicate their preferences — effectively lessening the equity gap. 

“I always think activism is a team sport and not something you do alone.”

Camille’s collaborative efforts also stretched beyond her role at the LHIN. In 2001, she co-founded Pathways to Education, a stay-in-school program for high school students, with Carolyn Acker, the CEO of Regent Park Community Health Centre. The two shared a desire to break the cycle of poverty for residents in Regent Park, and, inspired by their own experiences, they agreed education was how they could do it.  

“Now my bias, Carolyn’s bias — she came from a poor Italian family, and education is what helped her break out of that cycle, and education is what helped me break out — it wasn’t strange that we both decided education was the way to go,” explains Camille. “We had only one goal: to improve the graduation rate of kids from Regent Park. That’s it.”

At the time, the dropout rate there was 56 per cent, roughly double the Toronto average. They reached out for support from businesses and wealthy donors. They reached out to young people in the community, their parents, and staff of local agencies and schools, so they could understand the barriers holding kids back. And then they worked to eliminate them, one by one. That ranged from providing tokens to get to school, to offering after-school programs. Through the continued efforts of Carolyn, the program has grown to over twenty locations across Canada, helping thousands of youth graduate from high school and break the cycle of poverty. 

The next steps on her journey 

In 2015, Camille retired as CEO of the Toronto Central LHIN, but her efforts to create a healthcare system that works for everyone were far from over. She became a senior fellow at the Wellesley Institute, a non-profit that works in research and policy to improve health equity in the GTA, with a focus on the social determinants of health. 

She’s continuing her efforts on equitable data practices, with her focus now on data governance. Taking her same collaborative approach, her aim is to ensure that the data being collected is not sold to private companies, or otherwise misused — “because history has taught us we can’t sit back and trust that the system will do right by you.”

Her other current goal: “Supporting young people to be all that they can be, and to take their rightful places in the world.”  

Rising through the ranks when she did, Camille has been the first Black woman to go through many doors. “My goal always when that happens, I need to open the door and I need to get at least two other people into that space. That has to be consistent throughout my life at all times,” she says, “because it’s sad when I’m still the first of everything.” 

Her advice, then, for those young people who hope to follow in her footsteps? 

“There should not be any rule that you feel you don’t have a right to be here — because you do. Step in and take your place.”

Five Minutes with Laurie May: Co-Founder and Co-President of one of the largest independent film distribution companies in Canada.

By Olivia Buchner

Laurie May has been in the film business for over twenty years. She is currently the Co-Founder and Co-President of Elevation Pictures, one of the largest independent distribution companies in Canada with award-winning titles such as The Imitation Game, ROOM, and Moonlight. She is also an Executive Producer on the recently released film, The Broken Hearts Gallery. Prior to Elevation, Laurie served as Executive Vice President of Entertainment One and Alliance Films and was Co-President and Co-Founder of Maple Pictures where she was involved in many notable releases including Academy Award winners Crash, The Hurt Locker, and The Cove.  

Laurie began her career in film as the Senior Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs for Lionsgate, where she also sat on the board of directors from 2005-2010. She received her law degree from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, practiced corporate and entertainment law at Oslers, and was an adjunct professor of Entertainment and Sports Law at Western Law School. She has also acted as a mentor for Women in Film & Television and in 2010 was the recipient of the WIFT Outstanding Achievement Award for her accomplishments in the Canadian film industry. In 2017, Laurie became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We spoke with Laurie about her career journey, releasing films during a pandemic, and her advice for women who want to follow in her footsteps. 

You have a very impressive and diverse background in film, from legal affairs to being an Executive Producer on the newly released film, The Broken Hearts Gallery. What drew you to film and what do you enjoy most about the industry?

I love the creative energy of the film industry. Early in law school I got interested in entertainment law, which was a great path into the film business. I worked on corporate, production and distribution work at Lionsgate, and transitioned that into a more business role running Maple Pictures (the Canadian arm of Lionsgate), which sold to Alliance Films, then Alliance Films sold to Entertainment One, and we launched Elevation which has become the largest independent English distributor in Canada. What I especially love about film is the passion for storytelling, from working with writers and directors, producers, sales agents, and talent; this is a collaborative industry of people engaged in telling stories that move us, make us laugh, educate us, entertain us. In these crazy times, you can see as always the power of film bringing people together. 

Having worked in the film industry for over 20 years, is there a specific project or accomplishment you are most proud of? 

There have been so many projects that I am proud of, at Elevation winning the TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice Awards for our films The Imitation Game, and ROOM, and Academy Award Best Picture wins including for our film Moonlight, highlighted that we were succeeding in what we set out to do, which is bring elevated content for audiences. On a personal level, my greatest accomplishment in the industry was becoming a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2017. 

 

Film is a collaborative industry of people engaged in telling stories that move us, make us laugh, educate us, entertain us. In these crazy times, you can see as always the power of film bringing people together.

 

Elevation Pictures debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, and since then, has had many major achievements including multiple Academy wins and two TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice Awards. What inspired you to launch Elevation Pictures and what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout your journey?

There was a lot of consolidation in the Canadian film industry, so there was an opportunity to create a new Canadian distributor, to focus on a slate of “elevated content”, supporting Canadian filmmakers, and working with international partners to bring the best independent films to audiences. There have been many valuable lessons, but the most valuable one is it’s all about teamwork. We have an amazing dedicated team at Elevation, from my Co-President Noah Segal who spearheaded our production arm, producing amazing films like The Nest in theatres this Friday, and French Exit which is closing night at the New York Film Festival, to everyone who works at Elevation, who share the passion for film and drive to succeed. 

Elevation Pictures had a number of titles at TIFF 2020 including one of this year’s most anticipated films, Ammonite. How did you prepare for this year’s festival season in comparison to previous years? 

We are very proud to have three films at TIFF,  two prominent distribution titles: Ammonite starring Kate Winslet (who won the TIFF Tribute Award) and Saorise Ronan to be distributed by Neon, and The Father starring Sir Anthony Hopkins (who also won the TIFF Tribute Award) and Olivia Colman to be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, which both launched into the start of awards season. We also had one of the buzziest sales titles, I Care A Lot, directed by J. Blakeson and starring Rosamund Pike (who is a TIFF Ambassador) and Peter Dinkledge, which got an amazing reception and stellar reviews. The planning was a little different, more focused on the new screening plan including digital screenings, and how to engage audiences without the buzz of red carpets and big events, but overall I think TIFF did a great job and we are very pleased with how all the films played. 

The film industry is traditionally a very male-dominated industry. What advice would you give to other women interested in pursuing a career in film?

Yes, the industry has been traditionally very male dominated, but I was always inspired by the strong female role models in the industry, from Sherry Lansing who ran Paramount Pictures to Phllis Yaffe at Alliance Films. The industry has been shifting towards inclusivity and diversity, including making room for women in front of and behind the camera, as evidenced by the TIFF initiative, Share Her Journey. Women have a strong role to play, so go network, find a mentor, find your passion, and go for it. Everyone has obstacles along the way, it’s about muscling through them and learning from them that makes you stronger, so you can make a positive contribution and hopefully inspire others along the way. 



Farah Mohamed Reflects on Her Journey as a Social Entrepreneur

For Farah Mohamed, storytelling is a fundamental part of the human experience. “Stories help us understand, have compassion and see somebody else’s side; if we don’t share those stories all we will ever be faced with are facts and figures,” she says. “Sometimes I think that we’re in such a huge rush that we forget that everyone has their own story; everyone has their own path — no two people have experienced the same things and maybe that’s the most powerful way to learn, by learning other people’s stories.”

Globally recognized Canadian social entrepreneur, Farah has an impressive professional story. In 2009, she founded G(irls)20, an organization cultivating a new generation of leaders through education, entrepreneurship and global experiences — while working with G20 leaders to keep their commitment to create 100 million new jobs for women by 2025. Starting in 2017, she served two years as CEO of Malala Fund working alongside Malala Yousafzai, whose survival of an attempted assassination by the Taliban in 2012 for trying to go to school has blossomed into a global advocacy campaign for girls’ education. Now back in Toronto, Farah is Senior Vice President of the Toronto Board of Trade. 

Recognized for her service to Canada, she was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She has also been recognized for her work to empower girls and women as a Top 25 Women of Influence recipient, plus BBC Top 100 Women, SALT 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World, and an EY Nominee for Social Entrepreneur of the Year and Diversity 50.

While her professional accomplishments and extensive list of awards are enough to leave most in awe, Farah’s success story is multifaceted. Born in Uganda, her family moved to Canada in 1972 to seek refuge when she was two years old, after Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Indian Ugandans. Resultantly, political justice and human rights issues have been the key themes in Farah’s life since her family moved to Canada. “It was part of my DNA,” she says. “I was raised by two people who got the short end of the stick when they had to leave their own country, but never let that pull them back. It gave them an appreciation for the fact that they then ended up in a country that was welcoming and provided opportunities that were safe and secure.”

Farah also credits her parents for teaching her the importance of charity and giving back to the community “from a young age, my sister and I were volunteering. My parents were like, ‘you can’t sit around the house and watch TV,’” she laughs. “I actually followed my sister’s footsteps and we used to volunteer at a nursing home. The reason she chose a nursing home was because we didn’t have grandparents around us and it was just a place that you could go and give comfort to someone and it didn’t matter what language you spoke or how old you were — these were people who wanted connection.”

We forget that everyone has their own story; everyone has their own path — no two people have experienced the same things and maybe that’s the most powerful way to learn, by learning other people’s stories.

Growing up Farah never pictured herself working in the nonprofit sector. “I always thought that I was going to be a lawyer — that I would go into criminal law, but I fell in love with politics at university,” she says. Before becoming the social entrepreneur she is today, Farah made her name working closely with some of Canada’s most senior politicians. She credits her success to Former Burlington MP Paddy Torsney, who gave her that first start in politics. “Paddy has been a real connector for me and not even just a mentor — she’s part of my family now,” she explains.

In 1993, Farah volunteered on Paddy’s campaign, which she went on to win. “It’s not just crazy that she won, it’s crazy that she was young and she won in a very conservative majority. She was a liberal, and it’s even crazier that a year later, she offered me a job and I moved to Parliament Hill. It is because of Paddy that I worked in politics for ten years. If she had not taken that chance on me, I certainly would not be sitting here having this conversation with you,” she says.

“I think the combination of my schooling together with my upbringing and then seeing politics work first-hand, put me on that path to social profit and social justice,” Farah explains. In 2009, Farah founded G(irls)20. “When I launched it, I had certainly hoped it would have an impact, but I definitely admit that I am really excited about just how it’s taken off,” Farah says.

After founding G(irls)20 and serving as the CEO for eight years, in 2017 Farah stepped down to take a new role as the CEO of Malala Fund. “For me, I felt that I had done everything I could to bring G(irls)20 to the point it was and that it needed new leadership and new energy and new thinking,” says Farah, reflecting on her decision. “It’s never easy to leave something but when you are going to leave, if you leave it in strong hands with a very strong foundation then it’s not hard to step away from it.”

Becoming CEO at Malala Fund brought about a lot of change for Farah — a larger team working in multiple locations and time zones, a new area of focus, and a new home in London, United Kingdom. “It’s always an incredible challenge to have this type of opportunity; it doesn’t come without a cost and those costs are not seeing your family and your friends, but on the flip side it’s getting closer to the people that you know here and making new friends,” she explains. “More often than not the glass is half full, rather than the glass is half empty.”

If you forget who you are in service to and you don’t remember why you are doing what you’re doing; it makes all those other things that you are doing pointless.

Pinpointing the highlight of her time at Malala Fund was really easy for Farah. “People expect me to say my highlight was speaking to Malala every day. It was absolutely a highlight to work with Malala and Zia,” says Farah, speaking of Zia Yousafzai, Malala’s father and co-founder, “but the real privilege was seeing the girls.”

“I’d say to people all the time, I don’t work in service to Malala or Zia or my even my board,” Farah says. “I work in service to those girls and I fundamentally believe that. I don’t work in service to any government or any partner we have, I work in service to those girls.”

She reiterates how important it is for all organizations — charities, social enterprises and businesses alike to remember who they are serving and remain true to that through and through. “If you forget who you are in service to and you don’t remember why you are doing what you’re doing; it makes all those other things that you are doing pointless.”

In Malala’s new book We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World, Farah shares her story to transform the conversation around refugees in Canada and beyond. “Malala gave me the opportunity to say ‘Hang on, wait a minute, don’t villainize and dismiss the contributions that refugees who leave their countries can bring to the countries that welcome them,’” she asserts. “I didn’t actually think I would ever share my story because it’s not my story alone, it’s my parents story and my sisters story and when Malala first requested that I be part of our book I was really really hesitant,” she says. 

To tell her story for Malala’s book, Farah had to have some very open conversations with her parents that they had never had before. “I learnt a lot of stuff about my parents. [In the book] I talk about my mom being assaulted by arm guards, I didn’t know that until I was in preparation for this book and so it’s very personal,” she says. “I realized that I can be quite a private person – so this is probably the most open I have ever been. I allow myself to be vulnerable, but it’s a good vulnerability to share in the context of refugees, they are not a drain on our system. Refugees – many if not all of them contribute to their countries and that’s why I shared it.”

How Tanya Wick is fostering inclusion at Tolko Industries — and across the forestry industry.

By Shelley White

How do you foster diversity and inclusion in an industry that’s not known for attracting women, youth, or Indigenous people? 

“It’s about doing what’s right before worrying about the politics,” says Tanya Wick.

She has been described as someone who is not afraid to stand up for others and lead the change, even if it means creating some discomfort. That fearless, outspoken leadership style is just one reason that Tanya, as Vice President, People and Services for Tolko Industries, is transforming diversity and inclusion efforts not only at her company but across the forestry industry as well. The first woman executive in Tolko’s 64-year history, Tanya puts her high level of energy to work championing equality and making space for others to find their voice.   

“I believe being frank about an issue is how you will solve it,” she says. “Change won’t happen if we are not honest about what the problem is and how it is manifesting.”

Since joining Tolko, a leading forest products company based in Vernon, B.C., ten years ago, Tanya has partnered with the company’s executive leadership and board of directors to shape and execute the organization’s strategic direction. She started the journey by looking at workforce planning numbers. “Before jumping into solutions, we wanted to understand our current environment,” says Tanya. “The metrics showed us that we needed to focus on some key groups: youth, Indigenous peoples, and women.” 

She’s since led the creation of targeted initiatives to address the unique needs and barriers of each group, touching on everything from talent acquisition to management practices to creating and promoting a respectful work environment — one that fosters engagement and differing viewpoints. 

“At Tolko, diversity and inclusion isn’t a side project, it’s embedded in our values-based culture,” explains Tanya, “meaning that each existing company value speaks to our D&I strategy — resulting in a workplace where all of our employees feel safe and respected.”

Her efforts to increase diversity in the company have had a measurable impact, significantly increasing generational, cultural and gender diversity among employees. In 2018, an independent audit noted that Tolko is “leading the charge within the forest sector” on gender equality; within their own company, there’s been a 30 per cent increase in female employees since 2016, and in 2019, 35 per cent of promotions were female.

“We have become known as leaders and as advocates for women in forestry and it has improved our culture,” Tanya says. “When we are hiring, candidates often say they applied and want to work for us because of our work in this area.”

 

To me, silence meant acceptance and there are so many things I didn’t want to accept. I believe in being an ally, and in fighting for the right for all of us to be treated equally.

 

Born and raised in Saskatchewan and with a degree in business, Tanya became passionate about human resources early in her career. With over 20 years of experience in HR under her belt, she says companies’ view of that role has changed over the years. 

“When I started, people were not even on the agenda at business meetings — it was uptime, production, new capital spend.” Now, companies have embraced the idea that people are their most important assets, Tanya says, with the war for talent and movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter forcing companies to take meaningful action on diversity and inclusion mandates.

Tanya says that when she first joined Tolko, it could be challenging to find her voice in a mostly male environment. “It’s not that the other members of the leadership team made it purposely difficult for me, but there certainly was some adjusting to do.”

She recalls a round table that was meant to allow everyone to speak, and “as the only woman in the room, they skipped right over me.” At business meetings, Tanya says she was sometimes assumed to be a spouse of one of the executives, and was often spoken over or interrupted.

Over time, Tanya says she found her voice and gained her male colleagues’ support. It was then that she decided it was time to pave the way for other women in the industry. 

“To me, silence meant acceptance and there are so many things I didn’t want to accept. I believe in being an ally, and in fighting for the right for all of us to be treated equally,” she says. “This is a big part of why I’ve chosen HR as a career — I want to support systems and structures where everyone is treated equitably and respectfully.” 

To recruit more women, Tolko began by building awareness, Tanya says. One important key has been removing unconscious bias, which meant changing processes and behaviours to be more inclusive. 

That started with the company making a statement of their intent when President and CEO, Brad Thorlakson, publicly signed the B.C. Minerva pledge, a commitment to gender parity. As well, a Women’s Steering Committee was created at Tolko to support the development and advancement of women.  

There were also basic areas to address when it came to “people practices,” Tanya says. There were still locations throughout the company without women’s washrooms. A zero tolerance for harassment and bullying was reinforced, a pay review was conducted to ensure equity, and more flexible benefits were introduced for employees.

As well, a robust Leadership Impact for Women program was designed, for which Tolko won the 2019 Employer Initiative of the Year award from Canadian Centre for Diversity & Inclusion (CCDI). In addition to providing training and coaching for female Tolko employees, the program includes a mentorship component — an undertaking close to Tanya’s heart. Coaching and empowering women to build full, rewarding careers has been a key priority throughout her work life. “I get energy from it,” she says. 

Tanya is a big proponent of personal accessibility, connecting with colleagues and staff through blog posts, articles, speaking events and personal emails. Most recently, she has been exploring how to further encourage industry leaders in driving diversity and inclusion.

While she is proud of the impact she has had on Tolko and the forestry industry in general, Tanya says she’s not nearly done yet.

“I want to ensure leaders understand the value proposition for diversity and inclusion in their companies and communities,” she says. “I know what it feels like to have no one stand up for you, and I want to make it easier for women and other marginalized groups in the industry.”

5 minutes with Tessa Virtue on reinvention and resilience

Tessa Virtue is a household name not only in Canada, but around the world. Tessa and her ice dance partner, Scott Moir, first captured the hearts of Canadians at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, where they became both the first North Americans and the youngest ice dancers to be crowned Olympic Champions. They would go on to become the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history, earning five career medals — three gold and two silver — along with several other wins on the world stage. After 22 years as partners, they chose to step away from the sport. Now retired from ice dance, Tessa continues to be a strong advocate for women’s empowerment and works closely with FitSpirit, an organization whose mission is to raise public awareness around the problem of declining participation in sport among pre-teen and teenage girls. As an ambitious academic, Tessa now plans to pursue her MBA and channel her energy into her next challenge: becoming an entrepreneur.

We recently spoke with Tessa about her career journey and the transition she is making into entrepreneurship — and gathered some insights on balance, resilience, and the lessons she’s learned as a professional athlete.

You’ve grown up in the spotlight and are a household name as an Olympic champion. Following your retirement and through your career transition, what inspired you to pursue your MBA at Queen’s University?

I always admired my mom for getting her MBA later in life.  She talks about that time in her life with affection and gratitude – it offered her a chance to nurture her own identity outside of the prescribed roles of employee, mother, and wife.  I’ve always known education would play a major part in my life, and I’m eager for a new challenge.  I have been incredibly fortunate to dive into the corporate realm in a unique way for the last decade, but I want to develop a greater understanding from a macro level and earn some credibility as I venture forth in the next phase of my career.  I am keen to better understand how to use my platform by earning my stripes!

I want every single young girl and woman to feel limitless, and that begins by believing she is worthy of her dreams. 

 
Resilience is a very important skill for professional athletes. How has your resilience helped you navigate through some of the most challenging times during COVID? Can you offer any tips on staying resilient through obstacles and challenging times?

Interestingly, in preparing for every single possible scenario as an athlete, I also learned that it was important to be responsive, not reactive.  Being adaptable is key, and finding freedom within a regimented structure is a delicate balance.  I’d say my approach to COVID was mostly affected by the perspective it offered, and the gratitude that came with the realization that it’s the simple things in life (the things we so often take for granted) that make me happy.  I tried to find purpose each day, however small or seemingly insignificant, and do my best to contribute to meaningful causes.  

Following the completion of your MBA, what is your number one leadership trait you want to bring into your next role of CEO? 

Empathy and confidence (sorry, that’s two!). 

We recently spoke with fellow Olympian and gold-medal winner, Cassie Cambell-Pascall about the importance of sport, in the midst of the pandemic. As a strong advocate for women’s empowerment and through your work with FitSpirit, what is your take on continuing to use sport as a catalyst to develop positive change in the lives of children, youth and in communities during this time? 

There are so many important lessons to be learned through sport – including, but not limited to; embracing failure, making vulnerability a strength, delayed gratification, goal setting, and teamwork. It is incredibly easy, especially in today’s climate, to feel overwhelmed and insignificant.  What physical activity offers is a sense of purpose, a release of energy, and a surge of self-worth.  Moving our bodies through space – TAKING UP SPACE! – is valuable, particularly for young girls.  I want every single young girl and woman to feel limitless, and that begins by believing she is worthy of her dreams. 

To learn more about Tessa Virtue’s next chapter, join us for an immersive, digital experience at the Women of Influence Spotlight Series, in partnership with Scotiabank. Tessa will sit down for a candid conversation with CTV News Anchor Marcia MacMillan and reveal exactly what it takes to rise to the top of your industry – and how to transition into your next act when the time comes. Tickets on sale now.
Scotiabank is proud to partner with Women of Influence as the presenting sponsor of this Spotlight Series event with Tessa Virtue. Learn more about The Scotiabank Women Initiative™, supporting Canada’s women-owned, women-led businesses.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

What has surprised you? 

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

How far ahead are you planning? 

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

What keeps you positive?

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

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

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

An HR expert explains how embracing change can be a strategy for career success

Marwa Jazi was 12 when civil war broke out in Lebanon. Her family, unfortunately, lived in one of the worst parts of the city — the borderline between the two warring parties. For most of her formative years, there were many times when she was stuck indoors, fearing bombings, and living with limited access to water and electricity. Simply waking up unharmed, and still with a home, was a blessing. 

This did not stop her from earning a university degree, nor building a career — even as the situation worsened. When she and her now-husband began dating, they both agreed that they wanted to raise a family away from the conflicts of war, and so the pair began discussing the possibility of moving overseas. By a stroke of luck, she heard the Canadian embassy in Syria was actively processing immigration applications from Lebanese civilians; two months later, with her almost-finished MBA and $3,000 in savings, she landed in Canada. 

“I was determined to create a life in Canada, whatever that looked like. Even if I had to wait tables, I was going to do what it took to establish a life in the country,” she says. “I wanted this change.”

While determination and persistence became her driving forces, embracing change became her strategy — and looking at her career, it’s clear it was a recipe for success.  

When she felt her growth at a previous employer had plateaued, Marwa challenged her manager to develop an action plan that would earn her a promotion (it worked). Later on in her career, she had the foresight to see that a relocation opportunity with a global company wasn’t something she wanted for her career or family, so she turned it down — even though it meant she’d be taking a step back in her career, and looking for work again. 

When Marwa started to feel that a former employer’s corporate culture was not aligned with her own values, something that she says is imperative for a working relationship to be successful, she knew it was time to look for opportunities elsewhere. 

It was during this time that she was approached by a former colleague about an opening at Ricoh. After interviewing for the role of Director of HR, she knew it was the right fit. Marwa loved the culture — she describes it as “innovative, supportive, and diverse” — and the latitude Ricoh offered its employees to create change.

In her current role, Marwa partners with leaders to develop and implement programs that support the company through its transformation journey. Since her tenure at Ricoh has been about supporting change, her work has always been interesting, and she is constantly learning. And because Ricoh sets high value on employee experience and growth, she is encouraged to help people make positive and lasting changes in their careers.

 

“I was determined to create a life in Canada, whatever that looked like. Even if I had to wait tables, I was going to do what it took to establish a life in the country.”

 

“I’ve always believed in the power of embracing change — whether for yourself, or as an organization — and that means more than accepting the changes that are thrust upon us. It’s about igniting and leading that change as well,” explains Marwa. “Ricoh’s tagline of ‘imagine.change.’ really encapsulates this in everything we do. Change is driven by imaginative thinking. By thinking creatively and collaborating with one another, we are always moving forward, always finding new ways of improving lives, and improving the way communities live and work together.”

Even during the current pandemic, Marwa and her team are helping people to embrace change in an unstable environment, to adjust to working from home, as well as providing them with information to help them stay safe. “Being able to help others, even in small measure, through such an unprecedented crisis, and the ability to see an immediate impact is truly powerful.”

Looking long term, Marwa advises individuals to look for a company that is willing to invest both in them and their career. This is especially important for women who may shy away from applying for jobs that pique their interest when they don’t feel they are 100 per cent qualified for the role. 

In these cases, Marwa’s advice is always the same: “If you meet 60 or 70 per cent of a job’s criteria, I’m here to say apply — if you don’t get the job, you are not worse off. If you do get an interview, you will likely gain something from the process.” She adds it’s rare (in the one per cent range) for someone to be 100 per cent qualified for a job. “And if you fail to seize and embrace new opportunities because you fear failure, you’re not going to grow as a person or leader.”

To help enable that growth, Marwa advises it’s also important to seek support along the way from a mentor or a sponsor, and to invest in continuous learning. “Never miss an opportunity to read an article or attend a webinar,” she says. 

And the key final piece? “Put your hand up,” says Marwa. “You don’t need to wait for a job opportunity or a promotion to do more. If you see a business need or an opportunity to use your skill to help your company, ask your manager if you can work on a solution to benefit them.” 

Marwa’s own story is proof — with persistence, determination, and a strategy of embracing change, you can create the career you want. “You just have to believe you can, and go from there,” says Marwa. “Remember, how you think about things impacts how you behave and ultimately the results you achieve in life. If you let go of limiting assumptions and beliefs, you can be very successful.”

 

Meet Victoria Sopik and Jennifer Nashmi, Co-founders of Kids and Company and Winners of the Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship at the 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards

 

Victoria Sopik and Jennifer Nashmi

Co-founders, Kids and Company

Winners, Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship, CENTRAL

 

When Victoria Sopik and Jennifer Nashmi cofounded Kids & Company in 2002, their aim was to disrupt the traditional way childcare had been offered by launching as an emergency back-up centre. Their success came after a crucial pivot, however: rather than working directly with parents they began to partner with organizations, positioning corporate-sponsored childcare as a unique employee benefit that could assist with recruiting and retention, as well as reduce unexpected absences. With an emphasis on flexible part-time as well as emergency or planned back-up childcare, Kids & Company continues to expand in size and services.

 

My first job ever was…

V – Working at McDonald’s!

J – I cleaned cottages and waitressed at a resort in Muskoka.

 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

V –  I wanted to be my own boss. 

J – I’m a creative person (especially for an Accountant) and like the ability to create a business vision and see it take shape.

 

My proudest accomplishment is…

V – My children.

J – Three beautiful, smart, independent, capable daughters.

 

My boldest move to date was… 

V – Having 8 children!

J – Leaving a good, stable, well-paying job to start Kids & Company with my business partner.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… 

V – That I am a grandmother to 5 beautiful grandbabies!

J – I’m an avid knitter.

 

“Never look back after making a decision.”

 

My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… 

V – Not to overthink things.

J – Make a decision and don’t second guess yourself. Then don’t give up until you make it happen!

 

My best advice from a mentor was… 

V – To never look back after making a decision.

J – Be careful who you take money from. Know your partners well.

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… 

V – Gertrude Bell. She was the first women to receive First Degree Honours at Oxford University, pioneering diplomat, intelligent officer, mountaineer, archaeologist, linguist, author, museum founder and adviser to kings. A courageous woman far ahead of her time who refused to bow to societal expectations and limitations. 

J – My grandmother. I miss her. She was a strong, kind woman.  

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… 

V – That the years and days fly by, try to live in the moment as much as possible! 

J – Enjoy life’s small moments more.

 

My biggest setback was… 

V – Constantly having small problems to deal with.

J – My mindset is that I constantly realign myself so I have no big setbacks, just new goals.

 

I overcame it by… 

V – Never looking back after making a decision.

J – Being confident in myself.

 

The last book I read was… 

V – The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine.

J – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

 

I stay inspired by… 

V –  Spending time with my grandchildren on a daily basis.

J – My business partner Victoria. We do our best to prop each other up.

 

The future excites me because… 

V – Things are changing and evolving each and every day. 

J – It’s constantly changing and there are a million things I want to try.

 

Success to me means… 

V – Having the respect of my children. 

J – Having the love and respect of my friends and family.

 

 

Meet the women making the mining industry more inclusive

Women Who Rock President and CEO, Elena Mayer, and Deborah Breckels, Chief Operations Officer lead their organization with the goal of igniting curiosity amongst women about mining and its importance for the Canadian economy, helping those in the industry forge successful careers, collaborating with stakeholders who share common challenges, and communicating success stories to help make the mining industry more inclusive.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen


 

Elena Mayer (pictured on the left) once dreamed of becoming a professional ballerina. Growing up in the Soviet Union, she says her dream was shared by many young girls. But, over the years, her focus shifted to corporate law and then to mining — an industry she never imagined she’d become so deeply embedded within.

After enrolling in the Global Mining Management Program as part of the Schulich MBA, Elena says she found herself one of only a few women in a class of 37. “Being sociable and curious about people, I immersed myself in the mining community and met many motivating and inspiring leaders,” she states. “At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice that many women in the early stages of their mining careers shared a feeling of disconnect from leaders and even their peers.”

There is no question that mining is a male-dominated industry, but Elena says she has a natural tendency to challenge stereotypes and the status quo. “Inspired by a few mentors, I realized I could play a role in empowering and connecting women,” she recalls. “In response to the need for mentorship relationships between leaders in mining and the next generation of female professionals, I came up with the idea for the Women Who Rock (WWR) foundation and subsequently the Auction for Action Program.”

Armed with a well-developed idea for the Auction event but unsure how to execute it, Elena reached out to Deborah Breckels (pictured on the right), a highly recommended professional event consultant who had made her mark in the mining industry planning and executing PDAC — one of the biggest mining conventions in the world.  

As Deborah says, “Elena’s vision was inspiring, but required a detailed logistical and marketing plan. While executing someone else’s vision and passion is an ambitious undertaking, with 14 years of experience bringing the PDAC ‘mega-event’ to life, I wasn’t fazed by the short lead-time to plan and deliver.”

 

The mining industry is quite traditional, and with an aging male population holding most of the positions of power, we recognized there would be a skills shortage over the next few years.

 

The result was a highly successful series of events that paired young women in mining with some of the industry’s top executives and the beginning of a partnership between two women who shared a passion for bringing diversity and inclusion to an industry in need of their energy and commitment.

“The mining industry is quite traditional, and with an aging male population holding most of the positions of power, we recognized there would be a skills shortage over the next few years,” Deborah explains. “We’re working to fill that gap by attracting women into the industry and promoting diversity and inclusion across the board.”

Today Elena, President and CEO,  and Deborah, Chief Operations Officer, lead the organization with the goal of igniting curiosity amongst women about mining and its importance for the Canadian economy, helping those in the industry forge successful careers, collaborating with stakeholders who share common challenges, and communicating success stories to help bring about change.

Beyond WWR, both Elena and Deborah enjoy successful careers — making them expert multi-taskers. “We’re definitely wearing two professional hats each,” says Elena. “Women Who Rock isn’t just a volunteer gig or a side-hustle, it’s a second full-time job, and one we’re both fully committed to, along with nine executive team members.“

Elena has married her passion for D&I with her extensive mining knowledge, holding a key position in planning and executing PwC’s business development strategy in Canada. Where her passion and skills really intersect is through her work leading PwC’s external component of the Women in Leadership Program, working closely with her mentor, Mona Ghiami, PwC’s Chief Inclusion Officer. Through the gender equity work at PwC, she says she’s gained a deeper understanding into how D&I fits into every part of a business.  

Gathering courage and moving towards entrepreneurship, Deborah created her own events consulting firm, Attention to Detail Events. As its principal, Deborah provides a full spectrum of event services. “Events are more than bringing people together to share information and ideas — it’s about designing and delivering memorable experiences while providing optimal networking opportunities.” Beyond the mining industry, Deborah’s consulting business has expanded to international governments like Chile and global firms like Kao Canada.

“We’re great partners,” Deborah says. “Elena is the strategic thinker, she comes up with one-of-a-kind ideas that no one would think of.” And, Elena adds, “Deborah is very good at catching my ideas, turning them into something real, and executing them skillfully. People are amazed with our events and that’s thanks to Deborah’s leadership.”

They continue to expand the reach of WWR with their next ambitious event: The Americas Powerhouse Luncheon in partnership with Women of Influence, featuring four trailblazing women from Canada, Peru, Argentina and Mexico who have defied established norms and challenged the status-quo of their distinct cultural realities to rise to top leadership positions. One of the main objectives of the event is to attract positive attention and create more awareness about the importance of mining to the Canadian economy.

While not without its challenges, the mining industry presents many exciting opportunities. As Women Who Rock grows, both women are excited to see where the journey will take them. One thing is certain, their commitment to women’s advancement and diversity — in mining and beyond — will remain front and centre.

Why Canadian Feed The Children is mobilizing for gender equality

Jacquelyn Wright, President and CEO of Canadian Feed The Children, believes gender equality can have the biggest impact when it comes to eradicating child poverty, unlocking children’s potential, and changing the world. That’s why CFTC is taking part in the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign — joining their voice with those of other Canadian organizations to bring about positive change.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 

 


 

For Canadian Feed The Children’s (CFTC) President and CEO Jacquelyn Wright, joining the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization was a no-brainer. “We know that when we invest in girls and women, there is a ripple effect that reaches families, communities, and nations,” she says. “We’re eager to be part of a unified voice advocating for greater gender equality, and the health, rights, and wellbeing of women and girls — we’re a small organization and our voice alone is not enough.”

Strength in numbers is one of the main reasons for the Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada campaign, which was built around the global conference to be held in Vancouver this June. The idea is to rally Canadian players, including those not traditionally focused on women and girls, and turn their focus toward gender equality.  

One of the first to sign on was CFTC, a registered charity focused on unlocking children’s potential through community-led action in Canada and around the world. “While our organization is child-focused, we know that women are the key drivers of economic growth,” says Jacquelyn. “The key to helping children thrive and move out of poverty is women.”

For CFTC, gender equality is a cross-cutting theme and integral to the success of their programming in Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda, and Bolivia. “In these countries, we’re focused on building women’s inclusion and full participation in programs related to agriculture, community building, and income generation,” Jacquelyn explains. “Throughout our work we focus on creating opportunities for long-term, sustainable food security and access to education for children.”

 

“The key to helping children thrive and move out of poverty is women.”

 

In northern Ghana, for example, CFTC spent four years on resilient and sustainable livelihood transformation. They worked with a group of women who were able to develop small businesses and, in some cases, double and triple their incomes as a result. “We’re now going back to that community with a follow-on initiative which we’re calling the ‘venture hub’,” she says. “Essentially, we’ll be helping those women take their businesses to the next level, which will lead to sustainable economic growth and independence for these women, their families and their communities.”

In Ethiopia CFTC has been working with farmers, 60% of whom are women, with a focus on agricultural productivity. “We also built in local advocacy initiatives to this program, including gender equality training for farm families. The result impacted the livelihoods of more than 3,000 women and their families — leading to increased wealth and decision-making powers on the part of women.”

In Canada, where CFTC is working closely with Indigenous communities, they’re partnering with women, children, youth, and Elders to support greater access to healthy food. “We work with community members and Elders to support land-based education and practices related to food that rebuild connections to culture and stimulate inter-generational learning. Elders are passing on vital knowledge about hunting, fishing, and the traditional relationships between people and the land, water and resources that sustain life, with the goal to create greater food security and food sovereignty.”

For Jacquelyn, who has been involved in humanitarian and development work for more than 30 years — she was with the Canadian Red Cross and CARE Canada prior to joining CFTC — the disparity in access to programs for men and women has always been on her radar. “Often, you go to a community to talk with them because you want to have a community-led process and you’re met by men,” she says. “You have to make a really specific initiative to talk to women; it doesn’t happen naturally in many cases.”

Most interestingly, according to Jacquelyn, is that only when you do talk with the women are you able to find out about all sorts of needs of the community that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.  

 

“I’ve honed in on gender equality as the thing that will have the biggest impact when it comes to changing the world.”

 

She says that empowering women, educating them, and giving them access to decision-making and leadership opportunities has proven to be the key to transforming communities, but only if considered within the scope of the entire community. “If you only focus on girls and women and leave the boys and men behind, that can lead to resentment,” she says. While some power holders will have to let go of power, success comes when a balance can be struck.

“Basically, I’ve honed in on gender equality as the thing that will have the biggest impact when it comes to changing the world,” Jacquelyn says. “I’ve always wanted to use my influence to change hearts and minds — and I see the Mobilization campaign as another way to do that.”  

Jacquelyn is thankful for the Mobilization as a means of taking such important conversations to the next level. “It’s one thing to participate in something like this and another to carry it forward — that’s the beautiful thing about this movement, it puts a stake in the ground.” For CFTC and many other organizations that have joined the Mobilization, the Women Deliver 2019 conference provides an opportunity for decision makers to commit to forward movement. To connect, to learn, to collaborate — and bring about positive change, together

 

To learn more about how you can join the Mobilization and take action for gender equality, visit their website at www.WeDeliver2019.ca and join the conversation on Twitter with #WeDeliver2019.

How Maria Freites Hernandez rebuilt her career as an immigrant to Canada

Moving to Toronto from Venezuela, Maria Freites Hernandez expected to take a few steps back in her analytics career as she settled into her new country. But now she’s back in a senior position at a bank, and taking her career to the next level as a student in the first Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence class at Smith — North America’s first graduate business degree in the AI field.

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

When Maria Freites Hernandez left Venezuela five years ago, she knew she’d have to take a few steps back in her career in order to start over in a new country. In search of a better life, she settled with her family in Toronto. “I would have loved to move with my position at the time, which was within the retail credit risk department of Citibank,” she says. “But I knew I’d have to lower my standards when looking for a job in Canada.”  

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from what she calls the best university in Venezuela, Maria discovered an interest in analytics while working at Citibank, her first job out of university. “Even though I was only creating reports back then, I could see how my managers would use the numbers I gathered to make business decisions, and what great value that data could provide.”  

Though her background was in software engineering, Maria says she decided right then that obtaining insights from data would be the focus of her career. At Citibank, she worked her way into more senior positions and found herself in the retail credit risk area. “That’s when I started to learn about forecasting, planning, and setting up business cap, and by that time I knew analytics was the area I needed to develop in.”

 

“If I can be a CEO someday, I want to be, and while my bachelor’s degree is good; I wanted to have a Canadian academic experience and management exposure.”

 

In Canada, she took a few jobs well below her qualifications, which gave her time to become fluent in English. “My greatest challenge,” Maria recalls, “was the language barrier — I didn’t feel comfortable with English and had a really strong accent, which made communication difficult. I would make mistakes when I spoke or wrote, and it was really hard on my self-confidence.”

Despite these challenges, nine months after moving to Canada Maria got a job with Scotiabank. She was back on the career path she’d set out for herself — just a few rungs lower on the corporate ladder. A year later, she joined the portfolio analytics team as a manager, and, three years after that, in September 2018, she got promoted to director of portfolio insights in the retail credit risk department.

Just prior to that promotion, Maria set out to take on another huge challenge. Led by her “sky’s the limit” mentality, she decided to go back to school to earn a master’s degree. “If I can be a CEO someday, I want to be,” she says. “And while my bachelor’s degree is good, I wanted to have a Canadian academic experience and management exposure.”

The new Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence (MMAI) at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University caught her attention. She was eager to improve her management skills while also boosting her technical expertise. She believed the program would help her with both.

Maria goes to class Tuesdays and every other weekend, while still managing her role at Scotiabank. It can make for some long days but Maria says that going back to school is energizing. “I’m excited to be learning the AI framework and how we can use AI in the bank setting — but also, to be working with people from other industries and opening my mind to things I’ve never considered before.”

For Maria, the technical aspect of the program has given her the confidence and skill set to talk in greater detail with the technical staff in the bank who report to her, while also allowing the executives she reports to realize how much she understands and can contribute to conversations.

Beyond AI, she says she’s also benefiting from other services at Smith, such as a writing coach, who is helping her improve her written communication skills — something she feels is important if she wants to move into executive roles. And it’s clear Maria knows exactly what she wants.

“All my career I’ve been surrounded by men. But Venezuelan women — especially my mom — are really strong,” she says. “I’m not afraid to let people know what I want, to identify what’s not working for me, and make a change when necessary.”

 

Industry demand for AI product managers is growing. The Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence at Smith is North America’s first graduate business degree in artificial intelligence designed to fill the talent gap for much-needed managers who can apply AI strategies to business decisions.

How the leaders of Scotiabank’s Black Employee Resource Group are championing diversity from the middle

 

Molara Awosedo and Vernette Eugene work in different divisions of Scotiabank at the managerial level. A year ago they co-founded a Black Employee Resource Group, advancing diversity and inclusion and developing high-performing Black employees.  

By Shelley White

 

For Molara Awosedo and Vernette Eugene, Black History Month is a time for reflection and celebration.

It’s about recognizing the accomplishments of Black leaders in the past while keeping an eye towards the future, says Molara, Communications Manager within Global Finance at Scotiabank.

“It’s about seeing representation,” she says. “For me, growing up, I didn’t see a lot of Black leaders. Black History Month is a time to see that there are strong, powerful, Black leaders in the community.”

Adds Vernette, Senior Manager, Enterprise Productivity at Scotiabank: “Black History Month is a time to be reminded of the great things men and women have done and how that has created a space and an opportunity for me today. But as much as it’s about history, I think it’s really important to highlight the work that’s currently underway and the work that’s still to be done.”

 

“Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of Black leaders. Black History Month is a time to see that there are strong, powerful, Black leaders in the community.”

 

One of the ways Vernette and Molara have been continuing that important work is by co-founding Scotiabank’s Black Employee Resource Group (ERG) a year ago. The group, which is headquartered in Toronto, aims to advance diversity and inclusion within Scotiabank, plus help to grow and develop the base of high-performing Black employees working at the organization.

“The Bank has done an awesome job in championing diversity and inclusion,” says Vernette. And we think, as employees, we can help advance those goals.”

To celebrate Black History Month, the ERG will host an internal event at Toronto’s Scotiabank Centre on February 21. A panel of speakers will discuss their experiences as Black people in corporate Canada and celebrate the recent federal initiative that put Viola Desmond on the $10 bill. If you don’t know her story, you should: Viola Desmond was a Black Nova Scotian businesswoman who, in 1946, refused to leave a “whites-only” section of a cinema in New Glasgow, N.S. Her actions helped spark the modern civil rights movement in Canada.

“We want to recognize the work that she’s done and why it’s important to have a black woman on an instrument like that,” says Vernette.

Another aim of Scotiabank’s Black Employee Resource Group is to foster a sense of belonging amongst Black employees, notes Molara.

A lifelong extrovert who spent most of her childhood in Brampton, Ontario, Molara says she “fell in love” with communications as a student at Montreal’s McGill University. She graduated in 2012, and says that throughout her blossoming career in the banking and insurance industries, she’s often found herself one of the few Black employees in the office.

She’s also experienced challenges. At a previous employer, Molara remembers being promoted into a management position after a year with the organization, an impressive accomplishment she should have been able to relish.

“A colleague said to me, ‘You only got the role because you’re Black,’” recalls Molara. “I thought, ‘Wow, you really have some gall to say this out loud to my face.’ And it was like, are we not going to acknowledge the good work that I’ve done on the team? Even though I showed you the work, it was still not good enough for you to say, ‘You’ve done a good job and that’s why you deserve it.’”

Vernette, who grew up on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia and moved to Canada to attend university, says she’s also experienced challenges in the workplace, but in subtler ways. Instances of unconscious bias against people of colour can be hard to pinpoint, she notes, but can also be keenly felt.

 

“Viola Desmond was a Black Nova Scotian businesswoman who, in 1946, refused to leave a “whites-only” section of a cinema in New Glasgow, N.S. Her actions helped spark the modern civil rights movement in Canada.”

 

It’s critical that organizations create inclusive environments so that all employees can bring their “true selves” to work, says Vernette. “Because if you’re coming into the workplace and you’re always on guard, you’re not being as productive as you can be.”

Both Molara and Vernette say the support of their personal and professional networks has been important. They plan to introduce a mentoring component to their ERG to both develop supportive networks and help talented Black employees excel.

As someone who has benefited from mentoring relationships, Vernette says she feels compelled to pass that along to the next generation. To that end, she’s taken part in the Confident Leader Conference in Toronto, a leadership development program for African-Canadian kids in elementary school, as well as Imani, an initiative based at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Through Imani, Black professionals mentor Black university students who, in turn, mentor Black high school students.

“We have that circle of encouragement and that circle of inspiration,” says Vernette of the Imani program. “I jump at any opportunity to share my journey of self-confidence as a leader.”

When it comes to young women of colour hoping to emulate her success, Molara has this advice: Take control of your career.

“I think a lot of times women — Black women and women in general — we kind of wait to be tapped on the shoulder for the next promotion,” says Molara. “But I just kind of ask for what I want. I think when you show that you have the ability to recognize your strengths and bring those strengths to the organization, the sky’s the limit.” She also encourages women to “Challenge yourself. Step out of your comfort zone and do something that scares you every day.”

Vernette notes that when it comes to confidence in the workplace, resilience starts from within. “Having allies and having training for our leaders and promoting inclusion is important,” she says. “But I can honestly say that the work starts with the individual and being okay in your skin, because no one else can do that for you.”

 

 

How Canadians are helping mobilize change in advance of hosting the world’s largest conference on gender equality

When Canada was chosen to host the fifth triennial Women Deliver Conference in June 2019, an opportunity was born. Not only does it mean more than 6,000 people from around the globe will be arriving in Vancouver to participate in the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women — it’s also a chance to mobilize Canadians to be leaders in the movement.

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 

 


 

Every three years, the Women Deliver Conference creates a global stage for discussions on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women. And in June 2019, for the first time, that stage is coming to Canada — along with an opportunity to seize the spotlight and momentum, and rally Canadians to drive progress at home and abroad.

“As soon as the Trudeaus made the announcement, organizations from across the country began discussing the importance of leveraging this opportunity to move the needle on gender equality here in Canada,” explains Julie Savard-Shaw, Director of Strategic Partnerships, for Women Deliver 2019 Mobilization Canada — an entity that was created in order to ensure that real and lasting change comes out of the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Canada.

The Mobilization Canada campaign aims to get Canadian players, including those not traditionally focused on women and girls — businesses, banks, not for profits, charities, municipalities, academic institutions, and more — involved in an active way. Julie Savard-Shaw was hired in February 2018 to lead the way. Coming from the Prime Minister’s Office, where she provided policy advice on international, gender and immigration matters, and prior to that the international development sector, Julie had no shortage of experience in the field.

As a young woman, she’s also experienced some of what the Mobilization is looking to shed light upon in terms of women’s advancement. “I can’t tell you how often in my career I’ve had to fight to be included or have my voice heard in meetings, and how often I’ve been called sensitive,” Julie says.

 

“I can’t tell you how often in my career I’ve had to fight to be included or have my voice heard in meetings, and how often I’ve been called sensitive.

 

In order to achieve real results, the Mobilization is focusing on three key “action areas” where progress is most needed: gender responsive health systems and services, gender-based violence, and women’s economic empowerment and equal opportunity.  

Armed with a clear understanding of what needs to be done, Julie has set out to secure funding and sign-up organizations to the Mobilization. “Our mandate is to get participants to join the mobilization and commit to taking at least one action to advance the conversation on gender equality in the year leading up to the conference.”  

On the Mobilization website, participants will find a tool kit outlining ideas for potential actions they may take. “These range from a brown bag lunch with an expert-led seminar on preventing and dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, to furthering the gender equality conversation via social media, to hosting a large-scale panel discussion featuring high-level influencers,” Julie says. “The idea is that everyone has a role to play and everyone can do something, no matter how small.”

The goal of having 300 Mobilizers signed on by June seems to be more than attainable given that, as of January, more than 200 had already made the commitment. To achieve progress on gender equality, the Mobilization campaign promotes cross-issue dialogue and multi-sector collaboration. A quick scroll through the list of Mobilizers shows how diverse the participants are. “The international community will be looking to Canada for leadership, and this is where that leadership begins,” says Julie.  

 

“The international community will be looking to Canada for leadership, and this is where that leadership begins.”

 

“While the Canadian government is making great strides in this arena, including launching the first Feminist International Assistance Policy and legislating for equal pay, there is still much work to be done at home and abroad by Canada,” says Julie. “But, it’s not just the government that’s responsible for change, the non-governmental and private sectors must step up as well.”

And, she says, the timing is perfect. “This conference comes at a time when the global terrain for girls and women continues to shift, and as progress in health, gender-based violence and economic and political participation of women is urgently needed. We’ve seen a lot of pushback on women’s rights and there have been a number of very successful social media campaigns that have brought attention to these issues — but there hasn’t necessarily been a venue where decision makers can make concrete announcements. Women Deliver presents that opportunity, and that’s why the Mobilization is so important.”

A number of events leading up to and surrounding the conference will be led by the Mobilization, giving everyone an opportunity, even those not attending the conference, to experience the impact of this global movement. “Beyond the conference, we’re hoping the connections made will spearhead something larger and create an impact that will be felt long into the future.”

 

To learn more about how you can join the Mobilization and take action for gender equality, visit their website at www.WeDeliver2019.ca and join the conversation on Twitter with #WeDeliver2019.

How Ravina Bains became the “Top Under 40” in the investment industry

Although Ravina Bains’ interest in finance started at a young age, she still took a circuitous route to her present role of Vice-President of Commercial Banking/Canadian Wealth Management Sales Integration at Scotiabank. Recently awarded the 2018 Investment Industry Association of Canada Top Under 40 Award, she’s proof that following your passion pays off.

 

By Shelley White

 


 

You could say that Ravina Bains has been preparing for a career in banking since she was a child.

Growing up in Vancouver, B.C., Ravina remembers waking every morning and turning on the TV before school. It was usually tuned to BNN (Business News Network), a channel her dad liked to watch before heading into work. Over breakfast, her interest was sparked.

“My parents were immigrants from India, so the investment and financial industry was where they turned to not only reach their own financial goals, but also to support their children’s goals,” says Ravina, Vice-President of Commercial Banking/Canadian Wealth Management Sales Integration at Scotiabank.

“I even remember my parents taking me to meetings with their financial and investment advisors. So, for me, very early on, the financial and investment industry always represented an industry that helps improve the lives of families and helps them realize their dreams.”

 

“As someone who has an unconventional academic background for a banker, it’s great to see that organizations such as Scotiabank and the IIAC are recognizing the importance of diversity of perspectives and backgrounds.”

 

Those early days of inspiration would ultimately lead to Ravina becoming a rising star in the financial services industry. She was recently selected out of 28 nominees to win the 2018 Investment Industry Association of Canada (IIAC) Top Under 40 Award. This annual award recognizes talented young professionals whose accomplishments have brought distinction to the industry and their local community.

“I was shocked, but also very thankful,” says Ravina, of receiving the honour. “As someone who has an unconventional academic background for a banker, it’s great to see that organizations such as Scotiabank and the IIAC are recognizing the importance of diversity of perspectives and backgrounds.”

Ravina took a somewhat circuitous route to get to her current role at Scotiabank. After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Ravina completed not one, but two master’s degrees — a Master of Science in Law from Oxford and a Master of Arts in Asia-Pacific Policy Studies from UBC. She spent the first few years of her career in government, working in the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. After another three years at a public policy think tank, Ravina brought her expertise to Scotiabank, joining the bank as National Director, Aboriginal Financial Services.

Even now, as a busy executive, Ravina is pursuing her PhD. “Education has always been an important part in my life,” she says of her zest for academia. “I like to be constantly learning new things and expanding my knowledge.”

 

“I’ve benefited from both mentors and sponsors, and I now mentor a number of women inside and outside my industry. It’s extremely rewarding to be part of their professional development journey.

 

In her current position at Scotiabank, Ravina builds processes and strategies to help the commercial banking and wealth management services teams address their clients’ needs — a position she finds “extremely rewarding and exciting.”

Her leadership extends beyond her official role as well. Ravina is Co-chairwoman of the Commercial Banking National Women’s Group, which aims to advance gender diversity within the commercial bank. She’s also a committee member of Impact at Scotiabank, a group that promotes mentoring and professional development in the bank’s Wealth Management division.

Ravina has this advice for other young women hoping to emulate her success: “Trust your intuition and believe in yourself,” she says. “Have confidence in your abilities and decisions.”

She also suggests that in order to advance, women need to “be in the driver’s seat” of their careers. “Invest time in your career development, network, seek out a mentor.”

It’s also important to remember to pay it forward, says Ravina.

“I’ve benefited from both mentors and sponsors, and I now mentor a number of women inside and outside my industry,” she says. “It’s extremely rewarding to be part of their professional development journey.”

As for her own career goals and ambitions, Ravina says she wants to continue to work in positions where she can lead a team toward a common goal and help her organization advance. But she also hopes for roles that allow her to give back to the community and help individuals realise their dreams.

“That’s why I love the financial services industry,” she says. “There’s great purpose to the work that we do.”

 

Meet Melanie Normandin, Vice President of Arctic Consultants Inc., and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship Finalist

 

Melanie Normandin

Vice President, Arctic Consultants Inc.

Finalist, Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship, EAST

 

Arctic Consultants has been meeting the procurement needs of remote communities in Nunavik and Nunavut since 1984. Melanie Normandin took over the family business with her husband in 2009, and now works not only to ensure the day-to-day runs smoothly, but also to help guide growth on a strategic level. Combining four types of services — including wholesale food and general merchandise, expertise in the logistics of packaging and the shipping of products to Northern communities, and transportation — Arctic Consultants is aiming to become the leading procurement team serving communities North of the 55th parallel.

 

My first job ever was… babysitting kids.

 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… Turn of faith, my husband had his eyes on my father’s company. I decided to jump in. That was the best career move I ever made.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… balancing a family of three kids, marriage and a growing business. It’s a struggle in constant adjustments but it all works out.

 

My boldest move to date was… buying a triplex with my boyfriend now husband three months after we met. That was fun.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I dream of taking my family on a long trip around the world with only a packsack.

 

My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… Surround yourself with the best.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… You only live once, don’t waste your time

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Ashevak Kenojuak, an Inuit artist from Cape Dorset that I find so inspiring. A soft, reserved petite women, yet strong and very independent. Her art is absolutely stunning. I wish I had the chance to meet her and talk to her eye to eye before she passed away.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… Lucky you, all these wonderful years in front of you, enjoy.

 

“That year has turned out to be one of the most exciting, intense and fun year of my life. I am now a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.”

 

My biggest setback was… I had planned on travelling around the world with a friend for one year. When this plan felt short, I was lost and had no idea where to go from there.

 

I overcame it by… I found a job in the video games industry that opened up a whole new fascinating world to me. I then met my husband and it was love at first sight. That year has turned out to be one of the most exciting, intense and fun year of my life. I am now a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.

 

The last book I read was… Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles from Katherine Pancol. Light and very well written.

 

I stay inspired by… Planning a trip or planning renovations then doing it.  

 

The future excites me because… It’s a mix of business and personal growth and confidence. My dreams and plans are getting bigger and bolder with time. It’s very exciting when I think of the future.

 

Success to me means… Freedom to live the life I want. Being independent, and in charge of my destiny. Surrounding myself with significant people and creating a great world for all my loved ones friends and employees.

 

 

Meet Mandy Farmer, President & CEO of Accent Inns Inc., and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship Finalist

 

Mandy Farmer

President and CEO, Accent Inns Inc.

Finalist, Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship, WEST

 

When Mandy Farmer’s father started Accent Inns Inc. in 1987, he didn’t plan on having any of his children go into the business. But Mandy took over as president and CEO in 2008, bringing with her an innovative, lighthearted (and highly profitable) vision. With fun and unique amenities and on-property experiences, big brand personalities, Instagram-worthy decor, and a focus on keeping both guests and staff happy, she’s revitalized the family-owned chain (not to mention the exterior corridor motel market), growing it to eight hotels across BC under the Accent Inns and Hotel Zed brands.

 

My first job ever was… I was 14-years-old and a chambermaid in a small B’nB. I had to wear a full french maid outfit including a bonnet and a long black dress that came all the way down to my ankles. The worst outfit to clean a room in.

 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I had a crazy idea I just couldn’t shake! After ten years of pitching business plans unsuccessfully my mentor finally told me to give up. This rattled me and I knew then that giving up was not an option, I just had to pitch it in a completely different way, which then lead to success and Hotel Zed was born.  

 

My proudest accomplishment is… getting said business plan finally approved and opening our first Hotel Zed.

 

“Hire people better than yourself. You really need to curate a team that inspires you.”

 

My boldest move to date was… launching “the Nooner” Valentine’s Day promotion where we invited people to give the gift of their sexy selves: check in time at 11am, check out at 2pm. It was a hit! Fox news picked it up which has a circulation of 42 million.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… I’m an Honorary Captain in the Royal Canadian Navy.

 

My best advice to people looking to grow their business is… hire people better than yourself. You really need to curate a team that inspires you. Then your business grows and you also have so much fun working together.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… being told to give up…man, did that light a fire of determination within me!

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Tony Robbins.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… You are in for an awesome ride! Buckle up!

 

My biggest setback was… I don’t really have one. I’ve been able to turn negatives into opportunities:

  • All our properties had leaky condo. Awesome! We get to change the look of the hotels and refresh our exterior!
  • An arsonist burned down one of our restaurants. We got out of our lease with a lack luster restaurant, scored the perfect tenant, built a better building and added a second floor with our gorgeous new Head Office on top.
  • Our properties have exterior corridors and realtors told me the valuation of our hotels was rock bottom. We turned around this “setback” by making motels cool again.

 

The last book I read was… Own The Day, Own Your Life by Aubrey Marcus

 

I stay inspired by… surrounding myself with the most amazing, interesting and smart people.

 

The future excites me because… we have the resources and that awesome smart team of talent for us to achieve our wildest dreams. I feel like we are on the cusp of something extraordinary. I don’t know what that is yet. Our team needs to sit down and figure out what it is, but I have an overwhelming feeling something great is going to happen.

 

Success to me means… loving what you do and having employees that feel the same. My New Year’s resolution was to build thriving happy communities for our employees in each of our hotels. I write this goal in a journal every single day.

 

 

Meet Elen Steinberg, President and CEO of SPP Marketing Services Inc. and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

 

Elen Steinberg

President and CEO, SPP Marketing Services Inc.

Finalist, TELUS Trailblazer Award, CENTRAL

 

SPP Marketing Services Inc. (SPP) had already been in operation as a promotions and experiential marketing agency for ten years when founder Elen Steinberg saw her winning opportunity: creating an innovative program using Canadian airports for marketing credit cards to the public. By overcoming challenges and bringing value to her bank clients, the company has been able to focus solely on premium credit card acquisitions since 1998. As the leading North American new credit card customer acquisition agency, SPP has enrolled over 5 million people for credit card products.

 

My first job ever was… Selling clothes in a boutique in Montreal. 

 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… Full time jobs in TV journalism were scarce and I needed to pay the bills.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… Having been able to give many people an opportunity to succeed – such as immigrant women and also raising two wonderful children while building a successful business.

 

My boldest move to date was… Switching the company into commission sales from being paid hourly as an event marketing agency.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… That they may not know me personally, but I can almost guarantee that they know what I do.

 

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… Be open to opportunities. Be bold. Ask for the sale, the contract, the promotion. If you get a no you are not any worse off than you were before- if you get a yes, it changes your world.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… Get up and make 10 sales calls before lunch.

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… Golda Meir. I believe she was the first female world leader.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… Always trust your instincts and never lose that unwavering belief in yourself.

 

My biggest setback was… When we lost 90% of our business in 1997.

 

I overcame it by… Not taking no for an answer and finding a solution to turn it into a yes. We came back stronger than ever from near bankruptcy and increased sales by 500% from before the setback.

 

I never go a day without… Being grateful for the great people I work with and the opportunities and continuing support from our clients.

 

The last book I read was… David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.

 

I stay inspired by… Seeing the big picture, looking for opportunities for expansion into new markets and showing new clients our capabilities.

 

The future excites me because… I see more opportunities for the company. 

 

 

Meet Caroline Roberts, President and CEO of Thoth Technology Inc. and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

 

Caroline Roberts

President and CEO, Thoth Technology Inc.

Finalist, TELUS Trailblazer Award, CENTRAL

 

When Caroline Roberts co-founded Thoth Technology in 2001, she saw a market opportunity in Canada’s vibrant space sector, providing services to validate equipment for spaceflight. The space and defense company now has three divisions — Space Tracking and Navigation, Space Test, and Space Systems — with a headquarters at the Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO). It’s here you’ll find Earthfence, the world’s first commercial deep space radar, which utilizes a 1,500 tonne antenna to track satellites in a 50,000 km range — the equivalent of detecting an insect at a range of 50 km.

 

My first job ever was… working as a cashier at an Elizabeth Drugs Store in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The store was one of a chain of drug stores that my grandfather owned. He was a medical doctor, a very successful entrepreneur, and a great inspiration to me. “Invest in banks,” he often said. “If the banks aren’t making money, nobody is.”

 

I decided to be a space entrepreneur when… I visited the European Space Research and Technology Center in Nordwijk, the Netherlands. The facility features massive thermal vacuum chambers for testing spacecraft, and I could see an opportunity to create a commercial company in Canada specializing in qualification services to validate equipment for spaceflight. We were the fourth country in space and the first to fly a domestic communications satellite. Canada has a vibrant space sector, and I foresaw a market to provide space-test services to large companies in need of overflow capacity as well as small companies who wouldn’t otherwise have access to this specialist equipment.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… having developed the world’s first commercial deep space radar. Earthfence utilizes a 1,500 tonne antenna to track satellites in geostationary orbits up to 50,000 km and is virtually undetectable. An equivalent performance would be to detect an insect at a range of 50 km.

 

My boldest move to date was… taking over the Algonquin Radio Observatory in Algonquin Park. The Observatory features a 46 m diameter radio telescope – the largest fully steerable antenna in Canada and one of the largest in the world. At the time it was transferred to my company, Thoth, it had just suffered major bearing failure. The refurbishment of it was a mammoth undertaking requiring around 20 person years of effort.

 

I surprise people when… they see me riding a powered unicycle. Professor Ue-Li Pen, Director of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, introduced us to it. It’s very fun and really turns heads. The best reaction we’ve had yet was from a little boy who saw us riding and asked his brother, “Are they robot people from the future?”

 

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… believe in your big, bold visions.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… from Allan Carswell, who advised me to have kids. Allan is the founder of Concord-based Optech, makers of Canada’s first lidar instrument on Mars. I was 36 at the time and debating whether to have children. I was and still am very career focused. To convince me, Allan said, “Caroline, my son now runs the Company.” It was what I needed to hear at the time.

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, it would be… my business partner and husband, Ben Quine, and I happily do most nights.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self to… keep up the good work! Also, in addition to banks, invest in technology companies, and start contributing to that RRSP!

 

My biggest setback was… the failure of the British Beagle 2 Mars lander mission. Thoth had secured rights from the prime contractor, EADS Astrium (now Airbus), to sell the lander technology in North America. When Beagle 2 did not return a signal, it was a blow.

 

I overcame it by… taking the opportunity to improve the lander design with fewer moving parts and greater robustness. We also studied everything that went wrong with Beagle 2. One of the mission’s biggest problems was communications, so when the opportunity to take over the Algonquin Radio Observatory materialized, we seized it, as it is the only asset in Canada capable of interplanetary communications. We are working on a private Mars mission called Northern Light and have all the elements apart from the launch. I am hoping Elon Musk can help us out with that. Elon was a student at Queen’s University when I was there too.

 

I never go a day without… being thankful for my job, my family, friends, and life in Canada.

 

The last book I read was… Canoe Country: The Making of Canada by Roy MacGregor.

 

I stay inspired by… looking up! I am fortunate to live and work in an area with very dark skies. Some nights at the Observatory, you can read by moonlight and see your shadow cast by the Milky Way. With our optical telescopes, we can see Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons. It is inspiring and humbling.

 

The future excites me because… of the tremendous opportunities we have thanks to the internet. Everything is at now at our fingertips because of a technology that I feel is still in its infancy.

 

 

Meet Toni Desrosiers, Founder and CEO of Abeego and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards TELUS Trailblazer Award Finalist

 

Toni Desrosiers

Founder and CEO, Abeego

Finalist, TELUS Trailblazer Award, CENTRAL

 

In 2008, Toni Desrosiers was looking for a natural way to store her food — and ended up discovering a way to disrupt the fully mature, billion-dollar industry of plastic wrap. Through extensive experimentation (and looking to lemon peels, cheese rinds and onion skins for inspiration) she developed Abeego Wrap, the first breathable, reusable, beeswax food wrap. It aims to “keep food alive” by protecting it from air, light, and moisture while allowing it to breathe — so it remains fresher longer than airtight plastic wrap. The self-adhesive wrap can last over a year with proper care (hand washed with cold water).

 

My first job ever was… not a regular job. I started multiple businesses and my most successful childhood business was a yard maintenance company which I ran with my friend Ricki when we were nine years old.

 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… it’s the work that aligns best to my natural big picture, innovative and inventive thinking style.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… inventing beeswax food wrap resulting in a new category of food storage that is trending around the world.

 

My boldest move to date was… to force myself to overcome my fear of public speaking by immediately saying “yes” if anyone asked me to be a speaker.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… I never studied the properties of plastic wrap when I invented Abeego, instead I looked at lemon peels, cheese rinds and onion skins to develop food wrap that keeps food alive.   

 

My best advice to people looking to disrupt the status quo is… don’t study the model you are trying to disrupt too closely because you might unknowingly incorporate the same problems into your new idea.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… you don’t have ADHD and you’re not distracted. You’re a visionary and your unique entrepreneurial thinking style is valuable.

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be... National Geographic Explorer, Elizabeth Lindsay. Her statement, “When an elder dies a library is burned and libraries throughout the world are ablaze” motivates me every day.

 

“There are many problems to solve and for an inventor like me that means endless opportunities.”

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… it’s all building to something bigger than you anticipated. Keep moving.

 

My biggest setback was… making the heart wrenching and critical decision to lay off almost my entire team two weeks before they went on Christmas holidays after a particularly tough winter season.

 

I overcame it by… surrounding myself by radically generous women who helped me get up emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually to come back stronger than ever. My sincerest thanks to all SheEO Activators that had my back.  

 

I never go a day without… telling my daughter that I love her to the moon and back.

 

The last book I read was… Meaningful by Bernadette Jiwa.

 

I stay inspired by… looking at every problem as an opportunity in disguise.

 

The future excites me because… there are many problems to solve and for an inventor like me that means endless opportunities.

 

 

Meet Heather Modlin, Provincial Director of Key Assets Newfoundland and Labrador and 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards Social Change Award Finalist

 

Heather Modlin

Provincial Director, Key Assets Newfoundland and Labrador

Finalist, Social Change Award, EAST

 

Heather Modlin established Key Assets Newfoundland and Labrador (KANL) in 2009 to provide therapeutic family-based care (foster care). Their mandate has since expanded; in partnership with government, KANL offers residential care and support services to young people and families with complex needs, as well as working to influence policy and practice. Creating safe, nurturing, therapeutic environments designed to facilitate growth and development for children and youth with emotional, behavioural and mental health issues, KANL is helping those who are unable to successfully reside in a traditional foster home.

 

My first job ever was… at McDonald’s. I started there as a crew member when I was 16 (I loved working drive-thru) and stayed until I finished university at 22. I developed my work ethic at McDonald’s. During my time there I was promoted to Crew Chief, Training Coordinator, and Swing Manager. And I was Provincial French Fry Champion in 1982 ☺

 

I chose my career path because… I have been interested in working with “emotionally disturbed” children since I was 10 years old and read the book A Circle of Children by Mary McCracken. Originally I planned on becoming a child psychologist and did an undergraduate degree in psychology. My first job upon graduation was in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. This was my introduction to residential care and I was hooked.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… it’s not really my accomplishment, but I am most proud of my daughter Sam. She is 31 years old, well educated, a successful business owner, and a kind, thoughtful person with a social conscience.

 

My boldest move to date was… leaving my last job, after 18 years, to start Key Assets.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… I used to be extremely shy. And still am, in some situations.

 

My best advice to people starting their business is… be patient and persistent.

 

My best advice from a mentor was…  have received so much valuable advice from so many mentors! One thing that sticks with me, from a former professor, is that having a healthy organizational culture does not mean that there will never be problems in the organization – that is not possible. Rather, the sign of a healthy organization is that it can withstand problems without having them rock the entire organization. In dysfunctional organizations, on the other hand, problems tend to shape the culture. I always remind myself of this whenever we are dealing with difficult situations.

 

“Stop worrying about what others think of you, and stop being so hard on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect to be okay.”

 

If I could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, it would be… any of my mentors and colleagues from around the world. I am very lucky to be surrounded by so many intelligent and interesting people.

 

I would tell my 20-year old self… stop worrying about what others think of you, and stop being so hard on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect to be okay.

 

My biggest setback was… when we first started Key Assets in Newfoundland and Labrador, it took a long time (over 4 years) before we were approved by government to provide family-based care. There were moments when it felt like it would never happen and it was difficult not to get discouraged by the lack of progress.

 

I overcame it by… responding to the needs that existed in the community at the time, and being flexible in our service delivery. And staying positive.

 

The last book I read wasEducated by Tara Westover – it was fantastic! I am a bit of a bookworm – I usually read at least 2-3 books a week.

 

I stay inspired by… going to work. I am inspired daily by our staff, carers and young people. The obstacles they have to overcome to sometimes just make it through the day, and the strength and resilience they display, is incredible. I am also connected to many amazing people in the child and youth care field and through Key Assets International, and they inspire me with their ongoing commitment to improving the lives of young people, families and communities.

 

The future excites me because… there is so much left to do.

 

My next step is… continue to grow, learn, and get better.