Meet Tyg Davison, a former model and founder of CITIZEN AGENCY.

Tyg Davidson

Tyg Davison is a former model and founder of CITIZEN AGENCY, a full-service model and talent management agency based out of Toronto. With a modelling career spanning over a decade, Tyg has worked closely with some of the world’s most prestigious and revered designers, like Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs, and has shot campaigns for brands like Miu Miu, Maison Martin Margiela, Zara, Saint Laurent, Adidas Y-3, and Rick Owens. After gaining invaluable experience and perspective as a model, Tyg wanted to manage and empower the next generation of models and founded CITIZEN. 

 

My first job ever was… at 15 years old, assisting the Recreational Director of a retirement home. I helped facilitate the activities for seniors living there which was so much fun. I made wise friends, always eager to impart advice, listened to Elvis CDs on repeat, and learned how to play Blackjack from a fiery group of women. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… although starting a company comes with risks, I feel so much more secure and confident in my life and in myself by building something that I am responsible for and rely on. 

As a model travelling alone internationally, I became independent very quickly at a young age. I was represented by many modeling agencies around the world, but I was self-employed. It is a misconception that models are employed by modeling agencies. When I took my first position as an agent with an agency as a full-time employee in Canada, I realized how much I missed the feeling of building something with my vision that I can shape and take ownership of — and also making my own schedule!

I founded CITIZEN AGENCY because… after having modelled for a decade and then working as an agent, I had the rare opportunity of experiencing both sides of the business. I saw so much room for change and evolution in the way models are managed in the industry. I truly believe that to properly represent models, to protect them, to empower them, and to teach them everything they need to know, you need to have lived that experience. 

“I truly believe that to properly represent models, to protect them, to empower them, and to teach them everything they need to know, you need to have lived that experience.”

I’m passionate about creating opportunities for the future generation of models and talent because… I say it often, but modelling changed the course of my life. It brings me such a sense of accomplishment and joy being able to facilitate that for others. It’s a difficult industry to navigate, but with the right team of agents behind you, it teaches you so much about yourself and how to navigate the world with independence and confidence. 

An international modelling career forces you outside of your comfort zone, immerses you in new cultures, challenges you with language barriers, and introduces you to talented people you would have otherwise never crossed paths with. I am so passionate about creating those special moments for others.

One of the most important things I learned about myself during my time as a model is… that I can do hard things. It’s a simple statement, but even now when I’m faced with a difficult situation, I say to myself, “you can do hard things” over and over. I will get through it — whatever it is, it will pass. 

There’s so much rejection in the fashion industry that I learned not to internalize as a model, people to stand up to, uncertainties and lessons to learn, and I had to take care of myself as a self-employed teen girl travelling alone.

My proudest accomplishment is… My proudest accomplishment has been developing a roster of models and talent who really are beautiful humans — inside and out. I feel like I’ve connected with everyone I represent and am so grateful to each of them for trusting me with their management. I’m really quite proud and humbled that they chose CITIZEN so early on in the agency’s story.  

My biggest setback was… My biggest setback so far has only been financial. Money does not buy happiness, but it does buy opportunity! I started modelling when I lived in a women’s shelter with my mother and sister, and it sent me across the world. I’m so passionate about what I do and am committed to making it work because I wholeheartedly believe it will. However, bootstrapping every business move on your own sometimes makes you move at a slower pace you’d like. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… Don’t give up! I think deep down, we know if it’s going to work or not. If your idea or company is all you can see yourself doing in life, then it’s worth the risk. I often ask myself, “if I don’t do this, will the 99 year old me regret not trying?” Also, surround yourself with people who inspire you and support you. 

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… “Just relax.” 

The thing I love most about what I do is… The fact that there are no two days that look alike. I’m dealing with different people every day. All creatives, all inspired to collaborate, all interesting humans I feel fortunate to meet.

“I think deep down, we know if it’s going to work or not. If your idea or company is all you can see yourself doing in life, then it’s worth the risk.”

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… The reason I am where I am today is because of the people I have in my life. My partner is so incredibly supportive and pushed me to start CITIZEN AGENCY regardless of the uncertainty. I am beyond fortunate to have had someone so encouraging enter my life. He is exactly what I — and CITIZEN — needed. My family has cheered me on at every step and celebrated my growth. My friends have loved me through every doubt and dread. I am held up by my circle, and I owe everything to them. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… If you Google me, you’ll come across interviews in several different languages and good and bad photos of me in various states of undress, so it’s hard to come up with something that can’t be Googled! I suppose there are stories behind each of them: stories of hilarity, frustration, and often, absolute chaos! Those stories definitely can’t be Googled. 

I stay inspired by… Creating new opportunities and watching people grow, and it’s not just for the people I represent, but also for the community. I serve as a council member for Covenant House in Toronto, which I hold near and dear to my heart. Having stayed in a women’s shelter as a young teen myself, it’s so important for me to contribute ideas to an incredible organization like Covenant House for youth experiencing homelessness. 

The future excites me because… The future excites me because I work in an industry that is constantly evolving. I have so many ideas that I want to introduce not only in my agency, but the fashion industry here in Canada as a whole — but who knows what the industry will look like, even in the next year? That’s the exciting part, the inspiring part, the scary part. 

My next step is… My next step is a surprise. It’s phase two of CITIZEN AGENCY that I can’t wait to start working on when the time is right.

Meet Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland, an award-winning social and environmental justice activist.

Jackie Bouvier Copeland

Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland is an award-winning multidisciplinary innovator, educator, artist, and activist. She is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund (WISE), an organization that facilitates a network and connects donors and social financiers to underfunded activists, technological innovators and other stakeholders invested in finding solutions to the environmental crisis. In addition to her work with WISE, Dr. Copeland has also founded Black Philanthropy Month, an initiative dedicated to celebrating and raising awareness around Black giving and philanthropic efforts. Recognized as a HistoryMaker and included in the Congressional Record for her civic contributions, Dr. Copeland has been working in the social and environmental justice space for 40 years, with her work efforts reaching at least 20 million people. 

 

My first job ever was… My very first job was as an administrative assistant with the Navy in the Naval Aviation Engineering Services Unit at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, specifically in its Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance Unit. It was a great introduction to the good, bad, and ugly of the work world, and it was part of the Mayor’s summer youth employment program.  

I became interested in pursuing social and environmental justice as part of my work because… I lived through many injustices starting in childhood. I always wanted to do what I could so that people in my community, the nation, and the world did not have to suffer these same challenges. 

I founded The Women Invested to Save Earth (WISE) Fund because… Innovators from all backgrounds can help us address the most compelling challenges facing our community in the world; unfortunately, women and people of color only receive one to two percent on average of philanthropy and investment support for their nonprofits and their businesses. 

My hope with The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund is that we can create a new model for how all innovators, regardless of background, can be supported for their merit, qualifications, and the potential their innovations have to address social issues and the climate change challenge facing our entire world. 

I created Black Philanthropy Month becauseI created Black Philanthropy Month 20 years ago for several reasons: to celebrate and raise public awareness that giving is written into the DNA of every Black culture worldwide; to educate about innovative, diverse forms of Black giving; to build global Black unity and community impact through collective giving; and lastly, especially as of 2020, to promote fair access to all forms of private capital for economic justice — the last frontier of Black civil, racial, liberation movements. 

Black Philanthropy Month advances a global movement to advance Black giving and social finance innovation in all forms for the betterment of our communities everywhere and the planet we share for all people.

“I have absolutely no doubt that I have done my best to be good in the world.”

My proudest accomplishment is… Being a mother and supporting the development of my now 32-year-old child, an accomplished artist and activist. Also, I’m proud of my leadership role in my family and my community. I am blessed to be recognized as a HistoryMaker for my 40 years of civic contributions, including my early contributions to Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance initiative, as well as Black Philanthropy Month, Reunity, and now WISE founder. It is also a miracle that, with much support, I launched my first album, Blachant, as both executive producer and singer-songwriter — an almost lost personal goal.  

My biggest setback was… There have been many setbacks, but I think of life in terms of overcoming. Poverty, dramatic family troubles, workplace discrimination, and health challenges are a part of my story, but I’ve been blessed to overcome these challenges and grow through difficult experiences too. I’m still here, thriving, leading, and serving with my joy and faith intact, stronger than ever.  

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… I’m much better at it now, but the one piece of advice I definitely have trouble following is to care for myself while caring for others. I work harder now to live with “radical self-care,” although that’s still a work in progress. Becoming a master life coach now helps, as it encourages me to be a better self-care role model.  

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… If I had an extra hour in a day, I’d spend it hiking, praying, meditating in nature, catching up with loved ones, writing fiction, poetry, and songs, or creating my wellness movement practice.

The thing I love most about what I do is… I have absolutely no doubt that I have done my best to be good in the world. I can document it. I can almost count the number of communities and people I’ve touched. What motivates me and partly why I think I’m on the planet is to do my utmost to heal people, society, the planet we share, and in the process, myself.  

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a certified Zumba instructor and a global Black home chef. I’ve even won awards for my African Soul Collard Greens, mixing how I learned to cook low country cuisine with West African cooking. Dancing and cooking for friends are two of my favorite social activities. 

The future excites me because… Even in the midst of struggle, we all need to find ways to hold on to joy. I stay inspired by the challenges we face and the prospect of making life better for many people today and for future generations. My faith, life purpose, and stories of past and present social justice leaders gives me inspiration and strength. The future is daunting but inspiring because we have many opportunities to create a better world for all — together.

This Smith graduate’s non-linear career path led to her becoming a Deloitte consultant — with a ‘human-first’ approach.

Chloe O’Brien

By Hailey Eisen

 

Chloe O’Brien’s career path has been anything but ordinary. But her varied experiences have prepared her well for her current role as a senior consultant at Deloitte, where she is fusing business acumen with her art and design background to deliver human-centric solutions for complex problems in our post-pandemic world.

It’s a far cry from her original career dream of being a pilot. 

“I grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia, a town with 9,000 people, in a very conservative religious home,” Chloe recalls. “I was homeschooled until Grade 10, and one of the only experiences we had outside of the church was going to the local air show with our parents.” 

When funding fell through the week before she was to start flight school, Chloe was forced to re-evaluate. She took a year and a half off and worked at a local clothing store while she reconsidered her path for post-secondary education. 

“In the two years I’d been in high school, I had become really interested in the arts. I loved ceramics, I was obsessed with architecture, and I could draw really well,” she recalls. The decision to attend NSCAD University made a lot of sense.

“While I was a generalist in terms of my focus, I became really interested in conceptual photography, how the photographer can make an impact on the way people perceive a topic or issue based on the art they create,” she says. 

With student loans to pay off, Chloe took a job with CIBC out of university and simultaneously started her own business as a wedding photographer. “I did feel conflicted leaving an incredible degree with a focus on conceptual art to take up work in commercial art — but wedding photography was highly lucrative and I was good at it.” 

“Travel made me a more independent person — it sparked my curiosity and taught me to lean into my fear.”

A few years later, she circled back to her desire to travel and decided to seek out opportunities that would give her the opportunity to see more of the world. “I had never had the means to leave North America, so I decided to look to the travel industry for work.” For the next six years, Chloe worked in the field in a number of roles, including marketing, sales and business development, and travelled to more than 30 countries. 

“Travel made me a more independent person — it sparked my curiosity and taught me to lean into my fear. Those lessons really helped when it came time to make my next pivot,” she says. 

Ready for more of a challenge, a friend – who happened to be an alumni of Smith School of Business at Queen’s University – posed the idea of an MBA and put her in touch with the school.

For Chloe, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) was the most challenging part of the MBA process. “Being a more creative-minded, less numbers-focused person, I found the quantitative portion of the test really hard.” 

Chloe wrote the GMAT four times, in hopes of getting a score high enough to earn her a significant scholarship for the one-year Smith MBA. When that didn’t pan out, she wrote the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and was accepted into the program for a January 2019 start.

“I quit my job two weeks before starting the MBA and moved to Kingston from Toronto where I’d been working up until then,” she recalls. “I loved the small city, student-focused feeling of Kingston and the team-based focus of the Smith MBA.” 

Being one of only two students with a Fine Arts degree made Chloe an anomaly in the program, but also worked to her advantage. “I would say I was able to bring more innovation and design thinking to my team and was able to bring a unique perspective to our projects.” 

While she did find the quantitative side of the program challenging and had to dedicate extra time and effort to economics and finance, it certainly didn’t stop her from being successful. The program’s teaching style also helped a great deal. “Queen’s has many exceptional faculty members who draw upon experiential learning and other best practices to create engaging classes,” she says. 

“We are looking at re-skilling, up-skilling, and re-evaluating the employee experience — in order to attract and retain top talent in a post-pandemic world.”

Even today, Chloe is drawing upon some of those lessons in her current role with Deloitte working as a human capital and workforce transformation professional.

Her international exchange experience at Copenhagen Business School during her MBA has also yielded transferable knowledge and skills. “I loved studying in a country where environmental sustainability is an objective at all levels of community, business, and government — and the human-first approach to work is built into the culture,” she says. 

Chloe began her new job with Deloitte from home in the middle of the pandemic, in an area that would prove to be needed more than ever. Workforce transformation was a growing service within the company, and the team has nearly doubled since Chloe came on board. 

“We are looking at re-skilling, up-skilling, and re-evaluating the employee experience — in order to attract and retain top talent in a post-pandemic world. I’ve been helping clients strategize and think through enormous problems that have surfaced because of the pandemic, especially in remote learning,” she says. 

With Deloitte’s new hybrid work model, Chloe – an employee of Deloitte’s Toronto office – has been able to move to Ottawa with her partner and work remotely. “I don’t know what consulting was like before, but since I’ve started, it’s been the best experience and there’s been a focus on wellness and balance which really excites me.” 

Flexibility, well-being and a human-centred focus is not only something Chloe helps her clients achieve, but something she’s experiencing first-hand as an employee of Deloitte. “I have this meaningful career, complex and challenging problems to work on, a team I absolutely love, and the support from the organization to focus on personal well-being.” This is something she witnessed first-hand in the Scandinavian countries she lived and studied in, and quite likely, is one of the positives that has come about as a result of the pandemic.

“COVID is certainly pushing workforce transformation, and advancing a human-centred approach to solving complex challenges for Canadian organizations,” she says. “It’s a future I’m really excited about.”

Nicole McLaren développe sa boîte d’abonnement axée sur les autochtones – et aide ses fournisseurs à prendre de l’expansion en même temps.

Nicole Mclaren

Lorsque Nicole McLaren a créé son petit club de lecture sur son lieu de travail, au sein d’une grande société minière de Vancouver, son objectif était de faire participer ses collègues à la réconciliation en utilisant la littérature pour les sensibiliser aux effets dévastateurs des pensionnats sur les peuples autochtones du Canada, ainsi qu’aux problèmes de société actuels.

Nicole, qui a des origines mixtes et des racines autochtones, s’est concentrée sur les auteurs autochtones pour aider ses collègues à mieux comprendre les choses. Réalisant qu’elle voulait toucher un public plus large que celui d’une seule entreprise, Nicole a créé l’entreprise Raven Reads, une boîte d’abonnement à des articles cadeaux et à des livres autochtones. En 2017, elle a lancé son entreprise depuis sa table de sa cuisine en ayant quelques abonnés seulement – et un objectif d’inspirer, d’éduquer et de créer un espace sûr pour le dialogue.

Aujourd’hui, les choses sont bien différentes. Grâce aux milliers d’abonnés et à sa portée beaucoup plus large, Nicole a pu transformer une activité secondaire en une entreprise florissante, ce qui lui a fourni des conseils précieux à transmettre. Elle agit maintenant à titre de mentor et de coach pour sa vaste chaîne d’approvisionnement d’entreprises appartenant à des Autochtones. Nicole élargit même ses activités pour y inclure des activités d’exécution des commandes. 

J’ai rencontré Nicole pour en apprendre davantage sur l’entreprise Raven Reads et sur sa mission permanente visant à soutenir et à renforcer l’économie autochtone en restant fidèle à ses valeurs et en travaillant en étroite collaboration avec sa vaste chaîne d’approvisionnement et ses investisseurs. 

 

Je sais qu’il n’est pas facile de transformer un projet qui nous passionne en une entreprise commerciale prospère. Pouvez-vous me parler des débuts de Raven Reads et de la façon dont vous avez commencé?

En arrivant dans le monde des boîtes d’abonnement, je me suis sentie un peu en retard. La plupart des grosses pointures ont démarré vers 2006 et 2007, mais aucune entreprise ne se concentrait sur les livres ou les articles cadeaux autochtones. À l’époque, je devais faire un trajet de quatre heures en bus et en train. J’ai donc augmenté mes données et passé tout ce temps à faire des recherches sur les boîtes d’abonnement et à rédiger un plan d’affaires. 

De plus, je me suis abonnée à d’autres boîtes et j’ai tout analysé – la qualité de la boîte, l’épaisseur du carton, le nombre d’articles et la façon dont ils étaient expédiés. J’ai ensuite demandé l’aide de l’entreprise Small Business BC pour résumer mes projections financières, laquelle m’a aidée à accéder à des fonds de démarrage par l’entremise d’une institution financière autochtone locale, Futurpreneur Canada, et de BDC. 

En septembre 2017, j’ai fait un prélancement, et lors du Cyberlundi, j’ai été interviewée par l’émission Unreserved de la CBC Radio. Du jour au lendemain, nous sommes passés de 20 à 200 abonnés. 

À cette époque, vous aviez une idée très précise – une boîte d’abonnement contenant un livre et deux cadeaux par période – et maintenant, vous travaillez pour encadrer, soutenir et promouvoir votre propre chaîne d’approvisionnement d’entreprises appartenant à des Autochtones. L’entreprise a-t-elle évolué dans cette direction de manière organique?

L’entreprise Raven Reads, qui représentait au début la quintessence de la boîte à outils pour la réconciliation, s’est transformée en une plateforme destinée à promouvoir les auteurs et les entrepreneurs autochtones, et ce changement s’est fait de manière organique. 

J’ai toujours été consciente du risque de me heurter à un mur en matière de capacités de fabrication des fournisseurs. Les fournisseurs ne manquaient certainement pas, et bon nombre d’entre eux faisaient preuve d’une plus grande créativité dans leurs offres. Cependant, il y a environ deux ans, j’ai commencé à réfléchir à la possibilité de développer une intégration plus verticale tout le long de la chaîne d’approvisionnement. Il s’agissait d’une approche de gestion des risques. Au cours des 18 derniers mois, nous avons examiné la façon de mettre en place un système plus intégré qui soutiendra les fournisseurs et nous aidera à diversifier et à faire croître notre entreprise. 

En ce qui concerne l’encadrement, nous aidons nos fournisseurs sur le plan des pratiques exemplaires pour la croissance, de la vente en gros, de l’expédition et de l’emballage, entre autres choses. Certains de nos fournisseurs sont devenus des amis proches, et nous essayons également de leur proposer des idées concernant les produits. Par exemple, SheNative est une créatrice et fabricante d’articles de maroquinerie qui est située à Saskatoon, et nous travaillons actuellement avec elle en vue d’élaborer un produit personnalisé qui sera exclusif à Raven Reads. Je suis toujours à la recherche d’occasions de collaboration comme celle-ci. 

“Du point de vue du consommateur, nous offrons certainement un moyen pratique d’accéder à des produits authentiques. Je sais qu’au cours de la dernière année, on a pris conscience de l’importance de vérifier l’origine des produits et de savoir qui les produit.”

Je suppose que les consommateurs utilisent votre boîte d’abonnement comme un moyen d’en apprendre davantage sur les entreprises et les produits appartenant à des Autochtones. Pouvez-vous surveiller le comportement des consommateurs pour voir si la boîte favorise la croissance des ventes de vos fournisseurs?

Nous sommes en train d’examiner la façon dont nous pourrions surveiller la boucle de rétroaction. Ce mois-ci, nous inclurons dans la boîte un code de réduction unique pour chacun de nos fournisseurs. Ainsi, si vous aimez quelque chose qui se trouve dans la boîte de ce mois-ci, vous pourrez utiliser le code pour acheter d’autres produits sur le site Web, et nous pourrons commencer à faire le suivi des ventes de manière plus quantitative. Nous savons que nous contribuons à faire connaître les marques et les auteurs autochtones. 

Du point de vue du consommateur, nous offrons certainement un moyen pratique d’accéder à des produits authentiques. Je sais qu’au cours de la dernière année, on a pris conscience de l’importance de vérifier l’origine des produits et de savoir qui les produit. Nous fournissons cette transparence afin que nos abonnés sachent qu’ils peuvent faire confiance aux produits que nous offrons. 

De nombreuses organisations lancent des programmes de diversité des fournisseurs dans le cadre de leur engagement à l’égard de la diversité, de l’équité et de l’inclusion. Pensez-vous que ces programmes pourraient avoir un impact? 

Je pense certainement que ces programmes pourraient avoir un impact. Toutefois, d’après les observations que j’ai faites en travaillant avec d’autres femmes autochtones essentiellement au Canada, je constate un certain fossé entre l’offre et la demande en ce qui concerne les programmes de diversité des fournisseurs. 

De nombreux fournisseurs souhaitent y participer, mais il y a un retard dans les mesures d’orientation et de soutien qui sont mises en place pour leur permettre de fabriquer des produits susceptibles d’être demandés par un grand nombre de ces programmes. De plus, si un fournisseur a un produit susceptible d’entrer dans cette catégorie, il ne disposera peut-être pas de la capacité de fabrication ou du capital requis afin de produire les quantités nécessaires pour passer les commandes. 

Selon vous, quelle est la solution à ce problème?

Il faudra davantage de financement. Il existe beaucoup de financement pour aider les gens à démarrer leur entreprise, mais je vois beaucoup de collègues et de fournisseurs qui sont en situation d’attente. Ils ne peuvent pas profiter de ces possibilités de mise à l’échelle massive en raison du manque de capitaux pour obtenir le matériel nécessaire à cette fin, ou parce que la perturbation de la chaîne d’approvisionnement entrave leur capacité à obtenir des matériaux d’emballage ou des matières premières. Par conséquent, ils sont sollicités par les acheteurs qui veulent obtenir différentes choses, mais ils doivent refuser leurs demandes. 

Je sais que vous avez obtenu des fonds dès le début, y compris de BDC, pour lancer Raven Reads. Avez-vous éprouvé des difficultés à trouver d’autres sources de financement pour votre entreprise?

À mon avis, il est beaucoup plus facile de trouver des fonds de démarrage. Lorsque vous êtes en phase de croissance, vous devez prendre des décisions importantes quant à vos besoins de financement et au type de financement le mieux adapté à ces besoins. 

Pour moi, l’examen des options dilutives a été une grande courbe d’apprentissage – c’est quelque chose que je ne connais pas très bien. Selon mon expérience, l’investissement en actions est encore assez nouveau pour les femmes autochtones propriétaires de petites entreprises. L’idée de renoncer à une partie de ce que l’on possède peut être assez intimidante. Plus vous en verrez, plus ce sera facile pour vous et moins vous aurez peur. Le fait de se mettre au travail et d’apprendre comment cela fonctionne constitue un investissement en temps. 

“En tant que propriétaire d’une marque axée sur les impacts, je recherche des investisseurs axés sur les impacts, des partenaires qui cadrent avec nos valeurs.”

Je comprends que vous êtes actuellement à la recherche d’une autre ronde de financement. Quelles sont les prochaines étapes pour Raven Reads en termes de plans de croissance?

Nous étudions actuellement la manière d’assurer l’expansion de l’entreprise Raven Reads. Nous avons des exigences opérationnelles, et nous devons innover et nous améliorer afin d’y répondre. La pandémie nous a finalement obligés à quitter notre sous-sol en octobre dernier, et nous avons déménagé dans un entrepôt – lequel est déjà devenu trop petit pour nous. 

Nous avons un plan de croissance ambitieux pour Raven Reads afin d’occuper une plus grande place sur le marché nord-américain du commerce électronique par abonnement. En même temps, nous cherchons également à lancer un réseau logistique entièrement intégré pour les marques autochtones et les autres marques sous-représentées de l’Ouest canadien. Ce réseau comprendra un entrepôt de 100 000 pieds carrés, une fabrication en sous-traitance, et une entreprise de logistique ici en Colombie-Britannique. Il est donc certain que nous avons des besoins en capitaux importants. 

De mon côté, je tente de mobiliser des fonds simultanément pour ces deux aspects. Nous voulons pouvoir répondre aux besoins de Raven Reads et de ses fournisseurs en matière de logistique et d’exécution des commandes, tout en proposant une composante de fabrication en sous-traitance qui permettrait aux clients de confier la production de leurs produits à une entreprise appartenant à des femmes autochtones. Cela leur permettrait de produire des quantités plus importantes et de pouvoir ainsi tirer parti des commandes des grands détaillants. 

En tant que propriétaire d’une marque axée sur les impacts, je recherche des investisseurs axés sur les impacts, des partenaires qui cadrent avec nos valeurs. 

Grâce à votre entreprise, vous êtes devenue mentor pour de nombreuses autres femmes entrepreneurs autochtones. Quels conseils leur donnez-vous généralement lorsque vous les encadrez?

J’ai l’impression que les femmes entrepreneurs autochtones ont tendance à être timides lorsqu’il s’agit de formuler leurs objectifs les plus ambitieux, que ce soit en raison de leur culture ou de la façon dont elles ont été élevées. Elles hésitent à dire « Je voudrais créer une entreprise de plusieurs millions de dollars », et le fait de parler de « sorties » peut aussi les rendre mal à l’aise. Je les encourage donc à être plus transparentes, à planifier leur croissance et à accepter d’être des propriétaires d’entreprises ambitieuses. Je trouve également que bon nombre d’entre nous cherchent à offrir une vaste gamme de produits, et mon conseil serait de ne pas trop vous éparpiller en ce qui concerne la diversité de votre offre de produits. Vous devriez plutôt vous concentrer sur l’établissement d’une offre de produits de base et de le faire vraiment bien.

En parlant d’une offre de produits de base, votre engagement à présenter des livres en tant que principale composante d’une boîte d’abonnement de Raven Reads s’est-il affaibli au fil du temps? Je suis également curieux de savoir comment vous choisissez les livres et les auteurs à présenter. 

Le livre demeure le fondement de Raven Reads car il permet d’apporter un apprentissage concret et d’accroître la sensibilisation. J’ai lancé la boîte dans la foulée de la publication des rapports de la Commission de vérité et réconciliation, et l’appel à l’action a été immédiat. Le livre de Tanya Talaga intitulé Seven Fallen Feathers est le premier que nous avons choisi, car il s’agissait d’un livre essentiel pour lancer le projet. Depuis ce temps, nous n’avons pas choisi beaucoup d’œuvres non romanesques. Nous recherchons toujours des livres qui ont été publiés au cours des 90 derniers jours afin d’éliminer le risque qu’ils aient déjà été achetés, et nous essayons de rester à l’affût des nouveautés des auteurs autochtones canadiens et américains. 

Pour les personnes qui commencent leur aventure dans la littérature autochtone, quels sont les cinq livres les plus importants que vous leur recommandez de lire en premier?

Mon étagère est remplie de livres que je recommande, mais les cinq livres suivants sont particulièrement bouleversants. In Search of April Raintree de Béatrice Mosionier, Indian Horse de Richard Wagamese, Birdie de Tracey Lindberg, The Break de Katherena Vermette. Et, bien sûr, Seven Fallen Feathers, que je recommande toujours comme un bon point de départ. 

Nicole McLaren is scaling her Indigenous-focused subscription box — and helping to grow her suppliers along with it.

Nicole Mclaren

When Nicole McLaren began her small workplace book club in a large mining company in Vancouver, her goal was to engage her co-workers in reconciliation — using literature to educate them on the devastating impact residential schools had on Indigenous people in Canada, and the societal issues present today.

Nicole, who is of mixed heritage and Indigenous roots, focused on Indigenous authors to help her co-workers gain understanding. Realizing she wanted to reach more broadly than one company, Nicole developed Raven Reads, an Indigenous literature and giftware subscription box. She launched from her kitchen table in 2017 with just a handful of subscribers — and an aim to inspire, educate, and create a safe space for dialogue.

Today things look quite different. With thousands of subscribers and a much broader reach, her experience growing a side-hustle into a thriving venture has provided her with invaluable advice to share. Nicole has become a coach and mentor to her vast supply chain of Indigenous-owned businesses. She’s even expanding into fulfilment operations. 

I sat down with Nicole to learn more about Raven Reads and her on-going mission to support and elevate the Indigenous economy by staying true to her values and working closely with her extensive supply chain and investors. 

 

I know it’s not easy to turn a passion project into a successful business venture. Can you tell me about the early days of Raven Reads and how you got your start?

Coming into the subscription box world, I felt a bit late to the game. Most of the heavy hitters got their start around 2006 and 2007, but there was nothing with a focus on Indigenous books or giftware. I had a four-hour commute by bus and train at the time, so I jacked up my data and spent all of that time researching subscription boxes and writing a business plan. 

I subscribed to other boxes and analyzed everything — the quality of the box, the thickness of the cardboard, the number of items, and the way they were shipped. I then sought help from Small Business BC to wrap up my financial projections, and they helped me access start-up funds through a local Aboriginal financial institution, Futurpreneur Canada, and BDC. 

I did a soft launch in September 2017, and on Cyber Monday I was interviewed by CBC Radio’s Unreserved. We went from 20 subscribers to 200 overnight. 

At that time it was still a very focused idea — a subscription box with one book and two gifts per season — and now you’re doing work to coach, support, and promote your own supply chain of Indigenous-owned businesses. Did the business evolve in that direction organically?

Raven Reads started as the quintessential reconciliation toolkit and it has evolved into a platform for amplifying Indigenous authors and entrepreneurs — and that shift was organic. 

I was always aware of the risk that I would hit a bit of a wall in terms of suppliers’ manufacturing capabilities. There was certainly no shortage of suppliers out there, and many were getting more creative with their offerings, but about two years ago I started to think about integrating more vertically throughout the supply chain. It was a risk management approach. What we’ve been examining over the past year and a half is how do we build out a more integrated system that supports suppliers and supports us to grow and diversify. 

In terms of coaching, we help our suppliers with best practices for growth, wholesale, shipping and packaging, among other things. Some of our suppliers have become close friends and we try to offer suggestions on product ideas as well. One example, SheNative, is a leather goods designer and manufacturer from Saskatoon and we’ve actually been working with her on a custom product that will be exclusive to Raven Reads. I’m always looking for collaborative opportunities like this. 

“From the consumer perspective, we certainly offer a convenient path to accessing authentic products. I know over the past year there’s been a heightened sense of fact checking where products come from and who is actually behind them.”

I imagine consumers use your subscription box as a way to learn more about Indigenous-owned businesses and products. Are you able to track consumer behaviour to see if the box drives sales for your suppliers?

We are in the process of looking at how we can track the feedback loop. This month we’ll be including a unique discount code for each of our suppliers in the box. So, if you like something in this month’s box, you can use the code to buy more goods from their website, and we’ll be able to start tracking sales in a more quantitative way. We do know that we are helping to raise awareness of Indigenous brands and authors. 

From the consumer perspective, we certainly offer a convenient path to accessing authentic products. I know over the past year there’s been a heightened sense of fact checking where products come from and who is actually behind them. We offer that transparency, so our subscribers know they can trust the products we include to be authentic. 

Many organizations are launching supplier diversity programs as part of their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Do you see these programs making an impact? 

Certainly, I can see these programs making an impact — but in my observations of working with other Indigenous women primarily across Canada, I see a bit of a gap between supply and demand when it comes to supplier diversity programs. 

There are a lot of suppliers keen to participate, but there’s a lag in terms of guiding and supporting them to be manufacturing products that are likely to be in demand by a lot of these programs. And, if they do have a product that’s likely to fall into scope, they may not have manufacturing capability or capital to produce in volumes needed to take on the quantity required to make the purchase orders.  

What do you see as the solution for this?

What’s needed is more funding. There’s a lot of funding to get people started, but I see a lot of colleagues and suppliers who are in a holding pattern. They can’t take advantage of these massive scaling opportunities because of the lack of capital to get the necessary equipment to do that, or because supply chain disruption is hindering their ability to get packaging or raw materials. So they’re getting approached by buyers for various things and having to turn them down. 

I know you accessed funding early on, including some from BDC, to launch Raven Reads. Have you faced challenges getting funding beyond that?

It’s much easier to find start-up funds, in my opinion. When you’re in the growth stage, you have to make some big decisions around what you need the funding for and what type of funding would be best for that type of need. 

For me, looking at dilutive options has been a big learning curve — it’s something I don’t know much about. In my experience, equity investment is still fairly new to Indigenous women small business owners. The idea of giving up a piece of something you own can be quite intimidating. The more you see out there, the easier it will be and it will become a little less scary. It’s an investment of time to put yourself out there and learn in order to find out how it works. 

“As an impact driven brand, I’m looking for impact-driven investors, partners who are aligned with our values.”

I understand you’re currently looking to raise another round of funding. What’s next for Raven Reads in terms of plans for growth?

We are currently looking at how to scale Raven Reads. We have operational demands and we need to innovate and improve in order to meet those. The pandemic did finally force us out of my basement last October, and we moved into a warehouse — which we’ve already outgrown. 

We have an ambitious growth plan for Raven Reads to take up a bigger space in the North American subscription e-commerce market. In the same breath, we are also looking to launch a fully-integrated logistics network for Indigenous and other underrepresented brands from Western Canada, which will include a 100,000 square foot warehouse, contract manufacturing, and logistics venture here in BC. So, we definitely have big capital needs. 

What I’m doing is simultaneously raising funds for both. What we want to be able to do is support the logistics and fulfilment needs of Raven Reads as well as our suppliers, while also offering the component of contract manufacturing that would allow clients to outsource their product production to an Indigenous-owned, women-owned business. This would make it possible for them to produce higher volumes and therefore be able to capitalize on purchase orders from major retailers. 

As an impact driven brand, I’m looking for impact-driven investors, partners who are aligned with our values. 

Through your business you’ve become a mentor to many other Indigenous women entrepreneurs. What advice do you typically share when coaching them?

I feel like Indigenous women entrepreneurs, whether it’s cultural or the way we are raised, tend to be shy about articulating our most ambitious goals. There’s a hesitancy to say, ‘I want to build a multi-million-dollar business’ and talking about exits can also feel awkward. So, I encourage them to be more transparent, to plan for growth, and to come to terms with being ambitious business owners. I also find many of us chase broad product offerings, and my advice would be to not spread yourself too thin in terms of the diversity of your offering — to instead focus on establishing a core product offering and doing that really well.

Speaking of core product offering, has your commitment to featuring books as the main component of a Raven Reads box wavered over time? Also, I’m curious, how do you go about choosing books and authors to feature? 

The book is still the foundation of Raven Reads, because that’s where the concrete learning and awareness building happens. When I launched the box, it was on the heels of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports, and the call to action was immediate. We went with Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga as our first book because it was a critical book to kick things off. We have not done a lot of non-fiction since. We always look for books that have been released in the last 90 days to help eliminate the risk that they’ve already been purchased, and we try to stay ahead of what’s coming up from Canadian and American Indigenous authors. 

For those beginning their Indigenous literature journey, what are the top five books you’d recommend people start with?

My bookshelf is filled with books I’d recommend, but these five are especially poignant. In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier, Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, The Break by Katherena Vermette. And, of course, Seven Fallen Feathers, which I always recommend as a good place to start.  

Canada’s first zero-waste grocery store founder offers simple tips to make your shopping more eco-friendly.

Brianne Miller

Brianne Miller’s zero-waste journey began several years ago when she was working in ocean conservation as a marine biologist. Faced with the dramatic impact plastic pollution was having on the animals she was studying, she felt helpless in her role and decided to shift her career path to counter all the “doom and gloom.” 

What began with a few pop-ups and farmers’ market stalls morphed into Nada, Canada’s first full-service, package-free, responsibly-sourced grocery store. Located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Nada is also a thriving community hub that promotes education and activism. 

Brianne is extremely well versed in conscious consumerism and how to take steps toward reducing waste and leaving a smaller footprint on the planet — from less packaging to more meal-planning. She sat down with us to share surprisingly simple and often overlooked tips to help you get started on your own zero-waste journey.  

Your career in marine biology inspired your transition to founding a zero-waste grocery store and community hub. Can you share a bit more on how you decided on the issues of plastic, packaging, and food waste as the ones you wanted to tackle?

In my decade working as a research scientist and marine mammal biologist, I was fortunate to do a lot of travel and work in remote field sites. It quickly became apparent just how global and widespread the plastic pollution problem was. For me, the start of this journey began when I saw the direct impact plastic pollution was having on the endangered species I was studying. Over time, I’ve learned a lot more. I dove into understanding our industrial food systems and their impact on oceans, from shipping noise, to agricultural runoff, to marine debris. 

How did you come up with the idea for Nada?

I had started personally trying to reduce my waste and carbon footprint and was finding that while it was possible to make strides in other areas of my life, doing it with food was next to impossible. There were so many items you couldn’t get package-free, and you definitely couldn’t do all of your shopping in one place. That was my impetus to create this type of store. 

Nada was started to address the plastic pollution issue and quickly morphed, along with our commitment, to focus on creating a more just, equitable, and regenerative food system — while keeping in mind climate action in the decisions we make. Soon we were having a much more holistic conversation about our food system and were making commitments around our sourcing criteria and the companies we chose to work with. And our goal was always to make this type of shopping easy and more accessible to our customers.

How does zero-waste shopping work exactly?  

First off, the myths people tend to believe about zero waste shopping is that it’s expensive, pretentious, and unavailable to the vast majority of people. Our mission is to dispel these myths. This starts with understanding that you don’t need to go out and buy a whole bunch of expensive containers. We encourage our customers to use upcycled containers when they’re shopping. Think hummus containers, yoghurt tubs, and tomato sauce jars that are cleaned out and ready to use again. 

For us, anything that can be used again and kept out of the landfill one or more times is a big win. That’s where cost-savings also begin. When you’re buying spaghetti sauce in the grocery store, you’re paying for that heavy glass jar, not just the product within it. In our store, people weigh their containers and pay only for the cost of the products themselves. While people can pay a deposit fee for a reusable container, we are finding that 95% of our products are going out the door in upcycled containers — both from in-store and online sales. 

What if you don’t have a store like Nada in your community? Where can people do their shopping to reduce waste?

While these stores are starting to pop up across the country, there are lots of things you can do even if you don’t have access to a zero-waste store. The first is shopping the bulk bins at your local grocery store and bringing your own containers or reusable bags. Also, many stores will support people bringing their own containers or bags for produce purchases as well. I also recommend shopping at farmers’ markets, which is a great way to support the local supply chain. Many farmers’ market vendors will take back things like egg containers and re-use them. 

Beyond changing how you shop, what would you say is the most important first step in making conscious choices around grocery consumption? 

I believe the most important thing people can do, which is very much the mission of our company, is to learn more about where your food comes from. Start by understanding how your food is grown and produced, who is growing it, how it’s getting to you, how it’s transported, and what happens to it if it’s not consumed. There are a few resources I like to recommend: the first is the podcast, How to Save a Planet, and the other is Project Drawdown. Education is a key part of this journey. 

Plastic pollution inspired your own journey. In terms of reducing an individual’s carbon footprint, is packaging and plastic the most important thing to begin with?

No. I would actually say the best thing people can do is ensure they are using all the food they buy. The food waste conversation is a much bigger and more important conversation in the grand scheme of things. It starts with meal planning, and only buying what you are going to use. Spend time thinking about how you store your produce so it lasts longer, how to cook with leftovers, how to make sure you’re saving and preserving anything that could go bad by freezing it or chopping it into soups. Repurpose ugly or bruised fruits and veggies into sauces or smoothies. The reality is, 25% of the food consumers bring home is lost to food waste or surplus food. We want to prevent, all the time, energy and resources that go into food growth and production from being wasted. 

As a retailer, we know there are many barriers when it comes to removing waste from the food supply chain, which is why we choose to support vendors who prioritize sustainability in their packaging choices, product design, and raw ingredient sourcing. And we as a store are committed to producing little to no food waste and have achieved a food diversion rate of less than 1%. The only things that go to compost in our store are things like banana peels and avocado skins. 

That’s really interesting and something that’s probably often overlooked. What other efforts can help? 

The next most important thing, I would say, is buying local. From a carbon footprint perspective choosing local growers that focus on organic, regenerative agriculture is way more important than what the food is sold in. If your food is traveling from a short distance, even if it’s in some sort of packaging, it’s going to be a much better option than buying something package-free that’s being flown halfway across the world to get to your grocery store. 

How has your life changed since starting this journey professionally? Do you always walk the talk at home? 

I’m definitely still learning as well and incorporating new ideas all the time. I do eat a vegan diet, mostly local. And my biggest thing is trying not to buy anything new, that’s one of the best things you can do for the planet. That’s a principle I live by and practice when running Nada as well. I buy second-hand clothing and my entire house is furnished with second hand furniture. Our store is also made of all repurposed materials as well — from the wood to the fixtures, we didn’t buy anything new.  

There’s a lot to think about here. Any final advice?

What I’d like people to start thinking about going forward is how they can translate their individual actions into collective actions. A lot of us are now taking individual steps, and that’s wonderful, but the reality is we are so tight on time to tackle this climate change issue that we really need more people engaged. It’s things like, if you’re trying to reduce food waste at home, can you convince your workplace to do the same? If you work in a hospital, can you get involved in conversations around waste and sustainability? Can you work with your apartment building to do more? To be honest, it doesn’t matter as much which actions you take, as long as they bring you joy. If it’s something you’re passionate about, then that’s the most important thing. Combine something that makes you happy with your skillset and begin there.

Comment les personnes inspirantes peuvent contribuer à la réussite d’une carrière, quel que soit le secteur d’activité.

Indira Moudi

De nombreux entrepreneurs acquièrent les connaissances dont ils ont besoin pour lancer leur entreprise en travaillant d’abord sur le terrain pour quelqu’un d’autre. Indira Moudi, une cliente de longue date de BDC, a pris un chemin très différent. Elle a mené des carrières couronnées de succès en entreprise et en tant qu’entrepreneure, dans deux secteurs très différents. 

Diplômée en génie industriel de Polytechnique Montréal, Indira a commencé sa carrière comme ingénieure sur le terrain dans le secteur de l’énergie. Elle a ensuite gravi les échelons jusqu’à des postes de direction, pour finalement devenir présidente régionale de Baker Hughes, l’une des plus grandes entreprises de services pétroliers au monde. Au cours de ses 20 ans de carrière dans le secteur de l’énergie, elle a vécu et travaillé dans le monde entier, notamment en Afrique occidentale et centrale, en Europe, aux États-Unis, au Canada et en Inde. 

La suite de sa carrière l’a conduite à Shawinigan, au Québec – à deux heures de route au nord de Montréal, ou au sud de la ville de Québec – où elle s’est installée pour diriger Viandes Lafrance, une entreprise de transformation alimentaire qu’elle a acquise en 2012 avec son mari, le Dr Guillaume Pham. Indira est présidente et directrice générale de l’entreprise, dans un secteur d’activité qui présente une similitude notable avec le secteur de l’énergie : ces deux industries sont majoritairement dirigées par des hommes.  

Indira a travaillé dur pour changer cela, à la fois comme modèle et comme leader. Elle a contribué au recrutement et à la promotion de jeunes ingénieures et techniciennes dans le domaine de l’énergie et, dans sa propre entreprise, elle a délibérément fait en sorte que son personnel compte 20 % de femmes. 

Elle m’a récemment rencontrée pour me parler de son histoire hors du commun et des modèles qui ont contribué à façonner son propre parcours professionnel, l’inspirant à relever de nouveaux défis, à apprendre de nouvelles choses et à apporter son appui aux autres en cours de route. 

 

Il est fascinant de constater que vous êtes passée du statut de cadre international dans le secteur de l’énergie à celui de propriétaire d’une PME de transformation alimentaire en pleine campagne québécoise. Comment cette transition s’est-elle faite?

À 18 ans, j’ai dit à ma mère que je posséderai ma propre entreprise, et c’est la principale raison pour laquelle j’ai étudié le génie industriel à Polytechnique de Montréal. Il n’est pas surprenant qu’après avoir travaillé pendant cinq à six ans pour une société, j’ai envisagé de diriger ma propre entreprise.  Au début, je me voyais bien à la tête d’une entreprise en démarrage. En 2004, tout en travaillant à plein temps, j’ai lancé African Suppliers, qui fournissait aux entreprises africaines une expertise en matière de contrôle de la qualité, de ressources humaines et de gestion de projet. J’ai constaté que les choses n’allaient pas assez vite pour moi, et j’ai réalisé qu’en acquérant une entreprise existante, je pouvais m’y mettre directement et avancer plus rapidement. 

En 2008, j’ai commencé à rechercher activement des occasions d’affaires. Je suis venue au Canada avec mon mari, et nous avons visité une quinzaine d’entreprises de la Mauricie, au Québec, par le biais de la SADC (Société d’aide au développement des collectivités). J’avais décidé de fonder une famille dans la quarantaine, et mon mari et moi voulions avoir nos enfants au Canada. Je n’avais pas d’exigences particulières sur le secteur; je ne voulais rien de trop petit, et je voulais quelque chose qui me mette au défi. 

Après des années de recherche, l’occasion s’est présentée en 2012 avec cette entreprise familiale qui était en bonne santé financière et qui avait des propriétaires compétents. Le marché de la production de viande était en pleine croissance et, bien que nous ne connaissions rien à l’industrie agroalimentaire, nous étions convaincus que c’était une occasion à saisir. Nous nous sommes vraiment bien entendus avec le propriétaire de l’entreprise, dont nous sommes d’ailleurs encore très proches aujourd’hui, et nous lui avons fait une offre.

« En réalité, cela a été l’une des années les plus chargées de ma vie. Au cours de cette année, j’ai donné naissance à mon premier enfant, j’ai acquis la société et j’ai commencé à occuper un poste de direction en tant que présidente régionale de Baker Hughes en Afrique centrale. »

Alors, c’était tout? Vous avez quitté le secteur de l’énergie pour vous consacrer à plein temps à Viandes Lafrance?

En réalité, cela a été l’une des années les plus chargées de ma vie. Au cours de cette année, j’ai donné naissance à mon premier enfant, j’ai acquis la société et j’ai commencé à occuper un poste de direction en tant que présidente régionale de Baker Hughes en Afrique centrale. Dans le secteur de l’énergie, ce poste chez Baker Hughes représentait l’un des sommets de ma carrière, et il m’était impossible de le refuser. Mon mari m’a dit : « Ma chère, tu es une femme de carrière, accepte ce travail et je m’occuperai de l’entreprise ». Nous avons donc mené ces deux activités en parallèle pendant quelques années.

Pendant cette année, nous avons eu beaucoup de choses à faire, et honnêtement, je n’aurais pas pu le faire sans l’aide de ma famille. Mes parents, tous deux médecins récemment à la retraite, m’ont aidée en prenant soin du bébé pendant que j’allais travailler. J’ai vu ma mère travailler et élever une famille, et je savais que je pouvais faire les deux, grâce au merveilleux modèle que j’avais en elle. En fait, mes deux parents ont toujours été des modèles pour moi.

C’est merveilleux de pouvoir grandir avec des modèles forts dans son propre foyer. En dehors de cet équilibre entre carrière et éducation, y a-t-il d’autres choses que vous avez apprises d’eux et qui ont influencé votre propre parcours?

Tout à fait. Je suis née en Algérie, je suis deuxième de trois filles et j’ai été élevée dans huit pays différents. Ce n’est que lorsque j’ai eu 16 ans que mes sœurs et moi nous sommes installées à Montréal, mais mes parents ont continué à voyager pour leur travail. J’avais des racines dans tellement de pays différents que je n’ai jamais eu peur de me déplacer, de relever de nouveaux défis, d’apprendre de nouvelles choses partout où j’allais, ou d’embrasser la diversité.  

Mes parents ont tous deux joué un rôle de premier plan dans leur carrière. Ils ont compris mon dynamisme et mon ambition et m’ont soutenu tout au long de mon parcours. Cela a eu un impact certain. Le premier emploi que j’ai occupé était un poste d’ingénieure de terrain au Nigéria pour Schlumberger, une entreprise multinationale de technologie travaillant dans le secteur du pétrole et du gaz, et trois ans plus tard, j’ai obtenu un poste de direction au Gabon. 

Ma fille aînée étudie l’ingénierie et je trouve surprenant de voir aussi peu de femmes inscrites dans ce programme, encore aujourd’hui. J’imagine que lorsque vous avez commencé, à la fin des années 1990 et au début des années 2000, le secteur était encore plus dominé par les hommes? 

Oui, mais le secteur mondial de l’énergie était très conscient de la nécessité d’attirer davantage de diversité. Le secteur en particulier était en plein essor, et Schlumberger était très avant-gardiste en matière de recrutement et de formation des femmes. En fait, en 2002, on m’a demandé de travailler au service des RH de Schlumberger, dans le domaine du recrutement, avec pour mission de rechercher davantage de personnes comme moi. Ce poste m’a conduit à Paris, où j’ai rencontré mon compagnon de vie, et pendant ces années, j’ai pu engager, avec mon équipe de 12 recruteurs, plus de 3 000 nouvelles recrues par an pour l’entreprise. 

C’est impressionnant! J’imagine qu’avec votre propre succès, vous étiez un modèle très inspirant pour les femmes qu’ils espéraient attirer.  

Oui, et j’ai senti qu’il était de mon devoir d’être ce modèle. Au cours de ma carrière dans le secteur de l’énergie, de nombreuses personnes ont participé à l’avancement des femmes leaders, puis c’était à notre tour de faire de plus grandes choses, d’aider d’autres femmes à progresser et d’être des modèles pour la prochaine génération de femmes dans le secteur.

« Chez Lafrance, nous avons non seulement augmenté la représentation des femmes dans nos effectifs à 20 %, mais nous sommes également passés d’une seule nationalité dans l’entreprise au début, à 12 aujourd’hui. »

Qu’en est-il dans votre rôle actuel, dans un autre secteur dominé par les hommes? 

C’est le même dévouement qui m’anime. En tant que femme et membre d’une minorité à Shawinigan, je crois qu’il est de ma responsabilité d’ouvrir la voie aux autres. Je ne suis pas arrivée là où j’en suis aujourd’hui sans aide ni soutien, et plus j’aide et encadre les autres, plus je me sens épanouie. Qu’il s’agisse d’aider les filles de mes amis qui poursuivent des études d’ingénieur, d’encadrer mon équipe à Lafrance ou de participer à des groupes d’experts ou à des événements, je consacre toujours du temps aux autres. 

Et cela va au-delà du genre. Chez Lafrance, nous avons non seulement augmenté la représentation des femmes dans nos effectifs à 20 %, mais nous sommes également passés d’une seule nationalité dans l’entreprise au début, à 12 aujourd’hui. Pourtant, notre effectif compte seulement 40 personnes. Je peux vous dire que la création d’une entreprise diversifiée n’est pas une mince affaire. Trouver les bonnes personnes et faire en sorte que tout le monde se comprenne et travaille ensemble demande du courage et de la patience, mais c’est la bonne voie vers la prospérité et l’inclusion.  

Compte tenu de votre expérience, quels conseils donnez-vous aux autres femmes qui souhaitent emprunter une voie similaire à la vôtre? 

Le conseil que je donne aux autres femmes est le même que celui que je donne à mes propres enfants : lorsque vous tombez, relevez-vous et allez de l’avant, avec courage et résilience. Rêvez en grand et poursuivez votre rêve. 

Je crois aussi qu’il est important que les femmes sachent que le temps de l’épuisement est révolu. J’ai pu mener toute cette carrière sans m’épuiser, et c’est parce que j’ai pris le temps de prendre soin de moi, à la fois physiquement et mentalement. Je demande de l’aide et j’accepte de l’aide, car aucun de nous ne peut y arriver seul. En particulier, si vous souhaitez vous concentrer sur votre carrière, fonder une famille et élever un enfant, il est essentiel de disposer de l’aide et du soutien adéquats. 

En tant que femme de carrière et mère, je tiens à exprimer une autre réflexion sur la maternité : nous ne sommes pas mères uniquement pour avoir donné naissance, mais aussi lorsque nous nous occupons d’enfants. Beaucoup d’enfants dans ce monde ont des parents qui sont absents de leur vie quotidienne, pour quelque raison que ce soit; pour moi, c’est une grâce d’avoir des neveux, des filleuls, des enfants de la famille ou d’amis dont nous pouvons nous occuper et qui nous considèrent comme leurs mères ou leurs tantes. Dans certaines cultures africaines ou indiennes, par exemple, il est très naturel d’élever un enfant qui ne vous appartient pas. Si au cours de notre carrière de femme, nous ne pouvons pas donner naissance à un enfant pour une raison quelconque, la possibilité de s’occuper d’autres enfants est vraiment une source d’épanouissement. Mon père a toujours dit que nous ne sommes pas uniquement le fruit de l’éducation de nos parents, mais aussi de la contribution de nos professeurs, de nos voisins et de la communauté qui nous entoure. Il faut un village pour élever un enfant.   

J’ai consciemment choisi d’avoir des enfants à la quarantaine parce que je voulais me concentrer sur le développement de ma carrière, et aussi parce que je voulais être en mesure de consacrer du temps de qualité à nos enfants. Mon père disait toujours : « Voyage loin, mais fais-le tant que tu es jeune. » Et il avait raison. Plus récemment, j’ai été heureuse de pouvoir ralentir un peu le rythme, de diriger Lafrance ici au Québec et d’élever nos deux enfants. Le prochain chapitre de ma vie consistera à redonner, à partager mon expertise en tant que leader mondiale et à inspirer la prochaine génération. Nous devons laisser un monde meilleur à nos enfants, et cela se fera en montrant l’exemple tout en étant responsable.

How role models can help shape a successful career — regardless of the industry.

Indira Moudi

Many entrepreneurs gain the knowledge they need to launch their business by first working in the field for someone else. Indira Moudi, a long-time client of BDC, took a very different path. She has had very successful corporate and entrepreneurial careers —in two wildly different industries. 

Graduating with an Industrial Engineering degree from Polytechnique Montréal, Indira started as a field engineer in oil and gas and worked her way up into executive roles, ultimately becoming a regional president with Baker Hughes, one of the world’s largest oil field services companies. During her 20-year career in the energy sector, she lived and worked all over the world, including cities in West and Central Africa, Europe, the United States, Canada, and India. 

Her next chapter brought her to Shawinigan, Quebec — a 2-hour drive north of Montreal, or south of Quebec city — where she settled in to run Viandes Lafrance, a food processing business she acquired in 2012 with her husband, Dr. Guillaume Pham. Indira is CEO and chair of the business, which does share one notable similarity with the energy sector:  both industries are dominated by men.  

Indira has worked hard to change that — as a role model and a leader. She helped to recruit and advance young women engineers and technicians in the energy field,  and with her own business, she’s purposefully built up her workforce to be 20% women. 

She joined me recently to talk about her unique story, and the role models that helped shape her own career journey — inspiring her to take on new challenges, learn new things, and support others along the way. 

 

It’s fascinating that you went from being a globetrotting executive in the energy industry to the owner of a food processing SME  in the Quebec countryside. How did that transition happen?

At 18 years old, I told my mother that I will own my own company, and this is the main reason for studying Industrial Engineering at Polytechnique of Montréal. It’s no surprise that after five to six years of working for a corporation, I had been thinking about running my own company.  At first, I thought I’d like to have a start-up. In 2004, while working full time, I launched African Suppliers, which provided expertise in Quality Control, HR, and Project Management to African companies. What I found was that things weren’t going fast enough for me, and I realized that by acquiring an existing company, I could jump right in and get going more quickly. 

In 2008, I actively started looking for business opportunities. I came to Canada with my husband, and we visited about 15 companies in the Mauricie Region in Québec, through the SADC (Société d’aide au développement des collectivités). I had decided that I wanted to have kids in my 40s, and my husband and I wanted to have our kids in Canada. I knew I wasn’t picky about the sector; I didn’t want anything too small, and I wanted something that would challenge me. 

After years of looking, the opportunity came up in 2012 for this family business that was in good financial health with competent owners. The market — meat production — was growing, and while we didn’t know anything about the agri-food industry, we felt really good about the opportunity. We really hit it off with the company’s owner, who we are still very close with today, and we made an offer.

“That was one of the busiest years of my life. In the span of that year, I gave birth to my first child, acquired the company, and started in an executive role as President of Central Africa with Baker Hughes.”

So, was that it? You left the energy sector  behind and started to run Viandes Lafrance full time?

Actually, no. That was one of the busiest years of my life. In the span of that year, I gave birth to my first child, acquired the company, and started in an executive role as President of Central Africa with Baker Hughes. In the energy sector, this job with Baker Hughes was one of the summits of my career, and it was impossible to turn it down. My husband said to me, ‘My dear, you are a career woman, take the job and I’ll run the business.’ So, we did that in parallel for a few years.

During that year we had a lot on the go, and I honestly couldn’t have done it without the help of my family. My parents, both young, retired medical doctors, helped me with the baby while I went to work. I have seen my mum  working and raising a family, and I knew I could do both, thanks to the wonderful role model I had in her. Both my parents, in fact, have always been role models to me.

It’s wonderful to be able to grow up with strong role models in your own home. Outside of seeing that balance of career and parenting, are there other things you learned from them that impacted your own path?

Absolutely. I was born in Algeria, the second of three daughters, but I was raised in eight different countries. It wasn’t until I was 16 that my sisters and I settled in Montreal — but my parents continued to travel for work. I had roots in so many different countries that I was never afraid to move around, taking on new challenges, learning new things wherever I went, or embracing diversity.  

My parents both had leadership roles in their careers. They understood my drive and ambition and supported me along the way. That definitely had an impact. My first job was as a field engineer in Nigeria with Schlumberger, a multinational tech company working in the oil and gas sector — and within three years, I had moved into a managing role in Gabon. 

My oldest daughter is studying Engineering and I’m surprised by how few women are in the program, even today. I can imagine when you were starting out, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was even more male-dominated? 

Yes, but the global energy sector was very conscious about the need to attract more diversity into the field. The sector in particular was booming, and Schlumberger was quite forward thinking when it came to recruiting and training women. In fact, in 2002, I was sought out to work in Schlumberger’s HR department in recruiting, with a mandate of looking for more people like me. That job took me to Paris —where I did meet my life partner — and during those years, I was able to hire, with my team of 12 recruiters, more than 3,000 new recruits a year for the company. 

“During my career in the energy sector, there were many people helping move women leaders forward, and then it was our turn to do greater things — to develop other women and be role models for the next generation of women in the industry.”

That’s impressive! I imagine with your own success, you were a very relatable role model for the women they were hoping to attract.  

Yes, and I felt it was my duty to be that role model. During my career in the energy sector, there were many people helping move women leaders forward, and then it was our turn to do greater things — to develop other women and be role models for the next generation of women in the industry.

What about in your current role, in yet another industry dominated by men? 

I have the same dedication. As a woman and a minority in Shawinigan, I believe it’s my responsibility to pave the way for others. I didn’t get to where I’m at today without help and support, and the more I help and mentor others, the more fulfilled I feel. From helping daughters of my friends who are pursuing an education in engineering, to mentoring my team at Lafrance, or participating on panels or in events, I’m always giving time to others. 

And it goes beyond gender. At Lafrance, we have not only increased the representation of women in our workforce to 20%, but we also went from one nationality in the company when we started, to 12 today — and we only have a staff of 40 people. I can tell you that creating a diverse company isn’t the easy path — finding the right people and getting everyone to understand each other and work together takes courage and patience — but it’s been the right move towards prosperity and inclusion.  

With all your experience, what advice do you offer other women who want to follow you on a similar path? 

The advice I offer other women is the same advice I give my own kids — when you fall down, stand back up and move on, with courage and resilience. Dream big and go after your dream. 

Also, I believe it’s important for women to know that the time for burnout is over. I’ve been able to have this whole career without burnout, and that’s because I’ve taken time to take care of myself — physically and mentally. I ask for help and accept help, because none of us can do this on our own. Especially if you want to focus on your career, have a family, and raise a child, having the right help and support in place is essential. 

As a career woman and mother, another thought I want to share on motherhood is this:  We are moms not because we gave birth, but because we take care of children. Many children in this world have parents that are absent from their daily lives, for whatever reason; for me, it is a grace to have nephews, godchildren, and family or friends’ children that we can take care of, who consider us mothers or aunts. In some African or Indian cultures, for example, it is very natural to raise a kid that does not belong to you. If during our career as women, we cannot give birth for whatever reason, the avenue of taking care of other children is really fulfilling in life. My father has always said that we are not made only from our parents, but with the help of our teachers, neighbors, and community. It takes a village to raise a child.   

I consciously chose to have kids in my 40s because I wanted to focus on building a career, and also I wanted to be in a position to give quality time to our kids. My dad always said, ‘Travel far, but do it while you’re young.’ And he was right. Most recently, I’ve been happy to slow down a bit, to run Lafrance here in Québec, and raise our two children. My next chapter is all about giving back, sharing my expertise as a global leader, and inspiring the upcoming generation. We must leave a better world for our kids, and this will be done by leading by example while being responsible.

Sarah White puise dans son courage pour conduire le changement et être elle-même authentique.

Sarah White

On dit souvent qu’il faut du courage pour être entrepreneur, mais je pense que c’est plus compliqué que cela. Après avoir travaillé pendant près de 27 ans auprès d’entrepreneurs à BDC, j’ai appris que chaque personne avait sa propre définition du mot courage. 

Parfois, il s’agit du courage d’un innovateur qui lance une idée inédite n’ayant jamais été éprouvée jusqu’ici dans le monde. D’autres fois, il s’agit de la capacité à faire face à n’importe quel obstacle et à le transformer en une occasion de croissance. Il arrive aussi qu’un entrepreneur doive faire preuve de courage pour être simplement lui-même et bâtir son entreprise comme il l’entend (un problème pour de nombreux propriétaires d’entreprises sous-représentés – problème que mon équipe et moi aidons à résoudre). 

Il est rare que ces trois définitions s’appliquent, mais c’est le cas pour Sarah White et Denise Taschereau, cofondatrices de Fairware. Au cours des 16 dernières années, elles ont fait de leur entreprise de Vancouver, qui a démarré dans le garage de Sarah, le premier fournisseur nord-américain de produits promotionnels durables et éthiques.

Non seulement Sarah et Denise ont maintenu leur engagement ferme pris dès le début quant à l’impact sur l’environnement et la communauté (elles possèdent la certification B Corporation [BCorp] depuis des années), mais elles se sont également inspirées de leurs propres difficultés en tant que petite entreprise appartenant à des membres de la communauté queer, qui plus est à des femmes, pour orienter leurs politiques d’entreprise. Elles ont délibérément mis en place une équipe diversifiée et surtout, une culture qui encourage à être soi-même au travail. 

J’ai rencontré Sarah pour qu’elle nous parle de son parcours personnel et entrepreneurial, notamment de son engagement permanent en faveur de l’approvisionnement éthique et des pratiques commerciales durables, de l’importance qu’elle accorde aux objectifs ainsi qu’à la diversité et à l’inclusion, et de sa capacité à survivre et à prospérer en période d’incertitude. Sarah est une force à ne pas négliger. Elle s’est engagée, avant tout, à se servir du monde des affaires pour faire le bien. 

Laura : Lorsque vous et Denise avez lancé Fairware en 2005, l’accent mis sur la durabilité et la volonté d’améliorer le monde par le biais des affaires était une idée relativement nouvelle. Comment vous est-elle venue?

Sarah : Fairware a vu le jour parce que mon amie Denise, qui est désormais ma partenaire commerciale et qui travaillait à l’époque comme Directrice, développement durable et relations communautaires à MEC dans le domaine de la durabilité et de l’approvisionnement éthique, avait constaté que de nombreuses marques de qualité offraient des cadeaux publicitaires fabriqués dans des conditions suspectes. À cette époque, le sujet de la responsabilité sociale des entreprises commençait à être abordé dans la presse et un peu partout dans le monde, et il y avait un décalage avec ces grandes marques qui distribuaient des produits inconvenants. C’est de cette constatation qu’est née l’idée de Fairware. 

« Notre objectif a toujours été d’aligner nos valeurs d’entreprise sur nos valeurs personnelles. »

Laura : Comment l’idée a-t-elle été reçue à l’époque? Comment vous êtes-vous aperçues que les choses évoluaient? Je suppose que les entreprises sont aujourd’hui plus ouvertes à parler des pratiques durables. 

Sarah : Si le développement durable est aujourd’hui bien plus ancré dans les esprits, ce n’était certainement pas le cas à l’époque. Dès le départ, lorsque nous prenions le téléphone pour appeler un fournisseur potentiel, nous lui disions « nous aimerions discuter de l’origine de vos produits », et souvent, on nous raccrochait au nez. 

Au fil des ans, cette conversation a considérablement évolué. Nous avons commencé avec la conformité et la sécurité des produits, puis nous nous sommes intéressées aux droits des travailleurs et à l’impact environnemental. Depuis quelques années, nous discutons avec d’autres distributeurs de l’antiracisme et de la justice sociale. Nous discutons avec les fournisseurs d’emballages durables d’une représentation diversifiée dans les catalogues. Ce que nous vivons aujourd’hui est en net contraste avec la situation qui prévalait au début de notre parcours entrepreneurial. 

Aujourd’hui, nous allons également au-delà de notre chaîne d’approvisionnement traditionnelle pour travailler avec des entreprises qui ont un impact – des entreprises à vocation sociale, souvent locales, appartenant à des entités issues de la diversité – qui n’auraient pas autrement la capacité de répondre à de grosses commandes d’entreprise. Nous consultons ces entreprises pour les aider à fixer leurs prix et à renforcer leurs capacités afin qu’elles soient en mesure de créer des produits à notre intention. Ainsi, notre succès nous permet non seulement d’aider les autres à se développer, mais aussi de contribuer à construire un écosystème qui soutient nos convictions en matière de durabilité et d’équité.   

Franchement, si nous avons créé notre entreprise, ce n’est pas parce que nous aimons les babioles, mais parce que nous voulions faire bouger les choses. Notre objectif a toujours été d’aligner nos valeurs d’entreprise sur nos valeurs personnelles. 

Laura : Et je sais que cela s’applique non seulement à la façon dont vous faites affaire avec vos clients et vos fournisseurs, mais aussi à la manière dont vous avez façonné la culture d’entreprise de Fairware. Pouvez-vous nous dire en quoi vos valeurs personnelles et même vos expériences personnelles ont joué un rôle à cet égard?

Sarah : Je plaisante parfois en disant que j’ai créé une entreprise simplement pour pouvoir m’habiller comme je l’entendais et être en accord avec moi-même, mais franchement, je pense que c’est en grande partie la vérité. Donner le ton de l’acceptation et de l’inclusion confère un certain pouvoir, et en me montrant telle que je suis, j’espère encourager les autres à en faire de même. Pour vous donner une idée de la culture que nous avons créée, une année à Halloween, un de nos employés s’est habillé en tenue de travail, juste pour nous embêter. 

Mais être moi-même n’a pas toujours été facile. Étant de genre non conforme, j’ai souvent été mégenrée et confrontée à l’homophobie et à la misogynie, sous forme de micro-agressions. Alors que de nombreux membres de la communauté des entreprises progressistes se considèrent très au fait des questions d’antiracisme, de LGBTQ+, etc., nous nous sommes rendu compte cette année que la plupart d’entre nous ne l’étaient pas. Nous avons tous encore beaucoup à apprendre et à faire.  

Laura : Nous savons que de nombreux propriétaires d’entreprises LGBTQ+ cachent cet aspect de leur identité pour éviter les répercussions. À votre avis, qu’est-ce qui vous a donné le courage de faire preuve de tant d’ouverture et de transparence pour vous montrer comme vous êtes?

Sarah : Le parcours a été long. Je suis avec ma partenaire depuis 36 ans et j’ai deux enfants adultes. Avoir des enfants en tant que couple homosexuel était pour le moins avant-gardiste dans les années 1990. Je ne suis pas certaine d’avoir beaucoup changé depuis, mais j’hésite maintenant moins à être moi-même, je suis plus consciente des problèmes qu’éprouvent les personnes LGBTQ+ et j’en parle ouvertement. 

Toutefois, pour le bien de mes enfants, même à l’époque, je n’ai jamais cherché à dissimuler qui j’étais vraiment, même si c’était difficile pour eux d’avoir une maman qui ne ressemblait pas aux autres mamans. Si j’avais dû changer à l’époque, mes enfants en auraient conclu qu’il n’est pas acceptable d’être soi-même et que l’on doit se conformer pour ne gêner personne. De plus, certains d’entre nous n’ont pas d’autre choix que de s’accepter. Certaines personnes peuvent passer pour cisgenres, d’autres non. Je veux que les autres se reconnaissent en moi et sachent qu’eux aussi ont leur place dans le monde de l’entreprise. 

« Pour nous, la culture consiste à laisser les gens mettre leur propre diversité à contribution. »

Laura : Pouvez-vous indiquer aux propriétaires d’entreprise qui espèrent créer la même culture inclusive que la vôtre – y compris ceux qui n’ont pas vécu les mêmes expériences – quelques tactiques précises que vous avez utilisées pour harmoniser votre équipe avec vos valeurs?

Sarah : Pour nous, la culture consiste à laisser les gens mettre leur propre diversité à contribution. Bien que Denise et moi ayons toujours été des militantes – elle en politique, et moi dans le milieu communautaire – nous faisons de notre mieux pour ne pas engager des personnes comme nous. Nous encourageons tous ceux qui travaillent avec nous à intégrer leurs propres intérêts et passions à l’entreprise. Nous sommes également très transparentes sur notre site Web et dans nos offres d’emploi : si vous postulez pour travailler avec nous, vous rejoindrez un environnement de travail inclusif. Si cela ne vous convient pas, vous ne postulerez pas.

De plus, ce n’est pas parce que la durabilité est un sujet qui nous passionne, à Denise et à moi, qu’elle doit susciter le même degré d’intérêt chez nos employés. Lors d’un entretien d’embauche, nous posons la question suivante : « Sous quelle forme contribuez-vous au développement durable dans votre vie quotidienne? ». Si la réponse est : « Je recycle, mais je veux en savoir plus », cela nous suffit. Avant tout, nous recherchons des personnes ouvertes et intéressées. 

Lorsque nous accueillons de nouveaux employés, nous appliquons une pratique que j’ai apprise durant un atelier sur la réconciliation. Nous demandons au nouveau membre du personnel de donner son nom, son nom traditionnel s’il en a un, et son identité culturelle, ainsi que toute information à son sujet dont il souhaite faire part à l’équipe. Dans une entreprise comptant moins de 20 employés, on parle au moins 11 langues différentes. La diversité est incontestablement ancrée dans notre culture. 

Laura : Vous êtes également une société certifiée B Corporation, ce qui signifie que vous vous êtes engagées à créer un impact positif pour vos employés, ainsi que pour les communautés et l’environnement. Ce n’est pas chose facile, mais vous l’avez fait en 2010, en tant que l’un des membres fondateurs de la Canadian B Corp. Comment s’est déroulée cette expérience et pourquoi était-elle si importante pour vous?

Sarah : Au début, nous étions une petite entreprise dont l’équipe était restreinte. Nous nous sommes demandé si, étant donné que nous observions déjà ces pratiques de toute façon, nous disposions de la capacité ou du temps nécessaire pour nous soumettre au processus rigoureux d’obtention de cette certification. Mais à mesure que nous rencontrions des personnes du milieu des affaires de Vancouver qui avaient les mêmes idées que nous, nous avons commencé à comprendre qu’il ne s’agissait pas seulement de nous, mais de faire partie d’un mouvement qui utilise les entreprises comme une force pour faire le bien. 

L’obtention de la certification B Corp a contribué à structurer nos engagements, à nous responsabiliser et à nous montrer les points que nous devions améliorer. Aujourd’hui encore, cette certification nous pousse à aller plus loin, à réfléchir à des choses auxquelles nous n’aurions pas pensé autrement et à nous dépasser pour atteindre nos objectifs. Cela va de la gestion de la chaîne d’approvisionnement aux pratiques durables, en passant par la culture interne, les salaires, les engagements sociaux, et bien plus encore. 

Nous avons eu beaucoup de chance d’avoir BDC comme partenaire de financement, car non seulement vous nous avez fourni d’excellents conseils et services au fil des ans, ainsi que de l’aide pour renforcer nos capacités, mais vous avez vous-même obtenu la certification B Corp, ce qui signifie que nous avons encore plus de valeurs en commun. 

« L’obtention de la certification B Corp a contribué à structurer nos engagements, à nous responsabiliser et à nous montrer les points que nous devions améliorer. »

Laura : Je suis certaine que votre engagement à construire une entreprise basée sur des valeurs et une culture inclusive a joué un rôle primordial dans le succès de Fairware, mais qu’en est-il pendant les périodes difficiles? Comment avez-vous, vous et votre entreprise, vécu les 18 derniers mois d’incertitude engendrée par la pandémie? 

Sarah : En tant que jeune entreprise, nous avons survécu à la récession de 2008-2009, ce qui nous a donné un bonne idée du comportement à adopter pendant la pandémie de COVID-19. Lorsque la pandémie a frappé, nous venions de terminer une année durant laquelle nous avions engagé des dépenses importantes, ainsi qu’une rénovation majeure de nos bureaux. D’ailleurs, notre équipe de Vancouver avait été configurée pour travailler à distance en raison de cette rénovation, puis personne n’est revenu au bureau à cause de la COVID-19. 

Nous avons alors compris que nous avions très peu de marge de manœuvre; Nous savions que nous devions procéder à des mises à pied et que si nous tergiversions, nous pourrions perdre l’entreprise. Ce furent les moments les plus durs et les plus pénibles de notre vie. Nous avons dû licencier la moitié de notre effectif. Vous parlez d’un impact sur la culture. Heureusement, nous sommes restées proches de tout le monde et avons aidé ces gens à accéder à des ressources et à du soutien. Petit à petit, nous avons pu les réembaucher grâce aux subventions du gouvernement. 

Pendant la pandémie, comme vous le savez, de grandes questions sociales ont également surgi, notamment le mouvement Black Lives Matter et, plus récemment, la découverte de tombes non marquées d’enfants autochtones assassinés. Malgré tous ces événements, nous avons continué à parler, à travailler et à apprendre. Notre objectif et nos valeurs sont demeurés les mêmes. Nous nous réunissons quotidiennement en ligne et, petit à petit, les gens commencent à revenir au bureau.

Malgré les défis auxquels sont confrontés le monde des affaires et notre secteur, la COVID-19 a fourni à certaines entreprises une bonne occasion d’utiliser les budgets normalement alloués aux événements ou aux conférences pour montrer de la bienveillance à leurs employés en leur remettant des colis et des paniers, et nous avons pu les aider dans cette démarche. Nous sommes demeurés engagés à n’offrir que des produits et des cadeaux pratiques qui ne finiraient pas à la décharge, et nous avons mis au point un programme qui permet à une personne qui ne souhaite pas recevoir de cadeau de choisir de faire un don en son nom. 

Dans l’ensemble, nous en sommes sorties plus fortes et plus dévoués que jamais à notre mission. Et nous nous réjouissons de voir notre bureau nouvellement rénové, qui était trop calme, rempli de gens à nouveau.

Sarah White taps into her courage to drive change — and be her authentic self.

Sarah White

As Vice President, Client Diversity at BDC, Laura Didyk is leading the bank’s efforts to understand and address the challenges faced by underrepresented and underserved entrepreneurs — whether they be racialized, identify as women, identify as members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, be living with a disability, or exist within a combination of these identities. She’s sharing their journeys through conversations, and this month it’s with Sarah White, co-founder of Fairwaire, North America’s leading provider of sustainable, ethically sourced promotional products.

 

It is often said that being an entrepreneur takes courage — but I think that’s a bit of an oversimplification. After nearly 27 years of working with entrepreneurs at BDC, I’ve learned that courage tends to take on different meanings for each individual. 

Sometimes it’s the courage to be an innovator, bringing a new and unproven idea out into the world. Sometimes it’s the ability to face down any obstacle and turn it into an opportunity for growth. Sometimes it’s a courageous act by an entrepreneur to simply be their authentic self, and build their company their own way (an issue for many underrepresented business owners — one that me and my team are working on improving). 

Rarely is it all three, as is the case with Sarah White and Denise Taschereau, co-founders of Fairware. Over the past 16 years, they have built their Vancouver-based business — which got its start in Sarah’s garage — into North America’s leading provider of sustainable, ethically sourced promotional products.

Not only have Sarah and Denise maintained a steadfast commitment to environmental and community impact since day one (they’re a Certified B Corporation (BCorp) and have been for years) — but they’ve also tapped into their own struggles as a queer-owned, women-owned, small business to guide their corporate policies. They’ve intentionally built a diverse team and, more importantly, a culture where people are encouraged to bring their true selves to work. 

I sat down with Sarah to unpack her personal and entrepreneurial journey, including her ongoing commitment to ethical sourcing and sustainable business practices, her intense focus on purpose, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and her ability to survive and thrive during uncertain times. Sarah is a force to be reckoned with — committed, above all else, to use business as a force for good. 

Laura: When you and Denise launched Fairware in 2005, a focus on sustainability and bettering the world through business was relatively novel. How did the idea come about?

Sarah: Fairware started because my friend, and now business partner, Denise was the Director of Sustainability and Community at MEC in sustainability and ethical sourcing, and she found that many really good brands were giving away swag that was manufactured under suspect conditions. This was at the time that corporate social responsibility was bubbling up in the press and around the world, and the disconnect between good brands giving away bad stuff meant there was a gap — which was how the idea for Fairware was born. 

“To be honest, we started our business not because we love chachkies, but because we wanted to drive change. Our purpose was always to align our business values with our personal values.”

Laura: How was the idea received then? And how have you seen that evolve? I imagine companies today are more open to conversations around sustainable practices. 

Sarah: While sustainability is now much more embedded in the mainstream, it certainly wasn’t then. From day one we’d pick up the phone, call a potential supplier, and say, ‘we’d like to talk to you about where your products come from’ — and we were often hung up on. 

Over the years, that conversation has evolved significantly. It began with compliance and product safety, and moved into workers’ rights, environmental impact, and over the last few years, we’re now talking with other distributors about anti-racism and social justice. We are talking to suppliers about sustainable packaging and diverse representation in the catalogues. What we are seeing is night and day from the beginning of our entrepreneurial journey. 

Today, we are also reaching beyond our traditional supply chain to work with impact businesses — diverse-owned social enterprises that are often local — that wouldn’t otherwise have the capacity for large corporate orders. We consult with these companies to help them with pricing and capacity building so that they can create products for us. So, through our success, we’re not only lifting others up, we’re also helping to build an ecosystem that supports our beliefs on sustainability and equity.   

To be honest, we started our business not because we love chachkies, but because we wanted to drive change. Our purpose was always to align our business values with our personal values. 

Laura: And I know that applies not only to how you do business with your customers and suppliers, but also to how you’ve shaped the corporate culture at Fairware. Can you share a bit about how your personal values and even your personal experiences have played a role in that?

Sarah: I sometimes joke that I started a business just so that I could dress and be how I wanted to be — but honestly, there’s a lot of truth in that. There’s power in setting the tone of acceptance and inclusion, because when I show up as myself, I hope I make it easier for others to do the same. To give you a sense of the culture we’ve created, one Halloween, our staff dressed up in business attire just to bug us. 

But being my true self in the world hasn’t always been easy. Because I’m gender non-conforming, I’ve often been misgendered, and I’ve experienced homophobia and misogyny in the form of microaggressions. While a lot of folks in the progressive business community see themselves as up to speed with anti-racism, LGBTQ+ issues, etc., what we’ve learned this year is that most of us aren’t. Some of us have a ton of work and learning to do.  

Laura: We know that many LGBTQ+ business owners actively hide this aspect of their identity to avoid repercussions. What do you think gave you the courage to be open and transparent about who you are?

Sarah: That journey has been a long one. I’ve been with my partner for 36 years and I have two adult kids. Having kids as a gay couple in the 1990s was pretty trailblazing. I’m not sure I’ve actually changed too much since then, but I do have more courage now to be myself, I feel more aware of LGBTQ+ issues, and I openly speak out about them and myself. 

But for my kids’ sake, even back then, I never wanted to change who I was, even if it was tough for them having a mom that didn’t look like all the other moms. If I were to have changed then, I would have given my kids the message that it’s not okay to be who you really are, that you must conform for others’ comfort. Plus, some of us don’t have a choice but to embrace who we are. Some people can pass as cisgender, and others can’t. I want others to see themselves in me and know they too have a place in the corporate world. 

“For us, culture is about letting people bring their own diversity to the table. While Denise and I have always been activists — her in politics, and me in community work — we try our best not to hire people like us. We encourage everyone who works with us to bring their own interests and passions to the company.”

Laura: For business owners that hope to create the same inclusive corporate culture that you have — including those that don’t have the same lived experience to draw from — can you share a few specific tactics you’ve used to align your team and your values?

Sarah: For us, culture is about letting people bring their own diversity to the table. While Denise and I have always been activists — her in politics, and me in community work — we try our best not to hire people like us. We encourage everyone who works with us to bring their own interests and passions to the company. We’re also very transparent on our website and in our job postings that if you apply to work with us, you’ll be joining an inclusive work environment, and if that doesn’t resonate with you, you’re not going to apply.

Also, while Denise and I are both hugely passionate about sustainability, our employees don’t necessarily have to be. We’ll say in an interview, ‘how does sustainability show up in your life?’ and if the response is, ‘I recycle, but I want to learn more about it,’ that’s good enough for us. We want people who are open and interested, above all else. 

When we on-board new staff we have a practice that I borrowed from participating in a reconciliation workshop. We have the new staff member say their name, their traditional name if they have one, and how they identify culturally, plus anything else they want the team to know about them. In a company of fewer than 20 employees there are at least 11 different languages spoken. Diversity is unquestionably ingrained in our culture. 

Laura: You’re also a Certified B Corporation, which means you’ve committed to create a positive impact for your employees, as well as for communities and the environment. It’s not an easy feat — and you did it back in 2010, as one of the founding members of the Canadian B Corp. What was that experience like and why was it so important to you?

Sarah: In the beginning we were a small company with a small staff. We wondered, if we are doing all of this anyway, do we have the capacity or time to undergo the rigorous process to gain this certification? But as we began to meet more like-minded folks in the Vancouver business community, we began to see that this wasn’t just about us, it was about being part of a movement that uses business as a force for good. 

Becoming B Corp certified helped give structure to our commitments, provided accountability, and showed us where we needed to improve. To this day it pushes us to go further, to think about things we wouldn’t have otherwise, and to stretch us to meet goals. This is everything from supply chain management, to sustainable practices, to internal culture, to wages, to social commitments — and more. 

We’ve been really fortunate to have BDC as a funding partner, because you’ve not only provided great advice and service over the years, helping us build capacity, but you’ve become B Corp certified, which means we have even more values aligned. 

“Becoming B Corp certified helped give structure to our commitments, provided accountability, and showed us where we needed to improve.”

Laura: I am sure your commitment to building a values-based business with an inclusive culture has played a huge role in Fairware’s success, but what about during the tough times? What have the last 18 months of pandemic uncertainty been like for you and your business? 

Sarah: As a young business, we survived the recession of 2008/2009, and that gave us a lot of insight into how to behave during COVID. We had just come out of a significant year of spending and had completed a major office renovation right before the pandemic hit. Incidentally, our team in Vancouver was set up to work remotely because of that reno —and then because of COVID, no one came back to the office. 

From there, we knew our runway was short — we knew we’d have to lay people off, and procrastinating could lead to losing the business. Those were the hardest and most brutal moments of our lives. We had to let half of our staff go. Talk about an impact on culture. Thankfully, we stayed close with everyone, and helped them access resources and support. Slowly, we were able to hire people back, thanks to Government subsidies.

During the pandemic, as you know, some major social issues also came up, including the Black Lives Matter movement, and more recently the discovery of unmarked graves of murdered Indigenous children. Through it all we kept talking, kept working, and learning. Our focus and values haven’t shifted at all. We meet daily online and slowly, people are starting to come back into the office.

And despite the challenges to the corporate world and our industry, COVID provided a nice opportunity for some companies to take their budgets that they weren’t spending on events or conferences and show their employees some love with packages and baskets — and we were able to help with these. We remained committed to only providing products and gifts that were practical and wouldn’t end up in the landfill, and we developed a program that if someone opted out of the gift, they could choose to have a donation made in their name instead. 

All in all, we came out stronger and more committed than ever to our mission. And we’re certainly excited to see our newly renovated office that’s been all too quiet, filling up with people again.

Meet Michelle Stilwell, Paralympic gold medalist turned politician turned director of rapid COVID testing.

Michelle Stilwell

Michelle Stilwell’s athletic accomplishments are impressive: she’s a six-time Paralympic gold medalist in both basketball and track, nine-time World Champion, and the world record holder in the 100m, 200m and 800m wheelchair racing events. Before retiring from competitive sports in 2017, Michelle had already started serving as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of BC for the riding of Parksville-Qualicum. In that role from 2013-2020, Michelle held several key cabinet portfolios as Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation, Government Caucus Chair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health for Seniors, and was a member of the Cabinet Committee on a Secure Tomorrow as well as the Treasury Board and Deputy Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth. After leaving politics, Michelle joined the LIFESUPPORT Group of Companies, becoming responsible for CVM Medical’s Rapid Antigen Testing portfolio, where she’s helping to ensure the safe return and reopening of business, industry and sport across Western Canada.

 

My first job ever was… working for my parents at their hotel. I started bussing tables, then waiting tables, and finally moved to the front desk. That was my first glimpse into how hard entrepreneurs work to serve and support their communities.

My proudest accomplishment is… never giving up no matter what the circumstances are. We all face obstacles every single day of our lives and I’m proud that I continue to pick up and move forward.

My boldest move to date was… moving away from home and leaving my family and friends when I got married at 23 years old.

Competing in the Paralympics taught me… that anything is possible when you believe in your abilities.

I decided to go into politics because… I felt that using my voice to impact change would benefit my community and those I care about.

“My best advice to people transitioning their career is don’t be intimidated. Trust your instincts. You have your lifetime of experiences to draw from.”

My best advice to people transitioning their career is… don’t be intimidated. Trust your instincts. You have your lifetime of experiences to draw from.

My best advice from a mentor was… “Own your mistakes, but don’t let them define you.”

My biggest setback was… experiencing a cerebral spinal fluid leak. I’ve had a variety of health challenges but nothing compares to the symptoms associated with a cerebral spinal fluid leak.

I overcame it by… not only seeking proper care but allowing myself the time to heal without putting the pressure on myself to always be accomplishing something.

The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… to slow down. You don’t always have to be busy or accomplishing a task. Take a breath.

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

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I am an introvert and I recharge when I am alone. Most people wouldn’t think that I’m an introvert at heart because of my public background.

I stay inspired by… reminding myself that you only have one life to live. Make the most of each and every day. Stay focused and positive.

The future excites me because… things are always changing. There are more doors to open, and some I will choose to walk through while others I will walk away from.

My next step is… to write my book. Time is a limited resource, so best to get out there and make things happen!

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.”

Rencontrez la femme à la tête du premier fonds de capital de risque dirigé par des Noirs et soutenu par du capital institutionnel au Canada.

Lise Birikundavyi

En tant que vice-présidente, Clients – Diversité à BDC, Laura Didyk dirige les efforts de la banque visant à comprendre et à relever les défis auxquels sont confrontés les entrepreneurs sous-représentés et mal desservis, qu’ils soient racialisés, qu’ils s’identifient comme femmes, qu’ils s’identifient comme membres de la communauté LGBTQIA2S+, qu’ils vivent avec un handicap ou qu’ils aient une combinaison de ces identités. Elle présente leurs parcours dans le cadre d’entrevues, et ce mois-ci, elle reçoit Lise Birikundavyi, directrice et gestionnaire de fonds de Black Innovation Capital.

 

Au Canada, moins d’un fonds de capital de risque sur dix est géré par une femme. En ce qui concerne les fonds soutenus par du capital institutionnel, on trouve une seule femme noire aux commandes : il s’agit de Lise Birikundavyi. Elle est directrice et gestionnaire de fonds de Black Innovation Capital, un fonds de capital de risque de 10 millions de dollars, soutenu par BDC Capital et lancé en juin 2021, qui investit dans des entreprises technologiques en démarrage dirigées par des Noirs. 

Avant de prendre la barre de Black Innovation Capital, Lise a travaillé dans le domaine de la finance internationale pour plusieurs institutions. Elle a grandi à Montréal, mais son parcours l’a menée en Argentine, en Chine, au Ghana, en Côte d’Ivoire et à Toronto (ce qui fait en sorte qu’elle puisse s’exprimer en français, en anglais, en espagnol et un peu en mandarin). Au fil de ses études et de sa carrière, elle a orienté son travail vers l’entrepreneuriat social et l’investissement d’impact. 

Lise croit fermement à la possibilité de mettre à profit les forces des marchés de capitaux pour générer une richesse plus inclusive et réduire la pauvreté de façon durable. J’ai rencontré Lise pour en savoir plus sur son impressionnant parcours, qui a abouti au récent lancement de Black Innovation Capital. 

Laura : Vous avez consacré une grande partie de votre carrière à la finance à but social. Quel a été le point de départ de ce cheminement? 

Lise : Tout a commencé lorsque je suis retournée au Burundi pour la première fois, à 18 ans. J’ai grandi à Montréal, mais je suis née là-bas. C’est un pays qui a connu son lot de problèmes, notamment la pauvreté, la guerre civile et les difficultés d’accès à l’éducation. Je ne savais pas à quoi m’attendre en arrivant, mais j’ai été émerveillée par la beauté du pays et l’intelligence de ses habitants. 

J’ai été également frappée par le fait que pour la plupart des gens la réussite passe par le travail dans une organisation internationale. Il y avait très peu d’entreprises locales alors que les opportunités semblaient multiples. Lorsque que je réfléchissais avec amis et cousins sur des compagnies qui pourraient voir le jour et régler certains problèmes, on me répondait souvent « c’est une bonne idée, tu devrais créer cela » ou « Oui, pourquoi tu ne viendrais pas commencer cette initiative? ». Et je me disais toujours : « Mais, je ne vis pas ici, pourquoi ne le faites-vous pas? ». Je me suis rendu compte de fil en aiguille que l’aide humanitaire avait son rôle à jouer, de façon bien involontaire, dans la diminution de l’esprit entrepreneurial.  

“J’ai réalisé qu’il s’agissait là d’une véritable autonomisation, qui soutenait la création de modèles dans différentes sociétés en donnant aux populations vulnérables les moyens de bâtir leurs propres solutions.”

Quelques années plus tard, pendant mon séjour en Argentine, j’ai découvert la notion d’entrepreneuriat social. J’ai lu Comment changer le monde : Les entrepreneurs sociaux et le pouvoir des idées nouvelles de David Bornstein et j’ai commencé à me renseigner sur l’entrepreneuriat et sur la microfinance. Cette idée de pouvoir faire le bien tout en renforçant les capacités et en gagnant de l’argent m’a plu. J’ai réalisé qu’il s’agissait là d’une véritable autonomisation, qui soutenait la création de modèles dans différentes sociétés en donnant aux populations vulnérables les moyens de bâtir leurs propres solutions. Cela aurait ensuite un effet d’entraînement au sein de leurs communautés, sans que personne ne se sente redevable puisque le bénéfice financier serait partagé. 

Laura : C’est génial. Je sais que vous avez commencé votre carrière dans les fonds spéculatifs. Comment vous êtes-vous ensuite orientée vers l’investissement d’impact? 

Lise : J’ai adoré travailler dans le monde des fonds de couverture, mais je savais que je pouvais faire quelque chose de plus, sans pour autant savoir comment accéder au domaine du développement avec cette perspective d’autonomisation. Une amie m’a parlé de l’investissement d’impact, puis j’ai commencé à me joindre à un groupe de femmes du secteur bancaire à Montréal qui organisait régulièrement des événements pour en parler et réfléchir à la façon dont nous pourrions développer ce concept au Canada. 

J’ai décidé de m’engager dans la voie de l’investissement d’impact en m’intéressant aux marchés émergents. J’ai fait mon MBA à Shanghai avec trois objectifs en tête : apprendre le mandarin, créer un réseau solide et mieux comprendre la relation entre la Chine et l’Afrique. Tout ce que j’ai fait là-bas tournait autour de l’investissement d’impact, et j’en ai profité pour élaborer soigneusement mes prochaines actions. 

Au début, je me suis concentrée sur les marchés émergents dans une perspective de développement. L’objectif était de faire en sorte que d’énormes problèmes puissent être résolus en donnant aux gens les moyens de le faire, tout en générant des revenus aux fonds pour lesquels je travaillais à l’époque. 

Laura : Qu’avez-vous fait après votre passage à Shanghai? 

Lise : Je suis revenue en Amérique du Nord. Puis, lorsque je suis tombée enceinte de mon premier fils, j’ai décidé d’aller vivre au Ghana pour y travailler pendant mon congé de maternité. J’avais toujours voulu vivre sur le continent africain et je supposais, naïvement, que je m’ennuierais en restant à la maison avec un bébé. J’étais prête pour une nouvelle aventure et je voulais poursuivre mon travail de sensibilisation. Au Ghana, j’ai appuyé Ingénieurs sans frontières, Canada. Nous avons trouvé une communauté là-bas et ce fut une belle expérience. Nous avons ensuite passé trois ans en Côte d’Ivoire, sur la côte sud de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, où je gérais un fonds de technologies éducatives pour la Jacobs Foundation.

Laura : Et ensuite, vous avez créé Black Innovation Capital. Comment avez-vous eu cette idée?

Lise : Lorsque j’ai décidé de me lancer dans cette aventure avec Isaac Olowolafe pour fonder Black Innovation Capital, cela me semblait similaire au travail que j’avais fait auparavant, bien qu’il s’agisse d’un marché complètement différent. Je travaillais auprès d’une population extrêmement talentueuse qui ne reçoit pas le financement qu’elle devrait, en vue de l’aider à créer de la richesse pouvant être réinvestie au sein de leur communauté. Pour nous, avec le Black Innovation Fund, il ne s’agit pas d’une communauté en opposition à une autre, mais plutôt d’une incitation à une plus grande participation de toutes les communautés au secteur du capital de risque. Il est question de diversité et d’inclusion, et de la contribution de chacun à un meilleur système. 

Le fait que BDC soit devenue notre investisseur principal a eu une contribution importante à la création du fonds. Nous avons apprécié l’expérience et le soutien que nous avons reçus, particulièrement au niveau de l’aide apportée aux nouveaux gestionnaires de fonds. Nous avons officiellement lancé le fonds le 7 juin de cette année et sommes actuellement en train de négocier nos premiers investissements. 

Laura : Quelle est la vision de Black Innovation Capital? Qu’est-ce qui le distingue des autres fonds de capital de risque?

Lise : Nos objectifs sont de contribuer à la création d’entreprises technologiques dirigées par des Noirs, d’offrir un rendement supérieur à nos investisseurs et d’accroître la diversité dans l’écosystème du capital de risque. Globalement, notre thème principal est donc la diversité. 

Toute entreprise dans laquelle nous investissons doit comprendre au moins 25 % d’actionnariat ou de cadres dirigeants noirs et être une entreprise technologique en phase de démarrage. Nous nous attendons à ce que les équipes viennent d’horizons divers, car même au sein des communautés noires, on observe généralement des origines et des perspectives riches et diversifiées. 

“Jusqu’à présent, nous avons constaté une résilience intrinsèque au sein des entreprises que nous examinons. Beaucoup d’entre elles ont eu de la difficulté à trouver des financements et ont dû faire preuve d’une grande créativité pour en arriver là où elles en sont aujourd’hui.”

Jusqu’à présent, nous avons constaté une résilience intrinsèque au sein des entreprises que nous examinons. Beaucoup d’entre elles ont eu de la difficulté à trouver des financements et ont dû faire preuve d’une grande créativité pour en arriver là où elles en sont aujourd’hui. Nous voyons également beaucoup de produits et de services inclusifs, qui résolvent les problèmes sous différents angles et perspectives. Et c’est exactement ce que nous recherchons : des entreprises en démarrage qui font les choses différemment, qui répondent à des besoins qui ne sont pas actuellement satisfaits et qui apportent de sérieuses améliorations à des concepts déjà existants. 

Laura : Alors, le Black Innovation Capital est-il un fonds d’investissement à impact? 

Lise : Pour moi, l’investissement d’impact consiste à faire le bien tout en ayant un retour sur investissement qui soit positif. Bien que Black Innovation Capital ne soit pas à proprement parler un fonds d’impact, il a néanmoins un impact qui me tient à cœur. Je comprends ce que c’est que d’avoir l’impression de devoir travailler plus dur que les autres, de ne pas être évalué selon les mêmes critères et de ne pas avoir le droit à l’erreur. En créant des outils qui aident à la création de richesse ou à l’autonomisation en général, je rêve d’un monde où nous n’aurons pas à avoir de telles conversations avec nos enfants et où la diversité deviendra la norme. Pour moi, c’est ça le véritable impact. 

Laura : Le financement par capital de risque convient-il à tout le monde? Qu’en est-il des autres options pour les entrepreneurs noirs, comme les prêts? 

Lise : C’est formidable de voir émerger davantage de soutien pour les entrepreneurs noirs, comme le Programme de démarrage pour entrepreneur.es noir.es ou le Fonds de prêts pour l’entrepreneuriat des communautés noires. Ces deux programmes offrent un financement et un mentorat, ce qui constitue une combinaison importante pour la croissance d’une entreprise. Le choix entre un programme de ce type, l’octroi de prêts, ou l’investissement en capital de risque dépend vraiment de l’entrepreneur et de son entreprise, car les deux sont assortis de conditions différentes et répondent à des besoins différents. 

Quand notre fonds investit dans une entreprise, nous devenons actionnaires et donc un partenaire d’affaires. Nous nous rendons disponible afin que l’entrepreneur puisse nous appeler  pour obtenir de l’aide lorsqu’elle ne sait pas quelle décision prendre. Nous restons présents sur le long terme car nous sommes des partenaires de croissance et nous assumons le risque avec l’entrepreneur. 

Il est important d’obtenir des conseils pour déterminer quel est le meilleur modèle de financement pour chacun. 

Laura : Nous savons que les entrepreneurs noirs ont de la difficulté à trouver des capitaux et des modèles inspirants. Quels sont, selon vous, les facteurs à l’origine de cette situation et comment envisagez-vous d’y remédier? 

Lise : Les raisons pour lesquelles les entreprises appartenant à des Noirs obtiennent disproportionnellement moins de capitaux sont nombreuses. Il est important de reconnaître que les préjugés inconscients existent dans tous les domaines, y compris dans celui de l’investissement. Les gens ont tendance à faire confiance à des personnes et à des concepts qu’ils connaissent bien, donc ne prennent pas toujours des décisions sur la base de leurs valeurs, de leur expérience ou d’une solide analyse de rentabilité. 

Nous avons également souvent vu des programmes de mentorat qui ne sont pas assortis d’un accès au capital. Or, le succès repose sur la combinaison de ces deux éléments. Nous nous efforçons de résoudre ce problème de mentorat excessif et de sous-investissement. 

“L’objectif est de changer la perspective des jeunes générations et de leur faire voir qu’il leur est possible de faire tout ce à quoi elles aspirent.”

On observe aussi parfois un manque de sensibilisation des entrepreneurs qui ne savent pas où ni comment trouver du soutient. Les communautés d’investissement sont cloisonnées et manquent souvent de diversité. Cela peut entraîner un manque de confiance chez certains entrepreneurs noirs. Même s’ils ont une bonne idée, ils ne croient pas nécessairement qu’elle intéressera d’autres personnes. 

Ainsi, le fait qu’Isaac et moi représentions un homme noir et une femme noire à la tête de cette initiative nous positionne comme un reflet de la population qu’on souhaite servir. L’objectif est de changer la perspective des jeunes générations et de leur faire voir qu’il leur est possible de faire tout ce à quoi elles aspirent. Nous investirons dans des entreprises qui finiront par connaître un franc succès et leurs dirigeants deviendront des modèles de réussite pour leurs communautés.

Laura : Quel conseil donneriez-vous aux femmes noires entrepreneures qui sont confrontées à des obstacles liés leur sexe et à leur race?

Lise : Mon conseil est tout simplement d’oser, de se concentrer sur son objectif et de connaître sa valeur. Beaucoup de femmes noires sont audacieuses, elles n’ont pas peur d’être plus fortes et d’aller là où elles ne devraient pas être. Donc c’est de garder cet esprit car nous n’avons rien à perdre. Je crois que nous devons apprendre à nos filles à s’instruire continuellement, à ne jamais avoir peur d’exprimer une opinion si elle est fondée sur la vérité, même si elle semble impopulaire, et à saisir les possibilités qui se présentent. Ce n’est pas parce que nous avons peu de modèles de réussite qui nous ressemblent dans un certain domaine que nous devons nous imposer des limites. Finalement, ne pas oublier de soutenir les autres tout au long du chemin! 

Laura : Dans cinq ans, qu’envisagez-vous pour le Black Innovation Fund?

Lise : J’aimerais voir beaucoup d’exemples de réussite, pour les entreprises dans lesquelles nous investissons, pour nous-mêmes et, surtout, pour le secteur du capital de risque en général. Nous nous efforçons également de modifier l’optique d’investissement en formant des professionnels noirs dans le domaine de l’investissement qui travailleront dans l’écosystème du capital de risque afin de renforcer la diversité au niveau de la prise de décision. Nous espérons que cette tendance devienne la norme, à la fois dans les entreprises qui recherchent des fonds d’investissement et dans celles qui réalisent ces investissements. Dans cinq ans, j’espère voir des fonds de plus grande taille pour les initiatives dirigées par des personnes issues de communautés diverses dans le domaine du capital-investissement et du capital de risque. J’espère que 15 à 20 ans plus tard, ces fonds n’existeront plus, parce qu’ils ne seront plus nécessaires et que la diversité fera partie du quotidien.

Meet the woman at the helm of the first institutionally backed, Black-led venture fund in Canada.

Lise Birikundavyi

As Vice President, Client Diversity at BDC, Laura Didyk is leading the bank’s efforts to understand and address the challenges faced by underrepresented and underserved entrepreneurs — whether they be racialized, identify as women, identify as members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, be living with a disability, or exist within a combination of these identities. She’s sharing their journeys through conversations, and this month it’s with Lise Birikundavyi,  principal & fund manager for Black Innovation Capital.

 

In Canada, fewer than one in ten venture funds have a woman as a managing partner. Narrow that down to Black women and institutionally-backed funds, and there’s only one: Lise Birikundavyi. She is principal & fund manager for Black Innovation Capital, a $10 million VC fund that invests in Black-led tech start-ups, backed by BDC Capital, and launched in June 2021.  

Before taking the helm at Black Innovation Capital, Lise worked in finance internationally for a number of institutions. Raised in Montreal, her journey has taken her to Argentina, China, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and back to Toronto (picking up French, English, Spanish, and a bit of Mandarin along the way). Through her education and career, she’s steered her work towards social entrepreneurship and impact investing. 

Lise is a firm believer in using the forces of capital markets as a basis for the more inclusive wealth creation and sustainable poverty alleviation. I caught up with Lise to discuss her impressive journey, culminating in the recent launch of Black Innovation Capital. 

 

Laura: You’ve focused a lot of your career on finance with a social purpose. How did you get started down this path? 

Lise: It started when I was 18 and went back to Burundi for the first time — I grew up in Montreal, but I was born there. It’s a country that’s had its share of issues; poverty, civil unrest, and access to education are some of the main ones. I didn’t know what I’d find when I arrived, but I was amazed by the beauty of the country and the intellect of the people. 

One thing that really struck me is that most people’s idea of success meant working at a large institution or at an international organization. There weren’t many locally owned businesses. When I talked with people about their entrepreneurship ideas, they would always say, “you should start one,” or “you should do it.” And I kept thinking, I don’t live here, why don’t you do it? I realized that an unintended consequence of humanitarian aid was that it was weakening the entrepreneurial spirit.

“I realized that this was real empowerment — supporting the creation of role models in different societies by giving them the means to build something on their own which would then have a ripple effect in their communities.”

A few years later in Argentina, I stumbled upon the idea of social entrepreneurship. I found the book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein and began learning about microfinance. I liked the idea of doing good while building capacity and making money. I realized that this was real empowerment — supporting the creation of role models in different societies by giving them the means to build something on their own which would then have a ripple effect in their communities, without anyone feeling indebted as the financial benefit would be shared. 

Laura: I love that. I know you started out working in hedge funds, though — how did you steer your career into impact investing? 

Lise: I loved working in the hedge fund world but I knew there was something more I could be doing, I just didn’t know how to enter the development space from an empowerment perspective. A good friend started talking to me about impact investing, and I began to meet with a group of women bankers in Montreal organising regular events to talk about what it was and exploring how we could develop it in Canada. 

I decided I would try to create my own pathway in impact investing with an outlook for emerging markets. I went on to do my MBA in Shanghai with three goals: to learn Mandarin, to create a strong network, and to understand the China-Africa relationship. Everything I did there was around impact investing, and I took the opportunity to carefully craft my next steps. 

At the beginning, my focus was emerging markets with a development outlook. The goal was to make sure huge problems could be solved by empowering people to solve them, while making money for the fund I was working for at the time. 

Laura: What came next for you after Shanghai? 

Lise: I came back to North America, but when I got pregnant with my first son, I decided we should go live and work in Ghana. I had always wanted to experience living on the African continent and I assumed, naïvely, that I would get bored staying home with a baby. I was up for another adventure and wanted to continue my impact work. In Ghana, I worked supporting Engineers Without Borders, Canada. We found a community there and it was a beautiful experience. We then spent three years in Côte d’Ivoire, a country located on the south coast of West Africa, where I was managing an edtech fund for the Jacobs Foundation.

Laura: And then your next step was Black Innovation Capital. How did that come about?

Lise: When I decided to start this adventure with Isaac Olowolafe to found Black Innovation Capital, it felt similar to the work I had done in Africa — despite it being a completely different market. The fund was about economic empowerment, working with a population that is not receiving the funding it should, and wanting to help them create wealth that can be reinvested in the community. For us, it’s not about one community versus another, it’s about the greater participation of all communities in the VC space. It’s about diversity and inclusion and everyone contributing to a better system. 

Having BDC come on as our anchor investor really helped to bring the fund together; we’ve loved the experience and the support we’ve received in everything from working out the funding model to facilitating first time fund managers. We launched officially June 7 of this year, and are currently in negotiations for our first investments. 

Laura: What’s the vision for Black Innovation Capital? What sets it apart from other VC funds?

Lise: Our hope is to help build successful Black-led tech businesses, deliver returns to our investors, and increase the diversity in the venture capital ecosystem. So overall, our main theme is diversity. 

Any business we invest in must be Black-led — that’s at least 25% of ownership or executive management — and an early-stage tech company. We expect the teams will come from various backgrounds, because within Black communities you tend to see many different backgrounds and perspectives. 

“So far, what we’re finding among the companies we’re looking at is this embedded resilience. Many have had a hard time finding financing and have had to be really creative to get to where they are at now.”

So far, what we’re finding among the companies we’re looking at is this embedded resilience. Many have had a hard time finding financing and have had to be really creative to get to where they are at now. We are also seeing a lot of inclusive products and services, solving problems from different angles and perspectives. And that’s exactly what we’re looking for: start-ups that are doing things differently, addressing needs that aren’t currently being met, and bringing about serious improvements to concepts that already exist. 

Laura: So, is Black Innovation Capital an impact fund? 

Lise:  To me, impact investing is doing good while doing well — making money while creating a positive change in society. While Black Innovation Capital isn’t technically an impact fund, it does have an impact that’s very close to my heart. I understand what it is to feel like you have to work harder than the rest, that you’re not measured against the same standards and making a mistake is not an option. In creating tools that are helping with wealth creation or empowerment in general, I dream of a world where we don’t have to have these conversations with our children. Where diversity becomes the norm. To me, that’s the real impact. 

Laura: Is VC funding right for everyone? What about other options for Black entrepreneurs, like loans? 

Lise: It’s great to see more support emerging for Black entrepreneurs, such as the Black Entrepreneurship Startup Program or Black Entrepreneur Loan Fund. Both offer funding and mentorship which is an important combination for growing your business. Choosing between a program like these, extending loans, or VC investment really depends on you and your business — because both come with different terms and serve different needs. 

One of the biggest differences between venture capital and a loan is the loan is paid back on set terms. With venture capital, we mainly use equity, which means that we invest in your company and our return on investment generally depends on how well your company does, so the kind of partnership you have with a VC fund can often be a bit more hands-on. We’d expect you to call us for support when you don’t know what decision to make. We’re there for the long run, we’re partners in growth, and we really take the risk along with you. 

In any instance, what is most important is to get advice to determine what is the best financing model for you and your business. 

Laura: We know that Black entrepreneurs struggle to secure capital and find role models. What do you see as some of the issues causing this, and how do you hope to address them? 

Lise: There are many reasons Black-owned businesses aren’t getting capital. It’s important to recognize that unconscious bias exists everywhere, including in investing. People typically invest in individuals and concepts they are familiar with, not always based on their values, experience or a sound business case. 

What we often see are mentorship programs that don’t come with access to capital. To be successful, you need both. We’re trying to solve this issue of over-mentoring and under-investing. 

“From a role model perspective, it’s really nice that Isaac and I represent a Black man and a Black woman leading this initiative. The goal is to change the perspective for younger generations and make them see that it is possible for them to do whatever they decide to do.”

On the part of the entrepreneurs, there is also sometimes a lack of awareness — they don’t know where to go for help. The investment communities are siloed and often lack diversity. That can lead to a lack of confidence for some Black entrepreneurs. Even if they have a good idea, they don’t necessarily believe others will be interested in it. 

From a role model perspective, it’s really nice that Isaac and I represent a Black man and a Black woman leading this initiative. The goal is to change the perspective for younger generations and make them see that it is possible for them to do whatever they decide to do. We will be investing in companies that will eventually create massive success stories, and those leaders will become models of success as well.

Laura: What’s your advice for Black women entrepreneurs, who face barriers both because of their gender and their race?

Lise: My advice is simply to be daring, laser-focused, and know your value. A lot of Black women are actually fearless, not afraid to be louder and go where they should not be. Many feel they have nothing to lose. I want us to teach our daughters to educate themselves, to never be afraid to express an opinion if rooted in truth, even when it seems unpopular, and to seize opportunities when they present themselves. Just because we haven’t seen many others who look like us be successful in a certain field, it doesn’t mean we should put limits on ourselves. And, be sure to support others along the way! 

Laura: In five years from now, what do you envision for the Black Innovation Fund?

Lise: I’d like to see a lot of success stories, for the companies we invest in, for ourselves, and as importantly for the VC space in general. We’re also working to shift the investing lens by training Black investment managers who will be placed in the VC ecosystem to help create more diversity at the decision making level. We hope for that to be the norm — more diversity not only in the companies seeking investment dollars but in those making the investments. In five years, my hope is to see larger size funds for Black-led or BIPOC-led initiatives in the private equity and venture capital space. In 15-20 years, I hope they no longer exist because they won’t be needed anymore — that diversity will be business as usual.

How Diane Scott made a late-career pivot to focus on giving back.

Diane Scott

By Hailey Eisen 

Diane Scott couldn’t have planned a career as dynamic as the one she has. Five years ago, it didn’t exist.

As Chair and CEO of JMCC Group, Diane sits at the helm of Canada’s only woman-led international medical cannabis company. She built the business from the ground up and today operates on four continents and the Caribbean.  

JMCC, which stands for Jamaican Medical Cannabis Company, was founded in 2016. After more than a decade working in New York and London in the global financial services and technology industries — including work in the financial services practice of presidential candidate Ross Perot Sr — Diane felt burnt out and in need of a restart. “After all those years I wasn’t loving what I was doing anymore, and I didn’t like the person I had to be to do it,” Diane recalls. 

Taking a career pause gave her the opportunity to return home to Toronto after 17 years. “I sold my apartment in New York and came home to the town I was raised in to reflect. Suddenly I had five acres to look after, and I had to learn how to garden.”

While her next steps weren’t clear, Diane felt fortunate to have the time and resources needed to regroup. She’d been following the medical cannabis industry closely for some time and saw its potential from an investment perspective. In 2014 she started making investments in Canadian cannabis companies. 

What followed was a sequence of events which led Diane to explore cannabis farming in Jamaica. She was asked to consider investing in a family farm on the island, and while she initially said no as she felt only comfortable dealing with Canada, the idea stuck with her. 

“I took a conference call with the family who were looking to convert their sugarcane farm into medical cannabis. While we didn’t end up taking that opportunity, it made a few things very clear,” she says. First came the understanding that growing medical cannabis outdoors — what she calls a ‘natural grow’ in proprietary greenhouses — would ultimately be better for the end patient than growing it in big warehouses. And second, Diane came to learn that Jamaica has the most optimal growing environment, combined with regulations in line with what you’d see in Canada, Germany, and Australia. 

“We both reject the notion that you have to compromise profit in order to do good.”

Soon after Diane and a close friend in London, Tom Speechley, decided to build and launch a global venture capital business, SX2 Ventures. Their goal was to support innovation and long-term value creation in the human care sector, with a focus on life sciences, longevity, specialized care and emerging market healthcare solutions. “We were clear when we started that we wanted to do more with our investments. Rather than solely focusing on financial returns, we saw an opportunity to direct our funds to have a positive impact,” Diane explains. “We both reject the notion that you have to compromise profit in order to do good.” SX2 was an early expression of an environmental, social, governance (ESG) investment model years ahead of today’s standards. 

It was upon this ethos that JMCC was founded. “Starting SX2 naturally led us to create JMCC because we found there was nothing like it in the world. We saw the need, and believed that if it didn’t exist, we should build it.” After nine months of due diligence in the Jamaican market, Diane got on a plane to visit the island. 

“The huge learning curve for me became about the science and medicine,” she explains. And to help grow the business, Diane turned to people who she knew and trusted. “As an entrepreneur, you need to know your own strengths. We can’t be great at everything, so you need to build a team that’s great at everything.” Starting with her well-established network, Diane began to build the JMCC team, both in Jamaica and internationally. While Tom continued to run SX2, Diane focused on JMCC — taking a “divide and conquer approach.”

Diane knew her strategy with JMCC was unconventional from the get-go. “Being a female CEO who had chosen to do things differently than they were being done in Canada at the time, not going public, not growing in a big warehouse, cultivating on an island — I wasn’t making the most popular choices,” she recalls. Even still, she was clear on her vision and happy to be occupying a place that others were not.  

And her outside-the-box thinking paid off. In the five years since its inception, JMCC has become a fully integrated medical cannabis company, operating with a self-contained supply chain — from propagation and cultivation of raw materials supply, product development, manufacturing and packaging, through to global logistics and distribution. “We are the leading global provider of premium Jamaican medical cannabis products and services to the world.” 

She’s also in the final stages of organic certification, which should be in place by later this year. “Not many others can say they’re naturally grown, organic, and control their supply chain from start to finish. This allows us to ensure the highest possible quality patient experience,” explains Diane. “For JMCC, patient quality is at the center of everything we do. It has to be.” 

The company also just completed a joint venture in the Channel Islands, UK to establish a JMCC distribution hub in order to ensure seamless and timely prescription fulfillment to UK patients, and has expanded into an exclusive distribution agreement for the Australasian Region. 

Being a woman running a global medical cannabis company is unprecedented (the industry is dominated by men), but it has pushed Diane even harder to ensure an environment of equality for everyone on her team. “I’ve made it clear for all the women and teams I work with, that we are a company that will find the best talent — regardless of gender, religion, or sexual orientation — and that everyone who joins us has to believe and respect this.” 

Diane and her partner’s commitment to do their part to leave the world a better place has carried over in other ways to JMCC. “This is more than impact investing. We focus on profitable businesses that also are committed to doing good in the community,” she says. “We created the JMCC Foundation, and have committed to reinvest 10% back into communities, education, scientific research, and the medical cannabis industry.” 

“The idea of giving back has become more important to me the older I get. Societal benefit is as important as financials or unique value propositions when looking at an investment.

This includes working with academic institutions to support trials — such as an epilepsy trial being conducted via a Canadian university, which JMCC will provide the cannabis for at their own expense. They’re also one of only five companies in the world chosen to support Drug Science’s Project T21 — which is deemed to be the largest observational evidence-based study in the world, with a target of 20,000 UK patients.  

“The idea of giving back has become more important to me the older I get. Societal benefit is as important as financials or unique value propositions when looking at an investment. In SX2 and the companies we fund, we look for investment opportunities with those who share our vision for this.”  

Personally, Diane carries on that legacy with her involvement in community initiatives beyond her work. She’s a patron of a small school in Maasai Mara, Kenya on a 3,000-acre conservation area protected by the Kenyan Government. She was introduced to the school while on a business trip in Nairobi. “I had decided to stay over for a weekend and go on safari, and I met the manager of the safari who offered to take me to the local school,” she says. Since connecting with them, Diane has sponsored a water harvesting program that has allowed the school to harvest rainwater rather than the village mothers having to bring it from the river, which can be very dangerous. She’s also organized a program to ship books and sporting equipment from Canadian children to the children at this school, who are now learning to read in English. 

Diane is also a Royal Patron of the Royal Ontario Museum (also known as the ROM, in Toronto) and an Activator for SheEO, an organization which has built a $1B fund to help women-led businesses. SheEO is focused on investing to help with the ‘worlds to do list’.  She’s also a mentor and advocate for women, encouraging others to have confidence in themselves and their decisioning. 

“I think as women we don’t always feel like we deserve to be at the Board table, but the truth is, most of the time we’ve earned the right to sit in that seat,” she says. “Use your voice, share your knowledge and experiences, and contribute your thoughts as diversity always leads to better decision making.”  

She also has advice for anyone who is feeling the same sense of burnout and dissatisfaction she was before her pivot: “Doing what you love should be a career goal,” says Diane. “I don’t think people prioritize that enough.” 

How Patricia McLeod turned corporate governance into a full-time job — even though she didn’t fit the typical board member profile.

By Hailey Eisen 

The advice that Patricia McLeod likes to give — “Pick things you’re good at, because if you love what you’re doing enough you’ll find a path forward” — sums up her own journey over the past five years.  

Patricia spent 23 years as a lawyer and executive in Calgary and Vancouver before making an unusual career pivot. Armed with an Executive MBA, plus years of legal, privacy, compliance and corporate responsibility experience, Patricia began to expand on her volunteer experience. She took board positions with organizations focusing on community and economic development, arts, innovation, and vulnerable women and families. 

In 2015, she began to feel that her board work was more strategic than her job. The variety of challenges and opportunities was exciting. Patricia wondered if she could turn governance into her full-time career. She asked a handful of women directors for their opinions. 

Their responses were not reassuring. “I ended up with a long list of reasons why I wasn’t likely to be successful in corporate governance,” she says. “They weren’t being negative, they were just coming from a different place — C-Suite executives who’d been specifically tapped for their board positions.” 

As it was pointed out, Patricia wasn’t even 50, had never been a CEO, and wasn’t ready to retire. Plus, she had no experience in the oil and gas sector — a bit of a problem for someone wanting to serve on boards in Calgary. “I remember thinking: They’re right, but where am I in the board world? I’m the gap.”

Nevertheless, Patricia was undaunted. 

Within six months, she secured her first paid governance position and within 18 months, she was appointed as Chair of the Board of Calgary Co-op, one of the largest retail cooperatives in North America with annual revenues of around $1.2 billion and 440,000 member-owners. In two years, she resigned from her general counsel role, had a full portfolio of board positions and was making more money than she’d earned in her previous job. 

“I’m not a pioneer on boards because I’m a woman. Women on boards is now a much more well-known and supported concept. But I’m a pioneer because I treat my board work as a profession,” Patricia says. 

And following her passion has made her happy. 

“With board work, you’re doing strategy, leadership, issues management — all of which is so motivating to me,” she says. “And it’s a balancing act, like being a consultant.” 

Today, Patricia sits on a wide cross-section of boards, including Calgary Co-op, the Beverage Container Management Board, Alberta Innovates, and the Calgary Film Centre.

 “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills.” 

She says her prior board roles with First Air and Air Inuit proved especially satisfying. Based in Quebec and Ontario, the airlines operate passenger, charter and cargo services in Nunavik and Nunavut. “This was the first time they’d opened up the organization to non-Inuit board members, and there was a great deal of learning on both sides,” Patricia says. During her term, First Air merged with another Inuit-owned airline and Patricia brought her experience in governance, legal and relationship-building to the merger process. “It was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had.”  

But with no airline experience (or experience in many of the industries in which she now serves on boards), Patricia has had to market herself differently. “I’ve learned to describe myself not by what I do, but by how I can transfer my skills. For example, I worked in utilities, a highly regulated, high-hazard industry, which transferred nicely to the aviation industry.”

Patricia says she’s also needed a lot of self-confidence in applying for board positions — “for every ten interviews you’ll get one position” — and taking on a wide range of roles. She also needed to be willing to put her name forward for board leadership opportunities. She credits her Executive MBA with giving her the confidence to make the leap into governance and the success she’s having as a leader. 

With an undergraduate degree in business, a law degree, and years of work, Patricia went back to school in 2009 to earn her EMBA at Smith School of Business. “I knew I was a strong lawyer but felt the MBA would give me the business credibility I was lacking.” With two young daughters at home and a full-time job, Patricia joined the EMBA program from Calgary, with the strong support of her company. 

“The program not only helped me rethink the language of business writing, which was really important for me coming from a law background, it also put a huge emphasis on group work and leadership,” she recalls. “I literally use the skills from that program on a daily basis, when I’m chairing boards and leading groups, public speaking, leaning into difficult decisions and facing down big issues.” 

Completing the EMBA, she says, made her courageous enough to step into governance and gave her the skills to feel comfortable doing so. But first, it gave her the confidence to put her hand up at AltaLink, where she worked, to take on different roles beyond her existing scope. 

“Sometimes in an established career you are seen in a certain way, and you have to jar people out of that. You have to raise your hand and step outside of your comfort zone.” 

And staying just beyond her comfort zone is what keeps Patricia engaged. “It reinvigorates me, this board work,” she says. “I was recently offered a prestigious role back in legal, and while I was tempted, I decided to be brave and continue on the path I’m on.”

Meet Ria Aikat and Jennalee Desjardins: the Giggle Queens — a dynamic fusion dance duo

 

Giggle Queens is a choreography/performance duo by Ria Aikat and Jennalee Desjardins. They specialize in fusion dance projects that combine Eastern and Western dance styles such as Bollywood and Bharatanatyam with Waacking and Hip Hop. They also like laughing. Giggle Queens has performed in the Culture Shock Canada Showcase 2017, Bollywood Monster Mashup in 2018 and 2020, the City Dance Corps Annual Showcase, as well as several video/music video works. Giggle Queens are pioneers in fusion, inclusion and positivity, hiring and supporting young dance artists across the GTA. It is their mission to add a layer of comedy and charisma to their dance acts. If you are feeling brave, they have kindly choreographed a beginner level dance video for the WOI community to try out.

 

Our first job ever was…a babysitter! We both love kids. 

Our proudest accomplishment is…creating a niche for ourselves in the dance world. 

The idea for Giggle Queens came to us when…we realized we loved dancing, creating, and laughing together. We wanted to create a space for us to explore and experiment with movement and fusion styles on our own terms. 

Our boldest move to date…taking a very silly performance piece to a choreographer’s hip hop showcase. No regrets! 

Our advice for aspiring artists is…figure out what you really like and stay true to that. There is space for everyone in the world of art and sometimes that means creating your own path. 

Our best advice from a mentor was…When faced with different opportunities or contracts, integrity always pays off, stick to your plan. 

The dance industry does not motivate us because…it doesn’t always value diversity and creativity in a way that speaks to us. This is why we have created Giggle Queens as a place for us to dance the way we want to dance. 

Our biggest setback was…Jennalee’s back injury a few years ago. (she’s okay now!) 

We overcame it by…expanding our dancer roster for performances that year. 

 

 

“There is space for everyone in the world of art and sometimes that means creating your own path.” 

 

We decided to go into performance arts because…we come alive when we perform and it’s where we feel most at home! 

Our favourite thing about Giggle Queens is…our 12 days of Christmas videos! So far, we’ve done 12 days of TV themes, movie themes, and reality TV themes. They are always a blast and make us laugh years later. 

If you google us, you still wouldn’t know…we have another company! In 2019 we launched Dance ‘N’ Culture: cultural dance programming for schools. Indian, Chinese, Afro, and more dance styles!

Our biggest professional influences have been…

For Ria: Her bosses Amy and Libby at Moving Edgeucation. 

For Jennalee: Her bosses Tina and Estelle at City Dance Corps. They are all uncompromising, focused, and creative women in the biz. 

The most challenging thing about what we do is…being self-motivated and staying creatively inspired when we have to deliver performances and classes. 

We stay inspired by…Music is a big one for us. We try to constantly share new and old music that we love. We also actively participate in the dance scene by taking classes and attending other artists’ performances. 

The future excites us because…We are both devoting more time this year to GQ and DNC, and quarantine has forced us to hunker down. As a result, we are ready to unleash some creative juices on the world.

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

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

 

My first job ever was…

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

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

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

My boldest move to date was…

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

I surprise people when I tell them…

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

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

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

 

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

 

My biggest setback was… 

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

I overcame it by… 

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

Work/life balance is… 

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

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

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

Working in marketing before creating a book helped me…

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

I stay inspired by…

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

The future excites me because…

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

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

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

 

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

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

My proudest accomplishment is… writing The Battle for Home. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

I overcame it by… patience and having faith. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Kimberly Dawn: country singer and songwriter inspiring women to follow their dreams

Kimberly Dawn is a country singer and songwriter born and raised in a small farming community in Alberta, Canada and now living in California with her family. As a mother of four, Dawn’s personal journey toward creating inner strength and balance on the road to living out her passion is one to which many women can relate, and one that she feels particularly suited to tell. Like many mothers, Kimberly put her passion for music on hold to be a stay-at-home mom. She began taking piano and guitar lessons after the birth of her fourth child. Still, in the throes of raising children, Kimberly is busy balancing it all, including many, co-writes with amazing artists. She released a couple of singles last year including, Slow Dancin’ in the Dark and Cadillac Lovers. Kimberly also showcases her love for writing in her weekly blog where she shares empowerment, struggles of life as a mother and pursuing her passion for music.

Before I became a singer-song-writer I…. actually was pursuing acting. 

I decided to follow my passion and become a musician because… I always loved music and music makes me happy. 

My proudest accomplishment is…being a mom of 4 amazing kids. 

My boldest move to date was… at 18 I packed up my things and moved from the farm to Los Angeles to pursue my dreams. 

I surprise people when I tell them …I was raised on a farm in Canada and  I actually worked on the farm moving irrigation pipes as well as pulling weeds out of the sugar beet fields.

My biggest professional influences have been…Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Reba McEntire,  Elton John, Shania Twain.

My best advice from a mentor was… When you’re writing a song, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. 

I would tell my 21-year old self… Trust your instincts cause your gut is God. 

My song “Nashville” is special to me because… I love that city. It has become a second home to me because I spend so much time there. When the tornados hit Nashville & then the Coronavirus hit all at once, my single Nashville had just been released. I feel like even in the darkest days this song has brought smiles and happiness to people when they listen to it. For that, I am so thankful. 

My biggest setback was… about 8 years ago I let too many people get in my head and I was literally done with the music business. I just woke up one morning and said “I quit. I’m not good enough. I don’t know why I ever thought I could make it.” I was one of the lowest points in my life. This tore me to the core. 

 

“I feel like women are finally being recognized and getting the respect that we so well deserve. There are so many amazing entrepreneurs, women in the medical field, actress’s, musicians and the list goes on and on.”

 

I overcame it by… For about 6 months I truly went into a depression. It was really hard. I had to do a lot of soul-searching during this time. In my heart, I was sad that I wasn’t making music but I also felt so defeated. My sweet husband finally said to me, “you don’t need to quit making music just because this person or that person says your not good enough. There is always going to be someone who doesn’t like you or your music. Make music because you love to do it and who cares what anyone else thinks.” He was right. Moving forward I remind myself that I make music because I love it and if someone doesn’t like it or I’m not their cup of tea, oh well.  You can’t worry about what everyone thinks. Everyone has an opinion and there are going to be those people that want to tear you down no matter what. 

The best part of what I do is… When someone tells me that one of my songs helped them through a difficult time or that a song put a smile on their face when they heard it. That’s the best feeling ever and I am so thankful for those moments.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I love to do laundry. It’s actually therapeutic for me. Just washing the clothes though. I don’t like having to put the clothes away. 

The future excites me… because I feel like women are finally being recognized and getting the respect that we so well deserve. There are so many amazing entrepreneurs, women in the medical field, actress’s, musicians and the list goes on and on. I see there’s a lot more opportunity and that excites me. 

My next step is… to finish up my EP and share new music with the world. 

Meet Kathryn Hollinrake: a photographer known for her profile portraits and celebrity clientele

photo by Kathryn Hollinrake

 

As a professional photographer, Kathryn Hollinrake’s client list has many notable names, including several stars of Dragon’s Den, Hurricane Hazel McCallion, and multi-talented Canadian entertainment icon Bruce McCulloch, among others. She began her career after moving from Vancouver, graduating from Ryerson’s Film and Photography program with a Bachelor of Technology degree, and taking a slight detour to work as a Technical Sales Rep for Kodak’s Professional Photography Division in Edmonton. Back in Toronto and back to the plan, she launched her own business specializing in commercial photography. Faced with changes in technology and within the industry, she expanded her skill set, and eventually established her current niche as a corporate and portrait photographer known for her compelling profile portraits.

 

 

My first job ever was… working in a department store in New Zealand where we lived briefly during my teenage years. During a particularly slow period, a customer once mistook me for a mannequin. I’m sure people who know me now would never believe I could stand that still. 

I became a photographer because…  I couldn’t draw fast enough. I wanted to do something artistic, and when my graphics teacher in high school said you had to be really fast, I thought, “Well, graphic design is out.” The same year I had my first experience in a darkroom and I thought I could see doing that kind of work for a long time. When I told a friend of my father that if there was a degree program in photography that’s what I’d choose to do, he said, “There is, at a school called Ryerson in Toronto.” I applied and got in and never looked back.

My proudest accomplishment is… staying in business for 25 years so far, when many of my contemporaries chose to leave the field, and when I, at times, have thought I may not be able to continue. Thankfully, I have been able to pivot when needed and build a business that looks nothing like what I would have imagined it would when I started. When I launched I was focused on commercial photography, working with ad agencies and art directors. As much of that work started to disappear, I shot stock, I shot weddings, I exhibited as an artist, I did pet photography, and ultimately I focused in on corporate photography and portraiture, working with clients and organizations directly, as well as with their design firms, to produce everything from headshots to book covers to environmental portraits and business-related imagery for websites and other marketing initiatives.

My boldest move to date was… embracing that I needed to think and act like an entrepreneur. For years I held on to the idea that I was a photographer, not an entrepreneur. It’s been an ongoing challenge as I am really an artist at heart. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I am a divemaster level scuba diver.

My best advice to people starting out in photography is… Success will be more about running the business than about your skill as a photographic artist. And whatever you do, make sure you have confidence in your product (which in this case is both you and your photographs). It is very hard to sell a product you don’t believe in. 

The best part of my job is… surprising reluctant subjects with photographs of themselves that they didn’t expect to love, but do. And I find it fascinating and inspiring getting to know new people in all kinds of roles and businesses, and getting the chance to see diverse businesses from the inside. I never know who I am going to get to meet in the next month or year. 

My best advice about headshots is… that the skill and experience of your photographer will make a big difference to your own experience and to the final product. If you find the right photographer you don’t have to know anything going into a headshot session. It’s their job to make it happen. Trust them, be open-minded, and follow what they say. If they send you wardrobe instructions, read and follow them. And don’t tie your hair back, unless that really is the way you wear it all the time. 

 

I stay inspired by being on a never-ending quest to up my game, and keep the work fresh and new, and uniquely mine. I experiment.

 

I would tell my 25-year old self… Don’t subjugate yourself to horrible people to gain experience, even if they are stars in your field. The benefits won’t outweigh the potential damage. Put self-doubt aside, specialize in one area of photography, become really good at just that, and make a lot of noise about it. Be out in the world, meet a lot of people, and build relationships. It really is going to be about marketing and connections. 

My biggest setback was… probably also the biggest boon to my career. The introduction of digital photography and subsequent availability of cheap, high-quality commercial imagery wiped out a huge part of my market. Photographers were no longer being hired to shoot jobs for which stock photography could be used. The barriers to entry began to evaporate as digital cameras became cheaper and cheaper, and the ability to fix mistakes in Photoshop meant photographers did not have to be trained the way we used to be. So more and more people started hanging out their shingles as “photographers”. 

I overcame it by… joining the stock industry by shooting stock myself (that didn’t last long!), and at the same time concentrating on where original photography was still going to be needed, and how to provide more for less, without totally succumbing to the “race to the bottom.” This ultimately required pivoting from a commercial specialization to more portraits and corporate work. Fortunately, the creative tools that became available to photographers with digital imaging expanded my ability to create compelling original imagery — and differentiate myself from my competitors. One way I do this now, for example, is by designing and producing my own photographic backdrops for corporate headshots. I basically simulate a corporate environment so I can shoot in any place at any time of day and get a consistent and appealing result that’s more interesting than a headshot on a gray background.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… pick up the ukulele I started learning to play a couple of years ago (but stopped) and start again. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I have acted in probably a dozen commercials.

I stay inspired by… being on a never-ending quest to up my game, and keep the work fresh and new, and uniquely mine. I experiment. I collect portraits I like and study the lighting. I constantly observe what works and doesn’t in my photos and others’, and I am always thinking about what will serve clients best. There is always room for improvement. People call me a perfectionist and since perfection is pretty much impossible there’s an ongoing impetus to keep striving for it.

The future excites me because… I am on a bit of a mission to see all the bad photos online (and in print) in business-related places replaced with good ones. I see a lot of opportunity there. There is a bit of a pendulum swing happening with some clients who have had bad experiences with less than professional photographers and are coming back to understanding the value of hiring a true professional. 

My next step is… Finishing my newest corporate portrait backdrop. I plan to continue to create a small set of them so clients have a choice. As far as I know, nobody else is doing this. And I am going to be looking into video portraiture, starting with one for my website!

Meet Mary Purdie: an Illustrator using her art for impact

Mary Purdie is an illustrator based in Los Angeles, California. She draws inspiration from her personal experiences to create art that amplifies discussions around topics like grief, healing, personal growth, and mental health. Mary’s mission is to continue creating heartfelt artwork that resonates, comforts and creates a community where vulnerable conversations are welcomed and embraced. Mary recently worked on “She Rises: Uplifting Words for Anxious Girls”, an illustrated poetry book written by TED Speaker, Katie Zeppieri, that takes readers on a mental health journey from darkness to light.

 

My first job was…barista at Starbucks!

My proudest accomplishment is…becoming a full-time freelance artist.

My boldest move to date was…moving from NYC to California without a solid plan!

My biggest setback was…self-doubt, comparing myself to others in the industry, and feeling envious of some opportunities that others received.

I overcame it by… trusting in my journey and knowing that what is for me will not pass me by.

The best part of my job is… creating beautiful art that connects with others.

 

“Prioritize sacred self-care. This doesn’t include manicures and bubble baths, but the activities that nourish your spirit and make your heart sing.”

 

The most challenging part of my day is…sticking to a routine that has a healthy balance.

My hope for She Rises is that … every reader feels seen, heard, loved, and that they know they are never alone.

My greatest advice from a mentor was…prioritize sacred self-care. This doesn’t include manicures and bubble baths, but the activities that nourish your spirit and make your heart sing.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… practice often. No matter how inspired or uninspired I feel, keep creating.

I surprise people when I tell them…I once gave up on my creative career dreams to pursue other things, but life had other plans.

The future excites me because…life is full of surprises!

Meet Maddy Falle: Producer behind the viral short film turned web series Gay Mean Girls

Pride month might be over but LGBT+ visibility is needed all year round. Meet LGBT Ally Maddy Falle, producer and the Development Manager at Gearshift Films, before taking on this role she worked on television shows like Hockey Wives, NHL Revealed, and Workin’ Moms. In 2015 she was a producer on the viral short film Gay Mean Girls, that earned over 3.5 million hits on YouTube. After the success of the film, they went on to launch a queer coming-of-age web series bearing the same name.

 

 


 

 

My first job was… Managing the pet’s corner booth at African Lion Safari. 

My proudest accomplishment is… Probably finishing Gay Mean Girls and delivering it when we said we would! 

My boldest move to date was… Thinking I belong anywhere near a column called ‘meet a role model’

I would tell my 16-year-old self …  To start channelling all that frenetic energy into more productive things so you’re not in as much trouble at age 15. 

If I had five extra hours a day I would spend it… Can I break it up? I would work for 2, read for one, workout for one and spend one with my sisters. 

My greatest advice from a mentor was… That when it comes to Producing a lot can happen in a 12 hour day so not to panic and you’re going to have bigger issues come your way so appreciate the ones you have now. 

 

“I let personal things affect professional ones sometimes and I need to work on that.”

 

My biggest setback was… I don’t have a biggest but I think I let personal things affect professional ones sometimes and I need to work on that. 

I overcame it by… Setting boundaries and being careful with who I hire. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be…  The example of consistent work ethic that I was raised around. 

My favourite thing about our new series Gay Mean Girls is … That it is trying to say something in addition to being entertaining; there is a purpose to the project and supporting a creator who has something to say is all I seek to do as a Producer. 

The future excites me because… I don’t know what is going to happen and I’m okay with that.

 

 

Meet Caroline Drees: Global Editor, Editorial Learning and Culture at Reuters

Caroline Drees is a passionate proponent of diversity and inclusion, and has spent much of her career working to support underrepresented groups, close gender gaps and promote equality in the workplace. The Global Editor, Editorial Learning and Culture, at the global news organization Reuters, her remit includes diversity and inclusion, training, talent and career development for Reuters’ more than 2,500 staff members. Caroline has enjoyed a truly global career, working as a reporter, editor, manager and executive across the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, in Europe and in the United States. Before moving to Washington in 2013, Caroline was Reuters’ managing editor and then general manager for the Middle East and Africa, including during the Arab Spring. A native speaker of English and German, Caroline also speaks Arabic and French.

 


 

 

My first job was… do babysitting and dog-sitting count? My first “real” paid job was a 1991 summer internship with French news service AFP’s Middle East headquarters in Cyprus, when I was sent to Lebanon to cover the release of Western hostages just a few months after its 15-year civil war ended. What an incredible introduction to international journalism!

My proudest accomplishment is… helping set up Iraq’s first independent news agency after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Working in a war zone with journalists who had never worked in a country with a free press — training them and their managers how to operate a truly independent news organization — was incredibly rewarding, and their dedication to pursuing the truth under the most adverse conditions was inspiring.

My boldest move to date was… starting to flirt long-distance with a colleague I really liked 10 years ago; we’ve been a couple for almost a decade now and live together in our Washington, DC home with our three dogs.

A defining moment in my career as a reporter was… meeting with the father of one of our journalists who had been killed doing his job. Our colleague had only been 22 when he died. His father gave me a photo of his son to make sure I’d never forget him. It’s stood on my desk ever since, and I think about him every day.

This moment reinforced my deep respect for the bravery of journalists doing the important work of reporting the truth and bringing greater transparency to our world. It also reminded me once again how fragile life is, and how important it is to live each day as fully as you can.

Speaking four languages has had an impact on my life… because it’s allowed me to see the world through a multicultural lens. It’s given me opportunities such as seeing from the frontlines in the Middle East how differently the Iraq war was seen in the region, compared to the United States. I’ve been able to interview Saudi businesswomen and stateless “Bedoons”, and everyone from far-right extremists in Austria to francophone peacekeepers in Africa. I think this multicultural lens has also helped me see my own country in a more nuanced way and allowed me to approach challenges and opportunities with eyes wide open.

The most fulfilling thing about the work I do is… working with people. It may sound cheesy, but I love the energy of working with people, feeding off each other, learning from each other. I love mentoring more junior colleagues and designing and implementing programs to support diverse talent. Call me crazy, but I also love running complex projects, juggling multiple things at once and bringing them to a productive, sustainable conclusion. Throw in time pressure and I’m happy as a clam. One of the most rewarding projects I worked on recently involved interviewing about 70 per cent of our staff – more than 1,700 people – face-to-face, all over the world, to find out what was making their work harder than it needed to be, then suggesting and implementing solutions.

 

“It’s normal to question whether you’re up to the task in the workplace sometimes, especially when you’re planning your next move. But the key thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and the only way you’ll know how far you can go is by stretching yourself.”

 

The most challenging thing about my work is… ensuring I handle crises and challenges coolly and calmly, keeping emotions in check, even when stress levels are enormous and lives are sometimes at risk.

I would tell my 21-year-old self don’t sweat the small stuff, trust your gut and live your values. The rest will fall into place.

I am an advocate for diversity and inclusion because… simply put: businesses and society are better off with diversity. I have seen first-hand how the absence of D+I leads to alienation, disenfranchisement and inequality as well as a lack of innovation, creativity, productivity and business success. It’s also a really exciting field, with new research from economists, social scientists and others leading to a greater understanding of the ways we can embed D&I into business, with tools such as people analytics and behavioural design.

A world where we have achieved diversity and inclusion looks like this… it’s a world where everyone feels equally welcomed, involved, appreciated and productive; a world where diversity is woven into the fabric of each business, not tacked on like an afterthought; it’s a world where different people, voices, ideas and views are empowered, shared, heard, discussed and incorporated into what we do. Where businesses tap into the entire talent pool at all levels as a matter of course, and as a result, economies and societies thrive.

My greatest advice from a mentor was… that it’s normal to question whether you’re up to the task in the workplace sometimes, especially when you’re planning your next move. But the key thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and the only way you’ll know how far you can go is by stretching yourself.

My biggest setback was… I’ve been astonishingly fortunate to experience very few major setbacks. There were disappointments, sure. But nothing I felt was a major roadblock, derailer or fateful development that altered my life. Disappointments included many jobs I applied for and didn’t get over the years. But in each case, something else came along that I actually loved more!

I overcame it by… not dwelling on it. By trying to get my mind off things that got me down. Singing lessons turned out to be an amazing way to get into a good mood.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the support of family and friends.

The future excites me because… I am at a stage in my life where I feel there are so many opportunities, and there are so many new fields of work opening up. The world is becoming more inclusive despite continued setbacks, and I have the chance to work with dynamic, energetic, new generations that expect diversity and inclusion to be part and parcel of life and work. We have our work cut out for us. And that’s great!

 

Tina : A life in Glossy

Tina Brown is an award-winning journalist, editor, author, and event producer. She turned around Tatler, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker as Editor-in-Chief. She wrote a bestselling biography of Princess Diana. She launched The Daily Beast news site and Women in the World summits. And she’s our Women of Influence Luncheon speaker.

 

 

By Stephania Varalli

 

 


 

“I’ve always had a bit of a tension in me — am I an executive, am I a writer, am I an editor, or am I somebody who just wants to do her own books?”

As I’m speaking with Tina Brown, I can understand her challenge in applying a label. She has had success in all these endeavors. Discovered for her writing talent, she was tapped to take on an ailing Tatler magazine at the age of 25, turned it into a success, and then did the same thing on a much grander scale at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. She’s written four books, most famously a bestselling bio of Diana, Princess of Wales (or Di, as Tina calls her, having known her for years). She co-founded online news magazine The Daily Beast, which quietly launched just before the 2008 US Presidential election, and was “seeing traffic over a million within a week or two.” During her tenure there she founded Women in the World as a passion project; ten years later, the summits have grown in size and expanded to cities around the world.

 

“I’ve always had a bit of a tension in me — am I an executive, am I a writer, am I an editor, or am I somebody who just wants to do her own books?”

 

Is it any wonder she’s musing about who she is?

As our talk continues, though, I notice there’s a pattern in the way she speaks about her many endeavors. A self-professed “magazine junky,” as a child she says she was always etching layouts and creating stories. In her career she spent over thirty years with an editor-in-chief title. When discussing The Daily Beast, she notes, “I loved the idea of creating a digital property that would have some of the visual appeal of a glossy magazine.” And she likens the Women in the World Summits to ”putting out a fabulous global magazine.” She programs them, she says, very much like she would an issue of Vanity Fair — a combination of hot topic panels, relatively unknown women with amazing stories to tell, and the required celebrity.

“You have to have a cover star,” she says, “And then inside you have a really good journalistic investigation, and you’re going to have a fascinating, unexpected, narrative about somebody. And the pagination, the pacing of it, goes on like that throughout the day.”

She sees the world through the lens of a magazine editor. Her content mix in my head, I wonder: what would Tina Brown’s life look like in a glossy?

 

Cover Star: The Fixer

When Tina was called in to take over Vanity Fair in 1983, ads were dwindling, losses were mounting, and readership was low. The magazine, which had spent over twenty years in circulation before the Great Depression, had just been revived by Condé Nast a year prior, and it was already on its second editor. As Tina says, “when that went hopelessly wrong, they thought about me.”

It’s no surprise she came to mind; she had just turned around Tatler in the UK, bringing it to a level of success that led Condé Nast to purchase it. Tina’s vision for Vanity Fair included a new mix of content, with celebrity profiles sitting alongside journalistic reporting, presented to the reader with “a visual panache” — that might mean a naked and pregnant Demi Moore on the cover, with a profile of Saddam Hussein inside.

Regardless of the subject, writing standards were high. One of Tina’s great skills is finding and fostering talent, and in the same way she seems to have a sixth sense for knowing what stories need to be told, she can also pinpoint who should be penning them.

“I know how to talk to writers because I am a writer,” she says. “And I have a very good sense of what a writer should be doing. And that’s part of the fun for me, being able to do that casting of writer with story.”

The mix worked. Sales of Vanity Fair rose from 200,000 to 1.2 million, advertisers flocked, and awards came in. Tina had masterfully elevated the reputation of the magazine (and hers along with it) to its own sort of celebrity status. Vanity Fair was a success, and after 9 years, she was ready for her next challenge.

Her move to The New Yorker in many ways mimicked her career thus far: it was an ailing magazine with a solid pedigree in need of a fresh vision. Despite her past successes, her appointment as editor-in-chief was controversial.

 

“I have a very good sense of what a writer should be doing. And that’s part of the fun for me, being able to do that casting of writer with story.”

 

“I understood why there was anxiety about me coming in,” says Tina. “At Vanity Fair I had just done Demi Moore stark naked on the cover. There were a lot of Old Guard people at The New Yorker thinking, who is this person that’s going to come into this literary jewel and make it into something incredibly disrespectful of its tradition? But that’s really because they didn’t know my own pedigree, which is as a much more literary writer and editor than I was showing.”

There might have been some cause for the Old Guard to be alarmed. She replaced over 40 writers, hired the publication’s first staff photographer, and went about creating a magazine that both honoured its literary traditions and that people actually wanted to read.

Circulation grew, advertisers flocked, and awards came in, once again. Tina began to have bigger ideas — she saw the value in expanding the brand beyond the magazine, and approached publisher Si Newhouse about doing live events, a radio show, a book imprint, TV, and movie production.

“Frankly, everything I wanted to do is exactly what people are doing now, 25 years later,” says Tina. “Sam Newhouse just didn’t get it. He would say, ‘go back downstairs and manage a magazine, you’re not supposed to be talking about brand extensions.’”

 

Hot Topic: The Scandal of a Woman’s Success

It was 1998, and Tina Brown was still editing The New Yorker with big ideas of brand expansion brewing in her head. “Miramax then came at me to do exactly that with them, and of course, enter Harvey Weinstein, which wasn’t exactly the best career move I ever made.”

Tina still considers Talk magazine — the result of her departure from The New Yorker and subsequent partnership with Miramax — to be some of her best work. After a splashy launch, Tina says it simply couldn’t survive the destabilizing force of Weinstein. “He never sexually harassed me,” she explains, “but he was volcanic, he was abusive, he was just a terrible, terrible person to work with.”

Add to that the tragedy of 9-11, and the advertising drought that followed. “He had no idea how to keep it going as it got through that period,” says Tina. “It was just a very devastating experience.”

Despite having reached a circulation of 670,000, the publication was abruptly shut down in January of 2002. It was Tina’s first high-profile failure, after three unquestionable successes.

The scandal is not that she failed, or even that she did so in partnership with a man that would become the poster boy of the #MeToo movement. What you’ll find in the endless commentary on Tina’s nearly fifty-year career is that her wins are criticized just as heavily as her failure, if not more. And there’s a common thread in all that noise: unable to deny her accomplishments, she was successful in the wrong way. Too much celebration of celebrity, too much focus on building buzz, too direct in her requests, too decisive. If you listen to her critics, the scandal is that she was able to succeed.

 

“I still don’t think we’re even halfway up the mountain with it. This is going to go on, and it’s going to gather more and more steam, and it has got real energy now, and I think it’s exciting.”

 

It begs the question: would a man in her position be viewed in the same way, or lauded for his leadership?

Tina is open in saying that “gender played a role with not being taken seriously in the ways that I should have.” From her early days, when the managing director of Condé Nast in London attributed her success at Tatler to “your looks and your lifestyle,” to the pushback she received when coming on board at The New Yorker.

It goes without saying that she hasn’t let it stop her. And with Women in the World, Tina is contributing to the solution. She was inspired to launch the program after meeting a group of extraordinary women through her work on the board of Vital Voices, an NGO that mentors women in emerging countries.

“I just thought they really ought to be telling their stories in a wider setting. Broadcast journalism doesn’t seem to be interested in them ever.”

Now entering its tenth year, Women in the World has broached topics from rape as a weapon of war to sexual harassment, has introduced the fascinating narratives of individual women from around the globe, and featured every A-lister you can think of, from politics, entertainment, and business. Tina says she’s seen a change in receptivity since #MeToo, but the journey towards action has only begun.

“I still don’t think we’re even halfway up the mountain with it,” she says, referring to the impact #MeToo is having. “This is going to go on, and it’s going to gather more and more steam, and it has got real energy now, and I think it’s exciting.”

 

A Fascinating Personal Narrative: Blonde Ambition

As a teenager, Tina Brown was kicked out of three private high schools. The reasons are less a demonstration of delinquency and more a tribute to her creativity, humour, and bravery in the face of authority. At one school, she led a protest against a rule that girls couldn’t change their underwear more than three times per week; at another, she referred to the headmistress’ bosoms and “unidentified flying objects” in a personal diary (which the headmistress really had no right to be reading, anyway).

The traits served her well in her chosen career, she says. “I’m impatient and always very skeptical about rules and authority. It’s one of those things that’s made me an inquiring journalist, I think. My ears prick and I think to myself, oh, that didn’t sound right.”

Despite the rocky times in high school she managed to get into Oxford at 16, where she worked on the student magazine. After graduation, she contribute to Punch, The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph before being tapped at the age of 25 to take on the role of editor-in-chief of Tatler magazine.

“I had a strong sense of what I wanted to do with Tatler,” says Tina. “I was very excited by its pedigree. It was a 270-year-old magazine, and it had been around in the days of Jonathan Swift and Gulliver’s Travels. At the same time, it then morphed into a magazine which I could describe as a weekly must-read of the Downton Abbey set. I really wanted to combine those two genres in a magazine. I wanted it to be as literary as the first magazine, but at the same time fun, irreverent, and social.”

In addition to guiding the content and voice, Tina wrote content for every issue — including semi-satirical profiles of upper society’s eligible bachelors, under the pen-name Rosie Boot.

 

“I’m impatient and always very skeptical about rules and authority. It’s one of those things that’s made me an inquiring journalist, I think.”

 

“The social magazine of the 50s that Tatler was took society as society wanted to be seen. What I brought to it was a modern twist,” she says. “We had fun headlines and captions. Today we would call that attitude.”

The “attitude” quadrupled circulation numbers, and caught the eye of Condé Nast. Si Newhouse purchased it in 1983, and shortly after, Tina quit. “I was very flattered when Condé Nast bought it, but then I quickly found it stifling. Condé Nast had its ways of doing things and I was much scrappier than that.”

The pull of Vanity Fair, New York City — and the pure ambition that’s evident in everything she does — was ultimately enough to bring her back into the Condé Nast fold. And from the outside, she was every bit the glamorous celebrity editor. Ask Tina, and she’ll say the parties were a journalistic venture; a way to be in the action and get leads. In the The Vanity Fair Diaries, she refers to this time as living as “a spectator and a foreigner.”

I ask her if she now feels she’s living a life that’s authentically her. It’s the only time in our interview that she takes a long pause.

“The great joy of becoming older is that you become less and less concerned about what other people think of you,” she says. “I just launched the podcast, which has been enormously fun.
It’s just me and a pair of headphones talking to somebody interesting, and that I’m enjoying a lot. I can really do what I want to do, which is somewhat go back to my literary roots.”

Does that mean that Tina Brown is ready to settle in? Unlikely.

“I am a reckless spirit. What I love to do is have a mission, a turnaround, a crusade — to go at something with tremendous passion. I’m not as interested in being a steward as being an innovator.”

 

Join us on May 21st, 2019, to be inspired by one of the most iconic media moguls of all time and discover what it takes to build a legacy career. Tickets are available here.

Meet Robin Swicord : Oscar Nominated Screenwriter

Robin Swicord was born in South Carolina and raised in rural Florida and Georgia. She is a screenwriter and director known for her screenplay adaptations of Little Women (94), Matilda (96), and Memoirs of a Geisha(05). She was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (07). Her debut directorial feature, The Jane Austen Book Club(07), screened at the Festival. Most recently, she wrote and directed Wakefield (16), which premiered at the Festival, and is currently producing the upcoming feature Little Women (19). We caught up with her to discuss her career journey ahead of her Books on Film talk in Toronto, where she will discussing the process of adapting a book for film. 

 


 

When I was younger I wanted to be … boringly enough, a writer.  Preferably anywhere but here.

I became a screenwriter because…I felt fully absorbed by movies. When I was young, I didn’t know that movies were written. I wasn’t even aware that movies were directed, when I first fell in love with films. What I loved was the acting, the characters, the costumes, the sets, the music, the story-telling, the witty dialogue, the photography – in short, everything. When I watched a movie, I would memorize it, and replay it mentally as I fell asleep that night. When I was a child, I had thought that I would write novels or children’s books. The moment that I finally noticed the “written by” credit on a film, I felt electrified. If movies were “written by” someone, then why couldn’t I write them?

My proudest accomplishment is…probably not related to writing, or directing movies. I tend to reflect back on my own work (and even my own personal experiences) with a restless feeling of “What did I learn from this? What can I do better next time?”   or even “How did I get into this??” That’s not a mindset that makes much room for a sense of arrival. In fact, it’s possible that all I ever allow myself is a sense of relief!

My boldest move to date was…escaping from the small Southern town in the Florida Panhandle where I grew up.    

The best thing about being a screenwriter is… (I usually joke and say “The wardrobe”), but the best thing, really, is that I get to make movies, sometimes.  Even when the scripts I write don’t make it to the screen, I feel privileged that I get to do something creative every day, as a way of life.   I know how lucky I am.

The most challenging part of my job is…dealing with disappointment when projects don’t move forward.  All professional screenwriters do a great deal of paid writing that is never seen on the screen.   You have to have stamina to persist, to return again to the inner creative source, and to make something new.

I would tell my 21-year-old self… “Love yourself.”  (“And oh by the way, don’t bother dating anyone until you meet Nick Kazan, when you’re 29.”)

My biggest setback was…most likely not my biggest setback. To be a screenwriter – or perhaps any creative person — is to be beset by the very ordinary problems of rejection and harsh criticism, as well as confusing notes from underqualified people, and betrayals and failures of character by producers or directors or executives or agents; some of which in the moment swell to the size of catastrophes.  But weirdly, over time, the things that feel so terrible and insurmountable are later revealed to be ridiculous, or common, or predictable – and certainly not worth the emotional investment we give them at the time.   The good thing about my having been a screenwriter for 40 – yes, that’s forty years – is that I have FINALLY begun to develop a sense of perspective — though perhaps too late for it to be of any real use to me.   If you need to borrow my sense of perspective, let me know.

 

“To be a screenwriter – or perhaps any creative person — is to be beset by the very ordinary problems of rejection and harsh criticism”

 

I overcame it by…writing something new.

My greatest advice from a mentor was…not from a mentor, because I grew up in the generation of unmentored women. But I did get a useful piece of stray advice from a studio executive who stopped me to chat in the halls of MGM.  I was in my mid-20s, and I had sold my first screenplay to MGM.  The executive, David Chasman, asked me how it was going with my project.  I was at that moment writing my 9th or maybe 10th draft of the screenplay that I had sold to a producer at MGM, and I was at the studio that day to hear yet another round of story notes.  I said, “I don’t know…I keep writing different versions, and hearing more suggestions, and then I take all their suggestions …but when I turn in the draft, I hear a lot of new suggestions. I keep hoping that I’ll finally write a draft that’s good enough for them to make into a movie.” David Chasman stopped me right there: “Movies don’t get made because the script is good.  They get made for a lot of other reasons – but it’s never about the script. Movies are made all the time from bad scripts. You could write a perfect script – and it still might not be made into a movie.” It was good advice, even if it sounds cynical, because Chasman gave me an accurate description of filmmaking within the studio system, where I would work for many years. After that, I allowed myself to relax more as I wrote, trusting myself, and simply doing the best work that I knew how to do, without worrying about pleasing a constantly shifting hierarchy of development executives.   It’s actually wonderfully freeing, creatively, to know that what you’re doing is irrelevant.   Until it isn’t.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… a strong work ethic.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…some very basic truths.

I stay inspired by…watching other people’s movies and TV shows, and by reading, and going to galleries and museums and stage plays and music performances – taking in the rich world of the arts. I love trees – my husband says I’m a tree worshipper – and I make a point of being around trees, especially when I’m feeling creatively drained.

The future excites me because…I see who is coming, among the young people who are making their first films and web series now.

My next step is…always into the unknown.

 

Thinking inside the box: Emily Lowe’s approach to innovating for the future

Founder of Lowegistics International, Emily Lowe, developed a love for shipping containers at a young age. At 17, she turned that passion into a business, launching a global supply chain data analysis company that leverages innovative solutions to transform the economics of construction, material and equipment logistics.

 

By Kristen Sears

 


 

Travel was a big part of Emily Lowe’s youth. By the time she graduated high school, she had lived in seven different countries, among them Qatar, Switzerland, France and Australia.

So much travel during one’s formative years leads some people to crave a permanent place to hang their hat. In others, like Emily, it inspires just the opposite. She developed a passion for both travelling and meeting new people, and… shipping containers.

“While I was growing up, my whole life was being transported from one country to the next, like a shipping container, so I guess it was very natural for me to take a liking to them very early on,” she says.

At 17, Emily turned that passion into a business. While watching an episode of the Discovery Channel series, Mega Builders, she was struck by the tediousness of loading and unloading a shipping container, and was inspired to come up with a solution.

“I took a business trip to China to be a part of the process from concept to creation for an invention called the IWS or Intermodal Warehouse System, and like that, my world changed forever,” she recalls. “I fell in love with construction and supply chain and logistics and all things that would eliminate material handling lifts.”

That trip marked the beginning of Emily’s consulting business, Lowegistics International.

By the end of 2017, after several iterations, the design of the IWS had been perfected thanks to a partnership agreement with Sea Box, a company with over 30 years’ experience in the design, customization and manufacturing of ISO containers.

The IWS is a steel cargo carrying platform that essentially slides into a shipping container. Fit for trains, ships and flatbed trucks, the platforms can be used individually or stacked to maximize cargo space, and, upon arrival at the destination, slide out and function as a cargo storage solution.

 

“I think we should really be innovating in ways that allow us to think inside the box as opposed to outside the box, and utilize what we already have instead of creating things that we want.”

 

The system provides significant procurement cost savings to the companies who adopt it, Emily says, by eliminating the need for cranes and break bulk ships, reducing labour, cutting down the time to unload and cargo, and maximizing space in warehouses and storage yards.

“I think we should really be innovating in ways that allow us to think inside the box as opposed to outside the box and utilize what we already have instead of creating things that we want,” Emily says, noting that her vision is to “transform the economics of construction material and equipment logistics through innovation, standardization, mobility and analytics.”

Such was the focus of some new innovations she began working on with the help of the Master of Management Innovation & Entrepreneurship program (MMIE) at Smith School of Business.

“I think the greatest takeaway I got from the program was definitely getting a new community of peers and like-minded individuals,” Emily says. “You go into the MMIE program and you have 70 people who speak your language… I have so many wonderful friends from that program and a lot of peers that I will probably start companies with one day, and we bounce ideas off each other.”

Her current project is an innovation first conceived while she was pursuing her undergraduate degree in Global Development Studies at Queen’s University.

“I took our course content, which primarily focused on the housing crisis in northern Canada, and tried to design a solution around that,” Emily explains. “So, within the past year, I’ve developed a home that can be transported pretty much anywhere around the world, but particularly Canada because it’s rated for negative –70 C, and it costs less than $100,000.”

She’s currently looking for investors and construction partners to pilot these homes. “All the engineering is done; we can start manufacturing it tomorrow,” she says. “I just need someone to come knock on my door and be like, ‘Emily, let’s get this going and see where we can take it.’”

In the meantime, she’s decided to stay in Canada — her company’s headquarters are in Houston — and is sharing her expertise and knowledge from the MMIE program with other startups and scale-ups in the Calgary area and expanding her professional network.

“I just want to be among people who also love what they do, but are also experts in their field,” she says. “I’m a big believer of it being not just what you know, it’s also who you know.”

 

It is a fact that almost 50% of all new ventures or innovations fail within the first three years. Smith’s Master of Management Innovation & Entrepreneurship is designed to provide the business acumen and practical support you need to greatly improve your odds of success. Learn more about the program here.