Mandy Rennehan, CEO of construction company Freshco, is on a mission to make the trades more relatable.

Mandy Rennehan

By Sarah Kelsey 


Mandy Rennehan — the fast-talking, down-to-earth CEO of Freshco, a retail maintenance and construction company that counts organizations like the Gap and Tesla as clients — is on a mission.

“We devalue the trades,” she says, of the way society looks down on blue collar workers — a group that includes everyone from estheticians to electricians. “We don’t think about the people who design and build all of the things we rely on. It’s now about making the trades relatable.”

Mandy, who’s called Bear by just about everyone who knows her, is hoping to fuel this revolution by bringing a little of her blue collar perspective to the white collar world. Her efforts have included everything from inspirational speaking (with viral TEDxTalks), providing scholarships and mentorship for women in trades, partnering with Barbie’s You Can Be Anything Mentorship Program, and an HGTV series called Trading Up that will air in 2022. (The show will follow her as she trains apprentices while renovating three unique properties in her hometown of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.)

“It will give me a bigger platform to share my message,” she says. 

Growing up with financial struggles, Mandy hightailed it out of Yarmouth with “only a hockey bag and personality” after high school, taking odd jobs that played to her physical strength on dairy and horse farms. “It wasn’t that I couldn’t be academic or go to school, I just didn’t want to,” she says. 

Instead, Mandy spent her spare time cold-calling construction companies asking if she could pitch in on projects. “I laid stones, concrete, electrical, and pulled wire for weeks so I could understand the foundation of everything,” she says. 

“If we don’t talk to people about how rewarding the trades field is — fixing essential things — we will remain in this trade shortage.”

Luck struck when she landed a gig with a flooring company and was tasked with developing a customized cherrywood for a wealthy client in Halifax. The son appreciated her craftsmanship and work ethic — and was vocal about it.  

“From that time, my name spread through the Maritimes like a bad fart,” she jokes. “There wasn’t anyone who didn’t know about the young woman from Yarmouth who was making waves in construction.” The then 19-year-old Mandy founded Freshco, which has since grown to service Fortune 500 clients across Canada and the Eastern United States. 

“I am a pilot project that went really well,” she says, adding how important it is to share her own story. “If we don’t talk to people about how rewarding the trades field is — fixing essential things — we will remain in this trade shortage.”

Mandy points to the issue of how trade work is viewed versus earning a university degree. In her experience in the industry, blue collar parents push their kids to go to university thinking it will insulate them from the discrimination they faced, while white collar parents do the same because they think non-corporate jobs aren’t prestigious enough for their kids.

The reality, though, is that the world of construction and trades is not only rewarding — it is beginning to lead the way with innovative and future-proof technologies. 

“You need more math and physics to do most of the things you need to do in trades than you need for a desk job. But the industry isn’t being sold that way,” explains Mandy.

Case in point: “You know those cabinets you dream about — the cabinets you see in magazines? Years ago we had to physically train someone about the art of spraying cabinets. Today, we put them in a spraying simulator. That simulator is all AI that’s teaching people how to do things using tech. We’re no longer wasting wood or resources,” she says. “And then we have exoskeleton suits that allow contractors to demo without putting wear and tear on their bodies.”

“We’re not — nor will we ever be — in a place where we can get rid of people. But you’re no longer going to school to learn how to lay bricks; you’re going to learn about the technology behind new high-tech processes.”

Software has also changed the game. A general contractor can now work from home and watch what’s happening on site through cameras. Programs even allow teams to do scans of an area so crews can see what’s behind a home’s walls. 

“What this is doing is attracting people with a tech background to trades,” says Mandy. “We’re not — nor will we ever be — in a place where we can get rid of people. But you’re no longer going to school to learn how to lay bricks; you’re going to learn about the technology behind new high-tech processes.”

The challenge then is getting people’s viewpoints to catch up to the way the industry is evolving. “We’re still missing the people with the knowledge of modalities for building techniques. We don’t have enough people that have enough wisdom to do certain things. And if we don’t start training more people in building modalities or making them aware of the career possibilities, we’re all going to be sitting here struggling to find people to build things.”

Which is why she’s extolling the virtues of working in the trades for everyone. 

“This industry was made for both genders,” she says — an assertion she’s supported not only through hiring and training women in her own company, but also by providing inspiration, mentorship, and financial aid to girls and women interested in trades. “But I’m not just after your daughter and those in junior high school. I’m after people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s who say ‘I want to work with my hands. I want to build stuff. I want to build and maintain a new Canada.’”

All people have to do is take a cue from Mandy’s career to see how wildly successful and fulfilling life outside the white-collar world can be.

“I’m bringing the sexy back to the trade industry,” she jokes, “and I’m making and inspiring new leaders and general contractors who see the absolute gratifying fun and kick-ass part of the trade industry. The opportunities are endless.”

The founder of Balzac’s Coffee left the brand she built — to create an entirely new retail business during COVID.

Diana Olsen

By Sarah Kelsey 


How do you know it’s the right time to leave a job? It’s a question many people seem to be asking themselves as Canada comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers have even begun to warn of a coming wave of resignations. 

For Diana Olsen, who left her long-term career at Balzac’s Coffee Roasters in December 2020, it came down to two things: gut instinct and timing. 

“You have to hone in on your intuition and what it’s telling you,” Diana says. “You can’t listen to the advice or thoughts of anyone else. The decision to leave has to be one you make for yourself.”

Diana became a household name in the coffee world after beginning the much-beloved brand in Stratford, Ontario in 1996. She spent almost 25 years building the company and turning it into a café chain with outposts across the province.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced her into an unusual period of downtime, which she used to reflect on her career and future goals. 

She knew she loved the people she was working with and adored her customers. “The thing that set Balzac’s apart from other coffee shops was I did take the coffee seriously — we roasted it ourselves. I learned the craft of roasting,” Diana explains. “But I was also interested in the design and ambience of the café, and I took my inspiration from the ones in Paris, a city I lived and worked in for years. That’s what made Balzac’s unique. It wasn’t just a chain of coffee shops, it was a coffee roaster with a beautiful space.”

But as the brand grew, so too did her disconnect with these elements of the business. Diana began to desire a return to the fresh and small. That led to the creation of her latest venture, Inner Beach

“Since there were no trade shows, I have yet to meet a supplier, maker, or artist I carry in person. The items in the store all came from contacting suppliers or makers online.” 

“I started Inner Beach in the spring of 2021, months after retiring from Balzac’s, because I wanted to build a community and bring the laid-back energy of beach culture to everyone at a time when they need a way to escape their day-to-day and destress and relax,” she notes. 

The result is a thriving omni-channel business — with a stand-alone store near the shores of Port Credit, Ontario, and online presence at — full of boho-chic finds. Integrated into the experience is a partnership with Swim Drink Fish, a charity with a goal of cleaning up Canadian shorelines to protect swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for everyone.

Launching an entirely new retail brand during a pandemic came with unique challenges. Diana leaned on technologies she had used at Balzac’s to create an online sales channel, and she turned to social media to source suppliers. “Since there were no trade shows, I have yet to meet a supplier, maker, or artist I carry in person,” she says. “The items in the store all came from contacting suppliers or makers online.” 

Even the vintage products carried in the store were found through a combination of virtual and live thrifting events, as well as auction sites. Embracing a hybrid model of online and in-person — which she’s used from sourcing to sellingChas led to success. 

Today, Diana says she feels a renewed passion for the work she does; she’s reconnected to her start-up roots and her ability to be creative. While she acknowledges some may think her move to leave a successful brand to launch something new is risky, she doesn’t let their thoughts phase her. 

“Being an entrepreneur is risky. You want to stand out and you want to be unique, but sometimes in the back of your mind you’re thinking, should I be doing this?” she says. “Don’t doubt yourself. If you feel you need a change, tune into your intuition. You have to keep pushing and being forward thinking. You have to remain resilient and do what works for you.”

“When I’m doubting myself, it’s my support network that shows me it’s just my self-doubt getting in the way of me making a good decision. They know what I’m capable of and they remind me of that every day.”

She adds all entrepreneurs should remember that advice or the unsolicited thoughts of others should always be taken with a grain of salt. You will know your business best, and just because someone advises you of something doesn’t mean they’re right. It’s great to have a trusted mentor to lean on and bounce ideas off of, but you can’t let them knock your confidence or confuse your instincts. 

“When I’m doubting myself, it’s my support network that shows me it’s just my self-doubt getting in the way of me making a good decision. They know what I’m capable of and they remind me of that every day,” she says.

Diana’s last piece of advice for anyone who is looking to make a career shift during this time is to make sure the move is calculated. She reiterates she still loved Balzac’s when she left, but knew it was time to challenge herself in a different way and to take a smart risk. 

“I’ve failed over the course of my career. But I know you have to make mistakes along the way to learn and grow. Any entrepreneur is going to make mistakes. You’re going to be completely convinced of something and then you’re going to realize you’re wrong,” she says. “Just remember: there will be plenty of times you’re right. You can’t let fear stop you. Know when something is no longer working for you. Tap into your intuition. Take risks. All of this is way better than not having the confidence to try something new.”

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


I surprise people when I tell them… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Noëlla Coursaris Musunka: an International Model & Philanthropist advocating for girls’ education

Congolese-Cypriot International Model, Noëlla Coursaris Musunka credits her first trip back home, at 18 after 13 years living in Europe, as the catalyst for her philanthropic endeavours. Beyond the catwalk, Noëlla is also the Founder & CEO of Malaika, a grassroots nonprofit that works to educate and empower girls and communities in her home country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A unique, fearless, and elegant spokesperson, and the face of leading beauty and fashion campaigns across the globe, she is a voice for the power of girls’ education worldwide. Founded in 2007, Malaika’s education and health programs are today impacting thousands of lives and are all offered free of charge. Noëlla has shared her insight at a number of world-class forums spanning the Clinton Global Initiative and the World Economic Forum in Davos to the university halls of Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, and MIT. In 2017, Noëlla was named one of the BBC’s 100 Most Influential & Inspirational Women of the Year, and in 2018, she received an award at the 100 Years of Mandela celebration.


My first job ever was… Supporting younger students with their homework. I had a few little jobs as I was doing my Business Management degree and they all taught me to value every person at every level. 

The biggest lesson that I have learned from my career professional model has been… That every job is an opportunity to give back and raise the profile of important issues in society. I have always built in some sort of fundraising or support for Malaika in my work with brands. 

One of the highlights of my modelling career has been… Working with some incredible brands that have excellent values and want to help make the world a better place through the way they produce their products and distribute them. Also working with some great people from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. 

I decided to become a philanthropist because… I saw a need and wanted to help. I felt it was important to raise awareness of the need for girls to have an education because it is their right and will benefit their community and society as a whole but I didn’t just want to speak about it. I wanted to act and make it happen in the DRC. 

I got the idea to set up Malaika from…My first trip back to the Congo at the age of 18 having grown up in Europe. My father died when I was five and my mother sent me to live with family in Europe so I could obtain an education. When I returned I was shocked to see the poor living conditions my mother was living in and the number of girls not attending school. It was socially acceptable for boys to be given more opportunity when it comes to education. At that moment I thought something needed to be done and the idea grew as I spent the next few years studying and working.

My proudest accomplishment is… My children, JJ and Care, first and foremost. They remain my priority and I am already proud of who they are becoming. I am very proud of Malaika and so opening the school was a significant accomplishment in my life. Seeing the girls grow and develop year-on-year always makes me extremely grateful that I’ve been able to start something that then a team of international volunteers and staff, along with our generous and supportive donors, have grown and developed to be what it is today. Opening our first well and our 20th well was also a special moment due to the impact we knew it would have on the community by protecting them from waterborne illness and disease. 

My boldest move to date was…The first time I went to New York for a modelling campaign. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I don’t take a salary to run Malaika.

My biggest hope for the girls in my school is…That they are healthy and happy. 


“Being a mother, leading a non-profit organization, being the ambassador for the Global Fund for AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria…, as well as my modelling career — it all takes time and involves travel and time away from the family.” 


My best advice from a mentor was…To stay focused on my mission and not get sidetracked by all the needs that present themselves but continue to strengthen what we have already. 

My biggest setback was…Not having my parents around when I was growing up. My father died when I was five and my mother sent me to live with family in Europe as she knew it would open up more opportunities for me to gain an education. It was painful and challenging but it helped me to become self-sufficient and very driven.

I overcame it by… Choosing to make the best of the opportunities I had been given and not focusing on the loss. 

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is… To sometimes say no. 

The best thing about what I do is… Going to the Congo each year and seeing the difference that Malaika is making by empowering an entire community via our school, community centre.

The most challenging thing about what I do is… Balancing it all. Being a mother, leading a non-profit organization, being the ambassador for the Global Fund for AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, doing various speaking engagements and events to raise awareness of girls’ education, as well as my modelling career. It all takes time and involves travel and time away from the family. 

While social distancing, I’m spending my time… Homeschooling my children and enjoying the time with them. I spend so much time travelling and working away from home in normal circumstances that I relish the opportunity to spend time with them. Of course, I am still working to try and support the community in Kalebuka where we have had to close our school and our programs at the community centre. This is a huge challenge for our students and their families as the price of food has gone up in the area and they were receiving two meals a day from the school and from our agriculture where we grow food for the school canteen. We have launched an emergency fund to feed 60 families per week and are doing awareness-raising about hygiene through our 20 wells. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am a very sensitive person and I was a tomboy when I was little. 

The future excites me because… So much is happening to help elevate Africa and education for girls. We are also producing a template to support others to duplicate Malaika as a community-based model that will suit any context. We will also see our first graduate students in the next few years and I can’t wait to see how their lives unfold and also how the community develops and further reaches its potential. At our community centre, we also provide education to adults and youth. We teach literacy and math and also entrepreneurship and sewing. We already have a brand called Mama Ya Mapendo, which includes accessories and bags made by women who have been educated at our centre. Presently they are sewing masks that we are giving to people in the community to help protect them from getting COVID-19. I’m excited to see how other businesses will develop over the coming years and how they will give back to the community, as Mama Ya Mapendo is doing now in this current crisis.

Meet Angela Aiello: aka ‘Super Wine Girl’ who has tasted over 10,000 wines in her 20-year career

With 20 years of experience in the wine, spirits and food business, Angela has a wealth of experience and knowledge with the millennial market. Her expertise lies around consumer behaviour, social media marketing, experiential tasting events, building brand awareness and global wine/food/drink trends and education. She has also hosted educational seminars, panel discussions, and was previously the Wine Editor for an international magazine. She has written about, wine, food and drink for many lifestyle publications, and has produced/hosted national on-air TV and radio segments – including live-to-air showings and has mastered the art of online videos. Known as @SuperWineGirl, her career has been about democratizing wine and giving consumers the keys they need to be their own wine critic.


My first job ever was… at a Pizzeria in a town called Smithville, swinging pizzas and deep-frying chicken wings! 

I realized that I had a passion for wine… when I moved to the big city and had no friends, but a lot of wine – and I knew a lot about them! 

For me, the perfect glass of wine is… poured at the perfect temperature in a beautiful glass. Right now I’m sipping great Chardonnay or Grenache-based blends.

My proudest accomplishment is… having travelled to over 14 countries to learn about wine, including working in a cellar for harvest in the South African Winelands in 2018. 

My boldest move to date was… incorporating a business, expanding a business and pivoting a business. 

I surprise people when I tell them…I’ve tasted over 10,000 wines in my career! 

My best advice to people thinking of formalizing their interest in wine is…be prepared to work hard and long, the wine business looks luxurious, and there are moments that are, but the majority of time is spent hustling. 


“The wine business looks luxurious, and there are moments that are, but the majority of time is spent hustling.”


My best advice from a mentor was… you’re a rockstar, just keep hustling. 

I would tell my 21-year old self… in 15 years, you’ll look back and be proud of what you accomplished. 

My biggest setback was… stretching myself too thin over business opportunities.

I overcame it by… hiring a consultant to research the business and give me guidance.

The best thing about what I do is… tasting the world and telling my stories to others through social media, celebrity and chef interviews and constantly learning about the world at the same time.

The most challenging thing about what I do is… staying healthy and humble through bottles and egos.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…spend more time in grocery stores and prep more meals! 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…I have size 6 feet! 

I stay inspired by…meeting with mentors and mentees and travelling as much as possible.

My next step is…to complete my book – it’s about sex, wine and pizza! Follow my IG account for wine recommendations “Juice du Jour” and have all of your wine questions answered by @SuperWineGirl.

Meet Kate Drummond: elementary school teacher turned actor currently starring in HULU’s Utopia Falls

If you’re considering a career transition and wondering if it’s a little too late — award-winning actor Kate Drummond is living proof that it’s not! As a former elementary school teacher who became an actor later in life, Kate is an advocate for people following their dreams no matter where they are in life. In May 2014, Kate was the keynote speaker at TEDx in Oshawa, Canada where she told her inspiring story of Chasing Dreams and Beginning Again. The presentation which garnered over half a million views has connected her globally with many people who are also on their path to reaching their goals. She can currently be seen starring in HULU’s genre-bending sci-fi series UTOPIA FALLS, a coming of age story following a group of teens in the distant future colony of New Babyl as they uncover an ancient forbidden archive of historical, cultural and musical relics. 


My first acting job was… a very small part in a movie called The Kate Logan Affair back in 2005. I was a police officer interrogating Alexis Bledel and I remember exactly when and where I was when I booked the role. I was a school teacher at the time, just starting in acting. I was walking out to my car when my agent called me on my cell phone. He said, “You booked the role!” I started bawling. Our school custodian was standing there and must have thought someone had died. I hung up and said, “Oh my gosh! I booked my first big part!” We both laughed. And cheered. My school colleagues were incredibly supportive of me.

I became an actress because…being a storyteller is what I was designed to be. I believe that. Right from the time I was a kid, I was performing. I was a natural storyteller and uber creative. I used to put on shows for the neighbourhood and organize talent competitions.  I used to stand on my bed and sing the National Anthem to my stuffed animals every night before bed. My parents and teachers didn’t know what to do with all this energy I had, so they put me into sports and my artist just got put on the back burner for a few decades while I competed.  But I think I became an actress at exactly the right time. I had life experience and heart experience to back up my love of storytelling.

My favourite thing about working on Utopia Falls has been… the people. I absolutely fell in love with the entire Utopia Falls family. From hair and makeup to wardrobe to my fellow co-stars to every director and every daily who came in to help…  everyone came together to create this show. We were all so invested in the show and what it stands for. Whenever I went to set, the support was unending. We were all in this together and it felt like a beautiful community. I also loved playing the misfit of the group… the antagonist of the show. Every hero needs a great villain and it was fun to play that role.

My proudest accomplishment is… my TEDx talk. Back in 2014, I did a TEDx talk called Chasing Dreams and Beginning Again.  I worked for months on that talk. I remember writing it and rewriting it so many times, each time getting a little more truthful. I remember reading what I thought was a finished talk to a very close friend. She said, “Kate, I feel like you have just wrapped your life up in a pretty pink bow… you’ve missed talking about the hard parts.”  She was right. I went back to the drawing board and spent another month working on the talk I ended up with. It was my truth. Fully. It was a very surreal experience standing on a stage and revealing my biggest vulnerabilities. But I did it. That is my proudest accomplishment; being able to stand in my truth like that. I never expected that it would go any further than the audience I had that day. Today, it’s reached over 550,000 views and I have connected with people all over the world who relate to me and share their journey with me. It’s incredibly humbling and rewarding and when people share their stories with me, I am equally inspired.


“I feel like I truly belong where I am. I feel like I fit this new life. I am excited to direct more, write more and act more.”


My boldest move to date was… leaving the security of my teaching job, after 12 years, to move to Toronto to be an actress at the age of 35. 

My biggest setback was… when I lost my dog, Jackson. He was my best friend and family for the better part of 13 years. He was with me through city changes, job changes, everything. He was everything. When I lost him, I fell into a very deep depression for almost a year. I was having a hard time booking work, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. The grief was paralyzing.

I overcame it by… moving to my partner’s family ranch in Alberta for 6 months. About 2 weeks after I lost my dog, I packed up his ashes and my partner and I drove across Canada to Alberta. I lived in a bunkhouse in the middle of a pasture for the better part of 6 months. I needed the time to heal and it was the perfect place to do that. It’s really hard to take a break from our lives because of the fear of missing an opportunity, but really, I had no choice. I was struggling and needed the support of my partner, his family and the animals on the ranch. I hadn’t spent much time around horses before that, but I befriended a herd of horses there and spent a lot of my days sitting in the corral with them. They are very intuitive animals. They sensed I was grieving and I relied on them for animal connection. I remember one of the horses got badly injured and required daily care, for hours, to save him. I was assigned the job of taking care of this massive gelding. I was terrified. But it also gave me purpose. As I was grieving the loss of one life, I was saving another. That’s what got me through to the next chapter of my life.

I surprise people when I tell them… that I’m an introvert. People think that because I’m so social and “out there” that I’m an extrovert. Truth be told, I do LOVE people. I love the buzz of being on set and being around those I love. But truly, I need to balance it with a lot of time on my own. I’m an extroverted introvert in a way. I am very sensitive to the energy of others. After a day on set, I always have to manage my energy by taking Epsom salt baths and meditating.

I would encourage aspiring actors to…  never assume you’ve gotten anything figured out. We are changing with every single breath we take, and therefore so is our craft. Study a lot. Support other artists. Train. Be a nice person. Audit classes. Begin again every day. Ask questions. Don’t define yourself by the roles you get. Acting is a responsibility. Don’t take it lightly.  Get out there and volunteer in the community. Whether it’s at a local theatre or a soup kitchen, volunteering keeps things in perspective and also puts you in a position of service. Also… let your love for your art always be bigger than your fear.

When I’m not on set, you can find me…  at home or out walking with my new rescue pup, Zelda, from Mexico. I am a real homebody so my ideal day is sitting by a fireplace, listening to vinyl, and curled up with my family. I also love nature, so I like to spend as much time outdoors as I can.

The person I look up to is… Brooke Shields. We first met when working on the Flower Shop Mysteries a few years ago. We filmed 3 movies together and became instant friends. We still are to this day although I don’t get to see her very often.  Brooke is one of the most graceful human beings I’ve ever met. Her heart is huge and she treated everyone with such incredible respect. She was a beautiful reminder to me of what is right with the industry… famous people with lots of clout, who don’t act like they are above anyone. She truly is a role model for me.

The best advice I’ve been given is…  jump and the net will appear.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…  that I had to have my tongue sewn back together when I was a kid because I bit through it… and also that I survived a Tornado.

I stay inspired by… watching the work of other artists whether in movies or on stage. I talk to creative people and share ideas. I find talking out loud about ideas is like lighting a match around a pile of twigs… it just ignites so much fire!

The future excites me because…I feel like I truly belong where I am. I feel like I fit this new life. I am excited to direct more, write more and act more. I’m excited to be connected with so many incredible creatives in the business. I’m excited that there are more and more roles being written for women my age. I’m excited that less and less, I’m trying to make myself be or look different to get a job. I’m excited because the times are changing and voices are being heard.

Shining a spotlight on Ebonnie Rowe

I’m shining a spotlight on Ebonnie Rowe because she deserves to be recognized for the 25 year legacy she has created for rising talent in the Canadian music industry.
We often celebrate the shiny new “unicorns” who are over-achievers in society now, but forget about the pioneers who taught them how to hustle. Ebonnie didn’t just lay the foundation for Canadian music stars of yesterday, she is still paving the way today. She has mentored generations of women, myself included.
While Ebonnie was studying at the University of Toronto, a friend of hers committed suicide. The loss was devastating; it made her realize the shortness of life, the silent despair suffered by many. This fueled her need to do something that meant something, and to leave a significant legacy. Determined to have a constructive influence on the lives of others, she left University to found and direct a mentorship program — Each One Teach One — which matched black youth with black professionals. At age 14, I became one of her mentees and we remain connected to this day. She recognized that the youth needed to see themselves succeeding in the places that they aspired to be in order to combat the negative stereotypes they were seeing of Black people portrayed in the media.


Hip Hop was the music that most of the youth in the programme listened to — some of which was rife with misogynist lyrics and imagery. In 1994, after complaints from her female Each One Teach One mentees, she produced a three-hour radio special on Canada’s longest and most popular hip hop show, DJ X’s “The Power Move Show” on CKLN, to discuss how women were portrayed in Hip Hop lyrics and videos. As a result, she was asked to edit an all-female edition of the now defunct Mic Check entertainment magazine.
The celebration party for that 1995 issue, intended to be a one-off show, was called “Honey Jam.” The success of the show pointed to a void in the artistic community for young women to be showcased. Ebonnie was then inspired to continue for a year and see how it went.
It’s been 25 years since Ebonnie Rowe launched Honey Jam, now Canada’s premier all-female artist development programme and showcase. The non-profit organization provides free promotional, mentoring, networking, educational and performance opportunities for upcoming female artists, as well as supports and promotes female entrepreneurs and women’s charities, such as YWCA Toronto’s programmes for women and girls. Featuring young female singers from all genres and cultural backgrounds from across Canada, famous alums include Grammy winners Nelly Furtado and Melanie Fiona, Juno award winners Jully Black and Kellylee Evans, and recent Polaris Prize winner Haviah Mighty, as well as feature film director Stella Meghie. In recent years, the Honey Jam brand has also expanded to Barbados, where Ebonnie has family roots.
The artists have had the opportunity to learn from local industry professionals and established international artists, including Erykah Badu, Estelle, Janelle Monae, and Jessie Reyez. They have been invited to Drake’s OVO Summit, performed at the CNE, attended Canadian Music week and Canada’s Walk of Fame, and to kick off their 25th milestone year in January 2020, one artist was given the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.
Ebonnie continues this much needed work – year after year, decade after decade. She has used her knowledge of the music industry, her passion to create opportunities for women, and her influence in the business to open doors for others. Many of the talented young Canadian stars you see on social media, hear on the radio, and watch on TV owe a debt of gratitude to Ebonnie. She helped them launch here in Toronto through Honey Jam and its many offshoots, so they can take on the world. I’m shining this spotlight so that everyone knows the impact Ebonnie Rowe has made over 25 years, and how much she is appreciated.

Meet Katie Jackson: a woman at the helm of sustainability in the North American wine industry

Katie Jackson is a second-generation proprietor working to keep her family-run business at the forefront of quality and stewardship. Today, She serves as senior vice president of Corporate and Social Responsibility for Jackson Family Wines, a position that is equal parts sustainability and advocacy. In 2016, Katie launched the company’s first Family Responsibility Report to highlight its decades-long sustainability journey and to establish 5-year goals outlining its ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility. Under her leadership, Jackson Family Wines has become the largest generator of onsite solar energy in the U.S. wine industry and has reduced the amount of water per bottle of wine produced by 59%. Since stepping into her first winery role in the cellar at Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, Katie has continued to build on her family’s winemaking heritage. Most recently, she led Jackson Family Wines in co-founding the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) with Familia Torres of Spain.


My first job ever was… was learning pruning in our vineyards to understand more about farming and the level of skill involved to grow high-quality grapes. I learned from experience that great wines start in the vineyard. 

I decided to get involved in the family business because… I had worked harvest in 2007, and I fell in love with the winemaking process, and all of the excitement and hard work that goes into the fermentation process.  It felt magical to see the culmination of the work that went into farming the best quality grapes in the vineyard bear fruit, and to understand everything that went into making a beautiful bottle of wine. I didn’t always know that I’d want to work in the family business. Growing up, I loved creative writing and seriously considered teaching English or History as well. I had incredible teachers who were so inspiring to me that I thought it would be amazing to have that kind of impact on others. After my first stints in the family business, I learned how rewarding it can be to make something that people love. I always knew that it would be wonderful to be able to work with my family, and I am so happy I ended up understanding how rewarding the work of our business was as well.  

My proudest accomplishment is…  my family is very important to me and I’m most proud to be raising kind, curious, happy, and adventurous children. 

My boldest move to date was… participating in the co-founding of the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) with the Torres family from Spain. To co-create an organization asking winery members to commit to a reduction in carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, and by 80% by 2045, and committing to those actions as a winery, our family is doing something that is both daring and necessary. Daring because changing our carbon footprint as a company is something that will require fundamental change in all aspects of how we run our business, yet necessary because the science is clear that the world will need to step up to figure out how to do this together to avoid the most drastic effects of climate change. I am proud that the members of IWCA are taking a leadership position for our industry, and hopeful that we will be able to find a way for the industry to transform itself and the planet into a more healthy and viable position for future generations.  

My best advice to people wanting to implement better sustainability practices is… learn as much as you can about your carbon footprint and the ways that you could change to live more lightly – there may be things you’ve never considered that would be easy changes to make, and that would make a big difference. Living more sustainably also means being more conscientious about your purchasing decisions. Think about the upstream and downstream implications of how what you buy impacts the environment and local communities. Adopt the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle,” with a particular emphasis on the first two. Do your research before making a purchase, and support companies whose mission and vision align with fostering social and environmental sustainability. Engage in constructive dialogue with the companies that don’t and help them understand the importance for the future.


“You are on a journey, which means things will change and there is no such thing as perfect. Know that the journey matters and it’s important to celebrate achievements along the way.”


I would tell my 21-year-old self… you are on a journey, which means things will change and there is no such thing as perfect. Know that the journey matters and it’s important to celebrate achievements along the way. It’s a journey that is worth every step. 

My biggest setback was… leaving college at the age of 20 and then making the decision to not return. I needed to know more about myself and where I wanted to end up in life before I continued my education. I made the decision not to return and I wish I could tell my younger self that so much of the college experience is meant to benefit the student, a way to explore, learn new things, and become a more well-rounded and informed person before stepping out into the world. At the time, I was putting so much pressure on my performance in school that I wasn’t able to just relax and learn in a way that would have been much better for my personal education.

I overcame it by…having not completed a degree, I discovered first-hand how that can change how you are perceived and respected within the workplace. I overcame it by proving myself to my coworkers by working hard, continuously learning new things, and dedicating myself to always complete work to a standard of quality that I would be proud of achieving.

The best thing about what I do is… the ability to do what I love. My parents instilled a love for the natural world and desire to protect our natural resources from an early age. Those lessons of caring for the land and giving back to our communities have stayed with me. When we started our formal sustainability program in 2008, I was deeply inspired to work towards minimizing our environmental footprint and promote more social equity programs into our business.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend that precious time with my three children and husband. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…that I love to read fiction and poetry. 

My favourite wine from our collection is… any bottle of our Chardonnay or Pinot Noir from our wineries in Oregon – Gran Moraine, Willakenzie or Penner-Ash are all spectacular wineries in the Willamette Valley region. Another region that I love is Santa Barbara County – Cambria, Byron, and Brewer-Clifton all make spectacular wines that convey a sense of the unique and beautiful wine region they call home. And I can never pick favourite wines without thinking of Stonestreet Winery, where I first worked harvest and where we make wine from the ranch where I grew up in Alexander Valley – the Chardonnay and Cabernet are all deliciously crafted wines that always bring me home. 

I stay inspired by… I’m inspired that we will be able to change the trajectory we’re on with a warming planet. We have an opportunity to create a cleaner, more regenerative and compassionate world, and that inspires my hope for our children and future generations.  

The future excites me because… life is fascinating and unpredictable, and you never know where you may end up along the way. I look forward to seeing where my personal trajectory takes me, and to watch my children grow up and see the people they become. 

Five Minutes with Stephanie Dei, UN Women National Coordinator – WE EMPOWER Programme ​of the EU, UN Women and ILO

Stephanie Dei works for UN Women as the National Coordinator in Canada for the WE EMPOWER programme of the European Union, UN Women and International Labour Organization, encouraging deeper action in the private and public sector to advance women’s economic empowerment in Canada. Stephanie is the Non-Executive Director at global frontier markets risk firm DaMina Advisors and Vice President, Finance for the Board of Organization of Women in International Trade – Toronto Chapter. Stephanie holds a BA Honors in Political Science and Law from Carleton University, Canada, and an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from SOAS, University of London. Stephanie is a mother of four energetic and empowered kids. As proud allies of the #FlexForEmpowerment campaign, we caught up with Stephanie recently to discuss the initiative and what inspired it. 


Can you start by describing what the WE EMPOWER Programme does, and what your role is there?

I am the National Coordinator for the WE EMPOWER Programme in Canada. In this role, I help to set and implement activities for the year, liaise with the public/private sector and civil society to pull key themes and speakers to participate in our multistakeholder dialogues, advocate for companies to join the WEPs, and I liaise with the European Union delegation in Ottawa, UN Women headquarters in New York and our International Labour Organization counterpart in New York to ensure our programme in Canada is in line with larger global priorities.

The WE EMPOWER programme is a joint initiative of the European Union, UN Women and the International Labour Organization that focuses on responsible business conduct in G7 Countries. The EU funded programme is operating in Canada, Japan and the USA and we convene conversations about gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. Our overarching global programme theme is the Future of Work – we are looking at how the workplace is changing and how this will impact women’s economic empowerment. As part of this work, we encourage the use of the Women’s Empowerment Principles to help guide further change and action. 

When did you first realize that you wanted to work in the women’s advancement sector and how did you get into this line of work?

I only began to notice gender differences in work experiences after I started having children. This really hit me because we have been taught from childhood that we are all equal. We go through the education system and enter into the workforce with this belief of equality and equity and then the baby comes and it is apparent that the workplace has not evolved with the same values of equality and equity that we are taught in school. Issues around equal pay, work-life balance and women in leadership have sadly set the tone for many women’s working experiences.

I was a new mother reconciling the realities of balancing work life with family and I came across a posting for a UN Women role in Canada through social media.  As a student of political science with a very keen interest to work in international relations I eagerly read through the terms of reference and agreed with everything that was being asked of for the role and applied without hesitation. It was one of those moments where you feel like this job was tailored for you. The rest is history.

“I only began to notice gender differences in work experiences after I started having children. This really hit me because we have been taught from childhood that we are all equal.”

What are the Women’s Empowerment Principles?

The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) are set of 7 principles set up in 2010 by UN Women and UN Global Compact and serve as a guide for businesses on how to empower women. The WEPs are informed by international labour and human rights standards and grounded in the recognition that businesses have a stake in, and a responsibility for, gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Today, there are currently more than 2,700 signatories to the WEPs globally. The WEPs cover 7 main areas of change:

  1. High-Level Corporate Leadership
  2. Treat all women and men fairly at work without discrimination
  3. Employee health, well-being and safety
  4. Education, training for gender equality
  5. Enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices
  6. Community initiatives and advocacy
  7. Measurement and reporting

The #FlexForEmpowerment campaign started Septemeber 2020, what inspired it? What is the aim?

Flex for Empowerment is an online engagement campaign designed to bring awareness to the Women’s Empowerment Principles and showcase good practices of women’s economic empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. We kicked off the campaign during gender equality week and have had an overwhelming response and as a result, extended the campaign to the end of March 2020. We are encouraging men and women to share good practices of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community. 

What would you say has been a highlight of the #FlexForEmpowerment campaign so far? How can people get involved?

The highlight of the campaign has been seeing companies rally behind the WEPs and share some of their good practices to support gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. I have been so encouraged by the enthusiasm of our allies to flex for empowerment and also by reading about new initiatives in the workplace, marketplace and community to support women’s economic empowerment —  this has given me hope that we are on the right track. You can get involved by becoming an ally here and start flexing for empowerment by:

  • Signing the Women’s Empowerment Principles
  • Host an event to showcase your best practices and policies for women’s empowerment in the workplace
  • Take to social media and tag @Empower_Women with your strongest policy and workplace policies
  • Write a story to highlight workplace changes and the impact in your community and share on under Stories
  • Send out a press release to your network/stakeholders to let them know what your office is doing for gender equality and encourage others to #FlexForEmpowerment
  • Create a Podcast, Blog or Video and share with our team about how your organization flexes for women’s economic empowerment

Complete this sentence: Gender equality and women’s economic empowerment are crucial because…

we need to strive for a future that works for all!


How Debbie Fung, co-founder of Yoga Tree Studios, found success following her passion


When Debbie Fung and her partner, Jason Lu, graduated from university, they both landed great jobs in their fields of study — but instead, they chose to follow their passion. Launching Yoga Tree Studios in 2007, they’ve grown the business to six locations, and have plans to open more. Debbie shares how the pair have found success — and balance — with their customer-centric plan.


by Shelley White




Debbie Fung says there are two things she and her partner Jason Lu aim to cultivate at their 13-year-old business, Yoga Tree Studios: community and value.

“We want to create community, in the sense that we offer authentic yoga classes, but also a space where you can connect and meet like-minded individuals,” says Debbie, co-founder of the Toronto-area chain of six yoga studios.

“And when we say value, we want to make sure that we’re definitely not the cheapest yoga studio, we’re not the most expensive, but we’re priced right,” she adds.

Debbie and Jason founded Yoga Tree in 2007 when they became disillusioned with their chosen careers. The couple had both graduated from the University of Waterloo and immediately landed high-potential jobs (Debbie as a buyer in retail, Jason in tech). But Debbie says that “mentally, it wasn’t very satisfying. There was a lot more in life that we wanted to strive towards, a passion that we always wanted to foster.”

The two travelled to India to complete their yoga teacher training and when they returned, they applied for a small business loan and opened a “tiny studio” in Thornhill, Debbie says.

“It was hard, but at the same time, in that situation, you get the most authentic live feedback because you’re there day in, day out — you live and breathe the business,” she says.

Debbie and Jason learned quickly that success was about listening to their clients. When yoga students asked about getting paraben-free soap to use after doing hot yoga (which is practiced in hot, humid conditions), Debbie and Jason made their own paraben-free soap to stock the bathrooms and showers. When clients said they couldn’t do hot yoga because of medications or health conditions, Debbie and Jason started offering reduced-heat classes.

“Conversations with our clients have led up to what we’ve evolved into today,” Debbie says.

It was a desire to deepen their relationships with clients that prompted Debbie to get involved with Cisco’s Women Entrepreneur Circle (WEC), which provides technology, education and expertise for women-owned and co-owned businesses across Canada. Debbie had learned about WEC a couple of years ago through her contacts at BDC. Known as Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs, BDC is a key supporter of WEC — specifically, the initiative’s Circle of Innovation program, that connects business owners with interns from Canadian universities for three months in the summer, to help them complete specific technological goals and projects.

At first, Debbie wondered whether they were the right type of company that would benefit from the program — were they too small? Not tech-savvy enough? But she decided to take the plunge and was paired with University of Toronto mechanical engineering student Chloe Macdonald this past summer.

Debbie says the goal was to explore whether they were leveraging third-party apps and software to their advantage on the Yoga Tree website.


“We want to create community, in the sense that we offer authentic yoga classes, but also a space where you can connect and meet like-minded individuals.”


“In the yoga landscape, we have all these different merchants approaching us, saying, ‘Why don’t you have this gadget or widget added on to your site?’ So what we hoped for from the Cisco program was that they would guide us to a new level of insight that we normally don’t have access to in the health and wellness space,” Debbie says.

One of Chloe’s primary tasks was to determine whether Yoga Tree should add a chatbot to their website.

“We have a lot of members and potential clients with questions and a lot of those might happen after working hours,” Debbie says. “They’re thinking, ‘I’m just putting my kids to bed at 9:00, and I now want to sign myself up and get motivated for yoga.’ So how do we make sure we don’t lose those leads?”

Chloe identified the different chatbot programs on the market and helped the company narrow down what programs could be a good fit. After Chloe’s research and analysis, Debbie says they determined that chatbot technology isn’t sophisticated enough at this point to properly answer the kinds of questions that clients would be asking.

“In the yoga world, it’s so customized,” Debbie says. “You might have a hip replacement, you might have a knee injury — the last thing we want is to upset the student, as opposed to making it more clear for them that yoga is a great choice.”

Debbie says having Chloe on board was valuable because she provided the kind of knowledge and understanding they likely couldn’t have gotten unless they had hired a consulting firm. “She provided a level of insight that was really fresh,” Debbie says.

It’s an experience that she thinks would be beneficial for businesses of all types and sizes. “Being a woman entrepreneur, you need to invest the time into tech,” she says. “You may not have resources for it, but I think Cisco, BDC, and WEC are great places to find that support.”

With six locations under their belt in Toronto, Debbie says she and Jason have big plans for the future. They are looking to open more locations in Ontario and then expand into Quebec.

Debbie says that while Yoga Tree is a passion that both she and her partner share — “We believe that yoga is something that benefits people; we’ve seen it change people’s lives,” she says — they are also careful to maintain boundaries in order to avoid burnout. While Jason handles the yoga side of the business, teaching class and training their instructors, Debbie handles the operations side, including areas like marketing and finance. Being busy entrepreneurs with kids (the couple have two young boys, ages 6 and 8), Debbie says she has also learned how important it is to delegate.

“I can’t emphasize that enough,” she says with a laugh.

“I volunteer quite a bit at my boys’ school, and the only way I can do that safely and happily is to really let go at Yoga Tree. Not letting go in terms of quality, but letting go in terms of hiring quality people to help you manage.” It may not be easy to drop the reins when you’re the leader, she says, but it does pay off to loosen them a bit.

“I think as entrepreneurs, we always want to do everything. One of my biggest ‘a-ha’ moments was understanding that not everyone might have the way of working like you do as the owner. But if you can let go and allow the other personal aspects of your life to grow, that’s when you get the most reward.”


The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps. Are you considering becoming a business owner? Access BDC’s free How to Start a Business module to discover everything you need to be a successful entrepreneur.

Meet Kristen Voisey: The Newfoundland Native who became Toronto’s “Cocktail Queen”

Without a background in business, but a love and passion for retail and cocktails, Kristen Voisey St. John’s, Newfoundland native, opened her first store in Toronto in 2011 and has since been dubbed Toronto’s “Cocktail Queen” . She is the founder and owner of Cocktail Emporium that currently has two stores with a new location opening early 2020 in Union Station, and international e-commerce site Cocktail Emporium is a specialty cocktail store that sells everything to do with imbibing (minus the booze). Kristen is regarded by the hospitality industry as an innovator and industry leader, she has travelled the world visiting distilleries, wineries, breweries, and cocktail bars.




My first job ever was… When I was 18 I ran the ticket booth for a whale watching tour in Newfoundland.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to be creative on my own terms and build something I could be proud of led me to start Cocktail Emporium (I opened my first store in Toronto in 2011). Plus my love of well made, chic-looking cocktails, of course. I started the Potion House line because I wanted to design and curate a collection of beautiful products that people would love as much as I did. Making your passion a career is the dream, right?! 

My proudest accomplishment is… Having stores that people love being in. I feel so  proud when I tell someone what I do and they say “Oh I love that store!” 

My boldest move to date was… Starting Potion House – my own line of bar tools and glassware. That was a big investment and a leap of faith. I went to China and met with the manufacturers — that was a wild experience. Now Potion House has over 150 products in the catalogue, and we have customers from all over the world. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I’ve never worked behind the bar. 

My best advice to people starting out in business is…You don’t need to know everything…you will be forced to figure it out! Better to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than not doing something because you don’t think you know enough. I knew nothing about operating a retail business when I opened my first store but I figured things out along the way. 

I would tell my 20-year old self… Don’t be so hard on yourself. I would also tell my 30-year-old self, and my soon to be 40-year-old self, the same thing! 


Better to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than not doing something because you don’t think you know enough.”


The best thing about being an entrepreneur is… Being able to employ a group of smart, hardworking people, and getting to work and grow my business with them. We are all learning together which has been both fun and rewarding. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Work on my future hotel business plan….or become an adobe illustrator/photoshop master. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… One day I want to open a hotel, where I can my love for interior design and hospitality. The in-room minibars will be incredible. 

The one thing I wish I knew when starting Cocktail Emporium is… Logistics (the shipping kind)

I stay inspired by… Travelling! I find it so inspiring to visit small independent bars, hotels and stores around the world – there are so many gems out there. My stores would not be half as successful as they are without my travels and the inspiration from these experiences. 

The future excites me because… Now that I have already created something from scratch (and something that is successful), I know that I can do it again – with whatever I decide to do. And with 8 years of business knowledge under my belt, so I will be much better equipped for future ventures.

My next step is… Continue growing the Cocktail Emporium and Potion House brands. The third location is opening in Toronto’s Union Station in early 2020, so that will be a huge and exciting step for the Cocktail Emporium expansion.


Meet Diana Olsen: the founder of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters 

President and Founder of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, Diana Olsen, found her passion quite interestingly — while at university studying French literature. During her course, she discovered a kindred spirit in Monsieur Balzac and his genuine passion for coffee. After graduating, she immersed herself in authentic French culture, spending a year and a half in France. Passing many enchanting afternoons in the Grand cafés of Paris, Ms. Olsen was inspired to bring this sophisticated celebration of coffee and social tradition home to Canada. San Francisco was her next stop in 1993, to learn the craft of coffee roasting and bean selection at the West Coast Specialty Coffee Training Institute. In 1996, the first Balzac’s café was opened in Stratford, Ontario and now they have 14 locations across Ontario. Today, Diana oversees all aspects of café operations and coffee roasting from the Balzac’s Roastery in Ancaster, Ontario.






My first job ever was… when I was 15 working in the kitchen at IL Giardino, an Italian restaurant in Vancouver. The chef taught me how to dry a full day’s worth of bibb lettuce by becoming a Human Salad Spinner…the washed lettuce would go into a huge table cloth and I would stand in the back alley spinning it with both arms while the water flew out…It worked!  One of my tasks there was making espresso and cappuccino, which I took a particular interest in and thus began my love for coffee. 

I decided to be an entrepreneur… by default really, I was very restless and having a difficult time finding a career that would challenge and stimulate me. I knew that whatever I was going to do I had to love it and be happy doing it. I realized that starting my own business and following my passion for coffee was probably my best option. 

My proudest accomplishment… other than raising my amazing daughter Annabelle is building a brand that is not just an overnight success, but one that has grown deep roots in the communities we serve.  We are strong, we can withstand the challenges we face, and we are going to continue to grow at a healthy rate. 

My boldest move to date was… also my greatest move to date opening the Distillery District Café, at a time when no one had a clue where it was or what it was. It was a big gamble that really paid off.  I’m forever grateful to my landlords there for giving Balzac’s such an incredible opportunity. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I play hockey…I’m not very good mind you but I love it!! 

When asked, my best advice to people starting out in business is… don’t rely too much on advice from others, especially the unsolicited kind. It’s your business and your own intuition is usually going serve you best. 

Having said that there will be times when you really do need the help of someone with more experience than you even just for emotional support so having a trusted mentor is very important. 


“Don’t cower in the face of adversity…fight for what you believe is right. ” 


My best advice from a mentor was… to stand up for myself!  Don’t cower in the face of adversity…fight for what you believe is right.  

My biggest setback was… having to throw in the towel and close a café that was struggling. It was not a good choice of location. My bad. 

I overcame it by… opening a new café in a great location!

I take my coffee with… organic cream and a splash of maple syrup.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend it with family. 

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that my hobby is collecting Lake Ontario beach glass… but if you followed me on Instagram you would!

The one thing I wish I knew when starting Balzac’s 25 years ago is… that business is ultimately more about the people than the product.  While we do sell amazing coffee, it’s building relationships with our customers, our suppliers and our co-workers that truly matters and what gives our business meaning and success. As Balzac’s has grown, unfortunately, I’m not able to personally connect with all of my customers and employees, but I hope I have created a culture where people feel valued and appreciated. “The café is the people’s parliament,” a quote by our namesake Honoré de Balzac says it all. 

I stay inspired by… our natural surroundings… I love to spend time outdoors.  

The future excites me because… I never know what to expect.  Every day there are new opportunities and new challenges…it never gets boring. 

My next step is… to open two new cafes, one at the new Vaughan Metropolitan Center and the other is directly across from the Mattamy Athletic Centre, formerly the Maple Leaf Gardens. 


Meet Madison Kozak: Young Canadian singer-songwriter set to take the Country music scene by storm

At just 10 years old, Madison was selected to perform at the Havelock Country Jamboree, a music festival drawing an audience of 30,000 people. Madison’s passion for music eventually led her to Nashville, where she has since worked diligently to hone her craft. When asked about her songwriting style, she responded, “I write music with my live shows in mind. I strive to create music with a strong backbeat and lots of groove. Authenticity and truthful lyrics are key to my creative process.” Madison seamlessly blends her old-country roots with clever lyrics and catchy melodies to create a sound that is fresh, unique and compelling. We caught up with her recently to talk about her professional journey and the inspiration behind her latest single ‘First Last Name’.





When I was younger I wanted to be… A country singer. From the first time I stepped on a stage at age 9, I was hooked.

My proudest accomplishment… Graduating from Belmont University was a proud moment for me. I remember fighting with my parents after high school about not wanting to go to college, I was hell-bent on focusing on music full time. And I suppose the saying “Mother knows best” is true because those 4 years were some of the most transformative of my life and my career. I signed my publishing deal at the end of my 3rd year, after being discovered at a songwriting panel on campus. When my parents called to ask me if I wanted to drop out and pursue music full time, I said: “Nope, I didn’t come this far to only come this far.” I was able to finish out strong in the midst of writing full time and signing my record deal.

My boldest move to date… Moving to Nashville at age 14. I was so young yet so determined, thankfully I had the full support of my family in the big transition. I couldn’t have done it without their blessing.

My biggest setback was… When I first moved to Nashville I spent years chasing a sound and style that wasn’t fully me. Probably because I hadn’t experienced enough life yet to be truly sure of who I was, and I was so impressionable of everyone else I thought was cool.

I overcame it by… I found the common thread between all my heroes was that they all had something to say that was authentic to them. So I started going into my writing sessions with that in mind. If I had to choose between finishing an entire song in one sitting that I didn’t really connect with or getting a few lines in one day that I relate to wholeheartedly, I would choose the latter every time. I stopped worrying about what I thought people might want to hear or what the radio might play and started thinking about what stories I had to share that really meant something to me.

My advice to young girls wanting to follow in a similar path to me would be… Write and sing your truth.

If I wasn’t a singer I would be… Probably something else in the music business like a publisher (working with songwriters). I love working with fellow creatives! I interned in publishing while I was in college, and have always so fascinated by the life of a song.


“When you’re climbing the ladder and putting in the work to get where you want to go, don’t look horizontally and compare yourself to what others are doing around you. Just do you. That’s where the magic is.” 


The best part of what I do is… Connecting with other people. Whether it’s in the writing room with co-writers or on stage with an audience, I love how music can be a bridge to bring people together. I think it’s the coolest feeling when a bunch of different people can all relate to a line in a song, finding common ground even though we all may have different backstories.

My song “First Last Name” is special to me because… It’s the most personal song I’ve ever written and it’s about my biggest inspiration: my dad. “First Last Name” was originally supposed to be a gift to my dad for Fathers Day. He was the one who taught me everything I know and love about country music. Growing up we spent nearly every weekend travelling to fairs, festivals, churches and retirement homes to play our favourite classic country music; it was just the way we bonded. This song feels very nostalgic to me and reminds me of why I love what I do and how this journey all began.

My biggest professional influences have been…


  • Loretta Lynn (my 1st concert)
  • Shania Twain
  • Keith Urban


  • Nicolle Galyon
  • Tom Douglas 
  • Lori McKenna

My greatest advice from a mentor was… A piece of advice that Nicolle Galyon (my label president and songwriting mentor) shared with me: When you’re climbing the ladder and putting in the work to get where you want to go, don’t look horizontally and compare yourself to what others are doing around you. Just do you. That’s where the magic is.

If I were to pick one thing that had helped me succeed it would be…My family. I’m one of 8 siblings, so we’re more like a small village but they gave me so much encouragement from the beginning and made me believe anything was possible if I worked hard enough and was kind to people.

If you googled me you still wouldn’t know… My Tim Horton’s order is a medium steeped tea with 1 milk, 1 & 1/2 sugar and a sour cream glazed donut.

The future excites me because… Every day just keeps getting better. I’m excited to keep checking things off 10-year-old Madison’s list of dreams. Also, excited because I know THE FUTURE IS FEMALE.


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!


Meet Nathalie Pambrun: the first ever Indigenous woman to serve as President of the Canadian Association of Midwives

Nathalie Pambrun is a Franco-Manitoban Métis midwife who has practiced in urban, rural and remote communities across Canada and the world. Bridging environmental and reproductive justice movements at the community level she embraces a human rights approach that effectively respects the coming generations. She is committed to midwifery care that is accessible, equitable, and culturally safe. She was appointed President of the Canadian Association of Midwives (CAM) for the next two years and has served on the CAM Board of Directors for over seven years. She is CAM’s first ever Indigenous midwife to serve as President of the organization. Nathalie is a mother of three children and currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.



My first job was… being a helper to my parents and grandparents and watching my siblings and cousins, I learned a lot about taking responsibility and caring for others.

My proudest accomplishment is… working with communities to re-matriate birth.  Being a facilitator for re-visioning reproductive care, building relationships, watching the community take ownership, develop and restore Indigenous midwifery. It is such a rush to see the transformation of a community when life givers are honored.

My boldest move to date was… inviting the international midwifery community to examine damaging systems, to converge upon the voices of those who are marginalized, to build power in our intersections of reproductive justice and unite our voices to create meaningful action for Indigenous midwives worldwide to be meaningfully recognized.

A common misconception about midwives is… that we don’t have specified education and training and that we are all barefoot, doing home births without equipment waiting for some spiritual sign that the baby will come out! Midwives are highly trained health care professionals who specialize in physiologic birth and the management complications. I went to a university and studied midwifery in my four-year baccalaureate in science program. In Canada you can also train in a four-year Indigenous community-based education model that are competency based and rooted in apprenticeship learning. Midwives are about sharing information, empowering individuals to take ownership through active decision making in their healthcare and to support choice through advocacy at all levels.


“You are going to make mistakes, but stay invested in the community and in giving practical support, the larger vision will emerge from doing the work.”


If I wasn’t a midwife, I would be a… farmer. I love being part of these ordinary physiologic miracles. I like knowing these basic life skills and how to support and optimize healthy growth. I am fascinated by growing food and understanding the land and its cyclical changes from seed to harvest. Similarly, I like watching human life grow, understanding and enhancing health and witnessing the stages of transformation for pregnant individuals and their families right through to birth and early parenting and family adaptation.

My greatest advice… from my mentor Carol Couchie, Indigenous midwife from Nipissing First Nation was when I took over leadership of our association she said: “Just do it Nath, you are going to make mistakes, but stay invested in the community and in giving practical support, the larger vision will emerge from doing the work.”

My biggest setback was… losing my grandmother at a very young age.

I overcame it by… learning to appreciate my relatives and teachers who surround me, to keep asking questions to better understand my roots that keep me grounded as I move forward.

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed… it would be my desire to always keep learning, knowledge is power.

I surprise people when I tell them that… I am constantly stepping out of my comfort zone because this is where I lean my most valuable lessons.

I stay inspired by… all the midwives that surround me they truly are unique humans who see the larger picture when it comes to health and really anchor their daily work social justice and change.

The future excites me because… I never know what is next.

My next step is… completing my master’s degree, I want to be able to meaningfully contribute to Indigenous health through impactful, action oriented, community lead health research. I want to transform academia to include and honor Indigenous ways of knowing and doing.


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

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


By Hailey Eisen



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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Meet Jessica Phoenix, Olympic equestrian athlete and Pan Am gold medalist

Jessica Phoenix is one of Canada’s top professional equestrian athletes, competing in Eventing. A two-time Olympian and four-time Pan American Games medalist — including a gold in 2011 — she was first named to the Canadian Equestrian Team in 2007. While her record is impressive, one of her greatest feats is recovering from a near-fatal fall in 2015 — and riding for Canada at the Pan Am Games just two months later. In addition to being a member of the Canadian Elite Eventing Squad, Jessica is also a coach and trainer, a mother of two, and runs a horse and cattle farm with her husband, Joel.



My first job ever was… working at Harvey’s when I was 15 years old.


I chose my career path because… I had a passion for riding horses and training horses and riders to reach their full potential.

My proudest accomplishment is…
winning the Pan Am gold medal for Canada in Guadalajara, Mexico.

My boldest move to date was…
making the decision to take the Olympic Selection process to arbitration in order to receive my spot on the Rio Olympic Eventing team.

The biggest lesson I learned while participating in the Olympics was
… how important the people around you are.

My biggest setback was…
a near-fatal accident on course in New Jersey, where I suffered a lacerated liver, punctured lung, broken ribs, fractured sacrum and concussion.

I overcame it by…
determination, perseverance, courage and faith.

I surprise people when I tell them…
that I am a woman of faith.

I would tell my 20-year old self…
to trust in my plan and keep going when things get tough. Your greatest triumph is right on the other side.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…
that I love to play ping pong.

The future excites me because…
anything is possible.

My next step is…
winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020!

One piece of advice I would share with any athlete at the beginning of their career is
… don’t rush things. Sometimes it will feel like your peers may be passing you by, but don’t get discouraged. Stay focused, put in the work, and your time will come.

Working as a coach and trainer has taught me
… to never rush the basics. The stronger your foundation is, the higher you will rise.

The most rewarding thing about sharing my story through public speaking is
… feeling a connection to people in the audience and knowing that you’ve inspired and encouraged them in their own goals.



Meet Joanie Metivier, a Canadian Sommelier and Wine Expert

Joanie Metivier’s career started with a passion for wine, one that soon became rather irrational. Now a sommelier, wine writer and the first women to acquire her Whisky Ambassador title in Quebec, Joanie accumulated the accreditations including Certified CMS, WSET level 3 with distinction and ISG all while managing her personal blog dedicated to wine education and discoveries, becoming one of the biggest wine influencers in Canada. Her sommelier position at the Cellier du Roi and its complex and well diversified wine list has been rewarded by the Wine Spectator for two consecutive years. She may be the youngest Wine writer in Quebec, but her adventures and knowledge are rich and esteemed.



My first job ever was… so much fun. I was a clerk in an ice cream stand. It was thrilling to see all the little kids happy faces but even funnier to try every possible combinations. What can I say, I’ve always been curious.


I chose my career path because… I wanted to. After trying out various different fields, I would always come back at the end of the day to enjoy a glass of wine and it was fascinating. I wanted my career to be based around something I would never be tired of.


My proudest accomplishment is… the passionate wine lovers and wine experts community that I’ve built, especially around Joining so many people together towards a shared passion is truly rewarding.


My boldest move to date was… I completely forced my way to my sommelier position. Le Cellier du Roi restaurant was my first, and only, choice but there was no sommelier position at all. Neither did they even consider having one. I used my contacts, reached out and eventually proved them they couldn’t live without me, or at least, didn’t want to.


I surprise people when I tell them… literally anything that I’ve done! As a 27 year-old female, it feels like people expect very little of me. I’ll admit, I enjoy seeing their surprised faces.


“Just kick the door! Take actions, and don’t ever worry about your image or what people will think of you.”


My best advice to people starting their career is… It may sound like a common answer, yet I cannot stress this enough: just kick the door! Take actions, and don’t ever worry about your image or what people will think of you. There will always be individuals trying to get in your way, maybe even people that you once admired, but don’t let them impress you. To quote the very inspiring Casey Neistat: “The haters, the doubters are all drinking champagne in the top deck of the Titanic and we are the freaking Iceberg!”


My best advice from a mentor was… My first mentor bestowed a great care and importance to small things and small details in life. He also showed me to take coffee seriously. Not because it’s something that you need in your life, but because it’s something you enjoy.


I would tell my 20-year old self… to believe in my capacities and to stop doubting. Very soon you’ll be dealing with so much stuff you won’t have the time to overthink that much.


My biggest setback was… As I wine journalist, I was surprised by the dying “paper” media industry. Finding contracts, at least paying ones, was almost impossible.


I overcame it by… I strongly believe nothing can save this industry at this point. I’ve turned around and concentrated my efforts for online magazines and I even started my own, Wine Tourism Mag, with the help of precious and overly talented collaborators.


If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend it with my kids.


The last book I read was… No big surprises here, it was wine related: Chroniques de la Vigne by Fred Bernard


I stay inspired by… I have the huge chance and honour to meet the greatest and most inspiring members of the wine industry throughout the world: winemakers, famous estate directors, acclaimed sommeliers and driven brand ambassadors. Their passion and their vision is the most inspiring thing in the world.


The future excites me because… I have absolutely no Idea what lies before me. It will be a surprise, I hope a good one. I know there’s a very fast progression which fills me with hope and pride.


My next step is… I’ve been working for a long time on a book project: HOW TO PASS YOUR SOMMELIER EXAM. It’s dedicated to anyone interested about wine, on different levels to give them the boost of knowledge and confidence they may need. It’s almost done now!



Meet Chen Lizra, a Somatic Intelligence expert helping people embody their true essence

Chen Lizra specializes in transforming people by changing behavioural patterns for the better, through bodywork. She offers Somatic Intelligence workshops, one on one sessions, training programs and keynote speeches, using the unique one-of-a-kind method she developed. She works with individuals, organizations and events in order to cause transformation through the body, through experiencing. After giving one of the most talked about TED talks with 8 million views, and receiving numerous awards and praise for her book ‘My Seductive Cuba’, her overarching mission is working with individuals, organizations and events helping people live and embody their true essence and to influence deep transformation.







My first job ever was… In a flower store designing bouquets of flowers. 


I chose my career path because… It really chose me. This is my calling; I am on purpose. I wanted to make a difference for people in the world and it all came together connecting all the dots of my life journey. By sharing the knowledge that I have accumulated as a result of this life changing journey, I feel like it opens up a door for many people to be the best version that they can be too.


My proudest accomplishment is… People expect me to say my TED Talk, which has eight million views, but I would have to say my proudest accomplishment is saving myself from dying and getting myself out of ten years of suicidal thoughts; healing the trauma and genuinely finding my happy place. Turning the curse into the most beautiful gift, as I like to call it. This is now my super power for impacting the lives of others and being of service for transformation to occur.


My boldest move to date was… Leaving my reputation behind in Canada after years of building it in order to move my base back to Israel.


I surprise people when I tell them… That I moved back to Israel because I wanted to spend time with my dad creating beautiful memories. I love him and we were apart for 17 years. I didn’t want time to run out. I wanted to choose what mattered to my heart and from there to find the way to create the rest.


My best advice to people starting a business is… Pick what you love doing and can’t stop doing, even if you’ll never get paid for it, then, turn this into your business.


My best advice from a mentor was… My dear late friend, Toronto born, Rob Stewart of Sharkwater said this to me and it’s the best advice he ever gave me before I decided what the business will be. I didn’t consider him a mentor but an inspiration because he lived his dream and led by example. Just watching him do his thing inspired me to dare more. On top of that he had amazing insights that he shared with me as a friend which were golden nuggets which changed the trajectory of my life.


I would tell my 20-year old self… That it will take 20 years, but I will find the way out of the mess, to not worry. And that it will be spectacular at the end and worth every second of the journey.


My biggest setback was… My mom becoming manic depressive when I was just 11 years old. My whole life fell apart, my emotional base broke as a result. It took 20 years of hard work to fix what got broken because everything inside was broken.


I overcame it by… Committing to finding the way out of it no matter how long it took me. The determination to follow through led me to an incredible human treasure I now call the Power of Somatic Intelligence – sharing all the secrets I discovered over the years that led me to my happy place. From finding the magical sabrosura in Cuba – the sensuality that’s inside each and every one of us that sits on physical self-love, reclaiming my femininity in a way that I didn’t know was possible for me, to developing the mindset of super positivity – jumping depression to inspiration, to learning how to release dopamine and endorphins in the body through body movements leading to a natural high, and so much more. 


Work/life balance is… About balancing doing with being, achieving while enjoyment, and having green slots in my schedule. I tag fun time as green and I look at the colours per week to make sure there is enough fun and enjoyment. It’s important to me to be balanced and make sure that my life always has some fun in it. If there isn’t good balance, I take a road trip for the weekend or a break. Sacrifices are made to succeed but are only temporary. I don’t get addicted to the race and I don’t develop guilt for doing nothing. I indulge. Enjoyment is the antidote of stress, anxiety, burnout and depression. I first of all live it, then I teach it in my retreats. I believe in leading by example.  


“It’s important to me to be balanced and make sure that my life always has some fun in it. If there isn’t good balance, I take a road trip for the weekend or a break. Sacrifices are made to succeed but are only temporary. I don’t get addicted to the race and I don’t develop guilt for doing nothing. I indulge. Enjoyment is the antidote of stress, anxiety, burnout and depression.”


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That there is an aspect of my life that no one sees. My life is such an open book to people and there is so much about me out there that it seems like this is it. But I always keep certain private parts to myself and I feel I have a good balance between what I share and what is mine. Healthy boundaries are a very important thing to me, especially in the social media age and having to reconstruct my boundaries over 5-6 years.


I stay inspired by… Going to Cuba and living a 100% from the heart in a place that still lives in the past and is more about human connections, solidarity and love between people. And by doing this work and seeing lives transform. I am so inspired by people’s courage and willingness to trust me with their lives and be vulnerable with me, in order to create beautiful shifts – be it one on one or in workshops/retreats. I’m at awe at this beautiful tribe that’s coming together. I get inspired by the love that comes back via every medium possible; the courage, the challenges they share and the success stories, the inspiration they feel from me and how they pay it forward.


The future excites me because… If we will live out of our true nature and learn how to balance the 5 elements of Somatic Intelligence within us, the world will be a better place. If we each just focus on being the best version that we can be, then the world will be a better place to live in. I can also see how into the future, this knowledge will be passed on and will live way past my lifetime. That’s an exciting future to look into!


My next step is… Leading the Power of the Sabrosura retreat for women, reclaiming their femininity in Havana, seeing women discover what is possible for them – what they don’t know that they don’t know. I can’t wait to lead this retreat. It’s a game changer! Then, speaking at some pretty big events around the world to spread the message which I will announce soon. So much to look forward to!



Meet Tanya Acker, an accomplished lawyer with Judge Judy’s approval

Tanya serves as one of three judges on CBS Television Distribution’s syndicated court show HOT BENCH, created by Judge Judy Sheindlin. She is an experienced civil litigator as well as a television commentator, having been a featured guest on “Good Morning America,” “Entertainment Tonight,” and “Larry King Live” to name a few. Throughout her career, Tanya also maintained a commitment to pro bono work, receiving the ACLU’s First Amendment Award for her successful representation of the homeless in a case against the City of Santa Barbara.







My first job ever was… as a law clerk to judge Dorothy W. Nelson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


I chose my career path because… Law allows you to do anything because you can learn something about everything.


My proudest accomplishment is… When I received the ACLU’s First Amendment award.


My boldest move to date was… Arbitrating cases on television!


I surprise people when I tell them… That I like to cook and I’m not bad at it (although not all of my culinary experiments are created equal.)


My best advice to people starting their career is… Do what you love and treat every job as your step to the next one, even if it’s at the same job. Be kind to people. Stand up for yourself — do it as politely as you can and know your basis for standing when you do so. Remember that facts matter. Add value. Be nice.


“Stand up for yourself — do it as politely as you can and know your basis for standing when you do so.”


My best advice from a mentor was… Make sure you’re having fun.


I would tell my 20-year old self… Good job. I like you and you’re fun.


My biggest setback was… I lost someone close to me once and it was very tough on me emotionally.


I overcame it by… Relying on the love of family and friends.


Work/life balance is… The trick to staying healthy and sane.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I want to compete in a (horseback) riding competition but I’m not good enough yet! I need to practice more!


I stay inspired by… Reading good things, planning adventures, and realizing how fortunate I am.


The future excites me because… We know more than we used to and more people can participate in building it.


My next step is… All the good things I can fit in.



Meet Dr. Nguyen-Vi Mohamed, a Neuroscience Researcher and Entrepreneur

Dr. Nguyen-Vi Mohamed is one of those people who seems to be interested in everything. A rugby player who flies planes, she also owns two bakeries in Montreal. And then there’s her day job. Dr. Mohamed, who is a neuroscience researcher, loves her work in the fascinating world of mini brains – miniature balls of human brain cells smaller than a pea. She is driven by the unique opportunity that mini brains offer to better understand neurological diseases and accelerate drug development. Dr. Mohamed is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. She conducted both her B.Sc (Biomedical Sciences) and M.Sc (Cell Biology, Pathology and Aging) at the Université Paris V in France. She conducted her PhD (Cell Biology, Pathology and Neurosciences) at the University of Montreal. Her long-term dream is to find effective therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.






My first job ever was… I was a McDonald’s employee when I was 16. This is one of the most interesting jobs I have had because I discovered smart design protocols, which allows anyone to work within their restaurants without experience.


I chose my career path because… I always knew that I would like to be in the biomedical field. I am totally fascinated by the brain — this organ that defines who you are. I also have an interest in baking. I love working with my hands, and creating something that others will enjoy. I find that working in a bakery and working in a lab have a lot in common. We work as a team and control external parameters to grow life.


My proudest accomplishment is… Opening a business in a new country.


My boldest move to date was… Switching recently into the stem cells field, which has allowed me to develop the mini-brains model at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, in order to study Parkinson’s disease.


I surprise people when I tell them… I am a rugby player. Many people think it is an unusual woman sport, but Canada has one of the best professional women’s team in the world.


My best advice to people starting their career is… Follow your passions. Do what makes you happy and excited. Do not be afraid to fail; face the risk.


My best advice from a mentor was… My math teacher told me: There are no problems, only solutions.


“There are no problems, only solutions.”


I would tell my 20-year old self… Push the walls harder.


My biggest setback was… When I quit high school at 17 years old.


I overcame it by… Coming back at the end of the year, two weeks before the final big exam, working day and night on making up my missed classes, and achieving the grade that allowed me to enter university.


Being a woman in STEM is… I feel lucky to be a young woman scientist in 2018 because several generations of women fought to obtain equality between men and women. I think my generation benefits from their past fights. Many of my friends are also women scientists, engineers or in artificial intelligence, and we never think about our gender when making career choices. However, the fact that several women asked me this same question made me realize that discrimination and something even worse “stereotypes” still persists. I believe that education about equality should happen at home, within our families, by teaching our kids that they can become anyone they would like to be.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I loved to fly planes when I was 20-25 years old. I hope to be able to get my licence in Canada in the coming years to discover this country in more detail, from the sky.


I stay inspired by… Curious people, because they are naturally creative. I am also fascinated and inspired by developments in technology. I believe that we are currently living in the high-tech revolution, and I hope it will help us to innovate quickly to discover new personalized drugs for neurodegenerative disorders.


The future excites me because… Scientists will find a way to cure neurodegenerative diseases!]


My next step is… Find a cure for neurodegenerative disorders! Now I had better get back to my mini-brains to make it happen!

Five Minutes With Patricia Schultz, author of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”

Patricia Schultz is the author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and 1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die. A veteran travel journalist with more than 30 years of experience, she has written for guides such as Frommer’s and Berlitz and periodicals including The Wall Street Journal and Travel Weekly, where she is a contributing editor. Recently chosen as one of the 25 most influential women in travel, and named a Trafalgar Global Brand Ambassador, Patricia has a social media platform that includes over 4 million Facebook followers and executive-produced a Travel Channel television show based on 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Her home base is New York City.




At what point did you realize that a typical 9-5 career was not in store for you?

I’ve led a very unconventional lifestyle straight out of the gate. Every time (and there were many) I heard a friend complain that work (the hours, the structure, the stress, the nightmare boss) was killing their joy was a confirmation to me that I needed to look elsewhere and create a different reality if I was to have a meaningful life. When I look back now I see that a more stable and traditional and perhaps corporate life path (routine-filled days with stagnant creativity and 2-week vacations dangled as the incentive to survive) would have suffocated me — I always understood that and knew intuitively that it was simply not for me. I always went with my gut but it took some time to figure out my plan of action. In the meantime, I kept exploring the world around me, whether within arm’s reach or across the world.


Did you face any challenges as a woman, not only travelling the world alone but also in what is regarded as the highly competitive and at one time male-dominated field of journalism?

If I encountered any challenges early on, I believed it was because I was younger than most and perhaps not considered serious enough. And if there were challenges later on, I felt it was because I wasn’t seen as experienced as my competitors — and set off to change that and get more experience under my belt. Life presents us with challenges every day and in every respect. But I always push the envelope and do what I can and if the door still doesn’t budge, I usually manage to find another one that can be opened far more easily. It’s important to believe there’s always something far more interesting that awaits once you redirect your energies and regroup. Failures and setbacks are part of the game and always make success sweeter.


What advice would you give to a young woman who is interested in embarking on a non-traditional career path?

I quote my (very German) father who told me to always follow my heart, but bring my brain with me. Whatever brings you joy and makes you smile should be at the heart of how and what you envision your career — and therefore your life — to be. Being creative was critical when it came to finances, and I found that I became a pro at never saying no to any work offer or suggestion. I understood early on that everything I did, every place I visited and every person I met was all part of the journey. It remains my mantra today.

“Whatever brings you joy and makes you smile should be at the heart of how and what you envision your career — and therefore your life — to be.”

Creating a life you want will absorb most of your waking hours, so you need to feel as much satisfaction as you do exhaustion at the end of every day. Seven-day weeks and insane deadlines are pretty much a given — I never, ever expected it would be easy to create this unconventional and profoundly rewarding lifestyle of mine, so the disappointments were always manageable and helped stoke my conviction to keep moving forward.

If you want anything enough in life, I believe we all have the means to make it happen. I avoided the naysayers and surrounded myself with people who supported me and who shared my convictions and curiosity about the world. I was blessed with parents who understood that everyone follows a very different path and to expect setbacks. All those twists and turns? They help create all the excitement. The finish line we all strive for is not always as clearly within sight as promised in the movies — but oh, what a journey.


One of your best-selling books is called 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Is there someplace you have yet to see?

There are countless places I haven’t yet seen! And the more I travel the more my Bucket List grows in length. Wanting to revisit all the places I have come to love always creates complications — I am torn between wanting to return to a place that I know to be beautiful and special, but feeling more inclined to see places unknown and intriguing. My Short List of places I haven’t yet visited includes New Zealand and Laos, and way too many others to list here. The world is brimming with wonders both grand and unsung and I am aware that there are no guarantees. So Carpe Diem! There is no time like right now!


The Unexpected Powerhouses: Caitlin Bowie on leading an all-female landscaping team

Caitlin Bowie hired and manages an all-female crew for Earth Inc., an award-winning landscape design firm. Her team is often underestimated — and used to proving every day that there’s no such thing as a man’s job.


By Hailey Eisen



Caitlin Bowie is a horticultural technician. She works outside, she installs and plants stunning, meticulous green spaces, and maintains them with precision and care. She works hard, lifts heavy objects daily, and gets her hands (her whole body for that matter) dirty. She couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else.

The fact that she has hired and works daily with an all-female team doesn’t seem abnormal to her. “But the reactions we get when we arrive at a job,” says the 33-year-old, “that’s what makes me think we’re a bit of an anomaly.”

And the jobs are not small. Caitlin works for Earth Inc., an award-winning landscape design firm known for transforming outdoor spaces with a unique blend of architecture and horticulture. It’s a role that takes her across the GTA — sometimes to renovation or building sites that are packed with male crews.

“We’re constantly being offered help,” Caitlin says, laughing. “Typically, it’s the other tradespeople working onsite — electricians, carpenters, and the like. They don’t expect a group of young women to be capable of the heavy lifting, of maneuvering a 500-pound tree.” But it’s all about good communication for Caitlin and her crew.   

As Caitlin’s crewmate Elli Garlin recalls, “Most of the time they’ll at least ask us if we need help first, but one time we were getting a large tree into the back of a truck and a guy doing construction work nearby literally came up and just shoved the tree.”


“We like knowing we can do things ourselves. We’ve built strength and confidence by pushing ourselves and making the impossible possible on so many occasions.”


The women know that “gripping and ripping,” as Elli refers to it, is not the best way to get a job done. “We have a system that helps us work safely and efficiently. We make a plan and make sure everyone is on the same page.”

While Caitlin says men typically use force to get a heavy job done, she and her team are more strategic. It’s the shared attention to detail that Caitlin appreciates most about working with other women. When she was first hired by Earth Inc. five years ago, partners James Dale and Kennedy McRae gave her the power to hire her own crew. She had worked with men before — after all, most of the industry is male — and recognized the advantages of building an all-female team.

Both James and Kennedy will attest to that. “Earth Inc. does not intentionally try to have gender-specific crews but we do understand that cohesiveness within a team is paramount,” Kennedy explains. “Caitlin’s crew is a powerhouse.”   

James adds, “They bring a different energy to the work that they do. Thoughtful, exact, well-organized; a fantastic ‘girl power’ that everybody senses.”

Creativity and precision is also a big part of their success as a team. A lot of the planting they do is for modern designs where straight lines are essential. Caitlin recalls one project in particular where they were creating a meadow-like feel (with grasses, a river, and flowers) in a backyard in Etobicoke. “It was an incredibly tough project and we had to bring eight giant trees into the yard and plant them perfectly straight,” she says. “The end result was immaculate.”

For the women on Caitlin’s crew, there’s also great power in doing something society doesn’t necessarily expect you to do. That’s what crew member Emilie Martin loves about the work. “We like knowing we can do things ourselves. We’ve built strength and confidence by pushing ourselves and making the impossible possible on so many occasions.”

Caitlin officially started in the industry when she was 18, initially as a grower in a wholesale greenhouse. She later graduated from the Horticultural Technician Certification Program at Humber College, and officially became a “journeyperson” — a certified skilled worker — registered in the Ontario College of Trades. But her path to becoming a horticultural technician working outdoors in nature started long before that. “I grew up in farm country where there was no such thing as male or female jobs — people just worked,” she says. “I’ve been covered in dirt my whole life, and I’m comfortable that way.”



Meet Kelcey Wright Johnson, a young reporter breaking new ground for women in sports media

Kelcey Wright Johnson is a former varsity basketball player turned sports reporter. Since graduating from Ryerson University and Western University just a few years ago, Kelcey has worked at four World University Games — the biggest international multi-sport event behind the Olympic Games — providing live play-by-play commentary, sideline reporting and highlight recaps. She is the only person in the world to do her job at the international games that host over 150 countries, and the only female Canadian to work for the host broadcast at four universiades. Kelcey has also worked as a reporter with the Toronto Pan Am Games and the North American Indigenous Games, and works full time as a sideline reporter and play-by-play commentator for two basketball leagues in Toronto. How’d she make her passion a life long career? Find out.





My first job ever was… A scorekeeper at my older brother’s basketball games. I got $20 a game and all I had to do was press a few buttons! Turns out my career now is not so different — I still get to watch the sport I love!


I would tell my 18 year old self… To not be so hard on myself.


I decided to be a sports reporter because… When I graduated from university, I wasn’t ready to hang up my basketball shoes and leave the sport altogether. I love that I still get to be involved in the sport that I grew up with and fell in love with, just in a different capacity.


My proudest accomplishment is… Being the only female Canadian to work for the host broadcast of the World University Games at four universiades — and the only person in the world with my job at the Games. It was a big accomplishment for me to have earned the scholarship to attend the 2013 Games in Russia, and every time I get invited back to work now, it just goes higher and higher on my accomplishment chart.


My boldest move to date was… Backpacking across Europe and Asia by myself, and then coming home for a week, packing my bags and moving to Nunavut for a year. What was I thinking, right?!


I surprise people when I tell them… That through work I’ve travelled to over six countries including Russia, Spain, Kazakhstan and Taiwan.


My best advice to people starting in this industry is… To make the most of every opportunity because you never know who is watching, or who might have a contact where. Every single opportunity can be used to further your career, you just have to use it to your advantage and do your very best.


My best advice from a mentor was… To be myself. I remember reaching out to LaChina Robinson — who was always one of my favourite female reporters — and after she watched my demo reel, she told me to loosen up a bit and look like I was having fun. I remember thinking ‘I am totally having fun at my job’ but at the beginning of my career I was too caught up in looking uber professional, I forgot to just relax and be me!


My biggest setback was… Being let go from my full-time job at the Toronto Star, twice in one year. I was laid off in January, and then they hired me back and laid me off again in August and it was devastating. But looking back — after a few tough nights and some soul searching — it turned out to be best thing that ever happened to my career.  


“At the beginning of my career I was too caught up in looking uber professional, I forgot to just relax and be me!”


I overcame it by… Embracing what was in front of me. After I lost my job again in August, I decided to really give full-time freelancing a chance, and I couldn’t be happier. Through freelancing, it’s allowed me to work from home and also take every opportunity without having to think about vacation days, or taking time off from my full-time gig. I’ve gone to and written travel articles on Orlando, Dallas, Iqaluit … I’ve travelled to Kazakhstan, Las Vegas, Halifax and Taipei, and I have been fortunate enough to say ‘yes’ every time NBA TV Canada asks me to be on their show, or the Toronto Rock ask me to host one of their games.


Being a woman in a male dominated industry has taught me… That if I want people to take me seriously, I have to take myself seriously. It’s also taught me how important it is to carry yourself with confidence.


Work/life balance is… Hard, and tiring, and a lot of work. I am so fortunate to have a partner that is so understanding and supportive of my career. When I travel abroad for a month, or am working 12-hour shifts that end at 3 a.m. and need a ride home, my husband is always there for me and on the sidelines cheering me on. It’s so important to have a solid support system.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I moved to British Columbia by myself in Grade 12 and lived with the NBA’s Kelly Olynyk and his family.


I stay inspired by… Focusing on my goals. I love where I am right now in my career, but I know that I still have a long way to go. I am so determined to get there that it inspires me everyday — I try and do one thing that will help my career each day, and it helps keep me on track.


The future excites me because… I have no idea where I’ll end up or what I’ll be doing — but that’s the most exciting part about it. I could end up in California working the sidelines for the NFL, or I could be living in Timbuktu working as a sports anchor on the news. Who wouldn’t be excited for the unknown?


My next step is… Signing with a network or a team. The next step in my career is to sign my first big contract with a major network, or with a professional sports team — and I. CAN. NOT. WAIT!



Meet Amanda Daley, the Vice President Bringing Medical Marijuana to Market

Amanda Daley is Vice President, Medical at Canopy Growth Corporation, the parent company of several licensed producers of medical cannabis. While she claims her friends would have voted her ‘Least Likely to be Working in the Cannabis Industry’ back in 2014, when the opportunity to help drive one of the newest and most controversial medical industries in Canada arose, her undeniable expertise in medical sales and education, honed over 15 years in pharmaceuticals, sent her name to the top of the list.





My first job ever was… Scooping ice cream at a little family-owned ice cream shop in Sydney River, Cape Breton when I was 16. The ice cream was made in-store and the owners really instilled in us the importance of delivering an outstanding customer experience. It was a fun gig for a teenager!


I chose my career path because… I had worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 15 years and was ready for a career change — a new challenge. Someone in the medical community reached out to me and told me about the medical cannabis industry and the evolving regulations. At first it sounded too far off the beaten path, but I explored the existing research around the use of cannabis in medicine and I saw an opportunity to bring credible, evidence-based education to the sector.


Leading a controversial industry feels… Exhilarating… There is never a dull day! I thrive on the controversy. It’s interesting to encounter others who have opposing views on the topic or maybe don’t know as much about it and are eager to learn more. I’m very passionate!


My boldest move to date was… Interviewing at Canopy for a position as a medical outreach (pharma sales) representative but then selling them on a bigger role for me. It worked!


I surprise people when I tell them… Where I work and what I do. It evokes chuckles from many — cab drivers, old friends, etc. So many puns and jokes about whether we have samples (sadly we don’t — but maybe check back after legalization)!


My best advice to someone starting their career is… To take steps to get yourself in the direction you want to grow into and to build a strong and diverse network. It’s good to have people in your professional circle who hold positions aligned with your goals and good to have people who have done well managing their own careers to lean on for advice, even if they work in fields unlike yours.


My best advice from a mentor was… Someone once told me that people are watching not only how we react to successes in the workplace, but also to setbacks and disappointments. When things don’t go our way it’s important to see the lesson and consider how to get back on track, and how to make the most of circumstances we didn’t choose. 


My biggest setback was… When I first joined the company, I had a vision for developing an accredited educational program for doctors. Accreditation signals to healthcare professionals that it’s balanced and unbiased, and since doctors are required to accumulate hours of accredited learning I knew it would be a draw. The setback was that the accrediting body decided they wouldn’t even consider programs on the topic of medical cannabis.


“When things don’t go our way it’s important to see the lesson and consider how to get back on track, and how to make the most of circumstances we didn’t choose”


I overcame it by… Deciding to go ahead and have an education program created that would meet the spirit of accreditation. Six months later when the College of Family Physicians Canada was ready to consider programs on the topic, ours was ready to go and was met with approval. Thousands of healthcare professionals across the country have attended this program, so it was worth the wait.


Empowering women means… It can mean many things. It’s providing them tools, opportunities and instilling confidence so their talents can shine and have the most impact. I once read that empowerment is the opposite of dependence. We (men and women) all want and deserve this personally and professionally.  


Work/life balance is… So important and sometimes tough to achieve when you’re working at a new company in a new industry. I do my best and it’s a work-in-progress to find the ideal balance. My husband is incredibly supportive of my career and we juggle a fair bit and by juggle I really mean he’s doing more than his share a lot of the time! 


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I’m from Nova Scotia, because I’ve been in Ottawa for nearly two decades. If you spoke with me for any length of time you might figure it out by the way I pronounce certain words (bar, car, scallops, aunt). When someone asks me about myself I usually mention that I’m from the east coast. It’s an important part of who I am. There’s an inherent friendliness, a down-to-earth vibe there. I hope people see that in me!


I stay inspired by… Having diversity in the work I do. I have the good fortune of being exposed to and having input into so many areas of the business (product development, marketing, customer service, IT). I also stay inspired by knowing that the work we do is making a difference in people’s lives. Hearing stories every day of how medical cannabis has helped people or their loved ones is truly rewarding.


The future excites me because… Attitudes are changing in both the medical community and the public with more and more people seeing a role for cannabis. There is a lot of attention on the topic right now and Canada should be proud of the medical program it has built. Countries around the world are looking to Canada to see how we created a regulated system with strictly produced and tested product, and vast choice in the products that are offered. 


My next step is… I’m excited to see what lies ahead. There are many research efforts underway to add to the base of knowledge about the role cannabis can play in medicine. I’m sure there will be a host of cannabis-derived medicines in the future as well.




Meet Valerie Gerardi, another woman who’s winning in a male dominated industry.