Caroline Riseboro leads Plan International Canada’s operations as President and CEO. Previously she held roles at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation, as well as World Vision Canada, where she was the first and youngest woman in the agency’s history to serve in the SVP role. Her volunteer leadership positions span across numerous boards and task forces including Imagine Canada, and she has been credited as an innovator and champion of ground-breaking and award-winning campaigns that have engaged Canadians in new ways on some of the world’s toughest issues. Here she reveals the driving force behind some of her gutsiest career moves, and why she’s extremely hopeful for the future of women and girls.
My first job ever was… Walking race horses when I was 12-years old. It was interesting because I worked only with men, and it was the first time I experienced and understood a male-dominated environment. I had no idea how well that would serve me later in my life and career.
I decided to enter the non-profit world because… My first job after university was in advertising. It struck me early on in the role that I was working hard to create more profit for sugary drinks, fast food and telecoms companies. At the same time, as I walked to work I would pass people suffering from homelessness, poverty, mental illness and addiction. The answer was staring me in the face: I have to make sure I am using my talents to make this world a better place.
I hope to make a positive impact by… Forging a path where there traditionally hasn’t been a path for younger, ambitious women. I want to show everyone that it’s possible to make your dreams a reality. I also want to make a positive impact by living and working in a way that transforms social norms that face women. I want to show young women leaders that it is okay to be different, and in fact, that’s what the world needs from us right now.
“I want to show young women leaders that it is okay to be different, and in fact, that’s what the world needs from us right now.”
My proudest accomplishment is… Different from what most people would expect. I think most people would expect that my proudest accomplishment was becoming President & CEO of Plan International Canada at age 38, and being a trailblazer and breaking the glass ceiling. But in reality, my proudest accomplishment is that I haven’t given up yet. A lot of being successful is grit, even if it feels like the task at hand is too difficult.
My boldest move to date was… Having a very senior role at a large organization I had worked at for almost 15 years, and leaving to pursue a role at a much smaller one. I realized that while I was contributing, the only way to grow was to venture out of my comfort zone. My other bold move happens on a daily basis, when I constantly try to be authentic and vulnerable. Being a CEO, I think it is important to open up and show women that it is not always easy, but we can push through.
I surprise people when I tell them… That I am more hopeful than ever that women can assume positions of leadership and break glass ceilings. This is because we have finally acknowledged the challenges women face. I believe that we have this powerful, educated group of girls and women growing up as leaders to join the ranks of other women.
My best advice to people who want to make a difference is… To know that we can impact much more change than we realize. If we dream it first, and then put the dream into action by being bold, we can achieve anything.
My best advice from a mentor was… Do it afraid anyway.
“We can impact much more change than we realize. If we dream it first, and then put the dream into action by being bold, we can achieve anything.”
My biggest setback was… Listening to that critical voice in my own mind. It’s that whole notion of ‘can I really do this?’
I overcame it by… Doing it afraid. And I say that because often we don’t realize we have everything we need within us to succeed. And if we don’t, we can build the skills along the way. That is how everyone successful has succeeded. Women often feel they need to be 100% ready, but you’re more ready than you think. The only way forward is to do it.
Work/life balance is… A myth. It is a question that I don’t even want to answer yet again. It puts pressure on women, with this perception of how women should be leading their lives. The better question is do I feel whole in my life and as a person?
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I have an intensely needy creative side that I need to nurture. So much of my work is cerebral and is focused on tackling the toughest global issues. Creativity is the outlet that I have to explore the ethereal.
I stay inspired by… The people around me. I am inspired by the talent and human potential I am surrounded by that has yet to be unleashed. This is particularly true of the talented team I lead at Plan International.
The future excites me because… We can truly make a positive difference. It will take time. It will take energy. It will take perseverance. It’s taken my nearly 40 years to realize this, but really anything is possible.