Categories
Our Voices

We Had Better Believe Her!

An image of a young black woman, wearing a flowered dress, hands folded in front of her.
Feminist poet, Alexandra Mandewo. Photo Provided.

Not every 18 year old writes feminist poetry and dreams of going to civil engineering school in the fall. Except for Coquitlam, B.C. based Alexandra Mandewo. 

Mandewo won an award at her school for this work. She sent it to us –looking to publish it.  We loved it. Thought you would too.

Here is a little more about Mandewo and her poem. 


LiisBeth: How old are you? What school you go to?

Mandewo: I am 18 years old and go to Pinetree Secondary School in Coquitlam, BC.

LiisBeth: What prompted you to write this poem?

Mandewo: I wrote this poem as part of a social justice poetry assignment for my First Peoples English 12 class. I wanted to write a poem that would inspire and motivate others.

Not every 18 year old writes feminist poetry and dreams of going to civil engineering school in the fall. Except for Coquitlam, B.C. based Alexandra Mandewo.  Mandewo won an award at her school for this work. She sent it to us –looking to publish it.  We loved it. And so we did. 

LiisBeth: Do you write a lot of poems?

Mandewo: I started writing poems this year but I’ve always considered myself a writer. I’ve written many articles ranging from diversity and inclusion to educational disparities. Many of my poems have been about women’s empowerment but also grief.

LiisBeth: Do you consider yourself a feminist? If so tell us about your beliefs as a feminist. 

Mandewo: I do consider a feminist- an intersectional feminist. I use Roxane Gay’s description of the foundation of feminism as my definition of a feminist: I think a feminist is someone who supports the choices of women even if they wouldn’t make those certain choices for themselves.

(Click above to hear Mandewo read the poem. You can also download it here. )

LiisBeth: How have you experienced high school in terms of gender equity?

Mandewo: My high school experience has been very unusual due to being a high performance athlete and the pandemic- doing half of my high school completely virtual. I don’t really think I have experienced gender inequity in my classes or in my school.

However, one distinct moment I remember was my first high school career fair. I decided to go to the room where a male engineer was speaking about his field and when I entered I realized I was the only girl out of at least forty kids. Despite this, I tried to actively participate in the discussion but whenever I put my hand up to answer questions, I was never picked.

The speaker went as far as asking kids who had already answered questions to answer another one instead of calling on me with my hand up.

Luckily, this experience didn’t heavily affect me as I am going into engineering in university- but it was my first of many experiences being the only woman in the room.

LiisBeth: Have you ever felt a “feminist snap”? A moment in time when you wanted to shout “That is not right!” Or fair!

Mandewo: The one thing that always gets me is the gender pay gap. Some people argue that it only exists in certain level jobs but research and testimonies clearly shows that it exists in all levels of the workforce. I struggle to fathom how someone can think a man and woman doing the exact same job should be paid differently.

LiisBeth: What do you want to do when you graduate? Interests? pursuits?

Mandewo: I will be attending George Washington University in Washington, DC. Being in America’s Capitol, I will have access to a plethora of organizations looking to help with the advancement of women’s rights. Within school, I plan on taking courses like Women, Gender and Sexuality studies as well as joining groups like Women in Engineering to help uplift other women.

LiisBeth: Thank you so much Alexandra!  You are an amazing young woman!

Mandewo:  And thank YOU for sharing my work with your readers!

Related Reading

A Black woman wearing a red scarf entrepreneur gazing outside a window.

I Have a Seed

Althea Branton was interviewed by an intake manager at a startup accelerator. Shaken, she took her rage to the page.

Read More »
Categories
Activism & Action

Inside the Equal Futures Network: A New Feminist Coalition Juggernaut in the Making?

An image of about 100 people, 90% women, at the launch of the Equal Futures Network in 2020.
The Launch of the Equal Futures Network. Centre, the former Women and Gender Equality Minister, the Honorable Maryam Monsef (centre). Photo by:

Leah Sarah Peer, a 3rd year, 26-year-old Montreal medical student and founder of the Peer Medical Foundation (PMF), a fledgling nonprofit that helps folx navigate the Canadian healthcare system, explains the meaning of her necklace: A Swarovski crystal pendant in the shape of a black swan hanging on a lightweight silver chain. Peer says “When I wear this necklace, I think about a swan who is constantly surveying and navigating a lake, having to face challenges, and overcoming obstacles generated by nature. It inspires me to work hard to make a difference while I am on this planet.”

Peer also knows that black swans are rare birds, famously othered in fables, whose survival depends on being part of a larger flock.  

So, when Peer heard of The Equal Futures Network (EFN), a new pan Canadian initiative designed to connect, amplify, spotlight organizations working to achieve gender equality—she immediately signed up.  As did over 488 other organizations – in just over a year. 

The EFN is now arguably Canada’s largest ‘come one come all’ feminist organization since the creation of The National Acton Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), a powerful 700+ network of women’s rights launched in 1971 which served at the forefront of fights for rights for over 30 years.

But to what end? 

Is this just about flocking together? Or something bigger?

Julia Anderson, co-founder and current Chief Executive Officer for the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health CanWaCH, home of the Equal Futures Network (EFN) initiative, believes the EFN has incredible change making potential.

“If we want to improve the lives of the most marginalized women, children and adolescents, anyone marginalized due to gender, protect their health and rights, we need to work together.”

Taking a ‘big tent’ approach, Anderson says any organization, business or nonprofit, big or small, working to advance gender equity and equality is welcome to join. Its diverse member list includes the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Next Gen Men, Groupe Femmes, Politique et Démocratie, Intersex London Canada, Women of Colour Thrive, Niijkiwendidaa Anishnaabekwewag Services Circle, the Northern Birthwork Collective, New Brunswick Transgender Health Network,  Shake Up the Establishment—and Queen’s University.

Presently, over 32% of members are based in South Western Ontario; an impressive 19.5% are based in Quebec.

The organization is hosting its first network summit in Ottawa on June 8-9th.  The Honorable Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth (WAGE), and award-winning, feminist author, Farzana Doctor, are both keynote speakers. WAGE contributed $498K in grant funding over 3 years towards the development of the EFN in 2021.

THE STATUS OF GENDER EQUALITY IN CANADA

Compared to countries like India, or the United States, especially in this moment, Canada looks like a gender equity mecca. So why fund a new coalition?

The truth is, we too, still have a long way to go. 

No matter what international gender equality index you look at, Canada is rarely the top 10. While Canada has moved up the UN Gender Equality Index ranks from #25 in 2015 to #16 in 2021, other countries with self-identified feminist governments like Norway, Ireland, Iceland, Germany, Australia and surprisingly Hong Kong China (SAR), still lead the global gender equality scoreboard. Especially when it comes to gross national income (GNI) per capita which compares how much a woman earns on average in each country using a USD Based calculation that adjusts for differences in cost of living). The average woman in Norway earns $66, 494/year. A woman in the US earns $63,826. The average woman in Canada earns $48,527 (27-24% less). When an intersectional lens is applied, the earning gap is even greater.

Pay equity, despite the law, is still not a reality in many sectors and spaces in Canada. Canada’s women’s entrepreneurship programs, world class and successful on many levels, continues to over privilege a small subset of 200 000+ women entrepreneurs with incorporated, scalable (read largely tech-based) enterprise ideas and dreams leaving the rest (62%), largely sole, self-employed, necessity-driven women entrepreneurs with a reported medium income of $19 999K/gross per year, vastly under supported.  

In addition, Canada still has uneven access to abortion procedures—despite legalization.  Women only hold 23.4% of corporate board seats as of 2021—a mere 2.2% increase over 2020. Twenty-eight per cent of women-led households struggle with the affordability, suitability or adequacy of their housing. This is almost double the rate of households led by men. Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner (Statistics Canada, 2019). It costs taxpayers billions of dollars: $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence alone. Eqale, a LGBTQ+ advocacy group, reports 71% of trans people have post-secondary education, but over 50% earn less than $15 000 a year due to gender discrimination.

When we apply an intersectional lens, things are typically worse for racialized , disabled, immigrant women, plus queer and trans folk on every metric examined. According to Census and Statistics Canada Canadian Income Statistics data on average annual earnings: Indigenous women face a 57% gender pay gap, women with disabilities face a 46% gap, immigrant women face a 39% gap and racialized women face a 32% gap.

That said, there has been watershed progress in just this past year. For example, universal childcare, a 50 year+ body of activist work, is now an implementation- ready policy reality in this country. And, new Canadian polls that show that 90% of Canadians want to see gender equality achieved and that 57% of women (and 40% of men) today identify strongly as feminists, plus a feminist government.

Overall, we have indeed made progress, but progress is still unevenly distributed. 

Furthermore, as the recent attack on U.S. Roe v Wade and the implosion of women’s rights in Afghanistan, shows progress unattended, is progress denied. Rights won through hard, decades-long struggle and lives lost easily comes under siege when economic conditions worsen and when political power shifts. Patriarchy is a hydra. Cut one limb off and another one grows in its place. Progress for women, gender equity and social justice requires constant vigilance. 

History shows the antidote, is to be and stay organized. At present, we are not. Not like we used to be. And perhaps that, is the piece of the puzzle that keeps us from getting to the top. 

THE POWER OF FEMINIST ORGANIZING

In financial circles, Black Swans refer to an unpredictable event or set of forces that suddenly coalesce, rise up and remake the world. An example is Brexit or closer to home, the 2008 financial crisis. One could also argue that the creation of a new pan Canadian feminist coalition could be another. 

Does the EFN have the potential to be this era’s feminist Black Swan?  

Nora Loreto, activist and feminist author, gives it a maybe. 

Her concern? In this neoliberal age of individualism, women have excelled at organizing empowerment-oriented networking events but seem to have forgotten how to organize, mobilize and wield political power where and when it really counts. 

In her book, Take Back the Fight, Loreto argues we have lost ground as a result and believes the key to avoid further backsliding is to re-skill, fund, and build large  diverse feminist coalitions capable of both defending and moving gender equity and rights forward. Loreto sees the emergence of the EFN as a positive step forward. But will wait to see if this network has a required political spine. 

Reinforcing the importance of organizing for political power, Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter (US) and author of The Purpose of Power, writes, “Most people when they think about power are actually envisioning empowerment. Those things are related, but different. Unless empowerment is transformed into power, not much will change about our environments.”

CanWaCH/EFN understands the need for and power of organizing, having served as coalition for change builders since its inception. 

INSIDE EQUAL FUTURES – WHO ARE THEY? WHAT DO THEY WANT?

Simply, Equal Futures Network is a project of the CanWaCH organization. But few women’s organizations outside of the health space know anything about CanWaCh.

How did a small, international, women’s health nonprofit based in Peterborough become the lead, pan-Canadian convenor, a cross sector, all-call gender equality initiative?

For starters, this modest, 17-person, pan Canadian virtual organization has quite an impressive big-dog-in-the-park track record.  Their achievements include:

  • Serving as the driving force behind a $14 billion-dollar Canadian initiative to deliver and advance reproductive, maternal, child healthcare rights around the world.
  • Playing the role of lead mobilizer and convener for Canada’s participation in Women Deliver 2019, a huge, bi-annual, global conference which attracted 2500 organizations, 8000 in person attendees and another 200 000 participants online. It was held in Canada for the first time that year.
  • In 2021, CanWaCH played a leading role in the development of a Foreign Policy by Canadians which involved convening and working with over 400 people. One of the recommendations was that Canada needs to do more to on the home front. Anderson says, you can’t just advocate elsewhere, “You also need to be addressing the roots of inequality where you are in your own backyard.” Plus, if we want other countries to advance women, they must see it, to be it.

“We have demonstrated we have the skill and experience” says Anderson, who has been involved in membership and coalition-based organizations her entire career. “We are also good at attracting resources. We figured that if we managed to create a track record of success internationally, why not leverage our capabilities domestically.”

Is this another association? 

On that, Anderson is crystal clear.  “No. We don’t serve the membership; we serve the impact.”  

CanWaCH, as the host organization is taking a “leaderful” approach to this project.  Which essentially means they don’t see themselves as out in front (traditional leadership), or stepping aside (servant leadership). Instead, they plan to work within, collaboratively, compassionately, trust the process and support network members. The only guard rails are the projects stated values and desired outcome–more gender equality.  

BIRDS OF A FEATHER?

Can anyone join? The answer is: EFN “defaults to inclusion”. Any organization, anywhere on their feminist journey will be welcomed as members as long as they are aligned with stated core values which include: A commitment to intersectional feminism, listening, learning, using power, privilege to challenge oppressive norms and systems, working to advance decolonization and overall, move mountains and help smash the patriarchy.

This means larger pro-capitalist women in business networks who rarely, if ever, show up at a protest with organizationally identified placards will find themselves shoulder to shoulder with grassroots, Marxist feminists who actually organize them -without pay.   

However, organizations we spoke to were excited to be rubbing elbows with each other, no matter what their political stance.

TWO NEW EFN MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS

THe logo for the The Canadian Coalition to Empower Women (CCEW) was founded by The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW)

The Canadian Coalition to Empower Women (CCEW) was founded by The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW)—a group that has been operating in Canada for 90+ years (read Colonial times) as a founding member of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women International. Both the CCEW and the BPW recently signed on to the EFN.

Co-founder and Project Liaison to coalition’s latest venture, the IDEAS4GenderEquality Project, Sheila Crook says, “When we saw EFN, we said this is an organization we need to connect with. It’s an opportunity to see who’s out there and what they are up to.” Crook was impressed by the organizational diversity of network members—everything from business to civil society, nonprofit, university and union organizations.”

Crook adds “For me, EFN’s existence and uptake acknowledge the fact that there are thousands of organizations in Canada working to advance gender equity in one way or another.  This network will open the door, help us build bridges of understanding and form partnerships that can drive real, systemic change.”

Canadian Women's Chamber of Commerce Logo/Ad

The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director, Nancy Wilson, agrees.  “We recently joined the EFN network as well.  We represent and advocate for equity for women entrepreneurs, particularly those who operate micro-enterprises or are precariously self-employed. We see this network as a chance to learn and add our weight to any initiative that works to improve gender equity in Canada.”

Wilson and several members of her team will also be attending the June conference. 

CanWaCH CEO Julia Anderson speaking to a group on behalf of Equal Futures Network
Julia Anderson, CEO of CanWaCH, speaks to Equal Futures Network members and CanWaCH members attending an event in Vancouver on May 5, 2022.

IS THIS THE BLACK SWAN EVENT WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR?

Frankly, it’s too early to tell. 

Critics of efforts like this talk about the challenges associated with bringing diverse viewpoints and agendas together in hopes of chiseling the mess down into a tower of power scale political force.  All too often, political differences, histories, egos, cancel culture tactics and lack of resources to participate fully in a big coalition for small organizations undermines the intent: The collaboration tax is real. Systems-generated trauma, often the source of unintended harm and disagreement, is also real. Fostering a true “I have your back; you have mine” sense of solidarity comes with the opportunity to battle-test each other over time-and survive. In other words, it’s slow and messy.

However, right now, EFN members seem unified and enthusiastic in their belief that when birds of a feather flock together, good things will happen.   

However, critics say that in order truly dismantle the gender oppression and marginalization mountain, EFN members will need to do much more than party once in a while like its 2019 in a big tent.

Black Swan events are known in financial circles for being unanticipated and having gale force impact.

Black swans in nature are also known for having the longest neck, among other species of swans.

Let’s see how far this diverse coalition is willing to stick its neck out to help Canada leap forward and achieve true gender equity and equality – once, and for all time.


 

Related Reading

The Revolutionary

adrienne maree brown, activist, author, black feminist changemaker and truly funny womxn causes a welcome ruckus –again.

Read More »
Categories
Our Voices

The Politics and Practices of a Feminist Entrepreneur

Line of of illustrated men in suites with hedgehog in the line up looking fierce
Images by Grodno, Belarus and Christos Georghiou |Shutterstock| Mash up by pk mutch

I remember the sting felt while listening to speakers at a small business conference ten years ago. It was there that I sensed alienating and regressive elements about the small business space. Table talk centered to the political right, and sometimes far right of center. I sensed contradictions between the values speakers espoused and their operating practices. For example, firms that showcased donations to local food banks while paying temp workers $14.00 per hour to minimize labour costs. It became evident who in the room had power through voice and who did not. This moment has not left me. Further forays into small business spaces have reinforced my initial impressions.

Small business communities are not, of course, homogeneous. In my experience, the pulsing heart remains male-dominated, conservative, and increasingly populist. When it comes to advocating for justice, diversity and inclusion, its leaders are more likely to push for initiatives that put money in owner pockets without consideration how they might affect a wider group of others.

Given the size and power of the small business community, those of us working for change should be concerned. Social change makers cannot ignore Canada’s small business community. From 1.2 million incorporated, for-profit enterprises in Canada: only 380 (.0003%) are ‘Business for Good’ BCorps. 

Business as a force for good?

It’s 2022. The world is on fire. I am getting impatient. Being a conformer in business is not enough. If we want a better world, we need progressive small business owners to put their weight behind advocacy and organizations working for social and economic justice. 

History has shown that for-profit founders can be powerful allies to movements for justice. In the 18th century, small business traders and merchants helped peasants and serfs accelerate change from feudalism to capitalism. Dutch bankers risked their lives by leveraging their wealth to resist the Nazis in the early 1940s. We can look to the founding of women-owned credit unions in the 1970s. Today, small business owners have been successful in fighting interest rate hikes and landing COVID-related recovery measures. Small business advocates are powerful when they want to be. The community knows how to organize and have impact, when its interests are perceived to be at risk.

If today’s economic system that shapes our lives is hurting most of us, doesn’t it make sense for small business owners to challenge capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy and other forms of oppression?

In Canada, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 97.9% of all incorporated companies. 53.8% are companies with 1 to 4 employees – including the founder – employing 67.7% or 7.7 million Canadians. These businesses generate 37.5% of private sector GDP. Women-majority owned businesses represents only 16% of incorporated SMEs, and another 13% are equally owned by men and women.

Clearly, the small business part of our economy is big, influential, and while women are making progress, still mostly male-led.  

The small business entity is unique from it’s large, often publicly traded, hired CEO-led counterparts in that these founders have considerable freedom to choose and operationalize their politics and values. They can also pivot and implement changes quickly. Given this freedom, and the weight and size of the Canadian small business community in aggregate, it has the power to change — everything. Instead, it primarily chooses to work at maintaining and perpetuating the status quo.

This set me on a journey. 

Are there others looking to re-imagine the role of small enterprise in these times of growing, grotesque inequality? Are there other founders interested in leveraging their passion for innovation, fairness, inclusion, resilience building and enterprise crafting to help dismantle rather than protect capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy and white supremacy?

Intersectional feminist Entrepreneurship – a porchlight in the storm

Turns out there was.

However, finding the feminist entrepreneurship community was a bit like finding a stick insect in a forest. They were there, but they’re hard to find. This required patience and persistence.

But find them I did.

The feminist enterprise community is an informal, intergenerational, diverse, international group of brave pioneers who are scattered across the world. The composition includes feminist thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, writers, artists, academics, activists, corporate ex-pats, and dreamers. Today, they are my core community of practice-as-a-feminist entrepreneurs.

Our conversations and debates cracked me  open and let the light in. Online meet-ups and in-person conferences, and ongoing debates provide nourishment, support, teaching and provocation Through these experiences, I have emerged from beneath a heavy blanket of no longer relevant beliefs, values and teachings, including those espoused in my MBA courses—accumulated and internalized as unassailable truths gathered over the decades.

Come Sit At Our Table

Today I am a proud and vocal feminist entrepreneur. I do business very, very differently because of what I have learned.

I dream of a day when saying ‘We are a feminist business’, tells people what the enterprise stands for. But first, we need more people to understand what feminist founders believe and what feminist enterprise community is about.

So, draw up a chair, and let me share what I have learned from my teachers:

  1. It’s not new. Feminist enterprise crafting goes back to long before suffragette days. There have always been folks who align their enterprise skills and ability to marshal resources with social movements.
  2. Intersectionality rules: Feminist entrepreneurship as a field and practice are predicated on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality which reoriented today’s feminist work to focus on ending all oppressions because they are all ultimately linked.
  3. Not only women: The feminist enterprise movement includes all people, trans, queer and those who experience gender-based oppression.
  4. How to tap bountiful alternative resources: Most feminist enterprises are bootstrapped. Why? Founder independence and progressive politics turn off many investors and corporations. By necessity, founders work to grow and sustain their enterprises by working like individual hydrae in nature’s underground mycelial networks—adapting, collaborating, sending and receiving and sharing, so each has what they need and so that the whole is ultimately stronger.
  5. Deep learning and questioning: The feminist entrepreneurship community demands deep study beyond topics like mastering social media. To unearth viable, innovative alternatives, we dig into radical and subversive ideas for insight. We examine the thought leadership of Karl Marx, adrienne maree brown, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kate Raeworth, Alicia Garza, Vandana Shiva, Nick Srnicek, CV Harquail,  Dr. Barbara Orser, Tim Jackson–not just Lean Startup by Al Reiss. We co-create, elevate radical, alternative ideas for leading, designing, growing enterprises that are missed in mainstream entrepreneurship education and support programs.
  6. It’s about the how: Feminist entrepreneurs prioritize how versus why and what of enterprise work. We think about how systems of oppression work, are embedded and perpetuated in how they operate. We work to liberate or disassociate our venture practices from these systems.
  7. The personal and organizational is political: Feminist entrepreneurs are fiercely, transparently political, and careful about who gets our time, attention and money. We march. We write to our elected officials. We don’t do business with founders who are trans-exclusionary, businesses who fund alt-right or anti-choice organizations.
  8. Non-extractive: We see ourselves as accountable, stewards of resources not masters of extraction.
  9. Solidarity: We support indie feminist activists, feminist media and feminist organizations including nonprofits, collectives, and non-registered grassroots initiatives. We see the feminist economy as one big sisterhood, undivided by legal formation choices.
  10. We have fun. This is a love centered, loyal, joyous, complex community that is re-learning what it means to build post capitalist enterprises.

This all said, we are not yet organized as a strong political voice. But we are working on it. It is critical that we do this work to sustain our collective voices, have resources to be allies, and mobilize this small business body politic.

Workshop at the 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum. Over 200 attendees participated.

Growing the new, inside the old

The feminist entrepreneur’s movement remains an outlier. It’s not an idea. It’s a practice. 

It is ignored by labour, the left, and side-eyed by some who see feminist entrepreneurs as neoliberal lipstick capitalists.  Mainstream entrepreneurship and small business people think we burn bras for a living.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If we are to build a post 20th century capitalist world in which all can thrive, we need activists and movements to take a closer look at the small business space as an ally and to find ways to mobilize individual change makers within it.

We need entrepreneurship educators and training institutions to overhaul programming—which emphasize enterprise skills and knowledge developed in the 1990s.

Just imagine if all SMEs were a force behind transforming capitalism towards a healthier, fairer, market-based system that operates in anti-oppressive, non-extractive, human-centered ways of strengthening community! 

Imagine if they are not. 

Related Reading

Categories
Featured Our Voices

2022:
A TELESCOPIC VIEW

young girl Looking through telescope
Photo by Raymond Forbes on Stocksy

As we head into 2022, some mainstream media is doing a good job of summarizing what we legitimately need to fear in 2022.

However, here at LiisBeth, unafraid to look up and ready to act, we see  comets, but also the stars, ways to get there, and light that has not yet reached the earth. 

With our lens set to different coordinates, we wanted to share with you five 2022 actionable themes and related articles that might serve as useful prompts to stoke some hope plus inform your intention setting and personal liberation work for the coming year. 

Learning to Live with Climate Crisis

The climate crisis age is here. We still have to work to reduce its severity. But we now also have to learn to live with it. How do you imagine a tomorrow when the present seems, whichever way you look, to be hovering on the brink of another climate driven hurricane, flood or fire? What does solutioning, living, working, building an enterprise in a climate crisis driven society and economy look like? Catherine Bush’s novel, Blaze Island (2020), gives us a glimpse of the near future and raises larger questions about interfering with nature and the harm or good that may result.  Read more, download a free excerpt and watch our interview with Bush and her climate change scientist sister, Elizabeth Bush on YouTube. 

The Re-Emergence of  Real-Life Feminist Spaces

In this ode to in real life feminist spaces and events, we are reminded about the power of 5D, or even 10D, sensorial-powered spaces, events and connections.  Living in Zoom powered 2D for almost two years has shown us what it means to be human.  Multi-dimensional, real life, embodied events open our minds and expands our capacity to imagine new worlds. We dream bigger when we spend hours together, bumping shoulders, in real time. We need to make the effort to both create and attend live, large events again–as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Increased Support for Revolutionaries

The recent passing of bell hooks shook our hearts and souls. Thank fully we have her books to maintain our relationship with her work. But not every feminist revolutionary becomes famous or writes. Those that do often remind us how important it is to nurture and support all kinds of revolutionaries among us–both large and small; Their work is all interlaced-like an underground  mycelium network driving change above.  In this article, we talk with adrienne maree brown about “building the new in the shell of the old.” In “Solutionary Ideas from a Love-Based Revolutionary” we interview Rivera Sun who tells us “Change doesn’t just happen through protest.  It does not just happen – for regular people anyway – through calling politicians or senators. And it doesn’t usually just happen through buying the right goods as individuals. It happens when we organize.”  To learn more on the topic of organizing, check out The Fine Print Episode with Nora Loretto. 

To get a glimpse of grassroots revolutionary work, consider reading A Recipe for Justice and Full Stream Ahead

Coping Effectively with Burnout

We have been writing and publishing more about activist burnout in the past two years.  We can’t afford activist burnout. We need everyone pulling on this side of the rope. Heed Instagram artist @liberaljane’s advice which says “You can’t light yourself on fire to keep someone else warm”. So, if you are still feeling the burn as you enter 2022, this interview with Canadian anti-globalization and anti-racism activist, Annahid Dashtgard provides useful strategies for coping and taking the long view approach to this work. 

Consider Writing as Medicine for the Soul

Mental health is another casualty of the pandemic.  Journaling and writing is often prescribed as part of a healthy coping strategy. If you are thinking of kicking up your journaling work or taking your writing skills to new heights in 2020, you might want to consider joining a writing group–or sign up for a writing school.  If the latter is appealing, check out our profile on Sarah Selecky and her writing school here. 

Re-engage with the Arts

All arts. Yes. But in particular, re-engage with live music events. More than other cultural experiences, live music performances, in pubs or halls, inspires, bridges differences and can bring joy and pleasure to revolutionary work. If you are looking for a new playlist to energize your soul, check out one of LiisBeth’s ten feminist playlists here. It was compiled just before the 2020 US election but it still electric and relevant. If you want more options, you can listen to ten playlists we have published by typing playlist in the search bar. We also encourage you to keep Venusfest, a feminist music festival, on your 2022 radar.

Finally, if you are lining up your reading list for 2022, have a look at our book recommendations; All feminist classics and must reads in our opinion. 

Looking Ahead

Our first story in 2022, written by Sue Nador, will introduce you to Kohenet Annie Matan, a Jewish, feminist, queer, Hebrew Priestess and Mama and her work. 

Over the course of the next few months, you will see more “see it, dream it” stories on feminists driving change through community projects, nonprofit, academic, enterprise work, policy making and organizing. 

We believe that in 2022, the pandemic-driven economy and political climate will make radical venture design and growth an increasingly lonely and difficult endeavor as people turn their attention, time and money to surviving the now versus building the new. 

Now more than ever, radical work will depend on the support of the people–you.-

Related Reading

Lessons from the Downfall of a Feminist Leader

A 19th century successful, edge-walking feminist entrepreneur, publisher and leading suffragette who racked up a number of firsts—in politics and business—suffered harsh consequences. What can we learn from Victoria Woodhull experience that still applies today?

Read More »
Categories
Feminist Practices Transformative Ideas

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemon Aid

Rachel Kelly, founder of Make Lemonade, 2019. Photo provided.

Like the many enterprises that relied on in-person interaction, Make Lemonade, a Toronto-based, women-centric co-working space for entrepreneurs was suddenly squeezed dry by the pandemic and closed its doors in August 2020. It was the third closure in three years of a well-loved physical co-working space focusing on women — the others were Shecosystem and Women on the Move. LiisBeth talked to Rachel Kelly, the 30-year-old founder and sole owner of Make Lemonade to learn about the journey and where they are now–given the pandemic. 

LiisBeth: Let’s rewind to get the full story. Why did you start Make Lemonade?

RK: It was 2015 and I had been freelancing for a couple years, bouncing from coffee shop to coffee shop and working from home — way before it was cool. One day while travelling on a streetcar to yet another café, I realized I couldn’t keep lying to myself. I was trying to convince myself that this way of working, like a nomad, alone, was great and that the indie freelancing life was sustainable for me. It occurred to me in that moment the key thing lacking in my work life was a day-to-day community of colleagues.

Around this time, I signed a salaried contract with a company I was freelancing for and let go of all my freelance gigs. And even bought a couch! But shortly thereafter, they called to say the contract was cancelled. They never told me why but I suspect it had to do with their budget.

I reminded myself, I am only 26 years old. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

The old dream I had of starting a co-working space for independent freelancers like me resurfaced. And I have to thank my parents for inspiration. They were also entrepreneurs and taught me to dream big and worry about the details later. Which is exactly what I did.

I started by creating an Instagram account called Make Lemonade to gauge interest about the idea and guess what … it generated traction! In fact some people already thought the space existed and actually emailed me saying “you might like this space” not realizing I was the one posting about it. Ha! With this validation, I got to work. I put together a business plan. Landlords required me to submit the plan along with an offer to lease the space because we were a startup. I looked for places that offered bright, natural light and a canvas that made shared work possible. Finding a space with a good landlord was also important. The commercial rental market was hot at the time. I found a beautiful 3,000 square foot space at 326 Adelaide Street West in the heart of downtown Toronto and quickly signed a five-year lease.

LiisBeth:  Tell us about the Make Lemonade Community? Who showed up?

RK: At first, I thought the space would attract mostly 25 to 35-year-olds but we ended up with members from of all ages — all the way into their sixties. Members paid $500/month for a three-month plan with a fixed desk; $300/month for Monday to Friday access; $30/month for community membership. Make Lemonade offered a communal kitchen, phone booths, printing and mailboxes. About 80 per cent of the members — or our “lemons” as we affectionally referred to each other — were full-time self-employed creative types, writing or producing professionals and other artists. Other members included graduate students working on their thesis, a few salaried folks looking for an inspiring focus zone and people with full time jobs who needed space to work on their side-hustles.  

One of our members, Breeyn McCarney, is wedding dressmaker who designed non-traditional wedding gowns. She lived in Hamilton but most of her clients were in Toronto so she regularly booked our meeting rooms for client fittings. When her customers came for their final fitting, she would host a champagne celebration in our “virtual” patio room, an indoor room that was decked out to look like an outdoor patio.

Breeyn hosted beading workshops for aspiring artists — they worked with their hoops and beads and used Make Lemonade as a production space. At its peak, we had over 200 members.

Many of our members have seriously grown their enterprises since joining the Make Lemonade community. For example, when newcomer to Canada Katy Prince joined, she could only afford to come on Mondays (half price days) at first she didn’t have many friends or a network. Katy significantly expanded her network while at Make Lemonade. Today, Katy works for herself as a full-time coach and has a handful of staff members. Katy’s experience is testament to the benefits that co-working spaces have to offer and we are proud to have helped play a role in their success.      

LiisBeth:  Did you ever participate in startup program or receive any startup or government grants to help finance or start your business?

RK: No. Truth be told I never applied! I didn’t really know what was available.

Liisbeth: What happened when the pandemic hit?

RK: In early March 2020, we started to hear all about the coronavirus I remember going to sleep one Sunday night knowing the next day I would have to close our doors. At first, we thought it would only be for a short time, but it soon became clear the closure would last for a while. When we made our announcement (a year and a half after our temporary closure) in August 2020 that the doors were closing, we received close to 300 comments on just one Instagram post. I still haven’t read through them all because it’s emotionally overwhelming. What’s important to note — and also bittersweet — is that our busiest time were the months leading up to the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rachel Kelly’s announcement on the closing of Make Lemonade’s physical coworking space in Toronto. Screenshot via Instagram.
 

When the pandemic hit, we were not sure what to do but quitting was not an option. Our mantra was (and still is): when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. We had to try something new.

My staff member, Ashley Fulton, Director of Good Vibes, and I began brainstorming about how we could bring and keep the community together online. We started with free virtual co-working meet ups. Then added free daily support calls. Next, we added a short newsletter called “Your Daily Dose of Sunshine”. We later added online co-working sessions and work sprints and didn’t charge for any of it.

Once we were confident we had something worthwhile to offer, we invited people to start paying us for the services. And a good number of them did.

Over time, we added more features such as accountability calls and introduced The 4-Week Challenge that involved working on goals for four weeks in community. People loved it and paid to participate! We noticed multiple repeat participants for the program and eventually turned it into a new service called the Get Sh*t Done Club. 

As time went on, we learned that while the physical space with tables and internet access was great, our real strength was supporting entrepreneurs through all the highs and the lows of business ownership. Lemonade became more like lemon aid.

Today, the Get Sh*t Done Club is still running strong as a 12-month online business foundations community that supports entrepreneurs to hustle less, grow more and have more fun. We do virtual kick-off brunches, offer workshops on goal setting, host work sprints, brainstorms and facilitate small  groups within the program. We have an event called the Lemon Mixer—an open conversation where members ask for what they need and are able to give back by offering services or expertise. Members also get full access to our Business 101 online course. And of course, we have fun! We celebrate successes with an honour roll and give shoutouts and cheers when progress happens for someone.

LiisBeth: As a player in the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem space, what would you like to see change or happen in the coming years to further strengthen the women’s enterprise space?

RK: It almost seems ridiculous with the kind of company that I created that I didn’t get a “Hey, welcome to the women’s entrepreneurship support world.” Or a “Did you know, these are the resources that are available?”

We build community for others, but where is OUR community support?

LiisBeth: What’s Next for Make Lemonade? You?

RK: Looking to the future, we have some new ideas percolating, including meeting up with our “lemons” in real life again.

Things have been tough, but the pandemic was the catalyst for creating something bigger than the physical space. It led us to creating an online community and a new way of providing members with the support they need. The pandemic was also a wake up call. Which means it’s time to start making lemonade again … whatever that looks like. Funny how things are kind of coming full circle.

Also, when I think about what’s next, I’m reminded of how my parents started out and where they are now. They founded an automotive manufacturing company. But like so many businesses, that’s not how the enterprise started. Believe it or not, their original business was selling fruitcakes. So whenever I worry about not knowing what the future holds, I remind myself, I’m still in my fruitcake, or perhaps lemon cake, phase. I’m experimenting with different ingredients, making up recipes to see what works best.

LiisBeth:  Thank you for sharing your incredible and inspiring story

Related Reading

Selling Up, Moving Up

While numerous organizations for women entrepreneurs exist in Toronto, Women on the Move is the only one that incorporates co-working space, business training, venture capitalist funding and a community network.

Read More »
Categories
Activism & Action

A Recipe for Justice

Paul Taylor, Executive Director of FoodShare at WE.Gordon Neighbourhood House Director Paul Taylor in one of their gardens, Salad maker ?? speaking with passersby, Exterior shot of the the building.
Paul Taylor, Executive Director of FoodShare at WE.Gordon Neighbourhood House. Photo by Dan Toulgoet

Last month, I set out to find examples of advanced feminist enterprises that were doing truly radical work, showing us what a socially just, post-capitalist enterprise and economy might look like.

FoodShare, a large and innovative Toronto-based food justice charity, emerged as a provocative example.

FoodShare was founded in the 1980s in response to an alarming increase in hunger and food insecurity due to the recession, with Indigenous and Black households experiencing the highest rates of food insecurity. It was meant to be a temporary organization dealing with a short-term issue, but as the number of food bank dependent and food insecure people in Toronto grew, so did FoodShare. Today, it is the largest food security charity in North America, entering another rapid growth period due to the pandemic.

FoodShare has more than a dozen income-generating and grant-supported programs including community garden facilitation, kitchen incubator, school lunch programs and a good food box delivered to subscriber doors. The organization employs 120 people of whom 54.8 per cent are women, 1.6 per cent transgender and 2.3 per cent gender nonconforming.  While most Canadian organizations are just beginning to embrace the government supported  50-30 challenge (which calls for corporations to increase representation of women to 50 per cent and BIPOC representation to 30 per cent on boards), FoodShare’s board of directors is already 62 per cent female and 85 per cent BIPOC.

Debbie Fields founded and led FoodShare for more than 25 years. Paul Taylor, took over as Executive Director (ED) in 2017.

Here’s what he has to say about FoodShare’s latest progressive initiatives. 

LiisBeth: Do you identify as a feminist?

Paul: Of course! I was raised by a bad-ass Black woman and come from a long line of bad-ass community minded, Black women. I was taught to listen and learn from women, and in particular Black women in leadership. I saw, through my mother’s eyes and experiences, how the patriarchy drives the kind of capitalism and neo-liberalism that’s wreaking havoc across the country. The pandemic has further exposed how much we still undervalue women in society. I think it’s horrific that we are just now starting implement a national childcare policy. If this was something that men depended on, we would have had a national childcare program decades ago.

LiisBeth: What do you think is the most radical change you have initiated since you joined the organization in 2017?

Paul: I would have to say our focus on implementing a standard-of-living wages, equal wages and wage-range compression policy.

Over the last few years, we have increased the lowest paid colleague salaries by 25 per cent. And we are not stopping there: we’ve got another increase that we’re working on that will be pretty significant and really important.

We’ve also tied the compensation for the lowest wage worker to the highest wage worker. For example, the Foodshare Executive director can make no more than three times what our lowest paid worker makes. From now on, we’re all going to be moving forward together — if we’re moving at all.

Given that CEOs and Executive Directors in the nonprofit sector often make many — sometimes 100 times — what the lowest paid employee makes, I think that is pretty radical.

We are also really committed to really thinking about how we challenge low wages for any kind of work, not just within our organization, but within the entire sector and within the food system. One of the directors on our board is a food delivery carrier.  He has been helping us think about the range of opportunities that exist to support low wage workers in the food system.

LiisBeth: Was the increase and wage compression policy a tough sell internally?

Paul: No, it wasn’t because it’s all about how we do board recruitment and who is on our board.

Traditionally boards look for directors who have certain professional designations like finance, legal, HR, or look for those with a C-suite title as a proxy for credibility, capability and intelligence. When we recruit on these terms, all we are doing is recreating the barriers that exist in society, for example, access to education.

So instead we flipped the norm on its head. Instead, we say, we’re going to prioritize recruiting board members that get the philosophical underpinnings of the organization, who have a commitment to equity, food justice, have lived experience with these issues to wisely design and implement new approaches, and who are willing to roll up their sleeves and dedicate resources to challenging those inequities.

If directors lack experience or education in certain areas, say in interpreting financial statements, board governance or investments, then we say, how can we provide support? We invest dollars in building our board’s capacity instead of expecting folks to have gone through all of the hoops that society presents to qualify, hoops that we all can’t reach.

LiisBeth: When you changed your ideas about who qualifies as a board director, did that change the make up of your board?

Paul: Completely. Today, our board is headed by an Indigenous activist, Crystal Sinclair. Our board is now predominantly made up of BIWOC folks. It’s unlike any board for an organization our size that I’ve ever seen. It’s composition really affects the key decisions that we make and how we show up in these decisions. For example, when we’re having a conversation about things like defunding the police, we’re not talking as (white) allies, we’re saying stop killing our communities because we are part of those communities. It changes how we show up on these issues, where we locate ourselves in these issues, and how we advocate.

LiisBeth: What do you think prevents other organizations from doing what you’ve done?

Paul: A willingness to reframe what it means to do the work that we do and how we do it. I think if we don’t acknowledge that patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy, anti-Black racism are actually deeply rooted organizing principles and profoundly embedded in the way we work, well, then we will never come up with the strategies, the policies and the ideas for dismantling those systems within our own enterprises.

People need to be thinking outside of the box.

They need to be committing organizational resources to tackling these things. Tackling these things is not a black post or a black square on Instagram. Working to liberate your organization from these harm perpetuating systems requires resources, time, and a leadership team willing to be vulnerable.

LiisBeth: What advice would you give to small enterprises who are looking to dismantle patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism in their own operating practices?

Paul: If you want to prioritize that work, which I encourage everybody to do, and if you don’t have that capacity within, then reach out and secure a consultant that is focused in that area and has the lived experience to draw upon. And compensate them accordingly.

The second thing I would say (and this may be brutal for folks to hear) is that businesses that leverage inequality to exist are not sustainable. People have only been able to make them sustainable on the backs of low-wage workers, on the backs of precarious work arrangements. That’s the hard truth. The conversation we need to have.

I think we have to say no to building enterprises on the backs of under-paid, under-cared-for workers. If we’re not paying living wages, we are unsustainable.

Food Insecurity By Household Identity in Canada

The prevalence of household food insecurity differs markedly by Indigenous status and racial/cultural group. The highest rates of food insecurity are found among households where the respondent identified as Indigenous or Black.1 (Data Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), 2017-18). Higher rates of food insecurity in non-married households in Canada are largely attributable to women's socio-economic disadvantage

LiisBeth: Is FoodShare a postcapitalist business enterprise?

Paul: Good question. You know, we recognize, capitalism is why charities exist. It’s a system that ensures that society’s resources are disproportionately distributed, and we need to be calling attention to the way that capitalism and neo-liberalism have created the conditions that cause some people in this country to constantly worry about where their next meal is going to come from while others are dreaming up new schemes to avoid paying taxes.

The existence of billionaires to us is as much a policy failure as the fact that close to a five and a half million people are food insecure in Canada.

So, unless we’re talking about how we collectively dismantle capitalism, and acknowledge and compensate for the harm that it’s caused to communities, we are just feeding a system that’s been designed to keep us so busy we don’t have time to examine the root cause of so much of the inequities that we are now all forced to navigate.

I think all nonprofit and for-profit leaders need to be holding our government to account to make sure that equity is centred in legislation and public policy

FoodShare Staff and Volunteers Group Photo
FoodShare Staff and Volunteers Group -Photo by Sandro Pehar

LiisBeth: Who is informing, inspiring your work right now?

Paul: I am inspired by folks connected to the ongoing Idle No More movement, folks at 1492 Land Back Lane, Climate Justice Toronto. For me, these are the groups that recognize that the voices of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island and even across the world need to be heard. I would say I am inspired by the movement around abolition that has been led again primarily by Black women is one that dares us to dream of a world that isn’t preoccupied with punishment.  Other movements that I’ve gravitated towards for inspiration, for hope, are those that are centered on justice. They’re intersectional, and they prioritize those who have had the most stolen from them as a result of settler, colonialism, capitalism, and the proliferation of neo-liberalism.

LiisBeth: Thank you so much Paul, for this interview and more importantly, for your incredible work as a badass feminist enterprise leader.

Related Readings