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Activism & Action Allied Arts & Media

Virtual reality—leads new reality?

Joanne-Aśka Popińska and her partner Tom Hall, cofounders of Tribe of Pan. Photo via Instagram.

If I say “virtual reality” your response is not likely to be “the next tool in the arsenal of progressive social movements.” VR has been relegated to the game space; it’s expensive, the headsets (helmets, really) are clunky, and it takes vision to imagine how the technology can be a weapon for good. But Toronto-based Tribe of Pan—headed by Joanne-Aśka Popińska and her husband and business partner, Tom Hall—is using VR to change minds in the worldwide struggle for access to safe, legal abortion. Okay, I was skeptical too, until I jumped on a meandering yet fascinating Zoom with Tribe of Pan.

Joanne and Tom dressed in dark, comfortable clothes—relics from the days when they met working on 3D-movie sets. Joanne explains, “I’m a sociologist, and I came to Canada from Poland to work on 3D movies in 2013. Funnily enough, 3D movies died when I came to Canada. I killed them,” she says, punctuating the story with a laugh.

The partners initially bonded over their dismay at the macho climate of film sets. Joanne describes her disillusionment: “Film is this vessel for change. Society is changed by movies, but on film sets even though we had Me Too, [the sexist attitude] is still there.” Tom agrees, adding, “The making of a film is an inherently toxic experience for everybody involved.”

So they quit their jobs to start Tribe of Pan, looking to do interesting work that was also socially meaningful.

Educating Humanity

Tribe of Pan also committed to having different values than the average film production company. Joanne recounts when she, a lifelong vegan, worked on a film glorifying meat that made her question her career path. She thought about how to have more control over the projects she worked on. She and Tom “wanted to do something that is either fun or has meaning, and to work with people we want to work with.” She pauses and looks at her partner. “VR technology is super new, super expensive, but our logo is an ape in a headset. The name is from a zoological term. The tribe of pan encompasses the great apes, who are closest to humans. It speaks to what we want to do as a company: to show the subject’s humanity.” That concept of educating humanity remains central to the company’s work.

Joanne started to think about abortion rights in 2016, when the situation for women in her native Poland became dire. After discussing it with Canadian friends and others, she and Tom embarked on their VR abortion rights documentary, The Choice. It had a successful but exhausting Kickstarter in January 2018, timed around Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. The Choice uses proprietary technology developed by Tribe of Pan to bring more immediacy to VR. Their tech is a stereoscopic volumetric camera which harnesses 3D-cinematography to create a realistic experience of interacting with another person.  Joanne and Tom are equally passionate about this technology—which they see as key to using interactive VR for social change—as their mission.

Getting Real With Stories

For The Choice, they theorized that if they could film women telling their stories and answering questions (about why they had chosen to abort their pregnancies), the film might be able to change people’s minds. What was missing in the abortion debate was personal stories. Joanne explains, “I think what works best is personal conversation. It’s much easier to find connections through talking, even if you’re on the other side politically. We used virtual reality to introduce these women directly to the viewer.” For their first interview, they chose a woman whose story was both relatable and terrible. She and her husband had planned the pregnancy, and she was 13 weeks along when she was rushed to the hospital with bleeding. Her doctor reassured her it was because she had been walking too much the night before. As she lived in Texas, however, her doctor was permitted to conceal medical information to head off an abortion. Six weeks later, she went to a doctor in another city who confirmed the fetus had serious abnormalities, including Turner’s Syndrome, which reduced the chances of the fetus’s survival to one percent.

“The idea behind The Choice is that you put on the VR headset and talk to women who had abortions and they share their personal stories,” Joanne says. Thanks to Tribe of Pan’s technology, you can also ask the woman questions and get real answers. Their technology makes the VR figure more lifelike, with light in their eyes and realistic contours on their skin. Their tech is also mobile so you can use it anywhere—not just on the huge (and expensive) stages the industry relies upon.

Joanne-Aśka Popińska, cofounder, Tribe of Pan. Photo: Canadian Film Centre

Joanne interviewed the Texas woman for days, trying to film answers to all the questions a curious person would ask—even one hostile to abortion rights. She and Tom comprised the crew, from planning the shoot to doing all of the post-production work. Their two-minute film was designed to raise funds, which they are still seeking. In the meantime, they are busy helping clients tell VR stories, including the City of Toronto and XL Outerworlds, a company making a 3D IMAX film which is a collaboration between five Canadian artists. Among their socially conscious projects is a VR tour of the Ernestine Women’s Shelter, which they made to raise consciousness about the plight of victims of domestic violence.

Funding has been difficult because of the controversial subject matter of The Choice. The company applied for Canadian grants at both the provincial and national levels with no success. They did win two Kaleidoscope grants, which are awarded by the VR community, but the amounts were way too small to fund The Choice. Joanne says that readers can help directly by making a donation to their PayPal account. They are also looking for potential sponsors and partners in the private sector.

Yet the project has already been transformative. “I didn’t expect a two-minute film to have this effect. We had some anti-choice people at a local VR conference in 2018 trying the headset on after telling us directly why they are anti-choice and why we’re doing an awful thing. I said, can you just give it a try?” They plan to make the existing film the first chapter in a series of six stories which will comprise the documentary (they hope to release it in late 2020 or early 2021).

Joanne continues, “One guy put the headset on and after two minutes, he took it off and was silent. Then he said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t think about it this way.’ Later he introduced us to other people, saying this is a very powerful project.” Tribe of Pan know that they have a potent weapon that can influence the abortion debate, even if change happens one headset at a time.


Publishers Note:  Tribe of Pan is a member of Fifth Wave Connect,  Canada’s first feminist entrepreneur and accelerator program for womxn in digital media, Fifth Wave Labs. The Fifth Wave is a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. Interested? Apply here. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth Media partner. 


Did you enjoy and find value in this article?  Please consider helping us publish more of them!  LiisBeth is an indie, womxn-led/owned media outlet.  We depend 100% on reader donations.  Please consider a contribution today! [direct-stripe value=”ds1577108876188″]


Related reading:

The Power of Two

Moving Pictures: What We Learned from Women Filmmakers at TIFF 2019

 

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Sample Newsletter

LIISBETH DISPTACH #46

Image by Clique

VIEWPOINT

Growing Into Feminism

In her book “Living a Feminist Life”, Sara Ahmed asked the question: “When did feminism become a word that not only spoke to you, but spoke you, spoke of your existence, spoke you into existence?”

In other words, how does someone reach a point when, without apology, you identify as a feminist? Especially when it seems the only place you can find courses on the subject are in university calendars?

Last week, CV Harquail, a colleague, shared this remarkable article with me: Amanda Sinclair’s Five movements in an embodied feminist: A memoir. Sinclair says we become feminists over time by experiencing physical and intellectual struggles thrown at us by a system that routinely subordinates women and gender minorities. She says our lived experiences and feelings lead us to feminism. We don’t seek it out. It finds us. 

I decided to consider my own journey and put this theory to the test.

My first awareness of feminism came in 1975, which coincided with the United Nations’ declaration of the Year of the Woman. I learned about Gloria Steinem. Morgentaler risking his life to open abortion clinics to make the procedure safe and more available to women in Canada. The Equal Rights Amendment in the United States (and a woman!) Phyliss Schafly fighting against the extension of women’s rights. Cheeky Iona Campagnolo who ran for leadership of the Canadian liberal party and endured a pat on the bum from the eventual winner…and returned it! Iris Rivera, who taught us you can get fired for not making your boss a cup of coffee.

When all this turbulent media coverage swept over me, I was 13 years old…

To continue reading VIEWPOINT, by LiisBeth Founder and Publisher, Petra Kassun-Mutch, click here.

THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH 

Parachute Voltige (photo credit: Daniel Lepôt)

100% Feminine: 14 Women Reaching New Heights in Canadian Skydiving 

When it feels like the sky is falling, why not jump out of a plane? Lana Pesch takes us on her journey of setting a new Canadian skydiving record this past summer and the value of role modelscollaboration and discipline, and taking calculated risks. Read about the power of passion here.

Heads up! This is a longer than usual piece for us. 3200 words worth of adrenaline infused narrative. Buckle your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.

WEAR IT LOUD AND PROUD 

We love political T’s.

It’s how we discovered Jamie “Boots” Marshall’s t-shirt shop on Etsy. Marshall is an artist and graphic designer. In the past she’s worked as a freelance illustrator and art director, but her main focus has always been t-shirt design. Currently, she owns and runs Boots Tees, an online shop for her t-shirts, art, and other fun stuff. Her hobbies include: reading, board games, and fighting the patriarchy

We LOVE her work so we got her to help us create our first feminist entrepreneurship T-shirt!  LiisBeth is not in the T-shirt business. But Marshall is. So we promote and she gets the sales. A win-win collaboration!  #buywomenled

The shirt is available at $32.00 hereFor a 10% discount use the LiisBeth reader discount code: LIISBETH10

We will also be selling the shirts at the upcoming FAC “Framed by Feminists” market at the Gladstone Hotel, in Toronto, on Sunday, Oct 28th, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Come and see us! Sitting behind a computer gets a little lonely sometimes!

ATTENTION: THIS FORUM IS DESIGNED FOR ENTERPRISES LOOKING TO ADVANCE SOCIAL JUSTICE AND GENDER EQUALITY

The 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum in Toronto is only 6 weeks away!

What’s in store this year? If the list above is too small to read on your phone, get the full speaker bios and session details here! The EFF 2018 includes three thought provoking foundational talks, three deep dive lab sessions, six 90 minute “think and do” workshops, two embodied movement classes, journaling and creative writing break rooms, a poster session, reception and more! Watch for updates and get your tickets here.

The early bird rate is $250 (till Oct 31st). Regular $299. Student rate is $99. FOR TWO WHOLE DAYS! 

Watch for news about our official transportation partner & childcare support!  And local dog walking services too! 

SEE YOU THERE! 

Biusual Studios

HOW TO UNLOCK BILLIONS OF UNREALIZED GROWTH LED BY ENTREPRENEURIAL WOMEN?

Did you miss LiisBeth’s Op Ed in the October 16th Globe and Mail Small Business Report online?

No worries, you can also read it here.

The main point?  We called on Mary Ng, the Canadian minister of small business and export promotion, to do something bold with the new $85M in funding for support for women entrepreneurs she announced in September. You can read the release here.

We would love your input and comments!

Design by Merian Media

What is the Story Behind LiisBeth’s Symbol?

When you start exploring LiisBeth, you will see our ¤ icon throughout and you might wonder, what does it represent? It is actually an adaptation of the international typographic symbol used to denote an unknown currency, which we thought was the perfect starting point for creating a graphic representation of LiisBeth’s inclusive and empowering ethos. And more!  To read the full story, click here.

LIISBETH FIELD NOTES

Gender Equality Network Canada – Youth Panel Discussion – Sept 18 2017

Have You Heard about Canada’s Gender Equality Network (GEN)?

Well, we had, but weren’t exactly sure what it was. So we spoke with Ann Decter, Director of Community Initiatives & Gender Equality Network Canada at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

GEN is a three-year project to create a network of 150 women across the country who are already working to advance gender equality. To be eligible to join the network, you have to be involved or leading a project that is funded by the Status of Women of Canada. The goal? To deliver a National Action Plan for the advancement of gender equality in about 1.5 years.

One of the key themes they are working on is to identify policies and ways in which women, who live longer than men, can become more economically secure given the accumulated effects of the gender wage gap.

We asked Decter if a recommendation related to support of women’s entrepreneurship might be one of the topics in the report. “You have to have some means to use entrerpreneurship to move yourself up. And it’s not the most secure way to go,” Decter said.  She believes that a universal childcare policy would be a key part of any plan looking to advance the economic security for all women. 

When asked about what keeps her up at night these days, Decter expressed concern over Canada’s Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent use of the notwithstanding clause to undermine rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights, explaining that “unlike our American sisters, Canadian women’s rights are written into the Charter, but that means nothing if we continue to elect governments who choose to invoke the notwithstanding clause to override them.

To protect women’s rights that have already been won, Decter adds, “We need to do what we can to protect the Charter. The more we elect governments supportive of the Charter of Rights, the more safe we [women, women’s rights] are.

Partner (photo credit: Jennifer Hyc)

Venus Fest Round Up

The vibe at this year’s Venus Fest was excited, open, and connected. With close to 1000 people over 3 nights, attendance was up by 65% from last year! The music fest dedicated to celebrating feminism in the arts extended the event to 3 nights instead of one full day, and added a kick off show and panel, plus a stellar afterparty!

Feature acts included Maylee Todd who included a full harp for her performance and used her live programming skills to create an incredible show. Moor Mother brought the full intensity of her work to the stage and the audience was 100% entranced. On closing night, Partner (pictured above), fresh off their Polaris short-list performance, gave a high-energy Venus Fest-loving set.

Plans for Venus Fest 2019 are underway and you can bet it will as beautiful and treasured by the community as this year, featuring new artists who are paving the way and dancing to the beat of their own drum.

FEMINIST FREEBIE!

LiisBeth is giving away a ticket to WEConnect’s Power the Economy conference on October 26th in Toronto. Be the first person to email the names of the two keynote speakers here. Value: $400

Attention ALL women-owned businesses!
Less than 1% of large corporate and government spending goes to women-owned businesses… globally and WEConnect corporate members are committed to getting more money into the hands of women.

Join WEConnect to have networking opportunities in a global network of over 80 corporate buyers and thousands of businesses around the world. Matchmaking events expose you to leaders in supplier diversity and inclusion, business experts, and successful women business owners. You’ll get business leads, valuable contacts, and gain access to an incredible ecosystem.

Gender Physics: Flying on Both Wings

“Gender is social construct,” says Heggie, author of Gender Physics“We’re each made up of a myriad of characteristics. We should be using the actions and options available to us.” The book encourages people to let go of gender stereotypes and think of people as humans, not male or female.

Heggie sees the #metoo movement as a good example of using both masculine and feminine energies. The paradox is that masculinity is getting bashed because women are finding their masculine voice. Women are speaking out, a masculine trait, and also banding together in solidarity, a feminine characteristic that exists in all of us.

If you are in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan this Thursday, October 18th, join Heggie at her book launch at McNally Robinson’s book store, 7:00 pm CT.

MORE FEMINIST FREEBIES!

We’re giving away SIX SIGNED COPIES of Gender Physics to the first six people who take the energy evaluation test. Let us know if your natural approach to life and relationships is controlled by Feminine or Masculine Energy! Email your answer here.

ANOTHER FEMINIST FREEBIE!

LiisBeth is giving away TWO tickets to the #MoveTheDial Summit being held on November 7th in Toronto. #Movethedial is an organization that seeks to advance women in STEM. Over 1000 women signed up to attend and the event is now sold out!

To earn these tickets, take a few minutes to complete LiisBeth’s reader survey here. The first two respondents to email and tell us they have completed the survey on the day the newsletter is released will be the lucky recipients. Value: $500/ticket

WHAT WE’RE READING 

The Red Word is set in the 1990s but speaks directly to the present feminist moment. Sarah Henstra takes us into two worlds: that of Women’s Studies classes and lesbian pagan rituals, and of frat boys and S&M theme parties. As I watched Karen struggle with politics, power, and her own culpability in the fallout of it all, I could not put this book down.” —Darcey Steinke, author of Suicide Blonde and Sister Golden Hair

The job of cultural criticism is to examine the world and its stories, picking apart what is problematic and shining a light on unconscious or unexamined biases and attitudes….The timely, relevant topic of campus rape culture is addressed bravely; there aren’t enough works of fiction that tackle the material so honestly and prudently.” —Quill &Quire

Henstra will be on a panel discussing themes of feminism and power at the Toronto International Festival of Authors this month with Vivek Shraya and Rachel Giese.

Each of us will lead with masculine or feminine energy. We are socialized to be like our biological gender, but the reality is we are individuals, and there are lots of good reasons to use both energies.

Heggie wrote Gender Physics to create more awareness and acceptance around people exploring their energy options. The book includes a step by step system with exercises you can practice to build (like a muscle) the energy you may not be using to its full potential. The goal is, in part, to give up gender bias and encourage people to be themselves.

“If you are questioning what is correct behaviour at work and in life while wanting the freedom to express yourself and be successful on your own terms, Gender Physics is the book for you. It is a must read for everyone looking to be courageously authentic.”
– Dr. Marcia Reynolds, author of Outsmart Your Brain and Wander Woman

AND FINALLY . . . IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!

  • Use your voice and take our survey. We launched a unique survey last month because we want to hear from feminist entrepreneurs and innovators in your own words. Results we be shared when we reach 100 responses. We’re not there yet, but we will be with your help.
    Our survey takes 12 minutes 

  • Jonathan Hera, Founder of Marigold, an impact investing company, shares key points Marigold Capital looks for when deciding on investment placements.
    Download Marigold’s Feminist Entrepreneur Investment Checklist PDF here

  • The next Women’s March is scheduled for January 19, 2019 with the main protest in Washington, DC. Linda Sarsour, a chairwoman of the Women’s March says the 2019 march will call for a specific set of public policies they want enacted that will be announced in the coming weeks.

  • We’re In! LiisBeth Media is now an official member of the Women’s Enterprise Centres of Canada (WEOC)! WEOC is an umbrella group for organizations that interact with women entrepreneurs through their services which may include training, loans, advisory services or mentorship or networking. WEOC’S Chair Sandra Altner says, “Access to capital, access to markets, technology adoption, and women in STEM are just a few of the arenas in which we are challenged to level the playing field. These are the issues that WEOC members address…” 

  • Christine Hallquist is paving the way for trangender politicians as nominee for Vermont Governor. Watch her journey in this Her Stories VIDEO from Now This

  • Are diversity and inclusion in the tech industry just buzzwords? Read how the recent Elevate Tech Fest missed the mark in Nabeel Ahmed’s article in NOW Magazine 

That brings us to the end of our October newsletter. The next website refresh and newsletter is scheduled for mid-November, 2018.  

Did you read something of value in this newsletter?

LiisBeth is the only media voice in the world which supports the work of feminist entrepreneurs and innovators. We are 100% reader supported.

If you love what we do, become a donor subscriber to LiisBeth so we can continue to serve!

We humbly remind you that subscriptions are $3/month, $7/month or $10/month.

We are now also on Patreon!  You can choose to donate to us there!

Funds go directly towards paying writers, editors, proofreaders, photo permission fees, and illustrators. Building a more just future requires time, love—and financial support.

Happy Halloween! Peace out.

Categories
Our Voices

How to Be in the Right (Authentic) Relationship With Entrepreneurship

Image Source: Unicorn Booty (Image updated June 30, 2020)

Yesterday, I found myself evaluating progress for my enterprise like one might size up a beautiful, complicated lover—four years on. In the cold month of love (February), I decided it was time to reflect and ask myself—with naked honesty—if I was in the right relationship with my enterprise.

As with interpersonal relationships, these feelings are difficult to judge, especially when we are constantly bombarded with Hallmark messaging about what a good relationship is supposed to look like. Compared to prevailing cultural narratives of what is “normal” or “promising,” my enterprise might suddenly look like shit—when it might actually be pretty okay!

So it’s wise, before jumping to conclusions, to reflect on how mainstream cultural discourses shape our expectations. What fictions about the crucible of entrepreneurship do we cling to when assessing the progress of our enterprises and our own work as entrepreneurs? What stories would better serve?

When I asked myself this, these are the 12 narratives I came up with (you might want to buckle up for this ride, it’s going to be rough before it gets better).

Check your delusions: Entrepreneurship is often marketed to womxn as the ultimate path to finding real purpose, happiness, and freedom from patriarchy! It’s a way to have a career and reduce your stress as (still) the family’s primary giver. It’s an opportunity to live the laptop life on a beach, score a better income, and say “fuck you” to the glass ceiling and rancid workplace environment. That Company of One simplicity, control over your time and wealth, is the ultimate entrepreneurial fantasy but only if you aim to scale up to the moon.

No wonder 85 percent of Canadian womxn surveyed (the majority who work for wages at present) indicate they are interested in starting a business. Some believe this is something to celebrate. I see it as a cry for help, the result of continued gender-based oppression.

While prevailing narratives sell entrepreneurship as liberation, the reality is this: as an entrepreneur, you have chosen to join the growing precariously employed segment of the labour force. Other “precariats” include the Foodora delivery rider (who makes $4.50 per order plus $1 per kilometre) as well as that new freelance consultant next door fighting for the next short-term contract. The lack of income predictability, the exploitation (like clients who take 90 to 120 days to pay), the lack of benefits, and reduced access to credit (even a car loan requires proof of stable income) is what binds this growing segment of the labour market.  Next time you take a Lyft ride, consider sharing a fist bump with the driver—because you are now sisters in arms.

How do you strategize for life as a precariat? Plan to live like you are broke every day. Launch your business with a DYI ethic. If you are selling a product, be prepared to love attending pop-up markets. If you are banking on shelf space at Shopper’s Drug Mart, get ready to forego owning your own home—or heating it. In other words, if you choose to enter the precarious workforce, be prepared for the precarity.

Know that narratives about progress fly ahead of reality: Manage your expectations accordingly. Remember that back in the ’60s, womxn looking for independence by securing a job were given a lot of advice on how to succeed. Well-meaning male “supporters” told us what to wear, where to smoke, how to fit in, when to talk, and when to shut up. Oh, and douche before going to the office. Also, smile! Back then, getting pregnant was still a fireable offence!

Have times changed? Based on the way people talk about diversity, inclusion, and gender parity, you might believe so. Yet the entrepreneurs I talk to daily say otherwise. Advisers still tell womxn entrepreneurs how to dress to win, talk, and pitch ourselves in a system that still sees us as fundamentally inadequate. And it’s still on us to figure out how to succeed as a primary caregiver and run a business. The majority of incubators and accelerator environments remain male-dominated and ineffective at dealing with gender oppression in their programming or cultures. It seems the startup world wants us to be seen at conferences and events (we need womxn in our photos!), but not heard (don’t be difficult!). You can’t get fired for being pregnant anymore but try raising a round of investment while pregnant. Try taking maternity leave or getting maternity benefits as an entrepreneur. Those costs have been completely downloaded on womxn entrepreneurs and their families.

It’s not exactly a Mad Men world anymore. Yet, we are still waging the same old battle with patriarchy. Fair access to capital is still far from our reach. While the wage gap for womxn earners has narrowed to 13.3 percent below men, womxn entrepreneurs earn a whopping 58 percent less than their male counterparts.

This maddening fact remains: the rules of entrepreneurship are still largely designed to enable privileged men—and a handful of equally privileged womxn who are held up as proof that all womxn have been invited to play. Things have to change. Because only then will womxn entrepreneurs, especially those who lean towards doing business differently, truly flourish. So, if you are struggling, keep in mind that being in business with patriarchal rules stacked against you deserves a checkmark.

Entrepreneurship is not a form of motherhood: If you think of your business as your baby, stop. Starting an enterprise is more like entering a serious adult polyamorous relationship. You read that right. You are bringing a new relationship into your life, creating a “three-way” if you already have a significant other. If your partner also has an enterprise, consider it a “four-way.” And beware. A startup can feel like a new lover—exciting, fresh and, well, newbut it will make your relationship with an existing mate significantly more complex. Simple rules don’t work. Work-life balance advice? Not applicable (as if it ever was). Successful polyamorous relationships require a lot of communication, negotiation, and understanding. They need to serve all participants, though not all needs can be served at the same time. Polyamorous—like monogamous relationships—have a high failure rate. Be prepared. Learn from experts. Think ahead. If things have changed and you need to let go of your business, think of it as a relationship that no longer serves you and has to end—versus the loss of a “child” that you created.

Remember, entrepreneurship can be a powerful revolutionary force: To be in business is not just to be a spoke in the nation’s economic wheel but to engage politically in ways a regular job rarely requires of us. As entrepreneurs, we can and must use our voices. This is one of the best and most undersold benefits of entrepreneurship—and critical, with social and climate justice in peril. We don’t have to invent a new biodegradable plastic to drive change. How we do business creates change. We can use our privilege, power, policies, and practices as entrepreneurs to help restore the environment, advance inclusivity, and reduce inequality. And push for policies that address issues related to precarious employment. And, we don’t have to drive for deep change in isolation. We can form groups and collectives or join existing organizations like the new feisty new Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce who make it their business to advocate for collective change. For those who say business and politics don’t mix, all businesses are political. Chick-fil-A sells chicken and homophobia. Patagonia sells outdoor gear and environmental justice. What kind of history is your business making? As protest novelist, activist, and this month’s Feminist in Residence Rivera Sun points out, “Even the choice to be apolitical is really just a vote for the status quo.”

Be open to transformation and outcomes you can’t control: No need to go to an ashram for three months. Your enterprise will make it very clear who you are and what’s important in life. Being a founder has consequences we can’t anticipate. Our personal transformation may, in fact, be the only real reward of the journey. Value it. It won’t buy the groceries. But it can provide the fertile ground for the next journey.

Self-care is important—but community care is vital too: If you have a venture, like it or not, you are in a community with others. It’s important to understand and get to know that community. Map out your enterprise’s ecosystem of support, which includes your neighbours, complimentary enterprises, suppliers, workers, bloggers in your field, policymakers, academic institutions, etc. No one builds or runs a business alone. Practice community care in ways that strengthens and builds resilience in your enterprise’s ecosystem. The odds of sustainability, resilience, and success will increase. Consider creating a Community Care Code of Practice.

Invest in intellectual development. Stretch your thinking: Develop an interdisciplinary personal development practice directed towards creating a future horizon of radical possibility. Prioritize events that offer well-facilitated consciousness-raising conversations or learnaries that provide the opportunity to learn deeply. Design and run operational experiments. Or support experiments created by others that you believe in.

Set emotional boundaries: Your enterprise is not your life’s work. Becoming who you want to be is. Check in with yourself. If your enterprise is helping you to become the person you want to be, terrific. If not, time for a rethink.

Measure what truly matters: Our GDP metrics mindset leads us to undervalue much of what we accomplish. Our businesses are more than profit/loss statements. Every business is a community that did not exist before. You created that! Create your own mini “impact report” each year to help you truly assess the quality and impact of that work. CV Harquail, author of Feminism: A New Idea for Business, suggests asking yourself, “Who benefits, who is harmed, and who is left out?”

See marketplace feminism for what it is: For example, those flashy ads by pro “woman entrepreneur” banks who suggest getting a loan is easy as asking for a glass of city water? It’s not. So don’t be hard on yourself if the answer is no. Look to alternatives like crowdfunding or womxn-led/operated venture fund pools.

You are human, not an algorithm: You cannot create the vast reservoir of will and energy that is purported to succeed as an entrepreneur simply by eating better, meditating more, exercising more, and being more. You are enough. And you are doing enough.

Don’t blame or shame the victim: As womxn, we endure a lot of debilitating gaslighting and demeaning, sexist behaviour in incubator/accelerator spaces. We need to shout out these stories if we want to drive change. Support womxn who call out unacceptable bias in the ecosystem. Don’t slam or isolate victims or truth-tellers as “difficult” or “losers.” Because, then, we all lose. Add your voice to calls for change. The time for an entrepreneurial version of #MeToo has come. How about #entrepreneurialAF?

And, so, am I still in love with my enterprise?  If these narratives sum up the real reality, are we doing OK?

After all that reflection, I took another look at where we are at with LiisBeth Media.

My enterprise has the power to hurt me deeply, on many levels. And, lord knows, I have been catastrophically hurt before. What person in a serious relationship hasn’t?

But, at least for now, based on a having crafted a more realistic outlook, I feel more gratitude than concern. Yes, we’ve endured harsh realities but the journey has yielded unexpected gifts. We are doing okay.

By aligning my thinking with reality versus Hallmark card or vested interest messaging about what it means to be an entrepreneur, I feel that I am now closer to being in right relationship (authentic and real) with entrepreneurship—eyes wide open—struggling with the right questions, with the right enterprise.

What more could a gal ask for?


Related Readings

https://www.liisbeth.com/2019/06/25/gaslighting-the-silent-killer-of-womens-startups/

Categories
Activism & Action

What Pipeline Protests Tell Us

Wet’suwet’en supporters on the bridge over the Wedzin Khah river, Wet’suwet’en territory.

A few years ago, I asked an Indigenous female economist how she views the environment in the context of building a strong economy for Canada. She was speaking at a business conference to an audience of female entrepreneurs. Her response: “For the Indigenous peoples, the environment is our family. Non-Indigenous cultures may see the environment as a commodity,” she said, “but Indigenous peoples view the environment as our family, and we treat and protect it as such.”

Whoomp. I felt her statement reverberate through my body. I always saw the environment as important, but at that moment, I realized my view was in an abstract and disconnected way. The environment is family—this concept has been colouring my view of the world ever since.

And so, I have been watching the Coastal GasLink pipeline protests in British Columbia through the lens of Environment = Family. Would I be taking the same action if my family was at stake? I look at my son and think, “Yes, I would.” In a heartbeat.

Yet, the current protests of the Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia and the Mohawks of Tyendinaga in Ontario over a natural gas pipeline project and land access in Western Canada seem to be coming across to some in the public—including media, political leaders, RCMP, and Coastal GasLink—as irrational, selfish, and even hysterical. As a woman of colour, I am familiar with that tune. Angry women, like angry Indigenous groups, make people uncomfortable. I have been called irrational, selfish, and stubborn—at times when I simply felt that I was right.

But everyone has varying perspectives on what is right.

Coastal GasLink, the corporate proponent of this multi-billion dollar megaproject, believes its pipeline project is right for its business, its shareholders, and Canada’s economy. It feels that its consultations with First Nations have been sufficient and complete. It has ticked the consultation boxes and secured the permits, so Coastal GasLink believes it is technically right to move ahead with construction.

Wet’suwet’en believes they are right to protect their lands, their history, and their family—the environment. They feel that they were not consulted sufficiently and that they did not give consent for the pipeline to pass through their lands, and they have the right to protect their lands and the environment—their family.

Both the company and the Wet’suwet’en view each other as irrational and unfair. Reaching mutual understanding and agreement will be a significant challenge when neither can view the other party as fair and reasonable.

Community consultations for mega projects can take years—even decades—for a corporation and its stakeholders to reach a place of mutual understanding and agreement. When such consultations involve marginalized groups such as women and Indigenous peoples, there are additional layers to work through, starting with how we are perceived as stubborn, irrational, and ungrateful. Colonization of Indigenous peoples, patriarchal dominance over women, and commodification of our natural environment by primarily Western cultures are not dissimilar.

Indeed, they may be so closely linked that making progress in one area requires progress in all areas: ending colonization of Indigenous peoples, dismantling patriarchy, and protecting the family that nourishes us—the environment.

Coastal GasLink’s pipeline project has been in the works for years. The company has spent approximately six years conducting impact assessments and consulting stakeholders, including First Nations communities, along the pipeline route. It has secured all the correct government permits. In spite of this, Wet’suwet’en people continue to demonstrate against the pipeline, bringing construction to a standstill and the country at large to their attention.

I have no connection to the Coastal GasLink pipeline or the stakeholders involved. I am a fellow Canadian watching another complicated and sensitive standoff with Indigenous people regarding a resource extraction project.

But I am a professional in the mining industry. I have been in the field, at mine sites and in local villages, facing angry and fearful people opposing mining projects in faraway places such as New Caledonia, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea—all as geopolitically and socially complex as our country.

I have listened to hopeful community leaders who hold expectations that a mine will bring good, prosperous jobs and lift their community members out of poverty. And I have listened to tearful mothers and fathers from remote regions where economic opportunity is almost non-existent, heard their hopes that we (the mining company) will help clothe, feed, and educate their children.

I have seen companies choose to keep local communities at “arm’s length,” refusing to truly engage and find ways to share benefits of the mine equitably. I have seen some companies barrel through community protests and local unrest, hire their own security, or call in the local army to forcibly remove local citizens and bulldoze local villages, with devastating consequences. These companies never garner local support and often face involuntary shutdowns due to community blockades, attacks, and other forms of protests that drive project costs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

I have also seen companies completely halt the development of their own multi-billion dollar projects, putting the project on a care and maintenance program (the purpose of C&M is to just have enough funding to “keep the lights on” at site), while continuing to invest corporate money into public consultations, local relationship building, community investments, and forward regional planning—even when the commodity may have tanked in markets. And then, when the price of that commodity rebounds and the project is re-started, that company is better-positioned thanks to the stronger community relationships it has built, garnering trust that a project goal is of mutual benefit for all stakeholders.

A truly sustainable mega-project will aim for a win-win outcome for the local stakeholders and the company. The Coastal GasLink pipeline project seems to be heading for a win-lose. Perhaps the company’s intention was win-win, but somewhere along the way, its stakeholder engagement program failed to recognize and fully engage all the stakeholders involved.

Coastal GasLink may have ticked all the government-required consultation boxes, it may even have gone beyond government requirements, but clearly, that was not enough to mitigate today’s protests resulting in costly equipment sitting idle, the layoff of hundreds of workers and contractors, and a huge economic domino effect across the country with passenger and cargo rail shutdowns.

Many are insisting on government action. But, ultimately, it is Coastal GasLink’s responsibility to do better. It is always the responsibility of the project proponent to know all possible stakeholders and their degree of support or disagreement with the project, recognize and respect the varying hopes and fears, and engage all stakeholders in thorough, comprehensive, and culturally sensitive dialogue and consultations. It owes this due diligence to its business, shareholders, investors, and the country.

There is still a window of opportunity here. As the oil sector is not performing well and the company is bleeding money due to the blockades (not to mention incalculable damage to its corporate reputation), Coastal GasLink could press the pause button on project construction, dismiss the RCMP, and re-engage with its stakeholders. It could listen closer, try to understand each other, search for a common goal of mutual benefit. It may take months or even years, but we need to accept that this is okay, that investing time and energy into building strong relationships in order to help us build more sustainable megaprojects is better for everyone—local communities, the economy, businesses, future generations, and the environment (our family).

Sabrina Dias is the founder and CEO of SOOP Strategies Inc.


Publishers note: On Feb 20th LiisBeth Media staff and advisory board voted unanimously to support the Wet’suwet’en community and their right to assert control of their land as upheld by Wet’suwet’en law and governance. The rule of law argument to applies to both Canada and the Wet’suwet’en nation. Members of the Wet’suwet’en community, led by the five hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs, have not given their free, prior, and informed consent to the current state of the Coastal GasLink project.

We urge the Government of Canada to engage in authentic dialogue with a view towards reaching a withdraw RCMP presence in a way that both maintains surrounding community safety and upholds their commitment to action truth and reconciliation, and to uphold the obligations laid out by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP Article 10 expressly condemns forced removal, including under coercion, and further condemns the use of extra-state actors like corporations.

Anything less is an assault to peaceable coexistence and reconciliation between settlers and Indigenous Peoples in Canada. You can download our full statement here.


For more information on how to support the Wet’suwet’en community, click here.


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Related Articles

https://www.liisbeth.com/2019/02/28/this-woman-rocks/

Categories
Allied Arts & Media

Stuff Your Stockings With Feminist Joy

 

Photo: Champagne Thompson

Most practices of the Christmas season contradict my feminist values, the gendered narratives of Christianity conflated into the season of “giving,” with women carrying the burden of holiday shopping, cooking, and social coordination. Then there’s the “give and get”—giving a charitable donation in time to get a charitable tax receipt by year end.

For me, holiday giving and celebrating should not be powered by a capitalistic consumer agenda but by love, thoughtfulness, kindness. During the holiday season, winter solstice in particular, I focus on hope and gratitude for female* energies rather than the pinging of POS machines in shopping malls driving us into debt. Do our loved ones really want that? I don’t think so.

This year I endeavoured to find a way to engage with the festivities, in ways that make my heart happy. I visited three events featuring feminist makers and changemakers: the Made by Feminists Market at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel; Ottawa’s Feminist Fair; and the Indigenous & Ingenious Show and Sale in Toronto. You can check out their crafty arts online, as I am sure they will inspire you to new ethical shopping heights, as they did me.

Here are some of my feminist faves that are sleighin’ it!

 SaSa Naturals, Toronto

This powerhouse family team walks the feminist talk! Sisters Sarai (22), Jahdiel (25), Kristine (27), and their mom, Carolyn, run SaSa Naturals, an ethical, all-natural approach to self-care that emphasizes the power of women’s bodies. The co-founders are incredibly knowledgeable about each product and ingredient as well as traditional hygiene and wellbeing practices of women around the globe. They source goods directly from female-run shea nut farms in Ghana and even visit regularly to ensure female farmers are being treated equitably and that plant-based products are produced sustainably and free from chemicals. Products include all-natural deodorant alternatives, delectable soaps, bath bombs, lip chap and Yoni steam kits (unlike Amazon’s selections, these vaginal cleansing kits use herbs that honour the sacredness of womanhood). By using traditional medicinal practices rather than chemicals, the SaSa team is building a sassy brand that reminds women that our natural selves are our true selves. Check out their Instagram page to place orders that can be shipped to both Canada and the United States.

 Radical Roots

Kristen Campbell, an ecological restoration maven, founded her company almost two years ago as a way to make beautiful change in the era of climate crisis. She handmakes seed bombs—ethically sourced native plant species balled up in clay—that you can chuck at any barren patch during your morning walk or your own garden for that matter. Add rain, and flowers spring up. Bees and butterflies will love you, as native habitat springs from these flower bombs. Beautifying the world has never felt so therapeutic as hucking an enviro-friendly bomb of life to Mother Nature! An excellent gift for the outdoorsy, flower-loving, tree-hugging types in your life or for anyone who just wants to drop an f-bomb—and feel great about it.

 Read My Flowers

 

Helena Verdier discovered a love for transformative upcycling while studying at Carleton University. Now 26, she has made a business of repurposing some of our favourite literature into works of visual and wearable art. She creates paper flower crowns, centrepieces, and floral decor, showcasing and selling her flower-power pieces on her Instagram page. Seeing Verdier’s artistry highlighted on the Feminist Twin’s page enticed me to make the trek to their Feminist Fair in Ottawa for their sixth annual event where I discovered plenty more feminist gift-giving ideas.

 Hand Stitched by Claire

Remember those framed embroidery pieces hanging in grandma’s house, greeting you with cheesy, sentimental sayings, like “Home is where the heart is” and all that? Well, Claire DePoe-Collins’s embroidery art is not that. The 30-year-old stitches radical, feminist ideas into her hoops such as “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” and “Ovaries before brovaries” as well as slogans for the woke such as “If it is inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary” and “Hang on lemme overthink this.” She also draws on racialized voices for inspiration. From Serena Williams: “The day I stop fighting for equality…will be the day I’m in my grave.” Such soulful, gut-punching, and often hilarious affirmations gave me the most painful belly laugh—and sure to deliver the same kick to your pals. DePoe-Collins ships her work straight to your door—and accepts custom orders should you know exactly what will tickle a friend’s feminist fancy.

 Chief Lady Bird

At Indigenous & Ingenious, I visited Chief Lady Bird, an Anishinaabekwe artist who resists colonization through her mixed media prints, brilliant murals, skateboard decks and youth-focused projects that focus on Indigenous resilience, sex and body positivity, as well as calling attention to the importance of Indigenous women in our communities. She recently illustrated Nibi’s Water Song, a brilliant children’s book about Nibi’s quest to find clean water in her community, highlighting the need to listen to Indigenous voices and protect our planet for future generations. You can order Chief Lady Bird’s art on her Instagram page. She takes commissions for custom pieces too.


But the greatest
gift I took away from my foray into these feminist fairs? The knowledge that every dollar we spend casts a ballot for the world we want to inhabit. One maker told me that the money she made at the event will help pay her rent this month. When we buy from our brilliant sisters, we are also giving a gift of survival and support in the fight to dismantle the patriarchy. Now, I can deck the halls with that!


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This article was made possible thanks to the generosity of Startup Toronto!


Related Reading

https://www.liisbeth.com/2016/11/22/merry-little-inclusive-holiday-season/

Categories
Feminist Practices

Forging a Path of Her Own

Christina Stembel, Founder of Farmgirl Flowers

 

Christina Stembel had a business idea: Bring beautiful, handmade floral arrangements to people who wanted a higher quality than supermarket bouquets and more personal than a floral distribution company. With $50,000 of her own money, she made Farmgirl Flowers happen.

“I used to get dejected about the fact that I couldn’t raise capital as a sole female founder without a pedigree,” says Stembel, who keeps a spreadsheet of the 101 investors and venture capital firms that have turned her down. “But I realized it was just my ego. There’s a myth that if you don’t get VC funding, you can’t be successful, but we’ve grown to $30 million in annual revenue with 50 percent or more growth year over year.”

Though Stembel has had to manage the growth of her San Francisco-based company carefully, funding it with her own savings and the company’s profits has meant that every choice about its growth has been hers to make. “I get to make decisions based on what’s right, not just what’s going to look good to investors,” she says. “My goal is to create a company that I would want to personally buy from, sell to, and work at.”

And that’s what she’s doing: She pays vendors on time, instead of asking for a 90-day payment term, so that the farmers who supply her flowers can pay their own bills; she waited until she could offer her staff of 150 employees full medical benefits and 401ks with a company match before drawing a salary; and she’s created hiring guidelines that don’t require employees to have a degree (high school nor college) or a home address.

Stembel’s story is a typical one for women entrepreneurs. A new study called “Beyond the Bucks”—sponsored by Bank of America and authored by Lakshmi Balachandra, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College and former associate at a venture capital firm—looks at why VC funders aren’t investing in women-led startups and how women manage to succeed despite that. The study tackled this disparity: Women own 39 percent of all privately held firms in the US, yet received only 2.2 percent of the $130 billion in venture capital invested in 2018. The situation is slightly better for women owning or leading startups in Canada; they received a measly seven percent of all venture capital.

The study interviewed 30 women entrepreneurs across North America who have achieved annual revenue of more than $5 million. That’s the rubber-meets-the-road spot, according to the study, where “revenue naturally plateaus and the toughest test comes.” All participants in this study soared past that mark; their companies boast average revenues of $43 million. The study’s goals were simple: understand the difficulties faced by women entrepreneurs in the male-dominated world of startups and identify the strategies women use to overcome those obstacles. Without an injection of VC cash, many of the women in the study found a different and perhaps more satisfying path to success through organic growth, which allowed them to explicitly consider the needs and well-being of their employees and communities—factors that male-driven companies tend to consider as second-tier metrics.

The study found that women entrepreneurs faced three major systematic roadblocks to success.

The first we know all too well: network exclusion. That’s the classic “It’s who you know, not what you know” world, otherwise known as the “boys’ club” where deals happen, usually in places men like to socialize, such as the golf course or over drinks.

The second is less well known but no less harmful: market misperceptions. That refers to the double disenfranchising of women founders. Investors discredit their ideas and leadership simply because they are women. Then investors fail to take women-led startups seriously due to gendered assumptions about the markets women entrepreneurs serve. Business guys call it the “the mommy market,” their blatant sexism blinding them to the fact that women drive some 80 percent of consumer spending. That’s a mother load of a market that women entrepreneurs are clearly positioned to tap into. Take for instance Spanx founder Sara Blakely, who had difficulty attracting investors for what would become a multi-billion-dollar business.

But it’s not just VC funders overlooking—or, more to the point, not seeing—women entrepreneurs. Balachandra points to the Forbes Most Innovative Leaders of 2019 list as an example. Out of 100 featured leaders, only one woman made that list. “How did they come up with the list?” she asks, laughing. “It’s written by two white men. [They] started with Fortune 500 companies, of which less than 10 percent are run by women. And at some point, the publisher, who is also a white man, saw the list and said, ‘Yep, this is who we want to highlight.’” In other words, their starting point to defining innovation left out half the population.

And that underlines the third major roadblock women founders face, which is the hardest to overcome: managing expansion with underfunding. Even women entrepreneurs who successfully hurdle over the first two roadblocks to launch a viable business still find themselves systematically locked out of the traditional venture capital system, according to Balachandra.

So how does a superheroine entrepreneur grow her company by leaps and bounds without the extension ladder of VC capital? Without outside investment to catapult strategy and development, women founders often bootstrap their firms, using their own personal savings to launch their enterprises. Then they pour business profits into growing their companies and sales organically.

While hugely difficult, following that strategy has a considerable upside for feminist founders. Through organic growth, founders can maintain ownership and control of their companies and embrace slow expansion, investing more consciously in human capital along the way. For the study, Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, co-founder and CEO of Her Campus Media, explained the approach her company took and how it worked well for her. “There were some years where we didn’t grow as much as we would’ve liked, but at the same time, we also were profitable for 10 consecutive years. We’ve never had to lay anyone off,” said Kaplan Lewis.

For all the benefits, that strategy rarely earns the industry respect that hyper-growth (grow big, sell fast) “unicorns” command, even though companies that grow organically, by definition, produce actual profits and have proven value in the marketplace, unlike investor favourites like WeWork or Amazon, who have enjoyed VC investment while operating in the red for years. Balachandra blames that credibility gap on our fixation with a “traditionally masculine way of thinking.” And there’s a big downside to that, as it “leads us to overvalue these unicorns or venture-backed startups because they were the ones who could get the support of these big investors, who are 94 percent men.”

Balachandra says the metrics that male-dominated VC firms use to target investments are heavily weighted towards financial performance and overlook other indicators of company performance and value such as employee retention, stakeholder satisfaction, and environmental impact. While women-led firms often perform well on the latter, their businesses often get passed over for initial investments that can spur rapid growth. And that won’t change, Balachandra says, until we have more women in decision-making roles.

So What’s A Women Entrepreneur to Do?

It will take time to infiltrate the masthead of business magazines and knock the sexism out of male VC investors; in the meantime, women entrepreneurs have found other options to grow their businesses.

If they can’t bootstrap a startup with personal savings, they can pursue debt, though that’s not without big downsides; while it does allow a founder to keep control of her company, debt can be expensive to service. And also difficult to even get if you are a woman. Balachandra explains that women founders often face that “having the right connections” roadblock, especially if their company doesn’t have sufficient assets to secure the amount of money that they need. Said Stembel: “I can’t get a bank loan because [Farmgirl Flowers doesn’t] pattern-match what banks are looking for.” She cites a lack of personal assets and big advance purchase orders (“Our orders come in within a week of when they’re delivered”). While government-sponsored lending programs exist, such as the Small Business Administration in the US, their interest rates are not cheap.

Women can also fund growth by trying to negotiate lines of credit with suppliers, though they often crash into roadblock one again: the boys’ club. “Women we talked to for the study told us that they found that people weren’t willing to extend those lines of credit to a woman or to someone they were less familiar with,” says Balachandra.

Another option for women leading startups is to find individual investors, sometimes called angel investors, but again, angel investors are more often men (77 percent), and male angel investors have considerable more wealth to invest (cutting checks 41 percent greater than their women counterparts, according to a 2017 study by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania). And roadblocks one through three suggest those deep-pocketed male angel investors are more likely to invest in male-led enterprises.

But men–and women—who avoid investing in women’s startups are missing out not only on the chance to back powerful, industry-shaping startups but to potentially get big returns on their investment. Take Aden & Anais. When Raegan Moya-Jones couldn’t attract traditional investors for her new baby product company, she was forced to build the business on her own. Now, she is able to reap all the financial benefits, telling the study she “ended up a very successful entrepreneur…[after] build[ing] a business from scratch that now generates over $100 million in annual revenue.”

Where there is considerable will, women entrepreneurs often find a way to succeed, as Stembel, Kaplan Lewis, Moya-Jones, and the 27 other women interviewed for the study show. But their paths were considerably more difficult as systemic, sexist obstacles slowed or blocked their progress and those of many others.

Interestingly, when women entrepreneurs do make it, against all the odds, they tend to pay it forward to the people and communities that made their success possible. According to the Wharton study, women who have made enough money to become investors themselves consider a founders’ gender to be seven times more important than men do. And women investors place more than twice as much importance on social impact as men do.

We think that means investing in female-led startups helps women make the world a better place. Double win.


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