Categories
Feminist Practices

Reimagining Our Financial Future

Shannon Pestun. Photo provided.

Shannon Pestun followed her own advice when she started her financial literacy training business: Know yourself. Figure out why you’re doing it. Who could you partner with? 

“The system is always telling women to fix themselves,” Pestun says. “But we’re making it about her first and foremost and what her goals are, and then building the company around that.”

The Finance Cafe is an Alberta-based incorporated for profit social enterprise that was formed because its two female founders understand firsthand the barriers that women entrepreneurs face, primarily around financial literacy and confidence. 

The Path to Entrepreneurship 

Pestun spent the formative part of her youth working in her parents office furniture company. She and her younger brother spent summers cleaning and doing accounts receivables for the family business in Alberta, Canada. 

She also grew up around horses and loved spending time at her extended relatives’ farms. In her first job she worked for free mucking stalls in exchange for riding the horses.

She fell in love with the animals and went on to become a competitive show jumper. 

Riding provided her with a sense of comfort and freedom and trust that is present to this day. 

“A horse will know how I’m feeling before I do,” she says.

Shannon Pestun with her horse, circa 1981. Photo provided.

But the outgoing, horseback-riding girl turned inward after she was sexually assaulted in her teens. Pestun dropped out of high school and ended up working two minimum wage jobs just to keep a roof over her head. There were times she had four hours of sleep between her shift selling hot dogs at a nightclub (while underage) and being a sales clerk at a Merle Norman cosmetics store. 

“I know what it’s like to be at the poverty line. I understand what it’s like to live in fear of finances.” 

Fierce tenacity and the generosity of others — like the Merle Norman shop owner and the guy at the night club who allowed her to work underage — enabled Pestun to get her life back on track. 

Pestun eventually went back to high school then on to college and university where she got a degree in management.

She landed a marketing job at ATB, a financial institution with a focus on small business owners. Before she became ATB’s first Director of Women’s Entrepreneurship, she jumped at the opportunity to become a lender even though she had little experience in finance. 

Her tenacity returned and Pestun taught herself how to be a banker after hours by going through finance and business rules to understand what the lending business was all about. Soon, a pattern emerged. She had no female clients. Where were all the women? 

Pestun took to social media under the alias @agirlsbizbanker to have conversations and learn why women weren’t coming to ATB, or anywhere else, for financing. 

“The banking system was never designed with women in mind,” she says. It was impossible to ignore the financial industry was not effectively serving women and systemic barriers were being upheld. 

As an advocate for women in business, Pestun is a mentor for Fifth Wave, Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for women in digital media.

Pestun knew of Shauna Frederick because they were both on the Board of Directors for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO). When Frederick, a respected chartered professional accountant (CPA) invited her to lunch in 2020, Pestun knew she’d found someone who shared her passion for supporting women entrepreneurs. 

The two finance pros knew that confidence and financial know-how impacts women’s emotional connection to their businesses. Together they realized their combined knowledge could help women overcome these challenges of confidence by creating a hub for business financial literacy. The two women holed up in a Canmore hotel room for a weekend in the fall of 2020 to hash out the details of new business. 

The duo officially launched the Finance Cafe in 2021.

Confidence is Key  

Pestun and Frederick teamed up to change the narrative about how women talk about money. They wanted to create a place where women could ask all their financial questions without being judged or feeling berated. How am I going to earn money from this? Will it be enough so I can pay myself a living wage? I don’t want to have investors or take out big loans. How else can I finance my business? 

“We have a very gendered focus on the curriculum,” says Pestun. “We’re aiming to make financial literacy not feel judgmental when it’s being led by two women, particularly an accountant and a former banker.”

A 2020 report by Scotiabank’s Women Initiative found that, “women business owners are 56 per cent  more likely to be ranked as ‘below average’ in financial knowledge than counterpart men business owners.” They are also less confident about their knowledge of small business finance. The full report — Financial Knowledge & Financial Confidence – Closing Gender Gaps in Financing Canadian Small Businesses — indicated that closing gender gaps in small business financial knowledge, financial confidence and financing will further women’s economic security. 

The report also revealed that fewer women are applying for loans, but when they do apply, they get funding. 

Among study participants, 7 per cent  of women and 11 per cent of men had applied for a business loan in the 12 months leading up to the survey. However, among loan applicants, 88 per cent of women and 77 per cent  of men had their loan applications approved. 

Why don’t more women apply for loans? Financial literacy is a factor. 

For women about to put their savings on the line for a business, adding a loan can be scary. Knowing when a loan makes sense, what type of loan to apply for and basic loan terms is something training in financial literacy can help with. 

Women face additional barriers than men in terms of starting their businesses as well. This includes accessing social capital and political power to impact policy that would assist in unlocking potential opportunities. Male-centered entrepreneur narratives and stereotypes are another huge barrier for women entrepreneurs. 

One of The Finance Cafe’s goals is to help women understand the current mindset, system and how to wrangle it to meet their authentic needs. Things like being told that you need to make a certain amount of money to be successful. 

“Screw that,” says Pestun. “We want to give women the confidence to say I’m doing this on my terms and this is enough. Let’s quit treating women like they need to build  massive corporations. Because who wants to enter entrepreneurship with that being the guiding principle?”

To make the course as accessible to as many women as possible, the seven-module online program is priced purposely low at a one time payment of CAD$379 + GST or four payments of CAD$99 + GST. The program includes access to the course for a year, video tutorials, quizzes, worksheets and priority support. There’s even a free financial literacy quiz you can take to test your knowledge.

The lived experience between the two financial gurus is priceless. 

“We see some of the mistakes women entrepreneurs make and we share our own stories about mistakes we’ve made,” Pestun says. “We know the importance of role models for women so it’s about information, mentorship, capacity building, all those wraparound services.”

The New Return on Investment (ROI) 

But what if success was measured not only in terms of profit? What if it was about physical wellbeing, mental health and safety? What about environmental impact or community impact? How could we measure the stronger family aspects of your enterprise? 

Pestun is a proud Métis woman who credits her grandmother, a Métis elder in Manitoba in the 1930s, with learning about resilience and resourcefulness. As farmers, her grandparents lived off the land. They valued family and community and were always willing to share what they had. Pestun’s ideas for the future mean revisiting the past. 

“When we think about Indigenous communities and how they functioned, I think the principles are changing now. We’re seeing women entrepreneurs starting micro-sized businesses or working together to form co-ops.”

Greater accountability and different measurements of value are starting to happen with organizations like B-corporation and the rise of ESG reporting. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is at the forefront for many organizations, even though the idea has been around for decades. 

Gro Harlem Bundtlund, Norway’s first female prime minister and Chair of the World Commission of Environment and Development (known as the Brundtland Commission), put sustainable development on the international agenda with the Commission’s landmark report, Our Common Future

Leslie Kern is a Canadian scholar, geographer and author focused on feminist cities, city-building and reimagining home and family

Guillermo (Gil) Penalosa is founder and chair of the non-profit organization 8 80 Cities and is the first ambassador of the World Urban Parks with a mission to create safe and happy cities that prioritize people’s wellbeing. 

Kate Raworth has been talking about doughnut economics for years. Accountability and social impact is being addressed in the finance community with Leanne Keddie’s research on sustainable accounting.

But profit is still a driver for banks. We live in a capitalist society and by its nature, capitalism is not inclusive. 

“If you look at the financial system or angel investors, venture capitalists or lenders, they all want to see how profitable the company is–or will be,” Pestun says. 

So what will it take for change to happen? 

A revised definition of success? Redefining value? More data to prove that women entrepreneurs are profitable? Agreeing that a micro-sized business can have major impact?  

Want Different Metrics? Ask Different Questions

Lenders use the traditional five C’s of credit to gauge the creditworthiness of potential borrowers. The five C’s are: character (read: credit history), capacity (debt-to-income ratio), capital (how much money you have), collateral (assets that act as security for a loan) and conditions (purpose and amount of the loan, prevailing interest rates). 

But what if the five C’s aligned more with values and purpose over financials. We need money, yes, but what if there was greater emphasis on why the enterprise was being created?

What if the business was going to create a healthier neighbourhood, or safer schools, or increase the overall wellbeing of a population? What if a product or service provided food, shelter or educational outcomes? What if a business was about art and creativity that was measured in community impact? 

What if it was a different system altogether?

Flash Forward 20 Years 

It’s 2041. Rural Alberta. Shannon Pestun is 65 years old. She is out riding her horse on the property she shares with six other women and their partners. A billion people died from the novel Ceasariovirus (CEASE-55) that swept the globe in 2032. Water is scarce in many regions. Border patrol is enforced. Global trade has come to a halt. There is life on Mars.

Two thousand kilometres away, in Tkaranto (formerly Toronto), purposepreneur Lee Ladybug puts the finishing touches on their info kit for the CEVO (Care Economy Virtual Office) where Pestun is an advisory board member. The bi-monthly review is in 24 hours. Applicants are judged blindly and most are approved and given a purposepreneur lender grant (PLG). 

Racialized barriers don’t exist. Capitalism is no longer toxic. There is no stereotyping. 

Lee Ladybug is one third of Insectifit, an enterprise that produces protein beverages from locusts. They have crowdsourced production of their test product, Beetlejuice, that won best new beverage at the Canadian Natural Exhibition (CNE). Predictive modelling shows that if Beetlejuice is distributed to learning centres and care hospices across the country, Insectifit will be able to create 100 PLGs to give back to CEVO. Their products are sold on a subscription-based model, sliding scale. Insectifit is made up of three sub-companies: Bug Out, the farming collective that grows and harvests the insects in an ethical manner; Venus Source, an electric energy enterprise that packages and ships the product; and Spidey Sense Marketing who promote the wellness, environmental and social stability benefits of Insectifit. 

Pestun arrives at the stable and watches the sunset. She dismounts the horse and lands on solid ground with her riding boots.

She loves what she does. 

She is grateful to have the opportunity to give back and to use her life experiences to pay it forward to the next generation. The Gifting Circle Bursary for Indigenous Women in Entrepreneurship at Mount Royal University that she started just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Pestun is honoured and thrilled there are now thirty-two other similar bursaries associated at post-secondary institutions across Canada. 

She reflects on The Finance Cafe and how it has grown into the hub for girls and women across the country and beyond. The original vision came to fruition.  

She thinks back to her fortieth birthday, twenty-five years ago, when she gave herself the gift of riding again. She remembers how her best ideas came to her when she was out riding. Solutions arrived when she was galloping in the field with the wind on her face, the sound of hooves on the soil, deeply connected to the natural world.

Pestun strokes the horse’s neck then lets it run free into the field.


Publishers Note: 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. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth Media partner and ally. Apply here.

Related Reading

Categories
Our Voices

This Queer Recovery

What do LGBTQ2+ businesses contribute to Canada? How many are there and what do they do? What challenges do they face? 

Nobody knew, until Canada’s LGBT+ Chambers of Commerce (CGLCC) conducted the first ever survey of the queer entrepreneurship  landscape in 2019.

The survey found that Canada’s 28,000 LGBTQ2+ owned businesses generate more than $22 billion in economic activity and employ around  435,000 Canadians. 

Yet, they face unique and significant challenges, and according to the chief-operating officer of the CGLCC, Dale McDermont (he/him), were hit “not just differently but harder” by the pandemic.

When COVID-19 hit Canada, many queer business owners found little to no targeted support for LGBTQ2+ businesses, primarily as a result of their size .  Most LGBTQ2+ enterprises fall into the micro category, which are businesses that have less than four waged people working within or less than $40, 000 in non deferrable expenses. 

This results in a disproportionate impact on their businesses, including a significant number of closures. 

Who is Looking Out for Queer Canadian Businesses?

The CGLCC’s survey, done in partnership with Deloitte and soon to be released, found that one in four respondents said their LGBTQ2+ ownership resulted in loss of business due to their identity; one in three indicated that on at least one occasion they hid that they are LGBTQ2+ owned to protect themselves against potential losses. 

Nine months into the pandemic, and for the first time ever, Canada’s 2021 budget declared LGBTQ2+ businesses as one of the diverse communities that will benefit from the $100 million targeted for the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Fund. Previously diverse communities included Indigenous, Black, and women-owned businesses. 

This was good news for the CGLCC, which was founded in 2003 and has the data that demonstrates that LGBTQ2+ businesses are a “really sizable part of the economy.” 

McDermont says they can “highlight the struggles and advocate for the community” as Canada prepares for its post-pandemic recovery, but the targeted funds are crucial. Often minority groups “fall through the cracks” with general funding, but the CGLCC is striving to ensure that this much needed finance is delivered to the LGBTQ2+ community “as quickly as possible.”

The funds to assist LGBTQ2+ businesses have been allocated, although details of how it will be distributed and to whom have yet to be released. 

For queer businesses who were struggling with funding and support even before the pandemic, this has meant getting creative with how they do business.   

When Small is Too Small

Kaela Malozewski (left) and her fiancée, Steph La Posta. Photo via Common People’s Instagram

Before the pandemic hit, Common People  was not only a general store featuring crafts by small makers, but a “community space where folks could gather for workshops, fundraisers, and events.” hosted every month, co-owner Kaela Malozewski (she/her) told LiisBeth. Malozewski and her fiancée, Steph La Posta (she/her), launched their Toronto-based store in late 2017. 

Malozewski said they consider themselves a micro business, though the government sees them as a small business — and this compounded the challenges they faced during the pandemic.

Malozewski and La Posta received less than $600 in rent support from the Ontario Government and did not qualify for any other supports due to the discrepancy between micro and small businesses. For instance, they did not meet certain criteria  —such as having a payroll of over $50,000 a year. Even at their busiest, they had only one employee in addition to themselves. 

“Community is Everything” poster via Common People’s website. For sale online.

Kaela said the whole process trying to get support was “disappointing and very frustrating” and they “felt like [they] weren’t being acknowledged or heard” by the government that was meant to be helping them. In December 2020, Common People closed their brick-and-mortar shop in Parkdale and moved online, where they will remain for the foreseeable future. 

Though the co-owners and fiancées say the pandemic has been exhausting, the community they built pre-pandemic has supported them “from the start with their encouragement, purchases, and messages of love and support.”

Pandemic Sex Play

Kira Gregory (she/her) founded Toronto-based Shop Fleure just before the pandemic hit and was also unable to qualify for any relief grants. 

The queer-friendly online space sells luxury lifestyle products and intimate sex toys to help individuals “explore their inner sensualities and embrace their true selves by way of pleasure.” 

Gregory says she would have “[loved] to see more support specifically for LGBTQ2+ small businesses such as programs or grants that specifically apply to this community.” Though the pandemic has kept Shop Fleure “in the shadows” due to advertisers filtering or hiding anything that “remotely covers topics of sexual health, pleasure, or sex work” and many small businesses  —including Shop Fleure — struggle to get started due to this inability to post advertisements. 

Self-care became a much-discussed topic as the world stayed in their homes, so Gregory found the plus side to her industry was that “the world of self-love and pleasure has been in the spotlight during lockdown,” even though, as the owner of a self-love business, Gregory struggled. Without a large team, the work fell into her lap, and it took a toll on her mental health. 

Where the government and media platforms disappointed her, however, Gregory’s community provided tremendous support, which has been heartwarming and better than anticipated. 

For now, Gregory said she is taking it one day at a time, remaining hopeful, and taking rests and breaks when needed.

A Queer Village, Online

Pax Santos, founder of QT Mag. Photo provided.

McDermont told LiisBeth that “unique challenges require unique solutions.”

Pax Santos (she/her) started a non-profit business during the pandemic when she felt the void of queer spaces and missed the connection she found there. 

Disappearing queer spaces have been a growing concern among the community and many LGBTQ2+ people found themselves uniquely isolated. 

Santos founded QT, the Queer Toronto Literary Magazine, to elevate and celebrate queer voices in Canada and recreate the physical community spaces that had wilted during lockdown online. 

Queer bars, cafes, restaurants, sports leagues, and cultural activities take on an oversize importance in the queer community as places to find and meet friends, form family, nurture voices and identity. 

When Pax looked for government support to launch her non-profit, she said there was nothing. 

Yet, QT found its digital footing to create the sense of a shared space when a physical one was not possible and grew to a nine-person volunteer team and a thriving community readership. 

Since QT is a fledgling business, they rely on volunteers and donations; while memberships are $20, QT believes “finances should never be a barrier to community engagement” and offers a no-questions-asked sliding scale. 

The priority is community.

Community for Recovery

As Canada moves into the recovery stage, queer businesses continue to struggle. While financial support from the government has been announced, it’s unclear how the support will be distributed and to whom. It’s also unclear if the support will continue and for how long. 

The CGLCC’s message during this time is clear: to encourage the government to move forward supporting LGBTQ2+ businesses, and in particular micro businesses, like Common People and Shop Fleure, as well as startup ventures which launched in response to the distinctive challenges of the pandemic. 

With targeted recovery support, the LGBTQ economy has at least a fair shot of making a comeback at the same pace as the rest of the economy, especially with the strength of the community behind them.

McDermont says that LGBTQ2+ businesses are a safe space where queer people often find safety and support in their community, and it is through these shared experiences that LGBTQ2+ businesses will overcome the challenges of the pandemic and reach the potential they dream to achieve.

“As we look at diverse communities, entrepreneurship and creating businesses, what we need to focus on is supporting entrepreneurship in diverse communities and overcoming these unique challenges are the stories we need to hear.”

Related Reading

Savoy "Kapow" Howe Outside The Ring: Part Two

“As a business owner, one of the cool things about trying to keep a place like this alive is it forces me to be really creative at the end of the month. It forces me to invent things out of necessity. Some of the things we invent become a huge part of what we do.” –Savoy Howe

Read More »

Queer to their Boots

Kacy says the queer fashion scene is begging for new entrepreneurs to enter the market. But forget about mainstream start up ecosystem support.

Read More »
Categories
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

 

Categories
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.


Support LiisBeth


If this article was of value to you, please consider becoming a donor! Or Subscribe!
You will have access to Payments processed through PayPal.

 




Funding
You can also contribute to our “Sustainability Fund” or an open donation in any amount.

 


Related Articles

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