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Our Voices

Big Business is Killing the Fourth Estate

An image of Faye Dunaway in the Movie Network
Faye Dunaway in NETWORK, 1976, Allstar Picture Library Limited. / Alamy Stock Photo

When audiences were made aware of the news of Bell Media’s sudden firing of CTV News anchor Lisa LaFlamme at the end of June, Canadians erupted with collective outrage. Whether, as speculated, her dismissal was the result of ageism and sexism or whether it was a clash of newsroom personalities, Bell’s tepid excuse that it was a “business decision”—a corporate-speak version of a patronizing pat on the head—found little traction. The giant communications conglomerate’s arrogant expectation that  “60 years of trust” would eventually override the public’s memory hangs in serious doubt. LaFlamme was one of Canada’s most beloved and—more importantly—most trusted anchors.  

The issue roiling beneath the anger at Ms. LaFlamme’s dismissal isn’t going away: it isn’t specifically an issue of sexism or ageism, or an issue of race (LaFlamme is a white woman who has been willing to age publicly; Omar Sachedina, her replacement, is a man of colour), although each of these facets of the problem is quite enough on its own.

The crux of the matter is the conflict between what is good for news (and audiences) and what is good for business. 

Who Does Modern Media Really Work For?

What is good for business—traditional business, that is—is anything that will produce profit. The greater the profit, the greater the success. But throughout the pandemic we have become increasingly aware that this approach has its price. While some reap the benefits, more face lives of greater insecurity. But how can we track the success or failure of this system if the very ways by which we share information no longer report on it? It’s not until the cracks start to show, until the harm the system causes is too great to be ignored—too many people of colour shot by police, too many immigrant workers dying due to substandard living conditions and inadequate pay, too many people losing their homes due to a lack of affordable housing—that we question the information we have because it doesn’t match the world we live in anymore. Celebrities, sex scandals, and outrage garner clicks that increase profits. The slow swell of inequity and destabilization is more newsworthy, but unless it can be blamed on a scapegoat, it is not lucrative.

We have watched with growing anxiety the rise of Fox News, the proliferation of clickbait headlines, and the erosion of our core institutions (media, academy, government) as “business” decisions have disrupted their function and challenged our confidence in them.

The fourth estate, our press in Western democratic nations, was conceived as a place of checks and balances for power, which includes systems of power as much as actors within that system. Our business culture is driven by a pursuit of power that is linked to money. The commodification—the Foxification, even—of public information has resulted in a media system where checks and balances are compromised. News media cannot remain accountable to the public good through transparent and unflinchingly ethical information production AND be accountable to the interests of advertisers and corporate owners—at least not sustainably. Information can be entertaining, and its dissemination can even support business, but in order to function as intended, the news media must be free to ask any question, unconstrained by consequences to the interests of the parent company/owner/powers that be. 

Video clip from “Network” (1976) during which the Network CEO explains the true relationship between big business and media to TV anchorman, Howard Beale played by actor Peter Finch. 

People in the media have known about these issues for a very long time. The black comedy Network spoke to the problem in 1976. Following the mass purchases of media outlets in Britain, Australia and the US by Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch in the late 20th century, the news satire Drop the Dead Donkey was born in 1990. The concerns these programs aired (and they are extensive) were then more than validated by criminal violations by both magnates, most notably by Murdoch, with his wire tapping scandal, and then reports of rampant sexual harassment at his wildly financially successful media outlets. However, the warnings have continued to go unheeded. The result is that today we have a fragmented information production system distrusted by an increasingly polarized public sphere, creating an information miasma from which we have not yet begun to emerge.    

The answer to this fracture is a system of information production that people feel they can trust—one that produces stories that share facts and information, question norms, and help us face our problems so that we can solve them before they hurt us. Ethically produced information is not only accountable to ethical standards set for journalism, but it seeks to find ways of telling stories that reduce bias and increase accountability, not only to readers but to the people being written about and to the ways in which we make the information in the first place. Ethical outlets challenge implicit bias in their newsrooms, in the management of their teams, and in the structure of the stories they tell. Ethical information production asks us to break down the things that we take for granted before they do damage—overreporting of minority crime, the subtle shifts of language that betray double standards, the long-held unspoken assumptions that prove, on examination, to be completely wrong. But to accomplish this, ethical media has to be able to challenge the very system that validates “success” or “failure”, the dominant system of power. Which is precisely the object lesson we have witnessed with Bell Canada’s approach to firing Ms. Laflamme. Their inept response speaks to their conviction that they don’t have to tell the story we are demanding to hear. And THAT is what makes it so hard for Canadians to swallow—the knowledge that Bell is not replacing trusted storytelling with more trustworthy storytelling. It is already replacing it with more spin.

Through wars, intense polarization of the political sphere in Canada, and pieces on gross inequities in our communities here and abroad, Ms. LaFlamme gained the respect of diverse audiences. As one of Canada’s many “hyphenates” (Canadian-nameyourcountry), and, more importantly, a hyphenate of a country that at one point was vilified by Canadian media during one of the many conflicts we’ve watched in the last 40 years, I, like many Canadians, have grown very cynical and very selective of the news reporters I will listen to. It was while Ms. LaFlamme was interviewing someone on the conflict in Iraq that I realized that her questions allowed for more nuanced understandings of conflict and of the contextual realities of those simply identified as “evil” or “bad” or “other” on other networks. And when she spoke of the conflict in my father’s homeland, the way she spoke of the country and the people shared their lived experience of the conflict they had been involved in. She was still reporting the news, and with it the actions the people involved could not and should not hide from, but she was also able to relay the stories without seeming to paint the people “evil” with a single broad stroke. She was able to speak to bad things being done, sometimes, by good people.

This is the news that we all need—the news that allows us to look at what it means to be human and to do things that might not be right, or seen as right, by others. To open conversation is to allow for understanding. Judgment and vilification create conflict and close off opportunities for dialogue, contact, and peaceful solutions. This empathy was the real gift of Ms. Laflamme’s reportage. And because of this unique ability of hers to convey the complexity of human experience, audiences from diverse groups in Canada were willing to use what she had to say as a foundation for discussion. That is the best that we can hope for from news. And because of this, she was, at the end of her time at CTV, the anchor of the highest-rated news program in Canada.

Ratings aside, Canadians describe her and her work as being marked by journalistic integrity; she’s been called “fantastic” and a “journalism hero”. Yes, she’s won awards and has been graced with the Order of Canada, but what matters is the fact that Canadians chose to tune into CTV to hear Ms. LaFlamme speak about the world so that we could better understand our place in it. Bell’s oafish and disrespectful mishandling of Ms. LaFlamme is, in short, a mishandling of our trust and our support as viewers.

It is, of course, possible, even likely, that Mr. Sachedina will also produce stories of this quality and level of care. I won’t know because I, like many Canadians, no longer trust the way the stories are made at Bell Media: The commitment to ethics over business values, which is needed in order to tell stories that we as Canadians can build community on, has been shown to be grossly absent.

Which brings us back to the problem Ms. LaFlamme’s dismissal underlines. What is the meaning of Lisa Laflamme in this tumult? Is she merely a former employee of Bell Media? Or is she a public figure, a trusted voice of Canadians understanding Canada, who stands apart from business interests? Her work should stand above the needs of the businesses that pay for Canadian communication infrastructure. The anxiety and anger at her dismissal has been born of the fear that the Canadian public is losing a baseline by which to understand ourselves in a collective context.

When do we acknowledge that the fourth estate is crumbling because of a values takeover? Or that this same takeover may be endemic to all of our institutions? The issue is not with business per se but with the fact that business values have infused themselves in all of our institutions, even those that are not best served by them. 

How To Take Back Media 

To get out of this mess, we need to create a conversation led by people – thinkers, researchers, writers, journalists – we can trust. We need media that is made by people who look different and have values and expectations of the world other than those of the dominant culture. We need media made with empathy and respect for the experiences and choices of others —that is committed to investigating itself as much as the world around it, created by people who have been trained to challenge their own ideas of themselves and the way they see their world. Can this kind of media make the same kind of profits as a National Enquirer or a Daily Mirror, or the clickbait stories that have come to replace them as “popular” news? Absolutely not. Ethically produced stories are more labour intensive to make, and they are not pitched to attract sales, but to create thought and consideration of the world we live in. They require more hands and more voices to be made, and they require that those hands and voices be paid respectfully for their work. But what they produce is an information landscape that we can rely on to create the kinds of conversations that create greater security and respect for one another—the kinds of stories Ms. LaFlamme was trying to tell.

How can we do this when the cost of launching a media source REQUIRES accountability to a system whose interests conflict with the demands of ethical information production?

There is a solution. It’s not perfect. It’s small. It lacks the audience breadth and access that Ms. LaFlamme achieved. But it’s here, a tiny heartbeat fighting to grow. Independent news agencies such as LiisBeth, The Narwhal, The Greenline, rabble.ca, and yes, full disclosure, my own publication Peeps, among many others all fight to get readers information that does NOT place business accountabilities first. Rather, they place sound, reliable, well-researched, and nonpartisan (in most cases) information production at the centre of their daily work. Among these publications, you’ll find that many of them (all those listed in this publication) were started by women, notably many of whom are women of colour. It should be no surprise that those who receive the least representation in media are looking to create space for our voices. But what women founders of new media outlets lack most is policy support, access to capital, plus marketing and exposure that generates large audiences which, in turn, bring fresh ideas and emerging female journalists into the centre of the Canadian conversation. What these pioneers also need is an audience that is willing to look for us rather than have us served to them by Apple News or commercial broadcasters: an audience willing to invest in the development of this work and the ways we make it.

The most distressing lesson we take from Ms. LaFlamme’s dismissal is that even when we do get the audience, depending on the whims of telecom giants, it might not be ours to keep no matter how many people want to hear what we have to say.

Publisher’s Note:  Please consider defunding profit first corporate news media outlets by shifting your subscriber dollars to indie outlets. You can find a partial but long list of outlets here.  

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Feminist Practices Our Voices

SECONDHAND CULTURE – HOW CANOPY KIDS HELPS PARENTS BEAT INFLATION

Image of mother with her baby
Nyla Obaid, Founder of Canopy Kids, mother of three, with her six month old, Idris. Photo: Zurry Donevan.

It’s the day of the nationwide Rogers outage. There’s a feeling of abject fear and desperation in the air. Most storefronts have these hastily drawn ‘CASH ONLY’ signs. Worse, emergency 911 services are unavailable to many. It’s lights out for the economy –  at least for a while.

Despite the chaos, Nyla Obaid (she/her), founder of Canopy Kids, an online, second-hand clothing shop, warmly greets me on ZOOM from her backyard on the traditional lands of the Mississauga’s of the First Credit, Mississauga, Huron-Wendat and Anishnabeg nations (under Toronto Purchase Treaty 13) and immediately lets me know she’s on her neighbour’s Wi-Fi as she’s without Internet. Nyla is calm, self-assured. She’s got an energy about her that’s instantly resonant. 

We get talking. She tells me more about launching her new second-hand clothing business for kids.

For many reasons, the timing for such a business could not be better.

Consumer inflation rates continue to rise and exceeded 8% year over year as of June. People are paying more for everything -cars, services, gas, and housing – putting financial pressure on everyone.

Embracing secondhand culture is one way to stay ahead of these unprecedented increases in inflation and make those proverbial ends meet in style – especially for parents like myself needing to stretch a dollar during the back-to-school shopping season. It’s also good for the planet.

Furthermore, the second-hand clothing market is booming. According to an extensive 2021 industry report released by ThredUP, a leading US-based online retailer, the North American secondhand apparel market will grow 8x faster than the overall apparel market by 2026. The market is expected to grow 24% in 2022 alone. Projections indicate that 50% of all second-hand sales will be generated online.

Reclaiming Secondhand Culture

For Obaid (she/her), a tight family budget and secondhand culture are core elements of her lived experience. Born to Bangladeshi immigrants, Obaid is a first-generation Canadian who cites this culture as the inspiration behind her startup dream.

 “I grew up in secondhand culture. When I was growing up, my mom would go to some church basement and all the aunties from the area would show up with their kids’ stuff and swap and sell and buy. Everything was already thrifted. So when my kids came around it was very natural to me to dress them in second-hand clothes and [I bought] second-hand toys [for them]”.

While ‘thrifting’ today is increasingly about foraging for stylish bargains, for Obaid’s family, thrifting was done out of sheer necessity. She remembers how her mother would thrift by default and not by choice.

Getting Into Recommerce

In May 2020, Obaid was growing increasingly frustrated with purchasing items for her children on Facebook Marketplace. She then had an idea to recreate the swap, sell and buy experiences from her childhood and add an online element to it with community building being the thread that ties it all together. Obaid called it the Lode Store and much to her surprise – in her words – “It was immediately successful.” This, despite an atypical startup approach. 

Entrepreneurial training rooted in the male-dominated entrepreneurial industrial complex typically focuses on engineering and executing an extensive customer research plan as a path to knowing exactly what the ideal customer wants and how to serve them.

Instead, Obaid’s approach is much more relatable. She is her customer. Her startup actions trusted that insight. 

Store offerings are chosen by Obaid herself for functionality, appeal and use. She tests toys out on her kids – if they like them, it goes in the store for sale. Obaid trusts her choices and her kids’ reactions when it comes to curating content of her store. Her clients save 60-80% off retail. 

Obaid also didn’t have time for a business plan, development of a minimally viable product, pitch decks to potential investors and a go-to-market strategy. Obaid simply collected some items together and started selling them online. She sourced more items and sold those too. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sales grew.

Even though Obaid’s post-secondary education ascended into the upper echelons of business academia, she felt that it wasn’t a path she wanted to pursue. “I do not like theoretical business, marketing and strategy background… I’m very uncomfortable with a lot of that. I’m uncomfortable with capitalism as a concept. So then when I started my business, [I asked myself] how can I still run a shop and not feed into all of that stuff?”

Building what worked and what her community (customers) wants, Lode Store rebranded as Canopy Kids. Today it offers thoughtful curation of clothes and goods for newborns up to age 14, plus an innovative time-saving, cost-saving subscription service and free delivery across Toronto. The company also offers kids’ room organizing, birthday parties and curated capsule shopping. The enterprise also leads mutual aid initiatives plus donates 15% of its proceeds to organizations working to end oppression.

With her partner’s second income as a safety net, Obaid started her business with just $500 of her own money and didn’t draw out any income for six months in order to get the business off the ground. 

A ‘real’ business

Obaid sometimes wonders if she’s running a ‘real’ business. She actively rejects anything related to ‘girl boss’ culture and hustle culture. “It does feel like this can’t be a real business because it doesn’t meet all of these business-y qualifications,” shared Obaid. “… [This] can’t be a real business unless [it’s] scaling. [It] can’t be a real business unless [it’s] giving the people what they want and giving it an end and making it bigger and bigger. It is, [however] me living out my values and making a living at it so I think I’m okay.”

She recalls how her recent experience in one business incubator made her question her business structure. Did she have a growth plan that equates to 3% annually? Did she have an exit strategy? She was recently advised to cut back on donating 15% of monthly sales to charity because it took too much from the bottom line.

Why do businesses (especially female/non-binary-led) have to conform to widely accepted definitions of what it’s supposed to be or look like? Who does it serve to have us conform to these definitions? Is there only one way to run a business? As our conversation progresses, I’m beginning to think the global answer to these questions is a definitive no. 

Secondhand culture and community 

Even though Obaid ran into some resistance to her business model, she knew exactly what she wanted to achieve with Canopy Kids. The community she’s created – especially during a time when contact with other humans was severely limited due to the ongoing pandemic – is a necessary one.

 “I didn’t even realize it was possible to participate in capitalism in this way…this business feels good.”

Obaid’s next milestone is to work fewer hours to spend more time with her growing family while still supporting the enterprise’s growing community.

The Future?

I believe secondhand culture is not only here to stay; it’s the new normal. 

As a progressively minded parent, making the choice to shop at Canopy Kids is a no-brainer.

I’m supporting a business run by a feminist woman of the global majority who’s chosen to run her business in alignment with her community and her values. Canopy Kids is intentional about providing for others in a sustainable and just manner.

Take that inflation! Pow! Extractive capitalism.

We need to rethink how businesses are created and run especially under a feminist lens. We need to accept the fact that there’s really no set way to run a feminist business.

What if we instead, as feminists, created spaces for founders like Obaid to envision businesses that align with their values, meet their needs, work to end oppression and create communities that genuinely support each other through acts of commerce? Creating said space, heck, an entire economy like this, would be a much-needed radical act.

Publishers Note: Canopy Kids participated in the Fifth Wave  Initiative, 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 and commerce 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 a minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse levelApplications for Cohort 5 are open August 25. Apply here

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Our Voices

BCE has five women on its board; will that help Lisa LaFlamme?

Photo of woman helping another women climb a cliff. Background is a sunset.
U_Photo on Shutterstock.

In 2019, the Government of Canada launched the 50-30 Challenge, a new initiative in partnership with Canadian businesses and diversity organizations to accelerate diversity actions and improve equity for women and BIPOC identified folx. It calls for all (for profit, nonprofit, cooperatives etc.) organizations to aim for 50 per cent women and 30 per cent BIPOC and or 2SLGBTQIA representation on their boards and in senior management. 

The assumption is that if you change who is at the table, equity will seep into the organization like a teabag in hot water. Some hope it might also change the table itself. With diversity, so it goes, oppression will be dismantled—at least in the workplace; the result is a less extractive, life-sucking economy. 

But does increased representation of oppressed groups, in this case, women, on corporate boards result in less oppression in the workplaces they govern? 

The high-profile ageism + sexism-based taser-like firing of prominent journalist and TV news anchor Lisa LaFlamme will give us a chance to find out.

Why The Board Matters

Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) owns Bell Media which in turn owns and operates CTV, as well as brands like Noovo, TSN, RDS, Crave, and iHeartRadio. The whole kit and kaboodle of media brands and distribution enterprises are governed by the BCE board which as of today is made up of 13 directors, five of which are women all of which are over 55 and none have visible grey hair.  BCE is Canada’s 15th largest publicly traded corporations. 

A board’s job is to mostly protect shareholder interests, primarily stock price, return on investment and risk management. They are also charged with keeping an eye out for bankable talent and company reputation. The board are also expected to keep an eye on management. If management makes decisions that hurt the company, the board will, should, step in to protect the enterprise-namely its owners. Which by the way, includes many mutual fund holding Canadians. BCE is (25 per cent+) owned by our major banks, a variety of investment firms, pension funds plus others.   

Last week, a 12-year rising CTV star employee but still newbie Vice President, Michael Melling (age mid-forties), spear-headed and executed a decision that hurt the company: He abruptly fired Lisa LaFlamme, a 58-year-old CTV news journalist veteran who commanded an audience of close to 1 million daily viewers. She had worked at CTV for 35 years. Melling and his team maintained terminating LaFlamme was for business reasons. Everyone, and I mean seemingly  EVERYONE inside CTV and in the industry say it was blatant ageism, sexism plus the presence of an unclean spirit known as grey hair. 

A week later, the story dominated Canadian news. There are over 12 petitions on Change.org calling for retribution (Fire Melling!) or the reinstatement of Lisa Laflamme. Collectively they have secured 167,366 signatures—and the list grows daily. The Deep Dive newsletter reported that one of the LaFlamme petitions “generated twice the number of signatures that a petition for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to end the domination of Rogers Communications Inc.

Meanwhile, Bell Media has quickly erased Lisa LaFlamme’s existence as an anchorwoman on their network and digital footprint. Reports say her phone was immediately disconnected. Bylines erased. Any trace of her—gone from their website. It’s not an uncommon strategy in situations of harassment and corporate wrongdoing.  Senior executives somehow believe that if we unplug a person’s existence online, they no longer exist and the issue will magically go away. 

In a show of solidarity, women’s professional networks and feminist groups across social media networks appealed to their followers (by our estimate, Canadian women’s business networks alone represent over two million women) to drop their personal Bell Media subscriptions as an act of protest and solidarity.

There are, by the way, almost seven million women over 45 in Canada. Women make the majority of purchasing decisions in their household. Any sales manager in any industry knows it’s not wise to annoy them. 

Advertisers are watching closely too. And they should be. We know where their products live. 

The whole thing adds up to a huge business crisis for BCE.

So,we have to ask, what is the BCE board going to do about it? 

More importantly, will the five women (38 per cent) on BCE’s board step up—and out. Will we ever hear from them? If not, why not. 

And what if anything, as board directors, can these women really do? 

A lot.

The women on BCE's board.

Bell-Let’s Talk

For starters, these five women could join forces, re-imagine conventional board protocols, and raise a little collective hell.  

They are all independent directors. It’s not often done but they can individually, or together, bring forward a statement as the women of the BCE board. A statement we would all be interested to hear. 

They can choose to challenge the standard “all for one, one for all” cabinet solidarity protocol—used to silence dissenting views. Sure, they could be dismissed as Directors as a result (and lose their $258K annual director paycheck—a lot to ask). But at least then 15 million women would know the truth about BCE’s culture—even at the board level. 

According to BCE’s Corporate Governance Practices document, they, as a group or individually, can ask to meet with senior management on any and all matters –alone—without male board members present– to create a safer space for employees to tell the real story. Especially women employees. 

They could file a motion to launch a specifically intersectional feminist inquiry into whether or not Melling and his accomplices violated BCE’s own code of conduct which says all directors, executives and employees must undertake to:

  • Perform our work duties and conduct our business relationships with integrity and in a dynamic, straightforward, honest and fair manner;
  • Foster a work environment based on mutual trust and respect and that encourages open communication. 

Violations, according to the Code, can result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. 

And finally, the women directors could work with public relations professionals, and convince them that it would be to BCE’s advantage to let them lead communications on this issue. Women don’t want to hear from another white, male board chair. They want to hear from professional women on big boards—especially those whose bios include working to advance women. 

By all accounts released so far, CTV’s Michael Melling stewarded and executed a decision that has hurt CTV’s reputation, likely caused significant mental health trauma (ironically, given BCE’s commitment to mental health causes) to LaFlamme and other women who work at Bell Media and elsewhere, and set in motion dynamics that can result in a tumbling revenues and impact key talent acquisition for the foreseeable future. 

So far, the women on BCE’s board, for anyone following the story, appear to the public as silent, invisible and ergo, impotent. Leaving us to ask why bother advocating for women on boards? 

So how about it #katherinelee#shielamurray#jennifertory #karensheriff and #moniqueleroux?

Keep Being There

Women who end up being appointed to big corp boards worked hard to get there and they are professionals. But they didn’t get there on just merit—many women, feminist activists paved the way. 

Now it’s their turn to use their power and privilege to send a decisive message that ageism, sexism and the ridiculous teenage supermodel beauty standards many men–and yep, some women–impose upon female professionals in the industry ends here.

So will women on the BCE board leverage this opportunity and their post and voice to make a difference –not just at BCE but across the industry? Or will they quietly continue to collect that $258,000 a year director pay cheque, pour coffee every so often to make the men around the table comfortable with their formidable presence (been there myself) and hope this blows over soon. 

Or, and this is the bigger question, will they remain silent because they are worried they might be next?

Millions of women in Canada are waiting to find out.

Publisher’s Note: This op-ed by pk mutch (also publisher of LiisBeth) was originally published by rabble.ca.  We invite readers to comment on what solution they would like the board to pursue.  Bring Laflamme back?  Implement anti-ageism policy? Please share!

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Categories
Our Voices

How to End Clinician Burnout

An photo of the change creates change team (four white women) standing in front of a store front.
Change Creates Change, left to right, Andrea Paul, Jillian Walsh, Collette Walsh, and Sierra Pineo.

Burned out and done, dietitian Jillian Walsh needed a change. Seeking to create a better life for herself, her family, colleagues and improve client outcomes, Walsh set out on her own, starting up Change Creates Change (CCC), a series of private care clinics specializing in treating eating disorders with a feminist focus. 

In addition to coping with heightened emotional, social and financial pressures of her own during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Walsh found the public health care system overwhelmed, leaving people struggling with eating disorders to fend for themselves. The system was also unable to meet her own support needs as a professional, partner, and new parent within that system.

Even before the pandemic, eating disorder care has been a female-dominated health care specialty – in Canada, about 95 percent of dieticians identify as women, and about 80 percent do so in the US –with a chronically high burnout rate.  Walsh adds that despite being women-led, the profession offered poor flexibility and low work-life balance, especially for new mothers. The current framework – based on the traditional western medical system, which is rooted in misogyny and patriarchy – simply doesn’t work for many women in the field, herself included. It results in poor mental health, which in turn, negatively impacts the quality and effectiveness of care they can give clients. 

“A lot of the staff at CCC can’t work 9-to-5, Monday to Friday. We can’t put in seven hours straight on, using telehealth or in an office, but those were the demands put on us,” says Walsh. 

Creating a Feminist Enterprise

For Walsh, building a new, more feminist work environment “was about the flexibility and the autonomy to be able to meet our own professional care needs, versus having to assimilate to the traditional culture of the work environment,” noting that this means some of her staff work in the morning or evening, depending on what works best for them.

“A lot of us work with our kids on our laps – I had my five-month-old baby in a carrier all the time. I’d never be able to do that in the public system, but I was able to do it over here (at CCC) and still do the work I want to do.”

Walsh also strives to build an environment where people communicate regularly and feel safe expressing themselves when maxed out. Several times a year, staff are entitled to ‘think weeks’, which are periods when they don’t necessarily have to come into the office or see patients, but they’re doing other things, like catching up on research papers or working on other aspects of their professional life – something significant in her field, she says, because of the ‘emotional toll’ working with people struggling with an eating disorder can take on a professional caregiver. 

“We’re exposed to secondary trauma each and every day, and sometimes we become traumatized ourselves,” says Walsh, noting that awareness of this and making space and time for it was “Something that was really lacking in our past positions and experiences.”

Eating disorders constitute a broad category of diagnosable illnesses, which often require treatment for both physical and mental health. CCC predominantly works with kids and youth up to around 25, says Walsh. This puts most of her company’s clients squarely in the Gen Z demographic – an age range which is the queerest in recent history, with about 20 per cent identifying as members of the LGTBQ+ community and around 15% of those identifying as ‘queer or transgender.’ This is important as queer people – particularly trans and non-binary folks–are at a higher risk of disordered eating and experience it at higher rates than the general population. 

At present, none of the staff at CCC openly identified through the website as anything other than cis, and all are women. A lack of access to trans-informed, gender-affirming care is a recognized barrier to healthcare for gender non-conforming folk.

Likewise, the overwhelming majority of CCC’s staff is white. This is, again, notable, particularly in an industry which has come under criticism for practices which exclude, ignore or vilify non-white body types, diets and experiences. As a result of these ingrained biases, dietetics as a profession hasn’t been traditionally friendly to non-conforming bodies, sexualities or non-white people, and studies show a lack of diversity is a problem among Canadian dieticians in particular. 

Walsh is aware these are problems but notes they aren’t specific to her company; the entire industry struggles with this and its history of practice. “The industry has historically also been ‘shitty’ because what it was traditionally trained its clinicians to do was “to tell people to lose weight” 

To combat this inherited bias, Walsh says her company is offering intern positions to folks from ‘non-dominant systemic identities,’ even if they don’t have the traditional academic training or if they choose not to stay on and work with the company in the future. 

“We want to train these folks because we want to hire them, but (at the moment) we have nobody to hire (in these demographics) because either they don’t feel safe to apply or they haven’t had the opportunities within dietetics yet,” says Walsh. “There’s been a big movement in the past five years… calling out white women in dietetics for taking up too much space– and we are taking up too much space.”

“We don’t need more white women as interns. We need to do our part in diversifying dietetics.” 

Eating Disorders Are Rising

The pandemic has fueled a documented rise in eating disorder diagnoses and relapses. Walsh thinks part of this is that parents have been home with their kids more and therefore more able to notice – and be alarmed by – unhealthy behaviours. 

“Before COVID-19, the wait times for eating disorder care within the public system was anywhere from three months to 12 months–and when we talk about the nature of an eating disorder, time is of the essence, because the longer it goes untreated, the harder it is to treat, the more difficult it is to overcome and actually the more damage it does to the body. Unfortunately with COVID-19, a lot of the public eating disorder programs got shut down and their staff were redeployed to vaccine clinics, to be the people at the door checking temperatures and stuff, so the virus) created a significant backlog where wait times were either doubled, tripled, quadrupled or just closed altogether,” says Walsh.

“Parents were in a lot of distress because they were noticing that their kids were extremely sick. They were going to the doctor and the doctor was like “Yep, this looks like an eating disorder – go over to the public system.” And the public system is like “Yep, absolutely. We’ll see you in 12 to 24 months.’”

As a result, the need for care for eating disorders has ballooned, putting even more stress on an already strained arm of the healthcare system, and creating more demand for private care clinics like CCC–care which costs around $150 an hour. 

From a feminist perspective, a private care clinic model poses a problem. Can a health care business that provides essential, potentially life-saving medical services only to those who can afford to pay for it, either out of pocket or by insurance – the demographic which, by Walsh’s admission, makes up the majority of CCC’s clients – really be said to be feminist? 

Walsh admits that, yes, the private health care model does pose a problem from this angle – one she hopes to address in the future. 

“We’re only in month 18 of operations. We’re only now being able to find our feet underneath us to start to put more time and energy into the equity pricing models so that we can actually offer services to everyone, not just folks that are privileged.”

That might include something like a sliding scale or pay-what-you-can model, says Walsh, or a fund where wealthier patients can donate cash to help pay for clients who can’t afford it. She notes that the company isn’t tied to the ‘for profit model’ and moving to a not-for-profit model is something she might consider in the future. 

“We’re very new and just trying to see what governance model we need to fall under to be as sustainable as possible. “We’re trying to flip that model because the goal is not actually to develop a profit – it’s just to create sustainable employment for women in eating disorder care.” 

Publishers Note: Change Creates Change participated in the Fifth Wave  Initiative, 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 minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse levelApplications for Cohort 5 are open August 25. Apply here

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Feminist Practices

Soul Traits of Social Entrepreneurs

A mature white woman with purple glasses and middle bangs sits in front of a tree, looking upward
Madeleine Shaw, author, The Greater Good and co-founder of Aisle. Photo by Felicia Chang Photography

At the outset of the writing process for her first book, feminist entrepreneur Madeleine Shaw created a survey to better understand the motivations of her peers. In the 100+ responses that she received, she discerned a set of recurring patterns that she named ‘soul traits’. 

Liisbeth is pleased to share this exclusive full text chapter from The Greater Good: Social Entrepreneurship for Everyday People Who Want to Change the World.  Dig in!


I knew that I wanted this book to be about more than just my experience right from the get-go. I wanted to learn more about the other social entrepreneurs out there, to illustrate the fact that we can look and act in so many different ways, each with our own stories, gifts, and wisdom. My thinking was also that even if my story did not resonate with you, perhaps someone else’s might. Plus, these entrepreneurs and their journeys are just so inspiring. 

So, I wrote a simple survey and sent it out to my colleagues to gather more stories. I received close to one hundred responses and was stunned by the diversity of personal backgrounds, ventures, and depth of passion that they reflected. I was rewarded with some of the most poignant, thought-provoking, and deeply personal stories that I could imagine. There were stories from artists, parents, fitness professionals, sexual health educators, journalists, musicians, scientists, designers, accountants, academics, and more. I should add that they were almost all women, mostly from Canada and the United States, though I did get some wonderful responses from participants in France, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Respondents ranged from college age to retirees. Although I did not ask about gender or sexual orientation (I did ask for pronouns), several mentioned that they were non-binary and/or queer, and I had many responses from people who made it clear that they were Black, Brown, Asian, or Indigenous.

Their ventures and projects ranged from creative fundraising initiatives to innovative lactation support products, from inclusive technology ventures to adaptive vehicles. If anything, it made me think that social entrepreneurship was a natural place for marginalized people. It stood to reason, I thought, that if you were looking to make the world a better place, folks who have been oppressed or excluded by traditional power systems would have fresh ideas for something different, better, and more humane.

One aspect that stood out for me was that the respondents did not start their careers as entrepreneurs. They became entrepreneurs, often reluctantly. This transformation was one of the most exquisite and fascinating parts of writing this book: learning how these everyday people had become motivated, accepted a challenge, acted on it, persevered, asked for help, failed, flourished, despaired, and celebrated. This is why I wanted them to be part of the book; I wanted readers to see that if these people could do what they did, so can any of us.

As someone who was raised on the “bigger is better” notion of scale when it comes to business or project aspirations (Go Big or Go Home! ), where the object is basically to get more of everything, the survey responses made me start to muse on the notion of lateral scale, or what I have come to call “radiance.” This is a multi-dimensional, proliferative concept of growth and impact, which I will share in greater depth later in the book. 

What I mean by this is, instead of looking at an individual business and wondering how to make it as big as possible, what if you looked at a demographic and wondered how to create as many ventures out of their ideas as possible? In other words, creating more enterprises of diverse sizes instead of fewer, bigger ones. How would these two strategies compare in the long run if our metrics of success were not just top-line growth, but also things like reduced greenhouse gas emissions and commuting hours, increased personal happiness, family well-being, job satisfaction and social innovation, among other, more humane metrics? This became my new obsession; what would the result be if these people and their ideas were actualized and supported? What if, alongside all the good things that these ventures would surely create, an entirely new way of thinking about the purpose of commerce and nature of growth also emerged?

In creating the survey, I had hoped to understand not only what had inspired people’s ideas but, vitally, what had motivated them to act on them. In reading people’s answers to the questions and in follow-up interviews, several recurring themes emerged, which I have come to think of as the key “soul traits” of social entrepreneurs and which I’d like to briefly highlight here. Many of these stories will appear at greater length later in the book—this is just a taste.

Perhaps you will recognize aspects of yourself in this list.

COLORING OUTSIDE THE LINES

Social entrepreneurs are so creative! Because their premise in starting a project usually comes from a non-traditional place and they themselves often fall outside the traditional profile of a businessperson or entrepreneur, it’s not surprising that they generate such unique, innovative ideas and organizational models. Some respondents with traditional business education and experience said that they had needed to unlearn their previous ways of thinking, while others who did not have this experience said that they felt unencumbered by limiting beliefs and expectations, which allowed them to try new things and be less afraid of failure. 

Social entrepreneurs are by definition “redefiners,” in that they inherently question the accepted purpose of business-as-usual capitalism by putting the “social” part first. These folks go even further, though, coming up with their own definitions of goals, scale, profits, success, and more. What am I talking about? Have you ever heard the expression

“Together Everyone Achieves More” (TEAM)? The Five Ps of Marketing? The VUCA worldview? The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? There are endless examples of these buzzy business acronyms. But are they inherently true, or did someone, once upon a time, effectively make them up?

Let’s take as an example VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), a post-Cold War US Army term that was coined to describe the worldview of the day and has regained popularity in common business vernacular in recent years. My question about VUCA is not whether or not it’s true; it’s about whether or not the concept is helpful, motivating, or inspirational. Personally, it just makes me scared, and scared is not a great place for anyone to create from. Fear is often dismissed (“Choose love over fear!”), but it can, of course, be a sensible and highly valuable reaction in critical situations. Yet fear triggers the fight, flight, or freeze mechanism in the brain, which is not helpful for getting creative or making decisions.

In early 2015, Suzanne and I were asked to give a presentation to an audience of women entrepreneur clients of a major Canadian bank in Calgary, titled “Entrepreneurial Ingenuity in the Age of Constant Disruptive Change.” The Alberta economy was hard-hit at the time and the organizers were looking for practical, yet inspiring content. I had read up on VUCA while attending the THNK School of Creative Leadership, and although I got the concept, something about it left me feeling hopeless, depleted, and frazzled. How were we going to do what was being asked of us while staying true to ourselves? I decided that we needed to reframe VUCA in a more positive and constructive light. Here is what we came up with: CODE.

  • C = Colorful
  • O = Opportunity-rich
  • D = Diverse
  • E = Evolving

We often forget, in our never-ending quest to keep up with the latest lingo and concepts, that we have the ability to see what’s true for ourselves and express it in our own ways. Our audience loved CODE. Yes, we were saying, these are scary times. But what actually serves us when we think about that in terms of our personal worlds and businesses? CODE feels exciting while still acknowledging that the world is an unsettled place. 

Similarly, in response to the classic business concept coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras with the acronym BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal), I prefer to use “beautiful, healthy, achievable, generative” as my personal success metric.

I also came up with a cheeky reframing of the classic tech industry imperative “move fast and break things,” to “move purposefully and nurture things.”

True Grit

Social entrepreneurs with true grit have the patience, tenacity, and determination to persist, often in the face of immense challenges. Persistence, though unglamorous and underrated, is a common-sense ally for anyone trying to accomplish something that matters to them. I love the word grit; it has a raw, honest quality that related terms like persistence, commitment, and perseverance lack. Grit implies edge, messiness, and overcoming adversity—being “bloodied but unbowed,” to reference WE Henley’s 1888 poem “Invictus.” 

Note: Video below is approx. two minutes. 

In hindsight, when I think of every business book that I have read, precious few have offered even a shred of self-reflection about the idea that we do not all start from the same place in terms of access to resources and opportunities.

Madeleine Shaw, The Greater Good Tweet

Grit acknowledges that there is a cost to our struggles, and that entrepreneurial success is not as simple as getting a challenge figured out and then reaping the rewards. Grit also reminds me of dirt, which is deeply resonant to me as a devoted gardener. You can’t grow plants in a garden without getting dirty, and you need to be unafraid of stretching yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to bring about something glorious. Patrice Mousseau is an Anishinaabe woman and journalist from the Fort William First Nation in Ontario. When we initially met, she was in the earliest stages of growing her line of homegrown organic skincare products from a side hustle to a fully commercial business, and in the years since I have been humbled to witness the challenges she has overcome as a businessperson, racialized woman, and single mother. She shared with me how often people suggest that her success is due to the fact that she is Indigenous and, as such, supposedly enjoys considerations not available to her white counterparts. This form of judgment serves to undermine the very real, sustained efforts she had to make to build her business in the face of multiple layers of oppression. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to repeatedly confront systemic bias as you build your venture, only to be told that you effectively don’t deserve the success that you achieve in spite of it.

In hindsight, when I think of every business book that I have read, precious few have offered even a shred of self-reflection about the idea that we do not all start from the same place in terms of access to resources and opportunities. I can’t recall an example of one that explores the notion that for some of us, just getting out of bed in the morning (or even having a bed, for that matter) is not necessarily a given. Building our projects will not be an easy, flower-lined road of yeses and large cheques. The grit required by people who are used to being underestimated in regular life will likely be doubly so as they undertake to bring their visions to life. Such people are the ones we collectively have the most to learn from.

Making Lemonade

“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I am borrowing this classic adage that points to using personal trauma or adversity as creative fuel. This was one of the most common themes expressed by the entrepreneurs I interviewed, and also the most moving. Some of these people literally brought me to tears with their stories of courage and resilience in the face of unimaginable hardship.

Mary Letson is a perfect example. Following her recovery after a harrowing journey with breast cancer, she wanted to give back to others by raising funds for supplemental treatment and supports not covered by health insurance (including massage, physiotherapy, wig fitting, acupuncture, supplements, and meal delivery), which she credits with making a huge difference to her recovery. In addition to wanting to give others in her community undergoing cancer treatment the “extras” she’d had the privilege of being able to access, she also wanted to transform her relationship to the disease that had taken so much from her and redefine the notion of being a survivor to something, in her eyes, more empowered. 

A lifelong sports enthusiast, she hit on the idea of creating an annual fundraising swim event on the island where she lives in British Columbia, not only as a way to raise the funds but to assert herself in this new, post-survivor role. To date, she and her SwimBowen Society team have raised over $50,000 and reshaped a grueling journey for herself while benefiting dozens of others confronting their versions of it.

Gifts from the Margins

Part of this ability means using the unique perspectives brought about by being outside the dominant culture to inspire new ideas and insights. Lemonade makers’ ideas are unique and valuable because they are outsiders, not in spite of it.

The phrase “gifts from the margins” relates to a story that Suzanne and I often tell as part of the Lunapads/Aisle story. As much as the brand has been praised for its prescient embrace of transgender and non-binary individuals as part of its intersectional feminist values, the understanding and commitment did not come immediately for us on a personal level. 

Initially, despite the persistent championing of the issue by a key team member (who later came out to us as non-binary), we hesitated about making significant changes to our language and product designs to be more explicitly inclusive of this “fringe” group. This was on the grounds that we had limited resources and needed to allocate them to our larger group of cisgender (people who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth) customers. The team member patiently persisted. Coming to see the sense in their perspective as we became more educated, we gradually let go of our old fears and committed to removing gendered language from the website and developing a gender-inclusive product in the form of a boxer brief-style period undergarment. 

Until that point, all of our styles had been traditionally feminine, with color choices leaning that way as well. It took us almost two years to develop the boxer brief, yet when we finally launched the product in early 2016, it was far and away our most successful product launch in the company’s history. In case you’re thinking, as I did, “Wow, there are a lot more gender non-conforming folks out there than I thought,” give your head a shake.

What the launch numbers showed us wasn’t just that trans customers were buying the boxer brief; it was that everyone was. So much for thinking that the dominant majority is who you want to cater to—it turned out that the needs of marginalized people were actually pointing the way to the future

Lots of marginalized and underrepresented people showed up to share their stories in the survey: people who felt like they didn’t fit in as traditional customers, consumers, or citizens; immigrants, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and Indigenous people; those with uncommon skill sets, ways of thinking and interests, who see that just because something is missing in the market, it doesn’t mean that the world doesn’t need it. It’s more like an indicator of who has been in charge up to that point, who has decided what normal is, and whose voices and values are included . . . or not.

Stronger Together

This trait involves not assuming or embracing an ego-driven, individualistic entrepreneurial persona. Instead, it means asking for help, working collaboratively, and building community. My respondents had great ideas to make their own lives better but also wanted to make life better for others, and often created new structures to embrace or celebrate these people. They defy the traditional “lone wolf ” entrepreneurial stereotype. 

Given that the point of their enterprises is some form of shared social impact or equity, it makes sense that they would instinctively include others while building generosity and diversity into their leadership styles and the DNA of their ventures.

The largest-scale version of this that I can speak to personally is SheEO founder Vicki Saunders. Most entrepreneurs—even social entrepreneurs—build their ventures in order to serve a specific need or market gap, not to change something systemic. SheEO is a response to the fact that women are so drastically underserved and underrepresented in the business and entrepreneurial worlds. It exists to offer a new solution, one based on our needs and values. 

SheEO companies 2016 including Lunapads, Abeego, Skipper Otto, Magnus Mode, Twenty One Toys.

As I’ve watched her leadership over the years, Vicki  (at the far left in the image above) has ceaselessly sought to elevate and make space for racialized and transgender women and those marginalized in other ways, both within her team and in the broader community. Beyond this, she embraces a distributed, non-hierarchical leadership model, all while exhibiting remarkable humility.

Impact is the New Black

This one may seem obvious given that the book is about social entrepreneurship, but it’s worth noting that impact is not just a nice-to-have for these folks; it’s their entire rationale and, as such, is an immense source of inspiration, energy, creativity, and drive.

My longtime colleague Amy Robinson typifies this soul trait. A lifelong environmentalist, she saw an opportunity to elevate the cause of supporting grassroots economic sustainability through education, awareness, and advocacy. She created LOCO BC, a vast network of sustainable small businesses located in the Greater Vancouver area that hosts events and encourages consumers to shop locally whenever possible. LOCO’s research has been used to advocate for small businesses by groups across BC and in the rest of Canada and has resulted in more support from local city councils, as well as increased awareness from consumers.

Impact Is Also the New Currency

Given the current vogue for scalable businesses, it was surprising that financial scale as a motivation took a firm back seat to impact for my interviewees. What motivates them is the particular change they can make and taking it as far as they can, rather than just being big for bigness’ sake. Further to that, scale of any variety beyond basic success (as defined by being effective and sustainable, as opposed to scalable) did not seem to be a hugely motivating factor. The biggest incentive for many was simply wanting to give it a try, with impact as the driver for taking the plunge.

Willingness to Transform

This trait means being willing to change key self-perceptions in order to realize your vision. It goes beyond just getting outside your comfort zone; for many respondents, taking on their projects entailed significant personal transformation.

At Groundswell, Vancouver’s alternative business school, they often talk about “nurturing entrepreneurs from the inside out,” meaning that in order to start a venture, you first need to build a new sense of self. Many of the respondents to my survey needed to do some major mental and emotional shapeshifting to get their heads around starting a venture and did so with great success.

Margaret Magdesian, a Brazilian-born, Quebec-based biotech entrepreneur with a PhD in biochemistry, started Ananda Devices to maximize the impact of the research she was doing around increasing the speed and safety of animal-free drug testing through nanotechnology. Initially daunted by the idea of starting and running a company instead of being a successful laboratory scientist, she nevertheless persisted, fueled by the realization that if she did not take this step, the opportunity that the technology represented might never be fully realized.

Among the survey respondents, I heard stories from singers, videographers, marine biologists, fitness trainers, scientists, journalists and more, all of whom courageously made the leap from their chosen career path and identity into the world of social entrepreneurship. It was not always easy or comfortable, yet they let their desire to change the world override their fears and self-limiting beliefs to move their ideas forward.

Honouring Your Calling

This phrase kept popping into my head so persistently that even though few of the respondents actually used this language, I knew that I had to include it. Other words for “calling” include vision, intuition, emergence, or whatever way you choose to express non-linear forms of knowing that someone was somehow meant to do a certain thing. I have heard it characterized as a small inner voice, “just knowing,” or as a series of signs, coincidences, or events that consistently and irresistibly pointed to a particular idea.

Sabrina Rubli, founder of Femme International, a non-governmental organization that uses menstrual and reproductive health education to empower women and girls in East Africa, shared the following with me as an example:

“I have always been passionate about women’s rights and women’s health. For me, using my skills and ability to empower women was not a question—I feel like it is my responsibility. Once I had the idea for Femme in my head, it was all I could think about, and I dove in headfirst.”

Dancing With the Demons

Demons that can arise as you begin a new venture include imposter syndrome, fear of failure, and profound self-doubt. I call it dancing rather than slaying, because many respondents found ways to be with their demons instead of trying to vanquish them. This key insight is more about making peace with yourself than trying to crush a part of you that may not actually need to be crushed for you to move forward.

Personally speaking, this is one of my biggest challenges. No matter how much experience and “success” I have under my belt, believing in myself is still hard to do consistently. Self-doubt is one of the more persistent and pervasive issues that came up for the entrepreneurs that I surveyed, especially for marginalized people. What is clear to me about these people is that although their demons came at them full force, they grappled/danced with them and carried on. They did not let the demons win, which would have meant these brave souls never trying to realize their dreams in the first place.

Their other piece of courage was having the humility and vulnerability to admit that they struggled at all. I can think of very few examples of a white, male business leader speaking openly about self-doubt or fear of failure. I wonder whether they actually do experience this and just don’t talk about it, or whether they are, in fact, so sure of themselves that it never occurs to them to question their abilities.

For Elizabeth Sheehan—the creator of ClimateSmart, a climate impact assessment tool for businesses—fear showed up as self-doubt, my personal Fear CEO. Internal voices would persistently question her ability to lead. “I had this crazy pattern where if things were

challenging, the voice said that I was responsible and wasn’t smart enough or doing whatever task at hand right,” she shared with me.

“I had to train myself (a work in progress) to curate a more welcoming and spacious attitude toward the inevitable ups and downs of a social venture.” Whatever fear may look like for you, know that you’re far from alone and that it’s a natural internal response to th fact that you’re considering taking on something you have likely never done before. We’ll get much deeper into this topic later in the book and explore creative and compassionate tools for dealing with it constructively.

Before moving on, take a moment to consider how these soul traits land for you. Do you identify with any of them? Did they inspire more traits to add to this list? Perhaps you can already sense which of your innate qualities may be emerging as you consider taking next steps to express your vision for a better world.


The Greater Good: Social Entrepreneurship for Everyday People Who Want to Change the World can be purchased here.  


Additional Resources:  Check out this video recording of the Oct. 14 2021 event on the current state of social enterprise in Canada. The event was organized and  sponsored by Ryerson University’s  Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH). It includes a powerful keynote talk by Dr. Tina Dacin, a presentation by Tori Williamson on Buy Social Canada followed by a stellar panel including Natasha Freidus, Needslist, Hermine Mbondo, B4Brand, Ann Jameison, Social Enterprise Council of Canada and of course, Madeleine Shaw, Aisle. The panel was moderated by pk mutch, founder of LiisBeth Media. 

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Feminist Practices

The One Party You Shouldn’t Miss

A mature white woman with brown hair and glasses sits in a backyard, smiling and cupping her head in her hand.
Mazarine Treyz, creator and founder of Party at the End of Patriarchy, a conference for feminist changemakers.

Much buzz currently surrounds the online The Party at the End of the Patriarchy conference currently underway from Oct 25th, 27th and 29th 2021.

Organized by Mazarine Treyz and sponsored by LiisBeth, this 3-day event invites feminists to move, create and dream about what a world free from the patriarchy would look and feel like.

LiisBeth chatted with Mazarine to find out more about the event that promises to challenge feminists, question current structures and expand our radical imagination.

LiisBeth:  Why did you create this event?

MT: I believe we have an obligation to come together. No matter how bad things get, it always makes it better when we come together and cultivate our radical imaginations towards a better world.

LiisBeth: What can people expect from the event

MT: It’s a time for networking, and the sessions will help cultivate our radical imaginations. Why do we need more imagination? Because the first person who made an airplane had never seen an airplane [before], and the first person who had a car hadn’t seen it [before] either. What we’re trying to do is build our own airplane. We don’t want to be extractive.

LiisBeth: What makes a conference extractive?

MT: It’s treating people like ATMs and robots, jamming in as many sessions as you can. [It’s] when presenters are rushed and people are not getting fairly compensated.

There’s no acknowledgement of the fact that we’re living through multiple extinction events that are extremely stressful and depressing. So we have a grief expert, Kierra Sunae Taplin, for a session on Pandemic Grief. I wanted to create something that’s feminist-focused; more acknowledging of our own humanity, [to] give people time to breathe. Capitalism is built on tamping down on emotions and trying to get pleasure from extracting whatever you can from the environment around you.

Liisbeth: How did you choose your speakers?

MT: I chose them based on the fact that we have to do things differently now and because of the unique perspectives and skills they bring to the conversation. A couple of speakers will talk about online fundraising—how to ask for a major gifts over Zoom for instance.

LiisBeth: What makes this conference feminist?

MT: All speakers are women. It’s also feminist because of [how] we leveraged feminist principles when we designed the event experience, and the kinds of topics we explore. For example, Veronica Garcia will focus on the idea of wealth reclamation. From the Global South to [Global] North there’s been a great transfer of wealth [to the north] over the last 200 years of capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy. She’s asking us to think about how we can work in ways that help [facilitate the] transfer of wealth towards the Global South. We also talk about [ideas like] the discipline of hope.

LiisBeth: What is the discipline of hope?

MT: Edison failed the first 100 times before he made the light bulb. But he had discipline of hope. It’s about cultivating a radical imagination towards a vision. That’s why it is important to come together as a community.

LiisBeth: What can feminist entrepreneurs expect to take away from this conference?

We will talk about how to run a flourishing, feminist principles-informed enterprise. This includes how to lift other women of color towards their goals; how to expand the opportunities available to them. The conference is a platform for generating new ways of thinking and acting. People will get ideas of how they could do little things every day or every week to help other women and still make money.

LiisBeth: What does a post-capitalist world look like to you?

MT: It would be a world where women could afford to leave abusive home situations. It would be a world where we took care of the most vulnerable elders, disabled people, and children first, and always centered them in every decision we make on a systems level. One policy decision we could make around this is [introducing] universal basic income. This is one idea towards the development of a post-capitalist economy. How would we afford it? TAX THE RICH! Someday, we’re going to move beyond money. I think a lot more of us would be feminist entrepreneurs and post-capitalist entrepreneurs if we didn’t have to worry about this system eating us alive.  

LiisBeth: What is radical imagination and why is it important to cultivate one?

MT: Think about it: we have only had this version of capitalism for the last 100 years. Before that we had feudalism and the divine right of kings in Europe. We thought [those] would last forever too! People saw this system break down because of the Black Plague.

This last year it was easy to sink into despair and grief. We can’t ignore the [ongoing genocide of] Indigenous women disappearing all over Canada, the Black Lives Matter movement, [or the] climate crisis. In our city, Portland, OR, we [saw] open fascism—people getting snatched off the street by police and federal officers. We know these current systems can be torn down and rebuilt.

We can imagine a world where we all get more than enough to live on. Where we have free healthcare, free education and free housing. Where we have systems that have more humane and ecologically-focused metrics that center the earth, women, children, the elderly, and disabled folks. We can move from a profit-based extractive economy to a restorative economy. This is what we want the new world to look like. We have to exist in capitalism until we change the world.

LiisBeth: How do you cultivate your own radical imagination?

MT: You have to surround yourself with proof [of what is] happening. So I have books that I carry with me. Like Kai Cheng Thom’s ‘I Hope We Choose Love’, Nora Samaran’s ‘Turn This World Inside Out,’ ‘Belly of the Beast’ by Da’Shaun Harrison and ‘Capitalist Realism’ by Mark Fisher. I want people to come to this conference and see that this world is coming. [I want them to] be a part of shaping it.”

LiisBeth: What topics do you expect will dominate our collective discourse in the near future?

MT: We’re going to look at the quality of our movements and ask how we can be more supportive and less divisive. We need to work together to make this new world. We must look at what our systems are based on and how we [can] concretely fight white supremacists inside our organizations. Do we tear it all down?  Maybe we have more coalition building, and I hope we do that.

Join the party! Check out the amazing speaker lineup and conference program and then register for the conference today. There is still time!


Note: This interview was edited for clarity and length. 

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