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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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Activism & Action Our Voices

“Buying Black is Political”

Picture of the CEO and Founder of BLACK FOODIE, two black women in food
BLACK FOODIE CEO, Elle Asiedu (left) and BLACK FOODIE founder, Eden Hagos (right)

When the Black Lives Matter movement inspired protests around the world in response to the murder of George Floyd, the online platform BLACK FOODIE gained a ton of new followers. The founder of the popular website and social media force, Eden Hagos, attributed it to non-Black people looking for ways to engage with and uplift the Black community. “There was a shift that started happening in the marketing world,” she says, “they could no longer ignore us, and they were being held accountable for the way that racism seeps into their campaigns and their ways of recruiting influencers. The community that I had built and the voices we had in this space started to be sought out by people.”

Hagos started BLACK FOODIE after experiencing racism at a restaurant during her birthday dinner in 2015. The incident led her to reevaluate her own assumptions about Black food and eating African food in public. “I was upset that I wasn’t treated with respect, and that there were a lot of assumptions made about my group because we were Black,” she says. “But, I was also reflecting on my own thought process. I wasn’t really proud of my food and cuisine.”

She launched BLACK FOODIE on the first anniversary of that racist incident, with the goal to celebrate Black food culture and show the many ways in which the diaspora is connected through food. The site features their own original recipes, food content and promotes Black businesses and restaurants. Its aim is both to educate and entertain.

Since its launch, BLACK FOODIE’s Instagram account has amassed more than a hundred thousand followers around the world. Hagos says it’s become “a platform for other creators and other Black chefs and restaurant owners to share their stories and their recipes with the world.”

During quarantine, Hagos and her BLACK FOODIE team (herself as creative director and owner; CEO Elle Asiedu; and a roster of freelance creatives) cooked up their dream project: the BLACK FOODIE Battle, a fun take on classic cooking competitions on TV. The video series (for now, it lives on BLACK FOODIE’s YouTube channel, website and Instagram) invites home cooks, pro chefs and foodies to compete using ingredients that “would never be featured on Food Network, like okra and collard greens.” Every episode centres around an ingredient— recently coconut and sweet potato – and participants use the featured ingredient in any recipe they’d like and BLACK FOODIE followers vote on their favourite. Winners’ recipes are posted on BLACK FOODIE’s website.

This past September, Hagos and her team hosted their first-ever BLACK FOODIE Week in Toronto. Each day of the event, a different local Black chef, restaurant or entrepreneur was featured on BLACK FOODIE’s Instagram feed. The team also hosted cook-alongs, drink and learns, and panel discussions with Toronto food insiders.

Such events forge connections between community and Black-owned businesses, an important goal for Hagos. Restaurants are more than just places to eat, she says, they’re like community centres, places for people in the diaspora to connect to their homeland and culture. “You can feel at home and you can get a taste of home. My parents had an Ethiopian restaurant, and that was a place where a lot of the Eritreans and Ethiopians in Detroit and Windsor could come and get a taste of home.”

Of course, home comes in many flavours given the vast diaspora, and Black Foodie strives to contextualize discussion of food to highlight the different cultures that exist and educate people outside of those communities. “It’s necessary because we’re not a monolith,says Hagos, “There’s so many different cuisines that exist within black culture and so many different experiences and religions, and just all of these things that affect the way that we eat.”  A listicle is not enough to represent it all, she says, “And that’s where we were coming in.”

For years, Hagos supplemented her income with side hustles while working on BLACK FOODIE as a passion project. Then came 2020 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Suddenly, marketers and brands wanted to collaborate with BLACK FOODIE, in partnerships and ad campaigns. The BLACK FOODIE Battle show, for example, recently got a branded boost from Guinness.

BLACK FOODIE CEO, Elle Asiedu (left) and Black Foodie founder, Eden Hagos (right)
A picture of carribbean food plate called Ful

Ethiopian-Style Ful

A Eden Hagos Family Recipe.

A popular dish across the Middle East and Africa (especially Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan), ful is a popular protein-packed stew with lots of potential. The base of the dish is created with red onions, tomatoes, and garlic which are cooked down before fava beans are added in with various spices. Together, these ingredients deliver a rich and spicy umami flavour that leaves you feeling satisfied and energized.

” Every family recipe is different, but here’s the one that we love in my house for breakfast. I hope it becomes part of your morning routine too!”–Eden Hagos

1

Ingredients:

For the ful
  •  1 Can of fava beans, drained
  •  1 tsp Garlic, minced
  •  1 tsp Cumin
  •  1 Large tomato, diced OR 3tsp of crushed tomatoes from a can
  •  ½ Jalapeno pepper, minced
  •  1 Small onion, minced
  •  ½ cup Water
Toppings for the ful
  •  ½ Red onion, diced
  •  2 tsp Berbere spice
  •  1 Small tomato, diced
  •  ½ Green bell pepper, diced
  •  2 Boiled eggs
  •  2 tsp Olive oil
  •  2 tsp Yogurt or sour cream

2

Directions

1. Empty and drain the can of Fava beans into a bowl.

Crush the beans roughly with the back of a wooden spoon and set aside. Alternatively, you can add the whole beans to the stew and crush them together with the garlic-tomato mixture — it’s up to you.

2. Saute the diced onions until they’ve softened. Then, add the cumin, garlic, and crushed tomatoes.

Stir the mixture together until well combined.

3. Add the fava beans (make sure they’re drained!) and stir them into the mixture, adding water if it becomes too thick.

If you like a spicier stew, add in the minced jalapeno peppers at this stage.

4. Simmer the bean stew on medium heat until it has reached the consistency you prefer. I typically cook it down for about 10 minutes.

Taste the stew to ensure that salty enough for you.

5. Scoop the ful from your saucepan/pot and spread it evenly in each bowl.

6. Top it with diced red onion, tomato, bell pepper, the boiled egg sliced in half, Berbere spice, olive oil, and a dollop of yoghurt or sour cream.

3

Serve the ful with your favourite flatbread for a complete meal.

Make sure you eat it with your hands for an authentic East African experience. Enjoy!

Since its launch, BLACK FOODIE’s Instagram account has amassed more than a hundred thousand followers around the world. Hagos says it’s become “a platform for other creators and other Black chefs and restaurant owners to share their stories and their recipes with the world.”

During quarantine, Hagos and her BLACK FOODIE team (herself as creative director and owner; CEO Elle Asiedu; and a roster of freelance creatives) cooked up their dream project: the BLACK FOODIE Battle, a fun take on classic cooking competitions on TV. The video series (for now, it lives on BLACK FOODIE’s YouTube channel, website and Instagram) invites home cooks, pro chefs and foodies to compete using ingredients that “would never be featured on Food Network, like okra and collard greens.” Every episode centres around an ingredient— recently coconut and sweet potato – and participants use the featured ingredient in any recipe they’d like and BLACK FOODIE followers vote on their favourite. Winners’ recipes are posted on BLACK FOODIE’s website.

This past September, Hagos and her team hosted their first-ever BLACK FOODIE Week in Toronto. Each day of the event, a different local Black chef, restaurant or entrepreneur was featured on BLACK FOODIE’s Instagram feed. The team also hosted cook-alongs, drink and learns, and panel discussions with Toronto food insiders.

Such events forge connections between community and Black-owned businesses, an important goal for Hagos. Restaurants are more than just places to eat, she says, they’re like community centres, places for people in the diaspora to connect to their homeland and culture. “You can feel at home and you can get a taste of home. My parents had an Ethiopian restaurant, and that was a place where a lot of the Eritreans and Ethiopians in Detroit and Windsor could come and get a taste of home.”

Of course, home comes in many flavours given the vast diaspora, and Black Foodie strives to contextualize discussion of food to highlight the different cultures that exist and educate people outside of those communities. “It’s necessary because we’re not a monolith,says Hagos, “There’s so many different cuisines that exist within black culture and so many different experiences and religions, and just all of these things that affect the way that we eat.”  A listicle is not enough to represent it all, she says, “And that’s where we were coming in.”

For years, Hagos supplemented her income with side hustles while working on BLACK FOODIE as a passion project. Then came 2020 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Suddenly, marketers and brands wanted to collaborate with BLACK FOODIE, in partnerships and ad campaigns. The BLACK FOODIE Battle show, for example, recently got a branded boost from Guinness.

BLACK FOODIE CEO, Elle Asiedu (left) and Black Foodie founder, Eden Hagos (right)

Hagos says some who reached out to BLACK FOODIE were only doing so for optics: “I think some people were trying to look woke and things like that.” But others took BLACK FOODIE seriously and wanted to pivot from how they worked in the past. “For so long, ‘Black’ was treated like a dirty word,” Hagos says. “Literally last year was the first time that I saw that start to change.” Brands now wanted to collaborate because they were Black, not in spite of it.

And that’s fine with Hagos, who has always viewed her work with BLACK FOODIE as deeply political and in conversation with Black activists. Being a Black woman in business is political. “Buying Black is political,” she says. “Building sustainable Black businesses and generational wealth and being able to be self-sufficient, that’s really important to me and so many others in the Black communities.”

While people have pushed back on Hagos’ insistence on Blackness in her work, she says emphasizing the Black in BLACK FOODIE is one of the most important parts of her work. “I probably get messages daily like, ‘why does it have to be Black, why is everything about race?’” she says. “It’s completely racist, it’s literally the fear of Black people doing well and having something of their own. And that’s why it’s important that I keep Black Foodie like this. We don’t actually have to fit in. We can support our own businesses, thrive, and be proud of our Blackness.”

When LiisBeth profiled Hagos at BLACK FOODIES’ launch five years ago, she envisioned events bringing together the community as well as a web series or television show. And now? “There’s going to be even more storytelling about food in video format, more programming like the BLACK FOODIE Battle,” she says. “Whether you’re a Black foodie or not, there’ll be something for you.”


Publishers Note: Fifth Wave Labs is Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for women in digital media. It 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 social justice 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. Interested? Apply here.

A picture of carribbean food plate called Ful

Ethiopian-Style Ful

A Eden Hagos Family Recipe.

A popular dish across the Middle East and Africa (especially Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan), ful is a popular protein-packed stew with lots of potential. The base of the dish is created with red onions, tomatoes, and garlic which are cooked down before fava beans are added in with various spices. Together, these ingredients deliver a rich and spicy umami flavour that leaves you feeling satisfied and energized.

” Every family recipe is different, but here’s the one that we love in my house for breakfast. I hope it becomes part of your morning routine too!”–Eden Hagos

1

Ingredients:

For the Ful
  •  1 Can of fava beans, drained
  •  1 tsp Garlic, minced
  •  1 tsp Cumin
  •  1 Large tomato, diced OR 3tsp of crushed tomatoes from a can
  •  ½ Jalapeno pepper, minced
  •  1 Small onion, minced
  •  ½ cup Water
Toppings for the Ful
  •  ½ Red onion, diced
  •  2 tsp Berbere spice
  •  1 Small tomato, diced
  •  ½ Green bell pepper, diced
  •  2 Boiled eggs
  •  2 tsp Olive oil
  •  2 tsp Yogurt or sour cream
 

2

Directions

1. Empty and drain the can of Fava beans into a bowl.

Crush the beans roughly with the back of a wooden spoon and set aside. Alternatively, you can add the whole beans to the stew and crush them together with the garlic-tomato mixture — it’s up to you.

2. Saute the diced onions until they’ve softened. Then, add the cumin, garlic, and crushed tomatoes.

Stir the mixture together until well combined.

3. Add the fava beans (make sure they’re drained!) and stir them into the mixture, adding water if it becomes too thick.

If you like a spicier stew, add in the minced jalapeno peppers at this stage.

4. Simmer the bean stew on medium heat until it has reached the consistency you prefer. I typically cook it down for about 10 minutes.

Taste the stew to ensure that salty enough for you.

5. Scoop the ful from your saucepan/pot and spread it evenly in each bowl.

6. Top it with diced red onion, tomato, bell pepper, the boiled egg sliced in half, Berbere spice, olive oil, and a dollop of yoghurt or sour cream.

3

Serve the ful with your favourite flatbread for a complete meal.

Make sure you eat it with your hands for an authentic East African experience. Enjoy!

Related Reading

Black Foodie Turns The Table

Shoddy treatment at a restaurant inspired Eden Hagos not to stay home but to go big with her business ideas. She sees huge potential in the Black Foodie brand and envisions it evolving into a web series or television show in the future.

Read More »

Black Foodie Turns The Table

Shoddy treatment at a restaurant inspired Eden Hagos not to stay home but to go big with her business ideas. She sees huge potential in the Black Foodie brand and envisions it evolving into a web series or television show in the future.

Read More »
Categories
Our Voices

A Founder’s Story: The Making of LiisBeth

An illustration of birthday cake, liisbeth.com logo and Liisbeth women
Liisbeth.com celebrates it's fifth Year anniversary

I still remember the day we began, five years ago.

LiisBeth Media was conceived, like a lot of womxn-led enterprises, in a small meeting room with flip charts, markers, oodles of red wine and, in my case, two dear friends and enterprise midwives, Valerie Hussey and Abigail Slater. Each of us had started, operated and exited $2 million to $30 million+ enterprises, but I was the only one eager to plunge in and do it all over again.

Nursing a deep, still-fresh founder-exit wound that ignited an unabiding, to be honest, rage, I needed to do something about its root cause – patriarchy.

That was 2014. And Canada’s testosterone-drenched economic policy and entrepreneurship ecosystem did not give a hoot about womxn entrepreneurs — especially those working to create stable, livable, care-centered enterprises.

In my experience, those boys’ club policies often promoted entrepreneurship to women as an escape from careers full of barriers, which, in effect, lured thousands of women out of salaried jobs with benefits and deeper into precarity, poverty and trauma without  support. 

Yes, I was lit. And fortunately not alone in my concerns. 

I asked myself and others: What can we do to change things? Why was feminism absent in discussions about women’s entrepreneurship? How could we better support those working to dismantle and re-build the system anew-so it could work for everyone?  What could mobilizing look like? What stories do we need to tell to change the narrative?

I attended numerous women’s entrepreneurship events that year to float a few radical ideas, but it seemed that attendees were there, mainly, to toke on empowerment energy. Few wanted to talk about how systems of oppression held us back. Collective action to change those systems was never on the agenda. When brave folks did stand up to at the mic to share stories of trauma, racism, sexism, or other injustices experienced as entrepreneurs, speakers — usually financially successful, privileged white women — would smile and tsk “If I can do it, so can you!”

I left these events provoked.

If so many of us were struggling, surely it wasn’t because women were “not as good as men” but because the systems were designed by men and for men to succeed — not us. I believed a way to make these systems visible was to find what was growing, unnoticed, between the cracks and hold those things up for all to see: nonconforming enterprises founded by solutionaries producing wildly imaginative, generative ideas.   

Ureka.

In May 2015, LiisBeth Media signed with Merian Media led by Meredith Brooks, to build the LiisBeth site.

A picture of merian media's first website proposal for LiisBeth.com in 2014
Merian Media Branding Proposal for LiisBeth.com, 2014.

We published our first article on the site in Sept 2015. As the founder, I wrote it. Because we didn’t have the money to pay someone else to do it- yet.

We launched officially in February with writer and editor Margaret Webb serving (we joke) as the curmudgeonly “Lou Grant” to my overly optimistic “Mary Tyler Moore”. Webb also wrote the first feature, Diversity Rules, about Rajkumari Neogy, a Silicon Valley diversity consultant.

A picture of Lou Grant and Mary Tyler Moore talking about a story
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 16: THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW episode: 'The Good-Time News'. Initial broadcast: September 16, 1972. (From left): Ed Asner (as Lou Grant) and Mary Tyler Moore (as Mary Richards). (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
colourful illustration of six feminist women gathering to talk and work

What have we learned?

You can read about some of what we learned in How to Be in Right Relationship With Your EnterpriseSlow Growth, and Gaslighting. But here’s another thing or two we picked up along the way. 

1

Businesses are essentially communities. You can’t do anything without community. And communities are relationships—not just easy ones but hard and painful ones. Without these relationships, there is no business, no resilience and certainly no fun. 

2

Most of the value an enterprise creates can’t be accounted for on a balance sheet. We have yet to figure out how to value connections, care of people, strengthened ecosystems. Society continually undervalues –even forgets the feminist economy and activist work.

3

A micro-business (defined by Stats Canada as one that employees 1-4 people) is not only a real business, it’s a challenging, complex Starship Enterprise. The average micro-entrepreneur leverages a tech stack of 20 to 30 apps, programs, and platforms, without an IT department. If you are in business right now, you are a freakin’ genius. So many womxn entrepreneurs are told scale is king—when really complexity deserves the crown. 

4

Making money is fair game—but capitalism serves straight, white patriarchy and actively undermines the rest of us. Still many founders and business womxn of all backgrounds vote for Trump-like policies — minimum wage cuts,tax breaks, environmental deregulation, policies that enable exploitation of others – because they believe it’s good for business. It’s not. It’s good for the 10 percent. For the other 90 per cent to thrive, we must work every day to re-invent entrepreneurship and government to serve a coming post-capitalist, post-patriarchal world in which we can all flourish. 

5

Society and governments need healthy enterprises. Enterprises need healthy societies and healthy governments. Capitalism would have you believe government is the enemy. A lot of business leaders talk anti-government shit. Their neoliberal, winner-deserves-all rant is self-serving. We have witnessed supportive and impactful collaborations between government and womxn entrepreneur organizations at all levels. It’s all about a new social contract.

In my experience, those boys’ club policies often promoted entrepreneurship to women as an escape from careers full of barriers, which, in effect, lured thousands of women out of salaried jobs with benefits and deeper into precarity, poverty and trauma without  support. 

Yes, I was lit. And fortunately not alone in my concerns. 

I asked myself and others: What can we do to change things? Why was feminism absent in discussions about women’s entrepreneurship? How could we better support those working to dismantle and re-build the system anew-so it could work for everyone?  What could mobilizing look like? What stories do we need to tell to change the narrative?

I attended numerous women’s entrepreneurship events that year to float a few radical ideas, but it seemed that attendees were there, mainly, to toke on empowerment energy. Few wanted to talk about how systems of oppression held us back. Collective action to change those systems was never on the agenda. When brave folks did stand up to at the mic to share stories of trauma, racism, sexism, or other injustices experienced as entrepreneurs, speakers — usually financially successful, privileged white women — would smile and tsk “If I can do it, so can you!”

I left these events provoked.

If so many of us were struggling, surely it wasn’t because women were “not as good as men” but because the systems were designed by men and for men to succeed — not us. I believed a way to make these systems visible was to find what was growing, unnoticed, between the cracks and hold those things up for all to see: nonconforming enterprises founded by solutionaries producing wildly imaginative, generative ideas.   

Ureka.

In May 2015, LiisBeth Media signed with Merian Media led by Meredith Brooks, to build the LiisBeth site.

A picture of merian media's first website proposal for LiisBeth.com in 2014
Merian Media Branding Proposal for LiisBeth.com, 2014.

We published our first article on the site in Sept 2015. As the founder, I wrote it. Because we didn’t have the money to pay someone else to do it- yet.

We launched officially in February with writer and editor Margaret Webb serving (we joke) as the curmudgeonly “Lou Grant” to my overly optimistic “Mary Tyler Moore”. Webb also wrote the first feature, Diversity Rules, about Rajkumari Neogy, a Silicon Valley diversity consultant.

A picture of Lou Grant and Mary Tyler Moore talking about a story
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 16: THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW episode: 'The Good-Time News'. Initial broadcast: September 16, 1972. (From left): Ed Asner (as Lou Grant) and Mary Tyler Moore (as Mary Richards). (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Valerie Hussey gave our early editorial heft with a series of columns about feminist business values and practices, starting with “How to Embed Feminist Values in Your Company.”

Then, came November 8th, 2016. I was at an election party along with 30 or so others, at the home of SheEO founder Vicky Saunders. We drank champagne around a life-size cardboard figure of Hillary Clinton, excited to see the first woman elected US president. By eleven o’clock, we realized the unthinkable – the US would elect, instead, a serial harasser of woman, a racist, and neofascist.

What I loved about the U.S, having lived and worked in New York for three years, was its relentless thirst for firsts. That night, I went home early and cried.

Yet, almost immediately, the smoldering feminist movement caught fire across North America. The next morning, many of the 300-plus women entrepreneurs attending the first-ever national women’s entrepreneurship conference in Toronto showed up wearing black. We were in mourning, and we compelled the mistress of ceremonies to interrupt the proceedings and acknowledge the catastrophic psychic blow we had just suffered. In January, more than one million marched on Washington to denounce Trump; 60,000 came out to the women’s march in Toronto; similar protests erupted around the world. Feminist blogs, newsletters, and TV shows sprang up.

If there was a positive to Trump’s election, he dragged into the open what we had struggled to see. He embodied what we needed to fight against: systemic sexism, racism, colonialism, exploitive capitalism – and on and on.

LiisBeth was born into this tumultuous year — the timing could not have been better on some levels. Yet, surviving as a reader-supported feminist media venture has been far from easy.

Growing Between the Cracks

For two years, the magazine was the result of kitchen table efforts by mostly myself, Margaret, and a handful of contributors – Priya Ramanujam, Mai Nguyen, and others we recruited. We survived on part-time hours, volunteer time, a DYI ethos, and $3-per-month subscriptions.

The magazine grew-slowly like a spindly pine tree seedling determined to survive on a patriarchal and capitalism scorched earth.

In 2018, we invited writer and video producer Lana Pesch to our team as newsletter editor and contributor – she’s now host of the The Fine Print in our new online community, the Feminist Enterprise Commons.

It’s 2021—Where are we now?

The conversation about women’s entrepreneurship in Canada has made meteoric gains in the last five years. LiisBeth worked towards sustainability hand in hand with these organizations: SheEO (2015), the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy (2019), the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (2019), the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (2019), and countless grassroots women’s entrepreneurship support groups, networks and programs (some serving as consciousness raising groups), plus new women-led venture funds.

We jumped into action, writing about these new players and spaces – helping make them visible, amplifying their more radical voices. And together, we sharpened critical thought; forged allies; deepened intersectional thinking; shone a spotlight on bold changemakers; tackled social injustice; celebrated triumphs; collaborated and shared research; pushed each other to be better through debate and healthy conflict. We flexed muscle to show what women could bring to the table; raised a bit of rage; and found comfort in good old-fashioned grassroots sistering.  

This was feminist-led and feminist informed work.

Today, Canada’s diverse pluralistic one-million-plus women entrepreneurs have far more choices regarding funded, diverse programs and supports to help design, grow and sustain their ventures — on their own terms.

But the work is far from done. As American civil rights lawyer Florynce Kennedy said: “Freedom is like taking a bath. You got to keep doing it every day.”

The pandemic has made that clear, with women getting slammed.  Womxn entrepreneurs, a constituency growing at double digit rates, will have to rally and fight for new initiatives and policies to ensure the progress made over the past five years continues.

Back to LiisBeth

Today, LiisBeth Media has 30,000 unique annual readers (20 per cent ahead of last year), 2,800 newsletter subscribers, and about 10,000 followers on our various social channels. We have published more than 300 features and 70 newsletters since we started. More than 35 per cent of our articles feature Black, Indigenous or women of colour entrepreneurs (BIWOC); 40% of our articles are written by BIWOC journalists and writers. We pay our contributors above average rates in our sector and pay fast – in days, not months.

We have been top three finalists — twice — in the Canadian Digital Publishing Awards competition in the General Excellence category for small publications. We launched the Feminist Enterprise Forum (FEC), a new online community in 2020, and just invested in migrating to a new platform.  We achieved break even (on a five-figure budget) in 2020.

(Video: The way we were ….before COVID-19)

The fact that we are still here after five years puts us in a rare category for both startups and media: survivor. Now we are working towards the next stage: thriving.

We believe we can get there by adjusting our business model and deepening relationships with our allies, creators and diverse enterprise founders. We aim to be the go-to, womxn-led/owned media outlet for radical womxn entrepreneurs engaged in deep systems-change work.

Reflect, Recharge, Repeat

The world that lit the spark of LiisBeth is not the same world that LiisBeth Media now lives in.

As the founder, I am more certain than ever that we need to create fight for more support for safe, brave spaces for diverse womxn entrepreneurs, enterprise leaders, feminists, activists and critical thought leaders to tackle challenges ahead.

We must build a healthier, more just economy. This change won’t come from multi-national corporations designed to produce profits for shareholders, at the expense of everything else.

The change we seek will be driven by a plethora of diverse, connected communities supported by local livable, care-centered thriving small enterprises.

And we will be here to tell this revolutionary story.

Time to get back to work.

colourful illustration of six feminist women gathering to talk and work

What have we learned?

You can read about some of that in How to Be in Right Relationship With Your EnterpriseSlow Growth, and Gaslighting. But here’s another thing or two we picked up along the way. 

1

Businesses are essentially communities. You can’t do anything without community. And communities are relationships—not just easy ones but hard and painful ones. Without these relationships, there is no business, no resilience and certainly no fun. 

2

Most of the value an enterprise creates can’t be accounted for on a balance sheet. We have yet to figure out how to value connections, care of people, strengthened ecosystems. Society continually undervalues –even forgets the feminist economy and activist work.

3

A micro-business (defined by Stats Canada as one that employees 1-4 people) is not only a real business, it’s a challenging, complex Starship Enterprise. The average micro-entrepreneur leverages a tech stack of 20 to 30 apps, programs, and platforms, without an IT department. If you are in business right now, you are a freakin’ genius. So many womxn entrepreneurs are told scale is king—when really complexity deserves the crown. 

4

Making money is fair game—but capitalism serves straight, white patriarchy and actively undermines the rest of us. Still many founders and business womxn of all backgrounds vote for Trump-like policies — minimum wage cuts,tax breaks, environmental deregulation, policies that enable exploitation of others – because they believe it’s good for business. It’s not. It’s good for the 10 percent. For the other 90 per cent to thrive, we must work every day to re-invent entrepreneurship and government to serve a coming post-capitalist, post-patriarchal world in which we can all flourish. 

5

Society and governments need healthy enterprises. Enterprises need healthy societies and healthy governments. Capitalism would have you believe government is the enemy. A lot of business leaders talk anti-government shit. Their neoliberal, winner-deserves-all rant is self-serving. We have witnessed supportive and impactful collaborations between government and womxn entrepreneur organizations at all levels. It’s all about a new social contract.

Related Reading

When a Catalyst Becomes an Inhibitor

Catalyst Canada defends its choice to appoint another male bank CEO to be its board chair, saying leaving women’s advancement up to men who have a lot of people working for them is a good strategy. But is it? More importantly, has it worked?

Read More »
Categories
Activism & Action

By Refugee Women, with Love

The Sitti Soap team at the Women’s Centre in Al Jerash Refugee Camp, Gaza.
(Photo provided by Sitti Soap)

Noora Sharrab and Jacqueline Sophia are co-founders of Sitti Soap, a social enterprise that educates, employs and empowers women from the Jerash “Gaza” refugee camp in Jordan, by bringing lifestyle products such as hand-pressed olive oil soaps created by refugee artisans to North America. LiisBeth recently spoke to the cofounders about their venture.

LiisBeth: How did you both come to work with the refugee community in the Jerash camp?

Jacqueline Sophia: I’d come to Jordan in 2011 as a Fulbright fellow. Initially, I was there to take on a very academic approach to my time, looking at the third-party response to gender-based violence in the capital. That quickly changed. I had experienced a lot of pushback and cultural barriers to those conversations. It was and still is a very taboo topic. But in the meantime, a friend of mine put me in touch with someone who was working with the refugee community in Jerash camp. They had known I had a background working with the refugee community resettled in Baltimore City during my time at university. They said, why don’t you go to this community? They’re looking for a volunteer yoga instructor. And so, I contacted them and I said I’d be happy to volunteer.

Noora Sharrab: My parents were born in Gaza. I was born in Dubai, and I grew up here in Canada. When I decided to do my master’s program, I actually went and did my primary research in Jordan. And that’s where I dived right in with the refugee community. I did a specialization in refugee and forced migrations. I was really interested in learning more about Palestinian refugees. And as a Palestinian myself and as someone who didn’t grow up in a refugee camp, I was really interested in what it was like to identify being Palestinian but living out of a camp compared to someone who was a Palestinian but happened to live in a diaspora. 

LiisBeth: What inspired you to create Sitti?

Jacqueline Sophia: We had yoga classes [at the camp] and I got to really know the community that way. Over time, the women and I would begin to work on different enterprise ideas. They really wanted to earn more steady income for their families. And I think they saw me as a link to the market that existed for them outside of the camp—I was always coming back and forth from the capital Amman, and so we started working on different enterprise ideas.

We explored the idea of Palestinian embroidery, and selling that in the form of different clothing items. But it was very labour intensive—it took a lot of time and it was hard to control the quality. We were also looking at food production for a while, but that didn’t work out so well. Then one day, one of the women in the camp said she wanted to show me something. She opened the door, and there was this amazing smell of lavender. It was some 300 bars of olive oil soap.

Essentially what happened was the Italian embassy came in and did a soap making workshop with these women. But the embassy taught this workshop and then left, and so the women had all this soap and didn’t know how to market or sell it. In the meantime, I was introduced to Noora and she was doing the exact same thing with another group of women in the same camp. So we were like, let’s just work together.

Noora Sharrab:  It’s very common among development agencies and international agencies—they will come into these refugee communities, they’ll do this big workshop, this big training, and then they’ll leave. So you have these women who ended up being skilled, and it’s really hard for them to take it on from there. We know 8 out of 10 businesses that start end up failing within the first two years because they don’t have the right support, the mentorship and the capital. The resources available are very limited, let alone for a refugee trying to do this.

Sitti soap gift set

LiisBeth: What was the process of building Sitti?

Noora Sharrab: Shortly after we partnered up, we launched a women’s centre slash soap workshop because these women were making soap out of their homes. We wanted to be able to control the environment and control production and the manufacturing process, so we had to build a separate, dedicated area. We ended up creating a centre out of an existing home in the camp because we also wanted to make sure we remained in the camp—if we were to leave it would make it difficult for the women to access because commuting back and forth would be an added cost for them. We didn’t want to have them worry about that.

Shortly after we launched the women’s centre, I relocated back to Canada because I was having my second child and I wanted to be closer to family. At the same, Jackie also ended up moving out of Jordan. But both of us were like, we can’t stop this project because we both left. So we brought it [the business] with us. When I came to Canada, I ended up registering the company as an LLC.

Jacqueline Sophia: As for our team, there’s two employees on the ground in Jordan—Sophia is our regional manager and she oversees quality control. Amina is the facilities manager. And then we have our nine female artists and soap makers. They are a mix of regular employees, and then we have several part-time staff. The regular employees receive a regular salary every single month, and the part-time employees work on a project by project basis.

LiisBeth: What have been some of the challenges of working within a refugee camp?

Noora Sharrab: I don’t want to generalize all families and all communities because they’re not all the same, but there continues to be cultural sensitivities—to not have the woman out after dark or to limit them from travelling to the city. Some of them still need permission to be able to work and to be able to go to school to be able to go out. So, you still have that dynamic where having that male counterpart is important. When we first started the workshop, and we had recruited some artisans, it was very important for us to get family approval for these women. Not in a sense like they need permission, but we wanted their families to feel comfortable and to feel like their daughters, their mothers, their wives were coming into a safe space.

For us—Jacqueline and I—we were seen as these foreigners who came in and opened the centre. And even though I am Palestinian, and I am originally from Gaza, and from an identity perspective, I could relate—I’m still that foreigner that lived abroad, that spoke differently, that wasn’t part of the community from that sense. So building the trust and building that credibility and transparency in the community was fundamental.

LiisBeth: Why did you choose to work with women refugees?

Noora Sharrab: When Jackie and I came together, we realized that this was not about the soap. This was about the resiliency of these women who—for some of them—it was the first time they ever got a job. Some were the sole breadwinners of their family, supporting eight to 10 people. It was like this one woman deciding, I’m not going to sit here in poverty. I want to do something about it. So, for us, we didn’t see the soap as the soap itself, we saw it as more than that.

Sitti continues to be about a mission that is about education, employment and empowerment. It’s about creating self-reliance for these women who for their entire lives have had to depend on aid and charity. How could we change that dynamic? How could we empower them?

LiisBeth: How has the pandemic impacted Sitti?

Jacqueline Sophia: I think this transition may have been easier for us than for some. We already had those communication pathways established as a remote team, so it wasn’t difficult to act quickly. We weren’t in a position where we had to say, how are we going to talk to each other on a weekly basis? So that was not difficult.

The difficulty [has been] that with a social enterprise, you don’t tend to have a lot of runway in place, and so when you experience a sudden socioeconomic downturn like we’ve experienced with a pandemic, you have to triage. Our concern, first and foremost, was our staff in Jordan, specifically in the camp. Priority number one was to ensure that they had enough income, enough wages to help support themselves and their families because as soon as the pandemic happened and the socioeconomic collapse happened, those women were the only breadwinners, they were the only wage earners in their families. So we worked with our online network of consumers and different partner organizations. We worked with another women-owned business in Canada, and we created a crowdfunding campaign to bring in enough funds to provide relief kits essentially to over 170 families in the camp who are most in need.

LiisBeth: What’s next for Sitti?

Jacqueline Sophia: We have a whole lifestyle product line that includes 10 or more products at any given moment, so soap is not the only thing we sell. That being said, it is what we do best. And so, at a time like this, it’s important for not just the refugee community, but for the global community to be very aware of the public-health concerns that include washing your hands every day. These are things that we’re certainly elevating in our messaging, and we’re working with other corporate partners and corporate clients too—to help them spread that message.

Most people in refugee communities are not earning a steady salary. They’re certainly not earning benefits. And there are structural barriers in place to prevent that from happening. As a company there are only so many things we can provide to our employees because of their refugee status. So, what we’re trying to do is encourage people who are willing to purchase our goods right now by saying, if you’re in a position where you can financially support us as a customer, maybe you can also support us from a charitable perspective. So, at checkout, for instance, can you offer an extra dollar towards a support fund for our employees?

We’re also working to release a crowdfunding campaign [later] this year that will serve several purposes. First of all, it will serve the immediate needs—as in the next 12 months or so. It’s meant to bring in the capital that we’ll need in order to kind of cushion the blow of the economic downturn, and provide wage support for all of our employees to help them continue to help the business continue to run at a reduced capacity.

Jacqueline Sophie: [The campaign will] support additional operational costs for us to pivot the business and create new products to bring to market that will be awesome. It will set us up for success when things do eventually bounce back.

LiisBeth: That’s awesome. Good luck with your venture and your campaign!


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Join PK Mutch, publisher of LIisBeth Media in short (10 minutes) pop up interview with Canadian Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion where Minister Ng talks informally about her goals for women entrepreneurs in Canada and what’s next for the Canadian federal government’s  Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy.

 

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https://www.liisbeth.com/2019/08/09/federal-government-announces-3-6-million-investment-in-women-led-social-enterprises-in-ontario/