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Our Voices

I Have a Seed

A Black woman wearing a red scarf entrepreneur gazing outside a window.
Althea Branton, Ontario-based startup entrepreneur.

Althea Branton (she/her/elle) is a skincare designer who lives, works and plays on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Ojibway/Chippewa and Haudenosaunee peoples.

Growing up,  Althea never considered herself to be beautiful or remotely attractive. Her concepts of beauty came from the pictures of white women in the magazines her mother would occasionally buy from the grocery store for their (air quotes) recipes.

Althea spent years wondering if she’d ever be beautiful. Somehow it never dawned on her that no amount of green smoothies, elimination diets, HIIT workouts, intermittent fasting or aligning her chakra centres with the Universe was going to turn her into a young, thin, white, cishet, neurotypical able-bodied, twenty-something female with no curves and blonde hair: the Eurocentric beauty standard. 

She was obsessed with skincare after buying a life-shattering pot of Dewberry lip balm from The Body Shop.   Yet on the flip side of her skincare obsession was a stark realization that most products aren’t made for her skin tone.  A myriad of Eurocentric skincare exists in the current market. However, there’s a dearth of skincare for people of the global majority.

Then came the whisper in her soul – to own her own business.  So she went to Laurentian University  – to study translation instead.

Many pots of lip balm later, Althea decided to finally listen to that whisper in her soul to begin creating her own natural products and studying cosmetic science and cosmetic formulation.

Her son is her why – why she’s starting fresh in the late summer of her life to finally move towards the true goals of her soul.   Althea decided to intentionally design and create skincare for people of the global majority.

Yet she never anticipated the sheer amount of unopened doors and barriers on the path to entrepreneurship.  Althea finally had had enough.  So she turned to words. Althea has transmuted her pain into art using words for the last quarter-century.

A few weeks ago, Althea Branton was interviewed by an intake manager at a startup incubator program.  Read or listen to what Branton has to say to the world after that interview. 


I HAVE A SEED

I have a seed.

An idea that came to me as a spark from the darkness that is out there past the light.

So far it’s an enterprise with limited resources.

But I’m only surviving –

not thriving (at least not yet). 

I’m living off scraps, crumbs, bits and pieces

putting life’s essentials carefully

from hand to mouth for myself

and my child. 

I feel horrible about it every single day.

I need HELP

I cry to a force greater than myself.

Why can’t I provide more?

Why don’t I have more?

Isn’t there enough for me?

Aren’t I enough for me?

Let me tell you about this seed.

It’s powerful. Mighty.

Unapologetic. Genius.

It’ll move people into a movement

bypassing the normative

Eurocentric ableist capitalist patriarchal norms

we so unequivocally accept as normal

every single day.

When it’s ready

my seed will bloom and blossom.

I know it’ll grow

providing for me and millions more.

Then come the experts

Wolves disguised as critics clad cleverly in exploited cashmere clothing.

“Should you really only market to Black & Brown people?”

“Aren’t there enough products for those people?”

“Do you have any experience in this sort of thing?”

“Why are your products genderfluid?”

“Isn’t that controversial?”

Heavy is my heart as I heave a mighty SIGH.

I keep having to prove why

Why my seed is worthy

Why my seed must get the things it needs

to grow super-high towards the skies

Why my seed deserves the right

For soil, water and sunlight 

elements provided freely

by the Earth to humankind.

My seed is worthy because it is a seed.

I deserve the elements because

I, too, am a seed.

Dearest garden-variety gatekeepers – please step aside. 

I’m done asking for permission

for my seed to grow.

I’m done pandering to people’s insecurities

I’m done doing the dance around biases that have nothing to do with me.

No one tells the crops to grow.

They just do, with the help of the Earth, Sun and more.

I’ll find the soil. I’ll get the water. 

I’ll even find the invaluable knowledge

As I put the rather ratchet-looking pot outside

because contrary to what most may believe,

the sun is freely available to us all.

Now, I’ll celebrate the winter season

Putting holiday essentials joyously

from hand to mouth for myself

and my child

knowing I will never yield to those who seek to hold me down

for fear I may rise above them one day.

I’ll rise all right.

Look up there – I’m rising right now. 

My very existence is resistance.

I’m here. I’m me, I’m hella amazing.

That seed tho’… stand aside and watch it grow.


Publisher’s Note: Want to support Althea’s startup journey?  Follower her on IG: @althea.branton

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Categories
Feminist Practices

A More Accessible Future

A mature indigenous woman with blond hair smiles over her shoulder. She is wearing large hoop earrings and a lavender blouse
Brooke Wobodistch, president of Closed Caption Services. Photo provided.

Imagine this: It’s May 2020. You are in the middle of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders caused by the novel coronavirus. There is no vaccine yet, and much of your life is online — especially on Zoom. 

In one such Zoom meeting, you start seeing what speakers are saying appear at the bottom of the screen. They’re being typed by one of the participants in the call in real-time.

The text you are seeing is called a closed caption. Closed captions aren’t always typed out by volunteers. Sometimes it’s automatically generated and sometimes it’s done by artificial intelligence (AI), but the accuracy of such services vary. For real-time transcription, ideally these captions are created by employees of companies that provide closed captioning — companies like Closed Caption Services (CCS). 

CCS is a Canadian family-owned business whose mission, according to its president Brooke Woboditsch, is “to build better accessibility in media.”  

This mission has gained momentum over the past year and a half as around the world, organizations and communications have moved online during the global pandemic.

Says Woboditsch: “By the time fall 2020 came around, I would say we must’ve had over 30 new clients in those last six months … There was a massive rush for people to put their businesses online — especially a lot of businesses where there’s multimedia content [like] film festivals, educational institutions, artists’ presentations and talks, museum exhibits.”

Strengthening the Family Business

Woboditsch’s father Larry Gavin was a broadcaster, and Woboditsch grew up helping her dad in his work. 

In 1994, Gavin started Closed Caption Services (CCS), providing fast and reliable services in closed captioning, offline captioning, live captioning, web captioning and audio-described video.

CCS started by providing captioning services to the now-defunct Canadian media company CHUM Television’s new CityTv stations and network of ‘A Channels.’ CCS then began working with Rogers, CTV (now Bell), NewCap, S-Vox, Cogeco Television), Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Pattison Group, TVO and more.

Woboditsch, who is Indigenous and was adopted at birth, also dabbled in television production in her late teens and early twenties. Working at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), she learned more about her Indigenous culture and history. 

She said it was “always the plan” to take over the company from her father one day. 

“We didn’t discuss transition or the future of the company. It was just that I was ‘the future’ and the company would go to me someday.” 

That day came in 2016. With the decline of her father’s health and after 10 years as the general manager, Woboditsch took over as president of CSS. 

Come 2020 Woboditsch would be called on once again to lead a company. Only this time, it would be in the middle of a pandemic while the world — still not accessible — was moving online.

The Business Case for Closed Captioning

Disabilities occur when people who have impairments confront inaccessible environments, prejudiced attitudes, or other situations where their needs for participation are not met. 

According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), different types of disabilities include but are not limited to mobility, vision, and hearing impairments, visible and invisible disabilities, episodic disabilities, intellectual and learning disabilities, neurodivergence, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses, and limb and facial differences.

According to a 2018 article by the Web Accessibility Initiative, at least one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world’s population, have a recognized disability. 

In Canada, a 2017 estimate by Statistics Canada found that 6.2 million Canadians have one or more disability, with disabilities related to pain, flexibility, mobility, and mental health being the most common disability types.

Captions play an important role in improving digital accessibility for people with disabilities and those who do not speak English as their first language or are not comfortable doing so. 

Captions refer to text on a television, video screen, or other visual display that transcribe oral speech or dialogue as well as capture background audio. Captioning increases the accessibility of media for a variety of people — including people with disabilities and people who speak different first languages — by communicating all audio sounds that may otherwise be missed by some viewers, including sound effects and other non-speech elements.

Along with helping businesses interact with existing customers who may be people with disabilities, Woboditsch says closed captioning in particular also helps businesses expand their audiences by capturing new customers. 

Disabled Canadians are estimated to control $6.9 trillion in annual disposable income and more than seven million Canadians report their mother tongue is neither English nor French. 

CCS believes that high-quality accessibility services help to increase the reach of your content to at least 10 per cent of your audience. 

An article from UK-based Zen Elements from earlier this year says that three in four disabled people and their families have walked away from a UK business citing poor accessibility and/or poor customer service. 

In a similar vein, a 2019 survey by Scope, a UK-based charity trying to improve digital accessibility, found that half of the people surveyed who experienced problems buying goods or services through a website, app, or in-store machine did not purchase the product. Another 48 per cent found a different provider and purchased their products elsewhere.

Captioning also helps businesses meet compliance standards like those put forth by the Canadian Radio‑television and Telecommunications Commission, which require that 100 per cent broadcast content must be captioned and that Primetime shows be audio described, and Bill C-81, which is an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. 

The bottom line, Woboditsch says, is to normalize accessibility as an essential part of providing high-quality and equitable services to all audiences. 

”We want people to think of accessibility when they’re putting any content out there. If I’m going to have a meeting, if I’m going to sell a product — whatever my business is [doing] online.”

The team at Closed Caption Services (CCS). Screenshot via CCS's website.

Finding Community and Improving Services for Underserved Communities

“Entrepreneurship can be a lonely place; you’re alone in your world when you’re at the top and it’s hard to ask advice from the people who are working for you,” says Woboditsch. “It’s hard to be vulnerable or show doubt, even though I do … to be able to have some people who have a variety of experiences in different areas of business, whether it be financial management or feminist business models, things like that.”

But the Fifth Wave accelerator program was different from the other entrepreneurship programs she’s been a part of in that it gave her the opportunity to take a second look at her business and figure out “where it is in the world today.” 

“I really asked myself, what do you want in life? And then I worked backwards to how I [was] going to get there with my business.”

For Woboditsch, the need for increased accessibility is clear: her company gained over 30 new clients in the first six months of the pandemic, 99 per cent of whom have become returning clients. 

The support she has received from the accelerator program has ultimately helped her move towards a future where high-quality accessibility services are provided to underserved communities. 

“I want people to remember that there’s a wide variety of people out there who use various forms of accessibility services, more than just the ones that I’ve been talking about today. American Sign Language (ASL) is one of them, and multiple languages as well,” Woboditsch says. 

“I want accessibility not to be driven just by compliance or doing it because we have to. I would like to see a world where people are choosing to provide high-quality services that improve accessibility.”


Publishers Note: Closed Caption Services is a part of the Fifth Wave, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse level. Applications for Cohort 4 open Nov. 22nd! Apply here

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Categories
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 Transformative Ideas

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemon Aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liisbeth: What happened when the pandemic hit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LiisBeth:  Thank you for sharing your incredible and inspiring story

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Selling Up, Moving Up

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

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Feminist Practices

When the Obstacle Becomes the Way

Hermine Mbondo, founder of B4brand, a bilingual branding and marketing agency in Toronto. Photo provided.

Storytelling transformed Hermine Mbondo’s life and continues to shape her work to this day. 

Born in Cameroon into the Bassa tribe and raised in France, Mbondo now lives in Toronto. She fondly remembers her childhood and all the stories she heard when she visited her grandmother’s village. Back then, every night Mbondo would gather with all of the other kids in the family to listen to stories told by her grandmother and her aunts. 

But these stories were not ordinary fairy tales.

“When you are a child, you don’t realise [right away]. But then slowly, you realise the stories were not just fairy tales,” Mbondo says. “It was really about either warning us about things or teaching us about something.” 

One of the stories Mbondo remembers vividly is a different interpretation of the story of the tortoise and the hare.

In Mbondo’s version, the hare tells the tortoise that both of them should kill their mothers because there was a poor harvest and everyone in the village is going hungry. The hare says they can use their mothers for a feast. The tortoise is tricked by the hare and kills its mother, but the hare does not. 

Mbondo says the moral of this story is to choose your friends wisely and be careful about who you trust. She says the stories she heard as a child, while sometimes scary, were always meaningful and were meant to teach life lessons.

Flash forward many years and Mbondo is now sharing her own meaningful stories through B4brand — a branding and marketing agency she founded in Toronto in 2017. 

An Accidental Marketing Agency 

Like many women entrepreneurs, Mbondo didn’t start out thinking she wanted to be a business owner someday. Within a few months of job hunting after moving to Canada in 2016, she realized that as a newcomer, landing a job and pay cheque that matched her level of experience was going to be impossible. 

“I was still able to do a lot of things but it wasn’t at the level of what I was doing — or earning — in France. I was the head of marketing there,” she says. “[Work I was hired for in Canada] wasn’t challenging enough. There was nothing to justify [staying] — plus I didn’t have the same kind of salary. After a year, I was starting to think, ‘What can I do next?’” 

Around the same time, a company that Mbondo had worked for back in France asked if she would be interested in moving back to lead their marketing department.

But Mbondo didn’t want to move back to France. She knew the job being offered to her would return her to the same position of working for someone else, on their terms, with no room for growth. By this time, she knew she wanted to call the shots and work “with” the company instead of “for” it. Pitching the idea of being an independent contractor led to her landing her first client as a solepreneur. They worked out an arrangement that allowed Mbondo to have more autonomy in her work, and in late 2017, she officially launched B4brand, which now operates as an incorporated marketing agency. 

Marketing with Purpose 

In a competitive industry like brand management, B4brand stands out in three distinct ways: 1) it focuses on people-driven branding, 2) it has the capacity to work seamlessly in both of Canada’s official languages, and 3) it makes innovative use of Bassa storytelling culture. 

Mbondo says that while all three aspects of her enterprise are important, the emphasis on people-driven stories is the foundation that grounds her and her business. Engaging with clients whose values align with her own has led her to work with brands that focus on the needs of people rather than the features or benefits of a given product. 

“I’ve seen different things in marketing — I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Marketing can be used to trick consumers into purchasing products or services. I wanted to do things differently,” she says. 

Mbondo wants consumers to connect with brands that align with their own ethics and principles so that ideally, they make purchasing decisions based on shared values. 

“I talk with the business owners, get to know them, and try to understand not just what they’re doing, but why they are doing it,” she says, “because for me, it’s very important to understand the ‘why.’” The conversations are litmus tests that help her choose brands that, in her words, truly “have a greater purpose.” 

For example, when an opportunity came her way to work with an entrepreneur who was looking to launch a new line of spices from Western Cameroon, Mbondo first researched to find out if they operated in an ethical manner. She sealed the deal after learning the company was paying their employees fair wages and creating a safe working environment for women in western Cameroon.

Through her work, Mbondo wants to challenge the idea that industries like brand marketing can only be made more inclusive by hiring diverse employees. While this is important, she says it limits the possibilities of human resources. What she wants to see instead is an emphasis on the diversity of products and services as well as the diversity of people. The international spices are an example of this because they bring “diversity to the shelves” of mainstream grocery stores. While the spices have not yet been launched officially, another client of Mbondo recently launched. 

“I think for me, the way I see diversity and inclusion is in the everyday things, and food is part of that [when] we go grocery shopping.” 

Passion Projects Helping Build Community

Another passion project of Mbondo’s is the Global Impact Hub — a one-stop learning hub for social entrepreneurs to connect, educate and amplify diverse voices.

Mbondo has partnered with several organizations over the past few years to provide bilingual entrepreneurship training to fellow entrepreneurs and small business owners. During the COVID-19 global pandemic, she found that many such organizations didn’t have the tools, resources, or knowledge to transition online. 

Mbondo explains, “[Entrepreneurs and small business owners] usually wear many hats and they are overwhelmed. Sometimes, all they need is the little push, especially since the road to running a successful business while making a difference can feel difficult and lonely. So, I decided to support them by offering a place to develop supportive relationships with fellow game-changers as well as access marketing tools and resources.”

The Global Impact Hub aims to combat this overwhelm by creating space for entrepreneurs to work it out together. 

“Through this membership-based online platform, social entrepreneurs will be able to sharpen up their marketing skills from anywhere and at any time through valuable content [like] marketing resources, tools, workshops and meaningful ways of connecting.”

B4Brand's Global Impact Hub.
B4Brand's Global Impact Hub.

Finding Community Through Shared Experiences 

As a newcomer and female entrepreneur, Mbondo’s participation in startup business development and accelerator programs played an important role in helping her build B4Brand. 

After starting the enterprise on her own, she learned valuable resource management skills in a program for newcomers to Canada called the Newcomers Entrepreneurship Hub alongside others who were also starting their own businesses. The Fifth Wave feminist accelerator program for women in digital media, operated by the Canadian Film Centre’s MediaLab, showed her how to hire and manage independent contractors whose values aligned with her own on a per project basis. Today, she has the structures in place to contract like-minded freelance graphic designers and copywriters to create campaigns that everyone feels good about. 

Three years into running her own business, Mbondo says that financing growth continues to be a struggle. Growth accelerator programs however, have helped her to connect with other business owners and funders who make her feel less alone and boost her confidence, helping her to keep going even when things are difficult.

“Everybody’s going through the same struggle — on different levels, obviously, but we’re going through the same things so it gives some reassurance to be like, ‘Okay, I’m not the only one,’” Mbondo says. 

Marketing at its core is a form of storytelling. What motivates Mbondo to show up for work every day is the opportunity to combine her love of people-driven stories rooted in culture, history and tradition with the personal values she shares with her clients.  

“I still love stories. I also learned that as an independent business founder, you can be choosy about the clients you work with and I’m supporting causes with my work,” Mbondo says. “I somehow managed to do well by doing what I love and wanted to do as a child.”

Last year, Mbondo was listed as one of Canada’s Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada. 

This year? B4brand is a finalist for the 2021 Toronto Star Readers’ Choice Awards in the Best Advertising/Marketing Agency category. Voting continues until Sept. 19, 2021.


Publishers Note: B4brand is a part of the Fifth Wave, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth Media partner and ally. Applications are OPEN! Apply here

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Feminist Practices

Reimagining Our Financial Future

Shannon Pestun. Photo provided.

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

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

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

The Path to Entrepreneurship 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The duo officially launched the Finance Cafe in 2021.

Confidence is Key  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lived experience between the two financial gurus is priceless. 

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

The New Return on Investment (ROI) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what will it take for change to happen? 

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

Want Different Metrics? Ask Different Questions

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

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

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

What if it was a different system altogether?

Flash Forward 20 Years 

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

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

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

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

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

She loves what she does. 

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

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

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

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


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