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Activism & Action

Inside the Equal Futures Network: A New Feminist Coalition Juggernaut in the Making?

An image of about 100 people, 90% women, at the launch of the Equal Futures Network in 2020.
The Launch of the Equal Futures Network. Centre, the former Women and Gender Equality Minister, the Honorable Maryam Monsef (centre). Photo by:

Leah Sarah Peer, a 3rd year, 26-year-old Montreal medical student and founder of the Peer Medical Foundation (PMF), a fledgling nonprofit that helps folx navigate the Canadian healthcare system, explains the meaning of her necklace: A Swarovski crystal pendant in the shape of a black swan hanging on a lightweight silver chain. Peer says “When I wear this necklace, I think about a swan who is constantly surveying and navigating a lake, having to face challenges, and overcoming obstacles generated by nature. It inspires me to work hard to make a difference while I am on this planet.”

Peer also knows that black swans are rare birds, famously othered in fables, whose survival depends on being part of a larger flock.  

So, when Peer heard of The Equal Futures Network (EFN), a new pan Canadian initiative designed to connect, amplify, spotlight organizations working to achieve gender equality—she immediately signed up.  As did over 488 other organizations – in just over a year. 

The EFN is now arguably Canada’s largest ‘come one come all’ feminist organization since the creation of The National Acton Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), a powerful 700+ network of women’s rights launched in 1971 which served at the forefront of fights for rights for over 30 years.

But to what end? 

Is this just about flocking together? Or something bigger?

Julia Anderson, co-founder and current Chief Executive Officer for the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health CanWaCH, home of the Equal Futures Network (EFN) initiative, believes the EFN has incredible change making potential.

“If we want to improve the lives of the most marginalized women, children and adolescents, anyone marginalized due to gender, protect their health and rights, we need to work together.”

Taking a ‘big tent’ approach, Anderson says any organization, business or nonprofit, big or small, working to advance gender equity and equality is welcome to join. Its diverse member list includes the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Next Gen Men, Groupe Femmes, Politique et Démocratie, Intersex London Canada, Women of Colour Thrive, Niijkiwendidaa Anishnaabekwewag Services Circle, the Northern Birthwork Collective, New Brunswick Transgender Health Network,  Shake Up the Establishment—and Queen’s University.

Presently, over 32% of members are based in South Western Ontario; an impressive 19.5% are based in Quebec.

The organization is hosting its first network summit in Ottawa on June 8-9th.  The Honorable Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth (WAGE), and award-winning, feminist author, Farzana Doctor, are both keynote speakers. WAGE contributed $498K in grant funding over 3 years towards the development of the EFN in 2021.

THE STATUS OF GENDER EQUALITY IN CANADA

Compared to countries like India, or the United States, especially in this moment, Canada looks like a gender equity mecca. So why fund a new coalition?

The truth is, we too, still have a long way to go. 

No matter what international gender equality index you look at, Canada is rarely the top 10. While Canada has moved up the UN Gender Equality Index ranks from #25 in 2015 to #16 in 2021, other countries with self-identified feminist governments like Norway, Ireland, Iceland, Germany, Australia and surprisingly Hong Kong China (SAR), still lead the global gender equality scoreboard. Especially when it comes to gross national income (GNI) per capita which compares how much a woman earns on average in each country using a USD Based calculation that adjusts for differences in cost of living). The average woman in Norway earns $66, 494/year. A woman in the US earns $63,826. The average woman in Canada earns $48,527 (27-24% less). When an intersectional lens is applied, the earning gap is even greater.

Pay equity, despite the law, is still not a reality in many sectors and spaces in Canada. Canada’s women’s entrepreneurship programs, world class and successful on many levels, continues to over privilege a small subset of 200 000+ women entrepreneurs with incorporated, scalable (read largely tech-based) enterprise ideas and dreams leaving the rest (62%), largely sole, self-employed, necessity-driven women entrepreneurs with a reported medium income of $19 999K/gross per year, vastly under supported.  

In addition, Canada still has uneven access to abortion procedures—despite legalization.  Women only hold 23.4% of corporate board seats as of 2021—a mere 2.2% increase over 2020. Twenty-eight per cent of women-led households struggle with the affordability, suitability or adequacy of their housing. This is almost double the rate of households led by men. Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner (Statistics Canada, 2019). It costs taxpayers billions of dollars: $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence alone. Eqale, a LGBTQ+ advocacy group, reports 71% of trans people have post-secondary education, but over 50% earn less than $15 000 a year due to gender discrimination.

When we apply an intersectional lens, things are typically worse for racialized , disabled, immigrant women, plus queer and trans folk on every metric examined. According to Census and Statistics Canada Canadian Income Statistics data on average annual earnings: Indigenous women face a 57% gender pay gap, women with disabilities face a 46% gap, immigrant women face a 39% gap and racialized women face a 32% gap.

That said, there has been watershed progress in just this past year. For example, universal childcare, a 50 year+ body of activist work, is now an implementation- ready policy reality in this country. And, new Canadian polls that show that 90% of Canadians want to see gender equality achieved and that 57% of women (and 40% of men) today identify strongly as feminists, plus a feminist government.

Overall, we have indeed made progress, but progress is still unevenly distributed. 

Furthermore, as the recent attack on U.S. Roe v Wade and the implosion of women’s rights in Afghanistan, shows progress unattended, is progress denied. Rights won through hard, decades-long struggle and lives lost easily comes under siege when economic conditions worsen and when political power shifts. Patriarchy is a hydra. Cut one limb off and another one grows in its place. Progress for women, gender equity and social justice requires constant vigilance. 

History shows the antidote, is to be and stay organized. At present, we are not. Not like we used to be. And perhaps that, is the piece of the puzzle that keeps us from getting to the top. 

THE POWER OF FEMINIST ORGANIZING

In financial circles, Black Swans refer to an unpredictable event or set of forces that suddenly coalesce, rise up and remake the world. An example is Brexit or closer to home, the 2008 financial crisis. One could also argue that the creation of a new pan Canadian feminist coalition could be another. 

Does the EFN have the potential to be this era’s feminist Black Swan?  

Nora Loreto, activist and feminist author, gives it a maybe. 

Her concern? In this neoliberal age of individualism, women have excelled at organizing empowerment-oriented networking events but seem to have forgotten how to organize, mobilize and wield political power where and when it really counts. 

In her book, Take Back the Fight, Loreto argues we have lost ground as a result and believes the key to avoid further backsliding is to re-skill, fund, and build large  diverse feminist coalitions capable of both defending and moving gender equity and rights forward. Loreto sees the emergence of the EFN as a positive step forward. But will wait to see if this network has a required political spine. 

Reinforcing the importance of organizing for political power, Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter (US) and author of The Purpose of Power, writes, “Most people when they think about power are actually envisioning empowerment. Those things are related, but different. Unless empowerment is transformed into power, not much will change about our environments.”

CanWaCH/EFN understands the need for and power of organizing, having served as coalition for change builders since its inception. 

INSIDE EQUAL FUTURES – WHO ARE THEY? WHAT DO THEY WANT?

Simply, Equal Futures Network is a project of the CanWaCH organization. But few women’s organizations outside of the health space know anything about CanWaCh.

How did a small, international, women’s health nonprofit based in Peterborough become the lead, pan-Canadian convenor, a cross sector, all-call gender equality initiative?

For starters, this modest, 17-person, pan Canadian virtual organization has quite an impressive big-dog-in-the-park track record.  Their achievements include:

  • Serving as the driving force behind a $14 billion-dollar Canadian initiative to deliver and advance reproductive, maternal, child healthcare rights around the world.
  • Playing the role of lead mobilizer and convener for Canada’s participation in Women Deliver 2019, a huge, bi-annual, global conference which attracted 2500 organizations, 8000 in person attendees and another 200 000 participants online. It was held in Canada for the first time that year.
  • In 2021, CanWaCH played a leading role in the development of a Foreign Policy by Canadians which involved convening and working with over 400 people. One of the recommendations was that Canada needs to do more to on the home front. Anderson says, you can’t just advocate elsewhere, “You also need to be addressing the roots of inequality where you are in your own backyard.” Plus, if we want other countries to advance women, they must see it, to be it.

“We have demonstrated we have the skill and experience” says Anderson, who has been involved in membership and coalition-based organizations her entire career. “We are also good at attracting resources. We figured that if we managed to create a track record of success internationally, why not leverage our capabilities domestically.”

Is this another association? 

On that, Anderson is crystal clear.  “No. We don’t serve the membership; we serve the impact.”  

CanWaCH, as the host organization is taking a “leaderful” approach to this project.  Which essentially means they don’t see themselves as out in front (traditional leadership), or stepping aside (servant leadership). Instead, they plan to work within, collaboratively, compassionately, trust the process and support network members. The only guard rails are the projects stated values and desired outcome–more gender equality.  

BIRDS OF A FEATHER?

Can anyone join? The answer is: EFN “defaults to inclusion”. Any organization, anywhere on their feminist journey will be welcomed as members as long as they are aligned with stated core values which include: A commitment to intersectional feminism, listening, learning, using power, privilege to challenge oppressive norms and systems, working to advance decolonization and overall, move mountains and help smash the patriarchy.

This means larger pro-capitalist women in business networks who rarely, if ever, show up at a protest with organizationally identified placards will find themselves shoulder to shoulder with grassroots, Marxist feminists who actually organize them -without pay.   

However, organizations we spoke to were excited to be rubbing elbows with each other, no matter what their political stance.

TWO NEW EFN MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS

THe logo for the The Canadian Coalition to Empower Women (CCEW) was founded by The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW)

The Canadian Coalition to Empower Women (CCEW) was founded by The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW)—a group that has been operating in Canada for 90+ years (read Colonial times) as a founding member of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women International. Both the CCEW and the BPW recently signed on to the EFN.

Co-founder and Project Liaison to coalition’s latest venture, the IDEAS4GenderEquality Project, Sheila Crook says, “When we saw EFN, we said this is an organization we need to connect with. It’s an opportunity to see who’s out there and what they are up to.” Crook was impressed by the organizational diversity of network members—everything from business to civil society, nonprofit, university and union organizations.”

Crook adds “For me, EFN’s existence and uptake acknowledge the fact that there are thousands of organizations in Canada working to advance gender equity in one way or another.  This network will open the door, help us build bridges of understanding and form partnerships that can drive real, systemic change.”

Canadian Women's Chamber of Commerce Logo/Ad

The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director, Nancy Wilson, agrees.  “We recently joined the EFN network as well.  We represent and advocate for equity for women entrepreneurs, particularly those who operate micro-enterprises or are precariously self-employed. We see this network as a chance to learn and add our weight to any initiative that works to improve gender equity in Canada.”

Wilson and several members of her team will also be attending the June conference. 

CanWaCH CEO Julia Anderson speaking to a group on behalf of Equal Futures Network
Julia Anderson, CEO of CanWaCH, speaks to Equal Futures Network members and CanWaCH members attending an event in Vancouver on May 5, 2022.

IS THIS THE BLACK SWAN EVENT WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR?

Frankly, it’s too early to tell. 

Critics of efforts like this talk about the challenges associated with bringing diverse viewpoints and agendas together in hopes of chiseling the mess down into a tower of power scale political force.  All too often, political differences, histories, egos, cancel culture tactics and lack of resources to participate fully in a big coalition for small organizations undermines the intent: The collaboration tax is real. Systems-generated trauma, often the source of unintended harm and disagreement, is also real. Fostering a true “I have your back; you have mine” sense of solidarity comes with the opportunity to battle-test each other over time-and survive. In other words, it’s slow and messy.

However, right now, EFN members seem unified and enthusiastic in their belief that when birds of a feather flock together, good things will happen.   

However, critics say that in order truly dismantle the gender oppression and marginalization mountain, EFN members will need to do much more than party once in a while like its 2019 in a big tent.

Black Swan events are known in financial circles for being unanticipated and having gale force impact.

Black swans in nature are also known for having the longest neck, among other species of swans.

Let’s see how far this diverse coalition is willing to stick its neck out to help Canada leap forward and achieve true gender equity and equality – once, and for all time.


 

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Categories
Featured Our Voices

2022:
A TELESCOPIC VIEW

young girl Looking through telescope
Photo by Raymond Forbes on Stocksy

As we head into 2022, some mainstream media is doing a good job of summarizing what we legitimately need to fear in 2022.

However, here at LiisBeth, unafraid to look up and ready to act, we see  comets, but also the stars, ways to get there, and light that has not yet reached the earth. 

With our lens set to different coordinates, we wanted to share with you five 2022 actionable themes and related articles that might serve as useful prompts to stoke some hope plus inform your intention setting and personal liberation work for the coming year. 

Learning to Live with Climate Crisis

The climate crisis age is here. We still have to work to reduce its severity. But we now also have to learn to live with it. How do you imagine a tomorrow when the present seems, whichever way you look, to be hovering on the brink of another climate driven hurricane, flood or fire? What does solutioning, living, working, building an enterprise in a climate crisis driven society and economy look like? Catherine Bush’s novel, Blaze Island (2020), gives us a glimpse of the near future and raises larger questions about interfering with nature and the harm or good that may result.  Read more, download a free excerpt and watch our interview with Bush and her climate change scientist sister, Elizabeth Bush on YouTube. 

The Re-Emergence of  Real-Life Feminist Spaces

In this ode to in real life feminist spaces and events, we are reminded about the power of 5D, or even 10D, sensorial-powered spaces, events and connections.  Living in Zoom powered 2D for almost two years has shown us what it means to be human.  Multi-dimensional, real life, embodied events open our minds and expands our capacity to imagine new worlds. We dream bigger when we spend hours together, bumping shoulders, in real time. We need to make the effort to both create and attend live, large events again–as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Increased Support for Revolutionaries

The recent passing of bell hooks shook our hearts and souls. Thank fully we have her books to maintain our relationship with her work. But not every feminist revolutionary becomes famous or writes. Those that do often remind us how important it is to nurture and support all kinds of revolutionaries among us–both large and small; Their work is all interlaced-like an underground  mycelium network driving change above.  In this article, we talk with adrienne maree brown about “building the new in the shell of the old.” In “Solutionary Ideas from a Love-Based Revolutionary” we interview Rivera Sun who tells us “Change doesn’t just happen through protest.  It does not just happen – for regular people anyway – through calling politicians or senators. And it doesn’t usually just happen through buying the right goods as individuals. It happens when we organize.”  To learn more on the topic of organizing, check out The Fine Print Episode with Nora Loretto. 

To get a glimpse of grassroots revolutionary work, consider reading A Recipe for Justice and Full Stream Ahead

Coping Effectively with Burnout

We have been writing and publishing more about activist burnout in the past two years.  We can’t afford activist burnout. We need everyone pulling on this side of the rope. Heed Instagram artist @liberaljane’s advice which says “You can’t light yourself on fire to keep someone else warm”. So, if you are still feeling the burn as you enter 2022, this interview with Canadian anti-globalization and anti-racism activist, Annahid Dashtgard provides useful strategies for coping and taking the long view approach to this work. 

Consider Writing as Medicine for the Soul

Mental health is another casualty of the pandemic.  Journaling and writing is often prescribed as part of a healthy coping strategy. If you are thinking of kicking up your journaling work or taking your writing skills to new heights in 2020, you might want to consider joining a writing group–or sign up for a writing school.  If the latter is appealing, check out our profile on Sarah Selecky and her writing school here. 

Re-engage with the Arts

All arts. Yes. But in particular, re-engage with live music events. More than other cultural experiences, live music performances, in pubs or halls, inspires, bridges differences and can bring joy and pleasure to revolutionary work. If you are looking for a new playlist to energize your soul, check out one of LiisBeth’s ten feminist playlists here. It was compiled just before the 2020 US election but it still electric and relevant. If you want more options, you can listen to ten playlists we have published by typing playlist in the search bar. We also encourage you to keep Venusfest, a feminist music festival, on your 2022 radar.

Finally, if you are lining up your reading list for 2022, have a look at our book recommendations; All feminist classics and must reads in our opinion. 

Looking Ahead

Our first story in 2022, written by Sue Nador, will introduce you to Kohenet Annie Matan, a Jewish, feminist, queer, Hebrew Priestess and Mama and her work. 

Over the course of the next few months, you will see more “see it, dream it” stories on feminists driving change through community projects, nonprofit, academic, enterprise work, policy making and organizing. 

We believe that in 2022, the pandemic-driven economy and political climate will make radical venture design and growth an increasingly lonely and difficult endeavor as people turn their attention, time and money to surviving the now versus building the new. 

Now more than ever, radical work will depend on the support of the people–you.-

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Categories
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!

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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

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Categories
Transformative Ideas

If These Streets Could Talk

Chloe Doesburg on Driftscape | Photo Provided

There’s something special about exploring a city on foot. Whether you’ve lived in the same place for twenty years or are visiting someplace new, going for a wander—headphones in, music on, people watching, popping into shops, turning down a side street and discovering a hidden gem—is a consummate pleasure. 

What if, though, you could engage more intimately with the cityscape by accessing information about it—events, history, restaurants, music—as you move through it? That’s the idea behind Driftscape. Co-founder and CEO Chloe Doesburg calls the app a “cultural discovery platform,” which allows the user “seamless connection” to the physical spaces they occupy. 

Driftscape offers a selection of topics—from architecture to history to arts and literature. As users approach things that might interest them, the app on their cellphones will send a notification. This could be a piece of trivia, a festival nearby, or what Doesburg calls the most “sophisticated” option: an immersive experience such as a Jane’s Walk, free urban tours inspired by Jane Jacobs, who penned the classic, The Life and Death of American Cities, and advocated for mixed-used, walkable streets; or First Stories, which documents the rich Indigenous history of Toronto; or Queerstory, which will leads to sites in Toronto’s vibrant LGTBQ2S+ culture.

Driftscape, which now employs six, officially incorporated in 2017 but had been “in the works” for at least a year before that and involved a lot of “serendipity,” says Doesburg. She was inspired by a “location-specific project” called Murmur, which existed before smartphones: You could dial in and hear a story about a specific place. She was also working with a musician friend who was recording an album of location-specific songs set in Toronto; they created Track Toronto, which allows users to listen to music associated with places in the city as they pass through them, now used by Driftscape.

“People were super enthusiastic” about the experience, says Doesburg. While working on that concept, she met programmers working on a similar project, and together they dreamed up Driftscape.

The project has evolved significantly since its inception, adding more layers of information by becoming a subscription platform. For a fee—Driftscape partners—which range from not-for-profits to private content producers to businesses and municipalities—provide content for the app, such as visitor’s guides, self-guided tours[1] , and digital walks. There’s a sliding scale for partners, ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 a year. More content draws more eyes to the app, which draws more users to the app and, in turn, more partners subscribing, creating a positive feedback loop.

Says Doesburg: “We’re working with municipalities who are layering these things with tourism information so that we can become (their) digital visitor’s guide, which is even more relevant now, in the time of COVID-19. People want to do more digitally. People are looking for self-guided tours, for ways they can be their own guide, and also just looking to rediscover their own city and places nearby, the way the way you would as a tourist.”

“We’re working with municipalities who are layering these things with tourism information so that we can become (their) digital visitor’s guide, which is even more relevant now, in the time of COVID-19″.

Chloe Doesburg

That style of subscription service, however, is not without issues. Open the Driftscape app and you’ll be presented with a map of Canada, with Driftscape’s points of interest and services— loaded by its subscribers. The first thing you’ll notice is that most of the content is based in Southern Ontario, and the vast majority of that in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), making the app, at present, tremendously urban-centric. In Northern and rural areas, programming options include things like Historica Canada and its Heritage Minutes, providing a perspective that can skew to colonial, cis-heteronormative Settler norms. That’s a very different experience than users can access in the GTA, where Driftscape offers more of a mosaic.

This discrepancy is due to growing pains, Doesburg says. Driftscape can’t offer a wider variety of content in more remote areas until they bring on a wider variety of partners. “That’s certainly something we’ve spent a lot of time talking and thinking about and we’re trying to layer in other perspectives wherever we can. We are especially working to grow the Indigenous voices on the app.”

“We would certainly welcome organizations anywhere in Canada and in North America to host their content on the platform,” she adds.

In April, Doesburg participated in Fifth Wave Labs, a four-month feminist incubator geared towards supporting women-identified digital media entrepreneurs in Southern Ontario. She says the program provided mentorship and networking in a time when, due to COVID-19, everyone was feeling very distanced from each other. It also altered the way she thought about her business practices. 

Although Doesburg doesn’t necessarily consider Driftscape a specifically feminist enterprise— “We haven’t really been using that word”—she thinks of it as being in keeping with those values.

“Before doing the Fifth Wave labs program, I didn’t really think about feminist business practices,” says Doesburg, “but certainly while we were part of that program I was like, ‘Oh, this is what we already do.’” 

Doesburg says she thinks of Driftscape as a social enterprise. That “seems very, very similar, although not identical (to feminism) but certainly in terms of just looking at business as something that has profit as one of its goals, and not its only goal.”

The company’s social values, she says, include “a commitment to supporting the cultural community and being part of that ecosystem” as well as “how we run our business, that we’re committed to making the best place to work for employees. “We’re committed to having a really transparent company where we involve everyone at all levels of decision making. We’re really open about what we’re doing and what our values are, what our challenges are.”

In contrast to multinational social media giants serving up information, Driftscape features diverse local experts. Says Doesburg: “We boost the voices of local organizations who are creating fantastic content, and we create a place where users can access a wide-range of otherwise hard-to-find local information on an ad-free platform at no cost to the user.”

Driftscape is Doesburg’s first entrepreneur venture. Until 2015, the University of Waterloo graduate worked as an architect, a profession that obviously gives her a special appreciation for cities and the nature of place. “Being an entrepreneur certainly offers more freedom and flexibility,” she says of the change. “Buildings take years to complete so, compared to architecture, working on software is refreshing because it’s possible to iterate quickly, see what works, and make changes easily.”

With Driftscape growing, adapting and adding new directions, Doesburg is content knowing what entrepreneurial path she is on. “I don’t have any next steps in mind. For now, I’m focused on growing Driftscape.”


Contributor’s Bio: Lori Fox is a queer, non-binary journalist based in Whitehorse, YT. Their work focuses primarily on issues of class, gender, sexuality and environment, and has appeared previously with Vice, The Guardian, CBC, and The Globe and Mail. You can find them on twitter @fox.e.lori.


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

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Categories
Feminist Practices

How to Govern Like a Feminist

Photo by frankieleon | CC BY 2.0

Just over a year ago, Shaanaz Gokool, a woman of colour and CEO at Dying with Dignity, wrote a letter to her board of directors of the Canadian nonprofit. She presented a list of grievances, including pay equity (her predecessor had been paid more despite a narrower range of responsibilities) and ongoing experiences of systemic discrimination that undermined her ability to do her job. The pay equity issue was eventually resolved—but the systemic discrimination issues, which Gokool found to exceed federal and provincial human rights code thresholds — remained. Gokool requested a third-party mediation so that she, and the enterprise, could resolve the issues and move on in a positive way.

Soon after, the head of the Board’s human resources committee requested a meeting – Gokool thought to kick off the long-awaited mediation process. Instead, three board members showed up at her office and said, “You’re fired.” They slid an envelope across the table containing the paperwork, handed her a box for her things and coarsely ushered her out the door which made Gokool feel like she was a military grade threat. When she stopped to comfort a close colleague who, after hearing the news, was sobbing in her office, one of the board members attempted to block Gokool’s path.

“I really believed the organization was going to fulfill its commitment to mediating. I was surprised…it was abrupt…it was very shocking.”–Shaanaz Gokool

A few months later, a new CEO, a white woman, was hired as Gokool’s replacement.

To this day, the board denies any wrongdoing. So much for dignity. Hello trauma for all. 

A year later, Gokool has not been able to find employment in her field.  She believes it’s because she now has reputation as whistle blower, a troublemaker, an untouchable.

The nonprofit, the board clearly failed to treat their living employees with dignity. As for governing with care via a social justice lens or in accordance with their own stated “person-centered code of conduct,” The Dying with Dignity board, even if on safe legal grounds, gets a total fail.

Unfortunately, Gokool’s experience is far from unique. 

Set Up to Fail

There is a profound lesson here for founders. Most startups and their advisors ignore what is now one of the most important steps in the creation of a new enterprise — crafting meaningful and enforceable organizational bylaws.

But guess what? Times are a changing. Social justice is now a global concern. Forget shareholder activism. Today’s stakeholder activism demands your bylaws protect human rights and fight systemic racism — with increasingly loud voices. Failing to listen could sink the reputation of your enterprise along with access to funding, talent, government contracts and customers. And you could well be slapped with a human rights lawsuit.

Need more convincing?

Consider the impact on the Green Party of Canada when they recently hired an Executive Director who had a history of sexual harassment related allegations against him. During his several years on the leadership team of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) (#aidtoo), Prateek Awasthi also participated in IWB executive team efforts to discredit and orchestrate retaliation against whistle blowers. Former EWB employee Chelsey Rhodes broke her nondisclosure agreement in 2019 and created an online space for other victims to connect and come forward. About 90 people expressed support and 35 additional incidents were reported. Aakhil Lakhani, another former EWB employee who was sexually harassed and silenced, also broke their nondisclosure agreement in early 2019 to call out Awasthi’s conduct. Still the Green Party, while under the leadership of Elizabeth May, hired Awashi in May 2020. Several Green Party leaders and staffers protested his hire. Two staffers quit.  Party members threatened to leave.

The Green Party’s Federal Council’s (board) response to the outcry: maintain their position that he had learned from his past mistakes and, well, all that was in the past. 

Those harmed disagree, vehemently. His misconduct still impacted their lives. Many had not yet healed. Chelsey Rhodes, who filed her grievance seven years ago, organized a recent GoFundMe campaign to help Lakhani with their legal costs associated with breaking their silence, an example of feminist solidarity.

All this raises an important question. Who gets to decide when it’s ok to exonerate past behavior? The perp? Or the victims? And how much did anyone learn given the uproar from past victims and the Green Party’s stubborn defence of their hire?

The Green Party’s constitution and bylaws outlines a clear fiduciary duty to advance social justice, but its Federal Council  gets a fail on follow through and implementation. It’s not enough to market progressive intentions, the governing body has to act in alignment with those values and be clear about interpreting them — who will the board protect, the organization or the people the organization serves?

Another social justice organization, Equal Voice, faced similar fallout after firing three women of colour –initially hired to increase diversity then fired for speaking up about oppressive practices. The national nonprofit, which promotes women in politics, later struggled to keep funders, four directors resigned, and even supporters called into question the rationale of organization’s entire mission. Equal Voice bylaws make zero reference to social justice responsibilities although the goal of the nonprofit is to advance equality.

In August, LiisBeth called out the government funded nonprofit incubator Futurepreneur for its bungled response to a complaint of racism levelled against one of its volunteer mentors. Did their conduct follow rules in their bylaws when it comes to social justice issues? Hard to say. Unlike our other examples cited here, their bylaws are not available online via a Google search.   

Underlying all these cases is a problem of governance, namely, out of touch and/or ignored bylaws. And that leaves enterprises purporting to advance social justice doing the exact opposite – casting out whistle blowers as troublemakers instead of embracing them as solutionaries to advance their cause.

Why Entrepreneurs Need To Get Their Bylaws Together

I work with hundreds of entrepreneurs and founders. Few understand or appreciate the importance and role of bylaws.

Bylaws are essentially your house rules — backed by the rule of law. They are the heart of your organization. They tell investors, stakeholders, customers and employees how you really show up in the world. They lay out what you see as your duty of care and the quality of fiduciary conduct you expect from directors.

They are more powerful than any website mission or diversity and inclusion statement. And they work to align staff conduct policies (which are often more progressive) with director conduct expectations.

But too often, bylaws are bare bones, written in haste and deliberately kept short. Lawyers routinely advise founders to do so because bylaws are harder to change later due to the consensus building required. Deferring the development of contemplative bylaws saves a startup time and money. And many will argue that badass bylaws, ones that demand accountability beyond minimum legal requirements, will make it harder to entice directors to join your board.

But template bylaws and laisse-faire attitudes towards them reflect classic patriarchal standpoints.They protect directors, not enterprise stakeholders.They focus fiduciary duty on money, power and efficiency. In recent years, more progressive organizations have amended their bylaws to follow the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) standards, which gives a nod to the environment (do no harm) and corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is primarily about giving back to a community, not doing what is just in your organization.

And it doesn’t go nearly far enough in throwing off the shackles of systemic oppression.

Why Bylaws Need a Feminist Frame

It’s time to move past governing like a patriarch to governing like a feminist. And this means reconsidering how power is distributed, centering the concept of care, and articulating a commitment to social justice.

Yes, this applies also to enterprises with a founder/director of one. Un-incorporated sole proprietors would also do well to consider these issues.

The first step? Acknowledge that we live in a white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial and neo-liberal capitalist society, hence, so are the bylaws such a society spawns. Accept that it’s no longer acceptable to perpetuate these and other oppressions fueling inequality. And move, embracing guidelines for better conduct.

The next step is to boldly commit to change and consider the following:

  1. Centre care and healing as a key fiduciary responsibility: Add an expectation of care and dignified treatment of all stakeholders, especially survivors of oppressive treatment as a result of your enterprise’s actions. Duties should also include working to help those unintentionally harmed by hosting a healing circle, funding trauma counselling and sponsoring meaningful anti-oppression training.
  2. Make clear your committment to advance social justice: Incorporate a commitment to meet or exceed  Employment Standards, pay equity and the Human Rights Act. Most bylaws say something general about following the laws of the jurisdiction.  But making compliance explicit sends a clear message.
  3. Offer the Right to Be Heard: Update language regarding the right to file grievances, request independent third-party mediation, and survivor support — especially when the grievance relates to a harassment or human rights issue. Consider appointing an independent ombudsperson.
  4. Clarify and restrict the use of nondisclosure agreements: Sometimes these are appropriate and serve all parties. But when it comes to rights violations, silencing someone from talking about trauma experienced under your watch is akin to cutting out their tongue. It also forestalls healing for all. There is no plainer way to say this: Stop this practice. Work to offer healing to all parties involved, even after a formal relationship is severed.
  5. Reconsider the distribution of power: Boards are beginning to ensure diverse representation, but should also consider diversity of roles. Too often boards operate like aloof Kings and Queens in the Game of Thrones. Sure, they source input from staff who have lived experience running the day to day, but afford them little formal power to see their concerns addressed or ideas adopted. Establish voting seats for key staff, beneficiaries and/or customers. Diversity of roles incorporating lived experience along with distributed power will strengthen your organization’s ability to make wise decisions on tricky issues.
  6. Make your bylaws accessible and transparent:  Post them on your company’s website. Make it clear what your company expects of its directors. Articulate them in clear accessible language. Invite stakeholders to review bylaws and comment before ratifying. By the same token, stakeholders — clients, partners, allies, beneficiaries and staffers — need to know board bylaws and play a part in holding directors accountable. Never seen them? Ask for them.
  7. Own your good, bad and ugly: If you as the founder or board makes a mistake, don’t hide. Come clean. Tell people.  Explain how you are working to fix it. And share what you learned. Futurepreneur gets points on this one.
  8. Adopt zero tolerance: Make it clear: Your enterprise will not accept any board candidate with a confirmed history of sexism, racism or human rights violations. Period. Do your homework. Many bylaws openly “cancel out” directors with bankruptcy declaration histories (an indicator of being a poor money manager). Enterprises who work with vulnerable populations require police checks. A socially progressive startup should not tolerate a record of misconduct on human rights issues.
  9. Extend duty of care to include next generations: Consider including the Indigenous “Seventh Generation Principle” in board decision making to acknowledge that what we do today impacts future generations. This principle is often thought of in context of our relationship to mother earth. But it also applies to the relationship between the sexes and entire peoples – Indigenous, BIPOC, and migrant communities — for the benefit of future generations. Include a “reach out” principle, making it a fiduciary duty to forge meaningful connections with those harmed by our collective past. Chamber of Commerce member?. Sign up and support the Women’s/Black/LGBTQIA Chamber of Commerce as well, and articulate board support for aligned activism (such as Black Lives Matter or TheLEAP).

Still need more convincing?

At the recent Social Values conference, Stephen Nairne, Chief Investment Officer of Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, an Indigenous-led and owned financial intermediary, told the audience this: “Your enterprise will be called to account. We have to learn how to heal it when breached and potentially even reorganize to maintain their core purpose under radically changed circumstances.”

Or put another way, if you are not taking stakeholder activism seriously, rethinking your bylaws, or taking care in crafting new ones, you are screwing your investors, stakeholders, and community. Not to mention the future.

Be the change?  Fuck that. Get out there and lead the change.


Contributor’s Bio: pk mutch (she/her) is a white, cis top end Gen X serial entrepreneur, feminist, street journalist, consultant and educator who lives in Toronto and enjoys getting from place to place by bike. pk mutch is also the founder and publisher of LiisBeth Media and Eve-Volution Inc. 


 

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