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Activism & Action Our Voices

“Buying Black is Political”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethiopian-Style Ful

A Eden Hagos Family Recipe.

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

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

1

Ingredients:

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

2

Directions

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

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

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

Stir the mixture together until well combined.

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

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

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

Taste the stew to ensure that salty enough for you.

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

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

3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A picture of carribbean food plate called Ful

Ethiopian-Style Ful

A Eden Hagos Family Recipe.

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

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

1

Ingredients:

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

2

Directions

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

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

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

Stir the mixture together until well combined.

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

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

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

Taste the stew to ensure that salty enough for you.

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

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

3

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

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

Related Reading

Black Foodie Turns The Table

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

Read More »

Black Foodie Turns The Table

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

Read More »
Categories
Our Voices

A Founder’s Story: The Making of LiisBeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I left these events provoked.

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

Ureka.

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

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

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

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

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

What have we learned?

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

1

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

2

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

3

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

4

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

5

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

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

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

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

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

I left these events provoked.

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

Ureka.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Between the Cracks

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

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

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

It’s 2021—Where are we now?

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

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

This was feminist-led and feminist informed work.

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

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

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

Back to LiisBeth

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

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

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

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

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

Reflect, Recharge, Repeat

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

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

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

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

And we will be here to tell this revolutionary story.

Time to get back to work.

colourful illustration of six feminist women gathering to talk and work

What have we learned?

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

1

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

2

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

3

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

4

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

5

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

Related Reading

When a Catalyst Becomes an Inhibitor

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

Read More »
Categories
Activism & Action

LiisBeth's #IWD2020 March Playlist: Marching On, Each for Equal

Brampton rapper Haviah Mighty won the 2019 Polaris Music Prize for the album 13th Floor. (Photo by Mark Matusoff)
 
Here are 10 new songs for us to march to on Sunday, March 8, for International Women’s Day. I believe that working towards equality is a balance between doing our own inner work and taking action in the world. We must be able to honour our pain and the learning we still need to do, and also look outwards to see where there is injustice in our communities and step forward proactively.
The artists below are each striving for equality in their own way, using their platforms and voices to help us all learn and grow. We are each here to contribute to that greater purpose. Let this #IWD2020 be an inspiration for us on how we can march forward, and what direction we are heading in.

Bikini Kill, “Girl Soldier”

Bikini Kill, known for pioneering the Riot Grrrl movement, was one of the first all-female bands in punk to speak out against abuse and misogyny. “Girl Soldier,” truly an anthem to march to, points to the irony of men fighting overseas when there is a war happening on our own homes against women, women’s lives, women’s bodies, women’s rights. Seen here in a live video from the early ’90s with “Turn Off Your TV” draped behind them, Bikini Kill inspired a revolution and called us all to action. 2020 sees them reuniting in a world that just might be ready for their message.

Haviah Mighty, “In Women Colour”

Brampton rapper Haviah Mighty made history in 2019 when she became the first female rapper to ever win a Polaris Prize. The opening track to her album, 13th Floor, cuts hard to the truth of how racist and misogynistic our world (let alone the music industry) still is. She tells her powerful story, how none of it could break her, and now as she breaks boundaries with her art, she is changing the landscape for Black women in this country.

Backxwash, “F.R.E.A.K.S”

Rising Montreal rapper Backxwash identifies as queer and a witch—two communities that have historically been broken through hateful, patriarchal culture. F.R.E.A.K.S is an anthem to all the incredible people existing in the margins of society who are changing our culture by showing up unapologetically. Historical change has always come from queer and marginalized communities, pushing the restricted boundaries of normalcy and redefining identity. Today we celebrate all the amazing freaks.

Riit, “qaumajuapik”

Riit, a Juno-nominated and rising artist from Nunavut, is an embodiment of the slow but real change beginning to happen in the music industry. Her Inuktitut lyrics and throat singing speak of her experience growing up in the Northern Territories, and the strength she has found as a woman through much of it. “qaumajuapik,” the first video from her 2019 album, landed her on many incredible shows and festival lineups, a massive hurdle for an artist living in such an isolated population. Making space for voices like Riit’s is the reason our individual actions matter.

Tei Shi, “Alone in the Universe”

Colombian-born singer Tei Shi often sings on themes of love and loss but her 2019 anthem “Alone in the Universe” is a song for us to march to. If there is a God, and if she is a woman, she’s dropping the ball, Tei Shi proclaims. She follows it by promising to speak up for the sake of others, where she hasn’t been able to speak up for herself. It’s a powerful reflection on the isolation of being a woman, and the importance of taking action on behalf of ourselves and others.

Lido Pimienta, “Eso Que Tu Haces”

Lido Pimienta returns this April with her first album following her 2017 Polaris Prize win, titled Miss Colombia. “Eso Que Tu Haces” depicts the magnificent colour, warmth, and dance tradition of San Basilio de Palenque, the first place of refuge for those fleeing slavery in the Colonial Americas. Her magnetic voice and storytelling has begged Canada for years now to be accountable to continued racism in the country, and this song is no different as she sets a boundary around what can be considered a “loving action,” and what is false.

Sudan Archives, “Glorious”

This video is Black Girl Magic personified as Brittney Parks imagines her own prayer to God in the style of old oral tradition hymns. Inspired by Aisha al-Fallatiyah, the first woman to ever perform in Sudan, “Glorious” prays for money, a foundation of life in our world. It is a stunning and raw nod to intersectional equality—if we want an equal world, we have to understand that it takes marginalized genders, races, and identities that much more effort to get what they need to survive in it.

Austra, “Risk It”

Austra returns this year with new music after four years when we last heard “Future Politics,” a plea for a more equal, utopian world. “Risk It” is a call to action that can be interpreted in our love lives, our political lives, or both (since there’s really no separation in the end, is there?). As we march to the beat of this song, we can contemplate risk as an essential part of growth and change. There are places where we all need to risk it in our lives in order to see equality grow in the world.

Black Belt Eagle Scout, “Indians Never Die”

This song is a beautifully haunting comment on our Earth and the Indigenous communities that have cared for it over many generations. Colonial violence is still painfully active and destructive in the 21st century, and we are each responsible for our part in ensuring that the land we live on and the individuals who continue to care for it do not waste away. Perhaps the physical earth can be part of our vision for equality, too.

Vagabon, “Every Woman”

Do not be deceived by the gentle strum of this song. In the lyrics lives a war cry, a proclamation that Laetitia Tamko is not afraid of the battle that women face every day to exist and be free. There is a solidarity in her lyrics as we understand the importance of every woman coming together in the name of equality. We may be tired, but there’s a ways to go still before we sit down.

Related Playlists

You can also find all our playlists on Spotify under LiisBeth.
https://www.liisbeth.com/2017/07/11/summer-reset-playlist-feminist-entrepreneurs/
https://www.liisbeth.com/2018/03/15/a-change-makers-playlist/

Categories
Feminist Practices Our Voices

Family First: Meet the FEC’s Feminist in Residence for March 2020

SEEMA PABARI, Entrepreneur, Feminist in Residence, Feminist Enterprise Commons, March 2020

 

We are very pleased to announce that Seema Pabari will be joining the Feminist Enterprise Commons (FEC) as Feminist in Residence (FiR) during the month of March.

Pabari is an SEO copywriter, storyteller and digital marketing strategist who speaks five languages and runs her own consulting enterprise. She left the corporate world in 2008 to raise her child. She is a South Asian feminist entrepreneur with her own consulting enterprise and the founder of Tiffinday.com, an independent Canadian food business that specializes in delicious and healthy vegan South Asian stews. Tiffinday is a certified B-Corporation and conducts its business with respect to people and the environment. Check out how they measure their impact from an environmental standpoint.

Liisbeth recently had a chat with Pabari to get her thoughts on the importance of shaping the next generation of feminists, why we need to outlaw the word ‘mompreneur’ and how her unique business perspectives will add to the growing resources in the FEC.

LiisBeth: Why does feminism matter today? 

Women play greater roles in childcare and caregiving. Our choices, whether they are professional, personal, financial or social, remain framed by this fact. It leads to a perspective that is drastically different from men, and feminism lends voice to this difference.

LiisBeth: How has feminism influenced your choices in starting Tiffinday and your SEO enterprise?  

I left the corporate world to raise my seven-year-old child as a single parent; my employers were not open to flexible hours or remote working arrangements. International travel obligations would have required a live-in nanny to raise my son, and none of that was palatable to me, so I delved into entrepreneurship for flexible hours. I wasn’t working full-time in the beginning and I needed to supplement my income so I started a second business, a social enterprise called Tiffinday. It used to be a lunch delivery business, where I only worked from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., which allowed me to be home when my son came home from school.

Feminism directly influenced these choices because I remained determined to make the work fit into motherhood and not the other way around. Looking back 12 years, I am glad I did this. I never missed school concerts, sports meetings and parent-teacher nights. My son has grown into a well-adjusted, healthy, respectful, politically-engaged teenager and is now attending university to study biology. I take solace and full credit for this being my biggest and most successful life endeavour.

Seema Pubari promoting Tiffenday products
Seema Pabari promoting Tiffenday products

LiisBeth: What is the biggest lesson you learned when you transitioned from working in the corporate world to being an entrepreneur?

Working women tend to forget–or we try to justify or be apologetic—about our roles as mothers or caregivers. I’m not the mother of a young child anymore but I have an elderly mother who needs looking after. I’m 56 years old and when I look back, I see how much I tried to justify to my employers and the world that I need extra attention because I was woman. At this stage in my life it’s like…enough. I couldn’t care less. I’m a mother. I’m a caregiver. This is my life and everything needs to fit around my priorties.

I’ve just now learned how to not apologize for any of that. I want the younger women out there to appreciate what this means. Looking back, I was lucky that I made the decision to make my son a priority. We should take pride in our feminism and our roles as custodians of the social order of the world. I don’t think we should apologize for that. We should work with that.

LiisBeth: How did your decision to spend more quality time with your child influence him?

He is a feminist man. And there was no way he would have grown into that if I wasn’t an influence in his life. The next generation of men need to be raised with these values in mind. If you leave it up to men, they won’t do it. Women have to shape that.

He saw a single mom working really hard and he understood the injustices that happened in my life; how I had to work twice as hard as anybody else. He saw all of that and now he is a feminist man and I’m so proud of that.

LiisBeth: Are there any specific examples of feminist business practices about your work you can share?

I started Tiffinday as a social enterprise specifically to be a company for women like me who had children and limited time for work. The business is no longer what it used to be but it’s still a social enterprise. I have two sales reps and the first thing I said when they came on board was: I’m never going to ask you how many hours you work or when you work. This is the job; make your own hours and let’s see how it goes.

It’s something I would have loved to have heard from my boss when I was in the corporate space.

My concern is not about hours. My concern is if we are getting the sales, what are the barriers to success, how can I help.

LiisBeth: What were some of the challenges you faced as an entrepreneur? What systems or policies need to change to enable entrepreneurs in the future?

Through entrepreneurship as a woman and a mother, I encountered the detestable term “Mompreneur.” I no longer remain silent when I hear this term because it is offensive, and something male entrepreneurs do not encounter. These business ventures represent my main sources of income. Motherhood forced me to use my time productively, and both businesses make six-figure revenues each, today. They may not be million-dollar ventures, but they are profitable, and adding jobs and a tax base to Ontario’s economy.

I can give no thanks to the bankers and investors who labelled me a candidate of lower stature, perceiving me as someone who was pursuing a “hobby” or “side-gig” simply because I opted to work around the needs of my child. I want to see women stop using the term Mompreneur. I want financiers to understand that entrepreneurs do not grow successful enterprises from the hours they put in. I grew mine by working extremely smartly during the hours I had to invest in my business.

LiisBeth: Did you sacrifice anything when you made the change from working in the corporate world to entrepreneurship?

I sacrificed financial security at first, however we too often only look at the values we gain as financial. What I gained was the valuable time with my son. I’m glad I didn’t give up the love of being a mother for the love of being an entrepreneur. As much as I sacrificed something I gained something and I think women should look at that, and not ignore that. Balance the two and don’t apologize for it.

LiisBeth: What expertise and wisdom will you be sharing in the Feminist Enterprise Commons?  

Search engines have been around since 1997. Google’s search engines started gaining traction in 2004, and I entered this field of marketing in 2006. Google changes its algorithm more than 600 times a year. It means nobody is a true SEO expert; continuous learning is the norm. Men dominate my field of marketing. Even though I know they are in learning mode, just like me, men tend to sell themselves differently from women.  I can talk about some of this.

I pitch my SEO consulting services to new clients several times each month. 50 percent of the time, I lose to other (male) competitors. However, I normally see 75 percent of those clients return between 6 and 12 months later for a second opinion. Why? Because the person or agency they hired over-promised and under-delivered.


Did you enjoy this story? Learn from it? Help us publish more by considering a small donation. LiisBeth Media is women-owned/women-led and 100% reader supported. [direct-stripe value=”ds1577108717283″]


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Categories
Our Voices

How to Be in the Right (Authentic) Relationship With Entrepreneurship

Image Source: Unicorn Booty (Image updated June 30, 2020)

Yesterday, I found myself evaluating progress for my enterprise like one might size up a beautiful, complicated lover—four years on. In the cold month of love (February), I decided it was time to reflect and ask myself—with naked honesty—if I was in the right relationship with my enterprise.

As with interpersonal relationships, these feelings are difficult to judge, especially when we are constantly bombarded with Hallmark messaging about what a good relationship is supposed to look like. Compared to prevailing cultural narratives of what is “normal” or “promising,” my enterprise might suddenly look like shit—when it might actually be pretty okay!

So it’s wise, before jumping to conclusions, to reflect on how mainstream cultural discourses shape our expectations. What fictions about the crucible of entrepreneurship do we cling to when assessing the progress of our enterprises and our own work as entrepreneurs? What stories would better serve?

When I asked myself this, these are the 12 narratives I came up with (you might want to buckle up for this ride, it’s going to be rough before it gets better).

Check your delusions: Entrepreneurship is often marketed to womxn as the ultimate path to finding real purpose, happiness, and freedom from patriarchy! It’s a way to have a career and reduce your stress as (still) the family’s primary giver. It’s an opportunity to live the laptop life on a beach, score a better income, and say “fuck you” to the glass ceiling and rancid workplace environment. That Company of One simplicity, control over your time and wealth, is the ultimate entrepreneurial fantasy but only if you aim to scale up to the moon.

No wonder 85 percent of Canadian womxn surveyed (the majority who work for wages at present) indicate they are interested in starting a business. Some believe this is something to celebrate. I see it as a cry for help, the result of continued gender-based oppression.

While prevailing narratives sell entrepreneurship as liberation, the reality is this: as an entrepreneur, you have chosen to join the growing precariously employed segment of the labour force. Other “precariats” include the Foodora delivery rider (who makes $4.50 per order plus $1 per kilometre) as well as that new freelance consultant next door fighting for the next short-term contract. The lack of income predictability, the exploitation (like clients who take 90 to 120 days to pay), the lack of benefits, and reduced access to credit (even a car loan requires proof of stable income) is what binds this growing segment of the labour market.  Next time you take a Lyft ride, consider sharing a fist bump with the driver—because you are now sisters in arms.

How do you strategize for life as a precariat? Plan to live like you are broke every day. Launch your business with a DYI ethic. If you are selling a product, be prepared to love attending pop-up markets. If you are banking on shelf space at Shopper’s Drug Mart, get ready to forego owning your own home—or heating it. In other words, if you choose to enter the precarious workforce, be prepared for the precarity.

Know that narratives about progress fly ahead of reality: Manage your expectations accordingly. Remember that back in the ’60s, womxn looking for independence by securing a job were given a lot of advice on how to succeed. Well-meaning male “supporters” told us what to wear, where to smoke, how to fit in, when to talk, and when to shut up. Oh, and douche before going to the office. Also, smile! Back then, getting pregnant was still a fireable offence!

Have times changed? Based on the way people talk about diversity, inclusion, and gender parity, you might believe so. Yet the entrepreneurs I talk to daily say otherwise. Advisers still tell womxn entrepreneurs how to dress to win, talk, and pitch ourselves in a system that still sees us as fundamentally inadequate. And it’s still on us to figure out how to succeed as a primary caregiver and run a business. The majority of incubators and accelerator environments remain male-dominated and ineffective at dealing with gender oppression in their programming or cultures. It seems the startup world wants us to be seen at conferences and events (we need womxn in our photos!), but not heard (don’t be difficult!). You can’t get fired for being pregnant anymore but try raising a round of investment while pregnant. Try taking maternity leave or getting maternity benefits as an entrepreneur. Those costs have been completely downloaded on womxn entrepreneurs and their families.

It’s not exactly a Mad Men world anymore. Yet, we are still waging the same old battle with patriarchy. Fair access to capital is still far from our reach. While the wage gap for womxn earners has narrowed to 13.3 percent below men, womxn entrepreneurs earn a whopping 58 percent less than their male counterparts.

This maddening fact remains: the rules of entrepreneurship are still largely designed to enable privileged men—and a handful of equally privileged womxn who are held up as proof that all womxn have been invited to play. Things have to change. Because only then will womxn entrepreneurs, especially those who lean towards doing business differently, truly flourish. So, if you are struggling, keep in mind that being in business with patriarchal rules stacked against you deserves a checkmark.

Entrepreneurship is not a form of motherhood: If you think of your business as your baby, stop. Starting an enterprise is more like entering a serious adult polyamorous relationship. You read that right. You are bringing a new relationship into your life, creating a “three-way” if you already have a significant other. If your partner also has an enterprise, consider it a “four-way.” And beware. A startup can feel like a new lover—exciting, fresh and, well, newbut it will make your relationship with an existing mate significantly more complex. Simple rules don’t work. Work-life balance advice? Not applicable (as if it ever was). Successful polyamorous relationships require a lot of communication, negotiation, and understanding. They need to serve all participants, though not all needs can be served at the same time. Polyamorous—like monogamous relationships—have a high failure rate. Be prepared. Learn from experts. Think ahead. If things have changed and you need to let go of your business, think of it as a relationship that no longer serves you and has to end—versus the loss of a “child” that you created.

Remember, entrepreneurship can be a powerful revolutionary force: To be in business is not just to be a spoke in the nation’s economic wheel but to engage politically in ways a regular job rarely requires of us. As entrepreneurs, we can and must use our voices. This is one of the best and most undersold benefits of entrepreneurship—and critical, with social and climate justice in peril. We don’t have to invent a new biodegradable plastic to drive change. How we do business creates change. We can use our privilege, power, policies, and practices as entrepreneurs to help restore the environment, advance inclusivity, and reduce inequality. And push for policies that address issues related to precarious employment. And, we don’t have to drive for deep change in isolation. We can form groups and collectives or join existing organizations like the new feisty new Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce who make it their business to advocate for collective change. For those who say business and politics don’t mix, all businesses are political. Chick-fil-A sells chicken and homophobia. Patagonia sells outdoor gear and environmental justice. What kind of history is your business making? As protest novelist, activist, and this month’s Feminist in Residence Rivera Sun points out, “Even the choice to be apolitical is really just a vote for the status quo.”

Be open to transformation and outcomes you can’t control: No need to go to an ashram for three months. Your enterprise will make it very clear who you are and what’s important in life. Being a founder has consequences we can’t anticipate. Our personal transformation may, in fact, be the only real reward of the journey. Value it. It won’t buy the groceries. But it can provide the fertile ground for the next journey.

Self-care is important—but community care is vital too: If you have a venture, like it or not, you are in a community with others. It’s important to understand and get to know that community. Map out your enterprise’s ecosystem of support, which includes your neighbours, complimentary enterprises, suppliers, workers, bloggers in your field, policymakers, academic institutions, etc. No one builds or runs a business alone. Practice community care in ways that strengthens and builds resilience in your enterprise’s ecosystem. The odds of sustainability, resilience, and success will increase. Consider creating a Community Care Code of Practice.

Invest in intellectual development. Stretch your thinking: Develop an interdisciplinary personal development practice directed towards creating a future horizon of radical possibility. Prioritize events that offer well-facilitated consciousness-raising conversations or learnaries that provide the opportunity to learn deeply. Design and run operational experiments. Or support experiments created by others that you believe in.

Set emotional boundaries: Your enterprise is not your life’s work. Becoming who you want to be is. Check in with yourself. If your enterprise is helping you to become the person you want to be, terrific. If not, time for a rethink.

Measure what truly matters: Our GDP metrics mindset leads us to undervalue much of what we accomplish. Our businesses are more than profit/loss statements. Every business is a community that did not exist before. You created that! Create your own mini “impact report” each year to help you truly assess the quality and impact of that work. CV Harquail, author of Feminism: A New Idea for Business, suggests asking yourself, “Who benefits, who is harmed, and who is left out?”

See marketplace feminism for what it is: For example, those flashy ads by pro “woman entrepreneur” banks who suggest getting a loan is easy as asking for a glass of city water? It’s not. So don’t be hard on yourself if the answer is no. Look to alternatives like crowdfunding or womxn-led/operated venture fund pools.

You are human, not an algorithm: You cannot create the vast reservoir of will and energy that is purported to succeed as an entrepreneur simply by eating better, meditating more, exercising more, and being more. You are enough. And you are doing enough.

Don’t blame or shame the victim: As womxn, we endure a lot of debilitating gaslighting and demeaning, sexist behaviour in incubator/accelerator spaces. We need to shout out these stories if we want to drive change. Support womxn who call out unacceptable bias in the ecosystem. Don’t slam or isolate victims or truth-tellers as “difficult” or “losers.” Because, then, we all lose. Add your voice to calls for change. The time for an entrepreneurial version of #MeToo has come. How about #entrepreneurialAF?

And, so, am I still in love with my enterprise?  If these narratives sum up the real reality, are we doing OK?

After all that reflection, I took another look at where we are at with LiisBeth Media.

My enterprise has the power to hurt me deeply, on many levels. And, lord knows, I have been catastrophically hurt before. What person in a serious relationship hasn’t?

But, at least for now, based on a having crafted a more realistic outlook, I feel more gratitude than concern. Yes, we’ve endured harsh realities but the journey has yielded unexpected gifts. We are doing okay.

By aligning my thinking with reality versus Hallmark card or vested interest messaging about what it means to be an entrepreneur, I feel that I am now closer to being in right relationship (authentic and real) with entrepreneurship—eyes wide open—struggling with the right questions, with the right enterprise.

What more could a gal ask for?


Related Readings

https://www.liisbeth.com/2019/06/25/gaslighting-the-silent-killer-of-womens-startups/

Categories
Our Voices

Decolonizing Our Hearts

Decolonize Your Mind Exhibit. Photo: Krui.fm Radio 2016

When you hear the word “decolonization,” what comes to mind? Land acknowledgements, the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, or the Medicine Wheel? Learning Indigenous traditions and the history of colonization? The act of offering the lands that were taken from Indigenous people back to their rightful owners? (See further reading by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang below.)

Diem Marchand-Lafortune, who created an intensive two-day workshop called “Decolonizing the Heart,” describes decolonization as “a process” that guides us to look, with a critical eye, at the history of North America and its power structures, including economies and governments, which “have been formative in developing one’s own and one’s ancestors’ worldview.” It requires “working to dismantle and transform one’s way of seeing and being in the world,” and that means unlearning principles that we may take for granted. For instance, this could include analyzing our business practices and offering up products and services as gifts to people in need rather than expecting money for them.

Marchand-Lafortune, a Cree-Métis and Jewish woman who was adopted and raised by an Acadian/Mi’kmaq father and Scottish mother, says she synthesized and “indigenized” 40 years of knowledge, life experience, philosophy, psychoanalysis and practice in negotiations and law school within the two-days of teachings. The program is not a 101 on Indigenous issues. It includes complex ideas. Marchand-Lafortune warns that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who feel invested in exploring decolonization in more depth should be prepared for “hard work and self-examination.”

One goal of the workshop is “to understand oneself better so that one can interact with other people in a more healthy way,” she says. “I’ve put all these disparate things together that allow people to learn we can’t reconcile with other people till we reconcile with ourselves.”

I began to learn about decolonization when I was doing my Masters of Social Work at the University of Toronto through academic readings, experiential re-enactments of colonization, and cultural competency training. However, I felt my education on Indigenous issues was insufficient, especially following a poorly facilitated class discussion on the findings of “cultural genocide” from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (see further reading below). Students were upset and complained to the administration. Seeing the harm social workers have caused and continue to cause Indigenous people prompted me to take a class on building Jewish-Indigenous relationships at the Lishma Jewish Learning Project.

I heard about the Decolonizing the Heart workshop from a fellow student in my master’s program. Monica Henriques is a social worker of Dutch and Jamaican ancestry who took the workshop and became Marchand-Lafortune’s executive assistant.

The workshop was a lot for me to take in. I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the ideas floating around in my head while simultaneously trying to remember how to put the tools into action. Undoing nearly 35 years of colonial education, changing deep-rooted emotional reactions, and relating to others in new ways may take me more time and practice. However, the experience left me with a great deal to think about.

Decolonizing the Heart Workshop participants–photo by Carmelle Wolfson

About a dozen people attended day one of the workshop at the Toronto United Mennonite Church in Toronto’s east end, including educators, non-profit professionals, writers, social workers, and religious professionals. The workshop integrated seemingly disparate topics throughout, including traditional Indigenous teachings, anti-oppression practices, conflict resolution strategies, and object relations theory approach to human development. It involved lectures, group discussions, experiential activities, visual mapping of individual ancestry, personal reflective writing, role-playing exercises, and video re-enactments. A second day was added to allow more time to cover the expansive material and practice role-play exercises.

On the second day, we simulated a variety of scenarios in which we responded to racist remarks. In one role play that took place at a liquor store, a customer suggests to the cashier that she shouldn’t serve Indigenous people and uses an offensive racial slur. The workshop teaches tools to guide us in identifying what may have happened in our past to trigger our emotional reactions to the situation, and for bystanders to take a few moments before acknowledging the harmful comment so that we can “call in” with compassion for the person causing the harm, trying to empathize and understand that person’s motivation, rather than “call out” the harmful comment through shaming and blaming. As the type of person who tends to freeze up in conflict situations, I have a hard time finding the right words to speak up. In one role play, the bystander asks, “What did you mean by that?” The customer says that Indigenous people are prone to alcoholism and wants to protect them. The bystander then provides information found on their phone’s web browser on alcohol rates among Indigenous populations in Canada. When the discussion wraps up, the Indigenous customers jokingly suggest the customer making the racist comment might pick up the tab at a nearby cafe–in exchange for conversation and a reading list to deepen the learning.

The workshop led me to reflect on standard practices in health and mental health care that I learned during my master’s. For instance, the Medicine Wheel includes four sections that represent the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical realms of each person. Well-being is feeling balanced in these four areas. Within health care and mental health institutions, the spiritual component of healing is usually missing. Though it may sound simple, finding that sweet spot where mind, body, heart, and soul are aligned is anything but simple. In this way, traditional Indigenous teachings hold the knowledge that Western society is lacking.

The workshop also reminded me of how important relationships are to our continued survival. This includes our relationship to other people, the natural environment, and ourselves. Indigenous societies lived on the land, co-existing with plants, animals, and their natural environments long before Europeans colonized and settled North America. Living in Toronto, I rarely have the chance to connect with nature, and I do not need to think about how the food I buy in the store is cultivated. I was also raised to compete with others for limited resources and taught to be independent and self-sufficient, ideals upheld by capitalism. However, Marchand-Lafortune explains the importance of collaboration with others and building strong ongoing relationships with the people around us.

This is the fundamental question that arose for me after attending this two-day workshop: Do you want to participate in colonization and colonial practices or do you want true change? When decolonizing the heart, you may never feel like you’re getting it right, but if you are not grappling with difficult questions, then you’re probably getting it wrong.

Marchand-Lafortune offers this analogy: “It’s really hard to be a feminist if you start acting like entrepreneurs that are in the capitalist paradigm—competition, aggression, all that stuff.” Put yet another way: though people may crave sugar, we don’t need it so why not consider what is driving that craving for sugar? She suggests focusing on meeting needs rather than creating businesses that are feeding “false needs.”

The Heart in Practice

The workshop provoked months of contemplation on decolonizing the heart. What does this look like in practice? For me, that process looked something like this while writing this article:

1. Acknowledging my power and privilege as the writer crafting this story and asking critical questions. Why am I, as a white settler journalist, believed to be an expert on decolonization after attending one workshop? Whose voices are heard and whose are not? Who is given credit for this knowledge, who is benefiting from it and in what ways (financial gain, prestige)? Why are Indigenous writers reporting on Indigenous issues rarely published?

2. Engaging in ongoing conversations with the editor, publisher, and workshop facilitators while trying to understand the motivations and needs of each one. Prioritizing relationships, by allowing time for these conversations, rather than being rigid and guided by speed and productivity.

3. Identifying my emotions when they arise (anxiety, anger, frustration, sadness) and asking which unmet need each feeling is connected to. Taking the time I need to do something to dampen these emotions before re-engaging in discussions.

4. Showing up to retake the workshop a second time even though I felt exhausted and overwhelmed by the start and end of the day. Offering to help make coffee after arriving and staying after it ended to clean up.

5. Asking for advice from friends and doing additional reading on the topic. Then giving credit to those involved in my creative process at the end of this article.

6. Connecting with the spiritual traditions of my ancestors in a way that is meaningful to me.

7. Rewriting this entire article while incorporating what I learned in steps one through five.

With files from Diem Marchand-Lafortune, Monica Henriques, freygl gertsovski, and Emily Green.


Further Reading and Resources

KAIROS Blanket Exercise

Decolonization is not a metaphor by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang (2012)

Canada grapples with a charge of ‘genocide.’ For indigenous people, there’s no debate by Alicia Elliott, Washington Post (June 2019)

Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (1961)

Women and the Gift Economy: A Radically Different World is Possible, Edited by Genevieve Vaughan (2007)

The Maternal Roots of the Gift Economy, Edited by Genevieve Vaughan (2018)


This article was made possible thanks to the generosity of Startuphere Toronto!

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