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Our Voices

RADICAL IS BEAUTIFUL

A beige collage that has text that reads "Every morning I wake up on the wrong side of capitalism" as graphiti text, and a Banksy image of a bar code on a cart pulled by a white tiger"
Banksy "Barcode Tiger" mashup collage--pk mutch

My entrepreneurship journey started as a teenager. I signed up for a local entrepreneurship education program where high school students could run a business with the help of business leaders from around the region. Turns out I was good at it… REALLY good at it. Several awards, scholarships and two national conferences later, I found myself at a crossroads. Should I study commerce in university? Yes and no – I have a Bachelor of Science in Language Honours degree. All is not lost.

After completing a post-graduate certificate in Human Resource Management, I went on to spend a decade working in HR for some of the world’s most recognizable brands. My interest in entrepreneurship never faded as I began to see how large businesses failed to honour human beings as mission critical to the success of any organization.

I began to wonder about what it is to run a business. I began to question what a business actually is versus commerce (The exchange of goods & services for money). The years I spent in the dank depths of capitalist endeavours made me realize I never want to be a part of such a venture – a venture where systemic oppression (namely capitalism & white supremacy) reigns supreme.  

I had the distinct opportunity to experience innumerable instances of anti-Black racism in my career. No matter how much work I accomplished, intellectual property I produced or technology I mastered faster than others, I was still a Black woman seen as slow, lazy and a threat to the established order. 

I also began to wonder about commerce… and how my enterprises can be commerce. As I worked to bring my own enterprises to life, I happened upon the concept of radical entrepreneurship. (Holla!)

Many books, journals and conversations later, I decided to define what radical entrepreneurship meant for me as a Black woman and a person of the global majority. Radical entrepreneurship happens when you start an enterprise that transcends racism, capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy.  

It’s a return to commerce: the exchange of goods & services for money.  It’s treating people as equals, with respect, paying a thrive rate wage AND distributing wealth, educational opportunities, upward mobility influence and sharing connections (money is not the only kind of wealth), ensuring health, wellness, and not working people 16 hours a day (which people did). In short, commerce as community – a spiritual and activist endeavour undertaken to enjoy the process of work; trading (We love working at something as humans) while lifting up others in the process.

Radical entrepreneurship is having the courage to step outside societal norms to run your enterprise as you see fit. There are elements you will definitely need like good recordkeeping and an accounting/bookkeeping practice. However, the radical part means your enterprise is contributing to eradicating social injustice.

Capitalist business education will tell you that your business’s sole goal is to earn money for investors and to place profits over people. Radical entrepreneurship values people, their contributions and their livelihoods. 

Yet, I’m still a Black woman with light-skinned privilege in this dominant culture – a culture where awareness of anti-Black racism is now in the limelight and still somewhat of a trending hashtag.  Corporations are taking advantage of this golden-hued PR opportunity to allocate a teeny fraction of their sizable quarterly profits to Black entrepreneurship initiatives. Let’s not forget the countless mentorship opportunities that ultimately don’t cost anything but look good on paper.

The Black community is not a monolith but is widely perceived as one. I constantly see Black entrepreneurs who are regarded as (air quotes) successful by white capitalist standards put on display to say “Hey, we’re not racist… look at this cishet, neurotypical, able-bodied Black person who is now a millionaire.” 

To put it simply, not all skinfolk are kinfolk. 

Huge barriers to funding opportunities continue to exist within the Black diaspora.  There’s a significant divide and significant conservatism in the diaspora. Cishet neurotypical, able-bodied Black people who are willing to accept the crumbs of capitalism may indeed be successful in obtaining a few loonies but it’ll be nowhere near the resources available to their white counterparts.

Studies have been done about the hardships that Black female entrepreneurs face. The proposed solutions are literally steeped in capitalism & white supremacy. Black venture capitalists are still capitalists.  We also haven’t talked about the extraneous hoops Black women entrepreneurs have to go through to access the few funds (e.g. Being asked about your sexual orientation on a loan application which, last I checked, is a human rights issue) and even then no one seems to trust Black women with a significant amount of money…there are hair & nails to be done after all.

In navigating this world, I find myself having to explain myself constantly. I have an Honours Bachelor of Science in Language. I’m fluently bilingual in Canada’s official languages. I have worked in global head offices for some of the world’s most recognizable brands. Mastering new technologies is easy for me.  But all people see is Black… and immediately assume I’m not qualified enough, not skilled enough, not professional enough…the list goes on.  

Professionalism – for the record – is deeply rooted in white supremacy.

My mere existence is resistance in and of itself. When those days come where I wonder if my enterprises will actually thrive despite the seemingly insurmountable barriers that line my way forward, I have to remind myself that being a Black radical entrepreneur is more than a radical act. By choosing commerce over capitalism & white supremacy, I’m now actively creating change. I’m learning by doing. I’m gathering more knowledge and insight every day.

Dominant culture can keep their crumbs of capitalism. I won’t scale my enterprises in 3 months or less. I don’t exist to make money for those who’ll remove it from the economy at large and hoard it for their own purposes. I won’t pander to those who choose not to see my worth or genius in favour of my skin colour.  

Radical entrepreneurship is going to be the way forward for this Black entrepreneur. 

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Our Voices

STRIKING THE RIGHT CHORD WITH WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS

Image of a brown woman wearing a hijab, standing, hands on a railing, wearing orange shirt. There are plants in the background. She is wearing pink eyeshadow.

“They tried so hard to bury us, they didn’t know that we were seeds”. With these words, Ojibwe founder of Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics, Jenn Harper, set the tone for this year’s STRIKEUP event – a digital conference for women entrepreneurs.

Harper had me hooked. Her profound words during her remarkable opening address became the emotional backdrop of the entire event for me. She went on to share her personal journey of survival, healing from inter-generational trauma of residential schools and settler-colonialism, to eventually going on to run a successful beauty brand.

Based on my previous experiences at entrepreneurship events which centred on individualism, grit and glorified capitalism, arriving at STRIKEUP I had expected to gain business acumen. I wasn’t expecting to be quite this moved and motivated. This space felt different. This space gave space to stories that left my heart full, and my mind buzzing with ideas.

As a multi-passionate entrepreneur, I was eager to learn about ways to nurture the growth of my businesses ethically and sustainably in a pandemic market that seems to be changing at a mind-spinning pace.

Imge showing a zoom panels of speakers from the Strike Up event
Panel at STRIKEUP 2022 ‘Decision Points: Your Edge to Success’. Pictured from left to right, Suzie Yorke, Catherine Addai, Indira Moudi, Teara Fraser, Agatha Alstrom. This year's event featured 30 speakers. Over 4000 women from 25 countries participated.

Collective Care in Commerce 

Work-life balance was a theme that came up often in the success stories that the speakers shared.

STRIKEUP centered much of the conversation of success in business on inclusion and an ethos of self-care and community care.

In a fireside chat with Joanna Griffiths, she shared the importance of boundary setting to avoid taking on too much, reminding us that ‘no’ is a beautiful word. It was inspiring to hear from women who valued their reclaimed time -for how much more they were able to invest it back into themselves, their loved ones, and even their customers.

Catherine Addai, Founder of the clothing store Kaela Kay said it beautifully when sharing that her decision to focus only on her business instead of working multiple jobs was a risk, but one that allowed her time for herself, her family, and her mental health. Throughout the conversations, there was an important parallel drawn between our capacity to care for ourselves as entrepreneurs, and the possibility to also care for and nurture every aspect of our business and the stakeholders involved – from collaborators to customers.


An image of a muslim woman wearing a hijab speaking into a microphone. Text says Strike Up Something Beautiful by Timaj Garad
Want to hear something beautiful? Check out Timaj Garad's spoken word performance capturing her experience at StrikeUp 2022 here. For more of her work, click on the social media icons below.

The Futurepreneurs 

What I found most inspiring about STRIKEUP was the hope it instilled for the future of women’s growth in business.

In her talk about AI (artificial intelligence), adaptations and tech trends, Amber Mac debunked the idea of the doomsday scenario often depicted by the idea of AI and automation, highlighting our incredible ability to adapt to technology. She shone a light on technology’s ability to unite us by providing greater access to all, while also helping us prioritize our purpose and re-imagine work. Her focus was on ‘growing’ or ‘soft’ skills like critical thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence that push us forward and help us to continually adapt to a changing world.

Similarly, in her fireside chat, Griffiths says that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ‘Futureproofing’ – preparing your business for the future. Building a business that is future-ready is about truly listening to your customer’s needs and continually trying to understand and adapt to their wants and needs.

When it comes to future-focused thinking, businesses are shifting faster than ever. Social Media Strategist Alecia Bryan’s learning lab about simplifying operations was an insightful, deep-dive into automation tools and approaches that could support that shift. She reviewed e-commerce software that supports adaptive change such as optimized online stores, conversational commerce, and social media platform integration as key to a ‘digital first’ business approach.

My most meaningful takeaway from STRIKEUP was the validation that women business owners can successfully emerge into a lane of our own choosing, through a multitude of entry-points into entrepreneurship.

There is no specific roadmap, only a fine tuning of your internal compass, the right tools to stay on your path, and strong companions to help you find your way. Harper put it succinctly. “There really is no wrong decision if you learned something from it”.


a gray image featuring pictures of three women announcing Strike Up events now available on demand
STRIKE UP 2022 Talks Now Available on Demand

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Activism & Action

OECD releases report on entrepreneurship policies through a gender lens

The Global WEP team, 2018. Photo provided.

There are currently 1.2 million women entrepreneurs in Canada and there’s no stopping them.

The Trudeau government is hoping to double the number of women entrepreneurs by 2025, having spent $5 billion working towards this goal already, and announcing a $147 million top up in its 2021 budget.

Indeed, policymakers around the world are eying women entrepreneurs as an untapped economic resource and a key driver of post-pandemic economic recovery and future growth.

The question, however, is if they’re helping or hindering this growth.

Do policymakers “get” women and women-identified entrepreneurs? And are women entrepreneurs politically engaged enough to ensure the gender ball and shackles are smashed once and for all?

A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is shedding light on the role of policymakers and their policies on economic recovery and growth.

An intergovernmental economic organization with 38 member countries, OECD published a new report that examines how to strengthen the scope and effectiveness of entrepreneurship policies for women.

It examines both dedicated measures for women and ensuring that mainstream policies for all entrepreneurs are appropriate for women. It also highlights the “many long‑standing issues related to the scope and effectiveness of women’s entrepreneurship policies – many of which have been exacerbated by the COVID‑19 pandemic – and point the way to more effective policy.”

Image via OECD’s website.

Professor Barbara Orser from the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management co-authored and edited this report, along with  Dr. Colette Henry, Dundalk University, Ireland (Founding Chair of Global Women’s Enterprise Policy Research Group – Global WEP) and Dr. Susan Coleman, Professor Emeritus, Hartford University.

LiisBeth spoke with Orser about the process of creating the report, as well as the highlights and the recommendations made in it.

LiisBeth: Can you start by telling us more about your work in the entrepreneurship space and with the OECD?

Barbara Orser: For the last 30 years, my research portfolio is focused on entrepreneurship with a particular specialisation in women’s entrepreneurship. That includes studies in finance procurement, decision making, access to international trade and public policy.

The OECD report is a product of my role as an executive of the Global Women’s Enterprise Policy Research Group, and this is a key element of the OECD report — it’s a group of senior academic scholars with expertise in women’s entrepreneurship. We’ve worked with the OECD and we’ve worked with the 34 scholars that contributed to the report to try and craft a coherent picture of the state of women’s enterprise policy and entrepreneurship policy from a gender lens around the world.

LiisBeth: What was missing from the conversation on women’s entrepreneurship policy prior to this report and what are the gaps you’re hoping to fill through it?

Orser: It’s about building back better. That’s the mantra not only in Canada, but within the G20.

Governments are looking at measures — both policy and programs — to kickstart economies and drive innovation. Underrepresented groups, women, youth, rural, physically and differently abled people are priority issues for these economies.

When you look at the public policy domain around women’s entrepreneurship, what our report makes very clear is that it’s highly fragmented. So with entrepreneurship, by and large, most interventions are poorly funded, pilot, single efforts. They’re not integrated into a policy strategy. So that’s the first thing — policies without programs, programs without policy support.

Then there are ad hoc initiatives. One of the key observations coming out of this report to inform pandemic recovery is the need for overarching policy frameworks. Canada, in fact, is a model for that. It can always be improved, but there are very, very few economies that have that kind of overarching framework.

A second recommendation … is that when you look at the number of economies we were profiling,  most don’t report using gender disaggregated data. Then move forward to women-identified firms to be inclusive — it’s not even in the vernacular, the vocabulary of public policy.

For the readership LiisBeth … I think this report provides a litmus test of how we’re doing, and I think we’re doing reasonably well, but we can do better.

Dr. Barbara Orser

LiisBeth: What was the process of collecting the information and actually creating and editing the report?

Orser: For this project, we met in 2018, so it was a long haul — three years to get this to publication.

We met with the OECD to talk about the idea of and this is really important — [we applied an] arm’s length critical assessment. The role of the academic is to be critical at arm’s length, so there’s no vested interest per se in the author’s commentary. They’re not a lobby group. They’re not a government group. They’re academics, they’re paid to be as objective as they can.

We invited scholars and the criteria of inclusion was you’re a member of global WEP, which means you’ve been writing in the area of women’s entrepreneurship. These are folks that have established credibility as scholars within their own respective countries as well as the broader peer reviewed academic literature.

We also asked them to write on the topic of their choice. We didn’t prescribe what they had to write, which was great because then we could see what was important to the scholars around the world. From there, we aggregated the findings.

The final research went through peer academic review, an internal OECD review, and then a review by their member economies. Three years later, we finally have the report.

LiisBeth: What do you hope the public takes away from this report?

Orser: So let’s start with the women-identified entrepreneurs. In my book Feminine Capital, the final chapter looks at public policy. In it, I quote Patty green who’s worked both in academia and has run the labour office in the United States. She tells women entrepreneurs to be familiar with public policy or go out of business because public policy has a huge impact on the way we do business. So I’m hoping that entrepreneurs can take a look at this and say, what’s my provincial government doing about it? What’s my municipal government doing? Where do I see myself in this report? [I hope they] begin to pressure governments to be more supportive in terms of programs and policies for women-identified entrepreneurs.

Public policymakers can also look at this report and benchmark their policies. I don’t know to what degree the public stay up at night thinking about this, but it does present a global lens on the importance of measures and also commensurate funding and programming to support women entrepreneurs who historically have been under-supported. We know there are issues about accessibility and relevance of business support measures, so we hope that they could take this report, show it to their member of parliament and say, ‘What are you doing to support my business?’ regardless of the country.

LiisBeth: That’s great! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Barbara!

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Activism & Action

$5.5 Billion Investment Required To Prevent Collapse of Emerging Women’s Entrepreneurship Sector

woman standing against a wrecking ball
Photo by Federico Caputo / Alamy Stock Photo

Monday, April 12: The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC) released an emergency task force report calling for $5.5 billion to support women entrepreneurs — a sector disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

“Let’s get real about this: women-owned and -led businesses are integral to Canada’s economic recovery,” says Nancy Wilson, CanWCC’s founder and CEO. “Forget leaning in — we need support to lean on as we start and scale our businesses.”

The independent task force calls for $5.5 billion in renewed funding in the 2021 federal budget for the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy; $500 million in recovery funding targeting Black, Indigenous, racialized and mature (over 40) women entrepreneurs; and the expansion of the Canada Recovery Benefit program for self-employed and startup founders left without basic income because of the pandemic.

The task force also recommends creating an inter-ministerial committee to better address the needs of all women in the economy and break down silos that currently exist between the Ministry for Women and The Gender Economy (WAGE); Industry Canada/Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED); Ministry of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade; and the Ministry of Finance.

The report, supported by leaders in the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, was developed as a response to lack of inclusion in the “Task for on Women in the Economy” and the cross-ministry feminist pandemic recovery budget process, as well as deepening concerns that the federal government “still doesn’t get” women entrepreneurs.

Who are Women Entrepreneurs?

The newly released State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada (March 21) report by Ryerson’s Diversity Institute paints a clear picture of the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and the lives of its precarious income-based participants.   

In a nutshell, the sector’s enterprises are like a million atoms that are intricately networked. In some provinces, long established women’s enterprise institutions act as supportive lenders, skills educators and data gatherers for policy makers. Some find affinity in publicly funded incubators and accelerators. But the majority of women entrepreneurs are left to resource themselves. They have created more than 180+ unfunded, regional, grassroots, mutual-aid support networks.  

Women entrepreneurs tend to build businesses in care-economy sectors and operate them in relational, innovative, inclusive, generative ways that aim to lift up their communities — not just themselves. Their enterprises may be micro when measured in dollars, but powerhouses when full and indirect impact is considered.

On average, a woman entrepreneur, once established, earns $68,000 gross per year. Their male counterparts earn 58 per cent more — a truly cringe-worthy pay gap.

Only 15.6 per cent (114,000) of all small to medium incorporated enterprises in Canada are majority owned by women; more than 92 per cent of these enterprises are defined as “micro-firms” with less than 20 employees. Another 37.4 per cent (1 million+) of women entrepreneurs are self-employed.  

Though small, this sector can have financial clout. According to a 2017 McKinsey study, an investment in women entrepreneurs could result in up to $150 billion (or about 31 times what the task force calls for) in economic growth for the Canadian economy. The report noted that “This projected increase was 6 per cent higher than business-as-usual GDP growth forecasts over the next decade. Put another way, this figure is equivalent to adding a new financial services sector to the economy.”

Eager to boost this potential, the government invested $5 billion in a Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) program in 2019. According to task force participants, this investment has had tremendous impact. However, those gains are in danger of being completely lost — not just set back — due to the pandemic’s disproportionate, multi-layered impact on all women.

Since COVID-19, more than a quarter of all women-owned firms laid off 80 per cent or more of their contractors, freelancers, employees.

Paulina Cameron, serial entrepreneur and now CEO of The Forum, a women’s enterprise support charity in Vancouver, says she is frustrated. 

“Government supports are still built around our understanding of the way men built companies in the 1990’s. The hard line between for profit, public and nonprofit policy no longer makes sense. Women entrepreneurs increasingly design enterprises that ignore these boundaries. We learned this past year that women entrepreneurs play a significant yet unseen role building social well-being and economic resilience — we are going to need a whole lot more of that in the coming decade.” 

Janice Bartley, Founder of Foodpreneur Lab

Why Were Women Entrepreneurs Left Out of Covid Relief?

Most small to medium enterprises (SME) COVID-19 relief programs focused on larger firms, which excluded the vast majority of women entrepreneurs.  Like women wage earners, women entrepreneurs were also crushed by shouldering the majority of unpaid care and home-schooling work during the pandemic.

According to a recent study on Black and Indigenous women entrepreneurs, 78 per cent face barriers to accessing financing in addition to racialized oppression by institutions including banks, incubator and accelerator programs.

Janice Bartley, a Black woman, serial entrepreneur and founder of Foodpreneur Lab,  took on side gigs to pay bills for the past two years, even though her enterprise was on the verge of providing her with an income. 

Then COVID-19 hit.

“We were in the process of negotiating some significant contracts including a college — which would have really helped us launch — but because of COVID-19, they fell through.”

Like many, Bartley’s enterprise was not big enough to benefit from small business COVID-19 support initiatives. Most of the loan programs are beyond reach for founders who don’t have net worth (say in home ownership) to fulfil the personal guarantee requirements.

“I think any founder knows that there’s going to be financial risk involved in starting and growing a business,” says Bartley. “And I think there’s a willingness for us to do that, as long as there’s some supports to help survive things like a pandemic.” 

two quotes, two women, purple background

Women Entrepreneurs Are a Good Bet — So Why So Little Money on the Table?

Preliminary research shows incredible returns on investments, says Wendy Cukier, Director of Ryerson’s Diversity Institute, “even in loan programs targeting women, whether measuring job creation or social impact.” She notes that the “WES initiative has strengthened the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and we are starting to see the results. However, if we allow these initiatives to wither and new seedling businesses to die, we should not be surprised to see negative economic and social consequences.”

So why are women entrepreneurs often overlooked by mainstream programs and financing? Cukier says it’s often because of how “innovation and entrepreneurship are framed.”

The CanWCC independent task force has put forward compelling evidence that a $5.5 billion investment in women’s entrepreneurship would go a long way to ensuring momentum gained in the past few years is not forever lost. 


Publishers Note: pk mutch, contributor and LiisBeth publisher is a board member at the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC) and transparently supports their vision, mission and mandate. Mutch was also a task force member. 

Resources/Sources:

Download the full CanWCC report here

Access the State of Women’s Entrepreneurship 2020 report here. 

Read the Feminist Recovery Plan for Canada here. 

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Our Voices

The Nuffers Are Coming!

Image of five diverse women in white T-shorts looking straight ahead with a face that says I have had enough.
Nuffers? Women entrepreneurs who have had enough. Photo by Jason Lund


I have a fantasy that a small group of ordinary women entrepreneurs started a revolution to end capitalism as we know it and as a direct consequence, help make ghosts of all forms of oppression.

Women entrepreneurs are indeed unlikely revolutionaries (bad for business, busy, mostly broke). But the conditions were beyond ripe.

In my dystopian scenario, the pandemic receded, but the climate crisis violently took up the slack. Trump was gone but neoliberal capitalism was still a force. The people and planet were hurting in new, unprecedented ways. Yet most corporations, entrepreneurs and business owners, large and small, acted as though it was still business as usual, lobbying for handouts, tax cuts, less regulation, more subsidies, less social or environmental accountability and lately, even a reduction in minimum wages. The she-recovery? Universal income? Never happened. Too expensive. Meanwhile, homes became offices and office towers became shelters. Food prices increased. Incomes declined. Billionaires continued to rake it in.  

It didn’t have to turn out this way. But people’s imaginations were stuck reconstructing “new normal” that was not really new. 

The revolution’s slogan was “Enough Already.” 

The left-wing media dubbed them Nuffers; the right-wing ignored them, at their peril.  They organized, created a platform, tens of thousands marched in the streets. They wore distinctive, embroidered hats

But who were the “Nuffers”? Where did they come from? What did they want?

The OG Nuffers group met, first online, and then in a local park at the height of the 2020 pandemic. They had arranged to get out of the workhouse (which used to be called home) to walk for an hour or two to clear their heads. They, socially distanced, with take-out coffees in hand, masks on, started talking, sharing stories and well, the rest is now history.

The OG (original group) Nuffers—with names like Dori, Nura, Oba, Frida, Orenda, Edna, Rodayna, and Jane—were not “Dragon’s Den” hopefuls. None had written a “see me-be me” book or made the “top whatever” list.  They didn’t qualify for loans, or ongoing COVID-19 business relief programs. Their enterprises were considered ‘micro’ due to the fact they employed less than four people.  However, their ‘smallness’ was their power. It allowed them to think and innovate in ways investor grade ‘bigness’ did not. They believed there was a better way to do enterprise building work than what they were told by entrepreneurship’s governing gentry class. Daily resistance and feminism had opened their minds and unleashed imaginative solutions and ideas about what a post-capitalist world might look like—and how to get there.  

They wanted a post-capitalist world.  Because when you really think about it, modern capitalism is what holds white supremacy, patriarchy and colonialism in place. Pull out that lynchpin, and much of what hurts people and the planet falls away. 

As Nura, owner of one so called ‘microenterprise’ and elected spokesperson explained the movement’s meteoric rise during a live stream interview from her home: 

“Business leaders called us ‘socialists, feminist’—or worse—dismissed us as tinkers or  lifestyle entrepreneurs. The Left ignored us a petty-bourgeoisie. Turns out, our radical tiny enterprises, that now number in the tens of thousands, have quietly operated like water that flows between the cracks for years.  We noticed and responded to the tiny whispers that reflected emerging community values and needs that traditional capitalist ears could not hear. We learned to collaborate, value and resource our work in clever, generative ways. Turns out, the footpaths we forged are the very ones we need to find our way out of the colossal mess we made!” 

Nuffers were considered cool by Gen Z, but that didn’t mean they had it easy. They were not considered seriously by those in power. Critics scoffed, “If entrepreneurship is a child of capitalism, can entrepreneurs really be post-capitalists?” They did not fit neatly into boxes either. They did not identify as social enterprise founders. They wanted to create enterprises that dismantled systems—versus bandage them. 

In the fullness of time, the Nuffer movement resulted in the creation of commercial scale peer-lending programs, women-entrepreneur focused credit unions, and the globally networked Centre for Nuffer Enterprises whose research units and startup incubator and accelerator programs were housed in leading business schools around the globe. 

As post-capitalist ways of doing became the norm, racism and other systems of oppression became feeble. People began to relate to each other differently.

The movement inadvertently bolstered ranks of the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (now 100 000 members strong) because, well the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and other traditional, politically conservative associations were losing their women members in droves. 

New Society Entrepreneurs, a new federation of diverse, grassroots post-capitalist enterprise groups was established. They would be called upon to collaborate with government and pro care-economy activist organizations to help design and implement post-capitalist entrepreneurship programs and ultimately, a post capitalist economy.

Frida, the New Society Entrepreneurs co-chair, wrote: “Turning the corner actually was more possible than anyone thought.  All we had to do was summon the will. Then work to heal, centre care, love, peace, joy, belonging, and realize that small enterprises, under the guidance and imagination of progressive founders, can be a powerful force for change.”

I get a text from my daughter. 

She is now a Nuffer entrepreneur in her own right, has learned how to build a thriving new society enterprise—well anchored, over time, in community, from the inside out, one that cares for her and everyone involved, and one that is well supported by branches connecting her enterprise to a healthy earth and grounded, flourishing society.  And yes, she makes money. 

My fantasy ends. 

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Our Voices

“How Can We Support You?”

Immigrant Women in Business (IWB) Group. Photo provided.

In 1986, when then Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev allowed citizens to become private entrepreneurs, Svetlana Ratnikova lined up at 4 in the morning to register her first business selling car seat covers. “I was one of the first female entrepreneurs in Moscow in Russia,” says the now-52-year-old who immigrated to Canada in 1994 and shifted gears to become a social-impact entrepreneur.

Svetlana Radnikova, founder, Immigrant Women in Business (IWB). Photo Provided

Flash forward to over three decades later, Ratnikova is now the founder and CEO of Immigrant Women in Business (IWB), a network of female entrepreneurs whose mandate is to support and mentor other up-and-coming female immigrant entrepreneurs.

Founded in 2017, the nonprofit now boasts 75 founding members who pay a sustaining membership of $2,500 [NS1] and hundreds of members paying $29.70 or $49.70 a month (depending on their membership tier)[NS2] . The group is highly diverse, with more than 75 countries around the world represented and members working in a variety of fields, from pharmaceuticals sales to public speaking and coaching. Anywhere from 50 to 80 people routinely attend their events: four networking mixers and four educational seminars every month. Their annual International Women’s Day events draws hundreds of women for a day of celebration and networking.

IWB also provides micro-loans to help immigrant start-ups launch and connects new Canadians with mentors. Typically, these mentors are founding members of IWB, who all have experience in their fields and a vested interest in the success of immigrant women. They guide their mentees in everything and anything needed to thrive as a business owner—from leadership skills, to public speaking, to online marketing.

Maria Carolina Ojeda, who recently became a founding member, describes how her early encounters with IWB helped her relaunch and grow her business.  At a one-on-one meeting to discuss her business strategy, Ratnikova immediately pinpointed a crucial aspect of Ojeda’s cleaning service that wasn’t working out. “[Ratnikova] went over all of my social media, like all of them,” recalls Ojeda. “And then she started telling me, ‘Okay, what you need to do is to get more exposure.’” Ojeda updated her social media profiles with help from Ratnikova and other IWB members, which she credits for her company’s growth—Ratnikova then helped Ojeda access co-op students to hire as administrative assistants to help handle her new clients.

The idea to start IWB came to Ratnikova when she noticed it was hard to find mentors and connections who understood her experiences and goals. She felt she never fit in at networking events, even those for women. They couldn’t relate to her struggles or her successes. “There’s a different type of thinking between people who were born in this country and people who are immigrants,” she says. “When I talk to immigrants, we talk like sisters, because we have similar experiences. They already are risk takers, just like me.”

IWB group photo. Svetlana Radnikova first row on the left. Photo provided.

Jacqueline Dixon, one of IWB’s founding members, agrees. “[The experience of being an immigrant] is what binds us together in such a strong way,” she says. “The fact that we’re able to see each other for who we really are, and identify that women, regardless of their cultural background, face a lot of the same obstacles.”

The women in IWB don’t specifically talk about feminism or use the word “feminist;” their goal is female empowerment, to lift each other up and create a space for immigrant women to thrive. They don’t need (or necessarily want) to put a label on the work they do. Ratnikova [NS3] says a lot of them believe it is a privilege to be an entrepreneur. “People always say, ‘Oh, immigrants that come to this country, poor them.’ No, we are actually very fortunate, because this country gives us the chance to be who we are.”

Events and meetings are raucous and energetic, just like the members themselves. Given the group’s diversity, conflicting opinions and heated discussions can arise but IWB members are committed to looking beyond differences and focusing on what they share. This commitment to bonding over similarities has created a supportive network of women ready to help at every turn, in any way that they can. They all understand, and can sympathize with, what it’s like to be a newcomer.

“You’ll never get it until you’ve made that step yourself and went to this country without money, without friends, without any network, when you don’t speak a word of English and you have to make it,” Ratnikova emphasizes. “That experience makes you a different human being.”

Conversations at events and within the group itself centre around getting to know each other very well. Questions about culture, goals, next steps, barriers to success, and risk-taking dominate discussions at IWB meetings. These “really deep questions,” says Dixon, is what leads to finding commonalities and forging relationships and a support system that’s personalized for a member’s needs.

Ratnikova believes the relationships that these women build with one another are integral to businesses in general but especially important to new Canadians who might otherwise face barriers in making critical connections. Dixon agrees: It’s all about “enabling them to build skill sets and networks that will allow them to survive.” There’s an understanding between members that when you move to a new country, you don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language and just need a little support to get you up and running.

After every new person at the speed networking event I attended introduced themselves, Ratnikova asked the speaker this simple yet moving question: “How can we support you?” And, though I was there to research this article, members at the Zoom event welcomed me with open arms, insisting I send them my previous work to pass along to anyone who might be looking for writers. In just my first encounter with IWB, the support and enthusiasm was overwhelming.

Perhaps the reason the group is so successful is because of the great love and respect these women have for one another—enough to share with anyone new who stumbles into an IWB event. “It’s really a sisterhood of women with way too much energy,” says Dixon. “There’s just this real wonderful love. You cannot leave an IWB meeting not pumped up and ready to conquer whatever obstacles are in front of you.”

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