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. 


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!

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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Activism & Action

By Refugee Women, with Love

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

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

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

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

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

LiisBeth: What inspired you to create Sitti?

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

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

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

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

Sitti soap gift set

LiisBeth: What was the process of building Sitti?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LiisBeth: How has the pandemic impacted Sitti?

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

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

LiisBeth: What’s next for Sitti?

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

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

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

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

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

Did you enjoy and find value in this article?  Please consider helping us publish more of them!  LiisBeth is an indie, womxn-led/owned media outlet.  We depend 100% on reader donations.  Please consider a contribution today!

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Image by Clique


Growing Into Feminism

In her book “Living a Feminist Life”, Sara Ahmed asked the question: “When did feminism become a word that not only spoke to you, but spoke you, spoke of your existence, spoke you into existence?”

In other words, how does someone reach a point when, without apology, you identify as a feminist? Especially when it seems the only place you can find courses on the subject are in university calendars?

Last week, CV Harquail, a colleague, shared this remarkable article with me: Amanda Sinclair’s Five movements in an embodied feminist: A memoir. Sinclair says we become feminists over time by experiencing physical and intellectual struggles thrown at us by a system that routinely subordinates women and gender minorities. She says our lived experiences and feelings lead us to feminism. We don’t seek it out. It finds us. 

I decided to consider my own journey and put this theory to the test.

My first awareness of feminism came in 1975, which coincided with the United Nations’ declaration of the Year of the Woman. I learned about Gloria Steinem. Morgentaler risking his life to open abortion clinics to make the procedure safe and more available to women in Canada. The Equal Rights Amendment in the United States (and a woman!) Phyliss Schafly fighting against the extension of women’s rights. Cheeky Iona Campagnolo who ran for leadership of the Canadian liberal party and endured a pat on the bum from the eventual winner…and returned it! Iris Rivera, who taught us you can get fired for not making your boss a cup of coffee.

When all this turbulent media coverage swept over me, I was 13 years old…

To continue reading VIEWPOINT, by LiisBeth Founder and Publisher, Petra Kassun-Mutch, click here.


Parachute Voltige (photo credit: Daniel Lepôt)

100% Feminine: 14 Women Reaching New Heights in Canadian Skydiving 

When it feels like the sky is falling, why not jump out of a plane? Lana Pesch takes us on her journey of setting a new Canadian skydiving record this past summer and the value of role modelscollaboration and discipline, and taking calculated risks. Read about the power of passion here.

Heads up! This is a longer than usual piece for us. 3200 words worth of adrenaline infused narrative. Buckle your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.


We love political T’s.

It’s how we discovered Jamie “Boots” Marshall’s t-shirt shop on Etsy. Marshall is an artist and graphic designer. In the past she’s worked as a freelance illustrator and art director, but her main focus has always been t-shirt design. Currently, she owns and runs Boots Tees, an online shop for her t-shirts, art, and other fun stuff. Her hobbies include: reading, board games, and fighting the patriarchy

We LOVE her work so we got her to help us create our first feminist entrepreneurship T-shirt!  LiisBeth is not in the T-shirt business. But Marshall is. So we promote and she gets the sales. A win-win collaboration!  #buywomenled

The shirt is available at $32.00 hereFor a 10% discount use the LiisBeth reader discount code: LIISBETH10

We will also be selling the shirts at the upcoming FAC “Framed by Feminists” market at the Gladstone Hotel, in Toronto, on Sunday, Oct 28th, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Come and see us! Sitting behind a computer gets a little lonely sometimes!


The 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum in Toronto is only 6 weeks away!

What’s in store this year? If the list above is too small to read on your phone, get the full speaker bios and session details here! The EFF 2018 includes three thought provoking foundational talks, three deep dive lab sessions, six 90 minute “think and do” workshops, two embodied movement classes, journaling and creative writing break rooms, a poster session, reception and more! Watch for updates and get your tickets here.

The early bird rate is $250 (till Oct 31st). Regular $299. Student rate is $99. FOR TWO WHOLE DAYS! 

Watch for news about our official transportation partner & childcare support!  And local dog walking services too! 


Biusual Studios


Did you miss LiisBeth’s Op Ed in the October 16th Globe and Mail Small Business Report online?

No worries, you can also read it here.

The main point?  We called on Mary Ng, the Canadian minister of small business and export promotion, to do something bold with the new $85M in funding for support for women entrepreneurs she announced in September. You can read the release here.

We would love your input and comments!

Design by Merian Media

What is the Story Behind LiisBeth’s Symbol?

When you start exploring LiisBeth, you will see our ¤ icon throughout and you might wonder, what does it represent? It is actually an adaptation of the international typographic symbol used to denote an unknown currency, which we thought was the perfect starting point for creating a graphic representation of LiisBeth’s inclusive and empowering ethos. And more!  To read the full story, click here.


Gender Equality Network Canada – Youth Panel Discussion – Sept 18 2017

Have You Heard about Canada’s Gender Equality Network (GEN)?

Well, we had, but weren’t exactly sure what it was. So we spoke with Ann Decter, Director of Community Initiatives & Gender Equality Network Canada at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

GEN is a three-year project to create a network of 150 women across the country who are already working to advance gender equality. To be eligible to join the network, you have to be involved or leading a project that is funded by the Status of Women of Canada. The goal? To deliver a National Action Plan for the advancement of gender equality in about 1.5 years.

One of the key themes they are working on is to identify policies and ways in which women, who live longer than men, can become more economically secure given the accumulated effects of the gender wage gap.

We asked Decter if a recommendation related to support of women’s entrepreneurship might be one of the topics in the report. “You have to have some means to use entrerpreneurship to move yourself up. And it’s not the most secure way to go,” Decter said.  She believes that a universal childcare policy would be a key part of any plan looking to advance the economic security for all women. 

When asked about what keeps her up at night these days, Decter expressed concern over Canada’s Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent use of the notwithstanding clause to undermine rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights, explaining that “unlike our American sisters, Canadian women’s rights are written into the Charter, but that means nothing if we continue to elect governments who choose to invoke the notwithstanding clause to override them.

To protect women’s rights that have already been won, Decter adds, “We need to do what we can to protect the Charter. The more we elect governments supportive of the Charter of Rights, the more safe we [women, women’s rights] are.

Partner (photo credit: Jennifer Hyc)

Venus Fest Round Up

The vibe at this year’s Venus Fest was excited, open, and connected. With close to 1000 people over 3 nights, attendance was up by 65% from last year! The music fest dedicated to celebrating feminism in the arts extended the event to 3 nights instead of one full day, and added a kick off show and panel, plus a stellar afterparty!

Feature acts included Maylee Todd who included a full harp for her performance and used her live programming skills to create an incredible show. Moor Mother brought the full intensity of her work to the stage and the audience was 100% entranced. On closing night, Partner (pictured above), fresh off their Polaris short-list performance, gave a high-energy Venus Fest-loving set.

Plans for Venus Fest 2019 are underway and you can bet it will as beautiful and treasured by the community as this year, featuring new artists who are paving the way and dancing to the beat of their own drum.


LiisBeth is giving away a ticket to WEConnect’s Power the Economy conference on October 26th in Toronto. Be the first person to email the names of the two keynote speakers here. Value: $400

Attention ALL women-owned businesses!
Less than 1% of large corporate and government spending goes to women-owned businesses… globally and WEConnect corporate members are committed to getting more money into the hands of women.

Join WEConnect to have networking opportunities in a global network of over 80 corporate buyers and thousands of businesses around the world. Matchmaking events expose you to leaders in supplier diversity and inclusion, business experts, and successful women business owners. You’ll get business leads, valuable contacts, and gain access to an incredible ecosystem.

Gender Physics: Flying on Both Wings

“Gender is social construct,” says Heggie, author of Gender Physics“We’re each made up of a myriad of characteristics. We should be using the actions and options available to us.” The book encourages people to let go of gender stereotypes and think of people as humans, not male or female.

Heggie sees the #metoo movement as a good example of using both masculine and feminine energies. The paradox is that masculinity is getting bashed because women are finding their masculine voice. Women are speaking out, a masculine trait, and also banding together in solidarity, a feminine characteristic that exists in all of us.

If you are in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan this Thursday, October 18th, join Heggie at her book launch at McNally Robinson’s book store, 7:00 pm CT.


We’re giving away SIX SIGNED COPIES of Gender Physics to the first six people who take the energy evaluation test. Let us know if your natural approach to life and relationships is controlled by Feminine or Masculine Energy! Email your answer here.


LiisBeth is giving away TWO tickets to the #MoveTheDial Summit being held on November 7th in Toronto. #Movethedial is an organization that seeks to advance women in STEM. Over 1000 women signed up to attend and the event is now sold out!

To earn these tickets, take a few minutes to complete LiisBeth’s reader survey here. The first two respondents to email and tell us they have completed the survey on the day the newsletter is released will be the lucky recipients. Value: $500/ticket


The Red Word is set in the 1990s but speaks directly to the present feminist moment. Sarah Henstra takes us into two worlds: that of Women’s Studies classes and lesbian pagan rituals, and of frat boys and S&M theme parties. As I watched Karen struggle with politics, power, and her own culpability in the fallout of it all, I could not put this book down.” —Darcey Steinke, author of Suicide Blonde and Sister Golden Hair

The job of cultural criticism is to examine the world and its stories, picking apart what is problematic and shining a light on unconscious or unexamined biases and attitudes….The timely, relevant topic of campus rape culture is addressed bravely; there aren’t enough works of fiction that tackle the material so honestly and prudently.” —Quill &Quire

Henstra will be on a panel discussing themes of feminism and power at the Toronto International Festival of Authors this month with Vivek Shraya and Rachel Giese.

Each of us will lead with masculine or feminine energy. We are socialized to be like our biological gender, but the reality is we are individuals, and there are lots of good reasons to use both energies.

Heggie wrote Gender Physics to create more awareness and acceptance around people exploring their energy options. The book includes a step by step system with exercises you can practice to build (like a muscle) the energy you may not be using to its full potential. The goal is, in part, to give up gender bias and encourage people to be themselves.

“If you are questioning what is correct behaviour at work and in life while wanting the freedom to express yourself and be successful on your own terms, Gender Physics is the book for you. It is a must read for everyone looking to be courageously authentic.”
– Dr. Marcia Reynolds, author of Outsmart Your Brain and Wander Woman


  • Use your voice and take our survey. We launched a unique survey last month because we want to hear from feminist entrepreneurs and innovators in your own words. Results we be shared when we reach 100 responses. We’re not there yet, but we will be with your help.
    Our survey takes 12 minutes 

  • Jonathan Hera, Founder of Marigold, an impact investing company, shares key points Marigold Capital looks for when deciding on investment placements.
    Download Marigold’s Feminist Entrepreneur Investment Checklist PDF here

  • The next Women’s March is scheduled for January 19, 2019 with the main protest in Washington, DC. Linda Sarsour, a chairwoman of the Women’s March says the 2019 march will call for a specific set of public policies they want enacted that will be announced in the coming weeks.

  • We’re In! LiisBeth Media is now an official member of the Women’s Enterprise Centres of Canada (WEOC)! WEOC is an umbrella group for organizations that interact with women entrepreneurs through their services which may include training, loans, advisory services or mentorship or networking. WEOC’S Chair Sandra Altner says, “Access to capital, access to markets, technology adoption, and women in STEM are just a few of the arenas in which we are challenged to level the playing field. These are the issues that WEOC members address…” 

  • Christine Hallquist is paving the way for trangender politicians as nominee for Vermont Governor. Watch her journey in this Her Stories VIDEO from Now This

  • Are diversity and inclusion in the tech industry just buzzwords? Read how the recent Elevate Tech Fest missed the mark in Nabeel Ahmed’s article in NOW Magazine 

That brings us to the end of our October newsletter. The next website refresh and newsletter is scheduled for mid-November, 2018.  

Did you read something of value in this newsletter?

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Happy Halloween! Peace out.