Women-Led Businesses Changing the System!

Sonia - April 4, 2024

Bcorp BIPOC Champions retreat impact women entrepreneurs women led businesses

(Photo credit: @melodieelated. Image: panelists at Restore event)

I’ve been taking some time to reflect on what really stood out for me as I gathered with some 700 other impact businesses to reflect, share, restore, and then push ourselves and our purpose-driven businesses forward, at the recent Restore B Corp™ Champions Retreat in Vancouver, B.C in March.

Becoming certified as a B Corp™ was such a proud moment for us because it validated what we’ve always known but can now back with data – that we are decolonizing and transforming fisheries and food systems, that we are protecting a traditional fishing way of life in Canada’s coastal and Indigenous communities, and that we are protecting our delicate and incredibly valuable marine ecosystems for generations to come. But to be in a room with hundreds of other businesses who are as singularly focussed on impact as we are was inspiring, humbling, and empowering to say the least.

It’s not always the case, in fact it’s very often NOT the case, that I can say I “found my people” at a conference. From the Main Stage plenaries to the bathroom line-up conversations, I found myself nodding vigorously, face aching from smiling so hard, and my brain lighting up with new ideas, challenges, and opportunities. This conference was led and attended by the most diverse group of BIPOC, gender-diverse, and neuro-diverse people I’ve ever seen at the Vancouver Convention Centre. And that speaks volumes about the intentional work that B Corp™ has done to attract, celebrate, and amplify truly diverse voices. If we are truly to solve the crises of our times, it will take a diversity of voices like those I met at this conference to innovate and help shape the change that is needed. 

A definite highlight was sharing the Main Stage with fellow panelists Suzanne Siemens of Aisle, Patrice Mouseau of Satya, and Mel Whyatt of MW Enterprises. These inspiring BIPOC women’s stories are all examples of business that started with a problem that needed to be solved to achieve justice and equity for marginalized, racialized, and underserved communities. And from day one – and every day — they continue to innovate new ways of achieving that vision. I’ll give you some examples: 

  • Aisle is the original reusable period product company who never sacrifice their values or cut corners to produce a product that is best for the environment and for people who menstruate. Recognizing the challenges around getting their products into the hands of those who need them most, especially low-income folks, students, and people in remote communities, Aisle pivoted from being primarily a D to C (Direct to Consumer) business, to advocating for free menstrual products and selling their products to governments and institutions who have committed to providing them free-of-charge to those who need them most. This pivot is so aligned with Aisle’s mission and such a great example of staying focussed on purpose and then adapting business to achieve it, rather than creating “feel good” add-ons or greenwashing tactics that can be tacked on to “business as usual” businesses.
  • MW Enterprises is a black-woman owned, -led, and -operated fully integrated property development and management firm that focuses on revitalizing historically Black, urban communities through developing affordable multi-purpose rental properties with housing and culturally relevant retail shops and integrated businesses spaces. Mel is a power-house Black woman who jokes about being “not what the bankers expected to see when they booked a meeting with Mel the property developer!” When I lived in Brooklyn, New York, I saw the outcomes of white gentrification in historically Black neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods often lacked greengrocers and other culturally relevant shops and businesses, and folks had to travel long distances to get fresh groceries. And when property developers came into these communities, it was to build high-end properties and businesses that would serve the often white newcomers with high-end coffee shops and yoga studios. Mel is producing an entirely different kind of property development, thinking about neighbourhoods as centres of relationships, creating buildings that allow folks to continue to live in their historic communities, set up culturally relevant businesses, and enjoy clean, modern, beautiful spaces of their own. 
  • Nearly a decade ago, Patrice Mouseau developed a fully natural, organic, safe eczema cream (Satya) to treat her baby daughter’s skin condition using the Indigenous knowledge systems of her community combined with her skills as an investigative journalist. But she didn’t stop there. Patrice continues to observe systems of injustice and invent ways to circumvent them, not only for her own business but for anyone who dreams of doing skin care and cosmetics in a better way. Witnessing first hand the plastic waste and high minimums needed to produce product samples for skin care and cosmetics that make it near impossible for small-scale businesses to succeed, Patrice researched, designed, and built a tiny, affordable machine and system to allow anyone, from any community anywhere, to produce their own plastic-free product samples. This system cracks open opportunities for so many values-based businesses to get their products to market, democratizing skin care and cosmetics and allowing traditional knowledge and community-based businesses to compete with multinational giants.

What inspires me most about each of these women is their singular focus on making the world better for everyone, not just for themselves or their businesses.  Nuu-chah-nulth presenters at the conference reminded me of a concept that my friends and Tseshaht Nation fishers Natasha and Joceyn taught me years ago: hishuk ish tsawlk – we are all one, all things are interconnected. And when we focus on reinventing the world around us for justice and equity, all people and the planet benefit.

For me, witnessing the depth of the innovation for justice and equity of these BIPOC women-led businesses, and so many others at the B Corp™ Champions Retreat, makes me feel less alone in the world of business, and inspired to grow and evolve Skipper Otto so that it continues to be a force for good for generations to come.

To watch the full panel discussion: Youtube video – 35 min length

Written by: Sonia Strobel

Sonia - April 4, 2024

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Women-Led Businesses Changing the System!

Sonia - April 4, 2024

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