Author

Sarah Thomson

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I HAVE A DREAM

For this issue, our theme is eco-awareness. At this point, there isn’t much debate about the fact that humans are having a huge impact on the world.

Winston Churchill said “the farther back we look the farther ahead we will see.” Ecologically, the biggest polluter in history lived approximately 4 million years ago – photosynthetic bacteria ingested carbon dioxide and released oxygen into the earth’s atmosphere. The bacteria multiplied to such an extent that eventually they produced more oxygen than the planet’s natural processes consumed, and oxygen began to build up in the atmosphere. This oxygen was lethal to the bacteria and only a few strains are left today, but it allowed different, more complex forms of life to exist on this planet.

Fast forward to 2008 and our population has grown to such a size that the by-products of civilization may actually change the surface of the planet. What I’ve come to realize about the earth’s ecosystem is that the tiniest elements can, and have, had a huge impact on the earth over the past 4.5 billion years. The photosynthetic bacteria polluted their environment to such a degree that they virtually destroyed their habitat. And it isn’t a stretch to see how humans too might follow this same progression; producing so much carbon dioxide that we too destroy the very environment in which we flourish. Perhaps the carbon dioxide filling our atmosphere will help the photosynthetic bacteria flourish once more. The longer I live, the more I see how life is truly a fine balance.

But how do I make a difference? I put my faith in human ingenuity and hope that as a community we will find a solution to global warming before it is too late. I know that for human ingenuity to work effectively, people must first agree that indeed there is an issue. The general public must want to find a solution in order to motivate the inventors and leaders to find one.

Global warming has now become a public concern, but the next important step is making sure inventors and leaders have access to whatever knowledge is available. Then leaders must share this knowledge and be open to ideas. I have a feeling the internet may actually serve a pivotal role in finding a solution to global warming.

Perhaps the only real contribution I can make (aside from recycling and turning off the lights) is to provide a way for information and knowledge to flow freely. The development of our new website – which we are launching this issue – will allow readers, thinkers, and inventors around the globe to share their knowledge. People will be able to post comments on the articles we publish, upload videos, blogs, pictures, as well as find daily updates on women in the news.

My goal is to make womenspost.ca the reliable editor of information and ideas for women that this newspaper has become. Our new site will carry a free job/resume board, as well as weekly updates on new products that have just come on the market, from new “green” products to great wines, new restaurants, excellent books, and innovative technology.

Women are extremely effective at creating communities, but geography, language and distance have created limitations and barriers around us. As Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream.” My dream is that the internet will allow knowledge and ideas to flow freely, and because of this our cultural differences – which have caused so much bloodshed – will become irrelevant.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca.

FASHION: THE BIG FAKE

More than any other industry, fashion has been so oversold, so twisted, pitched, and commercialized, that true designers are few and far between.

I’ve tried to embrace fashion over the years, but there is something that bothers me about the posing that goes on at the fashion shows — and it’s not by the models but by the people involved in the industry, from the make-up-masked designer wannabes to the pretentious fashion reporters who — not surprisingly — are some of the worst writers in the media industry.

At events like L’Oreal Fashion Week, I have to keep reminding myself that arrogance and conceit are signs of insecurity. But there is so much insecurity.

I can’t understand why so many designers seem to have lost touch with the medium they have chosen to work in. Like any craft, the function matters, but the hype around the runways has forced the craft to take back seat to the circus act.

Confidence comes from action. And in a culture where grandparents worked the land, grew their own food, and built cities, sewing material into a blouse and marketing it so you snag complete idiots into paying thousands of dollars for it isn’t exactly honest work. Thus, the industry wobbles around bathed in fake arrogance, fake confidence, and fake significance.

There was a time when a good marriage meant everything to a woman, and although that would seem to have vanished in North American culture, it still remains part of how some women define themselves. And that psychological issue is what the corporate fashion giants have capitalized on.

I shouldn’t be so hard on women who like to dress up just because I find it such a chore. Perhaps I’m just annoyed that they raise the bar so high that I have to really work at it to fit in.

Not all fashion is fake, just the commercial schlock that ends up being mass produced in China or India. There are a few truly great designers who understand that good fashion is a balance of both art and function — they work together. Clothing can create a larger-than-life persona; it can work to communicate status, personality, and character. A good designer is able to create clothing that enhances one’s strength, delicacy, confidence, or assertiveness.

True designers, like Freda Iordanous of Freda’s on Bathurst St. in Toronto, who has built a thriving business on designing and selling clothes that one can actually wear comfortably, are able to identify what fashions will succeed and become stylish and which will fail. Her eye for fashion also helps her match the clothes to the individual. True fashion does exist…but you have to search it out.

I often wonder what future generations will think when they look back at today’s society. Will they think the women were so dim-witted that they actually believed the clothes they wore made them special?

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca.

EDUCATION & HOPE

Education is the focus for this issue.

I’ve experienced both good and bad education. As a teenager I dropped out of high school, bored stiff by the mediocrity. Going back to university as a mature student, I experienced the excellence of a truly good education and thrived.

After watching John Tory go down in flames in the recent provincial election, it’s obvious that his idea of funding private education upset a huge number of people. Those supporting private education worried that the quality of education in private schools would drop. Those supporting public education worried that more funds would be taken from the public system, and the move would simply benefit the elite.

The Tory campaign failed to see that suggesting a change to education while going into an election is about as bad as suggesting that women be banned from working. Education is part of the fabric of society – it provides hope for the future.

Sometimes I wonder what path my life might have taken had I had the opportunity of a good education at the high-school level. I remember how much I hungered for a challenge then, and how bored I was with school. I felt as if my life were being held back. Instead of learning in a fertile environment, I was decaying in a desert.

If I had been given an option, would I have chosen a better education? I might have. And that’s why I’m so passionate about Children First School Choice Trust.* It was set up by Claudia Hepburn, managing director of the Ontario division of the Fraser Institute, to provide tuition for families who can’t afford to send their children to the school of their choice.

My three-year-old son leaves a small hand-print in paint on a piece of paper in the kitchen. It’s his first artistic statement that says: “I am here. I exist as one unique individual.” As he grows, the environment will shape a huge part of who he becomes. To treat children like sheep, to put them into the same schools, same classes, give them all the same type of instructing will work for some kids, while others will flounder. Private schools offer a variety of teaching styles and different environments; they offer an opportunity for children to excel.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca.

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Children First has recently launched its Shoe Fundraiser Campaign. To learn more about Children First School Choice and their program go to www. childrenfirstgrants.ca

LESSONS FROM THE LAND

This issue I’ve asked our columnists to focus on the environment. One aspect that often gets overlooked, with much focus given to global warming, is the actual environment – the land, the trees, the marshes and wetlands of Canada.

I grew up on a small apple farm in Southern Ontario. Across the road from our farm was Hilton Falls Conservation Area, where many of my childhood adventures were carried out. The area had everything from a marsh to forest, with a few tiny meadows scattered through it.

The conservation area was my playground, it was the place where my dreams set sail – filled with wildlife, it was also the place where my feet were most grounded in the world around me. It was there that I learned to appreciate the beauty in nature.

I remember watching the birds come to the marsh every spring on their way north. There were dozens of different bird species; from the trumpeter swan to the blue heron and red-winged blackbirds. Those memories seem so fused to the woman I am now. The gracefulness of a swan swimming through the water connected me to the beauty of dance. The stillness of a blue heron helped me understand the importance of patience. The call of a red-winged blackbird made me aware that a soft voice can fill a room.

I learned to listen to the forest; the birds always warn of danger and I would climb up into a tree when a certain kind of stillness came over it. I followed fox tracks for miles in the snow just to learn that he was following me. The life lessons that land taught me were priceless.
The older I became the further and further from that conservation area I moved. From the farm, to the suburbs; I married and moved right into the heart of Toronto. I walked home yesterday and wondered how far below the surface of asphalt and concrete the earth actually was.

Even life at the cottage has changed. There are now so many people on the lake in the middle of summer that it is rare not to hear a motorboat. When I think about the history of the lake, it is hard to imagine only a few cottages dotting the shoreline, or swans nesting in bulrushes along the far shore.

The population has grown so much in my lifetime that I wonder if my children will get the chance to learn the lessons I did from nature. Will they get the chance to be in a place where the stillness can make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end? Will there be land that is free from the din of highway traffic?

The economy is thriving, but with this growth there is a cost to the natural world. But I have hope – I discovered Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC). It is a private non-profit organization working for the direct protection of Canada’s bio-diversity through the purchase, donation, or placing of conservation easements on ecologically significant lands. They state that “90% of Canadians live and work in an area covering only 10% of the country along the Canada-U.S. border. This 10% of Canada is also home to over 70 % of Canada’s species at risk. It is on these highly threatened lands that NCC focuses its work.” Their web site iswww.natureconservancy.ca

I don’t usually plug an organization in this space, so I hope you’ll forgive this shamelessness, but with more and more of the natural land disappearing, each one of us must try to make a difference. And if there is one thing I’ve learned from running this newspaper, it is that one person can make all the difference in the world.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

SMALL BUSINESS REQUIRES PASSION, EXPERIENCE AND INTUITION

I think it is in my blood. I hear about a business idea and I have a burning desire to find out all the details, to evaluate the idea and try to think of ways to make it successful.

I spent over an hour today talking with a man who has designed both the hardware and software to send messages through Bluetooth to every cell phone that is within reach of his hardware. People waiting in line for a concert could get a sneak peek backstage to see how the set up is going, or they could receive a free video of the band. The technology is advancing fast, and this could be on the cutting edge, but he can’t get the cell phone companies to buy into it. Bluetooth is a free service, so the fees the wireless companies make from text messaging and downloading might lose value as cell phone users learn how to use Bluetooth technology and the software designed for it.

I remember when my husband and I were asked to appear on the CBC show Dragon’s Den. We drooled over the publicity it would give us… and hoped it might appear in time for the launch of our new web portal in mid November.

Dragon’s Den is a CBC series involving 5 accomplished business people who evaluate businesses and choose to invest in them, or not. My husband, our CFO, didn’t think we needed investors, but we agreed that the opportunity to discuss Women’s Post on national television was too tempting, and the “dragons” – comprised of four men and only one woman – would never understand how a newspaper designed specifically for women could make money.

As CFO my husband has evaluated the market, studied past sales and created projections that Women’s Post has met and at times surpassed. He knows our potential and has watched the newspaper grow and flourish. After watching a few reruns of Dragon’s Den he realized that even if the “dragons” did make an offer to invest, he would have the final say.

We had to wait a few hours for other business owners to have their time in front of the Dragons. During our wait I spoke to some of the entrepreneurs who hoped to get their lucky break in the Dragon’s Den. They paced the room, some prayed quietly to themselves, while others practiced their presentation. They all seemed very serious about the entire procedure. I found myself wondering who would make a good show – who might break down in tears, and who might blow up in anger – giving the passion and intensity needed to connect with a television audience. I wondered if I could muster up enough passion. I started to question my own intentions. Was it right for me to be pitching to the Dragons when so many others needed their investment dollars more than we did? I didn’t feel like the success of our business rested on the results in the Den ― but so many of the other entrepreneurs saw the money as the only hurdle to their success. I wanted to help each one of them – the woman with the skin cream products, the couple with the new game they hoped to bring to market.
The taping went surprisingly quickly, but we signed a waiver that does not allow me to write about anything that ensued.

The great thing about owning your own business is the constant challenges that arise daily. With this newspaper we struggle to keep the racks and boxes full, and as demand grows it becomes more and more challenging. Then there is the constant need to keep growing and developing in a very competitive market. This week we bought into an online radio station, giving us the ability to offer more to our readers and extend our reach even further. Now we must figure out how to take the intimate, passionate and informative moments we’ve created on paper and put them into a format that will work on radio. We launch the radio station in mid November with our new web site.

My husband thinks I jump without first looking to see where I’ll land. But I don’t think that is necessarily true. I know the lay of the land. I’ve worked all angles of the business. I know what our customers want, and if new ways for delivering ideas come about, it is easy to know if they will work or not. Success is a combination of passion, experience and intuition.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

MY LOVE FOR ENTREPRENEURS

It takes guts, determination, passion and a bit of a dreamer to make an entrepreneur. But it also takes a belief in what you can do.

I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs over the years. Some have made successful businesses for themselves while others have struggled year after year just to get by. There isn’t any failsafe recipe for success, but the one thing that seems to matter most is passion.

One of the most passionate entrepreneurs that I’ve come across taught me a very valuable lesson. He taught me how to bring the passion out in those around me through conversation. To find what people are passionate about and focus it into what they are doing is something I strive to do everyday with my employees, contributors and virtually everyone I come in contact with. It is as if I feed off the energy.

Another important lesson I learned from an entrepreneur long ago was to help others. It wasn’t easy, especially when I was barely making enough to feed myself, but I had a big vision and wanted my future to flourish.

I think of the people I met today: the musician, the artist, the writers, all passionate about what they do. And I think of ways to help them achieve their goals, of ways to bring their ideas to our readers – to do what I love to do most: present ideas to people.

The desire to make something happen, to see it through, to give up the safety and security of a pay cheque and go out on a limb for an idea, or a dream, distinguishes an entrepreneur from an employee.

And perhaps there is something of the perfectionist in entrepreneurs. They don’t like other people screwing up their ideas. Today I wait for web artwork to come from an agency. We’ve been waiting almost two months and their incompetence is growing more and more frustrating. What makes it so frustrating? It hurts the success of the entire campaign for our mutual client and makes my business look bad. The entrepreneur in me, the desire to do the best that I can at whatever I do, is losing patience. I realize that I could never work for people who don’t have the drive to do their best. Perhaps that is why I grate the agency people so much. I’m sure they have labeled me the loose cannon who will do whatever it takes to get everything done right, but I don’t mind.

I met a musician this morning who wants to try to make it on her own. She’s not looking to sign on with a record label, but wants to stay independent. Her worry is that a label might try to change her, package her music and change the beauty of it – she is an entrepreneur in the making, and is willing to take a chance on herself, and risk her pay cheque.

That’s the difference between an entrepreneur and an employee. An entrepreneur risks her success, comfort zone, and pay cheque for the belief she has in herself.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

THE TRUTH IS…

The theme of this issue is truth – not always an easy subject to write about.

The truth is that without small business the competitive market forces that drive innovation would slow down considerably.

The truth is that growing a small newspaper isn’t easy. Like any small business, we must constantly wrestle customers away from the larger media companies, – giants whose aged names imply credibility, despite their waning value.

The truth is that advertising agencies rarely add niche publications to their buys. Without competition, advertising prices remain high. The fewer the publications used by national advertisers, the higher the prices those publications can charge. It works like this: An agency gets an attractive page cost from a daily paper, but the price is conditional on making a long-term advertising commitment. This commitment ties up most of the ad budget, leaving nothing for smaller publications, and completely side-stepping any possibility for competition. Thus, advertising prices have continued to increase, because very few smaller publications make it past the ad buying agencies. It’s an oligopoly that advertisers who give full control to their ad buying agencies end up reinforcing.

The truth is that I am a small women trying to break up a huge oligopoly, and my chances are slim at best.

The truth is that individuals cause change, and I have managed to gain the support of some truly great people who have made some great companies.

Doug Wilson, president of Sony Canada, and his V.P of marketing, Ravi Nakoola, are two such individuals. They understand that women are important to their business; that women and our communities need to be fostered and supported. They have just announced that they have signed on as title sponsor of the Hummingbird Centre –now called the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts – and will be contributing $10 million in a 20-year sponsorship role.

There are two other people who deserve a deep bow – Dean Stonely and Helen Jackson of Ford Canada. Ford is a company leading the way in creating an environment where diversity is not only accepted, but encouraged. You can feel it the moment you walk into their head office, where an onsite daycare is available to their employees.

But what is most admirable about Dean and Helen is that they truly go the extra mile, working to ensure that women’s initiatives flourish. I’m not sure if they realize that their support of niche publications could actually work to break the oligopoly held by the dailies and may indeed, over time, bring down their overall newsprint advertising costs.

Then there are Manny Kapur and Alan Chan of Medicis, two individuals working in the relatively new industry of cosmetic enhancement. They intimately understand the hurdles that I face, as they too are not only running a successful enterprise, but also challenging cultural perceptions. I thank them for their support and encourage you to check out their website,www.defineyourself.ca, where they offer personal views from some very interesting women.

And let me not forget Frank Trivieri and Marc Comeau at General Motors of Canada. They have made valiant efforts to reach out to the smaller publications. And their support of Women’s Post has allowed us to grow and flourish.

The truth is that I have a lot of people – writers, employees, and advertisers – to thank for the success of Women’s Post.

The truth is that people are what make a small business successful.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

THE DUTY OF A MOTHER

My son’s tiny lips brush gently against mine. His eyes are open wide, intent on landing a kiss directly on my mouth while his little hands hold my head still. He is only two, and usually a rough and tumble little man, but every so often this gentle streak, that reminds me of his father, comes to the surface. I’ll always treasure these bedtime moments with my little boys. This is the time of day when I enjoy being a mother the most.

I’ve never had the desire to be a stay-at-home mother and I always knew I’d never be very good at it. The fact is that not every woman has an innate ability to be a good mother and some, like me, are quite clumsy at it. I don’t have much patience for crying, I get side-tracked by ideas while baby decides to make soup with my blackberry in the toilet bowl, and I tend to forget things like meal time and diaper changes.

One of our columnists, Michael Coren, states in this issue that a mother of young children has a duty to be at home with them. But this ignores the fact that being a mother is work, and like all work, some women are happy doing it full-time while others are happier with it in short stints, and some just shouldn’t be mothers at all. If you completely ignore the fact that there are bad mothers (think drug addicts and abusive women) then one might be able to agree with Coren. The fact is that there are good and bad mothers and everything in between, and the true duty of a mother is not to be at home, but to provide the best care possible for her children. In some cases this means that the mother should not be the primary caregiver.

Coren isn’t alone. There are a growing number of people who hope that by having the mother back in the home the world will somehow change, and it will go back to the way things used to be when crime and violence weren’t daily occurrences. Part of me wishes there was such an easy solution — but it isn’t that simple. The world has changed. Corporate culture has risen to dominate North America, the population has increased dramatically, wealth and opulence create waste, and the moral fibre of our culture – once monopolized by the church – is unravelling.

Can motherhood truly stop this evolution of society? All one has to do is look back through history to notice that every society goes through its moral peaks and valleys. There is an evolution to civil society; wealth goes up and the need for morality goes down. Ethics grew out of the need to live in a civil manner with other people. When times are tough people count more on their neighbours to survive; in times of affluence people don’t need others and forget the importance of morality. We happen to be in a moral decline. Trying to go back to the way things used to be isn’t possible, but there may still be a solution.

Solutions are easier to find when you have a strong, educated, and diverse group of people working together. With women now taking on more leadership roles, the face of corporate culture is changing. Women are questioning the status quo, and so too are men. It only takes a bit of education (mix of history and religion) to understand that the world is divided into followers and leaders, and leaders armed with ethical values have much more influence than those who aren’t.

Doing what one is good at, and doing it ethically, makes for a better result than trying to do what one isn’t good at and doing it badly.

My three-year-old is calling me from the top of the stairs. He wants me to lie down with him for just two more minutes. I must go back to being a mother.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca.

SAYING THE WORDS INSIDE

My three-year-old son asks me if I am happy. He’s waiting for an answer and I look down at him and smile while I tuck him into bed. I nod and ask him if he’s happy. My smile is reflected back at me. He seems to pick up so much of what I’m feeling. He has a way of saying the words I feel, but that the years have pushed down inside me. I must make sure I use the words inside me more often.

Words convey ideas, thoughts, and knowledge, but over the years, social convention has made it almost impossible for people to say what they think. Times are changing, a new language is forming – e-talk – and it ignores convention. The web is influencing the way people communicate, opening doors which were once closed, and even influencing the dialogue that still needs to occur face to face.

I sit down with the president of a major telecommunications company. He faces me with his arms folded tightly across his chest. I notice his defensive position and wonder what I did wrong. Was it something in the way I said hello? As I tell him about the strategy organization we have formed, designed to connect presidents and CEOs in open communication to build more productive companies, his face tightens. He’s not interested in meeting the CEOs or presidents who have joined us. He tells me he is far too busy and doesn’t think time with them would be valuable. I get a strong urge to give his head a shake. To think that industry leaders in Canada are not worth connecting with ignores the fact that they are some of his biggest customers. No wonder his company is losing so much market share.

I point out to him how badly the meeting is going for me, but my smile is met with a blank stare. I think of my son’s question to me the night before, and I ask this president if he is happy. He asks if I have anything more to discuss. I close my binder and get up to leave, regretting the time wasted. The attitude of this leader is reflected in the company he runs. I make a mental note to cancel all our services and investments with his company. But at the same time, I feel as if I have failed to connect with someone who needs this organization we’ve formed more than any of our other members do.

I think of the successful business leaders I know, like Ben McNally, who runs Ben McNally Books in downtown Torontowww.benmcnallybooks.comHe knows what it takes to run one of the best bookstores in the country. He knows his books, he knows his customers, and he knows how to give them what they will enjoy reading. Then there is Aaron Bick, who runswww.wineonline.ca He is perhaps one of the smartest wine importers in the country. When you combine this with his understanding of his customers’ tastes and preferences, it is easy to see why his company is such a success. There is Doug Wilson, president of Sony Canada,www.sonystyle.ca, who believes understanding his customer is just as important as delivering quality products. What makes these business leaders successful is their desire to learn as much as they can about their industries, to be open to ideas, and to truly care for their customers and the people they meet every day.

I’ve always believed that the most successful people in life are those who enjoy meeting others, who are open, friendly, and driven to understand the world around them. This describes my son perfectly. Perhaps the most important thing that I can do as a mother is make sure that he never holds back the inquisitive, open, and friendly little man that he is inside.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

WEB CULTURE RULES

As a writer, I’ve always believed in the power of knowledge and in the importance of truth. The influence the Web has had, and will have, on our culture is by no means clear, but there are already signs that Web culture is eroding the forces of consumerism and populism that have had such a strong hold over North Americans.

The online market isn’t governed by shelf space, page cost, or seconds; which means that more products and content will surface. This creates a culture where producers can thrive. In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson writes about democratizing the tools of production: “Today, millions of people publish daily for an audience that is collectively larger than any single media outlet can claim.” Anderson points out that there is currently a shift going on in the culture. People are moving from being “passive consumers to active producers.”

With such a selection of content, people are discovering artists, writers, and musicians that were never before accessible. The result is that new writers and musicians are sprouting up, either with blogs or online music, and attracting followers. This creates a much more competitive culture in professions such as writing, composing, and film making. The amateur can compete for eyeballs on the same platform that the professionals are now forced to work on. No longer do status or position get in the way, and the best artists are rising up.

When it comes to writing, I’ve noticed that many professionals – who previously had exclusive positioning in the media industry – are slowly losing their footing on the podium. I find something refreshing about that.

Let me explain: When I first started out as a writer, the only way to get published was to print my own newspaper – and it was only after I had published a few issues that I was given the opportunity to write for an established publication. I quickly learned that “who” I knew mattered more than “what” I knew.

Today, anyone can publish her ideas; the online market provides a podium. What I have noticed is that the art of writing seems to be winning out. Amateurs with skill and practice can, and often do, create better articles and columns than the professional writers, who seem to be turning out words just for a pay cheque.

I’m not sure if it is my Anglican heritage, but I’ve always connected consumerism with greed, opulence, and over-indulgence. For decades, the markets have encouraged spending and buying, and shopping malls and huge box stores have developed to give consumers the ultimate shopping “experience.” But now there is an alternative to simply consuming products. More and more people are using their time to produce and share their ideas.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca.

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