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Women of the Week: Jelena Pticek and Karen Carrillo

What would you consider an empire?

If you ask Jelena Pticek, she and partner Karen Carrillo do not own an empire “in the material sense of the word.” This despite the fact that they collectively oversee multiple companies: Koocoo Carrillo, Poppyseed Creative Living, Freedom Clothing Collective and Freedom Reconstructed.

Koocoo Carrillo, run by Karen, is a clothing line featuring hand-crafted, limited-edition pieces; Poppyseed Creative Living, run by Jelena, is a “furniture ‘reinterpreting’ business,” using yard or antique sale finds; Freedom Clothing Collective, a joint project, is a co-op for local artists; and Freedom Reconstructed, also a collaborative venture, is a line of refurbished goods.

Before joining forces, both women originally worked corporate jobs. According to Karen, “it was depressing not to be able to illicit helpful change, or not having a say or, worst of all, seeing all the waste (garbage and time).”

Jelena, too, never felt at ease in the corporate world.  “I knew that the only way I would be able to correct this is if I changed something about it,“ Jelena explains.

Not surprisingly, both call their decision to quit and become entrepreneurs as the highlight of their careers. It would prove to be a great decision, both from a personal and work-related standpoint.

“We both often stop to admire the store and how far it’s come. The we-made-this bit is pretty thrilling, and everyday at least one customer tells us what a lovely store we have, and it never gets old!”

Not stopping at just running a successful independent business, Jelena and Karen are working to ensure their company is one with the proper social mores.

“We strive to be Locally and Environmentally focused,” says Jelena. “With Poppyseed Creative Living my goal was to appeal to the audience with strong environmental sense but also with the desire to surround themselves with items that are unique in their nature.”

By selling products that are refurbished or, at the very least, eco-friendly, Jelena and Karen can feel good about their company, knowing that they are making a difference. This is vital in a society that is becoming more and more eco-aware.

As Karen, the driving force behind the company’s environmental focus, explains, “Newcomers love to hear about how we are affecting change.”

This eco-friendly attitude extends across the company, from the products to the marketing. “Via marketing we often do small craft shows and we always use recycled or reused objects, either paper for printing business cards or flyers (which we keep to a minimum) or packaging, or displays, our toilet paper is even post consumer,” Karen says.

Clearly, the brains behind the Freedom Clothing Collective have created a company that will flourish in the coming seasons. Yet even as they work to save the world (and run a successful business), both women manage to balance their priorities and keep their heads on straight. The secret?

Although life will get chaotic, says Jelena, “It comes down to identifying priorities, making compromises with yourself and adjusting your own expectations.”

Women of the Week: Patricia Bebia Mawa

As a child, Patricia Bebia Mawa dreamed of being a lawyer. Her current job is quite far from that dream, but considering she calls her media career “a divine orchestration,” I don’t think her inner child is kicking up that much of a fuss.

Raised in Nigeria, Mawa learned early on that “success is never presented to you, but comes as a result of what you present to the world.” In 2000 she got the opportunity to come to Canada thanks to a training program run by CBC television, and chose to stay here to pursue further education. While studying at the Algonquin College of Science and Technology, she met the man who would become her husband:  Moses A. Mawa. Together, they produced the pilot for Planet Africa and, in 2002, signed a deal with OMNI TV. Now syndicated worldwide, Planet Africa focuses on “success stories, unity a well as to enlighten and entertain the world about the experiences and aspirations of people of African Heritage, wherever they live on the planet.”

In 2004, they created the Planet Africa Awards program. Broadcast by the Planet Africa Network, these awards honour those who prove to be excellent role models. In 2010, they created the Diversity Awards, “to recognize individuals who further harmony and innovation as well as harness the benefits of diversity.”

The Mawa empire also extends into the publishing industry. The first publication,Planet Africa Magazine, launched in 2005. “We started Planet Africa Magazine to document our history, share our stories and inspire the African Diaspora to aspire for excellence,” Mawa explains. Then, in 2012, came Diversity Magazine, a publication “to inspire, transform, empower, showcase, celebrate and integrate exceptional elements of our mosaic.” Up next: Destiny Magazine. Obviously very dear to her heart, Mawa says she wept when she saw the final design. To make the whole situation even sweeter, on the day of its launch, Mawa and her husband will be presented with Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee Medals.

With so many projects on her table and many more in the pipeline, plus a family at home, how does Mawa keep going? “I love what I do,” she says. “It is a blessing to have platforms that inspire and empower.”

Mawa’s devotion to her current line of work shines through in every word she says, and it is easy to believe her when she refers to it all as a preordained plan that she has wholeheartedly accepted.

“The greatest misfortune that can befall a person is walking this earth without leaving their mark on it. What has kept me going is doing everything I do with a sense of purpose.”

It is safe to say that she has left her mark on this earth, and that she will continue to do so in the future.

Women of the Week: Heather Payne

It started with a tweet.

In June of 2011, Heather Payne asked who was interested in learning about coding. From that simple 140-character question—I want to learn to code (a bit) and I want other ladies in #Toronto to join me. Anyone at #swtoronto know any women who might be interested?—an empire was born.

As it turns out, a lot of women were interested. Instead of the expected “dozen people meeting in a coffee shop once a month to work through tutorials together,” the first workshop sold out in a day. Subsequent workshops would prove to be just as successful and would lead Heather to turn the idea into a business.

Now an official non-profit organization, Ladies Learning Code offers “one-day workshops to women (and men) who want to learn beginner-friendly computer programming and other technical skills in a social and collaborative way.”

About a year after Ladies Learning Code was created, the organization expanded, adding HackerYou. Still following the original design of hands-on learning with a solid amount of instructor/student interaction, HackerYou was created to offer a more extensive education than the one-day LLC workshops while still allowing its students to maintain full-time jobs.

HackerYou is “focused on created the best part-time programs for people who want to learn to code,” Heather explains. Rather than offer another version of education that already exists—online tutorials, college or university courses attended by numerous frazzled students—Hacker You offers “hands-on, project-based learning from industry-leading professionals, small classes with a 10:1 ratio of students to instructors, and a beginner-friendly, social and collaborative learning environment.”

The business continues to expand, now offering classes in other Canadian cities. Heather is also reaching out to a younger generation—and, by doing so, potentially changing the future dynamics of a male-dominated industry—by offering Girls Learning Code. Running primarily on school breaks, these courses are designed to get young girls more interested in code. And it’s working.

“We hear from parents how much of an impact Girls Learning Code is having on their daughters, and I am confident that in 10 years, there will be an awesome group of women joining the tech industry, who can look back and point to Girls Learning Code as the place where they got their start.”

Considering her ever-growing empire, it is interesting to note that this was not Heather’s original plan.

“It’s surprising to me now, but back when I was in university, entrepreneurship wasn’t part of my plan. I didn’t even really know what it was. My plan back then was to graduate, get a job at a Fortune 500 company, and work my way up.”

Luckily for her, and her numerous satisfied students, that plan never came to fruition. Instead of taking the typical road, Heather is carving out her own path—and having a great deal of fun doing it.

“I’m sure my career will unfold in ways I can’t currently imagine over the coming years, but for now, I’m really enjoying waking up each day and feeling incredibly empowered and engaged.”

Women of the Week: Mary Jane Conboy

Mary Jane Conboy’s foray into science began with curiosity. In her youth, she spent many hours outdoors wondering how things worked, how certain elements in nature functioned.

“Some things in nature are just so beautiful that it just compels you think more deeply about it,” says Conboy.
Having studied biology and geology at the University of Toronto, Conboy went on to complete a PhD at the University of Guelph. Her expertise is in hydrogeology, the study of rock and underwater processes. She specialized in bacterial contamination of drinking water in wells.

“It really got into an area where you’re looking at how what we do on the top of the land can affect the water quality down below,” she said. “It really emphasizes the interplay of what we do and the impact on nature. And then sort of that impact back on us.”
Today, she’s the director of science content and design at the Ontario Science Centre. For the last two and half years, Conboy has stepped into the shoes of a visitor, creating compelling exhibits. Her method is quite unorthodox in that she strays from the traditional use of blocks of text and stories.

“That’s not really the standard approach here,” she said. “You really have to get people to learn, and really get immersed into the subject. Be compelled by basically having had some experience that really shows them. And then they kind of inquire afterwards. You will sometimes see that there are text and stories near the exhibit, but the idea is that you’re doing the exhibit and there’s something about it.”

Essentially, the visitor leaves the Science Centre filled with awe, bottled with more curiosity about the world.

Last June, Conboy and her team finished an exhibit about innovation, presenting visitors with open-ended experiences. In order to do so, Conboy deconstructed the skills an innovator has, such as being persistent, the willingness to test and tweak and the tenacity to try it over and over again. Another skill is not being afraid to make mistakes.

“Basically, we know as a society we have to change the way people are thinking. Develop different problem solving skills. That’s how we get solutions to today’s problems, by having those innovative ways of looking at the same thing but coming up with something different. The goal of the hall is really to inspire innovative behaviour.”

In the fall of 2013 the Science Centre will unveil the Human Edge, its newest exhibit. It takes the Human Body Hall to a whole new level.

“If you tell the story [of the human body] by looking at it in the context of somebody who’s pushing their physical abilities to the limit, you start to learn a lot of new science,” she says.

Part of The Human Edge focuses on the respiration system and a sport called free diving. It’s where the diver holds their breath for about three minutes, swimming deeper into the water. This portion of the exhibit, narrated by a champion diver, explores what the dive feels like at specific time intervals. At the same time, it looks at the respiration system.

“It’s a really different way of focusing on one of the core systems in the human body, but doing it in a really compelling way.”

Women of the Week: Mindy Berkson

For Mindy Berkson, a fertility expert, life and work have collided. Hailing from the Chicago area, Mindy was initially destined for a life in venture capital, attending the University of Michigan for Economics and later working for a venture capital company. “My first job out of college was writing business plans for start-up companies in the 1980s,” she says.

While she was content in the industry, she found herself going in a new direction after the birth of her first daughter, initially intending to be a stay-at-home-mom. “The day my daughter was born, I said, ‘thank God I never have to write another business plan,’” she chuckles. Upon attempting to expand their family, Mindy discovered she was infertile. She was plunged into the world of fertility treatment. “I spent three and a half years as a patient in the industry [which] stymied me. It was so difficult to navigate. I didn’t know what questions to ask, I didn’t know how to locate the right resources.”

The frustration of the industry ignited something in Berkson; she had found her passion. After her twins were born, she returned to the industry, this time as a professional. She worked in a fertility centre for eight years, recruiting egg donors and surrogates on a national scale. Her previous experiences as a patient gave Mindy a unique edge in the industry, helping women, men and couples finally conceive and accomplish their dreams of becoming parents. Her goal is to help intended parents explore their options for biological families and serve as a guide through the often-stressful financial, physical and emotional demands of the infertility process.

“It was at this point of my life when I took my venture background and married it with my experience [in with the fertility industry] and wrote a business plan for Lotus Blossom,” Mindy explains. Lotus Blossom Consulting was born in 2005 and has helped myriad people with a range of fertility issues.

Though the company has grown exponentially in the last eight years, Mindy still personally meets with her clients, regardless of their location. “My approach is very individualized; there is no cookie cutter consultation. Each client comes to be with very different needs and I always work one-on-one with my clients,” she explains. Berkson and her team of multi-discipline professionals work with clients to fulfill financial, emotional and physical needs, which vary with each client.

Although her consultancy is located in Chicago, IL, Mindy works with clients all over the globe. She’s worked with couples and individuals from Canada, Europe, Australia and Latin America to make their dreams of parenthood a reality. While many clients travel to the U.S. to personally meet with Mindy and her team, she travels the world to meet with doctors, lawyers, immigration officials and translators to ensure her clients have the best possible experience. In addition to the in-person consultation, Mindy meets with international clients via Skype for continued support.

Although her professional and family lives are demanding, Mindy still devotes much of her time and energy to charity. She founded the Jude Andrew Adams Fund in 2007 in honour of her stillborn nephew of the same name. “The grief [of his family] expressed reminded me of… my clients suffering from infertility. The grieving process really meshed for me,” Berkson says. The fund helps financially needy couples overcome their infertility issues, typically helping 2-3 individuals or couples per year. “10% of profits from Lotus Blossom go towards the fund.” Mindy is also a newly elected board member of Fertile Action, an organization that raises awareness for fertility preservation for cancer patients, often taking measures to help cancer stricken women preserve their eggs before they begin treatment. “Another goal of the organization is to [educate women] about options after their cancer is in remission, such as egg donation and surrogacy.”

Mindy credits her own experiences in finding her passion for the fertility industry, saying, “my three and a half years as a patient [helped me] find my passion for the industry.” Now a happy mother, Mindy helps others overcome what she did 16 years ago. She hopes that, in the changing landscape, anyone dreaming of becoming a parent can achieve their goal. “There are so many different families out there today. Thank God we have all this advanced technology to help these people achieve their aspirations of parenthood,” she smiles.

For more information, please visit the Lotus Blossom website or contact Mindy directly for a complimentary consultation at 1-847-881-2685.

Women of the Week: Elizabeth Reynolds

“What is this life, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

William Henry Davies’ poem elucidates that our constant urgency and multitasking have left us with fewer moments for solitude.

Elizabeth “Betty Lou” Reynolds champions the cause of helping people take a pause in their life through her Lifessence Wellness Workshops.

Being a teacher for 40 years, the most satisfying aspect of her job was seeing students succeed in achieving their academic goals. Using techniques such as visualization, meditation and journaling, she was able to help them overcome obstacles and reach for their goals.

Through her latest business venture, she now helps parents, working professionals and geriatrics that are looking to combat confusion or pressure to realize their objectives.

Reynolds leads by example and her interest in wellness was triggered after she met with a car accident and developed a long term chronic health condition. She fought through it and today is extremely empathetic to her participants. She has even tailored her wellness workshops to meet the specific needs of individuals. And it is not boring lectures: the class includes journaling cafes, as well as creativity seminars. The aim of the workshops is to de-stress and clarify the values and aims partakers have for their life. “Through group work, sharing, fun and interactive exercises, the participants gain greater insight into their ideal lifestyle and how they can achieve it.”

Her inspiration and lucidity comes from her teacher-training education, where she says, “I was taught to be open minded, optimistic and a critical thinker. My training for teachers taught me that big changes happen when one starts with small adjustments. It is very important to keep your eye on the eventual outcome, never losing sight of your long term vision.”

The consumer industry is booming with cosmetic quick-fixes to keep us looking younger; Reynolds’ aim is to improve people’s ideas about aging. She believes that it is possible to age while still being active, healthy and fit as we grow older.

What sets her apart from the many wellness centers mushrooming through the city is her holistic approach. Reynolds begins with the inner self, asking the most difficult questions: What is happening inside your head and your body? How do you feel about yourself and your health? How do you want to feel?

In spite of the alarming statistics in mental illness, she has experienced a visible shift in thinking. In her recent workshop of 45 teachers, about half of whom were men, she claims, “More men are starting to take their own health and wellness seriously. Many of them related that they practice meditation and yoga regularly and put their families as a priority, when considering work/life balance issues.”

Reynolds turned entrepreneur at a stage in life when people decide to throw in the towel, so for her the challenge to succeed is one level tougher. Her entrepreneurship advice to anyone moving careers is to have a lot of patience. “All those who plan on starting their business must take time to develop the connections and opportunities that will fit the best with their product or service.”

The year 2013 looks exciting, as Reynolds expands her Lifessence wellness workshops to Mississauga. She says the words of Julia Child keep her going: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” And the same holds true in business.

Women of the Week: Dr. Laurelle Jno Baptiste

WOTW Laurelle Jno Baptiste

When Laurelle Jno Baptiste was growing up in Dominica, an island nation in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, she had a chorus of strong, motivational women who inspired her to live out her dreams.

One such woman was her mother, a passionate advocate for education. The other was Dame Mary Eugenia Charles, a lawyer who served as the Prime Minister of Dominica for 15 years.

“Imagine this kid, in this village of a few hundred, but we have this great Prime Minister and she’s educated at the University of Toronto,” she says. “So I’ve got it in the back of my mind that I want to go to the same university that this Prime Minister went to.”
Jno Baptiste has an undergraduate degree in Computer Information Systems, a Masters and a Doctorate in Education. She followed in Charles’ footsteps by completing her Doctorate at the University of Toronto.

Even though Dame Eugenia Charles wasn’t there physically, she was there in a portrait.

“Her picture is at the university and very often, when I was having a hard day, I would walk by her picture for inspiration. That was very motivating for me.”

For the last 12 years Jno Baptiste has worked in the innovative field of e-learning, building online universities for companies.

In 2009, she co-founded ScholarLab with Robert Taylor, a technologist with a deep interest in the transformative potential for technology in education.

“There was synergy,” she says. “At the time, we were both involved in the open education movement and saw an opportunity to revolutionize online education through digital multimedia.”

The ScholarLab learning platform brings together a virtual classroom with real-time collaboration and a single easy-to-use toolset. Learners can instantly snap together multimedia apps and centralize content. The platform covers everything from live webcasts to short self-directed presentations and sophisticated semester-long online courses.

“I did a lot of work on the digital divide [in university] and how different disadvantaged groups within society lack the technological expertise to successfully compete because they don’t have access to information and access to knowledge. Increasing access is an important goal for ScholarLab.”

Since 2008, Jno Baptiste has chaired the membership committee for the Open CourseWare Consortium. The OCWC is an international community making information more accessible by providing educational materials free and open digitally.

“I disrespect stereotypical limitations that are placed on individuals based on gender or race,” she says. “I do believe that access to education and online learning is playing a very vital role in promoting equality in society”.

As a successful woman in technology, Jno Baptiste is still a minority in her field.

“I’ve always been the minority in my technology classes and therefore I advocate for more women in Science and Technology.”

This fall, Jno Baptiste will be releasing the book Learning in the Digital: Disruptive Technologies and the Future of Education.

 

Women of the Week: Anita Emilio

Anita Emilio always dreamed of working in the travel industry. At age 30, after 10 years in the Art House Movie industry, she took a leap of faith and left to follow her passion. Somebody recognized that passion and provided her with a great opportunity to train her. Initially her salary was cut in half, but there are no regrets. “It is the best sacrifice my family and I have ever made,” says Emilio.

She was always drawn to the world of travel, seeing it as a leveler since everyone can experience it despite their age or upbringing. “It is something that even those who have nothing in common can chat about and I had big dreams of seeing the world. There’s no better way to achieve those goals than to work in the industry.  I have been extremely fortunate to have travelled extensively both for work and pleasure.”

Despite choosing not to pursue a post-secondary degree, she credits her success to the notion that if you work hard, good things will happen. This appears to be working for her since she started leading Travellers Counsellors. “Put the world’s nicest yet most driven people in a room, inject incredible leadership, give them the right tools to do the job and believe in them 100%,” says Emilio. Her approach is “built entirely on relationships, with customers, suppliers and each other.”

She still manages to make her company distinctive. “Our agents are the best in the business, with many years of experience and this is their career and passion. We are a family-run business and extend that sense of family to our agents, our head office team, our partners and our clients,” she says.

Work-life balance is an integral part that comes from within. There are “long hours and often a lot of travel for work so you must be very careful to juggle the balance between home and work and know when to say no.” She remarks that the younger generation understands this element.

Emilio remains focused on recruiting in the travel industry and will be launching an online televised broadcast on February 12th; later, she will meet those great candidates. “I personally go out and meet them to make certain that we are right for each other and that it will be a successful relationship,” says Emilio.

When Emilio is not working, she is an avid marathon runner. “Absolutely, running a marathon is proof that when you set your mind to something, anything is possible,” she says. When she is alone with her thoughts, she can think, plan and dream.

“Be strong and daring. Know who you are and be proud of it, don’t do anything your future self would not be proud of.  I have left and lost positions when I was asked to do things that were against my values and beliefs.  At the end of the day you have to look yourself  in the mirror, do it with a clean and clear conscience,” says Emilio. “You can be nice and kind and succeed in the business world.”

Women of the Week: Rhiannon Traill

When Rhiannon Traill was finishing a degree in arts and contemporary studies at Ryerson University, she was taking part in an event, speaking on a panel. Unbeknownst to her, in the audience was a founding board member of The Economic Club of Canada.

When the board member approached her after the event, he mentioned that the club was looking for someone to fill an entry-level position.

“I had heard a little bit about [the club], but not much, to be honest,” says Traill.

She took his business card, but she wasn’t looking for employment at the time and had plans to do a graduate degree.

“I came home that night and I sort of spoke to my husband and he said, ‘Why don’t you just go and meet them? What’s the harm in checking it out? You don’t necessarily need to take a job with them, just see what they’re offering.’”

The Economic Club of Canada is a non-partisan organization hosting events all across Canada, introducing its members and guests to the greatest leaders of our times. The club has hosted senator John McCain, former president Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the president of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko and Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was governor of California.

“It was kind of like magic,” she says. “When I walked into the tiny little office and I met Mark Adler, I just kind of fell in love with his vision for what he wanted to do with The Economic Club.”

Traill started out as the club’s director of operations in 2008. Within three years she became the club’s vice-president and in 2011 she was promoted to president and CEO when Adler was elected as a Member of Parliament for York Centre.

“I grew up the ranks pretty quickly and helped Mark to grow the club into a national organization. So it’s pretty interesting and fluky,” she says.

In 2011, Traill came up with the idea of the Jr. Economic Club. It’s an offshoot organization from the club and mandated to educate Canadian youth on personal money matters and financial literacy.

“It has exploded,” she says. “It’s done really well. I’m really thrilled with the program and just the outpouring of support we’ve gotten from the corporate community.”

Traill has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. She’s a natural self-starter. At 10 years old she started a dog training business with a friend. The business ran for about four summers and all of the money was donated to the humane society.

“It was funny, when I came into The Economic Club, the first event that I ever worked on was when we hosted Bill Clinton, so that’s a way to get you excited about the job,” she said. “I went in and I got to meet Mr. Clinton, and my eyes kind of lit up and I sort of thought all of these possibilities that we could do.”

At 28 years old, Traill’s story is an inspiration for youth with big dreams. Since she’s been with the club, she has assisted in rebranding it from the Economic Club of Toronto to the Economic Club of Canada, opening chapters in Ottawa and Calgary, with another in the works in Vancouver. She also started the Voice of Hope Award.

“You can do anything that you believe in. Part of it is about right time, right place, but not ever thinking for one second that you don’t belong,” she says. “Just really believing in yourself and your abilities, what you can bring to the table.”

Women of the Week: Amanda Petrovic

Some people don’t figure out what they want to be until their late 40s. They drift, unfocused, through mindless odd jobs, searching for something that suits them.

Amanda Petrovic is not one of those people. She has known for a very long time where her calling lay.

“At a young age I already knew I wanted to be involved in real estate. I was always passionate about becoming an entrepreneur. The real estate industry determines where people live, raise families, work, dine, shop and play. It has such a tremendous influence on the quality of people’s lives. It shapes the fabric of the city – and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Before entering the job market, Amanda first pursued a BA and an MEd. She now uses the knowledge and skills gained from that education to stay on top of the ever-changing market, which helps her do her job and ensure her clients’ needs are met.

As she explains, “My approach to client service is also steeped in education. Ensuring that my clients are well-informed allows me to pragmatically guide them through every phase of buying and selling. It is extremely important to me that my clients feel knowledgeable and fully confident in their decisions so that we can best meet their real estate goals together.”

Since 2011, Amanda has worked as a sales representative for Private Service Realty Brokerage, helping her clients through the process of buying and selling real estate. Offering what she calls a “full-service real estate experience,” a service which includes assistance in property and portfolio management and investment planning, she combines her in-depth knowledge of the Toronto market with her clients’ needs and goals to find them the perfect Toronto property.

And now is a great time for her clients seeking property in Toronto. Amanda believes that the last year has been exciting for this market, and she is quick to promote many new projects opening in the city. For example, new projects opening in Yorkville offer clients the chance to enjoy luxury living, while Yonge and Eglinton will offer opportunities for people seeking lifestyle communities in more of a neighbourhood setting.

Even though the incoming market is hot and she will likely be very busy finding people their dream homes, Amanda is also striving to make the world a better place. This year she will be working with the Canadian Centre for Diversity, a non-profit group dedicated to educating Canadians about the value of difference and eliminate prejudice and discrimination.

By the looks of it, 2013 will be a big year for Amanda Petrovic. Keep your eye out for her, as she is set to make a positive impact on the Toronto community.