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Woman of the Week: Sarah Jacobs Barrs

Named one of the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) Future Leaders and one of Canada’s 2016 100 Most Powerful Women, Sarah Jacob Barrs exudes passion for what she does. On the phone with Women’s Post, Barrs doesn’t glamorize her profession, but instead stresses how much she enjoys her work. As she says, “It’s important to have fun in everything you do.”

Barrs is the director of events for Klick, one of the largest marketing and commercialization agencies in the world, headquartered in Toronto. She manages a small team of women who organize internal and external events for the company. Some of the special guests that have spoken at Barr’s events at Klick include include Bill Clinton, Margaret Atwood, Arianna Huffington, David Cronenberg, Deepak Chopra, Craig Kielburger, and Steven Page.

It’s hard work that involves long hours and impressive people skills. Barrs’ events are highly curated for a wide audience, whether it’s 20 people at a managers’ retreat or 2000 guests at a town hall or a conference. She is also responsible for Klick’s external marketing events and coordinates international events for clients. All of this is in addition to the internal leadership conferences, wellness or fitness courses, and retreats she plans for staff.

“People come to me and ask about event planning. It’s a lot of work. There is glamour behind it,” she says. “But it’s also understanding your industry and knowing you need to stay on top of trends – you are constantly having to recreate what you do and change and do new things – not every career does that.”

Barrs was brought up with a strong sense of community, something that inspired her career path. In particular, she wanted to help the sick because everyone has been touched by loss or illness in one way or another. Since she was unable to donate money, Barrs decided she could help fundraise and plan events, which she did with great success. Throughout her roles as an event coordinator for Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary, Chair of the Leadership Board Toronto for Save a Child’s Heart, and Community Development Coordinator for the SickKids Foundation, she was able to land her dream job of working in both the event planning and health sectors.

“I grew up in a family where giving back was really important,” she said. “Over the holiday season we supported families to ensure they had wonderful Christmas and Hanukkah – picking out gifts for children my age,” she said.

One of Barrs’ first jobs following graduation was with Women of Influence, an organization dedicated to the advancement of professional women. She started working there as a receptionist in 2007, but was promoted a few months later to event coordinator. For Barrs, this opportunity spearheaded her career as well as a passion for helping other women. She even helped start a group based in Toronto for young women in business.

Although Barrs no longer works with Women of Influence, she continues to try to mentor and offer advice to young women pursuing event planning. She is also active in planning celebrations for International Women’s Day within Klick, something she is incredibly proud of.

When she isn’t working, Barrs enjoys fitness, spending time with family and friends and traveling. “I really enjoy doing nothing,” she says. “Sometimes you just need your downtime with this type of career.” She also finds a bit of relief through shopping, finding clothing that allows her to showcase her creativity.

Barrs is working on a big internal celebration in September to mark Klick’s 20th anniversary, as well as the company’s annual town hall marketing event in December.

 

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Celebrating Women: Kristy Fletcher

Kristy Fletcher didn’t expect to work in the music industry. She left her previous job at Maple Leafs Sport and Entertainment after 20 years with the company in 2016 and hasn’t looked back.

Fletcher started working for the NHL’s Calgary Flames when she was 15. It was, as she puts it, the “family business”. Her father Cliff, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, was the President and GM of the Flames at the time and provided both Kristy and her brother Chuck, the current General Manager of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, an insight into the world of sports business and management.  As an avid sports fan herself, she knew that was where she wanted to be.

Fletcher did a little bit of everything, working in communications, PR, sales, and premium ticket service. She was also instrumental in the development of the Leafs Fund, the precursor for what is now the Maple Entertainment Foundation. This position allowed her to merge her love of sports with the charitable world and help create a fundraising strategy for the company.

And then, after 20 years of working with the NHL, Fletcher decided to take the plunge and try something new.

“On paper I had reached a level of success within my company,” she said. “It was taking a big risk to quit my job, but I felt it was the moment. I had 2 kids [and] I wanted to feel like I was contributing to the community in which I lived and worked.”

Fletcher is now the Executive Director of MusiCounts, a music education charity that raises money for instruments and programs in schools across Canada. She said that as soon as she walked through the door for the interview, she immediately knew MusiCounts was where she wanted to be.

“I always liked the music industry,” she said. “I had friends in the industry. It was not a big stretch to me. I think both of the industries have a lot more similarities then imagined. Sports and music bring people together, rooted in passion, social connectors, everyone has an opinion. It was a natural transition. “

Over the past 20 years, MusiCounts has awarded nearly $10 million worth of musical instruments to schools and community groups across Canada. Their mandate is to raise awareness about the importance of music education, as much as it is to generate funds for these programs.

“Our priority for this year is making people aware of the work we do and that music education is at risk. [There is] a generation of students missing out on the value of creating and understanding music,” Fletcher said.

In September, the charity is set to launch this year’s Band Aid Program. Schools are welcome to apply for musical instruments in increments of $5,000 or $10,000. They also started a micro-funding campaign in which Canadians can donate by texting MUSIC to 20222.

Fletcher said she feels lucky to have been involved in both the sports and the music industry, and has never felt anything but supported by her mostly-male colleagues.

“I was certainly aware that I was in a male-dominated industry,” she said. “But I found my own way to manage it. I never let it get in my way. I have not personally felt I was held back due to gender, but I also think that has to do with women who blazed the trail before me.”

In that form, Fletcher offers advice to women trying to move up in their respective fields.

My advice would be … you need to build your network and you can’t let it go. It takes time to do that and it takes energy and a lot of confidence. You need to get out of there and establish those contacts,” she said. “We get busy in our careers, but you have to be out there making sure you are promoting yourself.”

It is MusiCounts 20th anniversary this year. To commemorate this occasion, MusiCounts announced that, with the support of singer Eleanor McCain, they will issue five enhanced “True North: The Canadian Songbook” commemorative Band Aid grants of $20,000 in conjunction with her new CD release.

 

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Woman of the Week: Sara L. Austin

Sara L. Austin has had a sweeping impact on children’s rights worldwide and has dedicated her life to helping kids. She is the founder and CEO of Children’s First Canada, a non-profit that focuses on educating the public and holding the government accountable regarding their policies on child poverty.

“People often ask me how I got started with this, I’ve worked with thousands of kids. I was a summer camp counsellor in Ontario and responsible to look after five or six year old kids. One of the kids told me she had been sexually abused by her stepfather and didn’t want to go home,” Austin said. “We called Children Aid’s Society and when they finally arrived, she held onto me. I had to let go and trust that we have a system that protects kids. I learned very early in life that lots of kids don’t get the start in life that they deserve. Whether as a parent or a citizen, we need to give children our very best.”

Austin launched Children’s First Canada in November 2016. “There is an idea that kids in Canada have the jackpot of life. Research shows though that we have millions of kids that are falling through the gaps. There are a lot of mental issues, and several children have experienced abuse or neglect,” Austin said. “We haven’t achieved any significant progress in child poverty over the past two decades so we are trying to build public awareness for change.”

Child poverty affects one in five children in Canada and one in three Canadian children have experienced abuse. One of the pillars of Children’s First Canada is to accomplish widespread public awareness and to have a significant impact on the media in educating people on the relevance of child poverty. “We are doing after-school programs or mentoring. We are bringing these organizations together to jointly advocate together and to bring forward solutions that are evidence based,” Austin said. “It is a combination of policy influence and advocacy to make a difference for children.”

Austin launched the non-profit in Calgary, motivated by the Children First Act, a provincial law in Alberta that protects children and is one of the strongest child protection acts in Canada. Her hope was to inspire the rest of the country to follow suit.  “I was inspired by the social innovation in the city of Calgary and the province of collective impact as well as the role of the private sector,” Austin said.

Previously, Austin worked at World Vision and held a number of positions including Director of the President’s Office and Policy Advisor for Child Rights and HIV/AIDS at World Vision Canada, Senior Advisor for Child Rights at World Vision International, and Manager of Operations at World Vision Thailand.  “I started researching children in South East Asia and I was directly interacting with children in prostitution and brutal child labour,” Austin said. “We can’t treat children as objects, they are experts in their own lives. They have their own views on how things can get better. It has been a consistent thread throughout my career.”

One of Austin’s proudest achievements was creating the ‘Optional Protocol’, an international UN law that allows a child, or an NGO, to act on behalf of the child to launch a complaint if their human rights aren’t being protected through international law. The protocol was passed in 2014. “The law had been discussed for children for decades, but it hadn’t been developed. That was what prompted me to do my master’s degree at Oxford University,” Austin said. “It was a bittersweet moment, but at the same time the Canadian government didn’t support it and still hasn’t signed onto the protocol. The new government has pledged to sign onto the protocol and we are following the government to hold them accountable.”

Along with helping children, Austin is also a huge advocate for women. She won the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) top 100 award in 2010 and also sits on the advisory board for the organization. “WXN celebrates women leaders across the country and their motto is ‘We inspire smart women to lead’,” Austin said. “They celebrate women from all walks of life. They provide mentorship opportunities as well.”

When Austin is taking a break from work, she loves to go skiing with her family and be out in nature. She also enjoys biking and hiking in Calgary. “Having a family keeps me grounded every day. I flew home and it was nice to come home to my own son and be reminded everyday how lucky I am to provide for and care for my own son,” Austin said.

Austin is a leader for advocacy relating to children and she teaches us how to stick up for the people who need us most. Her life-changing impact on an international and national level makes Canada a better place for kids to live in and gives public awareness to the fact that child poverty still exists today.

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How to deal with the last-minute holiday shopping dash

If you, like me, left all your Christmas shopping to the last possible minute, never fear! It’s not too late! In fact, you still have a week! That’s plenty of time — but it’s also going to make gift giving a bit more challenging. The stores will be packed, kids are starting to get off school, and most of the sales that existed are now gone. While saying that, it’s not impossible! And, Women’s Post is here to help!

Here are some tips to help you out during your last-minute shopping dash:

Try to avoid malls: I know this one may be hard, but if you can visit a boutique shop or an outlet store, do it! Trust me. The malls will be incredibly busy and crowded. You will have to navigate through a sea of people just to get into the store. And then, it may take you 30 minutes to get to the cash once you finally choose a gift! Maybe try to hit some local fairs that are open and find some great hand-crafted items.

Have a list and check it twice: Don’t just wander. There’s no time for that. You’ll get overwhelmed by the people and the products thrown about. Eventually, you’ll leave empty handed because it’s just all too much. Have a plan and carry it out.

Be prepared to compromise: What you want to get your mother may not be available anymore. It also may be a lot more expensive now that the pre-Christmas sales are done. The list is important, but be ready to pick up something else if you can’t find the item you are looking for. Then take your previous idea and save it for a birthday.

Try online shopping: Amazon Prime appears to have a two-day delivery system if you sign up for their free 30-day trial, which is absolutely amazing! Just make sure to get it in the next few days. If you can’t get that type of quick service —and who knows how late the delivery is offered — don’t worry about it. Just print a picture of what you ordered and place it in a nice envelope or a box with a bow!

Donate to a charity: This can be done without even leaving your computer. Most charities make it really simple to donate, and will even provide you with a lovely email or photo that you can include in a card. Try to choose an organization that resonates with the person you are donating on behalf of. Just make sure you do some research to ensure the charity you choose is ethical and actually uses the donation to make a difference. Why not check out Charity Intelligence to make sure your donation goes far.

Ultimately, make sure to get an extra-large coffee and enjoy the experience. Take a few girlfriends and make a day of it. The physical shopping will be a pain in the ass, but with friends, at least that line won’t seem so excruciating! Good luck!

Woman of the Week: Marni Dicker, VP Infrastructure Ontario

Marni Dicker truly believes women can have it all, even if they work in a male-dominated industry like infrastructure.

The bulk of Dicker’s career has been in “a man’s world, with a hard hat on and steel toe boots.” A self-described “energizer-bunny”, she works full-time for Infrastructure Ontario (IO), chairs Women Build with Habitat for Humanity, is a distinguished visiting scholar at Ryerson University, is a mentor for the Women’s Executive Network, an executive sponsor of Women IO, and chair of IO Gives Back. All the while, she makes time to go to every single one of her sons’ football games.

“You don’t have to be ashamed to be a mother,” she says. “I almost over do it because I’m trying to lead by example. I have a young team with little kids. I want them to know it’s okay to go to your kid’s play at 11 a.m., because you don’t get those days back, and I get a better productivity from my team. Nothing is suffering. Work is getting done and family appreciates it.”

As Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary at Infrastructure Ontario, Dicker has a wide portfolio. She oversees six different departments — legal, procurement, strategy, communications, record management, and insurance — all the while being responsible for corporate governance. Essentially, there isn’t a file Dicker isn’t involved in.

Infrastructure Ontario is responsible for all major construction projects in the province, including the Eglinton Crosstown, which is part of a 12-plus billion dollar transit plan for the region. “That was my deal and transaction, putting the deal into market, procuring a partner who would be ultimately delivering the project.” she said.

The other big project she was involved in was the venues for the Pan Am Games, including the athletes village, which is currently being converted into a multiuse community.  For Dicker, the most exciting part of her work with the Pan Am Games was that they weren’t just creating a venue for a singular event; they were actually making a difference in people’s lives. “We aren’t only building infrastructure, we are building communities.”

Before joining the ranks at Infrastructure Ontario, Dicker spent 16 years with the SNC-Lavalin. She was recommended by a friend, and despite the fact that she didn’t know anything about engineering, construction, or real estate at the time, SNC-Lavalin recognized her capabilities and hired her anyway. They said they wanted someone smart and eager to learn — and that was Dicker in a nutshell.

She thrived in that environment, embracing every challenge. Twenty years later, she is one of the leading experts in infrastructure development and corporate counsel, something she would have been unable to claim if she hadn’t taken the extreme risk to leave her job in litigation for something completely out of her comfort zone.

Dicker’s heart and passion for the industry is revealed when she speaks of this difficult transition. She went from being a litigation lawyer to a businesswoman, but every new step has given her skills that make her incredibly successful in her field. As she says, she uses her legal training to provide excellent business leadership.

This dedication to the field  is noticeable when she speaks. She talks a mile-a-minute, exuding excitement over seemingly-small details of a project. You can tell she thrives under pressure and doesn’t back down from a challenge.

Dicker is very aware of how male-dominated her industry is, but acknowledges it’s changing, albeit slowly. “What I think we need is more examples of women who have been successful in those fields and we women need to actively mentor young women and take them under our wings to show them the ropes, because if we don’t they will be left behind.”

And that’s what Dicker is trying to do with Women IO and the Women’s Executive Network. She wants to be a mentor for other women seeking senior leadership and guidance. Some of the big topics during networking sessions include work-life balance and how to grow your career.

“We need to go out and show them [women] that working in the infrastructure world is no different than the female-dominated industry of nursing. If they see more women in the industry, it will incite them to joint the ranks of architecture or project finance.”

Dicker’s biggest strength is her ability to do it all, something she says is only possible “because I’m crazy.” She is one of those people who goes to the gym at 5:30 a.m., works hard throughout the day, and then still finds time to give back to the community. “I’m not happy sitting down, because I feel like I have so much to do and I have so much to offer, whether it’s personal to my family, professionally in the workplace, or in a volunteer capacity. It’s really gratifying to me.”

Dicker admits that this industry has made her a stronger person, but counters that it doesn’t mean you have to give up your femininity. And that’s something she hopes all women can begin to understand.

Last year, Dicker was recognized as one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women.

Canadian and African Grandmothers unite against HIV/aids

In the midst of international terrorist attacks and great global unrest, seeing people continue to work across international borders and battle against forces greater than human conflict is truly inspiring, especially when it comes to the HIV/aids epidemic.

The Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign connects Canadian and African grandmothers and gives them a platform in Sub-Saharan Africa to provide support for their grandchildren, whose parents have been decimated by the HIV/aids epidemic. There are over 14 million orphans in Africa after their parents contracted and died of HIV/aids and many grandmothers are raising their grandchildren alone.

The organization was founded in 2006 in Toronto. “The Stephen Lewis Foundation invited 100 grandmothers from sub-Saharan Africa to come to Toronto for a gathering and 100 Canadian grandmothers came as well. The Canadian grandmothers listened to the African grandmothers and what they have had to do to deal with the Aids pandemic,” Grannies for Good founder, a chapter of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, Joanne Gormely says. “It really created a connection between 250 groups of grandmothers in Canada in solidarity with grandmothers in Africa.”

The campaign is not a charity run by people who aren’t African, but instead is a movement created and controlled by African grandmothers and local field workers who have first-hand knowledge about what these communities need.

Gormley is one of the Canadian grandmothers who began a chapter in Montreal to support the campaign. She, along with other grandmothers, run events ranging from art sales to long-distance cycling fundraising for the grandmothers in Africa. Gormley has her own painful memories associated with HIV/aids. “I lost my own brother to Aids. I was still in grief of losing my own younger brother when I joined the group,” she says. “It touched me because I understood something they were living through.”

 Joanne Gormley (centre) with two of the other Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign members who attended the South Africa Grandmothers Gathering in Durban: Elizabeth McNair (L) and Carol Little (R). By Alexis Macdonald.
Joanne Gormley (centre) with two of the other Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign members who attended the South Africa Grandmothers Gathering in Durban: Elizabeth McNair (L) and Carol Little (R). By Alexis Macdonald.

Gormley, along with nine other grandmothers, also traveled to Africa to join a meeting of over 300 grandmothers in Durban, South Africa ahead of the 2016 World Aids Conference that ran from July 18-22. The group participated in protest of the lack of funding available to support the raising of these children, and joined over 2000 other grandmothers to Durban’s convention centre where the conference was being held.

The group of 10 traveled to South Africa and Zambia to see firsthand where their funds are going. The Grandmother to Grandmother campaign has raised $25 million over the last 10 years, with the proceeds going to various projects run by African field workers and grandmothers that live in the community.

The campaign has also provided jobs to women in the various communities that run the Grandmother to Grandmother projects. While on her trip to Africa, Gormley traveled with an African woman named Ida who originally grew up in abject poverty, and her husband had also passed away from HIV/aids. She now works for the foundation and her daughter is studying to become a lawyer.

These inspiring activists lobby governments across sub-Saharan Africa to take further measures to stop the spread of HIV/aids. The region has seen a 43 per cent decline in new HIV infections among children since 2009 due to UNAIDS global plan to eliminate HIV infections in the region. Public decimation of the antiretroviral treatment and educating has helped to lower the rate of HIV/aids. That being said, 24.7 million people are still living with HIV in sub-Sahran Africa due to lack of access to the medicine, with only 39 per cent of adults on the antiretroviral treatment.

Not only is this campaign helping reduce HIV in Africa, but this women-led group is also helping promote solidarity among women across the world. “The campaign promotes a sense of camaraderie and belonging by making a difference and being a voice for Africans in a global world. It helps in overcoming a sense of hopelessness,” Gormley says. “There is anger in those African women and they have a right to be angry. They deserve to be heard.”

The grandmother to grandmother campaign is a great initiative supporting women that are working together to solve issues from different cultures. We should all take these lessons from our elders and join the movement to help promote an agenda to eradicate aids from sub-Saharan Africa once and for all.

Ontario needs to make conservation a priority

Have you ever been hiking on Manitoulin Island or in the Niagara Escarpment and paused for a moment to appreciate the ethereal beauty of the natural land?

Conservation is the only way to ensure that certain areas remain protected  in Ontario. The problem is that it is no easy feat to keep land from the greedy hands of major developers, and every single day more of these natural habitats disappears. Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy is a land trust that is dedicated to ensuring natural landmarks are conserved in the province. Unfortunately, the province of Ontario has removed their funding and this leaves the charity in a difficult position to continue protecting natural regions.

As a land trust, Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy accepts donations of land for conservation and also helps property owners to protect their own land from buyers. The conservancy is spearheaded by Robert Barnett, a passionate conservation advocate and architect by trade. The charity has 151 nature reserves making up 47 km altogether in the province. Biosphere focuses operations in the escarpment, but has several reserves across the province and is the second largest conservation charity in Ontario.

Thomson Reserve near Wiarton, Ont. Photo provided by Bob Barnett, Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy.
Thomson Reserve near Wiarton, Ont. Photo provided by Bob Barnett, Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy.

However, the charity has been facing roadblocks since their funding was removed in 2012. In that same year, the provincial government released a new plan called biodiversity: it’s in our nature to compliment Canada’s decision to sign a mandate towards conserving 17 per cent of Ontario land by 2020. The plan indicated that by 2020, “17 per cent of terrestrial and aquatic systems are conserved through well-connected networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures”. Four years later, conservation areas stand at 4.4 per cent.

“The minister announced this plan in 2012 and now of course nothing is happening. They aren’t increasing the land protected area at all,” Barnett says. “The premier has given the minister a mandate to protect our biodiversity and once again, nothing is being done. The environmental commissioner at the time, Diane Sax, recommended that they put funding into protected areas. This means the environmental commissioner, the premier, and the biodiversity initiative are being ignored.”

More than that, the province removed the charity’s funding the same year they introduced the new plan to increase biodiversity conservation. Previously, Biosphere received $30,000 to $40,000 in provincial funding to support operations at the charity. Now, Barnett can only rely on cash donations and limited federal funding for the projects.

“We spend $100,000 a year to protect the land, for legal fees and getting inventories done. It costs $5000 to receive a land donation because of appraisals and paperwork,” Barnett says. “That is a lot of money for a charity and we just don’t have it.”

Barnett believes that the funding cuts are in part due to the budget cuts the Ontario ministry of natural resources has experienced in the last five years. That being said, natural areas bring $84 billion to the economy and the conservation funding only costs $135,000. The Ontario government could easily fund such a low budget to complete such an important task.

Cape Hurd where one of the cottages to rent is located. Photo provided by Bob Barnett, Escarpment Biosphere conservancy.
Cape Hurd where one of the cottages to rent is located. Photo provided by Bob Barnett, Escarpment Biosphere conservancy.

One MPP is trying to make a difference for property owners interested in conservation. Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle has introduced a private member’s bill to lower the property tax on private properties that place covenants protecting the land on their property. If a person owns a piece of land, they have the option to contact a land trust such as Biosphere to create a list of restrictions — known as covenants — to prevent future land owners from ever building a gravel pit on the land for example. In exchange for placing covenants on the land, homeowners receive a $100,000 tax receipt from Biosphere as a part of the land trust.

Placing covenants on the land lowers the property value, but the province continues to charge them the same property tax anyways. Colle has presented a bill to lower the property tax for conservation covenants to zero. The bill has had its first reading in 2012 and has since been stalled.  It is yet another example of the province not putting conservation of the land as a priority.

It is apparent that the province needs to pull up its britches and take conservation seriously. The fact that only four per cent of land in Ontario is protected when there is a mandate in place to have 17 per cent is unacceptable. The funding for Biosphere and other conservation charities needs to be reinstated and hopefully Colle’s bill will pass second reading and become law. Conservation doesn’t appear to be a priority — let’s make it one!

Merging music and charity: why does it work?

Music has the power to make you feel, think, and come together with other people. But, what if it had the power to make you give?

Music and charity work is an inspiring combination. Between spewing heavy lyrics or strumming sweet melodies about important world issues, it can teach people to make a difference. Many Canadian musicians have caught on to to this phenomenon and have decided to make stirring changes in the world rather than keeping fortune and fame for themselves.

Two such artists are singer Nelly Furtado and Billy Talent drummer Aaron Solowoniuk. I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion called Musicians & Charity: Finding a Way to Give Back through the three-day music summit at Canadian Music Week. Free the Children founder, Craig Kielburger and President for Artists for Peace and Justice Canada, Natasha Koifman, joined Furtado and Solowoniuk to talk about the causes closest to their hearts.

Nelly Furtado has been a long-time artist in Canada, but was very down to earth in person, smiling and laughing comfortably while she discussed the importance of charity work in her music. “There are so many great charities, as an artist you ask yourself what is this amounting to? Above all, it is your intention that matters,” she said. “What makes you feel angry? What gives you that fire in your belly? If you can’t align your career and success with something bigger than that, it is really unfulfilling.” Furtado’s success with her charity work reflects the global reach that musicians can have in leading people to donate and make a difference in the world.

Furtado recently received the 2016 Allan Slaight Humanitarian Spirit Award for her work with Free the Children. Furtado traveled to Kenya with the charity in 2011 to build a school. Her last album, The Spirit Indestructible also raised money to open an all-girls school in Oleleshwa, Kenya.

Furtado explained that you don’t need to have a lot of money to make a difference through music either, just passion. Local charity events are always in need of entertainment and it is a good way to practice your skills as a budding artist. There is also an opportunity to dedicate funds from a song or album to a cause. For example, Canadian musician Anjulie is a friend of Furtado’s and recently released the song, “Dragonflies”. The funds from the song will go to support the Canadian Women Foundation’s Campaign against Violence.

Solowoniuk, who is the long-time drummer of Billy Talent, is also a strong supporter of merging charity and the music industry. The drummer was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1998 when he was in his late 20’s. Solowoniuk is a soft-spoken man dressed in casual clothes, but sincere when he talks about his disease.

In 2006 he founded F.U.M.S, a charity dedicated to help youth with MS go to university. On behalf of Solowoniuk, Billy Talent puts on an annual concert on boxing day to help the organization.  “As a young adult, it was hard to go through a change in my life dealing with a disease that doesn’t have a cure, I just thought I’m going to put on a punk rock show,” he said. “People grabbed onto that when they found out I wanted to donate money and start these youth programs. We started a camp for kids with MS too. It has grown into something beautiful. When you believe in it, it will go so much further.”

Free the Children is arguably one of the most successful charities in Canada and Kielburger, who was only 12 years old when he founded the charity, is constantly thinking of innovative ways to help different causes worldwide. WE Day is one of the ways that Free the Children is helping kids take part in making a difference in the world in a fun way.

The annual event is hosted in 14 stadiums in North America and a variety of famous musicians and celebrities perform. The kids attend for free when they commit to work for a charitable cause through their school.  Last year, in Toronto, WE Day was held at the Molson Amphitheatre and featured performers like Hozier, Carly Ray Jepson, Demi Lavato, Magic Johnson.

Music is no doubt a powerful tool. Musicians have large social media followings and are able to influence people around the world to help make a difference. They also have the financial backing to make a credible difference and can use songs or albums to disseminate integral messages about global issues.

What fascinates me is why musicians with so much power and money have a desire to participate in charity work. Furtado spoke of the lack of ultimate fulfillment that results from fame. When you reach your pinnacle of success, if you don’t do anything with that power and resources, it can be unsatisfactory. Instead, charity work is humbling and artists a way to share their success and achieve true greatness through their work. If every musician thought this way, imagine the changes that could be achieved in the world. Furtado, and other musicians who do charity work as well, are truly incredible.

All of the inspiring panelists emphasized the importance of helping a cause you believe in. If you find something that impassions you to make a difference it won’t feel like a sacrifice, but instead a worthy project to take part in. Seeing famous musicians passionately support further impacts other people’s faith in supporting charity work and makes you realize that everyone is capable of making a difference. We all have an obligation to help people and the planet even in a small way.

How would you change the world? Once you find out, the rest will fall into place and you can make a much-needed difference.

Meeting Mr. Williams

Last November, I had the pleasure of visiting Atlanta for a tradeshow my company was exhibiting in. It’s been a long time since I had been there, and much had changed. I was impressed with its parks and buildings, its air of confidence, and the friendliness of its people. When it comes right down to it though, great cities are made by the people that live there.

I met Mr. Williams shortly after I parked my car. I had a lot on my mind – I had to get registered, find my booth, and figure out a way to tote all my stuff there, and all in less than an hour. Mr. Williams started the conversation. “Excuse me sir. It was really cold last night, and I’m hungry. I was wondering if you could help me out.”

It was hard to guess his age – he could have been forty, he could’ve been sixty. The only thing that seemed obvious, from his appearance and his manner, was that he has lived this way for many years.

I am not shocked or surprised when this happens, because it’s a fact of life in our society, especially in the larger cities. I have spent some time in various community organizations that focus on the issue of homelessness. Through this, and the wise insights of some really dedicated people, I have gained a sense for some of the reasons a person might end up on the street. It’s not as easy as “drugs”, or “alcohol”, or “laziness”, or even “choices”. For many, it’s a mental or emotional health issue. For others, it was a matter of having no choice; home was not a safe place. And for others, likely Mr. Williams, it’s a trans-generational issue; their grandparents were jobless and largely homeless, their parents were born into that state, and then they were too. It’s hard to break the cycle, and safety nets alone won’t fix it.

I usually keep a few loose bills in my pocket, but the moment I heard his polite petition, I knew I was caught in an awkward state; I only had Canadian money in my pocket, and a couple $20 US bills in my wallet safely tucked in my inside jacket pocket. I answered as kindly as I could; “all I have is a few Canadian dollars, if you want them, you can have them.” I lied. He started walking away. But then he turned and came back, and as if he didn’t hear or understand my explanation (or perhaps he didn’t believe it), he asked again, “please sir, can you help me?” I knew what the answer was – it was ‘yes’, of course I could help him. The real question to me was would I help him, or would I lie again? At the same moment, another business traveller a couple of parking spaces away yelled out, “hey! Quit bothering those people. Why don’t you get a job!”

In that moment, I realized I can be part of the continuing broken paradigm, where the beggars beg and the rest of us don’t have the energy to really understand, or I could slow down for a moment and see him as an individual, not all that different from me. “What’s your name?” I said, I as began the process of fishing out my wallet. “Mr. Williams”, he answered. “Mr. Williams” I said, “I’m sorry I lied.” I gave him twenty bucks, and then continued to load marketing material and a computer screen on a dolly I brought with me. He asked to help, but I told him I had it covered. He insisted, nearly begging me to accept his help. I was worried about the screen falling off the dolly, and said I’d prefer to do it myself. I hope he understood, but I realized afterward that my accepting his help would’ve been a bigger blessing to him than the money I gave him.

We, the manufacturers, the entrepreneurs, the business leaders and the workers – we are the true wealth generators of our society. It’s not Wall Street or Bay Street, or the government, it’s us. We also are the beginning of the solution – not the whole solution, but the start. We can’t cure society’s problems with our money, no matter how much we might make or give away. Where we need to be more generous however, is with our time, our caring, and our understanding. Mr. Williams might have been asking for a few dollars, but what he really needed was to matter to someone – in that morning, me. I don’t know what needs to be done to change his life, but I think spending a bit of time with him may have changed his day a bit – and who knows what happens from there. (I do know it changed my day – and who knows what happens from there.) Changes are needed in our society, but I think it starts with us, at a more personal level.

Thank you, Mr. Williams. I hope you are doing well.

Paul Hogendoorn is cofounder of FreePoint Technologies. “Measure. Analyze. Share.” (Don’t forget to share!) He can be reached at paulh@getfreepoint.com  or www.getfreepoint.com

Women of the Week: Erin Deviney

Many people can cite exact moments in their lives that caused them to reevaluate their lives. When she was 20, Erin Deviney went on an Outward Bound Trip to Central America. According to her, it “profoundly changed how I see the world.”

“It opened my eyes to the difficult realities faced daily by so many people across the globe. Ultimately, I learned that poverty is such a complex issue and it is not about a single thing. It is about the environment, about education, about governance, about health and so many other factors.”

Initially, after graduating from Queen’s University in 2001 with a degree in Economics, Erin found work as a global market researcher, helping companies discover the best way to access potential customers.

“I found it fascinating to understand what drives people to make the decisions they do,” she says. “But ultimately, I struggled because while I was intellectually satisfied, I was emotionally empty. I wanted to use my skills to benefit people not companies.”

A decision to move to Australia in 2008 would prove to be the turning point in her career. “I saw this as an opportunity to make the shift to the not for profit sector that I had always dreamed of doing.”

After working overseas in Cambodia and Grenada—“Being given the privilege to work in other cultures, particularly one where language is a barrier is truly a remarkable experience,” she says—Erin retuned to Canada.

Now, back home, her primary focus is serving as campaign manager for the Canadian branch of the global movement Live Below The Line.

“Live Below the Line is a campaign that’s changing the way Canadians think about extreme poverty. We are challenging Canadians to step outside their comfort zones by living on just $1.75 a day for all of their food and drink for five days. Why $1.75? There are 1.4 billion people who live in extreme poverty who have less than $1.75 a day to spend to all of their needs in life from health, to transit, to food. “

The project, which is being taken on by people of every age group across the country, is a creative way to get people engaged in the poverty eradication movement by getting them to experience the daily struggles faced by a large portion of the people on this planet.

Her new focus in Canada is radically different from her former corporate life, but there are no regrets.

“Personally, the biggest difference is passion. When you do something that you love in a field that you deeply care about – it doesn’t feel like work anymore,” Erin says.

Although the initial shift was shocking, Erin adapted and learned from it. As she explains it, “that difference in resources has actually proven to be engaging – in that you have to be creative and resourceful. I think that makes work in the not for profit sector exciting in that there is room for new ideas.”

Not afraid to take chances, Erin has proven that she is willing to stand up for what she believes in. This, she believes, is what sets her apart from her competitors.

“You can’t ignore me,” she says.