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Woman of the Week: Danielle Robinson

Danielle Robinson is the CEO and President of the Ottawa Senators Foundation, an organization that promotes and invests in programs that help improve physical and mental wellbeing of children. The goal is to empower kids to stay active and be engaged in the community. In 2016, 530 kids were equipped with new skates, helmets, and skating lessons on outdoor community skating rink through the foundation. It also donated about 3,000 autographed merchandise, 2,000 game tickets, and 45 hockey suites at the Canadian Tire Centre.

As CEO and president, it is Robinson’s job is to develop the strategic vision for the organization, manage administrative, financial, and communication priorities, act as community ambassador for the foundation, and report on community investment, among many responsibilities. She has a background in communications, public relations, and corporate communications.

Robinson sat down with Women’s Post to talk about her role and her experience working for the community and about learning to love the sport of hockey.

Question: You studied communications throughout your post-secondary education — what was it about this field that interested you?

Answer: For as long as I can remember I’ve been passionate about how people gather, share, and use information for intentional outcomes or results. Throughout primary and secondary school I was always involved in student council, athletics, fundraising events, and volunteering within the community. I also enjoyed relationships with a diverse cross-section of the student body and faculty. This continued into university and after an Introduction to Communications course in my first year of studies, I was enthralled by the notion that one could use communication, emotional intelligence and leadership centralized around intersecting interests, to create change for good.

What was your first job after graduation?  

Communications & Development Officer, Let’s Talk Science. Let’s Talk Science is an award-winning, national, charitable organization focused on education and outreach to support youth development. The organization creates and delivers unique learning programs and services that engage children, youth and educators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

You made the jump from working in private financial companies to more altruistic charitable organizations – why?

I actually only spent four of the last 20 years employed in the private sector. Even then, the focus of my work was community investment and employee engagement. Like in my previous roles, my work was focused on helping people within the community live better lives by providing opportunities otherwise not available. My passion for corporate social responsibility and strategic philanthropic investment was inspired while employed with Clarica Life Insurance Company. I was introduced to the notion of business requiring a “Social License to Operate” in order to be both successful and differential from its competitors. This work very much tapped into my Communications and Sociology studies as a “Social License” is rooted in the beliefs, perceptions and opinions held by local populations and other stakeholders about the business and therefore granted by the community. Finding that intersection between business success and a community belief system is fascinating and rewarding.

What drew you to the Ottawa Senators Foundation?

 While I had never played hockey growing up, sport was always part of my life and provided many opportunities for growth and social learning. When I saw the job posting for the role at the Ottawa Senators Foundation, all I could do was think about how incredible it would be to have access to an NHL brand and its unparalleled marketing resources and audiences to raise funds, and then be in a position to strategically invest them back into the region. I also thought the role would be a terrific fit with my educational and professional experiences to date.

Are you a hockey/sport fan?

I’ll never forget having to admit to the president of the Hockey Club during my interview that I’d never really watched much NHL hockey and that I wasn’t really aware of who the players were on the team. Once in the role, all that changed very quickly. The energy in the arena and entertainment on a game night is infectious. Pair that with a love of sport and the great work the hockey club, its players, alumni, corporate partners and fans are achieving, I’m proud to say I’m a fan of the game of hockey and the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club.

You have been with the Ottawa Senators Foundation since March 2006. What is it about the work that keeps you there year after year?

 Each morning I wake up knowing that at least some part of my day will be spent on activities that change the lives of people within my community. It’s a pretty great feeling and keeps so many of the “distractions” in life in perspective. When I started with the Foundation, we were a team of four who finished the 2005-06 season having raised $2.5 million. Fast forward to the end of the 2016-17 season, with its terrific playoff run, we’re now a team of eight raising more than $6 million each year. The ability to grow the staff team, reconstitute the board of directors, and create a strategic mission and vision aligned to the business priorities of the hockey club have kept me fully engaged. My passion for corporate community investment and communications has enabled the Ottawa Senators Foundation to create a powerful network of partnerships that result in measurable community investments resulting in the most beautiful storytelling opportunities of lives changed.

How has the Foundation changed during that time? What would you say has been its biggest accomplishment? 

As social and digital mediums have expanded throughout the past decade, so too has our ability to communicate rapidly and effectively. An NHL brand comes with an inherent level of trust and credibility. Using a brand platform like this to advocate for change, create awareness or breakdown stigma is a privilege and one I believe the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club and Foundation have accomplished on several important issues. By way of example, in November of 2010, Daron Richardson, the daughter of former NHL player and Ottawa Senators assistant coach, Luke Richardson, died by suicide. Instead of keeping these tragic details to themselves, the Richardson family worked with the Club to share their story and in Feb. 2011 the Ottawa Senators Foundation hosted its first Do It for Daron Youth Mental Health Awareness Night. The majority of in-game announcements and score clock imagery for that game was dedicated to creating a conversation around mental health promotion, education, and youth suicide prevention. Eight years later, the conversation continues to evolve into a powerful dialogue of action and now every Canadian NHL Team hosts a game night in Jan/Feb known as Hockey Talks Mental Health. This has been a pretty proud accomplishment among many.

How are you helping other women? 

In recent years, I’ve made an effort to be more involved in a variety of women’s networks. I’m always happy to share my time with young women looking at careers in communications, the charitable sector, or other related fields. When approached to speak or participate in forums related to women in business I try my best to participate. I also think it’s important to be authentic in sharing both stories of success and learnings that have come from failure. Being available to female leaders within the community is also important to me. Having a network of peers to support, celebrate and champion within the community is time well spent.

What are you reading right now?

For business, I’m just about finished “The Art of Doing Good – Where Passion Meets Action” by Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey Solomon. Personally, I’m on a Fiction book break at the moment, instead opting to binge watch a variety of Netflix original series. 

What’s coming up next for you career wise?

I’m approaching my mid-40’s and have been in my current role for more than a decade. Succession planning has been a priority the past 12-18 months. I believe this is a vitally important piece of leadership work within all organizations. I’m not actively looking to make a career change just yet, as I still have some personal goals within the work of the Ottawa Senators Foundation I want to accomplish, but I do know my next move will require community, communications, storytelling, and leadership be at the core of the role.

How rejection has humbled me

So get this. During your lifetime, you will come across people that won’t exactly love you. Heck, they won’t even like you. The very thought of you doing well in life will cause anguish in theirs. And while some people have come to terms with this very early on, realizing it’s just a part of life, I, myself, am just learning this. And dear Lord, it’s quite the humbling experience.

I try to be a good person. Plus, I’m cute. So my first wave of rejection came as a shock. What’s there not to love about me? I carry myself with poise, demonstrate kindness and sincerity, and have just the right amount of confidence. I bring this confidence to all my relationships. I made sure he saw it. I wanted him to. I had feelings for him after all. But after a couple of months, we decided a romantic relationship wasn’t going to work out due to a number of uncontrollable reasons, including distance. Despite the circumstances, we continued speaking anyways. I was hooked. He was my drug. I told myself he was hooked on me too. He had to be.

Then, fate took over. I came across his profile on a dating app my friend had recently signed up for. I read his bio. I read his willingness to move abroad. I read he was looking for a confident, ambitious, smart, funny, and crazy woman. Confident. Ambitious. Smart. Funny. Crazy. I read it over and over again, never feeling smaller then I did at that moment. The confidence I brought to that relationship wasn’t enough. Neither was the ambition. Nothing was. He didn’t find anything he was looking for in me.

It was humbling.

The problem is, I’m a people pleaser. I will bend over backwards to get people to like me, sometimes putting my own priorities at jeopardy. I’ll let my own deadlines slide, or sacrifice that one thing I was saving up for to do something for someone else. It’s the norm I’ve grown up knowing. So after putting in 110% to a relationship that was never really a relationship to begin with, I realized how much I cared for him. What I didn’t realize, was that I was expecting something in return. What I didn’t realize, was that, instead, I was being used as a scapegoat to fill the emotional needs of this person while he was searching for something better.

It was humbling.

I wasn’t as selfless as I thought I was. As I heard in a movie once (because romantic comedies are always credible), unrequited love is actually an immensely powerful feeling. Because unlike other relationships, it doesn’t need to be shared by two people. You have sole proprietorship over it. I gained a little strength from this, but I quickly concluded it was complete bull sh*t. Love feels better to share. Love feels better when its reciprocated. There’s something about it that makes you glow. Inside and out.

Unfortunately, its human nature to want what you can’t have. Even if you were blessed with anything you’ve ever wanted and more, you’ll still want that one thing you weren’t meant to obtain. Your heart will tell you he’s the only one for you, and you’ll genuinely start to internalize this. But then you’ll come to realize….maybe you’re not the one for them.

And its humbling.

Woman of the Week: Emily Ridout

Sometimes an idea just comes to you. In fact, it calls to you — and it can’t go unanswered.

That’s what Emily Ridout said when Women’s Post asked her why she started 889Yoga, a yoga and wellness studio on Yonge Street in Toronto. For her, it was about bringing the practices she learned during her travels to the city she loved.

“Toronto didn’t have that yet. It was missing and we wanted to create that in our own city. A place where people could feel very comfortable to go on this path to healing and returning to who they really are, in a space that was clean, beautiful, and accessible”

889 is a quaint little studio located near Rosedale. The storefront is full of essential oils, juices, journals, candles and teas, in addition to props used for yoga, pilates, and meditation. As you head upstairs to the studio, the smell of white tea is unmistakeable. Class participants are free to enjoy a glass of water or cup of tea before and after their session. The studio itself is bright with lots of windows that allow the sun to shine in. It’s the kind of place that automatically relaxes you and breaks down barriers.

The studio has a very loyal following. As one member said, once you take a class at 889, “you’ll fall in love with it”. Newcomers are welcomed with a smile and instructors are patient with everyone, no matter their skill level. The ultimate goal is for people to feel comfortable and at peace — and in that, 889 is very successful.

“We are a beginner/intermediate studio,” Ridout said. “If you haven’t tried it, it’s very welcoming, kind, forgiving, and that is what we set out for. “

Ridout comes from a family of entrepreneurs, but decided to venture into academics instead. She studied commerce with a minor in French. Eventually, she dropped commerce and focused all her energy on linguistics.

Her first job following her graduate degree was with Butterfield and Robinson, a company that designs and runs tourist expeditions, mainly involving hiking and biking around the world.  Ridout started as a receptionist, eventually applying for a temp job in operations working on trips outside of Europe. Shortly after she became Expeditions Trip Manager, helping plan and coordinate trips, as well as acting as communication liaison with the guides overseas.

Ridout loves to travel herself. She spent a year in Spain learning the language and culture. It was actually in Barcelona where she took her first official yoga class, mostly as a way to make friends and use her beginner Spanish. At the same time, her sister Christine was also introduced to yoga during her travels to California and Los Angeles. They eventually got together and realized a passion had been ignited.

The goal wasn’t just to create a yoga studio, but rather a place of wellness, where Torontonians could experience what the Ridout sisters experienced during their travels. What’s unique about this venture was that neither sister was a trained instructor — just entrepreneurs with a vision.

“We wanted to own a business, run the business, and create a space where people can heal, do yoga and be at peace. Look at themselves from an internal point,” she said. “And we did it! We hired teachers. We hired healing professionals. We had no experience at all. It was just a calling. “

And that was about 10 years ago.  Since then, 889 has grown immensely, while still maintaining its foundation — to inspire happy, healthy, and peaceful lives. Ridout likes to say the studio is a reflection of how both sisters have evolved. They helped create and plan a 200-hour Living Yoga School, a program that transforms yoga lovers into capable instructors. Both sisters have taken this course and are now able to teach yoga as well as meditation classes.

They have also added a storefront that sells environmentally-conscious and Canadian-focused products and are teaching a number of private classes for moms and other women that combine essential oils with meditation and breathing work. Ridout is also designing a digital platform for these programs, especially for working moms with little time to come to the studio.

Her biggest piece of advice to women entrepreneurs is to simplify, and then simplify some more. “Keep the offer as simple and clear as you can. If you think its simple enough, break it down again. It makes it simpler for people to understand and get on board.”

Ridout also wants women to focus on something they are passionate about, something that lights you up when you talk about it. “There is enough room in the world for us all to do what we believe in and do what we love. If someone else is doing it, or doing something similar, there will always be your authentic version of it.”

“If you believe in something, create it and sell it. Don’t get discouraged by people who are already “doing” your idea, or something similar, or by a fear that you’re not good enough.”

Ridout has three children, who she says help keep her present and joyful.  She is currently working through “May Cause Miracles”, a 40-day guide to reflection, change, and happiness by Gabrielle Bernstein, for the second time.

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