SVI Women: Bringing Together Female Social Entrepreneurs

I recently had the opportunity to take part in SVI Women in Vancouver, an urban, female-focused version of Hollyhock’s long-running Social Venture Institute leadership conference.

SVI Women presents a unique opportunity for female social entrepreneurs to share their successes and challenges in a supportive environment.  Most importantly, it enables participants to meet potential mentors, business partners and friends.

The conference kicked off with a True Confessions presentation by Ratana and Jyoti Stephens, a mother-daugher team that forms part of the ownership of Nature’s Path, a highly successful organic breakfast cereal company.

Ratana offered a powerful, eloquent and generous account of her journey starting several busineeses with her husband Arran, and of learning hard lessons when some of those ventures proved much more successful than others.  As the leader of a true family-owned business, she strongly emphasized the importance of finding the right partner – whether in life, business, or, in her case, both – who will treat you as an equal and act with true integriaty.  Ratana’s daughter, Jyoti, spoke of her journey in deciding to join her parents’ business, while still maintaining an independent spirit.

The next morning kicked off with some exercises to connect with our bodies and let go of inhibitions, led by Theresa Walsh.  We then settled in for a case study session by Maninder Dhaliwal of Tradeworks Society, an organization that teaches marginalized youth carpentry skills, and uses a social enterprise model to sell the goods produced.  The case study model provides a confiendential, supportive environment for selected entrepreneurs to discuss their current business challeneges and gain advice from a panel of respondents as well as from the audience at large.

After the case study, it was time for the Marketplace of Ideas – a high-energy pitch fest where participants have 90 seconds to present their business and make a request – for support, partnership, or anything else.  An SVI tradition, Marketplace of Ideas is always a powerful but irreverent chance for the group to get in front of an audience and declare who they are and what they want.

The rest of SVI Women continued at an intense pace that encourages participants to step away for the stresses of managing day-to-day operations, and fully immerse themselves in thinking about the big picture – whether through joining workshops on finance, getting funding, or telling your brand story – or through stepping away from group programming to do a one-on-one peer mentorship session with another participant.

Other highlights included Rough Roads, a panel on learning from failure moderated by Denise Taschereau, a True Confessions session from Janie Hoffman of Mamma Chia, a case Study with Marcie Weinstein Smith of Lovey’s, and a panel session on mentorship.

SVI Women offered a powerful chance for women business leaders to connect with peers and look deep within themselves in order to discover the answers to key challenges, while forming a strong support network.  With its setting in downtown Vancouver’s SFU Woodward’s campus, the conference was easily accessible for a ride range of participants.

For those who didn’t get a chance to participate in SVI Women, I highly recommend SVI Hollyhock, which is open to all genders and offers the incomparable setting of Cortes Island.

Rebecca Cuttler is the Executive Assistant to Joel Solomon at Renewal Funds; SVI Women, SVI and SCI Alumnae; and author of urbaculture.ca, a blog about growing food in the city.

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