Kathy Willis, Huronia Transition Homes
Huronia Transition Homes is a non-profit organization working to end all violence against all women.
Words of wisdom: It's important to find something that you're passionate about. And rather than trying to go in with the answers, go with the questions.
Website: https://www.huroniatransitionhomes.ca// www.operationgrow.ca
Industry: Women's Shelter
Organization size: 50
Interview with Kathy Willis, Executive Director, Huronia Transition Homes and Operation Grow, Canada
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Watch the video:
- How a not-for-profit can generate income for sustainability while providing stakeholders opportunities
- What compounds violence against women and children
- How to lead a team in challenging times or highly charged situations
- The day we will know stereotypes no longer plagues our social construct
- What abused women crave most
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Interview with Kathy Willis, Executive Director, Huronia Transition Homes and Operation Grow; CanadaKathy Willis has always been a strong feminist advocate in the anti-violence movement. Kathy is the Executive Director of Huronia Transition Homes (HTH), a charitable organization in Simcoe County, working to end all violence against all women. Under Kathy’s leadership, HTH has grown from a single program woman’s shelter to a multi-program county-wide organization. They offer a women’s shelter with specialized services for women who have been sex trafficked, a sexual assault counselling and advocacy centre, a children’s program for children exposed to abuse against their mothers, and most recently, a social enterprise Operation Grow (OG). Through countless years of providing services to women, Kathy realized that HTH’s core programming was not impacting intergenerational poverty and abuse. Her vision for OG was to build a program that went beyond conventional programs for women who have experienced violence and provides opportunities to mitigate the impacts of trauma, isolation and poverty. At the heart of Operation Grow is a vertical farm that uses cutting-edge and accessible technology. Women are trained to grow lettuces, herbs and produce them in a climate-controlled indoor environment. Knowing that the project had to be sustainable, Kathy ensured that revenue from the sale of herbs and vegetables would provide sustainability to Operation Grow and help fund the programs and services of HTH. For her innovation and commitment to supporting women with a fresh approach, Kathy received the Ministry of the Attorney General Victims Services Award of Distinction in 2018.
United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal(s) addressed:
#1. No Poverty, #2. Zero Hunger, #3. Good Health and Well-being, #5. Gender Equality, #10. Reduced Inequalities
Operation Grow is a social enterprise holistically designed to address poverty, food scarcity, de-skilling, isolation and the impacts of trauma for women with a lived experience of violence. Essential to Operation Grow is a vertical farm which trains and employs women at a living wage.
Website: https://www.huroniatransitionhomes.ca// www.operationgrow.ca
Interview with Kanchan Prinsloo, Founder, KaPri Consulting; Canada
Note: This interview is transcribed using AI software, which means, the transcription is not perfect. Watch the video or listen to the podcast to hear our guest’s wisdom in her own words. If you want to see more interviews like this, please comment below!
[00:00:00] Intro: Welcome to theYouMewe amplified podcast interviews with women, leading social implements, hosted by Suzanne F Stevens, international speaker, author, and multi award-winning social entrepreneur and founder of the YouMewe Social Impact Group. Enjoy the wisdom. That will be a compass on how to make your contribution count for you, your organization and your community.
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I’m so excited today. We are so excited to have Kathy Willis as guest. Kathy is the executive director of Huron Huronia Transition Homes. I’m going to call it HTH moving forward. Cause I say it a lot. So her own Haronia Transition homes, a charitable organization and Simcoe county working to end all violence against all women.
Kathy has always been a strong feminist advocate in the anti-violence movement. Under Kathy’s leadership own Huronia Transition Homes has grown from a single program, women’s shelter to multi-program Countrywide organization. They offer a women’s shelter with specialized services for women who have been sex trafficking, sex assaulted ,consulting, advocacy center, a children’s program for children exposed to abuse against their mothers.
And most recently a social enterprise called Operation Grow. And this is really quite exciting because in 2018, Kathy received the ministry of the attorney General’s Victim Service Award of distinction for her innovation and commitment to support women. Coming to you all the way from Midland, Ontario, Canada.
We welcome Kathy. It’s great to have you here.
[00:02:04] Kathy Willis: It’s great to be here, Suzanne, thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of wisdom exchange. It’s really exciting.
[00:02:10] Suzanne F. Stevens: I tell you, Kathy, I’ve been wanting to interview you for two years because I’ve been so impressed with the work that you’re doing. And you’ve been working at Huronia Transition Homes for 27 years.
[00:02:24] Kathy Willis: Yes. Yeah. I never thought I would have worked so long in one place.
[00:02:32] Suzanne F. Stevens: In especially such a high demand emotionally. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that. What is it about this work that drives you to persevere for almost three decades?
[00:02:44] Kathy Willis: Yeah, I think I just whole heartedly believe that we can make huge and impactful change in our communities.
And I think that we can do that on an individual level, but also on a social and a political level. And so I’ve been able to work at HTH and been able to in. In meeting our mandate, I’ve been able to build and build more of an organization that holistically addresses violence against women.
And so I guess the short answer would be because I’ve never gotten bored and with this organization. And the longer answer would be that I’ve had an incredible community to work with and incredible boards to work with and champions in the community that have allowed us to really become a holistic organization.
[00:03:36] Suzanne F. Stevens: So, over your time, how many women do you know how many women you’ve helped?
[00:03:41] Kathy Willis: Wow. That’s a really good question. Nobody’s ever asked me that question. I guess send my leadership thousands and thousands of women. And I’ve done that across the country. I started my anti-violence work in Lethbridge, Alberta, and then went up to the Northwest territories for awhile and had the opportunity to come back to my home, which is Simcoe county, which is Georgian Bay. I was able to help to establish My Friend’s House in Collingwood before I came over to Huronia transition homes, which is just around the bay in Atlanta. And. Yes. I know each year our organization serves well over a thousand women and kids.
So the impact gets to be far-reaching after a while. Absolutely.
[00:04:26] Suzanne F. Stevens: It’s interesting. I live in Collingwood now. I’m not from Collingwood, but I do live here and I was just meeting with my friend’s house yesterday. And I had mentioned this interview with you and this, and they love the work that you’re doing.
I didn’t realize you had started my friend’s house, fabulous a shelter. In asking that question, how many women have you helped? The question really is what does help look like?
[00:04:51] Kathy Willis: Wow. And that’s That’s a really good question. And I think what it is, I would maybe rephrase that question and say, how many women have I supported or if we support it, because that’s really what it is.
It is about opening doorways for women. It’s about building women’s confidence and self-esteem after some very horrific things have happened to them. Sometimes generationally violence has been a legacy that they’ve carried. So I think it is really about giving women the support they need and in that way, I would say helping women find their own voice and understanding what they really truly want from themselves and how to actualize their aspirations and their dreams and their hopes. And I think that’s critical to changing the landscape of violence. One is empowering individual women and two, it is also about changing communities, attitudes, and values towards women towards equity and inclusion and what it means to build a healthy, strong, vibrant community.
[00:05:56] Suzanne F. Stevens: Yeah. And thanks for that because it was interesting. Looking at that word help. I actually have three other ways of saying it, what does success look like at the end of the day? What ultimately are you trying to achieve and women finding their voice and having confidence. Is there anything else that you’re trying to assist those women with having in, and that would be, we’ve done our job and they’re ready to. Go out and be their best selves under their new circumstances.
[00:06:29] Kathy Willis: I think the overall vision, the big vision is really it’s beyond it’s even beyond women. It’s about building peace and building equity, building a world where we all feel like we’re safe and supported.
That’s the thing about violence against women is that if we’re going to actually eradicate violence against women, then we have to get to those root causes and the root causes are the things that perpetuate inequality.
[00:06:59] Suzanne F. Stevens: So let’s talk about inequality. You mentioned there’s many things that, that cause inequality and what are some of those things that you’ve identified are some of the top three things that caused that inequality?
[00:07:11] Kathy Willis: Poverty is huge. Poverty is until we wholeheartedly address poverty, I think we will always be facing violence against women or working to respond to the impacts of violence against women. So poverty is big. I think racism is huge and understanding power privilege and dominance and how those things play out for us.
I can’t get away from poverty. And that’s actually how we came to, building social enterprise Operation Grow, which I’m sure we’ll talk about today. If we are unable to address some of the core reasons why women can’t leave abusive relationships or why women get trapped in abusive relationships, poverty would be one of the top reasons.
25 or 30 years ago when I was speaking about ending violence against women we were talking about equity somewhat differently. At that time, we were talking about understanding gender role stereotypes and they, although they still impact us, we’re seeing a lot of movement in, our day to day society.
And that that would suggest stereotypes are less impactful but are they really? When we think about it and I think it, it may have been Gloria Steinem has said it we’ll know we’ve addressed stereotypes when we talk about wanting our sons to be more like our daughters, rather than our daughters being more like our sons.
And I think that that is a critical piece. We have to look at and address the violence on every level in order to eradicate it right. And what we do, we will live in a peaceful state. Not only in our own communities are not only in our own homes but in the world.
If we eradicate power and control, then we will create a globe.
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[00:09:32] Suzanne F. Stevens: I love what you’re saying. And I think we’re, you’re hitting a lot of chords with me personally. I think we are on a precipice of where many of the female stereotypes and characteristics that are inherent in us are being seen more in men and being accepted.
Matter of fact, I’m probably running a conference on that very topic because I think men can learn a lot from how women lead organizations, how they collaborate, how they have relationships. How they show companionship, how they show friendship. That’s my hope for women’s day this year is actually put everything on its head and say what we do bring to the table.
Not only what we need, but what we also bring to the table. So it’s an interesting time for that conversation. I couldn’t agree with you more and I know you’re a huge advocate and appreciate the intergenerational nature of poverty and abuse. Can you tell us how abuse and poverty, and if they’re different or the same, create that ripple effect from generation to generation. How do you see that happening?
[00:10:37] Kathy Willis: Yeah. I think if you are a young child and you are being exposed to violence against your mom or yourself are being abused, then it becomes your day-to-day survival is very different and maybe I’ll just hit it right to something I’ve been talking about more and more lately. I started in this life, pretty impoverished, but not completely impoverished. Do you know, like it was back in a time. I’m nearing 60 years old, but when I was young, my mother was on social assistance. But even in, in that context we were poor, but there was enough to make ends meet as they used to say.
And now I see that erosion of the social safety net to such a degree that when people are on social assistance now they can’t afford to pay the rent and buy groceries. There’s not a standard of living that comes with that bad social safety net. So, I grew up, in poverty.
I was in a home where oftentimes my mother was being abused or at times I was being abused. So right away when we start to factor in, how did that manifest then when I was in school, how secure was I in school? How well did I present? All of the. Those social determinants of health and wellbeing start to impact, right?
If there’s violence in my home and then I’m probably not getting the sleep that I require. I don’t trust others as much as perhaps my peers do if they need support or help. So those things really start to impact you. Think about somebody whose grandma and mother, and now themselves have lived in that legacy of violence.
And you can see how hope can be eroded. Self-confidence is certainly gone. If you’re living in a violent situation, your self-confidence is always eroded because that is one of the foundations of. Manipulation and power and control, right? It’s all your fault. It’s not the perpetrator’s fault. When we work with kids in our kids’ program, one of the biggest key learnings we give them is who’s responsible for the violence?
Because once that’s lifted from you as a wee one, then you don’t have the shame. You’re not, you have so much more opportunity to grow and develop and trust your worthiness. But when you’re living in an abusive environment, that perpetrator of abuse is putting the responsibility for your experiences onto you rather than onto their behavior. So I think that violence impacts people from a very young age. I was talking with somebody the other day and they were saying about how kids coming into university who come from poverty are advantaged because they get free education.
There’s no advantage to being poor, and having access perhaps to grant programs. I’m not saying that an individual’s insight was correct, but having access to those programs is not very helpful if your whole childhood is about surviving. What are the chances of you even finishing school?
What are the chances of you being able to get grades that are adequate enough to get you into high school? What are the chances of you being able to integrate the learning? If you are constantly in a war zone, which is really what have you is. It’s unpredictable and it’s chaotic and it doesn’t allow for great opportunities. Are it doesn’t necessarily allow one to access programs or trust others, that there are allies out there that can help support you. So I think when we talk about multigenerational abuse and we see that certainly with the legacy, the colonial legacy that Canada has perpetuated in its face with around indigenous children and indigenous children being, taken from their communities and educated in a really oppressive system.
And the tragedy and we’ve known about the genocide for forever. But now the exposure of all the mass graves and just the impacts to indigenous folks, and we can see how any time you treat a group of people poorly, then it’s harder and harder for those people to one, they have to heal before they can become the nurturers and the leaders.
And so I think it’s really important to understand that when you are exposed to violence and. Then it almost it’s becomes normalized, right? And you’re not expecting your community to support you. You’re not expecting your teachers necessarily to support you and you don’t get to access resources that potentially could help to build your self-esteem and your confidence. Poverty is a tragedy and in a nation as wealthy as ours. And I think and then and the exploitation, as our nation grows stronger, we’re also, we take more and more of our menial labor off shore and exploit other labor markets to feed or consumption.
[00:16:04] Suzanne F. Stevens: It becomes a cycle. Yeah. So much work in the developing world, it does become a cycle. And thank you for sharing your personal story as well. And, and yet here you are. And over 27 years in a leadership role, so we know it can be achieved by many and I’ve had the opportunity to interview a few people who have come from abusive families and have struggled a ton, but somehow we’re able to see the other side and become leaders. So it’s incredible.
I’m going to ask you a number just, and it doesn’t have to be completely accurate, but a percentage. Do you think of people that, go to Huronia a transition homes or people in shelters for that matter what percentage of them do you think have had abusive families or have come from abusive families and found themselves in that situation again?
[00:17:00] Kathy Willis: So two things I’d like to say right off the hop is. Absolutely, many of the people that we serve, I would say 80% of the people that we serve in a shelter, especially have they have experienced violence in their families of origin.
I want to be really clear about something in terms of, poverty doesn’t cause abuse. But what happens is that poverty often will eliminate ways out. So that the chances of the violence or abuse becoming more lethal or longer-lasting is there. Because we also know that power and control and violence in intimate relationships, it’s very democratic. It transcends all races and all classes, but I think what we now also realize is that poverty just compounds the impact of violence against women and children.
[00:18:02] Suzanne F. Stevens: Thanks for that clarification.
So, moving more onto the business side of a charity as charities is a not-for-profit. And one of your initiatives, in addition to counselling and helping children was creating operation Grow. Tell us a little bit about operation grow and how does that help the women at the shelter or does it help other women, but tell us how that women?
[00:18:31] Kathy Willis: Absolutely.
Absolutely. So, Operation Grow came actually from the women we serve the women we did when we do our strategic planning and our organization at HTH, which is, the women’s shelter plus counseling programs, sexual assault center. And we always talk to the women. As our key stakeholders, when corporations go out and determine things, they’re there, their stakeholders are of course their shareholders.
For us, our shareholders, our stakeholders are the women we serve. And what they said was that they were, I now I’m paraphrasing, of course, but they were (unsure) hungry. They were impoverished and they were lonely. And those though, when you leave an abusive relationship, Women tend to be very isolated because that is one of the tactics of abuse is to keep individuals isolated, socially isolated and break down their networks.
So there’s less, they’re less likely to leave in, in extreme circumstances. And so from that, we decided, and it was the board’s decision that we were going to build a social enterprise. Okay. And so then we went to the drawing board to, to think about what we could do.
We pursued a couple of business ideas because we knew that we wanted to build a social enterprise. That of course was sustainable. And that would give back to the community as social enterprise should. And that’s how we came to operation growth. So we did a lot of research and that was the beauty of developing something from the ground up rather than trying to fit a program into a government funded call.
And I’m not saying government funding has been very important, but we wanted, we, we heard from the women, do you know poor and lonely. And from there we decided that our social enterprise really needed to address food security and that we could do that possibly through we wanted something that would build women’s skills.
We wanted to give them an employment opportunity. Because as I said, so many of the women that we, we heard from, I’m speaking about third-generation women now, so their grandmas, their mothers, and now themselves have been through the shelter. And that happens a lot. And that more in smaller communities, I think because there’s less mobility perhaps, or I said, to be honest with you, I hadn’t thought about the reasons why, but other than the systemic nature of that, we’ve already talked about those things. So we started to imagine what it would be like to build a holistic social enterprise. And we came up with the idea of a vertical farm.
And that’s what operation grow is. It’s a hydroponic farm and it’s growing food. And we know that’s an emerging market and an emerging industry that is becoming more and more popular. So we thought, oh, if we can offer women an employment opportunity in a vertical farm and train them how to be farmers, then we can also address some of those issues around income securities.
Upper issue grow. Is farming. It’s developing skills for women in our employment program, but we also recognize that the impacts of violence in order to, to address the impacts of violence, we also needed to address the lonely piece. So the social networking aspect, it was to be able to provide women with an opportunity and a space to come together with their peers.
Not in a therapeutic relationship. That was another thing that women said that they wanted to build friendships and not just more service-related relationships. And we also looked at how does one effectively kills from trauma? And the evidence is indicating that as much as we do need to do talk therapy in order to heal from our trauma experiences, that the mind-body connection is really critical and that yoga and meditation are so helpful in healing from the impacts of trauma. Operation grow is really an evidence based model. Where we have the social enterprise, we have employment training. So any woman with a lived experience of violence in our area can become a member of operation grow. And that’s all they need to do is indicate that they’ve had a lived experience of violence.
They don’t have to come through our programs, it’s open to it, to all women. And then from there, they get to, they have a whole menu of things that they can choose from whether they want to try to engage in the employment program, which is vertical farming. We also offer training and work in terms of building maintenance.
They can just come for yoga or meditation. We also have a commercial kitchen and we do cooking workshops with women and our retail store, of course, to sell all our wonderful produce and prepared goods.
[00:23:28] Suzanne F. Stevens: So many questions. First, one being the community far as buying your products are you meeting the demand and or are you getting enough demand?
[00:23:41] Kathy Willis: I’d love to say yes to both. And it depends. It is a large facility. Large for us. We are in a steep learning curve around becoming farmers. When we first envisioned this with thought hydroponic farming, myself and my director of operations, Haily MacDonald we’re both avid food growers and we’re like, that’s no problem.
It’s a bit more complicated than that. The technology for us is easy to grasp, but there were a lot of moving parts in a hydroponic farm. So we have at times had an abundance of produce and not as many customers as we would like. And at that time we would redistribute that food. We would make sure the food isn’t going to waste, but what happens more frequently now is we will have what I call a bad weather system in the farm. And at times our farm, our crops are hit with some kind of damage. And so we’re not able to meet the supply. So we are very much a new business model and we are in the growing stages of that. We have huge amount of community support and we want to grow that support.
We have had several hurdles that have come in developing this model one being just after we finished the build we had some HVAC mechanical issues that actually promoted some mold growth. So we had to close down the building and address those issues. And then of course the pandemic has been a challenge.
We will get there, but I would say as any new business we’re not always there. We do have great understanding from our community. So we’ve got a great farmer now who understands hydroponic farming and we’re well on our way, but a small error in terms of forgetting to set the water system to auto, those sorts of things can result in a huge amount of damage.
So it’s been a, it’s been a large learning curve for us.
[00:25:42] Suzanne F. Stevens: So how many hours could someone get working at operation grow? And is it enough hours to get food on the table?
[00:25:53] Kathy Willis: Right now our employment program really is about building, building confidence in your ability. Or in women’s ability to come to work and do work.
So it is not at this point in time, full-time employment. It was really designed for women who, as we said, has had a legacy of violence in their lives and really need that support and confidence building so that they know that they can reenter the workforce.
So right now, after individuals have gone through the vertical farming training, then they, at this point in time can work for up to three hours a week. So it really is an income supplement at a living wage, but they can work three hours a week. However, having said that, We have had positions open up in the farm. We’ve been able to employ members full-time at different stages in our farming.
And we currently have a woman who was at one time a member of operation grow working three hours a week, who is now working full-time in the farm. So our hope is to be able to train and support women, to become confident, vertical cultivators in a hydroponic farm, and be able to move on from Operation Grow and work in an emerging industry.
[00:27:19] Suzanne F. Stevens: Which is great.
So that thanks for that. Cause it gives a lot more context around it. Now that being said social enterprise. There are tons of definitions for them. I’m a mission and profit meet for the sake of argument. And some social enterprises are for-profit and some social enterprises are not-for-profit.
So mine is a for-profit, which really, you know, as I’ve explained to many people, It’s my salary. It’s the same as an offer profit because they get paid. So anyway, it’s semantics, but it’s an important one that I’m trying to explain to people these days. Is your social enterprise, a not-for-profit social enterprise or a for-profit social enterprise.
[00:28:04] Kathy Willis: We’d like to make profit, but we’re under a not-for-profit. We are registered, not for profit. So what would happen to profit within operation grow is that it would be reinvested in it is reinvested in the programming for members and ultimately if operation grows business develops the way it should, then it should also support some of the other and the other programs and initiatives because we do not receive enough funding to operate all of our programs within.
We rely heavily on the support in our community. And I know there you’re right. There are so many different definitions of social enterprise, but we are in that, that the place where not-for-profit means. A business goal or a business determination and yes. What, how do you define social enterprise or w
[00:28:57] Suzanne F. Stevens: It’s the mission leads, so your intention is the mission leads, but it doesn’t mean you can’t make money doing it.
So you’re creating it to fill a social gap in the. Your community, world, whatever that may be, but that’s, what’s driving the initiative. And that’s why I say, you, me, we, it’s the mission leading. I could have stayed with my very profitable company before. It wasn’t necessarily the mission leading, but I wanted my mission to lead.
And you do get affected financially that way, regardless. That being said What you’re saying though, is, yeah. We’re okay. Making a profit, but either way, it’s going to go into your own yeah. Transition homes and the program. So it still could be poor for-profit social enterprise, but it’s going into the non-profit.
[00:29:47] Kathy Willis: Yeah it is registered. Operation grow is registered as one of our programs under our, not for profit or charitable status. And there are definitely, there are social enterprises that are not as sure as you’ve indicated that are not registered and there is not a clear-cut definition.
And I think there is the piece that is absolutely critical in a social enterprise. And that is that you are building a model for positive impacts in the community and Something that’s sustainable. You want to build sustainability and positive impact.
[00:30:23] Suzanne F. Stevens: So let’s go there. Cause I know I have so many questions for you and I’m gonna ask you just one more here and then I’m going to get into some leadership questions before we wrap up, going into the sustainability piece. It’s operation grow. As you said, you can’t get all your funding from the government.
So has operation grow helped with that sustainability because you are creating now an income.
[00:30:48] Kathy Willis: Operation grow. Once it meets its full potential, I would say, would provide. I would say we’re very much in the growing phase of our business model. And I think it’s it’s a new way for us to be thinking as an organization.
And it’s also challenging to recruit and find employees to work at operation grow that, understand both. Right. That it can focus on making good business decisions while also supporting and being really empathetic to women. And I’m not saying that the two play are exclusive, right.
We’re still developing the business side of things. And I think that there, it also is the business has been growing considerably year over year. It’s not at a place right now where it’s profitable. Absolutely not. And the pandemic hit, and operations bros business also relies on providing beautiful meeting spaces in our community and catering meets.
And having other groups using that space to, to provide service to our community. So a large piece of our ability. Was certainly impacted by the pandemic and on the flip side of that, our retail store and our farm became an essential service. And that’s been a really good reveal for us, that we are providing such a great service to the community and in, in doing food prep and doing vertical farming and in supplying, people with fresh produce, lettuce, kale herbs, all year round and it was lovely to see the growth in sales, in our retail store during the pandemic.
[00:32:43] Suzanne F. Stevens: For a not-for-profit, what advice would you give them in starting a social initiative, social enterprise, particularly to help subsidize for the future?
[00:32:57] Kathy Willis: The biggest piece of advice I have to give, is listen to your stakeholders, really listen to your stakeholders and find out what they want. Because when we were building operation grow there, they’re like our building costs, our construction costs went a million dollars over budget, that is that doubled what we thought our budget was to be up and operating the vertical farm and the whole social enterprise. And although I was really concerned and lost a lot of sleep about being able to fund the capital side of the project, I never ever doubted the success of the program side, once it was launched, because we’d done our research. So I think, evidence-based programming or evidence-based models, or maybe something that’s overused, but we’ve had lots of folks come to us from different communities. Lots of councils have toured our facilities.
Lots of places have come because they’ve wanted to replicate. We’ve been asked if we would become something, where we would go and train others. And it’s you gotta talk to the people in your community and find out what they want and what your stakeholders want. Rather than building yet something else that people get to come to get them building a cause if they build it, they will own it. Yeah. And they will want to be a part of it.
[00:34:21] Suzanne F. Stevens: And that is key, if they build it, they will own it. And if you do it for them, then it’s your success, not their success. It’s so such great advice and experience that a lot firsthand.
So that’s excellent. One question before we go to our fast, and furious questions is, you lead 50 people in an environment that I would imagine, would be quite emotionally challenging. How do you keep those 50 people to the best of your ability, engaged and showing up every day in a positive way under that weight of continuous abuse of the beneficiary and the stakeholders?
[00:35:10] Kathy Willis: I think one thing is you really have to listen to people.
You really have to, you have to remind them about how important they are in the role or the mission and the mandate of the organization. You have to stay focused on your mandate.
You have to stay focused and we have to understand that the work is really difficult, but it is also, so incredibly noble, to be able to bear witness to and support people who are sometimes in the worst place they’ve ever imagined beings. So it is about really then if we’re expecting staff to be compassionate and respectful and understanding to the women, we serve then that has to be all the way throughout the organization. We have to really listen and we have to try our best to understand what people’s struggles are. We’re not always wonderful at it. We try to get feedback for big decisions. We talked to people what the, about the impacts, are we think long and hard about policies, policy implications.
And I think with that, we do work really hard to have the difficult conversations and hear from folks exactly where they’re at and what they need. And being honest, being an honest leader is a really important thing. I think it’s not that you can always, you can’t always deliver what people want, but if you’re honest about why it is that you’re delivering what it is then I think that’s really helpful.
I give you a really quick example. We are currently developing our vaccination policy and even the conversations about that because we’re faced with a public health crisis that we’ve not seen before. And we believe in empowering women and individual rights and autonomy.
So how do you balance the philosophical individual rights and autonomy with public health needs? So it is about having those conversations and really being honest and forthright with people where there is the ability to Seek input and where there isn’t. I think leadership is really about being honest and being respectful and also understanding that you are never going to please everybody. You can’t, if you’re leading well, and with integrity, there are always times and I think one of the biggest reflections I ask employees to always do is how will this benefit the women we serve, or how will this impact the women we serve?
So every policy decision is taken through that lens.
[00:37:57] Suzanne F. Stevens: Always going towards that mission is ultimately the goal.
[00:38:01] Kathy Willis: What three values do you live by?
Respect, integrity, and compassion.
[00:38:09] Suzanne F. Stevens: Fabulous. I’m going to wrap up and I’m going to come back to you with one more question though.
So stay tuned for that question. Thank you everybody for joining us today Kathy with some great insight and passion for what she’s been doing for over 27 years, and our communities are grateful to you, Kathy, for what you’ve been doing for over 27 years. You can subscribe to wisdom exchange TV.
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Coming back to you, Kathy, do you have any words of wisdom for the audience regarding how to contribute to society and make their contribution count?
[00:39:39] Kathy Willis: I think it’s important to find something that you’re passionate about. And rather than trying to go with the answers, go with the questions. Meet up with something that you love and you’re passionate about because then you’re not going to get tired and you can also then your impact can be so much more profound if you understand, and you approach with questions rather than answers.
I think that’s a really critical piece.
[00:40:08] Suzanne F. Stevens: Oh, you gave me shivers with that. And that’s really what you and you, me, we is all about is finding out what’s important to the need first and questions before answers. Love it.
Until next time, make your contribution count for you.
[00:40:22] Sponsor: Me. We. This episode is sponsored by make your contribution count for you, me, we a book written by Suzanne F Stevens. It’s time to act. Let this book be your compass to having a sustainable social impact while living your most meaningful life. Visit YouMeWe.ca/book. For more information, thank you for joining us for the YouMeWe amplified women leading social impact in their communities and beyond podcast for more interviews visit you youmewe.ca/podcast
Until next time, make your contribution count for you, your organization and your community.
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