Roxanne Joyal, CEO and Co-Founder, ME to WE — a B-Corp social enterprise that supports the sustainable development projects of its charitable partner, WE Charity.

Words of wisdom: Be aware. Educate yourself. And when you're ready take action.

Country: Canada

Website: https://www.metowe.com/

Industry: Craft/textile and Consumer Goods

Organization size: 100

 

Interview with Roxanne Joyal, CEO and Co-founder, ME to WE; Canada

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Interview highlights:

  • How do you engage an entire community to provide economic empowerment for all?
  • What do you need to consider if you want to create an authentic travel experience, that helps and doesn’t hurt?
  • How do you pivot a social enterprise to continue to have an impact on the beneficiary during times of the pandemic?
  • What are the three most important initiatives to keep a social impact sustainable?
  • How do you engage collaborators locally and internationally long-term?

PROMOTIONAL VIDEO


Interview with Roxanne Joyal, CEO and Co-founder, ME to WE; Canada

Roxanne Joyal first traveled to Kenya as a teenager, where she was struck by the profound beauty, extreme poverty, and resourceful women she met. She went on to graduate from Stanford, earn a Rhodes Scholarship, a law degree from Oxford, and clerk for the Supreme Court of Canada. But rather than pursue a conventional career, she brought her training back to the communities that first inspired her. As CEO and co-founder of ME to WE, Roxanne is at the helm of a leading B-Corp social enterprise that supports the sustainable development projects of its charitable partner, WE Charity. ME to WE provides consumers with impact-focused products, travel experiences, and digital offerings—enables people to make doing good, doable. ME to WE empowers and impacts youth, families, and women in North America and around the world.

United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal(s) addressed:
#3. Good Health and Well-being, #4. Quality Education, #5. Gender Equality, #6. Clean Water and Sanitation, #8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, #17. Partnerships for the Goals

Social impact:
Roxanne started her work by forming ME to WE Artisans, a social and economic empowerment initiative for more than 1,500 women in Kenya’s Maasai Mara and the Ecuadorian Amazon. By joining ME to WE Artisans, each woman can lift her family out of poverty and emerge as a leader in her community. Roxanne has led the creation of other socially-conscious products including ethically sourced coffee and award-winning chocolate that empower Ecuador’s women farmers to earn a fair wage, and the proceeds for which go directly towards creating sustainable change for their children and communities. ME to WE’s sustainable products and life-changing experiences have funded over $20 million towards WE Charity’s projects locally and globally.

Website: https://www.metowe.com/

Interview with Roxanne Joyal, CEO and Co-founder, ME to WE; 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!

Welcome, Roxanne to Wisdom Exchange Tv. It’s so good to finally have this opportunity to interview you after hearing you speak. I guess it’s almost a year ago now.

Roxanne Joyal 

Thank you so much for having me here today, it’s great.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

So, what was the catalyst for you to start ME to WE Artisans? I think it was in 2009. So tell us a little bit about that.

Roxanne Joyal 

Yes, absolutely. Now listen, it was something that grew out of something very small so that’s been such a privilege to have that process underway. Now I had the opportunity to work with the WE organization since its inception 25 years ago, and in 2009, we were in communities in Kenya where we do our international development work with the communities for the five pillars of impact, whether that be education, clean water access, health care, financial opportunity, and food security. It was always a dream of mine to be able to create economic opportunity for women, based on my experiences throughout the course of university and through law school. It was a really incredible opportunity where we were hosting young people in the field who were participating and learning about community development, and one of the facilitators of that trip mentioned to me that our young campers were really enjoying this one product that The Mamas communities would make which is Rafiki bracelets, which are beads on a stretch cord and kids wear them a myriad of different ways and so we decided to leverage that. We translated it into a series of products that would be relevant to teens and tweens and moms and women in North American markets. We knew that these items would be ethically sourced and that they come to market in a very fun and exciting and fresh way. It is a product with purpose and we’d be able to give back from the proceeds of sales into the communities from where these products came from so it was a very organic process. It grew over time. I had so many mentors who taught me margin, who taught me some of these things I didn’t know about. I was very lucky to come from a legal background, but I didn’t have any formal business training and so I really sought the advice of people who really shared it with me.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

And you mentioned you knew they would be ethically sourced, how did you know they would be ethically sourced?

Roxanne Joyal 

We were completely sure at the time. It wasn’t even something we thought about because we were completely vertically integrated at the time and so not only were we the people working in partnership with the artisans to create the products, but that we would also then be able to set up the conditions for the piece work for the mamas within their homes so that they could actually make these items during their downtime. So that they could still maintain their primary responsibility in the household, as caregivers, as well as household heads in the fields. So when they would have a spare moment, whether they’re having a cup of tea or in the evenings while the kids would do their homework so to say these mamas could be making Rafiki and then bring these pieces in. In a really fun twist and eventually, we had the opportunity to open the women’s empowerment center. Again, in Kenya, in a rural area, and we were able to train 500 artists’ hands to come to the woman’s Empowerment Center to eventually be much more intricate pieces of jewelry that required certain kinds of training inputs that were extremely valuable. They made silver pieces that may have been covered in a plated gold, just so that we could provide them with the enhanced training and the time and also the quality control that would be needed to create the consistent results because there were three key bracelets themselves we give mamas a bead, mix of many different colors and they’re all individually hamstrung so no two are alike, which is actually so much fun, but which also made the product so easy to make. So, the vertical integration piece was so key, at the time I didn’t know it. I also realized that we were able to also pass on more meaningful wages to the woman and because of that vertical integration, which meant that the program made more of an impact more quickly on the woman who participated in it.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

There are a few things that you’ve said and been that I’ve had the luxury of being in Kenya, quite a bit, I know what you mean. But I just want to make sure that our audience does. One of the things you mentioned is “mamas”, we would not use that term in our and the western language, but when you’re saying mamas you’re referring to…

Roxanne Joyal 

Specifically, the women artisans live in rural areas of Africa and oddly enough, when you know I have the opportunity to travel to Kenya I’m actually mama Lily-Rose, that is my name. And of course, in Kenyan culture, you will be named after your firstborn child. And so, I carry that name. It’s one of my girls.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

It’s funny because I use the word term mama in my book, and I think I edited it out because I didn’t know if everyone would understand exactly what that’s meant. The other thing you mentioned, which also is extremely important, is recognizing that this is sort of a part-time job. This goes after the responsibilities and the home, the responsibilities in the field, and then they make Rafikis as additional income. Have you ever found that men have the appetite to also produce these products because it is paying? Paying above, possibly market value compared to other jobs in the area?

Roxanne Joyal 

So, it’s super interesting. The one caveat I would say is that there’s still quite a distinction in the communities between what is perceived to be the work of women and the work of men. And so, culturally, from a very young age, the people with whom we work in rural areas of Kenya, are taught the art form from a very young age and so it isn’t a little bit culturally enshrined that this is something that women do in their spare time. Whereas men, actually would work with wood, it’s a bit more common. And we were very happy to be able to establish a collective for the men, because we also are a hospitality organization, running lodges in different places around the world in Ecuador, in India, as well as in Kenya. And so we were able to establish a local gift shop that also enabled men to be able to earn revenue that way. But it’s very interesting that the women’s empowerment center and again they’re either they were doing piece work within the home, or for the more intricate pieces they were able to come to work for half a day. And during that time, Not only would they come into work, they would get their phones charged, which was just really important because mobile phones are so key to communication and infrastructure in Kenya and in many parts of Africa because of the frog. The idea of landlines and other technology, they would get a cup of tea and also have a bite of lunch before heading back to their homes, to take care of what else they needed to do. Eventually, we did have a few men who joined the program in a really moving fashion. We had a gentleman who joined us. And he didn’t have any legs. And so this for him was just extremely empowering to be able to earn an income, that is actually incredibly meaningful in the communities, and eventually men in the community. We do everything in consultation with the community. We can’t do anything with just half the community. There was always an understanding within the community that this was work that men had had a voice and saying that they were acknowledging and welcoming into the community, but eventually they would start welcoming their wives home as primary earners in the community, they would say, they opened the door and be like, welcome home wife, which was just such a change from previous ideas that women were actually more of a burden to bear, rather than an asset to their family,

Suzanne F. Stevens 

In my experience that’s often the case. What ends up happening is the woman becomes the primary breadwinner, which is happening in the West more and more as we know, but it’s also happening in Africa, in many cases, because many African women are getting the opportunity to do beading or to do a lot of weaving. The reason I asked you about if men’s participation, is because some of the weaving social enterprises that I have interviewed have started weaving. Because it, although it was a woman’s job, what ended up happening is women were making so much more money. And as a result, the men wanted to do all the weaving. But the mission was to help women out of poverty. So, it becomes quite challenging. There’s a consequence when you help one group. It sounds like ME to WE really considered that sense you’re helping both groups. Yes you started with the women, but you’ve also provided an opportunity for the men so they don’t feel like they’re relying just on the women’s success but she’s valued.

Roxanne Joyal 

Very much and also they don’t feel left out. There’s a whole other discussion to be had there around gender, colonialism, why things are the way they are today how they’re evolving. And so, again, our efforts with the artists’ program was simply one tentacle of a much broader effort in the community. WE charity and partnerships built, schools, and girls and boys equally have a chance to go to school, equal access to health care for all food security training and also economic opportunity initiatives whereby if people want to learn enhanced financial literacy training if they want to start their own small scale enterprises, and so nobody was excluded. This was simply a program, somewhat tucked into a much broader effort which made it so incredibly effective so often these women, they would work, they would earn. They were culturally, part of what we would call merry go rounds or women’s groups, which ensured that whatever women earned, they would then be able to safely tuck away. It was hers. It was her money for the family. It wasn’t necessarily taken away from her. And because she had a voice-over those funds. What we started finding is that spouses, they would go to financial literacy training together and then launch their own small scale enterprises, which then men would somewhat then start to head up as women would go to work as well so they were also business partners eventually in small businesses in the community.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

At ME to WE you’re talking about several programs that are going on in the community. What impact do you have on those programs? Is it something that’s set up locally or is the program something you facilitate or that you encourage? How does that all come to be?

Roxanne Joyal 

So, we’re ME to We artisans is a program that is part of a much broader series of initiatives from the WE family of organizations. WE Charity is a charity based out of Canada. It has been in the market here in Canada for 25 years serving its stakeholders, both domestically we empower young people to have a voice and then internationally. We also empower young people through education, but we also came to learn that their empowerment was also part of a much broader series of initiatives to establish just, fundamental infrastructure to help communities pull themselves out of poverty and that’s something this WE villages program was something that we developed over time because we realized that tackling the issue of education in isolation. It overseas in many of these developing communities would not yield the outcomes that we were looking for which was, you know, sustainable outcomes of communities who are powered and who eventually won, or like we are no longer a part of but are invited. You know, invited visitors and neighbors within those communities and so our initiative was simply one part of many, which was always centered on our stakeholders and what they wanted to see happen in their communities, and how we could simply behold hands and do that together,

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I’m glad you brought up the youth element because a lot of ME to WE also offers travel experiences to diverse groups: youth, universities, corporate, and schools. And I believe that’s a big chunk of what you do as well.

Roxanne Joyal 

yes

Suzanne F. Stevens 

There’s been a lot in the news over the last several years about voluntourism, and that we’re doing more harm than good. So, how do you structure your trips to ensure that they really are having a positive impact from the attitude of whoever you’re talking to what happens on the ground?

Roxanne Joyal 

Yeah, so it’s a great question. I mean it’s certainly something that I think from a travel trend perspective if we start there. I think people are looking for experiences that are a bit off the beaten path, or I like to say on the beaten path a little bit because you’re in these rural areas, and you’re usually walking through grass. But of course, this has to be done in a way that’s extremely respectful, and it has to be done in a way that also elevates the communities that you were visiting. And thirdly, most importantly, you have to be welcomed visitors. So those would be the three key pieces there. You know what I find so interesting is, many people have an opportunity to go on safari in East Africa or in South Africa, and often they don’t have an opportunity to, they have a great opportunity to see the wildlife and I mean that is also a wonder to behold. But they don’t often have an opportunity to truly understand what life is like for people in these parts of the world and so our trips are an opportunity for people to understand the joys, because there are many of the challenges of living life in rural Africa, and we are invited guests in the community, where we have an opportunity to learn about their way of life. About what every day is like, and what small part that we can play as partners in this to assist with any challenges that they have and so we actually don’t position our trips as volunteer trips, I actually call them cultural immersion trips, because they’re an opportunity to learn from others. And while we may be able to facilitate the logistics required in order for people to be able to visit the communities we serve, our hosts on the ground, are all local. And so, you’re hosted by locals and so I would say, the way that we have managed our trips and our infrastructure in our programming is very reminiscent to what ecotourism was like I would say in the mid-90s when people were looking to lighten their footprint and to better understand how they could actually make an impact and visit communities. You know without leaving a heavy carbon footprint. Our challenge to our guests and our visitors is, it’s an opportunity for people to learn about a different community, a different place and to come back as ambassadors for them in the world so that we can better understand their way of life.  It’s really an exchange, and in fact, every person who’s come home from one of our trips has come back saying they’ve just learned so much.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I love what you’re saying about the cultural experience because that’s really what you’re doing. You’re going to learn and understand. That’s it. And I’ve seen so many things go wrong and there’s so many. There are many tourism initiatives that locals will do to make money. But the problem with some of them, is they infringe on human rights. It’s watching that balance of what can create income, and at the same time, really respect the human rights of all. Is that a big consideration as well? I think of orphanages, for example, I’ve learned so much about going to orphanages. I’ll admit, I used to go to orphanages because I had no idea, the impact and the moneymaker orphanages often can be until you start reading and educating yourself. So, yes, it’s good for the community but it is not good for the human rights of the children.

Roxanne Joyal 

Yeah, it’s a very interesting observation. At the end of the day because of our efforts in terms of our lodges where guests have an opportunity to come and learn from local team members about their lives. Whether our trips are operating or not the work of WE continues in the community and so we are embedded as partners in the community, and I liken this to when you have an opportunity to travel with us, you’re simply invited guests into the daily life of what’s happening during that time. And so, we kind of seamlessly slip in and slip out but we’re not an interruption. We are active participants in the process but we don’t disturb the community so, it’s something that we’ve been able to hone and refine over a number of years again with been at this for 25 years. Also, I must say it’s also not a hugely scaled project either. It’s fairly small groups coming in certain periods of time and it’s like highly coordinated very respectful and honestly, it’s been a privilege.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I have to pluck out “Don’t disturb the community.” I’ve seen a lot of these programs run and one day I’d love to do one myself, but I think that it is a key message you are sharing:  you don’t disturb the community. It’s not like all these people are coming that the communities have to do this, we have to do that, we have to entertain them, or take the kids out of school. I love that and I just want to emphasize that because kudos to, WE and to the entire process that you’re doing, because that’s such an important. That is very line with my values and I just loved hearing that because I’ve seen disruption and go sideways.

Roxanne Joyal 

Yeah. And because we are speaking during a time of the pandemic, it is a special period of time. So, you know from our perspective, we have, of course, we’ve paused, our trips programming at the moment. And just so you know we have in fact repivoted, all of our trips infrastructure to support community mobilization efforts to ensure our community members are safe and well. Case in point, we have a number of mobile tents, for example, you think of these like mesh style tents, and we’ve been able to pivot that would normally be infrastructure for guests who see that has all now been moved to our world-class teaching hospital at Baraka Hospital, where we will now be able to receive more patients. A Land Cruiser that normally would have transported a guest is now transporting community members and serving as an ambulance.  Our presence in the community is to be with the community and to serve their needs and so at this time point in time, we are focused on protecting them and saving lives where we can,

Suzanne F. Stevens 

A great segway to my next question. How are you faring during the pandemic? I want to talk about this from a business standpoint because there’s a lot of times, charities rely on donors and donors alone. And, obviously, WE has pivoted in 2009 to ensure that they’re also getting money from ME to WE so that you can finance a lot of your initiatives. So, which is fabulous because that’s a gap, and a lot of charities right now are suffering because they are relying on fundraising and let’s face it, a lot of us don’t have the money we used to. And even if we did have the money where do we want to give it? Everything has changed. My question to you is, first how are you faring with how you’ve created the charity, and with ME to WE supporting it during this pandemic from a business standpoint.

Roxanne Joyal 

Sure, let me begin with what WE. So WE itself is an organization that has many branches to it and many of these brands were impacted. WE works in schools across North America so that work has been impacted. We hold stadium-sized events across North America, clearly, that has been impacted. ME to WE has a hospitality organization that has been impacted and non-essential retail impacted. So, very quickly we needed to gather ourselves together. I think this was just great learning for us,  we very fortunate to lean on our friends, mentors, and wise people to seek their advice and guidance during this time to figure out what does the way forward look like for us? How do we pivot and ensure business continuity at all costs because we exist to serve our stakeholder beneficiaries at the end of the day, so really happy to say that we’ve been able to aggressively pivot. Some days, admittedly, you know it’s hard to stop doing what you know. You know how to do so well, and to take a new direction but as they say ‘necessity is a mother of reinvention’ and so really happy to say that our WE Days and our schools’ programming is now pivoted firmly into the digital space, and we have been working on this digital transformation over the last three years because we also knew that this was how we were going to be able to scale. So, it was just as people were buying off e-commerce, a habit is now even more firmly entrenched as we move forward and so it has accelerated, some of the work that we were undertaking. And then from the perspective of a trips, we have had to take a pause. We’ve taken a pause, because at the end of the day. This is not the right time to be traveling for everybody. And you know that day that will come back and we’ve been able to again pivot our infrastructure to serve the needs of the community, and from a non-essential retail perspective.

We have actually paused our production because our mamas were our makers of the product who string these beads for these items need to hunker down safely at home, but we’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to diversify our sources of consumer-facing revenue over time. We actually have coffee that changes lives and chocolate that changes lives and people are consuming a lot of coffee right now. That daily act of comfort and Zen for people during a very unpredictable time. I think people do have small stashes of chocolate so far as I can tell, from what’s happening; people looking for a little bit of joy again and a little bit of comfort. So, we are working also with many of our partners. So, again we were very fortunate for a business perspective. Our breadth was also part of our ability our strength to be able to pivot and we’re in the process of reinventing ourselves. We are very dominant in the area of office coffee. We partner within the coffee services in Canada, we know that the office landscape will change. So, we’re asking ourselves what kind of new programs, do we need to put into place that people can have their cafe at home while they’re working. And so we’re just really now actively exploring how do we ensure that our products and our services remain relevant in a post COVID environment.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

So, diversity is the key. It sounds like diversity, being responsive, and being strategic are key.  I’m in the meetings industry, so I understand WE’s challenges. None of us are going to see a live audience for this year and it saddens me tremendously but we’re all going online. That being said, I was too was going online, that was my intent and like yourself, the only difference now is everybody’s there with us. WE, however, has a very prominent name and your niche market is very much identified So, you will get the followers. Which leads me to your other beneficiaries, who do you see as your beneficiaries?

Roxanne Joyal 

Our beneficiaries are the young people we serve here in North America, especially for our schools programming directly but again there are also people who have grown up with us over time. And we also provide people with the opportunity to make an impact with their everyday choices when they’re at the grocery store, whether they’re buying online at their own grocery stores, with our coffee and the chocolate offering. So those are our domestic stakeholder beneficiaries, and then internationally, of course, all the communities we serve. And in fact, in that case, we’ve actually doubled down in our efforts to ensure their safety, that they’re getting the education and awareness that they need and also needed the acute care, to save lives.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

So, what would be to the biggest challenges or hurdles to sustaining your social impact, now, or previous to the pandemic?

Roxanne Joyal 

I’ll just speak from it from the perspective of ME to WE, which is a social enterprise that creates products and experiences that allow people to make an impact and make a difference to their everyday choices. It’s always about maintaining product relevancy and also discipline in your business. So, what I’m finding is that anything that was kind of not our core, and we were hesitating, well now it is definitive — It’s done. You need to honor that moment because we need to let it go. And we need to work in those business areas that have possibilities. Another key piece when you speak about being strategic is where we just took a moment to quote-unquote get off the highway, so to say, was to just ensure one, as we were looking to retool the product for a post COVID environment. We’re asking ourselves What do the customers want, how do we validate that. And then, you know, if we’re making tweaks and tweaks to the product, how do we test that product really quickly. See if the market responds, and then continue to deal with that so it’s also given us the opportunity to go back to being a bit more, I would say entrepreneurial because you know once you start experiencing success, you need to start putting really firm processes in place in order to maintain your quality control but this ability to get off the highway into again accelerate the reinvention of your product with the experience that we’ve been able to get over the years we’ve been able to create a framework of a bit more discipline on how we test products and how we decide whether the product will then continue to grow in the marketplace and scale, verses, it doesn’t work. Let’s let that go and then let’s go back to the drawing board and figure something out there so you know SKU rationalization you know how many SKUs do you need in the marketplace for chocolate. You know, does your coffee need to be in the office and foodservice as it needs to be in essential services, you know, convenience store. I mean we’re just looking at what the business plan should be moving forward for 2021.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

What do you see as the three most important initiatives to make your social impact sustainable that you’ve done?

Roxanne Joyal 

I would say, the first thing, most importantly is that you’re serving a real need. I think that would be the most important. If we’re speaking about the veracity of the social impact, I think it’s important to validate that the difference you’re seeking to make and the way that you’re doing that is welcomed by the beneficiaries who would benefit from that. So that would be number one. So, from a sustainability perspective, its ability to make an impact. I would say the second most important thing is that, how do you ensure that you’re able to maintain that impact, like how do you support that ongoing impact? So, for us, the way that we do that is through running a responsible business. We need to ensure that our T’s are crossed our I’s are dotted that the product is resonating in the marketplace that we can continue to feed these initiatives and to feed the impact. And then I think the third thing would be thinking about the ongoing sustainability of that impact. What kind of programming are you putting into place that enables you to see if something happens tomorrow and I’m not able to continue on this mission that we will be okay? So, for ME to WE artisans for example the financial literacy training was so key, and working with the cultural groups was so key because, if something were to happen, COVID and they are no longer able to make bracelets, they’re okay. They’re hunkering down at home, they have kitchen gardens and they can go pluck healthy food out of their gardens to feed their families. They have access to a hospital, and they’ve been able to leverage their savings and their earnings to start other small businesses in the community. Those would be my three key pieces of advice.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

That’s a great insight. Now you’re the CEO and we’ve been talking a lot about your beneficiaries external to your organization I want to just switch gears. As the leader of ME to WE what leadership advice would provide particularly to engage your employees in the mission of your organization?

Roxanne Joyal 

Employee buy-in is obviously super key and certainly, I think a few things that I’ve come to realize people want it, this has to feel like a calling.  This has to feel like a calling to people but at the same time, they can also apply themselves professionally to that calling. I think people really enjoy being able to apply their business acumen to an opportunity that really makes a positive impact knowing that we spend so much time at work. We were very fortunate pre-pandemic that we’d also be able to take our employees overseas every two years to have an opportunity to meet the stakeholders that we serve overseas. And also we host a number of events where our staff also have an opportunity to interact and to learn from our beneficiaries or young beneficiaries that we serve here in North America, whether it actually be through focus groups, whether it be through scheduled events, and just also being able to create a culture where we’re always learning and so we’re very fortunate that through our network. We have an opportunity to meet like very, very wise people who have amazing experiences and we’re also always hosting sessions where people have an opportunity to hear the perspective of others so that they’re always growing professionally and personally.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Which is fabulous. Now you have a lot of collaborators locally, in Canada and internationally. So, what would be two insights you can provide regarding selecting a collaborator, and also keeping a collaborator?

Roxanne Joyal 

That’s very interesting. First of all, a partnership is always a partnership, it has to be win-win. It truly has to be an exchange of value in order for it to be successful and to accelerate. So that’s number one. So, I always ask myself, what can we bring uniquely to the table in a partnership that will help deliver for the objectives of our partners, that is our way that we approach our partnerships. And I’d say in terms of being able to sustain them, I think it’s just really important to give wholly not always to expect to receive, that is from like a philosophical standpoint. I truly believe what you put into the ocean eventually will come back, and then from a business perspective, I always firmly believe in joint business planning, that is so critical and key with our partner. I always undertake an exercise minimum once a year we sit down with our partners and you look at the year head and we ask what are your objectives, what are you seeking to achieve? How can dovetail into those objectives to amplify your efforts? Then we undertake quarterly business reviews with our key partners.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I love that, and I love doing the joint business plan,

Roxanne Joyal 

So critical, otherwise how do we know how to best add value. You learn so much. You become part of their family, which is amazing because you stick together in the good times and then the hard times.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

I’m a big fan of what I call symbiotic partnerships where you truly are feeding off of each other and that high trust is absolutely essential. Now, is there a particular collaborator be at institutions, government, celebrity, that you would recommend people to look at when you’re trying to amplify your mission.

Roxanne Joyal 

We’re so incredibly fortunate. From the content creator standpoint with our WE Days, and we also have a series of digital events. In addition to broadcasts both in Canada on CTV in fact and in the US. Again, what’s really important is that we provide a platform to our content creators to be able to speak to issues that they’re passionate about. So again, what is that symbiotic relationship is that we’re providing the platform, and then they’re providing the content and the message is just so incredibly relevant which is amazing. We’re very fortunate we have the opportunity to collaborate with a number of corporate partners, foundations, donors, and governments — we run the gamut. We all have our own specialties on what our objectives are and the people we serve.

If I think about some of the great initiatives that we’ve had from a bit more of a social enterprise perspective it’s in the coffee space, within the coffee services, which are a national distributor of coffee and it’s just been really exciting to be able to create an impact on a daily basis with their customers and to be able to communicate that impact. We call it from beans to cup and back, which is exciting and you know people drink coffee all the time we had a little cup in the morning, we’ve been able to make an impact and we’re able to through Vanhoutte, speak to their customers and to let them know that their consumption is driven financial literacy training for 46 women or so it’s been great. It provides super employee engagement also with your partners, this was super key letting them into your mission giving them an opportunity to participate in that. And in fact, to that point, I was just meeting with my team today, and you know we’re also asking ourselves, ‘what does employee engagement look like in a post COVID environment virtually?’ We used to have an opportunity to host our guests on WE Day or to take them overseas, and so we need to challenge ourselves now, and we will do it, is how do we maintain that connection and create moments between business objectives so that we can also solidify our personal relationships with people.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Yeah. Excellent. So we’re going to switch gears a little bit here and just get a little personal, not too personal. I love you, Roxanne, you’re like whatever. So, what would you say to date is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Roxanne Joyal 

Oh my goodness gracious. I’ve been so blessed, hands down. It’s the opportunity to work with my team working with my team they bring me such joy. It is an honor to serve with them and to learn from them. And it’s just so much fun, especially as I inevitably continue to tick up in age, our market is millennials, Gen Z, Gen X, and then also Gen A. And so, I love meeting Gen A and Gen Z. They give me the lay of the land of what’s happening, and I learned so much from them as well. And it’s really fun to meet our millennials who join us. Also, in the workforce and I often ask them in our onboarding sessions, how did you hear of WE, and I would hear, “I was in a WE club in grade two.” And I say, ‘the pipeline was long for recruitment.’’ It’s for sure that it’s our team, and also our team overseas. Our incredibly dedicated team overseas who right now are like risking their lives to help their fellow community members.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

What would you say is that is the biggest challenge that you have had?

Roxanne Joyal 

I am never satisfied with the status quo. It’s my biggest challenge. I always feel like there’s more to do. Our best is always good enough, but there’s always more that we can do. I always feel like there’s more that needs to be done. I just always want to figure out the best way to be able to scale and deliver impact.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

And what would you say is the most significant decision you’ve made in your career?

Roxanne Joyal 

These are good. I would say, while certain that what you know it’s funny I mean you could call it serendipity but, again, I’m a lawyer by training. And so, I have all the classical training of a lawyer and when the moment came to decide, you head down the more conventional path or do we embark on the the unknown. I chose the unconventional unknown path which has led me to where I am today. That’s probably quite significant and we’re kind of downstream there quite a bit.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

That’s a fork in the road.

Roxanne Joyal 

Yeah, it was.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

And we’re glad you took it.

Roxanne Joyal 

We’ve also been very blessed it’s also very important to recognize that we have had some good luck as well.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

What have you done that has made you uncomfortable, but had you not have done it you would not have had the social impact that you’re having today?

Roxanne Joyal 

So, listen, I think it’s having those courageous conversations with your partners to be where you end up growing. We’ve been through other bumps economic bumps like we’ve gone through recessions and, it always feels like you’re pushing uphill a bit and I honestly I would say it would be to have the courage to pick up the phone, to have those difficult, difficult conversation with partners to figure out how do we come out of this together? I recognize that I’m heading into a place of discomfort. It only to me accentuates the importance of what needs to be done, because it is something that’s very important. What I always do then is I ensure that I am extra prepared that my manner in which I conduct myself and prepare myself for this moment. I invest very heavily in that and that I do a good job. Right.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

So, tell me something nobody knows, such as what is next for you?

Roxanne Joyal 

Oh, that’s a great question. I have a partner and two children ages eight and five. And, you know, I work a lot. I would say if I can just be very open. One of the unexpected outcomes of this pandemic situation has perhaps it was expected that we would be home for quite some time and not traveling but it has also made me realize how important they are to us, and they’re also really an important stakeholder in our lives and so I’m trying to figure out how do I build a mission, how do I continue to build and rebuild an organization that has a scale and has a tremendous amount of impact. But perhaps just getting really smart about the amount of effort in for output, that would enable me to be more present for my kids because that for me it is something that I would like to do over the next few years. Give the team the opportunity. Delegate the accountabilities and let them grow and provide them with the coaching they need but to let them grow as well.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

And that’s a great way to do it, to empower your team. Thanks for sharing that with us. We’re going to wrap up with a little bit of fun rapid fire. I know it’s a Friday afternoon, but let’s see how we do. Okay, are you ready?

What’s the one thing you wish you knew prior to engaging down the path of a social impact business.

Roxanne Joyal 

I wish I had a bit more classical training and business.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Worst piece of advice you ever received.

Roxanne Joyal 

Something’s impossible. Everything is possible,

Suzanne F. Stevens 

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received.

Roxanne Joyal 

Go for it.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Which of your strengths do you rely on most to have the success you have achieved?

Roxanne Joyal 

I would say it’s my EI or my EQ.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Besides your beneficiaries, which I understand are many, which beneficiary do you think needs most investment, time, research, money?

Roxanne Joyal 

While I certainly have a big soft spot for women’s issues and women’s rights so I would say I have to zero in there.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Excellent. So I’m just going to say a word and you fire back the first word that comes into mind.

community

Roxanne Joyal

 

Women

 

Suzanne F. Stevens 

purpose.

Roxanne Joyal

always

Suzanne F. Stevens 

meaning

Roxanne Joyal 

table stakes

Suzanne F. Stevens 

contribute.

Roxanne Joyal 

Have to.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

conscious.

Roxanne Joyal 

Again, fundamental

Suzanne F. Stevens 

sustainability.

Roxanne Joyal 

Incorporate

Suzanne F. Stevens 

collaborate

Roxanne Joyal 

amplification.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Consistency

Roxanne Joyal 

discipline,

Suzanne F. Stevens 

learn,

Roxanne Joyal

 grow

Suzanne F. Stevens 

lead.

Roxanne Joyal 

Inspire

Suzanne F. Stevens 

legacy

Roxanne Joyal 

privilege.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

You.

Roxanne Joyal 

We

Suzanne F. Stevens 

the general me

Roxanne Joyal 

individuals

Suzanne F. Stevens 

we

Roxanne Joyal 

together

Roxanne Joyal 

That was super thoughtful thank you so much I can you give me food for thought,

Suzanne F. Stevens 

That’s what I love doing these interviews, is just starting to think a little differently, both for our audience and for you, and for me. I learned so much. So I want to thank our audience for listening today and joining Roxanne and myself.

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Excellent. Thanks, Roxanna don’t have to edit any of those. Thank you so much Roxanne for your insight.

Do you have any words of wisdom for our audience regarding contributing to society?

Roxanne Joyal 

I would say be aware. Educate yourself. And when you’re ready take action.

Suzanne F. Stevens 

Excellent great advice. Thanks so much, this is Suzanne F. Stevens.

Until next time, #MakeYourContributionCount.

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Conscious-Contributions™ Cultivator: Author, Professional Speaker, Moderator, Host, and Social Entrepreneur. WisdomExchangeTv is part of YouMeWe Social Impact Group — igniting a culture where your contribution counts for you • your company • your community. YouMeWe.ca | we@youmewe.ca

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