Shann McGrail

Shann McGrail
Chief Executive Officer, Haltech Regional Innovation Centre

As Chief Executive Officer of the Haltech Regional Innovation Centre, the go-to strategic connector and educator for start-ups in Halton and across Ontario, Shann McGrail’s job is to grow opportunities for technology innovators and entrepreneurs and to harness the immense and growing opportunities in the region. Shann’s understanding of the power of partnership and mentorship was developed through her career in technology enterprise sales, where she helped companies educate customers and tell their stories.

Shann grew up in Amherstburg, Ontario, a small town outside of Windsor, as one of two daughters. Her mother always worked outside the home, providing a powerful role model for her daughters. Her father bought Bobby Orr lunchboxes for Shann and her sister and taught them to play hockey. He also encouraged them to thoughtfully and effectively express their opinions when he challenged them with statements about what women couldn’t do. The communications training and professional development Shann received throughout her career sharpened these skills, leading her father to comment that she was really getting good at debate.

Shann graduated from the University of Windsor with a major in Commerce and a minor in French.  Although she had no intention of starting a business – entrepreneurship was not a focus in university curricula at the time – she believed that business and commerce were good platforms for a new graduate.  Shann launched her career with a position in sales at Digital Equipment Canada, a major hardware manufacturer, and soon realized that enterprise sales provided valuable training, including opportunities to understand how business works and to work and communicate with clients to solve problems and bring about innovation.  

Prior to joining Haltech in 2018, Shann worked in the technology industry for over 25 years, including 17 years at Microsoft.  She and a partner founded, and continue to operate Devreve, a consulting firm that works with technology companies to develop and implement strategic programs and solutions that drive business results. 

But the skills that Shann brings to Haltech result from more than her business experience. When her job at Microsoft relocated her to Toronto, she found that she missed the teamwork, camaraderie and creative outlet she had experienced through her participation in community theatre in Ottawa. She enrolled in a series of improv classes, met people and participated in performances – all of which led her to appreciate the value of improv skills to business and other aspects of life. Shann notes that improv sharpens observational skills and is about empathy, listening, responding and communication with freedom from the inner self-critic. The “yes, and” premise of improv provides opportunities for business people to enter discussions with the mindset of listening to people and their ideas. And, as Shann points out, “Our job at Haltech is to make sure we find and provide the supports for our clients. Sometimes that means just listening.”

With offices in Burlington and Milton, Haltech helps companies, from start-ups to large global corporations, advance their technology-based innovations to market or scale up their business. Halton Region’s population and client base have both grown exponentially over the last several years. Technology companies continue to move to the region and expand. Post-secondary partners, including Sheridan College, Wilfrid Laurier University and Brock University all are established in or are in the process of expanding their campuses to Halton. This growth of client base, combined with a population that includes both young people and executives, 75% of whom have a post-secondary degree and 20% of which are STEM-based, creates immense opportunity for technology innovators and entrepreneurs.

Shann is a champion of supporting women entrepreneurs. Under her management, the percentage of women-owned businesses working with Haltech has grown from 10% to over 40%. Much of this growth is due to Shann’s involvement with the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy, run by the federal government to increase women-owned businesses’ access to the financing, talent, networks and expertise they need to start up, scale up and access new markets.

Shann reflects that it was during high school that she first understood the lack of equal opportunities for women.  She can pinpoint the first time she addressed that injustice as when she challenged her French teacher, who also served as the golf coach, about the unfairness of the lack of a women’s golf team at the school. He responded by creating a women’s team on the spot, with Shann as the organizer. She recruited four friends to establish the team and points out that this experience taught her two important lessons:  

  • Don’t issue a challenge unless you’re willing to do something about it.
  • Rely on like-minded people to help make things happen.

Mentorship is a key element of Shann’s work in promoting opportunities for women in business. She worked on WCT’s (Women in Communications and Technology) National Mentorship Program and founded the WCT Protégé Project, Canada’s only cross-sector career sponsorship program that matches influential, powerfully positioned C-suite executive champions with senior female protégés to support protégés to move into even more senior leadership positions. Shann notes, “I was lucky to have great sponsors and supporters throughout my career. I focus on women entrepreneurs to ensure that everyone can have the same opportunities.”

When asked what’s on the horizon, Shann points to growing and harnessing the immense opportunities in the Halton Region. Technology companies continue to locate in Halton to take advantage of proximity to key strengths in the region, including advanced manufacturing and proximity to the US border and to Pearson International Airport. In addition, 20% of Haltech’s clients are located outside of Halton and have joined to work with one of the organization’s programs or advisors.

Shann’s advice to young people at the start of their careers is to learn to listen to and trust your gut. “Pay attention to your instincts,” she says.  “They almost never are wrong.” She also notes the importance of being responsible and engaged with the mentors in your life. “Don’t neglect the opportunities presented to you.”

When asked about measuring the success of Haltech, Shann says, “A client will tell you what you’re there to do.”  She points to a conversation with a client that had leveraged the services at Haltech, making it possible to expand their business, pivot and hire 20 new people. The hires were new Canadians and the jobs provided their first work experience in Canada and the opportunity to develop their language skills.  “Haltech helped connect the dots and that’s changing lives.”

You can see more of Shann’s impact in the visualizations below.

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Lily Pourzand

Lily Pourzand
Expert in Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Lily Pourzand’s childhood memories of Iran before the revolution are of vibrant colours and beautiful aromas. Her mother, Mehrangiz Kar, an award-winning human rights lawyer, writer, speaker and activist, was always dressed beautifully and smelled wonderful. Lily remembers her father, Siamak Pourzand, a journalist and film critic critical of Iranian leadership, as loving colourful ties and being especially particular about wearing perfectly polished shoes. “My childhood memories switched from full colour to black and white after the revolution, when even smelling good was a crime,” says Lily.  

She always knew she wanted to work in a field for and about women.  Although Lily had been proud to watch her mother fight for women’s rights as a lawyer and activist, she couldn’t picture herself practising law within a system that defined women as second-class citizens.  But education is very important in the Iranian culture and, although she wanted to work at anything other than law, she applied for and was accepted to the Faculty of Law at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.  Following in her parents’ footsteps, she started to write – and found herself called to the Morality Court of the university after publication of her first article, which questioned why black was the only acceptable colour for the hijab. She was temporarily suspended from studying and was, along with her parents, in danger of becoming a victim of the chain murders of Iran – disappearances and murders of Iranian dissident intellectuals who had been critical of the Islamic Republic.  After graduating with her law degree in 1999, Lily made her way to Canada and applied for refugee status upon arrival, leaving behind her family and many dreams. “I decided to create a home in my new country, Canada. Like many refugee/immigrant women, my journey has neither been smooth nor straightforward.”

Lily’s experiences have led to a deep understanding of systematic discrimination and her role as a fierce advocate for a more equitable and accessible world for girls and women. She graduated from York University with a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies in 2007 and continued her education with a Master’s degree in law from Osgoode Hall in 2010.  In 2011, she began work as a women’s support counsellor at the Women’s Centre of York Region. Providing support to women encouraged Lily to focus again on writing and public speaking in order to tell the stories of the real challenges faced by women. She established a blog on the Huffington Post Canada website and used that platform to talk about gender equality. 

Lily’s passion for change and growth motivated her to enter politics in 2013, when she announced her candidacy for the federal Liberal nomination for the riding of Willowdale, one of Toronto’s most diverse areas. Her main goal was to run a grassroots campaign to engage more immigrant women in political discussions and debates. 

Lily joined Sandgate Women’s Shelter of York Region in 2015, where she is currently Director of Programs, responsible for overseeing the 24 hours emergency shelters for women and children fleeing abuse. She is also responsible for planning and delivering public education events and is renowned for her innovative initiatives for partnerships and collaborations.  

The Woman Life Freedom uprising, the ongoing series of protests and civil unrest against the government of Iran that began in Tehran in September, 2022, resulted in the death at the hands of the Morality Police of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested for not properly wearing the hijab.  Amini’s death sparked anger and marches around the world to express solidarity with Iranian women and prompted Lily to publish an article in the Toronto Star to express the need for people to be the voice for the women of Iran. She is frequently invited to speak to politicians, influential think tank leaders, academics and the media on the remarkable courage exhibited by Iranian women over the past 44 years, living under the oppressive Gender Apartheid Regime and defying it, and the exceptional leadership demonstrated by Iranian women before and after the Woman Life Freedom uprising. 

Lily and her family have paid dearly for their activism and opposition to the Iranian government regime.  She returned to Iran in 2001, at great personal risk, to see her family and was able to help her mother, who had been arrested in 2000 for speaking out in favor of constitutional reform and secularism, travel to the United States for medical treatment.  Mehrangiz Kar was convicted in absentia by an Iranian court and has remained in exile in the US where she has been active as a writer, researcher and lecturer at universities including Harvard, the University of Virginia and Columbia University.  Following her mother’s arrival in the US, Lily’s father was kidnapped in Iran. Months later, Siamak Pourzand appeared in a forced confession TV show and was charged with spying for the United States, working for the Shah’s regime and channelling American money to the reformist press. He was put on trial in 2002 and sentenced to eleven years in prison, where received a regulated medical leave and was taken back and forth between prison and home. He died while under house arrest as a political prisoner at the age of 80 in 2011.

Lily says about her mission to support women and tell their collective and individual stories: “I survived a revolution, a war, political violence in public and private and a very difficult migration. I lived an extraordinary life, just like thousands and millions of other children who lived and grew up amidst revolution, war or political conflicts around the world. Many of them do not have the ability to tell us about their lives and survival.” Lily Pourzand’s experiences and passion for her mission make her an outstanding voice and advocate for girls and women, both in Canada and around the world. 

You can see more of Lily’s impact in the visualizations below. 

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Jim Estill

Jim Estill

CEO of Danby Products

Do the right thing.  That’s the imperative that drives Jim Estil—in everything business, in community service and in humanitarian work.

Jim has been President and CEO of home appliance manufacturer Danby Products in Guelph, Ontario since 2015. His focus on doing the right thing is reflected in Danby’s operating values, where ethical working conditions throughout the supply chain, diversity and inclusion, sustainability and philanthropy are at the heart of the company’s culture. And Jim has found that this way of doing business results in greater engagement by employees and attracts new staff. “People want to work for a company that does social good.”

Encouraged by his father to study engineering, Jim graduated from the Systems Design Engineering program at the University of Waterloo in 1980. He had developed an interest in computing and technology and was more interested in a career in business. “I would have made a terrible engineer!”, he claims. He started his first company, EMJ Data Systems, while in his final year of university. When the company was sold in 2005, it had grown from one where he sold hardware and software from the trunk of his car to a publicly traded corporation on the Toronto Stock Exchange with a staff of over 300 and $350 million in annual sales.

Jim’s business success led to roles as a founding board member of Research in Motion/BlackBerry in 1997 and a founding member of Communitech, an innovation hub that helps tech companies start, grow and succeed. As an early-stage technology investor, he has worked with more than 150 start-up companies. And Jim shared his perspectives on leadership and time management in his two books Time Leadership – Lessons from a CEO and Zero to $2 Billion: The Marketing and Branding Story Behind the Growth.

Beyond his success as an entrepreneur and investor, Jim is perhaps best known as a humanitarian. In 2015, he personally sponsored the resettling of 50 Syrian refugee families in Canada and, as CEO of Danby, set up a community network of hundreds of volunteers in Guelph to sponsor hundreds of people from countries around the world. Danby’s latest venture in this area is the Circle Home Furniture Bank, an ongoing resource to help provide furniture and housewares for newcomer families from Afghanistan, Ukraine and Syria as they establish their homes in Guelph and neighbouring communities. Through the work of local volunteers, community organizations and the federal government, Danby’s refugee sponsorship program has helped settle hundreds of newcomer families, helping them find and furnish homes, secure employment, and start their new lives in and around Guelph. “People are grateful to help and to be part of the better, bigger good,” notes Jim of the massive community effort of more than 800 volunteers that donated their time and resources to help people from around the world start a new life in Canada.

Jim has long been concerned about environmental issues. He started a recycling program in his university residence, has installed solar panels on his roof and invests in alternative energy. “I’m worried about climate change and the social upheaval it will cause as people will be forced to leave their homes.” This concern Is reflected in Danby’s focus on sustainability and the company’s goal to work toward a more sustainable future. The company refurnishes units as “Danby Certified” to help to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and to lower greenhouse gas production at their manufacturing plants. 

Thanks to Jim’s leadership, and Danby’s ongoing commitment to do the right thing, the company continues to work to make the world better by supporting women’s shelters, programs for youth and for people experiencing homelessness. In recognition of his work, Jim was named to the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada, received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Guelph and an Everyday Heroes Award from the Global Hope Coalition. Despite the awards, he says “I’m a normal guy, trying to do my part.” And Jim hopes that Danby’s commitment to a corporate culture of philanthropy, volunteerism and servant leadership can serve as a model for much larger companies across Canada and internationally. “Everybody can do their part by taking on something that’s the right size for them to do their version of good.”

You can see more of Jim’s impact in the visualizations below.

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Deborah Rosati

Deborah Rosati

Fellow Chartered Professional Accountant
Women Get on Board

Deborah Rosati always knew that she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps by pursuing a career in business. “He immigrated to Canada from Holland at age 14, and was placed in a grade one class. My father built his life in Canada and his business from the ground up,” she says. “My parents taught me that I could do whatever I wanted. And I’ve always had a deep love for business.”

Deborah’s focus on a career in business attracted her to the co-op accounting program at Brock University’s Goodman School of Business.  By her mid-twenties, thanks to co-op work term experience, Deborah had developed the skills that led to corporate roles ranging from controller to CFO. The appeal of emerging technologies and her inclination to entrepreneurship drew her to new roles as company co-founder and partner. It was during this phase of her work that she found herself to be one of only a few female partners or board members.

The lack of women at the board table and the absence of women mentors motivated Deborah to found Women Get On Board (WGOB) in 2015. In the ensuing 8 years, Deborah and her team have grown this member-based, social purpose company to more than 850 members. Collaborations with corporate sponsors have resulted in programs that have helped more than 300 women prepare and effectively engage on corporate, public sector and not-for-profit boards. These programs include: 

WGOB Mentorship Program, which matches aspiring women corporate directors with accomplished leading and serving women corporate directors to elevate their board effectiveness and advance their board journey to a corporate board seat.

WGOB Financial Intelligence in the Boardroom Program, designed to empower women with practical insights and tools to enhance their financial intelligence in the boardroom. This unique online program offers practical and hands-on support in a combination of micro-learning, virtually facilitated by financial experts. 

WGOB has also worked with corporate partners to celebrate the accomplishments of women. WGOB created the BMO Celebrating Women on Boards in 2020 to annually recognize 5 women across Canada who excel in and out of the boardroom.  In 2022, WGOB announced KPMG Canada as its first EMPOWER Partner to connect, promote and empower women to lead and serve on boards through events and thought leadership.

In addition to her work on WGOB, Deborah is actively engaged with the wider corporate governance community through frequent speaking engagements, panel discussions, podcasts, and authoring articles and e-books How to Get Yourself on a Board  and Elevating Your Board Effectiveness, to share her expertise and thought leadership..

Deborah has been recognized through numerous nominations and awards including The SustainabilityX Magazine’s inaugural Global 50 Women in Sustainability Award in 2022. In 2021, she was recognized as one of the Women’s Executive Networks Top 100 Canada’s Most Powerful Women in the Entrepreneur award category. Deborah has also been honoured as a 2020 Director to Watch and a 2014 Diversity 50 candidate. And in 2012, Deborah was selected as one of WXN’s Top 100 Canada’s Most Powerful Women in the Corporate Director award category.

Deborah’s career and WGOB are guided by the same principles: 

Be authentic; 

Be passionate in everything we do; 

Be engaged and take initiative; and

Be communicative beyond expectation.

Recognized for her success as a successful businesswoman, entrepreneur, corporate director, speaker and supporter of women in the boardroom, Deborah Rosati is a powerful role model and mentor. Her advice to women in business? “Be fearless and never doubt yourself. Lean in and learn up – because knowledge is power.”  

You can see more of Deborah’s impact in the visualizations below:

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Wendy Powley

Wendy Powley

Associate Professor, Queen’s School of Computing, Queen’s University

The School of Computing at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario has one of the highest percentages of female students in undergraduate Computer Science in Canada. In large part, that is due to the outstanding work and dedication of Wendy Powley.

Wendy’s passions are computer science education, teaching and outreach. For more than 30 years, Wendy has personally mentored and inspired thousands of women across the country and internationally and has worked tirelessly to celebrate and connect Canadian women in computing.

Computer science and teaching are far from Wendy’s original plan, as a high-school student, to work as a flight attendant – even though she had never been on an airplane. When her guidance counsellor pointed out that she wasn’t tall enough for that career, she decided to pursue studies in Psychology and Education instead in order to work with children with intellectual disabilities. It was her first job after graduation, as a research assistant on a study in psychology and urology at Queen’s University, that introduced her to computer science. “I taught people how to urinate!” recalls Wendy. “The study was on how biofeedback could be used to help people who weren’t able to properly empty their bladders. I was tasked with analyzing data collected by the toilet and through EMG (electromyography).”

This first experience with using computers to solve real-world problems inspired Wendy to pursue a master’s degree in Computer Science and launched her career as a Research Associate and, eventually, a professor at Queen’s University.

Wendy teaches more than 1,000 students per year and she especially enjoys teaching those in their first year.  Sharing her first-hand understanding of Impostor Syndrome and her struggle to learn to code has helped students, many of them women, understand that these challenges are normal and that they can be overcome. Wendy’s support has motivated many students to pursue or continue their studies in Computer Science.  

Wendy’s experience helped her understand the need to encourage students outside of the School of Computing to learn to code. She restructured a computing course for students in the humanities to include mentorship by lab assistants in the weekly hands-on labs. This resulted in the enrollment of a record numbers of female students in a second course in computing. 

In 2003, Wendy founded Queen’s Women in Computing (QWIC) for female-identifying students and faculty. Under Wendy’s leadership, QWIC is currently run by students, with upper year students mentoring their younger counterparts and a recently-introduced program includes computer science alumni as mentors and role models.

Wendy’s outreach and support of women to pursue studies and careers in Computer Science is not limited to Queen’s University. Wendy founded what is now the premier Canadian conference for women in computing in 2010. Wendy has led the organization of CAN-CWiC, the annual Canadian celebration of women in computing, for 12 years.  Through Wendy’s vision and leadership, the conference has grown to a national annual event that attracts more than 750 attendees from universities, colleges and tech companies across Canada. CAN-CWiC provides a unique opportunity for students to hear from keynote speakers, presenters and panelists who share their stories of professional challenges and achievements. The conference also offers graduate students a chance to present their research to female faculty members for their feedback. Students who attended CAN-CWIC have progressed to roles in the tech industry and are invited back to the conference to serve as role models and mentors for students and young professionals. In 2023, a Mentoring Circles program was added, for senior faculty to discuss research and teaching issues in academia with junior faculty members and graduate students.

Wendy also works with young women in high school through the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing Awards Canada program to inspire them to pursue careers in technology. Over 100 female students in Canada received awards through the program in 2022. AiC award winners are invited to attend the CAN-CWiC conference to meet with undergraduate and graduate students as well as industry professionals.

Wendy’s dedication to promoting gender diversity in computing was recognized by CS-Can|Info-Can, Canada’s national organization for computer science professionals, in 2022 with the organization’s Distinguished Service Award for her outstanding service to the Canadian computer science community.

As Wendy reflects on her career, she says “I would never have imagined I would be teaching full time.”  After attaining her master’s degree, she worked as a project manager on research study on air traffic control at the Royal Military College and a range of projects in the Queen’s School of Computing prior to being hired as a professor in the school.  And, as she looks to the future, Wendy plans to focus on growing the Aspirations in Computing Awards and looks forward to resuming travel after three years of a pandemic-imposed break of meeting with family, friends and colleagues around the world.

Wendy’s tremendous work on promoting women in computing is perhaps best expressed by her former student, Nailah Ogeer, who recently posted on LinkedIn: “Wendy Powley was my first female mentor in computer science 20 years ago in university. She helped me in so many ways throughout the years. After attending CAN-CWiC 2022, I invited Wendy to come talk to our Women in Tech group at work. I asked her what made her think about organizing the first event in 2010. She said, ‘I wanted to bring the conference to my students’ and ‘I want my students to hear from ladies in the real world.’ She also told us that it is so important that women in industry empower girls to join technology. Thank you, Wendy, for all you do for the community.”

You can see more of Wendy’s impact in the community in the visualizations below:

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Swatil Mahmud

Swatil Mahmud

Co-Founder, Swayong

“Women’s stories are universal,” says Swatil Mahmud, co-founder of Swayong, a youth and women-led platform that aims to tackle social injustice through storytelling. Along with her sister, Kazi Mitul Mahmud, Swatil created Swayong to be a safe, inclusive, and constructive space for conversation and growth and where people are able to interact meaningfully with sensitive topics, breaking down inhibitions about women’s issues that are often burdened with shame. 

Swatil grew up in and is based in Bangladesh, where women’s roles are traditionally defined by their responsibilities as wives and mothers. Her mother, a nurse, teacher and director of a masters’ level nursing program, was a powerful role model for Swatil and her sister, who both travelled the world to study. Swatil has returned to Bangladesh to work as a communications and development professional and, through Swayong, to share the stories of real women and girls in order to dismantle social injustices, one story at a time. 

Swayong, which translates as ‘self’ from the Bangla language, was founded in 2020 as a pandemic project with 11 volunteers. The platform now boasts a team of 65, referred to as Swayong Warriors, who fight gender-based social injustice.  

The first stories shared by Swayong were those of frontline healthcare workers, hospital staff, aid workers and journalists during COVID-19. The platform provided, and continues to provide, a safe and inclusive space for women of all ages and from all walks of life, including people with disabilities, transwomen, indigenous women, gender-diverse folks and other marginalized communities. Swayong has reached over 850,000 people in almost all the major cities in Bangladesh and also communicates through their website www.swayong.org and via Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Since its inception, Swayong has run 23 campaigns on issues such as body positivity, curtailed bodily autonomy, sexual harassment in public places, child abuse, transgender awareness and parental leave.  Campaign topics, which are not limited to women’s issues, all feature factual information and data illustrated by personal stories. Swayong also produces Angur Fol Tok (Grapes are sour), a live talk livestreamed on Facebook, where eminent activists and experts come together to talk about issues related to social injustice and taboo and “shameful” topics.  

Under Swatil’s leadership, Swayong organized a feminist storytelling festival to promote sensitization to feminist, sexuality, and marginalization issues through panel discussions, storytelling and cultural performances.  As part of the festival, members of feminist groups, LGBTQIA communities and transgender rights activists were invited to be “human books” to create a feminist human library. Swatil also produced Swayong’s feminist documentary Jongla phul (Wild Flower) to showcase diverse women who, like wildflowers, survive despite adversity. 

All of Swatil’s work aims to create public awareness and a sense of community and to influence national policy formulation and reform. She serves as a mentor and guide, collaborating with other young feminists to expand the impact of her work and to ensure a larger reach of her advocacy initiatives. She is one of the founding members of Feminists Across Generations, an intergenerational feminist alliance that brings together activists and other individuals to stand up against gender-based violence and abuse against women. As part of her feminist advocacy and activism, Swatil mobilizes and leads activities like protests and flash mobs to raise awareness about gender inequality and violence against women.

Collaboration is essential to the success of Swatil’s work and Swayong frequently collaborates with organizations working on social justice issues to launch joint campaigns and projects. Swayong has conducted events and campaigns featuring storytelling as a tool for change that have been funded by the United Nations Development Programme, the Manusher Jonno Foundation, UK Aid, and Global Affairs Canada

Swatil believes youth must be included in the solution to achieve gender equality and wants young people to be a testament to the power of the collective.  Her advice to young women who wish to make meaningful change is “Be fearless and never underestimate the power of a storyteller!”

You can learn more about Swatil’s work and Swayong in the visualizations below.

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Adrija Jana

Adrija Jana

At only 18 years of age, Adrija Jana has been recognized, both internationally and in her home country of India, as an award-winning poet, spoken word artist, filmmaker and creative researcher. Despite these honours, Adrija doesn’t just think of herself as a creative artist but also as an activist whose art effectively protests against social injustices including domestic abuse, period poverty and education inequity. Adrija has channeled her creativity and energy to raise awareness about these issues and to empower others to speak out.

As a high school student at Mahadevi World Academy in Kolkata, India, Adrija served as a peer mentor for junior students while winning awards for her academic standing. She also taught creative and performing arts to disadvantaged children and mentored refugee children through her work with various NGOs.

Adrija has been involved in period poverty activism through her work at the Period Society, a youth-led non-profit which aims to improve menstrual and reproductive health. As a fellow at Civics Innovator fellowship at Civics Unplugged, she developed a case brief on the problem of menstrual stigma and period poverty in India. In addition to defining and analyzing the issues, Adrija recommended a two-pronged approach to be taken by the government for subsidy of period products and access to products in schools.

Adrija’s activism isn’t limited to issues in her home country. She has participated as a UN Model Delegate in more than 20 conferences and has led research projects about the effect of Covid-19 on education and on the opioid crisis in Arizona in her role as a research fellow in the 2020 and 2021 cohorts of Harvard Innovation Labs International Socioeconomics Laboratory.  

A prolific writer, Adrija is inspired by her favourite contemporary poet of color, Nayyirah Waheed, and novelist Margaret Mitchell.  She was inspired to write her first poem while in Grade 3 and reading about India’s nationalist movement for independence. The theme of gender equality runs through Adrija’s work – she recently published a paper on the Representation of Women in Literature to explore the role that literature plays in the portrayal of women’s social standing during the time they are written.

In addition to her research and poetry, Adrija creates documentaries that tell the inspiring stories of people who wouldn’t otherwise have a platform. Her films, including poetry documentaries, have been screened internationally to wide acclaim.

Adrija credits her mother as her biggest inspiration. “Her entire journey inspires me. She got married at a very young age, had me and my siblings, and was compelled to devote herself entirely to family life. She had to make great sacrifices, but never for once did she break down or give up. After we grew up, she started her own business to become self-reliant. After the national movement, it was her struggles that I expressed through my poetry. She is a living example of the heights one can scale if they persist.”

As Adrija is honoured for her work as an activist, poet and researcher, both in India and internationally, she is currently in her first year at University of Delhi, where she is studying English literature. Her goal is to pursue a PhD, in either the UK or the US, and to work as a researcher and professor while continuing her role as an activist. “This has become a very core part of me. I definitely see myself advocating for the issues I care about and to help communicate the voices of people who are normally ignored,” she said.

An exceptional young woman, Adrija has made great impact as a poet, researcher, social activist, artist and active citizen. When asked what advice she would give a young person who would like to get involved in issues as she does, Adrija says: “This is not something that is very easy to do. It may be easy to start something, but continuing with it will come with obstacles. If you are doing something that is considered revolutionary by traditional conventions, there will be backlashes. For example, in response to my poetry against marital rape and period poverty, I have received rape and death threats and other forms of cyber harassment. But you cannot let that deter you. All that matters is how determined you are. If you really believe something with all your heart, you should never let go of it.”

You can see more about Adrija’s impact in the visualizations below.

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Claudette McGowan

Claudette McGowan

Founder and CEO, Protexxa and Chair, CILAR

Claudette McGowan’s first mentor was her mother, a nurse who believed strongly in the importance of caring for and helping people. “There was always someone staying with our family, whether from the church or a family member,” she recalls. As a global information technology leader, entrepreneur, and mentor, Claudette puts into practice what was modelled by her mother by providing opportunities for participation, prosperity, and leadership.  

A graduate of Lakehead University and Athabasca University, with certifications from Ontario Tech University, York University, Harvard, and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and an honorary doctorate from Carleton University, Claudette broke barriers as she advanced in her career. In 2020, Toronto Life recognized her as one of the city’s Top 50 Most Influential Torontonians. Digital Finance Institute honoured her as one of the Top 50 Canadian Women in FinTech, and the Women’s Executive Network recognized her as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada. In 2022, Claudette received the DMZ Woman of the Year Award and NACO, the National Angel Capital Organization, named her as a Nation Builder of the Year in Canada.  

In 2022, Claudette followed a calling to become an entrepreneur and founded Protexxa, a cybersecurity platform that leverages Artificial Intelligence to rapidly identify, evaluate, predict, and resolve cyber issues.  “Cybercrime has quadrupled since the pandemic” notes Claudette. “Through Protexxa, I can work with people around the world to help them assess cyber threats, train them to reduce cyber vulnerabilities and strengthen cyber capabilities.”

Fundamental to all of Claudette’s work is ensuring that support systems are in place for everyone, regardless of race, gender or age, in order to thrive and progress.  “There are 3.5 million open cybersecurity jobs in the world, 25,000 of them in Canada.  My goal is to create more cyber leaders,” she said.

To this end, Claudette helped found and is currently the chair of the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR), a group of senior Canadian business leaders committed to fighting systemic racism within the innovation economy.  CILAR was founded in 2020 to engage all people to participate in the growing innovation economy, which will soon represent half of the global GDP and workforce.  At CILAR, Claudette is one of the leaders overseeing the effort to focus on increasing access and opportunity for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.  (BIPOC) men and women through five integrated pillars: 

Youth Development

Carve pathways for BIPOC Youth in the innovation economy through mentorships and access to programs that lead to meaningful employment.

Job Opportunities

Provide transformational employment opportunities.

Venture and Capital Support

Offer access to capital and programs to entrepreneurs seeking opportunities to grow their ideas into viable, sustainable and global platforms through BIPOC Venture Capital Funds.

Community and Leadership

Strengthen all communities by connecting Canada’s established innovators with aspiring innovators.

Inclusive Innovation and Technology

Establish technology and data standards to develop innovation enablers for both consumer and business purposes.

To help women succeed in the technology industry, Claudette recently helped launch the women-focused archangel fund, Phoenix Fire.  These angel-stage investment funds apply a systematic, disciplined approach to investing in women entrepreneurs across Canada. Phoenix Fire offers active portfolio management with experienced angel investors as well as access to high-potential, talented, entrepreneurial women.

When asked about the most significant point of her more than 20 years as a global information technology leader, Claudette points to her decision to leave her role as l Global Executive Officer of Cybersecurity at TD Bank to found Protexxa. “I saw a problem and an opportunity to offer solutions. I decided to go for it by building a new cyber platform and a phenomenal team. It’s been the most rewarding experience of my lifetime.”

Claudette McGowan has made outstanding contributions as a technology leader, mentor and entrepreneur.  Her work to increase access to careers in technology across Canada for BIPOC youth and innovators and to women, to train people to create cyber capabilities, and to foster a new generation of cyber leaders truly makes a profound impact for millions of people around the globe.

You can see more of Claudette’s work with CILAR and her recognitions over the years in the visualizations below.

Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Stephanie and Joe Mancini

Joe and Stephanie Mancini (photo courtesy of Tomasz Adamski Photography)

Founders, The Working Centre

When they graduated from St. Jerome’s University 40 years ago, during a global and local recession, Stephanie and Joe Mancini wanted to build a culture of service and a place of hospitality for people who were left out of work. They opened the Working Centre in downtown Kitchener in 1982 to offer career and job assistance.  Although times have changed, their mission hasn’t.  It has only expanded to meet the needs of the community. 

Joe and Stephanie met as high school students in their hometown of Hamilton. Joe was inspired by a presentation at his church about building windmills in Tanzania by a mission group called CPPS Mission Projects, a group of priests and brothers from Toronto seeking to involve young students in global relief work. It was not long before Joe and Stephanie joined CPPS and the next summer they were in central Tanzania villages to build windmills for clean water in villages. When they returned to Canada, Joe enrolled at Resurrection College at St. Jerome’s University to study philosophy and history in a priest formation program while Stephanie studied Religious Studies and English at McMaster University. Within months, they directed their time and efforts toward learning about international development and supporting the Tanzania project through fundraising and public education. Together, they realized that they could build upon their informed sense of social justice, and this has been at the core of the Mancini’s work over four decades.

As university students, Stephanie and Joe continued the international development work they started in Tanzania through their active involvement in the Global Community Centre, where they gained valuable experience in community building, and a growing commitment to learn about the community. When they graduated in 1982, already married, their focus turned from global to local issues as hundreds of people were affected by layoffs at Budd Automotive and Lear Canada. The Working Centre took shape as a place to learn about the meaning and structure of work by supporting the unemployed. Soon, St. John’s Kitchen opened to provide a place of community, to help those with food insecurity to prepare a daily meal and share it together, and to provide access to a range of supports and resources.

COVID-19 has exposed the growing homeless situation in Waterloo Region. The Working Centre sprang into action and, working with the Region of Waterloo, added 230 shelter and interim housing beds through three different projects.  As well, St. John’s Kitchen has become as vital as ever, providing daily shelter, access to meals, laundry, and washroom facilities. Over 400 people a day use the different services of St. John’s Kitchen. 

The Working Centre has consistently produced substantial results for the community in creative ways. Over the past ten years, the centre’s 100 – 120 workers have:

·         Built Community Tool projects like Recycle Cycles Community Bike Shop, Queen Street Commons Café, the Market Garden, Worth A Second Look Thrift Store and Computer Recycling that have created sustainable social enterprises that offer great pricing, opportunities for work, and building community.  

·         Created the Job Resource Centre, the most practical, helpful, and hospitable employment resource centre in the region, with a 95% positivity rate provided by users surveyed. Ten weekly volunteers assist 3,000 workers each year, with approximately 1,000 workers achieving 85% success in jobs or training and the remaining 2,000 making use of the resource centre in practical ways. 

·         Employed up to 40 people on a weekly basis in Job Cafe projects. 

·         Served 250 – 300 meals each day at St. John’s Kitchen, from Monday to Friday.  St. John’s Kitchen also provides public washrooms, showers, laundry, and food distribution. 

·         Established a medical clinic that operates three days per week, serves 300 people each year, and is staffed by one nurse, a full-time doctor, and a nurse practitioner.  In addition to the medical clinic, a Specialized Outreach Team, staffed by two teams, each consisting of a nurse and social worker, serve an additional 450 per year each year.  Finally, three downtown street outreach working with a team of 100 weekly volunteers, each working with a caseload of 250 per year.   

·         Provided 70 people with housing in 30 apartments and three houses. A quarter of these units have housed chronically homeless individuals. 

·         Established a Hospitality House to serve six homeless men with acute illnesses. 

·         Built and furnished Community Dental, a clinic staffed by volunteer dentists and seven weekly volunteers that supported about 200 people over its first three years of operation. 

As COVID-19 exacerbated inequities within the community and as the rate of homelessness continued to rise in Waterloo Region, the most vulnerable bore the greatest burdens. Joe and Stephanie Mancini did not shrink from this challenge – they stepped up to serve the community.  “Our work during the pandemic has been hard and deep, relentless and beautiful as we have stood with people who are left out in so many ways – of housing, indoor spaces, bathrooms, safety, and work,” says Stephanie. 

Joe and Stephanie Mancini have noticed a change in people’s understanding of work and the desire to be more impactful. In 2020/21, during the COVID shutdowns, the Working Centre trained 55 new employees who had lost jobs in hospitality, health care, and manufacturing to learn shelter work. This new kind of work is all about bringing your mind, heart, and action into your work every day, which can be hard. It is also where real and meaningful work happens.

The Working Centre has been built and is grounded on the notion of learning about, understanding, and bringing ethics into social issues. The centre has operated with the goals of:

·         Offering sustainable, reliable resources that are agile and responsive to change;

·         Building structures without overdeveloping those structures, and

·         Understanding and fostering local democracy in our community

These goals continue to inform the work that Stephanie and Joe Mancini and their teams do every day. Through trial and error, the Working Centre has built a grassroots organizational model that integrates the stability of the systems-world with the continual change and unpredictability of the life-world. 

The Working Centre has provided the opportunity for approximately 500 University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) undergraduate students to study at their facilities over the past twelve years. Courses offered through Professor Ken Westhues from the University of Waterloo and the Community Engagement Option at WLU have incorporated meaningful discussion and coursework on The Working Centre’s philosophy and approach. When full-time undergraduates travel by bus or car to downtown Kitchener for one of their courses, it is an experience far beyond the realm of academic theory. While courses at the Working Centre don’t differ from those on campus in terms of readings and assignments required, the atmosphere is vastly different. Students receive first-hand experience with the programs of social development provided by the Working Centre while learning about the network of businesses, government agencies, and voluntary associations that form the fabric of Kitchener-Waterloo as a city and community.

Stephanie and Joe Mancini’s work has been greatly influenced by their personal experience in international development, their education at St. Jerome’s University, and the work of social justice activists like Dorothy Day, Ivan Illich, and Dom Hélder Câmara.  Their work in establishing, developing, and running the Working Centre and bridging academia with the community serves as a grassroots organizational model that integrates the stability of the systems-world with the continual change and unpredictability of the life-world. These practices have been central in the profound impact the Mancinis have made in offering vital resources for four decades.

Do you have an impact story to share? Let us know at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Kehkashan Basu

Kehkashan Basu, MS.M.

Founder/President, Green Hope Foundation

A humanitarian with a passion for empowering vulnerable communities, Kehkashan Basu, M.S.M., founded her own charitable organization at the age of 12 in Toronto, Ontario. Now, 10 years later, Green Hope Foundation works across 26 countries, helping more than 300,000 vulnerable women and girls live in a world where all voices are valued. Basu believes that every child has the right to education regardless of their gender, to a clean environment, and the freedom to decide their own destiny.

“I started at a time when advocacy for sustainable development didn’t involve the people who should be included in the process,” Basu said. “I really wanted to change that. Green Hope Foundation came about to address this lack of inclusivity. Over the last decade, working with my team on the ground, as well as engaging with those at the highest levels of policymaking, we’ve really seen our impact grow.”

Basu said Green Hope Foundation is focused on three pillars: sustainability, society and environment. They follow an intersectional approach, recognizing all three pillars in their work. 

“The first actions we really took were with education for sustainable development, reaching out to schools and trying to get children involved,” Basu said. “We also got involved in ground level actions, like tree planting and conducting clean ups.”

Basu started her advocacy journey by planting a tree on her eighth birthday, which falls on June 5: World Environment Day. The United Nations noticed her work and invited Basu to speak at one of the largest sustainable development conferences at the time, Rio+20, in 2012. 

“I grew up seeing my parents giving back to people and the planet their whole lives,” Basu said. “I thought everyone was doing something good for the environment and for their community. But, slowly and steadily, I realized there were a lot of other inequities in our world. There was a tremendous lack of inclusivity of children and women in achieving a sustainable world.” 

Green Hope Foundation has seen a tremendous amount of growth since it began a decade ago. The group has planted 950,000 trees so far and hopes to hit 1 million by the end of the year. 

“We are learning and growing every single day,” Basu said. “We understand that our work can really never stop. Even if we do achieve a sustainable world, we have to do something to maintain that.”

In 2015, Green Hope Foundation installed solar panels to an area in western India with no access to electricity. The panels are still in use today, and have helped the area thrive.

“We have an energy system that enables farming, we have a full solar grid for their schools,” Basu said. “The children, and the girls specifically, are getting lessons in STEM in a solar-powered computer lab.”

The organization plans to continue expanding into the future, upscaling current projects and thinking of new ways to engage. “We want to continue to educate the younger generation about why it’s important to care for the community and the planet,” Basu said. 

Basu received her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, majoring in environmental studies and minoring in women and gender studies and physical and environmental geography. “Those subjects were a no-brainer for me,” she said. “I wanted to get a degree in something that I was passionate about.” Now, Basu is in her first year of her MBA at Cornell University. By specializing in business, she hopes to engage the private sector in the work of Green Hope Foundation in the future. 

Last month, Basu was named the winner of the 2022 Impactful Actions Award, an annual award presented by Profound Impact™ Corporation to recognize individuals who are inspiring collaborative solutions to difficult global problems.

“It’s a huge honour,” Basu said. “I really like that it’s focused on impact, because it’s a motivation for me to continue to do more, create more impact and inspire others.”

You can see highlights of Basu’s education and accomplishments in the visualizations below:

You can see highlights of the work of Green Hope Foundation in the visualizations below:

Do you have an impact story to share? Let us know at connections@profoundimpact.com for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter!