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Helping women entrepreneurs find their purpose

  • Communications
  • |
  • May 5, 2021
Helping women entrepreneurs find their purpose

Janice Byrne and Martha Maznevski

Entrepreneurs are known for their resilience, but after a long year of dealing with the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not surprising if that resilience is put to the test.

For the women entrepreneurs in a microenterprise program through My Sisters' Place, a series of motivational workshops led by Ivey faculty was just what they needed to reclaim their passion and purpose. The microenterprise program, known as M.E., is one of the offerings from My Sisters' Place, a social services organization that creates a community of women who support each other through experiences of trauma, mental illness, homelessness, addictions, and poverty. Women in the microenterprise program make and sell their own jewelry through an online shop.

Janice Byrne, an assistant professor of Entrepreneurship, and Martha Maznevski, PhD ’94, a professor of Organizational Behaviour and faculty director for executive education at Ivey, recently led three virtual workshops, entitled Finding your Purpose, for the women in the microenterprise program. The goal of the sessions was to help the women identify their needs, talents, core purpose, and what drives them.

Byrne proposed the workshops upon learning about the microenterprise program while researching the entrepreneurial ecosystem in London, Ont. The sessions were supported by the Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship.

“It was great to have the Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship support this initiative,” said Byrne. “It is important for us to cultivate these ties within the community. Ivey, our faculty, staff, and students are all the stronger for it. It’s a win-win collaboration.”

A reminder of the human side of business

Byrne said the workshops helped the women to connect again and find new energy after what has been a difficult year.

“While skill development in small business accounting, social media, and online sales may be an obvious need for a group of entrepreneurs making and selling their own jewelry, in learning about their needs, it was obvious that a ‘for-profit’ entrepreneurship mindset was not the optimum approach here. It was the human side of this entrepreneurial community that needed attention first,” said Byrne. “The pandemic has hit this tight community of women hard. They are used to regularly seeing each other as they work side-by-side in their jewelry-making workshop and COVID-19 has put a stop to that. It became clear that a motivational workshop would be just what the doctor ordered.”

Lynn Blumas, the M.E. Program Coordinator, said the workshops helped to recreate a sense of community and offer supportive discussion and she received positive feedback from the participants. Blumas also said some of the women told her afterward that they were inspired to create more jewelry.

“I thought the program would be more entrepreneurial-focused, but as we explored deeper the function of needs and talents, I felt an incredible confirmation of my 'gifts' as attributes that I can contribute to the positive empowerment of women entrepreneurs,” said Carola Turton, one of the women who participated in the workshop.

Maznevski said one of her favourite moments from the workshops was when the women questioned why they were working on motivation, needs, and talents, instead of marketing or spreadsheets. Once Maznevski explained the importance of self-awareness of their leadership and leading together, she said the women became energized.

“It was so clear that their collaboration provides sustenance for them all, and they wanted to dial that up by taking it further,” said Maznevski. “I think it’s especially important – and interesting – to see how running a business creates social and personal meaning for people, in addition to its economic value. It’s an important reminder to take care of both the business and the human side.”