Uncertain. Complex. Accelerated. Disturbing. Stimulating. Interesting. The times in which we live have been summed up by so many different words—and each invites us to ask, “How can we cope with change?” and “Where can we find hope and promise for the future?” Every credible answer leads to one concept: sustainability.
One of the ways of understanding this concept is through the prism of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations. Member states agreed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals that integrate inclusive economic prosperity, social and cultural cohesion, and environmental stewardship. With each passing day the urgency of finding solutions becomes apparent. Ultimately it will be an holistic approach that will enable us to attain each of the goals effectively —from Gender Equality to Zero Hunger to Climate Action—and build a more sustainable future for all.
The SDGs are applicable world-wide. Each nation has both an obligation and an opportunity to learn from each other. And indeed now is a moment in time to look outward, not inward. All efforts count and indeed individual efforts may have far-reaching effects. Indigenous ways of knowing, considering the impacts of our decisions on the seven generations that follow can be particularly beneficial.
Throughout Ontario, there are remarkable stories of how people are driving sustainability, at home and around the world. Often they may not actually use the word sustainability but the purpose of these projects and initiatives is to make our communities and our lives more resilient. We are a work in progress – certainly not perfect, but clearly making an attempt.
In my time as Lieutenant Governor, it has been a great privilege to hear about the successes, aspirations and innovative approaches to challenges achieved by many Ontarians. As Ontario’s unofficial Storyteller-in-Chief, I believe that the more we learn and share stories, the better equipped we will be to understand one another, to develop empathy, to comprehend the impact of our individual decisions and actions and to find our own place in the world.
This place on our website is intended to shed a light on some of our stories. I hope that it will spark conversation and encourage collaboration. May the stories inspire you to think in new ways about what sustainability means and how you might contribute. Please share them widely.
A simple idea
“Up a dirt road, a heartbeat away from the whirr of today’s suburban life, was a shoreline farm bypassed by modern times. In 2013, the Town of Georgina purchased the Lake Simcoe property from a family who had owned it for 180 years. Public opinion varied about what the old farm should become. A simple idea prevailed. What if it remained a farm? But not just any farm.” What if this farm could become a showcase of advanced eco-agricultural practices and a leading edge community hub for sustainability?
A Social Enterprise
Just six years later ClearWater Farm describes itself as a social enterprise intent on demonstrating how healthy food can be grown in ways that restore the surrounding land, water, local economy and community fabric. The farm utilizes water-wise and nature-friendly practices and technologies to help others discover eco-friendly choices. They inspire their employees, volunteers, customers and partners to grow, prepare and share fresh, nutritious food using organic and regenerative practices.
Connecting with nature
A flagship initiative of the Ontario Water Centre (OWC), an educational charity,
ClearWater’s eco-food production supports their educational mission to deepen young people and their families’ connection with the natural environment, marrying the arts, science and technology to cultivate a more sustainable future. ClearWater is giving kids unique place-based learning experiences that connect them with nature and empower them to work with it. OWC’s founding chair, Annabel Slaight, believes children who have learned to care about and love nature will grow up as wonderful custodians of the planet.
A meeting place
Today there are 150 new maple trees planted along the dirt road that now points the way to ClearWater Farm. “Canada 150 Lane” is just one of the many community-building projects that have transformed the property. The trees grow near a 200-year old Ontario Heritage Sugar Maple named “The Trading Tree” which once served as a meeting place for Indigenous and early settler families. Its story celebrates the collaborative connection between ClearWater Farm and the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, and has inspired the creation of a children’s book and a charming rain garden designed with the help of local schoolchildren.
A new vision
ClearWater Farm continues to reimagine its historic shoreline property into a setting that honours the past while providing an innovative gathering place for the future. By rebuilding a heritage barn as a youth education centre and community event venue, they are creating new jobs and community assets for Georgina. It has helped inspire a new vision for the town as a thriving, caring community that is still deeply connected to its land and lake.
When I first visited ClearWater Farm in 2017 it struck me that the farm is a living laboratory for sustainability. Its environmental benefits are clear - stopping unchecked runoff, encouraging pollination and providing a home for wildlife. Concurrently it supports economic prosperity – improving crop yield, using green waste to heat greenhouses and providing power to the town as well as offering much-needed jobs for younger people who might otherwise leave for urban centres. Experiential learning is central through apprenticeship programs and summer camps and the ongoing process of reconciliation is encouraged through the farm’s strong connection to the Chippewas of Georgina Island.
In many ways it reminded me of an initiative of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who had a vision to renovate an estate called Dumfries House, preserving its distinct heritage and regenerating the local economy, through investments in sustainable farming practices and educational centres where young people from the area can learn new skills.
Both are examples of bringing fresh perspectives to bear to address current challenges.
An innovative idea
In 2015, Vicki Saunders was inspired to launch SheEO, a non-profit Toronto-based initiative that dramatically transforms how female innovators are supported, financed, and celebrated. Her goal was to disrupt the existing startup financing systems she believed were designed mostly for men, by creating an entirely new model with a new set of values shaped with a feminist lens. The goal was to help women create businesses that reflected their passions, strengths and values, and allow them a safe space to thrive on their own terms.
Thriving on their owns terms
Growing up on a 100-acre farm outside of Ottawa, Vicki Saunders remembers listening to her parents' new ideas to diversify their family business. She and her siblings were encouraged to contribute to the brainstorming. What began as a pick-your-own strawberries farm quickly turned into a successful event-driven enterprise with year-round educational activities. Saunders believes this early creative and collaborative environment nurtured her for success as an entrepreneur, mentor, and innovator. She went on to start and grow four successful ventures of her own.
The SheEO model is premised on attracting successful women investors by practicing “radical generosity”. Using a simple crowdsourcing framework, SheEO recruits 500 women called “Activators” who contribute equally to a $500,000 venture capital fund. The Activators then select five woman-led businesses titled “Ventures” that each receive a loan of $100,000 at zero-percent interest. Each new Venture is revenue-generating with export-ready potential to create a better world through their business model or their product or service. The Activators become a team that offers advice and support to help accelerate the new entrepreneurs’ successes while benefitting from this new business network themselves. The loans are paid back over five years then loaned out again through a perpetual fund.
Just four years later, Vicki Saunders’s radical funding redesign is a resounding success. SheEO represents a highly diverse group of women and has a growing global enterprise in Canada, the US, New Zealand, Australia and the UK. They are proud to have funded over 50 innovative women-led ventures that are solving critical issues and helping to redefine the world. They see their visionary approach as a pathway to a new inclusive economic and social model for sustainable communities. SheEO’s goal is to reach 1 million Activators and 10,000 Ventures, with a $1 billion perpetual fund, to support women for generations to come. As they ask so succinc¬tly to their growing number of supporters: Are you IN?
The facts are compelling. They speak for themselves. Empowering women and girls can have an amazing positive impact on the prosperity and quality of life in our communities and society at large. Yet we are still working toward gender equality on so many fronts. There is much Unfinished Business. So I take much pride in the creative and visionary development of Ontario-based SheEO over the last five years. It demonstrates how women’s entrepreneurship can disrupt not only outmoded ways of doing business, but also underlying power structures, which so often entrench inequality and perpetuate divisions between the haves and the have-nots.
As SheEO amplifies the voices of women in the business world, it is driving real progress towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, or in Vicki’s words, “tackling the world’s to-do-list”.
SheEO’s model itself is an innovation with a profoundly social dimension. Its radical generosity has the potential to be truly transformative while allowing women to forge their own path and thrive.