Thank you very much for the invitation to be here.
Wow, that was very powerful. Thank you very much, Ms. Walker.
I'm a serial entrepreneur. I've been an entrepreneur my whole life. I'm absolutely unemployable by anyone. It's a wonder that I'm actually on a call with government at the moment, but here I am.
I have a phrase that I've been saying for a long time: “Everything's broken. What a great time to be alive.” This is sort of the entrepreneurial spirit, and unfortunately we're experiencing that in such a wave right now.
On March 9-10, we had a big global summit in Toronto with SheEO, to celebrate that 2,500 Canadian women have come together and contributed $1,100 each, each year, for the past five years to fund women-led businesses that are working on what we call the world's to-do list: the United Nations sustainable development goals. All of their businesses are focused on these. We loan out money that has been gifted by Canadian women at 0% interest, and entrepreneurs pay those loans back over five years.
Not only do these entrepreneurs get about $100,000 each from this loan, but they get access to all of us: thousands of connected women who are well resourced. We bring our networks, our expertise, our buying power as customers and our influence to help them grow their businesses.
This extremely rich ecosystem of support has all of our ventures outperforming their peers significantly in terms of revenue, export, social impact and, most important perhaps, the creation of socially and environmentally sustainable jobs.
After five years in operation in Canada, we announced at our global summit, where the Prime Minister was actually in attendance—the last big event before the pandemic—that we had reached perpetual fund status in Canada. These five-year loans are paid back with a 100% payback rate. If no one ever signed up again to contribute this capital, we would continue to fund female entrepreneurs in Canada forever with this revolving loan fund. It's a completely different way of keeping capital in flow.
We've taken this model to five different countries, and our goal is to have a million women and a billion-dollar fund that will fund 10,000 female entrepreneurs every year forever, and leave it as a legacy.
The reason we do this is that only 4% of venture capital goes to women entrepreneurs. It has been like this for decades, globally. It hasn't changed at all, despite the fact that we create business case after business case, research after research, showing the impact that women-led businesses have on the economy and how strongly they perform.
There are just so many biases built into the system, so 51% of the population gets 4% of the capital. It's statistically impossible for that to happen without massive biases being built into these systems. We know that most of the structures and systems we're living in were not designed by us or for us. Add on top of that the pandemic.
It's interesting, because I've been struggling with these systemic barriers for many, many years. I'm really a student of systems change, behaviour change, and I've been trying to redesign.... If we were starting over again, how would we redesign the system? SheEO is my response to that.
Here's what's happening in our community, which is quite unbelievable. On March 16, we gathered the 68 ventures we funded together to do a very quick triage to ask what was happening: “Are you red, yellow or green? Are you at risk, your business, based on what's going on?”
One of our ventures had lost 95% of her revenue by noon on that first day. She actually has a really innovative social hiring model where she hires people at risk of homelessness to do laundry for restaurants, and all the restaurants have shut down in Calgary. She got on this call, extremely upset, wondering how she was going to lay off these people who were already at risk of homelessness. As she struggled.... I'm a crier; everything's fine. This is normal for me.
She brought this to us and said, “What can I do?” One of the ventures in our community asked, “What do you need to keep people employed for the next month while we figure this out, and to get you to pivot?” She said her amount, and they said, “Consider it in your bank account by the end of this call.”
That was the beginning of the bar just being raised in our community. Instead of helping people figure out how to lay people off, how to get government grants or how to go bankrupt, we set a bar in our community that we would not lose any jobs, and that none of our businesses would go down. We have this incredible community of people to support each other, and we've built relationships very strongly over the last five years to make that happen.
We are demonstrating an example of what's possible when you redesign an ecosystem in support.... It's beyond just the money—“Here's your money; off you go”—but the money and the kindness. We call this “radical generosity”, to support one another.
Women are massively undercapitalized to start, and we've been hit quite hard by this pandemic. We have less runway, less support.
Honestly, just to say what another person has already said today, the one significant barrier that is really not hard to solve and that would make a fundamental difference is child care. We currently have a wage subsidy for businesses that can't be used for child care. We have an agricultural innovator in our community who can get 75% of her salary covered if she hires someone new to go out and do the work. But she wants to do the work. She doesn't want to hire somebody to go do that work; she wants to use part of the grants to pay for child care.
The fact that we're still talking about this makes me so crazy. Child care is literally the simplest policy intervention we could have that would have the biggest impact on the economy. When we made up the system.... Women weren't sitting at the table when we designed this. We're here now. Let's just change this. If one thing came out of COVID and it was this, that would be huge.
The other big thing I would say is that COVID is really giving us a chance to reboot what we value. To witness before our eyes every day the biases we've built into our systems and the impact we have by valuing jobs and growth over humans and development.... We need to rethink what we value and what matters to us and build a society that works for all.
Coming out of this pandemic, I really hope that we're only putting taxpayer money to work for the benefit of all. The investments we're currently making in AI and in our tech solutions obsession are gap-widening. It's creating more inequality in this country, and we don't seem to have any mitigating investment strategies around that.
We have a very narrow definition of innovation. We have a very narrow definition of what success is: Go big or go home. However, 98% of our economy is small and medium-sized businesses. There are only 1,200 companies in this entire country that have more than 500 employees, and half of them are foreign offices. I wonder who the people are whom you are regularly in conversation with when you're making these policies. We would like it to be more small business, because this is really a huge opportunity for all of us to rethink what we have.
Finally, I'd just like to say that at SheEO we really value diversity. We fund cis and trans women, non-binary, gender-fluid, non-conforming people from all cultural backgrounds. We're in deep relationship with the indigenous community. We do calls every Sunday with 140 indigenous women entrepreneurs, getting them connected into our community, making sure they thrive so they can bring the whole next generation with them. We're building a new economic model based on radical generosity, on inclusion, centred on the critical priorities of our time that benefit all.
We're honoured to be part of this committee. I really look forward to the rest of the conversation.
I want to take a moment to thank you all very much. I know you have absolutely thankless jobs of service. I really appreciate the probably many sleepless nights you've had trying to figure this out in this unprecedented time. Thank you.