Canadian Body Shop founder Margot Franssen puts financial force behind Canadian Women's Foundation

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“Every minute of every day in Canada, a woman or a child is being sexually assaulted. Every minute of every day,” she said.

When the “Stop Violence Against Women” campaign launched, it was so successful that it became an annual “signature” program for Body Shop Canada. Franssen recalls both the fear and excitement of being at the forefront of the movement: she and her colleagues would receive calls and threats from angry men, as well as emotional appeals from women in violent relationships. In any case, it was clear the project was causing a stir.

The company’s efforts against violence also earned Franssen international recognition, when she was granted the United Nations Grand Award for addressing an issue of vital concern.

“It was quite hilarious, actually," Franssen recalled. "They called me and said, ‘We’re giving you this award,’ and I said, ‘Oh, you must be mistaken because I didn’t apply’. But they went, ‘No, no, no…you brought an issue to the public that has never been discussed before. And you need to be recognized for this.'"

Of course, the recognition didn’t stop there—in 2002, Franssen was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, and she has also received a prestigious award from UNIFEM for Outstanding Achievement in the Advancement of Women.

Moving millions to battle poverty among women

Since selling the Body Shop in 2004, Franssen has continued to strive for progress on violence as well as on other important issues facing women in Canada. As a board member and endowment co-chair with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, she has helped direct support for efforts against human trafficking and violence against women, as well as helping to bring women out of poverty.

“If the Canadian Women’s Foundation was a human being, I would marry them,” said Franssen, emphasizing her passion for the organization and its causes.

“They are my perfect match…because they’re intelligent, and they’re relevant and they’re full of integrity. And they run themselves with the efficiency of a business, but with the heart of a woman.”

The Foundation’s goal is to help women and girls reach their fullest economic and social potential. To that end, the group raises money to fund research and programs across Canada, primarily focused on ending violence, supporting low-income women, and “building strong, resilient girls.” It is the fifth largest women’s organization in the world, and Franssen said in 2011, they doled out $3.5 million to community projects nationwide.

She explained that part of the Foundation’s success comes from having women at the helm—she believes there are some things females bring to philanthropy that men often don’t.

“It’s a much more emotional, visceral response that women have to philanthropy, which I love,” Franssen said.

“For me, my philanthropy is much more a matter of consumption than expenditure. I get more than I give. And that’s really what my work now is with my organization Women Moving Millions.”

Franssen is now the co-chair at Women Moving Millions, another inspiring project that connects women with resources. It was created in 2006 by American sisters Swanee and Helen LaKelly Hunt, as a way of mobilizing female donors to make million dollar gifts to organizations supporting women and girls around the world.

“In Canada, all the women who are in Women Moving Millions have given their million dollar gift to the Canadian Women’s Foundation,” said Franssen, who donated one of those millions herself.

Despite the great work being done by organizations like the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Franssen says the fight for real gender equality is far from over. While she agrees that standards today aren’t quite as discriminatory as they were in her secretarial days, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“There are lots of things that have changed, but there are lots of things that have remained exactly the same. One of those things that’s remained the same are our wages,” she said.

“Today women are making 68 cents for every dollar a man makes in Canada…and ten years ago we were making 70 and a half cents for every dollar.”

Franssen also notes that women only make up 12 to 15 per cent of top management and board positions.

“It’s not a good reflection of who the customers of these companies are,” she said.

It's true that these ratios need to change. But taking over executive roles is not Franssen's number one priority.

“I see poverty as the most significant problem,” she said.

“Because I think that if women are not living in poverty, it helps them move away from a violent situation, it helps them move away from trafficking, it helps girls become more resilient and more believing in themselves. So poverty is number one.”

Through the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Women Moving Millions, Franssen is doing all she can to help improve the lives of females here in Canada and abroad.

“I think that investing in women and girls has what I would call a ‘spillover effect’,” she explained.

“The effect that you have spills over from the mother to the children, to the next generation. And it makes communities better, it makes them stronger and it makes them safer.”

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