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Women Entrepreneurs for Social Change

Successful female business leaders talk about how to grow a business while remaining true to their values.

How do you create a business that's both profitable and a catalyst for social change? What if your goal is not just to make the Forbes 500 list, but also have a lasting and positive impact on both society and the environment? 

The Women Entrepreneurs for Social Change conference helps businesswomen find answers for these difficult questions. In an intensive program taking place from May 13-14 at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, the forum offers women from small and large organizations to explore their business challenges with others involved in similar goals. 

Pamela Chaloult, managing director for Renewal and senior advisor to Hollyhock and the Tides Canada Foundation, explained that women entrepreneurs have a unique perspective on social justice and environmental sustainability.

"Inherently, a lot of women in business may not describe themselves as socially responsible, but they do a lot of good through their businesses ... Women in general make sure employees are well taken care of, and also look out for the planet for future generations," she said, adding that this may be related to a woman's role as a mother.

The conference will feature prominent speakers such as Robeez Footwear founder Sandra Wilson, who was named one of PROFIT magazine's top Canadian entrepreneurs of the decade. Since launching her baby-shoe company from her home in 1994, the Burnaby-based brand has grown to a $30-million business with a reputation for strong social values. 

MaryAnne Howland, CEO of Ibis Communications, will also be at the conference to share her experiences in integrating social justice with business. The Nashville, Tennessee-based business has won awards for workplace diversity, and has helped brand corporate giants such as Toyota and Coca Cola. Investment managers Rebecca Pearson and Bonnie Wong from Vancity will explain how the bank has managed to remain profitable while investing millions in supporting community causes. 

Chalout explained that at this conference, participants won't be just passive receivers of information, but instead will engage with other entrepreneurs via workshops to find solutions for their businesses. Participants will be take part in workshops such as "business problem solving sessions" and "roundtable feedback sessions" to gather ideas from like-minded professionals in similar businesses. 

"The 'case study' model which is very effective -- a way for everyone to learn from a company which is presented with a particular challenge," Chalout said. "We're creating a container that allows peer-to-peer learning: how do you take triple bottom line of people, profit and planet and create a business that can support that while looking at future generations?"

For those who are interested in participating, Chalout said scholarships are available to cover the cost of the two-day conference. For more information on how to apply, visit the website.

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