Women are unstoppable!

By Jessica van Thiel


Women are unstoppable!

They have an incredible ability to take on several roles at once; entrepreneur, student, friend, mother, daughter…

I’ve always been in awe of the capacity women have to bring about impactful change in a big way, that’s why I’ve focused my career on the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality. So, when I was invited to speak at the BWiS International Women’s Day Rising Stars event I was thrilled and humbled. Here’s some of what I shared that evening.

Social Enterprise

In 2015, I co-founded PATHFINDER, a Canadian social enterprise focusing on sustainable development solutions. We provide creative solutions to enable the world’s most vulnerable through a three-pronged approach: by simultaneously influencing academics, policy, and social entrepreneurship. Our vision is to enable local social entrepreneurs so that they may provide for themselves, their families and their communities. Our partner projects are based in India, Nepal and Namibia. They focus on important causes with women’s rights as one of the priority issues.

I’m proud to say that in one short year, we’re ahead of where we aimed to be. That’s not to say that there haven’t been major challenges and hurdles along the way. Since we started the social enterprise, it has been an incredible learning experience, beyond expectations, both professionally and personally.

Growing up in Canada, I had a strong sense of needing to give back to the less fortunate in some way. I realised how lucky I was because it seemed like every opportunity in the world was available to me. I wondered how I could help right the great wrongs of the world, or at the very least, help better the lives of a few people. That’s what led me to work in the development sector which has allowed me to live in some incredible places around the world. My work reminds me every day that I can make a change, that I should make a change.

Melinda Gates of the Melinda Gates Foundation sums up my sentiment: “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”

Hard Graft

Since the beginning, my (invaluable) partner Shivani and I have worked tirelessly. We were determined to fill well-known industry gaps in the international development sector because we recognised that the same mistakes were made over and over and the status quo was failing far too many. We worked nights and weekends, we researched constantly, we studied, we learned, we wrote, we consulted; we fully committed ourselves to doing whatever it takes to run a successful new business. It was, and remains tough work.

So why put myself through the uncertainty of starting a new business when I was 8 and a half months pregnant?! The answer is because I felt I absolutely should. And because it was something I had always wanted to do, a lifelong dream, so what better time than the present? There will always be a million reasons why not to do something. The trick is to say yes, even when it’s scary and uncertain because there will never, ever be a perfect time.

Lessons Learned

The key lessons I’ve learned along the way are:

1)    You have a story to tell. Everyone has a story; everyone has something that motivates them. Your story is no less important than anyone else’s. Stop comparing yourself to others and know your self-worth.

2)    Stop making excuses. It’s never too late. The timing will never be perfect. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and if you really want something, go for it. It’s not coming to you. You need to go out and get it, yourself.

3)    It’s OK to ‘multi-task’ your life. Yes, it’s essential to focus and be present when doing something, but in life you can take on many roles at once. It’s OK to be an entrepreneur, a student, mother, wife and friend. You can do it. But when you’re doing it, be present. Be organised, prioritise, and be in the moment.

4)    Use your strengths and delegate the rest. If you’re good at something, let it shine! Use it as a tool. If you’re a good communicator, focus on that. If you’re better at research, do that. Do what you like and do what you’re good at. And if you can, delegate the rest.

5)    Surround yourself with positive people. This is likely the most important lesson I’ve learned along the way. Positive, glass-half-full people will always win. They’ll make you better. Besides, there’s no time for negativity; yes, it’s inevitable, it will happen. But if negativity is a constant presence in your life it will eventually weigh on you. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Keep positive. Often, if you break anything down, it is achievable.


For International women’s day I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the 2016 Business Women in Surrey (BWiS) annual flagship event. Above is some of what I shared with the guests that evening.

For the full article and other links to the event and BWiS initiatives see here:

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