Love What You Do: PATHFINDER’s Leadership Journey

By Jessica van Thiel

This article was first published in Leader Stories


My colleague Shivani and I founded PATHFINDER, in 2015, as an international social enterprise based in Canada and France. PATHFINDER consults with business, academia and policy for innovative solutions in the world of sustainable development. Our mission is to perpetuate solutions that protect and enable the world’s most vulnerable.

Everything about our organization is unique, from our business model to our daily operations. Living on different continents with different time zones has been an opportunity for us, instead of a challenge, and one that has driven much of our success. We love what we do.

Here’s a little more about our (and my) story.

Q: Why did you decide to go into the nonprofit/social purpose sector?

A: Well, first, it’s good old-fashioned passion. We’ve both dreamed of doing this work our whole lives.  We started PATHFINDER after casually discussing, over dinner, the major gaps and opportunities in the NGO/nonprofit sector. We wanted to create a social enterprise that addressed these industry challenges, instead of perpetuating them, and we wanted to implement a business model that strives to do good while doing well.

Q: What keeps you here?

A: The opportunity, flexibility and excitement this industry brings. It has been such an exciting journey so far, and we’re just getting started! We imagine a future with even more opportunity to do what we love. In the meantime, we’re just happy to be working in such a fast-paced and evolving field.

Above all, to us, this is a calling. There is no other plan but this one. It’s a feeling we each share, deep in our bones. It’s a certainty we know.

Q: What is your favorite thing about your work day?

A: The variety. Every day is different. A day can include meetings with partners, clients, media and researchers. It can include everything from writing research reports and articles for mainstream media outlets, to attending and presenting at conferences, and facilitating workshops. Our days are often unpredictable too.

Another very cool thing is that we are constantly inspired. We regularly connect with some really amazing people doing some really great things. We learn all the time. We collaborate with like-minded individuals. We create solutions to real problems. How many people get to feel these things in each work day? It’s a phenomenal experience.

Q: What impact or success are you most proud of?

A: In December 2016, we organized a humanitarian mission (our first) to some refugee camps along Syria’s border with Lebanon. Through generous donations, we were able to provide much-needed resources to over 500 children and their families.

Q: We all have our “failing forward” moments. Can you share a failure that in retrospect led to growth or learning?

A: Being a social entrepreneur and starting a business has been a huge learning process, both professionally and personally. We’ve had to re-evaluate our business model often, which is a difficult thing to do.

Also, one of the first big lessons we learned from failing at pitches was that not everyone will believe in our work or even in us. There is a lot of feedback out there, both positive and negative. We conscientiously decided to solicit and accept all feedback, to then review, choose and learn what we could while moving past any ignorance or negativity. We learned from everything while we learned not to be beaten down by anything. It took a lot of practice and now this process comes naturally to us.

Q: In a few words, what most gets in the way of your ability to be the leader you want to be?

A: Ourselves. There are no real obstacles, only excuses. For us, it has been juggling responsibilities like jobs, studies, families, etc., that perhaps if we didn’t have, we could focus all of our time on PATHFINDER. However life doesn’t work that way, nor should it. It’s healthy to have a balanced life, and the trick is being able to use the time you have in the smartest way possible.

We’re making progress and we’re getting closer to where we want to be. At the end of the day, the only limitations are our own.

Q: Tell me about a learning experience that supported your leadership development.

A: I participated in the American Express Leadership Academy in New York City in October 2017.

Among other things, it reinforced for me that a good leader is compassionate, empathetic and seeks opportunities to learn. A good leader always works to grow. These possibilities were made available to us at the Academy. We met people who introduced us to lives we were fortunate enough to never know, and we listened. We met experts and we learned. We grew a little, professionally and personally. These are all lessons that make us better people, and stronger leaders.

I also left with a fantastic network that I have committed to remain active in.

Q: What has been your biggest area of growth as a leader in the past year or two?

A: We’ve become stronger people. The more we’ve learned, the less we’ve accepted we know. We’ve also learned to never lose sight of what our goals are as entrepreneurs, while staying true to our values.

Q: Why is it important that today’s nonprofit and social purpose leaders get professional development supports?

A: Because, at the end of the day, you are an entrepreneur running a business. You need to have the skills and tools to be able to do that successfully. It’s great to have the passion and theory, but without the practical skills and professional development, you can only go so far.

Q: What is something that people don’t know about you from reading your resume? 

A: We are passionate about travel and learning about new cultures and people. We each come from international backgrounds and have travelled and lived all over the world. We actually met on the idyllic island of Mauritius where Jess was working with the United Nations Development Programme and reporting to Shivani’s friend, mentor, and then UN Resident Coordinator for Mauritius and Seychelles.

We’re also big fans of good wine. Cheese isn’t bad either.

Q: Please share your greatest piece of leadership advice for your social sector peers across the world.

A: Believe in yourself. Believe in your purpose and others will want to follow. If you are unsure, it will be difficult to convince others. Passion is contagious and every good leader should have the ability to express it. Also, never stop learning. Ever.

Q: Three words: If you had to name three specific abilities, skills or mindsets that you think every 21st century nonprofit leader needs, what would they be?

A: Passion, Tenacity, Flexibility.

This is not the sort of thing you do without a deep belief in its value. You need to commit to success, no matter what it takes. And we can assure you, it takes a lot.



The Gender Landscape After #MeToo

By Jessica van Thiel

The #MeToo Campaign is one of the most powerful social media campaigns of all time. On October 15 2017, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged the use of #MeToo (originating from social activist, Tarana Burke, 2006), to create awareness and a sense of the magnitude of sexual abuse and harassment. While there is no one leader of this movement (rather thousands of women who are speaking out against this prolific problem) several Hollywood names helped to propel the campaign into global action.

Actress Ashley Judd was the first of many who spoke out in October of 2017, about unwanted sexual advances by Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s most prolific and successful movie producers. Since her admission, over 80 actresses have come forth against Weinstein, including stars like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow. And, as allegations against him continue to pour in, on May 25th 2018, Weinstein was charged by the city of New York, with rape and sexual abuse in two cases. It seems like only eight months after women began to come forward with their stories, the Weinstein name is now more synonymous with sexual assault than it is with movie-making.

For decades apparently, this sort of behavior was common practice in the entertainment industry. Weinstein’s abuses have been referenced as Hollywood’s greatest open secret. Why was this accepted? How could he have gone so far, with so many women, and gotten away with it for so many years? It seems incredible when you think about it. But the truth is it’s not uncommon. In fact the #MeToo campaign has proven just how ubiquitous the problem is.

However, a silver lining has emerged to this awful story. The celebrities who have spoken out have paved the way for regular, everyday women to do the same. The campaign had incredible success on social media and #MeToo (also adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and others), has provided support and solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories. The movement itself has been so successful, that as at November 2017, 82% of American polled said women are more likely to speak out about harassment since the Weinstein allegations, and that 85% say they believe the women making allegations of sexual harassment (Time Magazine, 2017).

The “Silence Breakers” – victims who spoke out about their stories of sexual harassment – made such an impact on society that they were voted “2017 Person of The Year” by Time Magazine. With widespread success of the campaign and Weinstein’s recent arrest, it appears that steps are being taken in the right direction. But what are these steps and how will they ensure the sexual abuse, harassment and silencing of women is no longer accepted?

#MeToo has received attention in all corners of the world. With access to internet and media in certain countries already being an issue, it’s no surprise that the campaign has had more success in some countries than others. In India for example, where in recent years outrage over sex crimes has sparked waves of public protests, it makes sense that #MeToo resonates with the public. However, not everyone has access to internet, and although the campaign reached only a small number of people with respect to India’s population, as Sian Brooke of the Oxford Internet Institute points out, “it has brought the idea of sexual harassment and assault into the public consciousness. And even if the discussion around the movement is criticism, you are still bringing about an awareness that this happens” (BBC, 2018).

In Canada, women are sharing their experiences of sexual violence like never before, resulting in a huge increase in demand on Canada’s sexual violence support services. For example, calls to the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre increased 100% in the last year alone (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2018). One initiative, the #AfterMeToo (partnered with the Canadian Women’s Foundation) has created a fund that addresses the increased demand on sexual violence support services across Canada.

In the US, from October to December 2017, calls to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network crisis hotline rose by 23% compared with the same period in 2016 (BBC, 2018). The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) in Washington DC has, as a result of the campaign, been matching victims with lawyers who can offer them free advice (NWLC, 2018).

Another initiative which has been very successful in addressing the #MeToo question is the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. The Fund was launched by more than 300 actresses, writers and directors in January 2018 and raised $21million in legal assistance for people who suffer harassment, abuse or assault at work in its first operating month alone (The National Women’s Law Center, 2018).

An interesting takeaway from the campaign is that men are also often victims of sexual violence. 1in6 is a Los Angeles-based non-profit group that supports male sex abuse survivors. #MeToo had direct impact on the number of men reaching out to the organization, saw a 110% increase in web traffic, and a 103% increase in the use of online helpline services between September and October 2017 (BBC, 2018).

With an overwhelming number of people worldwide speaking out in a very personal way, is it even conceivable to continue to ignore such an issue? As a hopeless optimist I am tempted to say we have learned this lesson, society has grown, and mankind will not allow these errors to continue to occur. However, the reality is far more complex than that. Sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation of women (in a variety of forms) is so ingrained in our societies that it may take decades and several generations before we can truly move forward.

Yes, the #MeToo campaign is a good step. Yes, this is extremely encouraging. Sadly though, the numbers speak for themselves. It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives (UN Women, 2018) with some nations showing up to 70 per cent of women having experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime (WHO, 2013). And this is not only in developing countries. In the UK, one in five women have experienced sexual assault (The Guardian, 2018). And these are the reported cases.

The stigma associated with victims of assault is often the leading reason women will not come forward. Society has trained us to question the victim rather than the ‘predator’. This is something that has become the norm. We’ve been asking the right questions but to the wrong people (TIME Magazine, 2017).

So with the recent arrest of Harvey Weinstein and the countless initiatives emerging in light of #MeToo, it seems that change is happening. Although the #MeToo campaign has a long way to go in ridding the world of sexual abuse and predators, one thing it has been successful in doing is identifying a massive, global issue.

Rebecca Seales of the BBC News explains that “perhaps, then, #MeToo is not an endgame – but a clarion call to something bigger. A reminder for people to seek change in their communities, and push to make damaging systems better – especially for those who lack the power to fight alone” (BBC, 2018).

The #MeToo campaign has created a platform in which victims of sexual abuse can be heard and supported. It has shown that victims are not alone, far from it, and that collectively we can effect change.


BBC News (2018). What has #MeToo actually changed?

Canadian Women’s Foundation (2018). After MeToo.

MeToo (2018).

Time Magazine (2017). The Silence Breakers.

The Guardian (2018). Sexual harassment and assault rife at United Nations, staff claim.

The National Women’s Law Center (2018). The Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund.

UN Women (2018). Facts and figures: Ending violence against women.

World Health Organization (2013). Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, p.2.

PATHFINDER Starts 2018 Strong

2018 has started strong at PATHFINDER, from new advisory board members to new international memberships. We’re also very proud to announce we’ve been invited to the prestigious American Express Leadership Academy Global Alumni Summit 2018!

This year’s American Express Leadership Academy Global Alumni Summit, held in New York on April 16-17, convenes 72 social purpose leaders from around the world. While there, we will have the opportunity to connect with these extraordinary civic trailblazers and learn so much.

For more on this and other exciting things we’re up to, see our latest newsletter below.

We have some exciting things to share!

First and foremost, we’re so happy to welcome to our Board of Advisors, Joel Solomon and Neeraj Jain.

Joel is one of Canada’s greatest and most influential impact investors. Neeraj is a successful lifetime entrepreneur and investor. Both gentlemen have informally guided PATHFINDER since the very beginning… since we were just an idea, really. It is our great honor to have the gentlemen onboard.

Next, we were recently selected for a couple of prestigious events.  Shivani was accepted to the American Express Leadership Academy Global Alumni Summit 2018. This year’s American Express Leadership Academy Global Alumni Summit convenes 72 social purpose leaders from around the world. While there, we will have the opportunity to connect with these extraordinary civic trailblazers and learn so much.

Jessica now represents us as a member of the prestigious Institute of Directors (IoD), an organization for company directors, senior business leaders and entrepreneurs. The IoD is the UK’s longest running organization for professional leaders (founded in 1903) and stands for “free enterprise, entrepreneurialism, wealth creation and good corporate governance.” We look forward to attending many engaging events and networking with other IoD members in the UK and beyond.

And for those who haven’t checked it out yet, we started the year with our first HuffPost publication. Most recently, we were featured on Your Mark On The World Center for our interview with Purpose Capital Co-Founder, Assaf Weisz.

Finally, we are proud to report that our former placement student, Beccy, is carrying forward PATHFINDER’s values. This autumn, she’ll be in Kathmandu to volunteer as a researcher for Street Child UK, a charity that aims to create educational opportunities for the world’s most vulnerable children. And, she’s cycling there! In order to fundraise for her time in Nepal, Beccy will embark on a solo cycling trip from London to Kathmandu. This 100-day journey will take her through 16 countries and various terrains. We’re rooting for you Beccy!

Slow, But Steady: The Growth of Impact Investing and Social Enterprise

By Shivani Singh

In January this year, we connected with Purpose Capital’s co-founder, Mr. Assaf Weisz, to check in on the (financial) health of the Impact Investing space. Sure, we hear more and more about how interested financiers and indeed, young people are, in the idea of socially driven business or financial models. But what does this interest look like out there, in reality, and on the field?

Mr. Weisz began Purpose Capital with two other founders “back in the year when The Rockefeller Foundation coined the phrase ‘impact investing’”. Since then, he’s developed a decade of expertise in his field. He’s the perfect person to discuss industry developments with.

What are the overall trends in the space of financing for social purpose businesses?

Mr. Weisz reckons that while functioning, the space is still small.  There has been a steady increase in the number and even caliber of entrepreneurs. There’s been an increase in the number and variety of investors. There’s been an increase in infrastructure for the space. The entire development universe has grown.

“But, it all still remains relatively small compared to where it should be.”

It all began with a bunch of social entrepreneurs who had a hard time accessing capital because there was so little of it, Mr. Weisz explains. Then, slowly, investors started joining. First it was the few interested Angels and Foundations.  There were a small number of deals. And they were willing to accept lower returns for a higher social outcome. Purpose Capital has worked to increase the visibility of social entrepreneurs (“SocEnts”) and educate investors since this beginning.

But then things began to change. People wanted profit and social impact, compromising on neither. Indeed, they began to focus on building sound businesses that could also create impact, not just settling for one idea over the other. It’s been a few decades. Still, realistically and honestly speaking, social enterprises continue to struggle with capital.

There has however, been a more recent change from the last few years that is important.  Mr. Weisz elaborates that back in the day, most deals were done on the private market. These were conducted behind closed doors, with a lucky few finding each other. But increasingly, there is retail funding available. Retail funding includes a myriad of fresh financial models including the more popular one, crowdfunding. Also there are more public names getting involved. There are networks and exchanges now. No longer are social entrepreneurs and their financiers isolated to a lucky few private transactions. Social finance deals have begun to enter the mainstream world.

Often, financiers would like to fund innovation but insist on proven success. Innovation, proven at scale, in a young industry, is hard to come by. How do we get past this trap?

“That’s a tough one,” acknowledges Mr. Weisz. He gives it a few moments of thought and speaks again. It depends on the type of innovation too, he says. For instance, governments have historically been the most accessible and reliable for scientific innovation. Finding funding for business model innovation is definitely harder. Angels are always an option, though one must find the right connection. Investment also varies by place. Canada, for example, has been more risk averse than America. So there are options but in reality, for most, it is difficult to sell an idea in the space of global development.

So realistically, when will things change?

Like in the case of other great changes, a bunch of things need to happen to make a sizeable shift. For one thing, there has been a lot of focus and growth in the innovation economy over the past few decades, which is quite promising. Secondly, the growth of the industry will play a big role in its own shift. He explains, consider Silicon Valley. The investors in their industry come from within it. They started out as technology entrepreneurs who became successful and found their way to the top, to becoming power players and influencers. By contrast, prior generations of Toronto based tech investors came from backgrounds in banking or business in general, often finding themselves in uncharted territory.  Similarly, we need more social entrepreneurs to become influential power players, to bring attention and resources to our lot.

As a veteran of the industry who’s seen it grow from nothing, what are you most looking forward to in the impact investing world?

Mr. Weisz is excited for all the budding opportunities to come to fruition, of course. But what he most looks forward to is,“for the concept of social entrepreneurship to increasingly become invisible.” He elaborates that he looks ahead to a time when social impact and profit are so interwoven that there is no such thing as business without impact. A time when all entrepreneurs are impactful and all enterprises deliver both, financial and social success. A time when business, as a concept, has changed entirely because of what we do today.

This is no small dream to dream, Mr. Weisz, and indeed, it is a brave one. But then again, he knew about the industry before it was an industry. And so, we end the conversation on a note of hope.

This article was first published in

Keep it simple, make an impact

Meeting in Toronto

The new year is well underway and we started things off right! Although we work on different continents, in different time zones, one of our best strengths has always been making the distance work to our advantage. With Jess in France and Shivani in Canada, we’ve been lucky to each cover a vast area which has created many opportunities for us.

However, every now and again, we do get together. Last month, we met in Toronto for some face-to-face meetings about PATHFINDER’s goals and vision for 2018. It was pretty great to re-charge and re-focus for the year ahead. And we had a lot of fun, as we do, when we’re together!

Just like everyone else, there’s a lot we want to accomplish this year. But if there’s one message we’d like to convey, it’s this:

Keep it simple, choose one cause and make an impact! It’s easy to get swept up in the seemingly endless negative news we hear about the state of the world. If we each choose one cause that has meaning to us, and we help in every way we can (whether it be financially, through advocacy, volunteering, etc), we will collectively make a difference.

It’s making that first step and getting involved that will create impact, even for the most insurmountable of causes.

So go, get started! Do your best! And don’t forget to have a good time.


A New Year, An Old Crisis

HP piece.jpeg

The Refugee Crisis and Millions of Wasted Resources

As 2018 begins, we are filled with hope and expectations for the New Year. Many are optimistic that we are on our way to solving some of the world’s greatest challenges. And while steps forward are being taken, there is no immediate solution or end to the suffering for the millions of refugees and displaced people.

With this in mind, we felt it crucial to keep the dialogue going and started the year with a HuffPost article; a look at a way forward through this crisis.

The first step to finding lasting solutions is having the right conversations.


Another year has gone by…

And we would like to thank you for your support in 2017!

It has been another busy year for PATHFINDER. Highlights include our first humanitarian mission bringing aid to child refugees of Syria, being invited to the prestigious Emerging Innovators Bootcamp by Ashoka and the American Express Leadership Academy, and being awarded a scholarship to attend the Social Venture Institute’s gathering at Hollyhock, Victoria.

We published several articles of which we are proud, and we made a variety of new partnerships.

PATHFINDER’s Reach: We have now had many visitors online, some from the furthest parts of the world. This realization comes with a tremendous sense of humility and responsibility. There’s nothing we desire more than to serve well.

Looking on, 2018 is shaping up to be another exciting year for us. We’ll be entering our third year, and while we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished in a short time, we’re focused on a future full of tremendous potential. 

Thank you, so very much; and until the next time, we wish you happy holidays and a wonderful new year! 

Reflecting On Our First Student Training Experience

By Jessica van Thiel

When we came across the Surrey Business School’s renowned Professional Training placement programme last year, we immediately wanted to participate. The opportunity to train and work with the best students was one that we were passionate about. And so, we became one of more than 2,300 organizations that have partnered with the University to give students valuable work placements around the world.

We are passionate and committed to what we do so it was important to us to engage someone who reflected the same values and work ethic as we did. After finding the right fit, we selected a student for the position of Business Development Analyst who started in the autumn of 2016 to work with us in Canada and France, at each of our offices, with each of our founding partners.

The economics major worked closely with us on various tasks from business development and outreach, research and industry applications, to investment summaries of our partner projects in India, Nepal and Namibia, and Ghana.

The experience was rewarding as we all learned a lot throughout the year. We learned about our teaching and training styles, how to work efficiently and effectively in a team, re-evaluating our priorities and how to best communicate them, and so much more.

The most enriching part of the experience came after our student completed her placement. Upon returning to the UK, we heard from her family, who conveyed their appreciation for the experience:

It was wonderful to hear her speaking so enthusiastically about her future. You have definitely inspired her. She speaks with such admiration and I truly believe you have been an excellent role model to her during this rather crucial time. She is now speaking about finding a good job, doing a Masters Degree and her focus is in a much better place than before she left for France. You have contributed to her more positive mindset. As parents we just wanted to send you both a sincere thank you.”

It’s incredibly rewarding to know that we’ve made an impact on someone’s life. If she’s left the experience even a little more aware, a little more inspired, and a little more committed, we are grateful. Because every person we are able to reach means the world to us!

PATHFINDER has been selected for the AMEX and Ashoka Emerging Innovators Bootcamp!


PATHFINDER has been selected for the prestigious Emerging Innovators Bootcamp, by Ashoka and the American Express Leadership Academy. 100 people are chosen to attend from around the world, 20 of whom are from North America. It’s still a bit hard to believe that we were chosen to participate in this incredible event!

This is big for us; just to put it in perspective, Ashoka Fellows become world leaders and win Nobel Peace Prizes. So for them to have even noticed us and chosen us for such a selective event is validation of our passion and work. We’re just so amazed and so excited! See here for the complete list of this year’s participants.

For more on what we’ve been up to check out our latest newsletter!

PATHFINDER is excited to announce we’ll be attending the Social Venture Institute in B.C.!

PATHFINDER has a very busy fall ahead, with engagements spanning across Canada and the US (stay tuned for more)!

One of the opportunities we’ll be involved with is the Social Venture Institute at Hollyhock, B.C. this September. SVI is a practical, problem-solving alternative “business school” within a confidential and supportive setting. This program is for CEOs, Executive Directors, Founders, key staff, social entrepreneurs, and emerging leaders of all kinds.

We look forward to joining other mission-based entrepreneurs from across sectors and generations for a five-day, dynamic gathering to share goals, challenges and successes.

Hollyhock exists to inspire, nourish and support people who are making the world better.

We can’t wait!