Amy Robichaud’s resume is intimidating: she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Joint Honours Baccalaureate in Social Science and Public Administration and Political Science, has been named one of the University of Ottawa’s Extraordinary Women, won the CBC program: Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister, is cofounder of a platform that raises funds for female political candidates, has held key positions in international non-profit, and finds time to volunteer as BC President of the National Women’s Liberal Commission.
And yet when you meet her, Amy only wants to talk about helping others—girls and women in particular—work in their strength and achieve their full potential. As Director of Engagement and Partnerships at The Minerva Foundation for BC Women, Amy shares with us what it takes to ask for funding from big corporations, and teaches us a term we just learned and love: heart-centred leadership.
Hi Amy, please tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Calgary in the suburbs like most kids in this country. I’m of mixed Indigenous, European…I’m a Canadian mutt, so you name it, and it’s there. I feel a really deep connection in my ancestry, and really in my bones to this land and this country!
Did your childhood or upbringing influence your career in any way?
I was raised in a family that worked really hard. Neither of my parents had post-secondary. I was raised by a real warrior mother. So she was the breadwinner in our house and she built our house and our family. She led the house, she made the choice, she kept the cohesiveness and the community alive. It’s little surprise that I ended up finding myself, through a lot of turns, in a career that seeks to help women find the power that’s already in them and to understand their own leadership.
What does the Minerva Foundation for BC Women do?
We seek to help walk along women to help them find their confidence and their leadership. But we also look to create benchmarks and measure the important things so we can tell we are progressing in terms of equity and leadership in communities and in the corporate world.
“When we close our eyes, we picture a leader and it doesn’t look like us, it usually is masculine, it is usually fairly wealthy, it’s usually very corporate. And so if you don’t see yourself, you can’t be what you can’t see.”
What led you to working at Minerva?
And what drew me here in particular is that about half of what we do handles the intersection between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women. A lot of how we do what we do is informed by Indigenous ways of knowing and being through heart-centred leadership, through warriorship, through finding that deep values alignment between what you’re doing and what you need to be doing, and leading in that spirit. It was really a perfect fit for me. I get to work everyday with eight other incredibly strong women who I think it’s never occurred to them to not be incredibly strong women and lead.
In your experience working with women, why do many have a hard time being confident?
I think that so many women don’t either find that confidence when they’re young or lose it as they enter into the world is because we’re in a world that’s very hostile to a lot of the leadership that women provide. When we close our eyes, we picture a leader and it doesn’t look like us, it usually is masculine, it’s usually fairly wealthy and clean-cut, it’s usually very corporate or very urban, and that’s what our society leans into in terms of leadership. And so if you don’t see yourself, you can’t be what you can’t see. And so if your leadership isn’t represented as possible or valued, you start to lock those things away. That nurturing and maternal side of being feminine and being a woman is not a trait that our companies look for in their corporate CEOs or on their board tables often.
Could you give us an example of one of your your initiatives and what happens?
In our Learning to Lead weekend, we curate a cohort of 50 16-year old girls from all over British Columbia and bring these young women together for a very intensive leadership retreat for three days. There’s a coach who spends a whole weekend with them, and we have two facilitators who run through a leadership curriculum that is informed and embedded in Indigenous ways of knowing.
We carry them through identifying what their core values are, and bust the myths that as you grow up, you’re going to become somebody different, and you become more of who you’ve always been every year. So it is important that you know what that is, and that you find work, joy, productivity and contribution that align with that cause it’s not going away. We talk about strengths and redefining strengths as just not things that you’re good at, but things that give you energy that you can’t not do.
They’re two years away from adulthood and independence so for some of them that means they’re two years away from being on their own. So how do we work through that? That’s three days of our year, but it changes lives. It changes our lives every year.
At Minerva, you’re Director of Partnerships and Engagement.
Which is really a fancy way of saying fundraising and communications. Most people are much happier to meet with a Director of Partnership then a fundraising director. It’s just a little bit softer of an introduction but it’s also reflective of how we approach fundraising—it’s the sense of reciprocal partnership and working together to create a collective impact. So it’s important for me that these are more than just transactions or more than just a cheque written and a receipt given.
What kind of companies and people do you ask for support from?
Everybody. I hear the word “no” a lot, that’s the trick to fundraising, is getting really comfortable with somebody saying, “No, thank you, but I appreciate the story.” We look to work with really values-aligned companies. I’m very much of the philosophy that not all money is necessarily good money, and so you have to find the right match. It’s like going out on a date. You can have a great time but it’s not going to be a long-term relationship. When values are getting clicked together and you’re both pushing towards the same and you want to keep being in each other’s circle of influence, that’s the kind of partners we look for.
Most people think that fundraising is daunting and difficult. What advice would you give to someone who wants to lead in fundraising?
You need to be both willing to be brave and vulnerable. And that is not a necessarily easy mix. So there’s the bravery to ask for what you want, knowing that you’re probably going to not get exactly what you want or be just be told, “No,” and being really comfortable in that space but also knowing that the road to yes is through a lot of nos.
“Don’t be a martyr. This is a job. You have to go home at the end of the day and leave something of yourself for yourself.”
The vulnerability comes in and you have to demonstrate need. People don’t give to organizations, they give to people. So as a fundraiser, your job is to be the person that the person you’re sitting with, wants to give to. And in my experience, you have to give part of yourself to do that. You have to be open and honest and show that human quality to build that connection, so that it becomes meaningful. So that it becomes more than a transaction, that they come back and fund you again because they genuinely like you and respect you and want to be in partnership with you.
What wrong turns or mistakes have you made in your career?
I’ve taken jobs where the money was excellent, it was very glamorous. There were private jets involved, we were aligning ourselves with powerful people in amazing metropolitan areas, we were able to go for drinks after work and talk about how important our day had been, and have a great paycheque at the end of the day. I was in positions where I got to have all those trappings of success.
After a couple of years, it drained me because I was using what I had to give for something that I didn’t care about. I completely shattered. Personally and professionally. It took me many years to realise that what what had happened was I had been checking my values at the door. And it just wasn’t worth it. So it was a tough lesson and I hope most people don’t have to learn that the hard way.
What is the best advice that you’ve ever received?
The single best piece of advice I have ever received was from one of my very first bosses and he said to me, Amy don’t be a martyr. This is a job. You have to go home at the end of the day and leave something of yourself for yourself. And you have to make decisions in your career and in your life that are going to put you first. And that doesn’t mean you can’t be committed or you can’t be loyal or you can’t be mission-driven. What it does mean is that you have to care for yourself.
“Heart-centred leadership is about not checking your values at the door. It is this act of knowing who you are and using that to build your path.”
Heart-centred leadership is key to your work and foundation. What does it mean?
It’s connecting your leadership to what is connected to you. To what feels right in your body, to what feels true in how you manifest and express the way you lead and the way you live. Heart-centred leadership is about not checking your values at the door. In fact it’s about finding a way to lead where you get to pack all those values in your lunch kit everyday, use them, and share them with others in a way that makes what you do fuller, more vibrant, and resilient. It is this act of knowing who you are and using that to build your path.
If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
I would be running a dog day care so I could spend my day with my animal all day everyday. I’d be an artist, I’d get to be creative and put what’s inside onto the outside. But really, I can’t imagine not doing this. When I talk about people’s strengths and where that comes from, mine comes from my voice. I can’t imagine not doing that. And I get to do that everyday in a way that is changing lives and changing our world. And I don’t think I want a break from it.
What breakfast kickstarts your day?
Coffee is a necessity for me. I’m a big fan of the soft-boiled egg, and a little bit of cheese.
How do you relax?
I am an introvert, so I relax in solitude and in quiet. Water is a big part of my meditation so being by the ocean, being in water, or having a cold glass of water is the beginning of my relaxation and solitude.
Do you have a daily practice?
I speak to my mother everyday. She is one of those people I feel compelled to share my day with, and that is my window on reflecting how I feel about the day.
What would your 16-year old self think of you now?
She would be really happy that my hair is purple. It’s always been my favourite colour. She’d be very disappointed that I’m not an international human rights lawyer, and that I did not end up marrying Taylor Hanson! I think she would struggle to understand that the success I have now is the success she thought she wanted. I learned a lot about finding that inside of myself as opposed to outside of myself since then. But I also think she’d be pretty darned happy with the kinds of things I get to do on a daily basis when she got over the fact that I didn’t go to law school.
What is your favourite quote?
I get to pick just one? I love stories, I love quotes. It’s Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena address. It’s powerful.
By Ianne Sy. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photos courtesy of Amy Robichaud.