Paulina Cameron is CEO of The Forum, a Canadian charity that educates and mentors women-identifying entrepreneurs. At the heart of Cameron’s success is collaboration and strong leadership, which are some of the skills participants learn to strengthen when attending the organization’s programs. As women entrepreneurs strive to achieve big business goals, The Forum’s mission is to support them throughout the process.
Cameron spoke about the true power of community in entrepreneurship, supporting businesses during the pandemic, and what drives her.
In which industry did you begin your professional journey, and how did it lead to entrepreneurship?
I began in the finance and accounting profession. I originally worked at KPMG, where I obtained my CPA CA designation. Though that didn’t necessarily start me on the path of entrepreneurship, it provided me with a really great foundation to build off from there.
I’ve always had a deep passion for both entrepreneurship and championing gender equity and equality. When I was in university, I started a course on leadership in social enterprise because I believe that business and entrepreneurship can be a vehicle to make change. I also co-founded an organization that does personal and professional development for young women. So, I led that from a volunteer [position] for a number of years.
I moved through my career; I have chosen to be in organizations and in roles that provide me the opportunity to elevate women and support them in their entrepreneurial growth.
What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your career so far?
That’s a really great question! I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is the power of community. I think none of us grow up in a vacuum, and we have such tremendous opportunity to support one another. All the work I’ve done has always been supported by others around me. Not only do I think together we go further, but I also think together we go deeper, with more joy and love.
The power of community to really amplify [The Forum’s] work has been really important. I recently read a quote about [community] and it made me think how, especially in entrepreneurship, one of the things we promote or a narrative you often hear is becoming self-made. I was reflecting how, for me, what feels truer and more gratifying is being community-made.
At The Forum, as we work to support entrepreneurs, we often talk about access to capital. And when we say that, we mean all forms of capital, including social, wisdom, [and] inspiration, in addition to financial capital. That community capital element has been so important. We can all give back and build community around us.
The pandemic was a trying time for most businesses. How did you and your team manage to keep achieving The Forum’s mission?
When the pandemic began, we all found ourselves in a moment of ambiguity, not knowing what was going to happen. As a team, the first thing we knew felt most important was to meet our women entrepreneurs where they were at and support them with their most immediate needs.
We went into this mode of immediate delivery with new programming [with] new ways of interacting and engaging with them by being a vehicle for information, and [offering] space for them to share the hardships they were going through.
Because we led with that philosophy, [The Forum] continued to build trust with our community, knowing we were a place they could come to. As the pandemic evolved, we re-invited programming around resilience and building forward, knowing that the entrepreneurial drive is always strong. You know, when you’re an entrepreneur, you have that spirit of hope and possibility.
Throughout the pandemic, we saw an increase of 345 per cent in demand for our programs. That meant to us that entrepreneurs were still looking to grow and to build, and maybe start anew.
The forum has a free mental health resilience program. What was the inspiration behind that?
As I mentioned, [during the pandemic,] we found ourselves in a moment of [uncertainty]. What we did know is that what gets you through that kind of moment in time is being able to access resilience. You need to be able to step into a place of possibility to see options, to access hope. This program was developed to acknowledge the challenge and support mental well-being through it.
Through the pandemic [and] through the 20 years The Forum has existed, we’ve been able to be responsive, thanks to the many corporate sponsors, donors, and partners. They’re the ones that, when we need to pivot, we have been continuously met with an “okay, go ahead.” I credit the great relationships the organization has fostered over a number of years to give us the ability to be agile, flexible, and thoughtfully responsive.
What is your biggest daily motivator?
I love that question! I have a few. One is our community of entrepreneurs. Hearing from them [and] the visions of what they want to bring forward. It’s so motivating and energizing to me to know that we can support a woman entrepreneur.
My team is really motivating on a daily basis. We have an incredible group of women who choose to bring their knowledge, experience, and energy to the table. It’s so rewarding working with such a passionate group of individuals.
Personally, and lastly, I have two small children. They motivate me because I think about what world I want them to live in and what stories I want them to hear. Also, who will be their role models. So, keeping that in mind is a big personal motivator for me as well.
Josephine Mwanvua | Staff Writer