Ideas that inspire

www.umalia.ca Spring / Summer 2019 • Volume 4 • Issue 1 Français
Message from the Editor: Outspoken Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z are uniting to turn the tide in favor of corporate societal engagement
Photo: iStock.com Even the scintillating patina of Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World in Orlando can’t disguise the fact that mega-corporations, such as Walt Disney Company, are being pressed by enlightened shareholders to modify their business models.
Photo: Courtesy of Umalia Lucie Bourgeois, President of Umalia.

If your family name is Disney – as in Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Walt Disney Company co-founder Roy Oliver Disney – a simple tweet challenging corporate executives to conduct business in a more decent, humane way can reverberate like a global thunder clap among C-suite executives.

Abigail Disney’s April 21st, 2019 tweet called Disney CEO Robert Iger’s 2018 take-home pay of $65 million “insane”, saying it represents 1,424 times the median pay of Disney’s 200,000 employees. To put that in perspective, a report by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations found that in 2017 CEOs at major U.S. companies made 361 times more money than the average production worker, up from a ratio of 42-to-1 in 1980 and 20-to-1 in 1950.

Ms. Disney’s April 21st tweet linked to a New York City forum hosted on April 17-18 by Fast Company business magazine. The mid-April discussion, called Fast Company Impact Council, was about “humane capitalism” and featured panelists Howard Warren Buffett (a Columbia University public policy professor and the 35-year-old grandson of famed investor Warren Buffett), Lynn Forester de Rothschild, an American businesswoman who is CEO of E.L. Rothschild (which she owns with her husband, Sir Evelyn Robert de Rothschild, a member of the Rothschild family), and Ms. Disney.

All three panelists have backgrounds as activists seeking more fairness in the capitalist system. Ms. Disney is an independent filmmaker who is an activist on issues involving corporate social responsibility (CSR). In 2014, Lady de Rothschild founded Inclusive Capitalism, an initiative which works with multinational corporations and asset managers to persuade companies to take a long-term perspective in their dealings with employees.

Fast Company reported that Buffett, author of Social Value Investing: A Management Framework for Effective Partnerships, told the panel he is optimistic about capitalism’s potential to become more inclusive and humane after seeing younger generations starting to hold corporations to account. An annual Deloitte survey of millennials, for example, has found that the majority believe that the primary purpose of business is not to make a profit, but to serve society. “What I’d argue is their children and their children’s children will probably have those perspectives, but even more magnified,” Buffett said. “Or at least, I hope they do.”

‘God didn’t invent the corporation’

Lady de Rothschild said that over time sustainable growth depends on a sustainable workforce and customer base. “God didn’t invent the corporation,” Fast Company quoted her as saying.  “The corporation was invented by society . . . and that means that the corporation has an obligation to society.”

This seems to be a trend that more and more young people are following. On April 27, 2019 The New York Times published an Opinion piece by writer and journalist Rachel Sherman, author of the 2017 book titled, Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence, who picked up on Ms. Disney’s theme about the noxious societal effects of resource disparities between rich and poor, citing the “growing number of privileged young people” who question “the morality of their advantages and the social arrangements that produce them.”

Photo: SOCIALRESEARCHMATTERS.ORG Author Rachel Sherman says many millennials reject that the goal of capitalism “is always to make as much money as possible.”

Ms. Sherman, 44, who interviewed many such millennials for her 2017 book, said they reject that the goal of capitalism “is always to make as much money as possible.” Instead, they talk “about asserting control over their money, pursuing socially responsible investments (sometimes for much lower returns) and increasing their own and their families’ giving, especially to social-justice organizations,” Ms. Sherman wrote in her NYT’s piece.

The tweet by Ms. Disney – a Baby Boomer – resonates with all the demographic audiences that followed the privileged Baby Boomers: namely, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z – born one, two and three generations after Ms. Disney. The reasons are obvious:

  1. Although she has no hand in running Walt Disney Company, Ms. Disney does retain shares in the company through her inheritance and is reported to be worth $500 million. So when as a member of the privileged class she speaks about sustainability, people take note.
  2. Disney Company is an iconic brand dating back to its founding by Walt Disney and his older brother Roy (Ms. Disney’s grandfather) in 1932. It’s also a media and entertainment juggernaut with $14.31 billion (U.S.) in revenues in Q1 of 2019 and a market capitalization of approximately $171.70 billion as of spring 2019.

Consequently, a credible challenge via social media, – such as Ms. Disney’s tweet – questioning a major corporation in the high profile entertainment industry will always be deemed of interest by the mainstream press.

Social purpose improves profits

Equally newsworthy are the public comments of progressive capitalist Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, the $6.3 trillion, New York-based asset manager. In his annual 2019 Letter to CEOs, Mr. Fink, 66, said that a corporation’s “purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits, but the animating force for achieving them.” He went on to say:

Profits are in no way inconsistent with [social] purpose – in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked….When a company truly understands and expresses its purpose, it functions with the focus and strategic discipline that drive long-term profitability. Purpose unifies management, employees, and communities. It drives ethical behavior and creates an essential check on actions that go against the best interests of stakeholders. Purpose guides culture, provides a framework for consistent decision-making, and, ultimately, helps sustain long-term financial returns for the shareholders of your company.

Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS Billionaire investor Larry Fink, seen in a 2010 photo, says that “profits are in no way inconsistent with [social] purpose – in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked.…”

Interestingly, Mr. Fink’s 2019 Letter to CEOs picks up on the increasingly important role of millennials in shaping Western capitalism, the subject alluded to by Ms. Sherman’s NYT’s article and in her book, written two years earlier. In his 2019 Letter to CEOs, Mr. Fink had this to say about the role of millennials in pushing businesses to become more aware of their corporate social responsibilities.

Companies that fulfill their purpose and responsibilities to stakeholders reap rewards over the long-term. Companies that ignore them stumble and fail. This dynamic is becoming increasingly apparent as the public holds companies to more exacting standards. And it will continue to accelerate as millennials – who today represent 35 percent of the workforce – express new expectations of the companies they work for, buy from, and invest in.

Chicago lawyer Michael Peregrine, writing in the January 17, 2019 issue of Forbes, said that public, private and non-profit companies across industry sectors would be wise to pay attention to Mr. Fink’s 2019 Letter to CEOs which emphasizes the connection between financial performance and social purpose.

“The emphasis on corporate social responsibility appears to have an enduring level of acceptance amongst many corporate stakeholders and commentators,” Mr. Peregrine wrote. “It remains a subject of significant financial sector and public policy discussion and may influence the development of future governance best practices compilations.”

Never too small for CSR

Although it takes a callout about wage disparity and humane capitalism from well-known personalities such as Ms. Disney or Mr. Fink to make headlines, those of us in the field of corporate societal engagement have noted in recent years a steady progression among smaller business leaders using their corporate resources to resolve social, economic and environmental challenges to the benefit of both their businesses and society.

Photo: WIKIMEDIA High profile businesspeople such as Abigail Disney, seen here giving the keynote address at a 2012 forum of the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island, are joining with smaller entrepreneurs to bring about social changes in business practices.

In this issue of Stimulus, we bring you profiles on the Gen X founders of two such Montreal-area companies: Better Narrative, which manufactures winter coats from recycled plastic; and Papillon MDC, which coaches C-level leaders in bringing about profound cultural changes to their global organizations.

There are many complex questions to be considered by such business leaders who wish to catalyse private sector engagement with a view to resolving social, economic and environmental challenges. For example, what does purpose actually mean? How can long-term planning be implemented with real-time uncertainty around aging, automation, global climate change and resource insecurity? Should businesses address social challenges or push harder for regulatory capacity and action?

These are daunting questions, but we see around us examples of companies which have forged forward nonetheless. They have stated their purpose as they define the term, they see long-term uncertainty as a challenge, and some choose to impact society directly while others opt to advocate for stronger regulations on society’s behalf. They pursue their societal engagement regardless because they believe in, and understand, its importance.

Businesses that make these choices, even if it sometimes requires a real transformation, see the results. It takes time and commitment, dedication and perseverance. But it starts with one step. One simple step. Stop: take time to think, then assess and decide. Move forward; nothing more. Inquire – be curious about what is possible.

So to companies such as Better Narrative and Papillon MDC, we at Umalia say bravo! Their success proves to us that no organization is too young or too small to take its first step into the world of corporate societal engagement.

Lucie Bourgeois – Editor, Stimulus
Founding President of Umalia

Editor's Addendum: I'm pleased to welcome career journalist Warren Perley as a contributor to the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Stimulus. Warren was commissioned by me to write profiles on founders Mayer Vafi of Better Narrative and on Mirella De Civita of Papillon MDC.

Those of you interested in learning how he broke into journalism in the "old days" might enjoy reading about Warren's unlikely trajectory from a shy McGill University arts graduate into an outgoing journalist facing nail-biting deadlines on a daily basis at some of Canada's major media companies.

Client Success Story – Better Narrative Mayer Vafi: a Gen X entrepreneur on a mission
Years before the UN issued its dire warning in May 2019 that nearly 1 million species risk extinction because of human activity, Montreal apparel entrepreneur Mayer Vafi had his own “eye-opening” moment about the scale of plastic pollution choking life on Earth.

It was October 22, 2015, and Mayer Vafi, who was in Copenhagen for Fashion Week, stumbled upon an artist’s sidewalk display depicting our planet being inundated and overwhelmed by plastic bottles, with a simple question and answer in big type: “Who will send an SOS to the world? I’ll send an SOS to the world.”

“It was the first time that I had been exposed to how big a problem plastic pollution could be,” Mayer says, citing statistics that indicate 1 million plastic bottles are manufactured every minute around the world, and it takes 450 years for a single plastic bottle to decompose.

During that period, he also learned that his teenage niece living in California was donating her time every second Sunday to cleaning beaches in her family’s community. It got him thinking about how the younger generation is “taking the bull by the horns” in dealing with pollution and how he wanted to be part of the effort.

Mayer Vafi wants to help make a difference in the fight to save our planet from plastic waste.

At the time, he was Creative and Sales Director for Outerwear at Pajar, which had started in 1963 as a Montreal-based footwear manufacturer but had expanded into outerwear. Almost two years later, in July 2017, Mayer made the acquaintance of Michael Eliesen, owner of NTD Apparel, a Canadian leader in the licensed and branded garments industry.

The team: Mayer and Michael

The two men met for coffee and realized they shared a common desire to use their business connections and resources to do good for society. Mayer also learned that since 2013 Michael had been working with Umalia to transform his successful company into a purpose-driven one by embedding societal objectives in his corporate goals.

The next key moment in their relationship occurred after Michael was invited to attend Umalia’s 5th Anniversary Celebration in Montreal, together with 24 other multi-sector business leaders. (A YouTube video of that get-together can be viewed on Umalia’s website: www.umalia.ca)

One of the 25 invited guests on that October 5th evening in 2017 was author Neil Gaught (a colleague of Lucie’s), who had just published his best-selling book titled, CORE: How A Single Organizing Idea Can Change Business for Good. Neil’s book makes a persuasive case that the world’s most admired businesses deliver both economic and social benefits that are sustainable and which can unite people, inspire innovation, pioneer new efficiencies and attract investment.

The next day, an effusive Michael shared news with Mayer about Umalia’s stimulating get-together and Neil’s new book. It took all of one day for Mayer to order a copy of the book and another day to take what he calls “a deep dive” into its contents.

Mayer now says that Umalia‘s  5th Anniversary Celebration in October 2017 “spearheaded” the  partnership that he and Michael – whom he describes as “a serial entrepreneur” – formed a year later to create a new company called Better Narrative Inc. Neil Gaught’s book, was “the blueprint and the foundation” for Better Narrative, Mayer says.

The partnership turned out to be a good fit, with Mayer providing the creative direction, sourcing, R & D, and experience in outwear retailing, while Michael provided the existing NTD Apparel infrastructure, platform, logistics and financing in support of the new venture. Their line of outerwear, called Norden, is manufactured from recycled plastic. All their garments are free of fur, feathers, leather and all other animal by-products.

Norden outerwear, manufactured from recycled plastic, is free of fur, feathers, leather and all other animal by-products.

The clothing line, which launched in fall 2018, is appropriate for all ages but caters mainly to Millennials and those who were born after them, known as Generation Z – people whose dates of birth fall between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s. Forbes magazine reported in 2015 that Generation Z made up 25 percent of the U.S. population, making them an even more dominant demographic than the wave of Baby Boomers born in the two decades after the Second World War.

Mayer firmly believes that these younger consumers will not buy apparel made at the expense of animals and the planet, saying they are looking for ethical and sustainable brands, hence his company’s tagline, “Inspiring change through clothing made from repurposed waste.” The company name, Better Narrative, melds into another tagline: “A Better Narrative for Future Generations.”

Each jacket in the Norden lines for men and women is made of recycled plastic bottles. In only their second year in business, the outerwear is available in retail outlets across Canada, in Japan, Germany and Scandinavia, as well as online.

The manufacturing process uses 45 percent less energy, 20 percent less water, and creates 30 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than does the traditional manufacturing process.

Norden focuses on fashion apparel made entirely of single use plastic to create a new consciousness of sustainable products. “We have based our ethos on transparency and traceability,” Mayer says, crediting Umalia President Lucie Bourgeois with playing a key role in clarifying the corporate social purpose for Better Narrative and the steps required to implement the program.

The company obtains the recycled material for its outerwear from two major American manufacturers:

  • North Carolina-based Unifi, which uses its registered trademark REPREVE(®)  fibre –  made from recycled plastic – for the outerwear.
  • Massachusetts-based Polartec, which uses the REPREVE(®)  fibre to manufacture recycled polyester insulation for the outwear.

The garments are designed in Montreal by Mayer, who in addition to being the company co-founder is also its Creative Director –  and Renata Begic, the company’s Senior Project Manager. The manufacturing plant is in China, where Mayer has a long-term business connection with a factory owner. Trust, cost of goods and scalability were some of the factors in setting up production in China.

As of winter 2019, both the Norden men’s and women’s lines will be available at several Quebec retailers, including Maison Simon, Sail, Sports Experts, Atmosphere and Neon, as well as across Canada at HBC. Shoppers in Japan, Germany and Scandinavia will also be able to buy  Norden merchandise in retail outlets in those countries.

As befits a ”purpose-driven” enterprise, Mayer thinks the company’s strategic direction must include “educating the masses on the effects of plastic” which, in turn, will help drive sales. He lists the company’s raison d’être as “changing the way apparel is manufactured.”

In line with their ecological sustainability objectives, the Norden website has a pop-up window that states: “Take the Pledge to Reduce your Plastic Consumption: If you sign up by sending in your email, you receive 10% off your first order from Norden.”

Living the immigrant experience

Perhaps having experienced at a young age the trauma of his family fleeing the Iranian Revolution has made Mayer more sensitive to the fragility of world order and to his environment. He was born shortly after the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in Iran in February 1979.

Mayer Vafi says that the best part of his day is the 20 minutes he gets to spend bonding with his son, Aiden Joseph, every weekday morning when he drives him to school.

Mayer’s father held a senior position managing the oil port of Bandar Abbas on the southern coast along the Persian Gulf, affording him the financial means to turn a 1983 vacation to Turkey into the first leg of an escape from Iran. The family lived in a hotel in Turkey for close to three years while their application to immigrate to Canada was processed. They finally arrived in Montreal in 1986 – father, mother, Mayer and his sister, Nasime –  three years his senior. A younger sister, Jasmine, who is 13 years Mayer’s junior, was born in Montreal.

Mayer entered Grade 1 in Montreal, speaking Farsi, Turkish and French. His father, recognizing his son’s unquenchable desire to attain new knowledge, assigned him an exercise reading a dictionary to get him up to speed with English, which was to become his fourth language. Long hours, it seems, are a prerequisite for those ambitious to keep learning throughout their lives.

Mayer's workdays start at 5 a.m. with 90 minutes of solitude, allowing him to catch up on reading and/or exercise. However, it is the time he spends each morning with his 7-year-old son, Aiden Joseph, that he cherishes the most, saying they love to "dance, sing and have fun." Their 20-minute drive to school every morning is "the best part of my day," he adds.

When asked about the challenge of attaining a work-life balance, Mayer says that being committed to a business, such as Better Narrative, with a “single organizing idea” – à la Neil Gaught – allows him to “live in harmony” with purpose, focus and clarity.

Americana 2019 Insights into fighting climate change: Raise awareness, engage stakeholders, adapt continually
Photo: ECOMESURE.COM A panel discussion from the third and final day of the Americana environmental forum and international trade show held in Montreal between March 26 and 28, 2019.

Lucie Bourgeois, President and founder of Umalia, was invited to address delegates who attended Americana 2019, the three-day environmental forum and international trade show last March at the Montreal Convention Centre. Lucie’s speech titled, Climat’Eau: Fighting the Effects of Climate Change through a Multisector Systemic Partnership, delved into the lessons that she and Umalia’s partners have learned in working during the last few years to improve the population’s resilience to climate change in the Benin community of Sô-Ava. Below is a summary, in bullet form, of what Lucie told some of the 10,000 delegates who attended Americana 2019.

  • There is an overwhelming need to involve the community and the base population right from the start, especially during the design of the project. Ensure there is a real urge to deal with the issues, that the change agents in the community recognize the need to address these issues and can understand the “what if scenarios” of not acting.
  • When trying to increase awareness around climate change, try to keep your explanations very concrete. Resort to traditional wise leaders in the community who can relate some of the “what if scenarios” to past history. Think of the vocabulary to use – many of the words we use in talking about climate change do not exist in endogenous languages. Involve the community to find ways to explain climate change with words and stories directly from the community.
  • Climate change is such a vast and complex issue that it can’t be solved only locally or with only one stakeholder. Hence the dire necessity to engage the full ecosystem, from local stakeholders to national stakeholders, from the population at the base to organized civil society, government authorities, research organizations, private sector, academia, etc. Multisector collaboration is key and needs to be co-facilitated to ensure ownership, participation and engagement. As such, the calendar and priorities of each of these critical stakeholders needs to be taken into account when making plans.
  • To increase awareness about climate change, find endogenous knowledge and practices that can be leveraged to fight or adapt. Find concrete examples – when the community has adapted to a threat in its environment – to draw parallels with the past, remind people of ancestral success stories that can inspire engagement and make people believe in its potential success.
  • Adapt continually throughout the project. Listen to what stakeholders are saying, try to incorporate better ways to engage people and measure results. Propagate the wins while documenting the anticipated and unanticipated benefits of the partnership.

As the project evolves, Umalia and the entire Climat’Eau team will keep track of lessons learned and will be glad to share them with individuals or groups interested in forming multisector systemic partnerships.

Top Tips for CSR: Having trouble getting traction for societal engagement initiatives? Engage your senior leadership team by making a solid business case!

A client of ours recently confided that his corporate societal engagement program is underperforming. His employees were very supportive of the project when it was designed because they recognized that it well represented the culture of the company.

But during a period of rapid expansion, the company had not ensured that orientation programs for new hires focused also on this societal engagement culture and program. As a result, the new leaders and new employees were not pushing through as before, and their program was no longer embedded in the company.

The solution, which we advocate and design from the get-go, is to institutionalize the culture and the initiatives beyond the individuals themselves. There is a need to ensure that leaders in the organization understand the true business case for corporate societal engagement. Gaining executive buy-in, support and help in understanding that the project is worth investing in, is key in ensuring sustainable impact. Build a case by pointing out that:

  • Revenue growth by purpose-led companies is 10X better than growth from the S&P 500 (1996 -2011)
  • Brands anchored with societal impact report financial performance rates of 133 percent
  • 89 percent of customers believe that purpose-driven companies deliver higher products and services
  • 72 percent of consumers would recommend a company with purpose1

Also, surveys done in the past have shown reduced absenteeism, turnover and theft while indicating improved productivity and client satisfaction when employees are working in a socially and environmentally responsible company.

Furthermore, remember that a program, in and of itself, is not enough to ensure success. It needs to be embedded in the business strategy and institutionalized through everyday practice, culture and human resources programs.

Make the case for corporate societal engagement. Develop and maintain your socially responsible initiatives and reap the rewards. The Umalia team will be happy to support you through the process.

IN FOCUS
Update on Climat’Eau project in Benin: Moving ahead on all fronts, including water treatment!
A poster designed by a Benin artist illustrates the key messages of the Climat’Eau awareness program not to pollute the river and to adopt behaviors that care for the environment.

In keeping readers up to date with our Climat’Eau project in Benin, a lot has happened since our last Stimulus issue! Here’s a quick update on the four pillars of the partnership (pillars in blue). Our awareness and mobilization program has greatly expanded and is now being deployed all over the community for the benefit of the 120,000 people. Multiple and diverse initiatives have taken place, ranging from awareness sessions, short movies and open-air presentations, community radio programs, and poster installations to the formation of a volunteer climate change committee in each village.

Technologies Ecofixe’s water treatment system has been installed in two villages, with a third installation that started in May 2019. The technology was first transported from Canada and has now been adapted to the local conditions. The infrastructure is being built 100 percent locally, involving workers from the community itself. A committee in each village, trained by Technologies Ecofixe, is responsible for maintaining the systems. In December 2018, six months after the first system was installed, the local committee was given a strong “thumbs up” for the work they had done since the installation. They are now serving as mentors for the next series of maintenance committees in other villages.

A group of women attend an awareness and mobilization session in Ahomey Gblon aimed at raising awareness about climate change and soliciting their ideas about potential actions for change.
Quebec-based Technologies Ecofixe teaches the Maintenance Committee in Ahomey Lokpo how to take care of the water treatment system, including the performance of weekly maintenance and small repairs.

In terms of the research on collaborative governance from Université Laval, all the tools and methodologies have been developed. The university’s Ethical Committee has approved the project – a requirement for all PhD projects – and the research has now begun. Interviews have started and the research team will conduct their methodology over the next 18 months.

Finally, in terms of exploring a green business ecosystem around water treatment (and touching on waste management and the reuse of water in agriculture), a first forum with 35 participants from 15 organizations met in December 2018, while a second forum was organized in May 2019 with over 55 participants and more than 25 organizations. They represented civil society, local elected officials, research centres, water treatment laboratories, the Ministry of Agriculture and the private sector.

The participants learned a great deal about setting up such an ecosystem, while exploring their motivations, potential roles and benefits of participating in such an initiative. Feedback from the full-day meeting was very positive, from participants as well as from Gaston Cossi Dossouhoui, the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fishing, with comments to the effect that:

  • Sô-Ava has become a crucible (creuset in French) of innovation that will impact the ministry, the state and the continent.
  • Climat’Eau is a laboratory of research and the birth of a strong point of continuous communication.
  • Climat'Eau acts as “a local lever” in the fight against climate change through the collaborative governance of parties involved in a complementary engagement.
  • All participants seem eager to ensure that meetings of this nature continue throughout the project.

Note: The Climat'Eau project is being implemented thanks to the financial participation of the Government of Quebec in the context of the 2013-2020 Climate Change Action Plan, financed by the Green Fund.

Spotlight on Papillon MDC and Mirella De Civita Proof that you don’t have to be big to shine bright in business

“Nothing personal; it’s just business,” was a phrase coined in the early 20th, century by American underworld whiz bookkeeper Otto “Abbadabba” Berman, who was later portrayed as a fictional New York mobster in a Great Depression-era short story, titled Little Miss Marker, written by newspaperman Damon Runyon. 

Berman didn’t survive an October 23, 1935 mob massacre in a Newark tavern, but his trope fared better, becoming a long-running expression of the ruthlessness generally accepted as a prerequisite for success in the 20th century world of business.

But now there is a new generation of “purpose-driven" business leaders who believe that personal values must be reflected in the corporate culture of successful companies. Entrepreneurs such as Mirella De Civita, a Montreal-based licensed psychologist, credentialed coach, researcher and motivational speaker who works with C-level leaders around the world, coaching them to become the leaders they desire to be as they transform their companies' corporate cultures into ones supportive of societal engagement.

Mirella De Civita, a Quebec-licensed psychologist, is also a Master Corporate Executive Coach who founded Papillon MDC with a view to helping solve societal issues of inequality.

There is no such thing as “nothing personal” in the world of these 21st century entrepreneurs. Everything is about integrating personal, humane values with corporate resources to tackle social, economic and environmental challenges with the goal of creating a positive impact for both business and society

High praise for Mirella the coach

Umalia President Lucie Bourgeois, who has collaborated with Mirella repeatedly on corporate societal engagement projects worldwide, calls her “the best coach there is on the market, globally, period.” The women met around 2007 when Lucie was heading up the Human Resources function at pharmaceutical services provider IMS Brogan and Mirella was a coach and leadership development specialist at Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions.

Lucie gave Mirella a mandate at that time to conduct psychometric assessments of the IMS Brogan executives as part of their leadership development programs. It was the beginning of a close, mutually beneficial personal and business relationship.

A few years later – in 2010 – Mirella left Knightsbridge to found Papillon MDC with its instantly recognizable blue butterfly logo and tagline, “Transform…and take flight!” From the beginning, Umalia was there as a consultant, helping Papillon MDC develop its own corporate societal program.

The women collaborated again shortly before Lucie left IMS Brogan in 2011 to found Umalia, which is dedicated to helping businesses implement strategies and programs that produce a sustainable societal impact while at the same time enhancing their own organizations’ performances. This time it was Lucie who hired Mirella to coach her personally to discover the best way for her to create “a purposeful career” after leaving IMS Brogan. The result of that collaboration was that Lucie transitioned from working at a major multinational company, such as IMS Brogan (now known as IQVIA), to becoming an entrepreneur with her own company, Umalia. “She (Mirella) has had a profound impact on me,” Lucie tells a colleague who knows both women.

Together since 2012, their two companies have formed a strategic partnership whereby Papillon MDC helps develop leaders capable of embracing corporate change, while Umalia engages with those companies to develop the strategies, programs and partnerships needed to implement corporate societal engagement.

“We work hand-in-hand when we have clients who appreciate our common values and approach to focus on making a difference in the world,” Lucie says. Together they have also donated hundreds of hours of pro bono work to projects in the developing world, such as building a school in Sô-Ava, Benin.

By combining mindfulness with solution-focused techniques, Mirella puts her training as a clinical psychologist to good use to help her clients realize they have the inner skills needed to engage in transformational corporate change. She pays attention not only to what her clients say (what she calls their “story lines”), but also to what is not said (what she describes as the “root causes of their challenges”), meaning their inner biases and opinions.

“When I meet a client, I ask: ‘What are you hoping to achieve?’”, Mirella says. “I don’t try to fix all the issues. They are the experts, not me. I sit in non-judgment as a listener who is curious and trying to learn.”  Along the way, she differentiates for them what is “fundamentally important” for long- term success, compared with what is “immediately important” for short-term survival.

It is a recognition of what is “fundamentally important” in the long term that allows business leaders to get over the “immediately important” short-term challenges that might be blocking their transition to a corporate culture supportive of societal engagement.

It should not surprise her clients to learn that Mirella  is a devotee of Jungian analytical psychology, which emphasizes the power of the unconscious mind to help balance a person’s conscious awareness and develop their mindfulness and ability to connect with the outside world. Despite her busy business schedule, Mirella still maintains a private clinical practice.

Although workweeks can sometimes spiral up, Mirella strives to preserve a life-work balance which entails cherished home-cooked family dinners with her husband, Max, her 15-year-old daughter, Sarah-Nicole, and their beloved German Shepherds, Xena and Dante. Yoga and daily meditation are among her favored balancing tools.

Humor is another aspect of her personal life that Mirella tries to integrate into her work, as evidenced by Papillon MDC’s  eLearning platform with its YouTube video featuring an introduction by an animated, blue-eyed character called Sara, who tells viewers that humor is the most important resource for beneficial outcomes related to learning, as well as for enhancing mental function, memory, creative thinking, and problem-solving.

Old World family values

Growing up in a working-class, Italian immigrant family in Little Italy, Mirella recalls the joys of  family get-togethers with copious laughter and simple pleasures, such as the weekend outings when her dad, Mario, would take the neighborhood children out for ice cream and visits to La Ronde or Belmont Park.

In fact, it was likely the ability to laugh and to appreciate those simple joys of life that helped Mirella’s family cope with an unspeakable tragedy when her brother, Walter, was killed by a car while biking in August 1989.

Humor has always helped Mirella and her family cope with personal tragedies. Here we see Mirella’s father, Mario, clowning around with Mirella’s daughter, Sarah-Nicole, two days before he died unexpectedly in October, 2018. 

The death of her brother changed the trajectory of Mirella’s life. Just 18 at the time, she decided to stay in Montreal – despite dreams at that time of moving to the U.S. for career purposes – in support of her grieving parents. It also influenced her decision to establish Papillon MDC to help ameliorate the social ills of society.

To find her own inner peace, Mirella consumed books and devoted herself to the study of developmental psychopathology, eventually obtaining her PhD at Université de Montréal and her post-Doctoral Fellowship in Behavioral Medicine from McGill University. These days, she puts her psychological training and Zen mindset to work for both small and large corporate clients around the world with the support of her diverse and devoted team at Papillon MDC.

(In 2015 – as a complement to the services provided by Papillon MDC –Mirella founded Grand Heron International, an online service provider of individual and corporate coaching, consultation for mental health referrals, and webinars focused on masterful coaching.)

When asked whether small companies have a role to play in getting the business world more involved through corporate societal engagement, Mirella says that one would be surprised to learn that it is often the “small engines” that make the greatest impact because they are more agile and have “more manageable communications” – meaning less bureaucracy allowing for expeditious commitment of resources.

“Keep your business aligned with what is fundamentally important even in the presence of challenges, and good things will happen,” she concludes in reference to the role of purpose-driven businesses being capable of making important contributions to resolve social, economic and environmental challenges.

Client Survey A shout-out to clients who have helped Umalia evolve

After seven years in operation, Umalia spent time in the fall of 2018 contacting past clients and colleagues for feedback on what kind of long-term impact our strategies, programs and partnerships had. Thanks to all of you who responded. We greatly appreciate the insights that we received which will allow us to continue in our quest to build productive strategies and  partnerships with organizations seeking to be a force for good in society.

Umalia in The News! Multisector partnership is cleaning wastewater in Morocco
Umalia President Lucie Bourgeois (far left, front row) with her multisector, international partners at the March 2019 launch of a wastewater treatment project in Morocco.

To deal with a severe water shortage in Morocco caused by climate change, Umalia is collaborating on a multisector partnership led by Technologies Ecofixe, a Quebec company which will biologically treat wastewater at Ain Taoujdate, while developing climate change awareness for local growers.

The project was formally launched in February 2019  at the mayor’s office in Ain Taoujdate, which is near the northeastern Moroccan city of Fes, known as the country’s cultural capital.  A ceremony was also held at the Canadian Embassy in Morocco’s capital of Rabat, bordering the Atlantic Ocean and 207 km west of Fes.  

To ensure its sustainability, the project is also focused on building awareness among multiple stakeholders, including growers in the surrounding area, as well as local authorities, associations and non-profit organizations.

In this project, Umalia is providing consultation and support for building partnerships, awareness, and dialogue among those involved. Other partners from Morocco include the Office National de l’Eau et de l’Électricité; the Université Mohammed V; Sibyam Conseils; and Anzar Conseils. The Canadian project partners are Groupe Ageco and AIF.

This is a second Umalia collaboration with Technologies Ecofixe. (See In Focus article about Climat’eau project in Benin.)


Breaking bread to discuss corporate societal engagement

Over 15 CEOs and executives met over breakfast in Quebec City in November 2018 to discuss corporate societal engagement. The get-together included representatives of diverse industries covering electronics, financial, consumables, service providers and more.

There was widespread recognition that businesses need to do more to increase engagement, but all acknowledged that is not always easy to balance with operational activities. The consensus was that it starts with the core values of a business, recognition that we play a role in society and a better understanding of our purpose: that business can be a force for good in society.

The breakfast meeting was organized by Umalia President Lucie Bourgeois, Village Monde CEO Charles Mony, and Optel CEO Louis Roy, who predicted that “as more and more organizations join in, sustainability will become increasingly attainable.”

Bolo Program offers major rewards for Canada’s most wanted

The Bolo Program is a public safety innovation project leveraging social media and technology in support of police efforts to apprehend Canada’s most wanted suspects. The Bolo Program conducts amplification campaigns of priority most wanted notices to make sure citizens to be on the lookout (Bolo), and offers major rewards to encourage them to submit tips to the authorities.

On June 25, 2019, the Program launched its 9th case in cooperation with the Toronto Police Service and Toronto Crime Stoppers.

Umalia is proud to have contributed to the development of the Bolo Program, and we congratulate the team for this 9th launch.

Learn more at www.boloprogram.org

What's all this Progressive Capitalism hubbub about? It starts at the grass-roots level!
A new school in Benin called Sainte-Anne-du-Lac is a concrete example of a grassroots, international, multi-sector partnership producing positive results for sustainability, civic responsibility and entrepreneurship.

Progressive capitalists speak with increasing frequency these days about their ideals for those with power and resources to invest some of their assets in helping to create a more egalitarian world. There is varying terminology associated with the movement: phrases such as, “Conscious Capitalism”; “Multi-Sector Partnerships”; “Corporate Societal Engagement”; “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)”.

At Umalia, we believe that the simplest way to explain the meaning of those terms is to point to a concrete example of one of our projects in Sô-Ava to illustrate what can be achieved when hundreds of volunteers from two countries – Canada and Benin –  come together to benefit education in that country.

Umalia is proud to have had the opportunity to act as a catalyst in building partnerships with – and coordinating the efforts of – individuals from private businesses, governments and non-profit organizations in helping to build an education triad in Sô-Ava consisting of a library, a play centre and now a primary school.

The school, called Sainte-Anne-Du-Lac, will have as its focus sustainability, civic responsibility and entrepreneurship. The one-room school opened in October 2018 with space for 25 children, who themselves – we hope – will become change agents in the community.

What started as a grass-roots and very personal endeavour for Umalia, has grown to include two other Canadian businesses: NTD Apparel and Papillon MDC. The initiative continues to grow with support from four non-profit Canadian organizations, as well: Léger Foundation, Idée éducation entrepreneuriale, Collège Sainte-Anne de Lachine, and Vues d’Afrique – Festival international de cinéma.

Phase 2 of the Sainte-Anne-Du-Lac project is a second classroom slated to open in 2019.  With the help of more than 25 volunteers and eight organizations from all sectors, a silent auction held at the 35th Festival international de cinéma on April 10, 2019 raised $13,600 of the $15,000 needed to build the second classroom. The rest is coming from donations, with all proceeds going directly to the school.

The April 10th evening included a screening of a short movie produced by then 16-year-old Olivier Côté, one of five students in the Benin 2014 project when the community library was built. Another excellent reminder of the power of engagement!

Readers wishing to learn more about the project can visit: www.sainteannedulac.org or www.facebook.com/ecolecommunautairesainteeannedulac/.