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It is often said that making significant change starts with one small step. For Karen Joseph, that small step was applying for Women Leading the Way™. “I nearly didn’t apply,” she recalls. She had no idea that participating in Minerva’s advanced leadership program would lead her to discovering her values, working with purpose and leading an organization that is having a profound impact on our country.

Women Leading the Way™ supports women to discover their strengths and values that will lead them to making a significant difference in their area of work – be it business, government or community. In 2011, Karen registered for the second cohort of Women Leading the Way™, and by the end of the year-long program, she and her classmate Chris Little presented a business plan to a panel of experts for a movement that would come to be known as Reconciliation Canada.

Reconciliation Canada was inspired by Karen’s father, Chief Robert Joseph, who had a dream of organizing a day where people of diverse backgrounds would come together to walk – a walk that would symbolize Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians moving forward together for a brighter future for us all. But when Chief Joseph was diagnosed with cancer, he asked Karen and her friends to carry the torch. “Karen reached out to me and we started developing the idea,” Chris remembers. “It was pretty organic. We were building off the work that Chief Joseph had done and began whiteboarding around a kitchen table.”

Neither of them knew that the Reconciliation Canada walk would attract the turnout it did (about 70,000 people came out on a torrential Sunday morning in Vancouver), or achieve the impact that it’s having today.

In fact, prior to enrolling in Women Leading the Way™, Karen had lost hope in humanity. She was working in health administration at a provincial level and was faced with the reality that in order to make a difference in Aboriginal communities, she would need to get into business – a sector that wasn’t attractive to her at the time. One day, a Women Leading the Way™ brochure came across her desk that spoke to both leadership and values, and, although skeptical, she became curious to the possibility of living by both. She decided, “If I’m ever going to get myself involved in business I better dip my toe.”

And that’s just what she and Chris did.

Chris Little
Chris Little. (All photos courtesy of Reconciliation Canada)
Karen Joseph and Chris Little address the crowd at the Walk for Reconciliation.
Karen Joseph and Chris Little address the crowd at the Walk for Reconciliation.

Minerva: When you first began working on Reconciliation Canada, did you have any idea how big it would be?

Chris: No. There was a hope but you just never know. We were continuously surprised by the draw it had – its appeal to a wide and diverse audience was fascinating.

We worked throughout the summer to develop a business plan. We then presented to Minerva and presented it to the First Nations Leadership Council for approval. Once we had approval from the First Nations Leadership Council it became very real very fast. The Walk for Reconciliation was held the following September.

Karen: We were just supposed to do the walk and that was a big enough project itself. But because of the success of the project – due to values-based leadership – our partners asked us to continue. I never thought I’d one day be in a room with Peter Senge, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter. Holy smokes. That day? I would have never imagined.

Minerva: How did it all come together?

Karen: After we finished the business plan, I spoke with Nancy McKinstry to get her opinion and she agreed to leverage her contacts to get it funded. Then we saw the First Nations Leadership Council who basically said, “Yes go ahead.” Two days later we were at Hollyhock’s SVI and a few weeks later we had $500,000 from Vancity. We went to every corporation in Vancouver. Everyone knew of Minerva and Women Leading the Way™, and held it in high regard which really helped us get that first funding. Part of the reason we grew so fast is because Minerva had laid the ground.

As far as the eye can see. About 70,000 people participated in the Walk.
As far as the eye can see: About 70,000 people participated in the Walk.
Chief Robert Joseph addresses the crowd.
Chief Robert Joseph addresses the crowd.
Second and third from the left: Karen Joseph and her father walk together.
Second and third from the left: Karen Joseph and her father walk together.

Minerva: How did Women Leading the Way™ shape your journey?

Karen: It made me realize I don’t have to be everything. I just have to be around people with other strengths. I didn’t need to be a Chris, but I needed Chris to be involved and I needed her skill set.

Chris: One theme really stuck out for me which was: facing the fear of failure. It was fascinating to see that all these accomplished guest speakers all had stories of failures…and gave themselves the permission that it’s okay to fail and take the learning that comes from it. I became more open to taking chances and removing that fear. I learned that you don’t have to be perfect all the time. I have permission to fail…and learn.

I also learned so much about personality and styles and how we work with others. I learned that the styles that challenge me the most are the ones I need to work with because they have complimentary skill sets to mine.

Minerva: So is it possible to lead and live by your values?

Karen: Absolutely. Reconciliation Canada is based in values – of diversity, hope. What I learned at Women Leading the Way™ is what shaped its foundation.

Minerva: What advice would you give to other women considering this program?

Karen: APPLY! It’s as simple as that. I nearly didn’t apply because I was really unsure about my abilities. Yes I had the passion to change the world but I didn’t necessarily think I had the capacity to do it. I didn’t realize the passion that I had inside me could be realized. Women Leading the Way™ is really well-suited for people who have a passion to change the world – to not just advance in business but to advance the world in a way that’s greater for everyone.

Minerva’s a catalyst. Minerva catalyzes other people’s goals. Minerva has shaped and informed the person I’m becoming… and I like who I am.

As women, one of our tendencies is to lack belief in ourselves, and this lack of belief is that we deserve something more. So the greatest advice I could give is for women to let that go for a moment and apply.

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We spoke with Chief Robert Joseph, as there’s no person who can attest to this better than Karen’s own father:

Chief Joseph: From the time of her enrolment up until now, I observed a remarkable change in Karen… a growth and development that I can only describe as transformative. She is, of course, my daughter, so I have watched her over a considerable length of time struggle to find real meaning and purpose in her life. She has always worked tirelessly but now she is inspired by a passion I have not really seen before.

She has developed an amazing skill set that allows her to be analytical and strategic – thus enabling her to get desired outcomes in her work. She is very civic-minded more than she ever was, and exemplifies the person who lives out a values-based approach to life. On a personal level, Karen has developed a strong sense of confidence in herself and the motivation to be a change-agent.

I attribute this all to the training she received at Minerva. And now she’s inspiring the country.

Reconciliation Canada is a remarkable testament to Minerva’s values: of combining our strengths and paving a way forward – together. And for this reason, we hold it close to our hearts.

Reconciliation Canada is building new relationships among Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians, and conducting dialogue sessions to engage Canadians to revitalize relationships, increase understanding of our shared history, and explore the meaning of reconciliation. They are also acting as a catalyst for other organizations around the world to develop their own reconciliation. This May, they will be participating in Truth and Reconciliation Canada’s closing events in Ottawa. To learn more, please click here.

Women Leading the Way™ is currently accepting applications for its upcoming September cohorts. To learn more about this unique opportunity, please click here.

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