She smashed expectations to set up her own business. Now, this Indigenous woman is helping others do the same

The director of a London youth initiative, Amanda Kennedy, has been tapped to be the new Indigenous lead of a local program to help women-run social enterprises in southwestern Ontario. 

Amanda Kennedy has been recruited as the Indigenous lead for a local network to support women-led enterprises

Amanda Kennedy founded Yotuni Social Enterprise in 2017 for Indigenous children and youth. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

The director of a London youth initiative, Amanda Kennedy, has been tapped to be the new Indigenous lead of a local program to help women-run social enterprises in southwestern Ontario. 

The Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN) is a federally funded program run by the Pillar Nonprofit Network In London, Ont. Pillar was among an association of non-profits who received a $3.6-million grant in August to help develop women-owned businesses in Canada.

WOSEN plans to support 150 new women-led social enterprises and expand 75 existing ones.

"This is important because if we truly are going to be growing our communities we need to be thinking about how we see existing people who have so many ideas and innovations and they just need the support to be able to move forward," Michelle Baldwin, Pillar's executive director, explained in an interview. 

To this end, Kennedy brings not only a social network within the Indigenous community, but also experience setting up a social enterprise on her own. In 2016, she established the Yotuni Charitable Initiative, a program aimed at helping at-risk youths. 

"I didn't have the credentials and resources that most people have when they start a business. So I struggled a lot," Kennedy said. "I know what it was like to make many mistakes, to learn everything on my own, to educate myself and then to work through a world of being an Indigenous woman." 

Kennedy was born in Oneida Nation of the Thames, but relocated to Manor Park with her family when she was nine.

"We were known as the bad news," she said. "We carried a lot of our intergenerational trauma. And then we also gained a lot of trauma just growing up. I had to fight a lot in school just to protect myself."

But Kennedy was able to use these painful experiences, including losing three close friends in 2010 to murder and suicide, to inspire her to work in her community, first with youth, and now with aspiring businesswomen.

Sarah Beyea (left) and Michelle Baldwin (right) are part of Pillar Nonprofit Network, the organization running the Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network in southwestern Ontario. (Submitted)

"I started to realized that I need to go on my own healing journey and study myself because there wasn't much out there that was going to be able to help me with my healing," she said. "But as I was on my healing journey, I walked along with other people on their healing journeys providing resources, support, inspiration."

In addition to the network's plans to support and expand social enterprises, they're also facilitating 10 women-centred innovation training sessions for 250 people in 12 different communities.

"There will be promotion within the communities, we're working to develop different ways of reaching people in various communities as well," WOSEN's regional coordinator, Sarah Beyea, explained.

The team plans to begin their programming this winter.


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