Toronto·Our Toronto

How a 26-year-old woman became the president of the Economic Club of Canada

Ahead of an anticipated conversation the Economic Club of Canada will host with former U.S. President Barack Obama on Jan. 23, the club's president, Rhiannon Rosalind, sat down with Our Toronto to speak about her journey to the top.

Rhiannon Rosalind, now 35, took over the top spot at the club in 2011

Rhiannon Rosalind, the president, CEO and owner of the Economic Club of Canada, took over the leadership role at the age of 26. (Submitted by the Economic Club of Canada)

When Rhiannon Rosalind was offered the top job at the Economic Club of Canada in 2011, the 26-year-old hesitated.

She worried people wouldn't accept her in that role at a company that offers a national forum for top political leaders, power brokers and influencers who want to introduce new ideas and speak about public policy.

But those are the kind of conversations Rosalind knew she could tackle, and tackle well, so she didn't hesitate for long.

"I've been betting on myself for a long time," she said. 

"Since I was 15-years-old I bet on me, and I bet on me that day."

That bet has led to an already stellar career for the now 35-year-old, with Rosalind landing conversations for the club with several influential leaders, such as former First Lady Michelle Obama, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney — all the while raising up young people from around the city. 

Rosalind brought Michelle Obama to Toronto in 2017 to speak about advancing women and girls to change the world. (Submitted by the Economic Club of Canada)

It's an important aspect of the job to her. As a teen, she had to pull herself out of drug and alcohol addiction, as well as reset her eduction after dropping out of high school. 

"I wanted to be that social enterprise model and be able to take some of the revenue generated from the economic club side and create programming for young people that grew up like me that just didn't see themselves fitting into business or Bay Street or anything of the sort," she said

Ahead of an anticipated conversation Rosalind and the club will host with former U.S. President Barack Obama on Jan. 23, she sat down with Our Toronto to speak about her journey to the top. 

You can watch her conversation with host Marivel Taruc below or read on to find out more.

Our Toronto sits down with Economic Club of Canada President Rhiannon Rosalind

CBC News Toronto

2 years ago
8:20
Rhiannon Rosalind became President, CEO and Owner of the Economic Club of Canada at just 26-years-old. Our Toronto host Marivel Taruc spoke to her about her journey. 8:20

'It's a platform for anybody'

Rosalind grew-up with a single mother, she said, and addiction issues followed her throughout her childhood.

"That definitely coloured some of my world," she said.

"A lot of confusion started to kind of set in and I started hanging around a crowd of people who were also sort of broken, and by Grade 10, I was fully kicked out of school, so failed my entire year, was deeply involved with drugs and alcohol."

Rosalind, left, said she faced several obstacles as a teen, including alcohol and drug addiction. (Submitted by Rhiannon Rosalind)

In her teens, Rosalind said she experienced an "aha' moment when she woke up after a night of partying.

"I saw something in my eyes, a hollowness in my eyes that shouldn't be in the eyes of a young 15-year-old girl, and I just recognized it."

She raced out of her apartment with a journal and a pen in hand, writing down goals for herself for the first time. Among them, becoming the first person in her family to get an education.

Armed with determination and the support of her family, including her grandmother, Rosalind made her school's honour roll and was voted most dedicated student. 

Rosalind graduated from Ryerson University after studying economics and feminist theory. (Submitted by Rhiannon Rosalind)

She continued on to Ryerson University where she studied economics and feminist theory.

A few weeks before graduation, Rosalind decided to speak about her struggles as part of a panel on corporate Canada's role in the alleviation of poverty.

Little did she know that the talk would chart a whole new course in her life.

"It was there that day that one of the founding board members of the Economic Club of Toronto was actually in the room and he came up to me and said, 'Wow, you are an incredible young woman,' and, 'We are looking for an entry-level position to be filled at the Economic Club of Toronto.'" 

She followed through and was hired in 2008.

She answered phones, stayed late and even cleaned up the office on weekends. Rosalind said senior management began to notice her dedication.

"I was keeping notes in a little notebook at the side of my desk of ideas that I had, but I didn't want to come in and start saying, 'I've got an idea for this and I think we should change this.' So I just worked hard. Kept my ... head down, focused on my job."

Among her ideas — changing the name of the Economic Club of Toronto to the Economic Club of Canada as well as going after higher profile speakers.

Rosalind received more and more responsibilities, including becoming the interim boss in 2011 when then-CEO Mark Adler decided to run in the federal election.

When he won, Rosalind's life changed again. She became president and CEO of the club at 26.

"I really worried ... I just couldn't change my age, I couldn't change my size. I sound the way I sound. I mean the whole thing was just not what people would expect," she said.

"I also had just had my first child. So it was trying to figure out, do I even do this?"

When Rosalind took the job of president and CEO, she said at first she disguised herself in what she thought might be a more acceptable look, including wearing glasses. (Submitted by the Economic Club of Canada)

She took the role, but she still had insecurities to overcome.

A few years into the position, she started wearing glasses and "dressing older," making herself look more like the CEO she thought others would expect.  

"Instead of owning who I was, knowing that I was fantastic at my job and that I had incredible ideas and overcome many obstacles and challenges to be where I was."

Rosalind started the Jr. Economic Club of Canada to help young people become more financially literate. (Submitted by the Economic Club of Canada)

But she did settle in, and soon after started the Jr. Economic Club of Canada to introduce young people facing life challenges to the business world.

Since then, the Economic Club has created even more programs to unify and empower youth. 

"They've got the ideas and they're starting to understand that," she said.

One of the leaders coming to speak at the club, Barack Obama on Jan. 23.

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau with Rosalind at an Economic Club of Canada talk in 2018 about equality. (Submitted by the Economic Club of Canada)

The former U.S. president is kicking off a series called, "The Future of Work and The New Economy," another big get for Rosalind.

"We're a non-partisan platform. I'm not dictating who comes to speak — of course, I have those that I want and am targeting — but it's a platform for anybody. It's a platform for any leader to come through and share an idea. If it's a respectful exchange of knowledge, it's important."

With files from Marivel Taruc

now