Robyn Cyr, Carmen Massey, Kari Wilkinson, Caroline Grover, Jenna Robins are the team behind the Shuswap’s Tsuts’weye Women’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Network. (Kristal Burgess photo)

Tsuts’weye project positioned to help Shuswap business women through pandemic

Tsuts'weye Women's Entrepreneur and Innovation Network has busy first year

Everything has changed, but nothing has changed.

For Carmen Massey, this quote, a favourite of hers, became more pertinent with the arrival of COVID-19.

The Tsuts’weye Women’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Network project manager said if anything, the pandemic has only amplified challenges facing women in business. Thankfully, the foundation for the program, now into its second year, was set before the pandemic hit and, while some changes were required to comply with health restrictions, it has been able to deliver needed supports.

“We couldn’t have known a pandemic was coming and how critical a project like this could be in our community…,” said Massey, noting public response to the program has been phenomenal, but she believes that would have happened regardless of COVID. Because again, while everything has changed…

Massey explained there are four pillars, four key ways the Tsuts’weye Women’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Network offers support to women: through a mentor and consultant program; providing network opportunities; creating and facilitating training and skill development opportunities; and marketing the strength of women entrepreneurs in the community.

With the networking aspect, Massey said COVID necessitated smaller group gatherings and the addition of more online workshops and programs.

“It started out with much more face to face…,” said Massey. “That is more fulfilling, it’s more enjoyable.”

Massey said in-person workshops are still happening, albeit with reduced numbers in attendance.

“We’re trying to provide opportunities for face to face within very strict protocols but we’ll see how things go and if we have to, we always have a back up plan,” said Massey.

The word “tsuts’weye” means butterfly in Secwepemc. Massey explained this refers to the “butterfly effect,” the transformation that occurs when women are empowered and the far-reaching effects that can have. The program itself is a three-year initiative funded through Western Economic Diversification Canada, and facilitated locally through Community Futures Shuswap.

In its first year, the program and its various services and supports were utilized by 91 women in the Shuswap.

“Obviously, at COVID time, we saw a lot of people wanting to pivot their businesses online and restructuring,” said Massey. “We had quite a few women contact us just because they were struggling to just stay open with all the uncertainty and the stress.”

In addition to being a resource, the Tsuts’weye Women’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Network also celebrates businesswomen in the Shuswap, of which about 70 are included on the Tsuts’weye Network’s website.

Looking ahead, Massey said there is still much work to be done. One focus for the coming year will be diversity.

“We’re committed to making all four of those pillars accessible and reflective of diverse women, so young women, indigenous women, Metis women, new Canadian and refugee women, LGBTQ women, rural women, there’s a lot of barriers to women just being rural in business and having access to capital, access to services, access to expertise.

“We have a long way to go with diversity this coming year, our commitment is to making our project truly diverse and addressing the needs of diverse communities in the Shuswap…”

Coming up in November, the Tsuts’weye Women’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Network will be offering a program to support indigenous women in tourism.

More information about the Tsuts’weye Women’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Network can be found at tsutsweye.ca, and on the network’s Facebook page.

Read more: Inspirational sessions set for female entrepreneurs in the Shuswap

Read more: New project to support women entrepreneurs launched in Shuswap

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