A conversation can change your world. Bell Canada gets the power of conversations. Bell’s 2015 Let’s Talk Campaign raised $6.1 million for mental health initiatives. In September, George Cope, Bell’s CEO (and #4 on Toronto Life’s list of Toronto’s 50 Most Influential People) announced Bell would commit another $100 million to the project over the next 5 years.
The essence of the campaign is about encouraging everyone to join the conversation about mental health and to break the silence and stigma. It recognizes the power to influence attitudes by talking about how mental illness touches us all in some way directly or through a friend, family member or colleague. These are powerful conversations that can and are changing lives. Bell is to be applauded for this incredible community investment initiative.
Early in my career, I worked at Canadian Tire when cause-related marketing campaigns like Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign were in their infancy. On my first day, I was handed a concept paper proposing a national charitable initiative with a focus on child protection shared jointly by dealers and the “Corporation” (the company’s home office). My role was to bring the concept to life, to roll programming out across the country and to eventually source funding from the dealers for program support. I was 26, just married, new to the corporate world and very politically naïve. But I was driven, I believed in possibility, and I had energy to burn. I also knew how to have a conversation. So that’s where I started.
That first year I travelled across Canada to have hundreds of conversations with Canadian Tire dealers from Newfoundland to British Columbia. There were ups and downs and days when I just cried. It was a ‘start-up’ initiative. But I persevered. Seeds of possibility were planted and thanks to the power of conversation and relationship-building, support for the program grew. Eventually we established The Canadian Tire Child Protection Foundation and fostered relationships with Parent-Teacher Groups as well as Fire and Police Services across the country. When I left seven years later, the company had established formal relationships with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Fire Protection Association, the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office and the Canadian Red Cross, to name a few.
A change in leadership, corporate priorities and a shifting competitive landscape naturally meant this charitable initiative would also inevitably change. Today, Canadian Tire’s Jump Start charity continues to touch communities across the country and is supported by a national infrastructure that was unimaginable almost 25 years ago. But it all started with a conversation and a belief in possibility.
Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated The Mane Intent’s first anniversary. Throughout the year I have been reminded on more than one occasion of my Canadian Tire ‘start-up’ experience. The Mane Intent is also in ‘start-up.’ This was my year to figure it out – the what, the how and who. The Mane Intent is a venture that represents a culmination of many life experiences – personal and professional – and my own walk with horses. The essence of the business is about helping others discover ways to nurture and strengthen interpersonal connections, find connection and meaning in a busy life, unearth personal talents, gifts and creativity, and live life fully with an open heart. With my own heart (and my wallet) fully vested in the business, there have naturally been extreme highs and lows. There have been wins and losses, and conversations with a variety of people (and even a few horses) as the business gets grounded and rooted, ready to grow.
One particular conversation has opened the door to a relationship I could not have even imagined twelve months ago. While visiting a neighbour, by chance I met the Clinical Manager for PTSD and Trauma Services at Bellwood Health Services in Toronto. Bellwood is an international leader in addiction treatment with over 30 years of experience and is a preferred provider of the Canadian Forces and Veteran’s Affairs Canada for the concurrent treatment of Addiction and PTSD since 2005. Program participants typically include members of the military, veterans, RCMP members, or first responders seeking to recover from these dual challenges and reclaim their life.
We chatted briefly about our offering of equine experiential learning and the growing evidence that suggests that working with horses in this way is benefitting vets and others who are on a journey towards Post Traumatic Growth. I invited him and another team member to the farm to experience for themselves the insights horses naturally unearth for personal and professional development. Their experience opened the door to possibility. Another conversation ensued and a decision was made to host a workshop for a group of Bellwood PTSD program “graduates” who were coming to the area for a Bellwood-hosted retreat.
Ten veterans arrived at the farm in October for a day with the herd. The experience was a memorable one for both participants and facilitators. Horses and humans connected – reluctantly at first – but as the day progressed – a shift happened. Relationships evolved, the walls came down and personal insight emerged. In the absence of an agenda or expectations, the horses did what they do most naturally, reflecting back the behaviour of their human partners and opening the door for words that needed to be said and emotions expressed. It was an honour to witness and share this experience with each participant as they moved from a place of post-traumatic stress to a new level of post-traumatic growth.
As the day progressed, I felt my own shift happening. While there have been many ‘firsts’ for The Mane Intent, this day was the experience that defined my year. I saw what’s really possible when you connect people to horse power. It was profound. It was personally moving and I knew I am doing exactly what I was meant to do – personally and professionally at this time.
So a special shout out to a particular person at Bellwood Health Services for having the vision for being open to possibility. Since that original conversation, another group of veterans and first responders visited the farm for a day of equine experiential learning. It was equally moving and profound for all. More visits are planned in the future. A relationship is taking shape. I am so delightfully grateful for all of it.
No doubt these two experiences were defining moments for me. Both grew from an unexpected conversation. They were the validation I needed to keep going and to continue moving forward – even if the future is not clear and the trail will likely be a little rocky. 2015 was a year defined by courage and change. 2016 will be our year to have the courageous conversations and to cultivate the relationships that will help us grow. I hope you are part of the dialogue. A new year represents a renewed commitment to continue exploring each nugget of possibility created when horses and humans connect with intent. Are you ready to explore what’s possible? Come for a visit to meet our herd or visit us at themaneintent.ca.