SDG Impact Icons: Maayan Ziv
“You can do good and do well, at the same time.”
In partnership with Employment and Social Development Canada, each month, Startup Canada is celebrating and putting the spotlight on a leading Canadian social innovator driving change in one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Startup Canada was pleased to sit down with Maayan Ziv, Founder & CEO of AccessNow to learn about their impact on SDG 10—Reduced Inequalities.
Living with Muscular Dystrophy, Maayan is a passionate and relentless advocate for creating a more accessible and inclusive world. In 2018, Maayan was named one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada by WXN and is the proud recipient of the City of Toronto Access Award, the Startup Canada National Resilient Entrepreneur of the Year Award and several other notable awards in recognition of her innovative solutions and commitment to improving the lives of people of all abilities. Maayan also acts as an advisor to the Government of Canada on disability and inclusion initiatives and sits on the boards of the Toronto Arts Council and the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto.
SC: In one sentence, what does your organization do?
MZ: AccessNow connects people with information about the accessibility of places and experiences around the world.
SC: How does your work advance SDG 10—Reduced Inequalities?
MZ: We provide people with free access to information that empowers them to live more independently and reduce anxiety about navigation.
The world isn’t fully accessible—and we have a long way to go before it is. But what we can do is equip people who do need information about access, about where they can go barrier-free so they’re not constantly experiencing those frustrations with inequality in our environment.
SC: What motivated you to build AccessNow?
MZ: AccessNow began with my own experience as someone using a wheelchair. I am constantly facing barriers when I go to places, and whether that’s a step or a broken elevator or any kind of lack of access that I need—AccessNow was a personal response to solving that problem. So, finding places that are accessible without constantly needing to research for hours ahead of time, or show up at places and face unknown obstacles.
SC: What impact are you most proud of?
MZ: Starting from Toronto, we very quickly grew to over 34 countries. What is most exciting for me—is actually the small moments. I’m touched by the stories that people share with us about being able to go on a date and have information that makes them feel empowered to do that with more confidence, or travel to a new city and learn about the access that’s there, or even being able to find information about an office building that was accessible so they could apply for a job.
These are the kinds of stories that really remind me how important the work that we do is. It’s really just providing people with the tools to do what they want to do naturally.
SC: What inspires you to keep going? Serving individuals or building a bigger library of information?
MZ: It’s a bit of both, you know? There’s really an incredible magic that comes from building a community—and we’ve seen that! We’ve seen people rally together and map areas of the city, or join us in an event.
This collective voice that’s coming out of AccessNow about accessibility being important, and accessibility being interesting, and fun—those components are very rewarding. But I think when I hear from a person with a specific story, it’s just so much more tangible—and it’s really special that people are even motivated to share them.
SC: What is the next mountain you are climbing and what is left undone?
MZ: We’re in a really exciting growth period. We’re looking at how we can expand our technology, reach more people, and collect more information. Because a lot of our information is crowd-sourced, we’re really focused on building up our community to the next level, connecting with Canadians across the country to act as leads or ambassadors. So it’s an exciting challenge for the company; expanding and scaling are really exciting opportunities for any entrepreneur.
SC: What has been your biggest learning along the way?
MZ: I think people have this idea of entrepreneurship and that it comes in a pre-packaged box. You know, you raise money at a certain time and you work with certain kinds of people. There’s a preconceived narrative and a timeline that most people expect. I have been quite an unconventional entrepreneur—from the beginning, I guess—but I’ve learned to see the strength and the confidence in that. Every journey is different, and I’m still learning that I don’t have to do things the way another person did to be successful.
SC: How has being impact-driven helped you to persevere and thrive?
MZ: AccessNow is 100% mission-oriented. We’re a purpose-driven company—and I think that is the guiding arrow that helps us align; if the work that we’re doing matters, and if the work that we’re doing is the right work to do. Knowing that whatever we’re focused on needs to have impact—needs to drive our mission forward—helps us to align in terms of who we bring on board to work with us as a team, how we design our products, how we communicate with people, and ultimately in terms of the energy we’re putting forward.
SC: What advice do you have for Canadian entrepreneurs looking to advance the Sustainable Development Goals with their businesses?
MZ: I think that a lot of people think you have to do one or the other. You have to either help change the world and be purpose-driven, or you’re driving a business forward and focusing on profits. This new generation understands that you can do good and do well, at the same time.
The more we build businesses that focus on the Sustainable Development Goals, the closer we are to realizing the world we want. If you’re going to spend upwards of 40 hours a week doing something, why not work on something that can contribute positively to the world?
SC: Where can people go to learn more about your journey and organization?
MZ: You can go to AccessNow.ca to learn more.
SC: What is your big vision for Canada and the World over the next 20 years?
MZ: My big vision for Canada is that we realize a Canada that reflects the people that live in it, and supports each person equally and with the right approach. I think inclusion is something we talk about a lot, but in order to really achieve inclusion, we have to meet people where they are. People work differently, speak differently, communicate differently—and I think that that’s one of the beautiful things about the diversity we see in Canada.
So now it’s our job to actually realize that inclusion, and I think that starts with removing barriers. In the built environment, but also in our communication strategies and the way we hire so that we reduce those inequalities and actually achieve Canada where people can reach their full potential.
I think we have all the secret sauce to lead by example, and we just have to have the confidence and the stamina to do it. I think we’re starting to see those changes, and I’m really ready to bust that wide open and take bold strides.
SC: What final piece of advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to grow their impact and grow their business?
MZ: My final piece of advice would be for people to follow what they believe in and not worry so much about what people might think or say. It’s really hard when you start to do something when you don’t have validation yet, and you don’t have money, and you don’t have resources to keep going. That first step is having a ‘keep-on-going-mentality’.
If you’ve identified a real problem in the world, and you’re passionate to solve it, there’s nothing better than then following that lead because it can lead to so much opportunity.
Have you identified a real-world problem that you’re passionate to solve? Join the Startup Canada Social Impact Network to gain access to social enterprise programming online and on-the-ground.