Women Entrepreneur Icons: Francine Whiteduck
“Don’t be afraid—if you truly commit to your journey, your teachers and your helpers will always show up exactly when you need them.”
In partnership with the Coca-Cola Foundation’s 10,000 Women Entrepreneurs Initiative, Startup Canada is celebrating and spotlighting leading Canadian Women Entrepreneurs. Startup Canada was pleased to sit down with Francine Whiteduck, Founder of Whiteduck Resources Inc. to learn about their journey and the impact of their work.
Francine founded her company in 1984 and built a national reach through a network of partnerships and joint initiatives with associates, experts, and business firms. The firm has managed and delivered research, evaluation, and organizational development projects on a wide range of indigenous issues.
She has led micro-enterprise initiatives in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum to increase indigenous and rural women producers’ participation in trade; has established community-owned businesses, and has served as CEO of a network of 58 Aboriginal financial institutions across Canada.
In 2009, Francine was awarded the World of Difference Award by The International Alliance of Women for her contributions to the economic advancement of women. She won the Bank of Montreal Award for Community Development and Charitable Giving in 2017. Most recently, Francine received the Startup Canada Women Entrepreneur Award for Quebec in 2019.
SC: In one sentence, what does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
FW: Freedom, creativity, and learning!
SC: Tell us about your entrepreneurial ventures and what role they have played in your life.
FW: I started Whiteduck Resources Inc. in University and developed the company’s reach across Canada through a network of partner collaborators. Over the next several years, we forged a place in the evaluation and research sector.
We worked closely with 200 First Nation communities and organizations across Canada in our early years, creating local solutions for a range of challenges that Indigenous people were facing. In 1999, we were involved when the map of Canada was re-drawn to create Nunavut. Seeing how happy the people were to reclaim their land was a great experience.
We were also involved in an IT start-up during the dot-com days, and we took a company public on the junior exchange. Being a major shareholder in a public company is quite exciting, especially when you’re involved in building a company since day one. You learn everything from a practical point of view from finance, to governance, managing cash flow in a growing company, partner relations, to exit strategies.
I have also invested in our own community-based business with partners and have assisted some entrepreneurs in launching their businesses.
SC: What motivated or propelled you to become an entrepreneur?
FW: The influence of my parents who both ran successful businesses just seemed to grow on me.
SC: What are you most proud of related to your ventures?
FW: Whiteduck Resources Inc. is still standing 35 years after starting the business when I was in University.
It is also a humbling experience when you hear from someone that you made a difference in their life because you supported them during their startup years. Now, I am proud to be helping a new generation of young businesspeople.
SC: What inspires you to keep going?
FW: Working with Indigenous communities, it’s been exciting developing a rapport with people. The best moments of all were when we shared our ceremonies and cultural practices with each other. I’m grateful that my business has enabled me to have these experiences.
Those experiences are a reminder that there is something new to learn, every day.
SC: What is the next mountain you are climbing and what is left undone?
FW: I’ve been learning blockchain and hoping to see a wider break out of this technology.
I’ve also been reading about “platform cooperativism” and how technology is largely neutral, but its tendency is dependent on people’s values and what they choose to fight for. I’ve been working on a platform that is related to this idea.
SC: What has been your biggest learning along the way?
FW: No matter where you go in the world—we as people—are mostly the same. Women in China worry about their kids just as much and in the same way as moms everywhere worry about their kids.
One moment that always stayed with me—I was teaching a small business course and met a Métis couple in Northern Alberta who invited me to their house. They had no running water and didn’t have much in the way of material things. They shared their food with me as we worked through the afternoon on a plan for the business they wanted to start. I saw their generosity of spirit, their hopes, and their resilience as we talked and laughed together.
I have seen the same entrepreneurial qualities in my meetings with enterprise owners in Peru, Mexico, in women at Kitigan Zibi, and in so many places; I’ve seen how entrepreneurship empowers people.
SC: Have you identified or confronted any systemic barriers through your journey? If so, how have you persevered through them?
FW: My folks taught us how to just be, and not to see ourselves through any lens of constraint. It’s a lesson that’s helped me to vanquish racism, sexism and many other views I’ve faced, and not let those perceptions colour my life.
But—in terms of systemic barriers—the Indian Act has to be one of the most oppressive instruments that could be heaped onto somebody. It is a tough thing to deal with. I see entrepreneurship as an antidote to this, and I think that may be where my motivation comes from.
SC: What advice do you have for those just beginning to embark on their entrepreneurial journey?
FW: Same as what the Elders said to me—
Don’t be afraid—if you truly commit to your journey, your teachers and your helpers will always show up exactly when you need them.
My advice—be clear about what you want. Go for broke! You don’t need role models, just be yourself and be true to yourself!
SC: Where can people go to learn more about your journey and organization?
FW: They can email me.
SC: What is your big vision for Canada and the World over the next 20 years?
FW: We need to see a business model that creates and places value on local ownership and benefit because no matter what you have, or where you are—everybody in the world has been given a beautiful spot to live on the earth. We must all work to find a way to preserve it; to share it without destroying it.
Are you ready to face the world’s big challenges? Join the Startup Canada Women Entrepreneurs Network to gain access to resources, community events, and more!