Tiffany Callender never expected to work at a non-profit organization, let alone found it herself and become its CEO. However, she understands now that caring for others and working for a community was always a big motivator on her professional journey. That’s why, mid-pandemic, she created FACE, a national Black-led non-profit organization focused on providing resources and information to the Black community across Canada with the aim of accelerating wealth creation for Canadians of African descent.
Working with the Canadian Government, FACE created a Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund to help Black business owners with access to capital investments, working capital, or additional business resources for expansion, including a focus on supporting Black female founders.
Throughout her 16-year career, Tiffany has advocated for Montreal’s Black community, presented recommendations for policy change to public institutions and regularly presented sensitivity and equity training to private institutions. An inspiring member of society, she talks about the challenges faced by the community she supports and her hopes for the future.
What kind of career did you imagine for yourself later in life, and was it anything remotely close to what you’re actually doing today?
If you go back in time, I saw myself in communications. So I studied media. That was where I was going. I was determined to be the Canadian Oprah. That was the goal! And I didn’t see myself in the non-profit sector, which is interesting.
How I landed here was really an experience in college, in Québec. This was really where I started to explore how I can engage my community doing things that are of interest but can help folks. So once I got bit with that bug, the communications skills that I’ve learned or that I have naturally geared me in that direction.
I did not see myself working in the non-profit sector helping folks, but I’m glad that I got here, and I still get to use my communication skills.
Did you have any role models who served as inspiration for you, even mentors?
Absolutely! There have been women at different points of my life who have really geared me or have moulded me or mentored me towards who I think I am today. I’ll have to mention Ms. Robinson, who was the first person in elementary school who said to me, “You should be in student council”.
And she was the one who introduced me to that idea. And I would say that that was probably my first exposure to community. I just didn’t know that’s what it was called. But I was playing a leadership role in my school’s community. And I think that probably was the first one. And all along the way, my first job was at a Community Day Camp, which is a woman who led that program as well. So I think women have helped me to see that this is the path that I should be on in terms of playing a leadership role in developing solutions and pathways to access for equity seeking groups and in particular the black community.
And that also allowed me to work with many, many women throughout my career.
When did the idea to launch FACE come to you?
I was working in the non-profit sector my whole adult life, working in Montreal, specifically serving the black community. And one of the things in working with community – and that could range from any demographics, youth, children, seniors, adults – is that you really get to see the gaps in services or support for folks to achieve different outcomes they want for themselves.
Starting a business was definitely one. I worked on a project that helped black English-speaking business owners in my province, and I saw that the need is there and there’s always been a barrier to access capital.
There was also barrier to accessing support in terms of information and capacity building. So that was something that I was acutely aware of. When the pandemic hit, and we were now looking at what we were facing as a society, we naturally thought about the businesses in our community and how they would be affected.
And what would be the gaps in the support that they would need to weather the storm of the pandemic? This is where the conversation began with other leaders in my community to develop the idea of FACE and to work with the government to bring about a solution that was not pandemic specific, but addressing a longstanding issue and to extend that across the country.
What is your top advice to entrepreneurs who are setting up their first entrepreneurial project or a new entrepreneurial project?
The main conversation our team has with entrepreneurs is to surround yourself with the right information and the network that can help you understand your vision and put it on paper – a business plan. And understanding how you’re going to grow your business, the market that you’re in your numbers, your projections.
You have to know your business inside out. At FACE, although we finance companies, we want to make sure that we are also part of an ecosystem where entrepreneurs can have the proper support to be able to build out their vision and build their business case.
Get in a community or into an ecosystem that’ll allow for you to get the best information and develop your capacity to build a strong company.
When you do obtain financing, you are ready to manage that. You’re managing the debt, you’re managing your growth, you’re making good decisions. And then this is how we can see a lot of companies flourish. Think a lot of the time companies or founders and owners develop their companies in silos, and that is, again, when you’re systemically excluded.
From the different networks that would allow for you to have access to this information. This is sometime the result. So by encouraging entrepreneurs to be a part of healthy ecosystems that are invested in them succeeding and making sure that they have good information, good practices to set up their businesses, this is the advice that we give.
What are your recommendations for entrepreneurs when they’re looking to create that support group around them?
I always say that asking questions is imperative to be able to find out where you need to be. Being plugged into information and being able to ask questions to people who have gone on the journey before.
That’s a part of, again, being a part of a network, but finding the right network for you and finding the right ecosystem for you. It’s looking out for people who’ve been on the journey before, so they can give you a roadmap of where you can be, where you can get relevant information.
We ensure that we bring to our community, whether it’s our social media or our newsletter, the different networks that exist for businesses so that they can plug themselves in. Because it’s not obvious and evident if you’re just starting up, or you’re in a transition out of corporate and into the entrepreneurial space.
It’s a huge ecosystem, and you might not know where to go or how to start. So we try to act as a bridge to those different organizations or different networks that would allow for you to ask questions. And through the questions, you will then be able to get more information and identify where you can be engaged to then have the opportunity to build with people who are like-minded.
Not everybody is an entrepreneur, but entrepreneurs who are engaged and want to move forward and grow have to hang out with other entrepreneurs.
What does leadership mean for you?
Leadership for me definitely means working with others. The Federation of African Canadian Economics is also known as the FACE Coalition and the idea of being able to come together with others who have the same vision as you or want to see the same outcomes or create opportunities for your community… That, for me, is the definition of leadership.
How well do you work with others? How well you take from other people’s expertise and what they bring to the table and find a way to coordinate that and make it advantageous for others is important.
Leadership is also knowing that you don’t have to know everything. It’s important for you to be open to learn from others and let others take different types of leadership positions in developing a strategy like ours, which is national. In its scope, there’s so much capacity that has been developed in different regions across the country, serving different communities and their particular needs, that you have to be open to hearing from others and allowing them to play a leadership role in the strategy.
Sometimes leadership means being in front and guiding where the strategy is going, and other times it’s supporting others to guide us to the next step or the next milestone.
What is success for you? And how do you measure success in your life?
Success is about making the world a better place for others. For me, the greatest opportunity that I’ve had in this career is to say that every action that we’ve taken, every project that I’ve worked on, every organization that I’ve had a chance to contribute, have made a difference in other people’s lives.
And I think success is also the opportunity, as a mom, to demonstrate that for my children so that they have a social blueprint to remember that you can absolutely create a vision for yourself. Be a part of a particular company or group, but you also have to think about how you’re positively impacting the world and giving some of your time to think about others.
So, for me, success is making sure that you’re able to make a positive impact.
You’re combining your professional life, your life as a mom, and you work with a lot of entrepreneurs who are moms. What is your advice to them typically when it comes to finding balance or even trying to understand what balance is?
The thing I had to learn personally is that you reset every day. There is no real way to say that balance will occur all the time or consistently. During your day, you have your goals that you have to achieve, whether it’s certain tasks that you have to complete in your business, or obligations and commitments that you have in your personal life.
Then there’s you, which a lot of women put on the back burner while we serve our families and build our companies. In those two different spaces, you have people that you are answering to, and are responsible for and that often clouds and shades. Where am I in all of this? Am I taking the time for me to be able to rest, recuperate, and build a strong centre to be able to accomplish all of these things? So I would say that it’s a very strange myth that has been sold in terms of work-life balance.
What I tell myself is that I reset every day. I set my priorities, I set out to what I’m going to achieve, and if I don’t set out to do what I wanted to do that day, there’s tomorrow, and you can reprioritize and reset yourself to be able to achieve those goals. Don’t move too hard and fast on milestones and getting things done. You have to be gentle with yourself and be able to know that you have the flexibility to respond.
What’s one thing you wish women would do more of and one thing you wish women would do less of?
I wish that women would not doubt themselves so much. Do not underestimate yourself. There’s so many natural skills that women come with, and through our experience living in this world, that are transferable to being effective and successful founders and business owners. Stop doubting yourself.
What I wish women would do more of is being bold. Be the person who will cold call someone or ask the question or stand up in a forum and present their ideas and their thoughts. There’s so much wonder when women are in a space and they’re able to share what they’re building or what they’re aspiring to do. It is powerful.
I hope more women are bold in their action and that they find networks where that is encouraged, and they find spaces where they can hone that skill. So when they get in a grand stage in front of many people, they’re able to shine the way that we know that they do when we are fortunate enough to be in those spaces with them.
I would say, do not discount yourself and doubt yourself. Do that a lot less and be much more bold. Be bolder in terms of what you want to do and what you want to achieve.