Nicole's Rotary Story

I won’t bore you with the details of how I got to this point because most of you know the story. It goes like this; parents are from the country of Georgia, immigrant Doukhobors (Veregin, Sask 1979), 2ndoldest of 7, grew up on a farm then headed east to Toronto for school (furthest ever since that one time we had gone to Winnipeg to meet Mario Lemieux at the “last” Winnipeg Jets game). From there, I took Business with a major in International Marketing. Since that time, I have been an Event Producer for 12 years and I own 3 Sugar Plum Marketing & Events locations (in Toronto, Thunder Bay Ontario and Edmonton).
See? Not nearly as exciting as the likes of others, so I digress. 
What most do not know, is my Rotary story or how it has shaped my business model or successes as an Award Winning Event Producer. 
At the age of 15, a friend of mine was the babysitter of the man that owned Haas Nissan in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. This man was also a Rotarian. While babysitting one day, he told her about a week-long summer leadership camp that was a scholarship opportunity for 1 student from the entire city. This student would go on to represent the city at the camp. Of course, when she told me about this, I was immediately all in! I had never heard of anything quite like this and even though I was on Student Council, in the city, we have never had a “leadership development” opportunity. I knew right then that I didn’t know what I didn’t know and that I sure wanted to learn! 
I applied along with a pile of other students, interviewed, presented and then the call came. I was in! Except I didn’t tell my parents that I applied and I knew that they would be happy, but would expect that I found a substitute for the week of farm work I’d be missing. So I got my ducks in a row; I “hired” my friend to help at the farm as my back up plan (and she worked for a pile of half-used nail polishes- at that age we had a small fortune invested into all the best kinds- scented, glitter, glow in the dark, and my collection was envied so I knew it was a good bargaining chip!), I created an entire presentation for my parents that anticipated their comments, questions and concerns so that they were only left with one comment- “yes”. And it worked. I packed my bags for the first time ever and met the yellow bus filled with a ton of students (complete strangers) that had already been picked up. I’ll never forget seeing the huge trees and the smell of diesel and pine trees. I felt like the most independent person on the planet. I knew that regardless of what the week would bring, I had already learned the most important things.. that I was independent, adaptable and thrived with others that were motivated by leading. On that 6 hour ride on our yellow bus without suspension, we became friends with people that we would never forget.  Among these were Kooney, Jennifer, Lindsay, Stephanie & Denise. The 5 people that I would be assigned a cabin to share and initiatives to lead.
 I’ll spare you the in-between details of the camp but will say that through the opportunity to lead, learn about ourselves and our strengths, mentor and be mentored, the 6 of us left this camp as entirely different and more empowered people. We said that what we really wanted was to travel and help empower others around the world by connecting them to their success through their own strengths. And when I left for the 401 of doom to Toronto, so did they. We stayed on campus, then rent a home together and graduated together. We decided that for the rest of our lives, God willing, we’d travel to a different country each summer and teach communities how to prosper through strategic international partnerships. And we did. Each year, the 6 of us, RLYA alumni, traveled to another part of the world helping locals create business plans that worked for their country’s NGO and government funding models. We created websites and branding and helped them to better understand how to ensure a fair and mutually beneficial relationship with tourism. The idea was to give them the tools and empowerment to work together with all sides, benefit their families, the community and the world, but remain true to their culture and core values without becoming a global employee. We wanted them to own their success and create a sustainable future for them and their families.
The 4 Way Test was something that we recited daily at our camp breakfasts and the 6 of us knew that without a doubt, it was the way we already lived our lives and that it was not something we would be willing to compromise on. 4/6 now work for others whose company values reflect the same and 2/6 of us went on to start our own businesses where through our core values, we have been able to not only do good in the community but mentor and empower staff, clients, associations, and industries to do the same. Through fair, mindful, mutually beneficial and ethical business, we have each been able to create an empire we are proud of. 
Our culture and core values became our immune system through the toughest business days ahead. Where others did not survive recessions, PR nightmares and the next shiny thing; we have always remained strong and had we not learned what we learned about ourselves that week during RYLA, our entire lives would look very different.  Moving into the next chapter of my life as an “off-white”, young, pregnant female in business, I know that it will be the value and quality of care that will take us through the “public perception” years to come.
After returning from RYLA, we didn’t have an Interact Club to turn to so the Rotary Club picked me up as a “youth ambassador” and allowed me to continue growing and learning through various Rotary experiences. When my youth exchange to South Korea was canceled, my club initiated a clinic build in Guatemala for me and the other students that were to exchange to South Korea to take part in. A clinic that I then revisited in the summer of 2014 and stood proudly as we hitchhiked with grateful residents past the Rotary Wheel that was set in stone on the way to our taxi boat. 
In August it will be 19 years since I first started a partnership with Rotary and regardless of where I travel, where I live or where I work, I always connect with Rotary Clubs. Rotary has not only shaped me, it has become my family (although at times, dysfunctional in all the right ways).
Rotary has shaped my business, company core values and ethical practices: 
  • The brand is more than a logo or colour scheme, it’s the promise of an experience
  • All clients must fall within the 80% corporate social responsibility scale
Corporate Social Responsibility is much easier than you realise and extends far beyond “recycling” after an event. Here are just some of the ways our clients have achieved an 80%-100% score:
  • If calling on volunteers, provide a workshop to identify their skill set and offer training and mentorship for the event process
  • Rather than asking for volunteers, consider compensation to help build the economy
  • Mind the water, electricity and food waste consumption
  • Donate extra food to a shelter or flash freeze for food banks
  • Opt for glass or reusable items rather than disposable
  • Opt for a water station vs bottled water
  • Produce promotional material on recycled materials or produce in a generic way so as to reuse at future events
  • Opt for apps vs paper or use the audiovisuals as a way to direct crowds and offer event support
  • Offer alternative transportation or host your event in a central location in walking distance or close to a transit station
  • Source products locally made
  • Opt for farm to stable menu items
  • Donate a portion of the event to a local not for profit
  • Hire youth, at-risk patrons and indigenous skilled trade workers as event support
  • Offer solutions to the challenges in the community as a whole or the neighbourhood when planning your event
  • Cross promote with local supporters
  • Stream the event live for a fee rather than all attendees flying to the location
  • Offer tickets for youth to attend the event and build their skill sets or expand ideas
  • Decreasing waste increases sustainability
  • Repurpose event décor and centerpieces
  • Offer community initiatives as a pledge item, draw prize or auction item (ie: turning centerpieces into wreaths during a workshop with a seniors facility, work with youth and create bouquets for the “forgotten soldiers” )
  • Promote your sustainability efforts at your event to encourage guests to join the initiatives and influence change
  • Producing financially feasible events that are balanced for all stakeholders 
  • Produce events in unique venues (green buildings, sustainable practices, outdoor venues- bonus, team build with unique 
  • Sourcing fair trade and ethically produced products
  • Hosting a ticketless event
  • Ensure all contracts that are signed are “fair to all concerned”
  • Align with partners that reflect similar social responsibility goals
  • Leave the space and people better than you found them
There are a thousand ways that your event could easily achieve a minimum 80% score. Whether it’s a special event, community event, school initiative or wedding, we have been able to help all of our willing clients create events that offer an experience to remember AND one that they can be proud of!