What is a Chamber of Commerce?
A Chamber of Commerce is an organization with a goal to further the interests of the businesses they serve and to advocate at all levels of government for the interests of their members.
CanWCC is the first – and only – Chamber of Commerce for women-identified and non-binary business owners in Canada. (Before 2017, we didn’t exist, so there’s a lot of catching up to do). As a chamber of commerce, we represent your needs with the government. Our position and title as a chamber gives us access to people who impact change.
We’re working hard to make the change you deserve now- not in 100 years.
Why does Canada need a Women's Chamber of Commerce?
Women and non-binary entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs deserve the same opportunity to reach their full economic potential as men and people who traditionally hold power do. While there is a Canadian Chamber of Commerce, we know not everyone feels welcome, seen, or heard there. CanWCC is here to prioritize the needs of women and non-binary entrepreneurs. Not make them an afterthought.
In 2015, CanWCC founder Nancy Wilson left the security of the corporate world behind in favour of the freedom, flexibility and possibility of entrepreneurship.
She set out as a freelance accountant serving women-owned businesses – but discovered quickly that being a woman entrepreneur in Canada came with some significant challenges and barriers.
She heard her own frustrations reflected back to her time and again through her clients – and couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t seem to translate to the male ‘experience’ of entrepreneurship.
At the same time, Nancy was looking for community – but found the vast majority of networking groups targeted to women were lacking in the substance she was looking for - real tools for growth and valuable connections that were useful for her business.
So she decided to do something about it – and, in 2018, The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC) was born.
We’re building networks of women on the ground growing successful businesses.
We give you a chance to participate and contribute your voice and experience to building a new strategy for women in business.
We take this strategy as an advocacy agenda to policy makers and demand that they address systemic challenges to create lasting change.
Resources, discounts, and referrals from our partner network to achieve your goals.
We have a ‘come as you are’ philosophy
We believe that women-identified entrepreneurs and business owners are competent, innovative, and ambitious.
You do not need to be fixed - the system does.
Our team works every day to connect our members with the information and resources they need to succeed – on their terms – while advocating for the removal of systemic barriers to growth.
CanWCC is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE).
We value: Community & Connection
We believe that business and community interests are not mutually exclusive. Just as businesses rely on community resources, they also have a responsibility to give back to the communities that support them.
We strive to promote, elevate and nurture cultural values, wellness and businesses that sustain both our communities and ourselves.
We believe in providing inclusive access to CanWCC’s programs, services, and resources and value the work done by all persons involved with the organization, both tangible and intangible.
We recognize the diverse experiences of newly immigrated, racialized, Indigenous, LGBTQIA2S+, gender non-binary, francophone, Northern and rural, low-income, young and senior women, and women with disabilities. We seek input from these communities to ensure programs, services, and resources provide equitable support to all women in business.
We value: Collaboration
We choose to focus on complementing, rather than competing with, services, resources, and organizations in Canada’s business ecosystem. We value mutual benefit for all parties in all partnerships with members, sponsors, partner organizations, governments and the public.
We believe that compassion and empathy are the building blocks of connection and value the humanity, autonomy, and independence of all individuals.
Honestly, inclusion, and openness are essential to creating connection, and we strive to live these values in all interactions with members, sponsors, partners, governments and the public.
We value transparency and openness in our partnerships with members, sponsors, partner organizations, government and the public, and strive to be transparent in all communications. All advocacy, policies, programs, resources, and services are non-partisan.
We value: Change
We strive to ensure CanWCC remains responsive to changes in the Canadian business ecosystem and member-voiced concerns. We will remain open to change and relevant to our membership for the lifetime of the organization.
Ashleigh Gilbert-Lonsdale, a resident of Peterborough, ON, originally from Kingston/Sydenham, brings a unique blend of academic prowess and practical experience to the world of finance. Armed with a BSc in Psychology from Trent University and a current pursuit of an Accounting Diploma from Sir Sanford Fleming, Ashleigh has over a decade of accounting expertise.
Founder of “AGL Bookkeeping and Virtual Assistance,” Ashleigh transitioned from a corporate Operations Manager role to entrepreneurship, driven by a commitment to creating a more inclusive environment, especially for women. This is why Ashleigh is especially excited to begin working with CanWCC.
Certified with various accounting and bookkeeping credentials, including QBO Pro Advisor, Ashleigh’s skills are matched by her passion for causes like human rights, climate activism, and animal welfare. In her downtime, she indulges in reading, art, games, and relaxation with her feline companions.
Beyond the professional realm, Ashleigh aspires to own a hobby farm filled with rescued animals. This dedication extends to her volunteer work with the Peterborough Humane Society, aligning her values with hands-on contributions to animal welfare.
Join Ashleigh on a journey where numbers meet empathy, and every balance sheet tells a story.
Chief Operating Officer
Catherine is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, consultant, and writer. A graduate of The University of Western Ontario Master of Arts program, she started her career in marketing in the entertainment industry before finding her home in management. Catherine has been a successful retail store manager, sales manager, hiring manager, and training manager.
On the entrepreneurship side, Catherine founded and built FitIn, a marketplace-enterprise software solution for the fitness and wellness industry. She has also supported small business owners in a consultant capacity for over 20 years, most recently as a fractional COO. This wide experience plus her talent for growing and organizing teams with “excellent bedside manner” is what makes Catherine such an effective leader.
Catherine is a long-time lover of running, has competed in kettlebell competitions as well marathons, and has her Grade 4 sash in Wing Chun Kung Fu. Most recently, she returned to her musical roots, learning to play the ukulele and now the guitar. No garage band auditions are planned as yet, but she’ll keep you in the loop.
Vice President, Business Development & Growth
Chelsea encompasses an eclectic professional and entrepreneurial background with a deep commitment to empowering and mobilizing communities, specifically youth, women and systemically excluded entrepreneurs.
Before joining CanWCC, Chelsea was the Regional Manager for the Client Diversity Team and the National Lead for Black Entrepreneurs at BDC. In addition, Chelsea was also the Country Director for WeConnect International, helping Canadian women-owned businesses connect with large corporate buyers and grow internationally.
As a woman of Afro-Caribbean descent who is the product of a business leader and a serial entrepreneur, Chelsea understands the hurdles faced while running a business as a person of colour. Chelsea
Chelsea is motivated to build a better and equitable future for her twins, Justice and Freedom. She wants them to live in a world where they are judged by the content of their character and not their background. She is a University of Waterloo graduate with an Honors BA in Economics, Arts and Business and a Master’s of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology.
Deirdre Cleveland is a research and policy nerd based in Toronto with experience in community mobilizing, advocacy, and public affairs. She holds a Master of Public & International Affairs from York University in Toronto and a Master of International Relations from Sciences Po in Strasbourg. After five years working with the federal public service, she is thrilled to join the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce as a Research Analyst. Deirdre is the proud daughter of immigrants, neurodivergent, and navigates life with a chronic pain disability. These aspects of her identity propel her to pursue radical social change, and integrate her lived experience and foundational belief in intersectional feminism into her life and work.
Director of Community Growth & Engagement
A natural relationship builder, Jenna thrives on connecting people around shared values. Jenna has a thirst for knowledge. She has a keen interest in policy developments, strategies for building social movements and the more macroeconomic, political and social conditions for the overlapping crises we find ourselves in. Jenna is an engaging writer and communicator. She has deep convictions, especially around women’s economic resilience, intersectional feminism and Indigenous communities’ rights – and voices these convictions, even when it would be easier to stay silent. She aims to live life like having fun is her only job. She believes in the power of “women-led”, and that naps matter. Connect with Jenna on LinkedIn and Instagram Jenna lives and works on Treaty 1 territory, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and home to the Métis Nation. She recognizes that her water originates in Shoal Lake 40 First Nation territory.
Judy Rebick is one of Canada’s best-known feminists. While semi-retired, she continues to work for change as a speaker, advisor and writer. She is the author of 6 books, her latest a memoir, Heroes in My Head. Judy was the first CAW Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson. She hosted two national TV shows on CBC in the 1990’s and is also the founding publisher of rabble.ca, Canada’s most active independent online news and discussion site. She is the former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and was a spokesperson for the pro-choice campaign that won legal abortion in Canada in the 1980’s.
Maricruz Vazquez is a social media and public relations specialist based in Toronto. Her diverse experience encompasses various industries including fashion, technology, beauty and charities. Upon her graduation in Fashion Communications, she pursued work with national and international brands based in Canada. As her portfolio of clients continued to grow, she prioritized working with various other companies that also aligned with her strong sense of ethics and values. She is now part of the CanWCC team as the Marketing Coordinator and is focused on amplifying and nurturing this special community via communications. On a more personal note, Maricruz is passionate about animal welfare, travel and food. In her free time, she can be found discovering a new store or shop with a coffee cup in hand and her 13-year-old border collie named Kiwi, not far behind.
Founder & CEO
Nancy Wilson is the Founder, CEO and chief rabble-rouser here at CanWCC. In addition, Nancy is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CGA) with more than a decade of accounting experience in various corporate roles. She also owned and operated an accounting and business advisory firm serving women business owners and entrepreneurs. Nancy launched CanWCC in January 2018 out of frustration regarding the barriers, lack of resources and difficulty finding connection she experienced as a business owner – and has been working ever since to create a powerful network of women through which to drive change and create equality in Canadian business. Nancy is a driven and accomplished feminist entrepreneur who loves learning new things, meeting new people, discussing the philosophical underpinnings of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and watching horror movies.
Paula is a social media and events manager who brings an eclectic mix of start-up, marketing, B2C, film, and television experience to her role of community manager at CanWCC. Paula graduated from Ryerson University in 2007 with a BFA in film studies. She worked on projects for National Geographic, CBC, CTV, MTV and more, before finding her sweet spot in social media management. A member of the CanWCC leadership team from day one, she built our social media and community strategy from the ground up. Paula expertly uses a variety of strategies and platforms to propel engagement and community growth and is a critical member of our leadership team because of it. In her spare time, Paula takes quirky and colourful photos using Playmobil toys and posts them on her Instagram account, @PCLFletcher.
Member Engagement Coordinator
As the Member Engagement Coordinator for the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, I am dedicated to fostering an environment of support and growth for women entrepreneurs across Canada. With a personal business focused on assisting women in overcoming trauma and eating disorders through a unique blend of movement, counselling, and mindfulness, I bring a deep understanding of women’s challenges in their personal and professional lives. My passion lies in creating impactful programs and support networks that uplift and advocate for women from all backgrounds, ensuring their voices are heard, and their contributions are recognized within the business landscape.
Christianne McMartin leads The Scotiabank Women Initiative Small Business Strategy across Canada. Chris took on this role in September of 2021, to help build and enhance a program that helps women overcome the challenges they face on their path to success when starting, sustaining, and growing a business. Chris leads many national events and partnerships such as the Master Class Series, The IWD: She Shoots She Scores, StrikeUP Virtual Conference and the mentorship program.
Chris joined Scotiabank in 2008 as a Financial Advisor. In 2012 Chris progressed to the role of Small Business Advisor where she found her passion for Small Business which she carried with her throughout her career to date.
Chris also has a passion for people which has led her to champion equity initiatives through many diversity, equity and inclusion roles within the bank. She currently sits as the Co-Chair for the National Allyship Council, a Stream Lead for the Women in Leadership Employee Resource Group and a participant on the Employee Pulse Committee.
At home Chris leads another team; she is a mom of four. Chris has three teenage boys and a young daughter that keep her on her toes. Even while running her children to dance classes, football practices and part time jobs she finds time to enjoy her own hobbies like going to the gym and coaching a dance team.
As a passionate educator, researcher and entrepreneur, my mission is to empower women, particularly ethnic minority women, in their pursuit of successful business ventures.
I have over 16 years of lecturing experience teaching business courses in universities and four years of comprehensive research in female entrepreneurship from a global perspective. My academic work allowed me to develop a deep understanding of the unique challenges and barriers women face in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. In addition to my work in academia, I have pursued my commitment to supporting women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment through various initiatives, including a social journalism platform/project that produces documentaries on numerous issues at the grassroots level, specifically women’s issues and those related to women of colour. Furthermore, I have recently set up a consultancy that provides two distinct programmes (grounded in theory and practice) for female entrepreneurs. In addition, I am a business mentor at Entrepreneurship@UBC. I understand that education is at the center of all fundamental change and that in order to evolve systems and open new doors, innovative approaches are necessary to influence perspectives and structures at the core.
With a Master of Arts in British Labour History and extensive doctoral research toward a PhD in Female Entrepreneurship, I bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to my work. Most significantly, my intuitive ability to understand people and the systems that influence their lives has allowed me great success in relating to others, understanding the nuances of cultural perspectives and challenges, and motivating others to pursue objectives they would have otherwise thought impossible. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of education, community and contribution as the keys to achieving lasting change. As an educator, mentor, entrepreneur and mother, I am committed to bringing innovative approaches to the forefront of the conversation. I think we can create a more inclusive and equitable world by evolving our systems and opening new doors.
Raksha Manaktala Bhayana
Raksha M. Bhayana is currently CEO of the Bhayana Family Foundation and Principal, Bhayana Management focused on managing investment portfolios. Her career spans both the nonprofit and private sectors in senior managerial and consultative capacities Prior to her move to the business world, she was active in directing a range of not-for-profit organizations. Remain active in research on social sector issues leading to publication of the findings.
Raksha and her husband were recently named among the 2021 Indiaspora Global 100 Philanthropy Leaders List.
Ms. Bhayana has over 25 years of Board Governance experience with a wide range of health care, nonprofit and private sector organizations. These include TELUS Community Advisory Board (GTA) Central Local Health Integration Network, United Way of Greater Toronto, Canadian Mental Health Association (Toronto Branch), Right to Play, Ontario Early Years Champion Steering Committee, UNICEF Canada, Surrey Place Centre, Family Service Association, and Ontario Association of Professional Social Workers. She is currently on the Board of Rise and the Government Relations Committee of Reena.
Stephanie is a program orchestrator and a firm believer in innovation and creativity. With experience working with community organizations, the municipal and federal government, and foundations, Stephanie has co-created, led, scaled, and implemented multiple programs for, by and with QTBIPOC communities across Canada. In her current role, Stephanie is the Director of Community Relations and Solidarity with CRE, a national organization that is dedicated to a future where Indigenous youth are empowered and connected as dynamic leaders in vibrant and thriving communities.