Rikia Saddy is a published author, respected pundit, and gifted public speaker.
“People from every country in the world have built Canada. That’s why Canada is always changing. For centuries it has left us without a clear identity.
We wanted to be like countries with a single language, food, and culture.
Now, in the age of globalization and mass migration and collapsing borders and dizzying technological advances, every country in the world is trying to deal with change. And they’re asking Canada how we manage to get along.
It’s easy when you have a history like ours.
If we, the people of the world, are going to survive, we’re going to have to work together. And who knows how to do that?
We can’t be divided and we can’t be conquered.
We are Canada.
PH: You wrote your book, We are Canada, in 2012. What prompted you to write it, and what did you most want readers to learn or experience from reading it?
It started as a book on Brand Canada, but as I was writing that book, I kept thinking “Who is going to read this?” I put it aside for a while, and when I returned to review my research, these words came to me:
“ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a country. Her name was Canada.
She was cold – very, very cold – but she had a fire in her belly.”
I thought “so it’s going to be that kind of book is it?”
PH: Six years later – 2019. Where are we at now as a country from your point of view – How have things changed? How have they stayed the same? What are we most in need of at this time?
The MMIWG inquiry (National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls) went a long way into defining the magnitude a problem that lies at the core of who we are.
There are so many myths in Canadian history.
As a country, we are a role model for the world.
Not because we’re perfect, but because we’re endeavouring to figure things out, and we’ve built the frameworks and scaffolding necessary to enable us to do this important work.
PH: How do you and your work fit into this bigger picture of Who We Are in Canada? What is the impact you are looking to make?
The work I do involves huge consensus building and heavy lifting to get everyone on the same page and moving forward, but I’m beginning to see there’s a better way.
What if we, as leaders, listened and built consensus along the way, flattening the hierarchy of our organizations and understanding that we’re stronger when we work together?
There are a lot of big problems to solve in the world, and the only way to find the answers is to get enough different voices in the room. Group think is over. The era of senior people making decisions without consultation are over, and it’s good news for everyone. A CEO is always the loneliest person in the room, it’s a big part of why they hire someone like me to build agreement through listening and vision to legitimize the path forward. Yet the most powerful groups I’ve been a part of are in the feminist, grassroots, or Indigenous communities, using tools like checking-in or a talking stick so that all are heard.
In fact, I’m quite obsessed now with the idea of reverse assimilation– all the approaches we need already exist, they’ve just been oppressed or marginalized:
PH: Tell me more about the concept of reverse assimilation.
A publishing company going back to first principles, ignoring broken industry conventions, and challenging the status quo. A small, authentic, community-based business school that builds business capacity in the individual, to fix a theory-based, employee-creating education system. Indigenous Canadians teaching us human-centred approaches that enable us to go back to the democratic, inclusive principles we learned from them in the first place. Everywhere I see underdogs upsetting the system by going back to what we know to be true. These are solved problems. When evaluating business models now, I look for this concept of reverse assimilation. Hopefully my country will move along the same path.
In 2017, I conducted research on the philanthropic landscape of Canada, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. What I found was that for any project in Canada to succeed, it must have a gender lens and a Reconciliation lens. I also learned that since no country in the world has met the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we need to align our domestic and global giving agendas. We have a lot to learn from each other.
PH: What will be the overall message and purpose of your next book or body of work?
It depends which book gets published first: I’m working on a sequel called We Are One; and, also a book on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. People don’t realize that for the first couple hundred years after the American Revolution, the United States Constitution was the template for all new democracies formed worldwide. But in the last few decades, it’s been Canada’s Charter that other countries look to as they work to formulate their own. Even South Africa’s much-lauded constitution was based on Canada’s. This is because we’ve created the perfect framework for how people with differing backgrounds and values can get along with one another.
I mentioned this to renowned constitutional scholar Peter Russell, and he said: “I’ve never thought of it that way!” So, I may be onto something.
WHO IS RIKIA SADDY?
PH: What do you want people to most know or remember about you as a leader?
That I am a leader who lives by this motto:
“Leave everyone you meet a little better than you found them.”
Power comes from knowledge, and knowledge comes from being in the room. Volunteering gets you in the room. We all have talents to share. Share them. If you have a mission, something you want to see happen in the world, find the people who are doing that work and help them. It’s that simple.
Volunteering can mean stepping up at work to take on a task or helping others outside of work – in politics or your community– for free. There may be no cash payback, but what you learn and how you grow will catapult your career.
If you want to grow your power even more, share it! Work tirelessly to get underrepresented people in the room. The true source of your power is integrity. It doesn’t matter how many people you meet, and how much you network, if people walk away with a bad feeling. Leave everyone you meet a little better than you found them. That’s as much a rule for dating, or parenting, as it is for business.
Rikia’s Double Life…….
PH: There are many titles used to describe you – from Strategist to Trusted Advisor, Author to Speaker, Systems Reformist to Transformative Communicator, Wife, Daughter, Mother, and Friend. Would it be fair to say that Rikia Saddy leads a double life?
Everyone has a double life if they’re doing a lot of things in the world: Student-Athlete. Indo-Canadian. Working-Parent. This is normal.
Can I align my yoga life with my business persona with my charitable work with my parenting?
The challenge in life is merging these experiences.
These are full and challenging parts of my life, and each one alone could be 100%. Some people prefer a simpler life, and I admire that. I appreciate time with those friends, it’s like a comforting breath of air and warm hug rolled into one. But then I start moving again.
The key is to understand yourself: Are you a deep dive person or a lateral thinker?
The latter can be shallow, but I don’t think it is. I believe it is possible to develop a complex relationship at the junction of a number of different interests and be the only person in the world with knowledge of those specific things.
PH: What don’t people know about Rikia?
Everything! Honestly, I don’t have a single friend who knows all that I do, and sometimes even my husband is surprised. Once we were watching the civic election, and I cheered for 14 different candidates all across the Lower Mainland. When he asked, “How do you know all these people?” he was not expecting me to say I’d written or revised all their campaign strategies. [It’s a promise I make when I’d speak at the non-partisan Women’s Campaign School.] Add to that three young women running for student union at SFU and UBC, and I had 17 candidates going at once.
If people know that stuff, or my board work, mentoring, and involvement in the DTES (Downtown Eastside, Vancouver), most have no idea that my firm also has advised global engineering firms, start-ups, NGOs, and schools and colleges in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
My gift is cutting through the market clutter to determine where things are headed, and where your unique strengths best match the future.
I believe all good marketing is true, and when you develop a strategic vision based on who you are and what you’ve built together, plus a clear understanding of what people need, you can find your highest expression of your talents. As a CEO, you must. Companies and organizations without a clear strategic vision are filled with people living quiet lives of desperation in their cubicles. A clear vision is a liberation of shareholder value, yes, but more importantly of human talent and contribution.
We all need to feel like we matter, like our work matters, our lives matter, and we are competent and a part of something bigger and better than ourselves.
As a sociologist, I draw upon the work of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan to explain these needs. My undergrad was in Sociology, Economics and Drama, and I draw on all three disciplines daily.
PH: What is a message you hope to inspire in other leaders about impact, including upcoming, emerging leaders?
Keep moving forward, try to help as many people as you can, and hope you’ve done your best.
Few of us ever know the impact we make in the world. And sometimes, we’re surprised.
I recently found out that my Gates research, which I thought had died on the vine, is behind some of the biggest announcements on global aid and funding for women’s health and reproductive rights we’ve seen yet.
PH: What does life look like next?
I’m definitely going to keep mentoring people, that is one of the most profound things we can do to shape the future.
I’ll keep taking on projects that have value, like transforming education, developing new, inclusive, sustainable economic models, advising governments and politicians on progressive initiatives that move us all forward together, and enjoying every last minute that I have of teenagers in the house.
That’s something they don’t warn you about in parenting: Just when your kids become the most interesting people you know, with fascinating friends and the very best music, they start to disappear from your life. Waste no moments.
Dear Canada, I feel you.
Building a country is messy, messy work, especially a country as young as Canada.
There you are at the G7 table with your elders, who have much more homogeneous pedigrees than you, holding your own despite having to shrug off a colonial past a couple of them imposed on you in the first place. Peace, Order and Good Government indeed.
Repatriating your constitution was a great idea, not just because it gave you autonomy, but also because the legal minds who drafted it managed to find an unprecedented balance between rights and freedoms, so much so that it’s the ultimate parenting guide.
How do you take a countryful of viewpoints and differing values, not just shaped by personality or religion or nationalism but every country in the world, and build a nation that works?