We're so excited to add Rebecca Laramée to our team of Role Models. Here in this interview, Rebecca discusses the power of philanthropy, and her passoin for educating and empowering girls. Shout out to her father, Claude Laramée, for taking these beautiful photos.
INTRODUCE YOURSELF! TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR FORMAL AND INFORMAL EDUCATION.
I am a HR consultant, philanthropist and speaker. After graduating from a private high school, I went on to pursue a degree in science at the University of Toronto (St. George Campus) in Biology and Physiology. After working for a couple of years in the private healthcare sector, I went back to school to complete a post-graduate degree in Human Resources Management at Seneca College, specifically focusing on the healthcare industry.
I’m a life-long learner, and believe that everyday you should be learning something new. For me, this means reading books, listening to podcasts, attending seminars and conferences, and having conversations with people greater than myself.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED INSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
Education at all levels, from JK to post-graduate, has instilled in me the importance of teamwork, collaboration, and relationship building. Learning how to work with people who think and communicate differently than you. This preparation is key for when you enter into the workforce. When you start to understand why you, your coworkers, clients etc. act and feel the way you do, helps you get along better, avoid conflict, enrich your work relationships, and relate to others more effectively.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OR SKILL YOU LEARNED OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM?
The importance of networking, mentorship and asking really great questions. It’s important to surround yourself with a network of people who are inspiring, creative, strategic and innovative; who are willing to answer your questions along the way. The insight you will receive by asking questions and being surrounded by roles models and mentors will be the greatest education and inspiration for yourself.
Another thing would be — you are in control of your own career. As much as your employer will try to help facilitate your career growth, you are the one that needs to take ownership of your career path. I have met a lot of people who stayed in jobs they hated, who were waiting for that promotion, who never went
on to pursue x, y, z, goal, who wished they did things sooner… start to think about what you want, what you need to do to get there, and go after it!
WHO WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE TEACHER?
Hands down my high school physics, chemistry, and calculus teacher. I didn’t believe I was capable of pursuing the maths and sciences, but he kept encouraging me along on the way. I ended up taking physics and calculus at the University level. I don’t think I would have achieved this if it wasn’t for his belief in
me years earlier.
TELL US ABOUT COTTON WORDS. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START IT? WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE WITH IT?
Part of what I enjoy about my work in leadership development, is being able to provide spaces for others to thrive in. In turn, hoping that they can go out and do the same for others. …So the short to the longwinded answer is that facilitating corporate workshops, intertwined with my passion for philanthropy is where Cotton Words was birthed out of.
In 2013, it started with just me writing anonymous letters of encouragement and dropping them off to local shelters. My prayer was that the person receiving it, would receive some form of hope to help them get through that day.
Writing was therapeutic for me, so I started facilitating writing sessions with women of all ages - teaching others the process of self-reflection and how to communicate better - with the purpose of reminding others that the words they tell themselves and others matter. Each session the attendees learned or developed a new skillset — whether it be calligraphy 101, designing a handbag, making teddybears etc. These items and a handwritten letter would be donated to the non-profit the event was tied to, providing awareness and financial support to the organization. Some non-profits included My Life Centre, The Hub Youth Centre, Yellow Brick House, Orangeville Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, Chica Project, U.S Military etc. My goal was that I didn't want to be needed for this program to function. Some of these girls started incorporating this at their schools and into their classroom. I could share tons of stories and testimonials of what this program was doing in and for people. I saw first hand that writing was a powerful thing — that it could bring hope to those in their darkest days, but also bring healing to those going through their hardest times. It also started the conversation of how can we give beyond that one event or session. My hope is that people will start to be more aware of the people around them, to be intentional in their interactions, and to become givers — which clearly doesn’t take much effort!
TELL US ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN YOU RAN, “YOU’RE THE KEY”? WHAT DID
YOU LEARN FROM THAT EXPERIENCE?
In 2016, I was heading down to serve the people of Guatemala. I wanted to be able to incorporate Cotton Words by providing 400 writing kits to the schools I was visiting. So on a zero dollar budget and two weeks before I had to leave, I produced a video campaign. The tag line read: "We believe that everyone deserves access to quality education and through the gift of a writing kit, you could help change the learning experience of a child. A writing kit may not change the world, but it could build a child that can!” In less than 48 hours, through social media and crowdfunding, I raised over the asking goal of $2000. We had money left over to help build a water well in one of the schools and even fund a teachers salary for the year. The money goes a long way there. I remember showing up with balloons — every kid remembers their first balloon. Seeing the smiles on these kids faces was priceless.
One story I have to share… I remember 5 year old Amelia. She caught my attention as I saw her looking through the open door of the school classroom located "under the bridge." You could sense her eagerness to learn and desire to be apart of something. After handing out the writing kits to the students, we had one left for her. We later found out that Amelia's parents couldn’t afford to pay for her schooling, but that she enjoyed feeling part of the group and would spent her days hanging around the hallways “under the bridge.”
This made me realize how privileged we are to have access to quality education, and how so many don't. And when people come together for a cause, great things can happen. I saw first hand that when people started bringing their time, talents, and treasures to the world around them, they were much happier. Lastly, that social media and crowdfunding are powerful tools. The future of giving is shifting to digital, and I look forward to seeing how we can help bring quality education to those who don’t have access to it.
WHY IS PHILANTHROPY IMPORTANT TO YOU? WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM GIVING BACK?
I grew up around generous people, had opportunities to work in the slums of Dominican Republic and Guatemala, and serve inner city communities. I thought this was what everyone did — but as the years grew on me, I realized that wasn’t the case. I think philanthropy is key to living a life full of meaning, purpose, and happiness.
As a young philanthropist, I have met some of the world’s most notable and inspiring change makers and have worked alongside some of the world’s most generous philanthropists and activists. Despite their diverse backgrounds, one common thing that had given them the most joy was through the simple act of giving. Truly, the key to happiness lies in helping others.
I’ve also learned that philanthropy isn’t about cutting a check, nor do you have to wait until your 65 to give back. The goal in all of this is to inspire others to be givers, and that means exercising your giving muscle daily — just like you would at the gym. I’ve learned that philanthropic capital isn’t the only way, or even the best way to effect change. There are other forms of capital - intellectual, social etc. - that are far more valuable. It’s the reason why, with the most powerful and wealthy people, its easier to get them to write a cheque than to get their time. They know their time is worth more than their money. So charitable organizations need to recognize this and begin finding ways to leverage these other sources of capital.
YOU HAVE TRAVELLED EXTENSIVELY. WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED THROUGH TRAVEL
I just got back from a two month solo trip to Australia. Every time I travel, I keep learning something new about myself — and perhaps, that is what travelling does. It can lead to tremendous personal growth and introspection through open-minded exploration, and it inspires you to become more. I believe that experiences through traveling helps expand your mindset and you learn new skills. This is one of the ways that I build my wealth, by investing money on new experiences. Studies show that people who spend money on experience instead of material purchases are generally happier — and happiness is worth pursuing because (not only does it feel good), but it can also have beneficial health impacts, like boosting your immune system and keeping stress away.
I don’t like flying and I am terrified of heights, but I choose to live my life without fear. Through travels, I’ve learned that I am capable of anything, that I can achieve anything, and that I can live the life that I dream of today! Everyone that I meet along my travels remind me that we are all human, and we are all reaching the same destination. Its what you do in between the dash (xxxx-xxxx) that matters most.
WHAT IS ONE LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED THAT YOU’D LIKE YOUNG GIRLS GROWING UP TODAY TO KNOW
Great question. The biggest one is that you are the average of the 5 people you spend most of your time with! I can’t encourage young girls enough about this!
There are so many young girls that I meet, who have huge potential, but spend their time around an environment of people that do nothing more than limit it. I’ve had to let go of some relationships that were unhealthy which I didn’t see at the time.
If you leave a conversation not feeling good about yourself, then you know you need to move on. This means reevaluating your circle every so often, but also reevaluating how you are benefiting your people.
Some other lessons would be to: Take more risks. Chase more of what makes you curious, rather than a title. Not to be so restless; to move with the flow of life and not against it. Be kinder to yourself; to see yourself with your own eyes and to love yourself from your own heart. Focus on being quiet. Be confident and don’t compare your progress to anyone else's. Do things that make you sweat a little; put yourself in intimidating situations since that’s how you grow and get stretched beyond your capacity. Do something that no one has done before. Challenge the status quo. Raise your hand even if you don’t feel qualified for it. Celebrate the baby steps along the way, for they eventually lead to the big wins. Remain committed to daily self-disciple and self-improvement. Don’t live your life from other peoples point of view. And lastly: You are so much more than your body and the insecurities in your head.
YOU HAVE A BLOGPOST TITLED “LEADERS ARE READERS”. HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN A BIG READER? WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW AND YOUR TOP BOOK RECOMMENDATION?
When I was in University, I did so much reading that I didn’t touch any books outside of it. However, I love learning, so once I finished school and got the corporate job, self and professional development was up to me. I usually read business books, biographies, self-help books… a couple of books I’d recommend are Love Does, the Alchemist, Tools of Titans, Braving the Wilderness, Option B… I’m currently finishing up Principles by Ray Dalio.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN TODAY?
Random fact. I was at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario at Queen’s Park today. Did you know that redtailed hawks have built their nest in the upper ledges of the Legislative Building? Red-tailed hawks are hunters, so in urban environments they have adapted to eating pigeons, squirrels, and rats.