Lifting Each Other Up: International Women’s Day

Women supporting women

International Women’s Day was March 8th and I had the good fortune to attend several events to celebrate.

At the Smashing Barriers event organized by TechAlliance, Melissa Sariffodeen, CEO and Co-founder of Canada Learning Code, I was inspired by Melissa’s passion for teaching Canadians of all ages important digital literacy skills that are so vital in today’s workplace. I was also excited to learn that Melissa is a JA alumna, having completed Company Program in London. Another shining example of JA’s impact and outcomes!

At the Wilfrid Laurier International Women’s Day lunch, a panel of experts engaged in conversation around “Women Finding Housing Solutions for a Better Future”. Moderated by by Deborah MacLatchy, President & Vice-Chancellor, WLU, the panelists – Dr. Laura Pin, Acting Director of the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy; Jordan Prentice, founder of Kuponya Innovations; Sarah Gillies, Housing Stabilization and Interim Supports Manager, County of Wellington – shared their incredible work, particularly related to policy reform, that they’re undertaking to create a better future for women.

The final event of the week was the Greater KW Chamber International Women’s Day breakfast, where the theme was Inspiring Inclusion. Ren Navarro (B Diversity Group) was interviewed by Regional Chair Karen Redman about how she’s inspiring inclusion in a male-dominated industry.

As I reflect on these events as well as on International Women’s Day, I am extremely grateful for those in my life who’ve supported me. There have been wonderful mentors from diverse backgrounds as well as fantastic colleagues who have believed in me. I’ve benefitted from community supports and various programs to help the organizations I’ve led grow. Recognizing how helpful these have been and wanting to provide similar resources to women business leaders – especially our JA students – I’ve compiled a short list of possible resources below. I hope you find them helpful!

If any resources come to mind that I may have missed, please let us know at The more we can support female-identifying individuals in their business endeavours and leadership roles, the more we’ll have a well-rounded inclusive society ready to make a difference in the world. Young girls need to see everything their mother, aunts, and family friends can do – and if we all share resources and ideas to lift each other up they will have that chance.

  • Karen Gallant
    President and CEO
    JA South Western Ontario 

Why RRSP Season Should Interest Teenagers (and How Junior Achievement Supports Early Retirement Planning) 

RRSP planning for teens

Retirement planning is too often considered a distant concern for teenagers, who are more focused on immediate priorities like school, social activities, and part-time jobs. However, in today’s economic landscape, starting retirement planning early has become increasingly important. With RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan) season in full swing, it’s an opportune moment to discuss why teenagers should take an interest in retirement planning and how organizations like Junior Achievement are supporting youth in this endeavor.

  1. Understanding Long-Term Financial Goals: Teenagers are at a pivotal stage where they begin to envision their future careers and lifestyles. While retirement may seem far off, establishing long-term financial goals early on can significantly impact their financial well-being later in life. By understanding the importance of saving for retirement now, teenagers can set themselves on the path towards financial independence and security.
  2. Harnessing the Power of Compound Interest: One of the most significant advantages of starting retirement planning early is the power of compound interest. By starting to save and invest early, teenagers can take advantage of the compounding effect, where their money earns interest on both the principal amount and the interest already earned. This can lead to significant growth over time, even with relatively small contributions.
  3. Developing Financial Responsibility: Learning about retirement planning at a young age fosters financial responsibility and discipline. By budgeting for retirement savings alongside other expenses, young people develop crucial money management skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. Understanding spending, saving, and investing empowers youth.
  4. Adapting to Economic Uncertainty: Young people are not immune to the effects of economic uncertainty. As the cost of living continues to rise, without adequate retirement savings, teenagers risk facing financial insecurity in their later years. By starting to save and invest early, they can better prepare themselves to meet future financial challenges.

Note that there is no minimum age to open an RRSP. If a Canadian has employment income and files a tax return, they (or their guardian) may set up and contribute to an RRSP. The same is not true for tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs), which require a minimum of at least 18 years of age.

While the benefits of early retirement planning for teenagers are clear, the question remains: how can they access the necessary knowledge and resources to get started? This is where organizations like Junior Achievement (JA) step in.

Junior Achievement is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young people to succeed in the global economy. One of the key components of JA’s programs is financial literacy education, which includes topics such as budgeting, saving, and investing. Through a variety of learning experiences and resources, JA equips young people with the skills and knowledge they need to navigate the complexities of the financial world.

Through interactive classroom programs such as JA Personal Finance, real-world simulations like JA Investment Strategies, and online resources including JA’s Your Money Questions Answered modules, teenagers learn about the importance of starting early, the different investment options available, and the impact of compound growth on their retirement savings.

RRSP season serves as a timely reminder that retirement planning is not just for adults – even teenagers can benefit from starting to save and invest early. By understanding their own long-term goals, harnessing the power of compound interest, developing financial responsibility, and adapting to economic uncertainty, young people can lay a strong foundation for a prosperous financial future. It is more important than ever for young people to take control of their financial futures, and organizations like Junior Achievement play a vital role in supporting youth in starting retirement planning early, providing them with the knowledge and resources they need to succeed.

  • Karen Chafe
    Director, Programs & Operations
    JA South Western Ontario 

Navigating the Future: A Strategic Look at HR Trends Shaping Youth Preparedness for the Evolving Workforce 

jobs of the futureA new year means a new start and many people consider changing jobs and/or careers in January.  It can be a daunting thought for people with work experience, and absolutely overwhelming for a young person who’s just starting out.

We sought insights from Kim MacPherson, a JA South Western Ontario board member and a Global Talent Leader, to gain her thoughts and perspective on the future of work.

Q: In your experience across various industries, have you identified any trends in Human Resources that were common to all? If so, what were they?


Absolutely, and it’s an exciting time for young professionals! One trend that stands out across the board is the emphasis on adaptability and agility. Companies are valuing individuals who can quickly pivot and learn new things.

It’s not just about having specific skills; it’s about having the mindset to embrace change and always being ready to grow.

So, consider your career a constant learning journey, and you’ll be well on your way.

Q: We know that many people will work in jobs that don’t yet exist. How can young people prepare themselves for this reality?


Get ready for a future full of possibilities.

To thrive in a future of unknown professions, young individuals should focus on building a solid foundation of transferable skills.

Critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability will be invaluable assets, transcending specific job requirements.

Embrace a mindset of continuous learning, stay curious, and be proactive in seeking diverse experiences. The key is to be open-minded and ready to learn, no matter where your career takes you!

Q: Looking ahead, what does the work environment look like? What are some outcomes from the pandemic that you think will have a lasting impact?


The future workplace is all about flexibility and balance, offering more options for how and where you work. Thanks to the lessons from the pandemic, hybrid work is here to stay, giving you the chance to create a work environment that suits you. It’s not just about the job; it’s about finding a workplace that values your well-being.

Hybrid work models will likely become the norm, offering employees a balance between remote and office-based work. This shift will influence HR practices, focusing on employee well-being, digital collaboration tools, and redefining performance metrics to accommodate diverse work arrangements.

Q: What do you think are the top three competencies youth need to develop to be successful in the workplace of the future?


First, digital literacy is paramount. Familiarity with emerging technologies and adapting to new digital tools are essential skills for the future workforce.

Second, critical thinking and problem-solving skills will be in high demand. The ability to analyze complex situations, think creatively, and propose innovative solutions will set individuals apart.

Last, effective communication and collaboration skills will be crucial in a world where remote work and virtual teams are increasingly prevalent. Being able to convey ideas clearly and collaborate seamlessly across diverse teams will be crucial to success.

Life is full of surprises, and being able to bounce back from setbacks with a positive attitude will make you unstoppable.

Q: What’s one piece of advice or guidance you’d offer youth as they enter the workplace?


Embrace the adventure! Your career is a journey, not a destination.

Always be hungry to learn, seek out mentors who can guide you, and never shy away from trying new things.

Your success isn’t just about what you know today but how eager you are to keep growing.

So, stay curious, stay open-minded, and remember that every experience, no matter how small, is a step toward building your fantastic future.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Future of Jobs, we encourage you to check out the World Economic Forum report:

Tell Me Why …

As a fundraiser for 30 years, it was not a surprise for me to end up in this career. 

I started at an early age mirroring my parents’ generosity. Girl Guide cookies when I was 6 years old, a UNICEF box every Halloween when pennies were still currency and all the school sales of chocolate bars and such. 

Every one of those I had to make my own pitch. My father would take me to the police station where he worked to sell cookies, but I had to ask every officer myself. One of my parents would walk with me door to door selling my wares but wait at the end of the driveway. What it taught me was to believe in the cause I was representing and to focus on what the result of my efforts would be. I needed to understand why I believed in what I was selling. 

As I got older and became a donor, results and impact continued to be important to me. What effect would my donation, usually modest, have on a charity I considered supporting? If I could not ‘change the world’ was it worth making? 

This is the time of year when donors of all ages and abilities reflect on questions like these as their mailboxes, both virtual and physical, are flooded with requests. What have the charities they supported in the past done with their gifts? What impact has their support had? Have they heard from the charities and understood the difference they made? 

When you choose a charity to support, how do you align it to your personal why 

Gifts at this time of year are often given for three reasons: timing, requests by charities and tax savings. 

While all of these are reasons for why people give at this time of year, none of them answer the true ‘why’ 

When I meet with a donor for the first time, I like to investigate their personal why for not only their support of the charity I work for but their philanthropy in general.  

Why are you philanthropic? How did it begin? Like me, did you learn it as a child or as an adult from your partner? Have you passed the teachings on to your children? Do you practice it as a family? What was the first significant gift you gave? What did it support and why did you give it? Do you continue to support that charity or have your interests changed?  

After most of my career in healthcare fundraising, which answered my why through the death of my father at 47 from heart disease, the loss of several close family members to cancer, and my own two-year journey with a brain tumor, I now find myself in the social service/education sector. Growing up in a single parent home, after my father’s death, on a fixed income, the teachings of JA are critically important to my why. 

I’m thrilled to be working and personally donating to Junior Achievement South Western Ontario because it aligns with my why. It’s far more than leadership, and financial literacy. JA addresses poverty proactively. It sets young people up with the skills and mentors they need to become successful at whatever path they choose.  

I hope that JA SWO connects with your why as you make your holiday gifts this year. Regardless of which charity you choose to support, I hope you are able to take a moment to connect to your why and make a gift in the true spirit of the season.  

  • Heather J. Scott, CFRE
    Director, Philanthropy
    JA South Western Ontario 

Closing the Financial Literacy Gap: A Call for Collaborative Action

I remember clearly my first week attending university. I was nervously navigating unfamiliar hallways, classes, and other new realities when I came upon a series of booths set up in the campus food court. Each was a bank or other financial institution vying for my attention and sharing the opportunity to sign up for my very first credit card. My reaction? No way! My impression at the time was that credit was bad and should be avoided at all costs. Money was not a topic I had the opportunity to learn much about in school and I had little exposure to the benefits of having a credit card and using it responsibly to help build my personal credit.  

November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada, a time to bring attention to the importance of developing strong money awareness and positive money attitudes and to help Canadians manage their money and debt wisely, save for the future, and understand their financial rights. This is especially important for young people who are just beginning to develop knowledge and perspectives related to money. It is even more important now, at a time when rapid inflation, rising interest rates, and other economic influences have amplified the financial challenges faced by many, especially those with vulnerabilities.   

But where does responsibility for financial education lie?  

For many, the greatest source of financial information and learning is at home. Parents play a significant role in laying the foundation of financial readiness and resilience for their children. However, according to a 2021 survey conducted by TD, one in three Canadian parents aren’t confident they’re setting a healthy financial example for their children, and only about 10 percent of parents consider their household to be in “excellent financial health”. According to the National Financial Literacy Strategy 2021-2026, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has conducted a survey and found that only 61% of Canadians could correctly answer five of seven financial literacy questions. If we rely solely on the home to provide these valuable lessons, we run the risk of perpetuating the same level of financial literacy that currently exists with little opportunity for improvement.  

The Ontario Ministry of Education has recognized the need for financial education to also take place in schools and has introduced curriculum outcomes linked to financial literacy at several places throughout a student’s K-12 education. There is mandatory learning about financial literacy now embedded in Grades 1 to 8 Mathematics, in the Grade 9 Mathematics course, and in the Grade 10 Career Studies Course. In 2023, the Ontario Ministry of Education also made available three self-guided learning modules for high school students available through the ministry’s website. These are very positive steps toward ensuring young people have every opportunity to improve their financial readiness.  

Organizations like Junior Achievement (JA) South Western Ontario also strive to equip young people with the skills and attitudes needed for lifelong success when it comes to money matters. JA offers learning experiences that can be facilitated by teachers or community volunteers or completed independently by students online. These experiences support and reinforce the curriculum outcomes taught in schools and the lessons learned at home.  

The reality is that we all bear responsibility in the effort to better equip young people with financial confidence and resilience. Families, schools, and communities working together will provide the best possible combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences for young people. Programs that are interactive, interesting, and relatable to students will help them see the importance and enable them to apply the learning to their own lives. As a result, young people will be ready to navigate the financial challenges ahead, assessing their options intelligently and making good decisions with confidence.  

  • Karen Chafe
    Director, Programs & Operations
    JA South Western Ontario 


About the Author 

A proud aluma of the JA Company Program, Karen Chafe has worked with JA for over 11 years and is currently Director, Programs and Operations for JA South Western Ontario. Karen is a former high school mathematics teacher and is passionate about providing youth with impactful learning experiences.   

Photo of Karen Chafe for our The Spark article Closing the Financial Literacy Gap: A Call for Collaborative Action

Karen Chafe 

Thoughts from the Quiet Kid…

If you were to travel back in time to when I was in tenth grade and ask any of my teachers, coaches, or family friends to describe me, you would have gotten one resounding answer from all of them: quiet. I was mousy and painfully shy. I did everything in my power to not be seen, acknowledged, and definitely not heard. Tenth grade was also the year that I first participated in JA Company Program. It was on a complete whim – I had attended JA’s summer camps and was looking for something different to do in my spare time, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I quickly found out that my company members were full of confidence and entrepreneurial spirit, and were well prepared to bring our company to success. We decided to sell infinity scarves and set an initial goal of producing and selling 150 scarves. Following the lead of my President and Vice President of Sales, I made my own sales goal and immediately dreaded the idea of having to actually make any sales. Not only did I have to talk to people, but I had to convince them to buy our scarves. In a panic, I ignored all the sales training the team had given us, and spent all my own money buying the scarves I had in my inventory. I figured I would keep that up for as long as I could, and if I could make my sales goal without having to talk to anyone, I’d be in the clear! Lucky for quiet me, my fellow company members were sales experts and we ended up selling over 240 scarves in the eighteen-week period and won the Sales Company of the Year Award. I decided to take a break the year after, partly because I had emptied my bank account buying scarves, and mostly because I was terrified of stepping outside of my comfort zone. At that moment, I was happy to fade back into the background.  

In twelfth grade, one of my classes participated in an in-class JA program. On the first day, Karen Chafe, the program manager at the time, walked in and came right up to me. She remembered my name, my company, the product we did, and how successful our sales had been. I was shocked. It seemed surreal to me that people had remembered I was even there, let alone remember anything that I had done. The moment sparked something in me – maybe I didn’t have to simply fade into the background anymore. When a few weeks later Karen mentioned that Company Program registration had opened, I signed up during her talk. I was still painfully nervous when the first meeting came around, but far more curious and excited about the possibilities of the year. My mentors pushed me to try something new and put myself out there, and so I (very tentatively) went for a management position and to my surprise, was elected Vice President of Human Resources. As the program went on, I started to realize that I didn’t have to just be a quiet kid.  

Mid-December came around, and our production was in full swing. We were making bath bombs, and knew that Christmas-time was going to have a huge impact on our sales. From the suggestion of our mentors, the team agreed to do the one thing I was most scared of doing – door to door sales. While I was terrified, trudging through the snow and knocking on strangers’ doors, the faith that our mentors and entire team had made me fight against everything I knew to be true about myself, and I convinced myself that I was capable of being a salesperson. We didn’t make any sales that night. But still, I couldn’t believe that the shy kid from two short years ago was able to take that on. By the end of the year, my fear of speaking was overcome by a passion for our company and confidence in my team’s skillset and perseverance. I led team building activities, designed participation incentives, and even volunteered to be a speaker at the sales pitch competition.  

My love for JA has grown in new ways, as I’ve now worked on the programs and fundraising teams, and am now running Company Program myself. This year, I had the chance to speak to 30 classes of high school students from across London to get them excited about joining Company Program. For the first time, I got to be on the other side of the room, watching students’ faces as their interest grew and they asked questions. In early November, I got to see those same faces at the JA Centre, nervous and a little tentative, but with that same spark of curiosity and excitement that I remember so well. Every year, the best part of Company Program is seeing that spark bloom into confidence, and seeing those quiet, tentative students realize what they are capable of. I can’t wait to see what this year holds.  


Zoe Burness 

Program Manager
Company Program and Camps
JA South Western Ontario 

That Back-to-School Feeling

I’ve always liked “back to school”. As a young person, I enjoyed going back to school – fresh notebooks, new subjects, seeing friends I hadn’t seen over the summer. It always felt like a New Year and new beginning. When my kids were young, I had the same feelings of excitement and anticipation over the start of the school year. Now with JA, September brings similar feelings of excitement and anticipation as the JA South Western Ontario team gets ready to inspire and prepare tens of thousands of youth across the region, igniting their feelings of excitement and anticipation about their futures.

This school year, we have big plans to deliver JA programs to 30,000 students between September and end of June. Our financial health, work readiness and entrepreneurship programs are delivered free of charge to educators thanks to the generous support of many corporations and individuals. We’re also very fortunate to engage with many individuals who give their time to facilitate JA programs in classrooms. Without the support of volunteers and donors, we wouldn’t be able to fulfil our mission. THANK YOU ALL!

In addition to being free of charge, JA programs are designed to be inclusive and accessible, regardless of race, gender identification, religion or socio-economic background. We seek diverse backgrounds, perspectives and talents in our staff, volunteers and board members that reflect the communities we serve, so that youth can see themselves represented in our work. We believe in the boundless potential of young people and strive every day to empower them to unlock that potential!

We’d love for you to get involved with our work. To find out more about JA and how you can get involved, please contact me at I know you’ll come away fulfilled by your experience and excited about the future. You may even like going back to school!

Karen Gallant
President and CEO
JA South Western Ontario