by Tina Olivero

    Extraordinary Women: Thought Provoking Perspectives

    In Newfoundland and Labrador, sharing stories has been our way of life. In this edition of The OGM, we put the spotlight on “Extraordinary Women”. Those who make a difference in business and our communities every day and tell great stories.

    These women are leaders. Thier commitment, endless hours of hard work and passion are an expression of vision, heart, and purpose in this region.

    The women here have all been speakers at the Extraordinary Women Luncheon, sharing their stories to inspired listeners in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

    At this luncheon, you witness first hand the trials and successes of extraordinary women on the journey of life. You will laugh, cry and identify with their view of the world as these women touch, move and inspire you.

    With vision and the leadership of Susan Sparkes, this luncheon happens each month and is always a place for networking, learning, connecting and elevating its people.

    The OGM: If you had unlimited resources and the power to make a change, what would you focus on for the prosperity of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

    ELAINE DOBBIN: Disintegrating rural Newfoundland and Labrador has been an issue since 1967. The resettlement program was immortalized in songs such as Out From St. Leonard’s and Outport People. It seems the government of the day wanted everyone to leave their heritage and culture. I understand their reasoning for moving the residents of these isolated communities to bigger centres that offered services they were not receiving or the government could no longer afford to provide.

    We saw a lot of nervous energy in the communities. There was a great deal of effort taken by local, state and federal representatives, identifying ways to build an economic response strategy to the crisis. We’ve learned that economic development is a very slow and steady movement. It’s not something that happens overnight; a crisis is what happens overnight. There is a distinction between economic growth and economic development, and development is the healthier approach in the long term.

    Growth is what we need. It feels positive, it feels great, but it’s vulnerable. So I think that’s how we should refocus our evaluation of economics in the community. Instead of the new immigrants and refugees moving to the already overburdened big cities, move them to Newfoundland and to our rural communities. We need the people to increase our declining population. We need the people to help these communities survive.

    Our overall mission should be to demonstrate the power of local economic and community development efforts, for rural communities. We understand that each community has its own unique set of challenges, but also the opportunities, resources and abilities to respond. Our mission should be to lead by example and to demonstrate that ability that communities have.

    So to answer your question if I had unlimited resources, I would help the people in our rural communities to survive and help to maintain our heritage and culture in our dying rural communities. Zita Cobb did an amazing job in making this happen on Fogo Island. Zita, with her amazing abilities, hard work, financial input and foresight, saved Fogo Island. Zita has proven that dying rural communities can survive.

    Who is Elaine Dobbin:
    Elaine Dobbin, CM, one of our province’s leading philanthropists, who has one of  the kindest, most compassionate hearts of anyone on our planet.  She is the embodiment of building community through extraordinary leadership! Her drive and vision is well known, for taking NECESSARY action at A CRITICAL time when she began working with the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1982.  Elaine focused energy and determination for the children in need of help and assistance, as well as their parents.  Her vision unfolded and continues to benefit the community, and her influence reaches many corners of our province and beyond. 

    Elaine’s husband Craig Dobbin was a major influence in St. John’s and around the globe and he was a strong driving force throughout her life. Elaine believes that helping people keeps his legacy alive.   As Elaine says “he was a passionate, daring, determined dreamer with a larger than life spirit.”


    The OGM: If you had unlimited resources and the power to make a change, what would you focus on for the prosperity of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

    SUSAN SPARKES: My focus would be on nutrition as a cornerstone of a vibrant economy. Our citizens need to have wellbeing, vigour and health and that comes from what we eat.

    An enabled creative work environment takes initiative, planning, time and energy – whether it’s shovelling snow, looking after our children, working on an offshore oil rig or working as a professional, we need to be healthy to execute them.

    All these tasks and activities need brain power with focused attention and when the macronutrients supplied by food aren’t distributed within the brain, this organ begins to perform in diminishing capacity. Malnutrition affects every function of the body. The local news and statistics say that we do not have a healthy population at this point and that needs to change.

    We’ve said for decades that Newfoundland and Labradorians are some of the smartest people and for this trend to continue we need to be healthy in body, mind and drive to be self-sustaining. The province needs to develop a maintainable source of food for our entire population which can be accomplished using hydroponic farming right here in Newfoundland.

    An excellent first step would be to supply every household with a family-sized hydroponic unit that is capable of growing basic vegetables and fruit on a continuous basis. Enactus Memorial invented this system and have partnered with Choices for Youth to employ their young people to build/assemble hydroponic units. Many of these Youth have developed full-time permanent employment.

    As the province’s health care costs continue to escalate, enabling our citizens in every community to become healthy with self-accountability will spur more energy and activities throughout every community. Imagine having organic produce available in Nain or St. Anthony in mid-winter or hurricane season! Not to mention the St.John’s supermarkets.

    Think about how much the cost of being unhealthy impacts our health care. Diabetes and heart-related illnesses, mental illness being and cancers can all be improved when we have organic, healthy nutritious food.

    Who is Susan Sparkes?

    Susan Sparkes is the president and founder of The Extraordinary Women group. The EXTRAordinary Women has been established as a catalyst for leadership to help members expand professional and career links in our vibrant community. From networking lunches with guest speakers in the monthly Making Your Mark Series to Happy Hours, we provide a forum to connect and collaborate with colleagues and community/business leaders, to celebrate accomplishments, (and have fun!).  Susan’s FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES include the 7 C’s: Creativity, collaboration, cooperation, confidence, connections, community, contribute.

    The OGM: If you had unlimited resources and the power to make a change, what would you focus on for the prosperity of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

    CATHY BENNETT: The most important investment, besides Health Care which will undoubtedly require critical investments, contemporary policies and precise, rapid change management towards those policies, in my opinion, is Education.

    Think about the technology tools you used in your first job. How much has changed in such a short period of time? And that pace of change is speeding up. The world of the future, the one we will need to compete in on a regional, national and global basis will be radically different from today. Technology will bring our world closer but will also change the jobs of the future in a fundamental way. Education, not for today’s reality, but for the future our children will face is critical.

    Our vision needs to be for modern curriculums, starting in the very critical early years, which would include coding, science, technology, engineering and math education. The curriculum provided by the best trained, best-supported educators operating above the average standards. These technical skills would be complemented by courses that develop soft skills as well as emotional intelligence. An education system that leaves no child, or adult behind. One that recognizes exceptionalities and provides the tools for every single student to participate and achieve success. Post-secondary offerings would be the most progressive programs supported by diverse and highly skilled instructors and professors where students learned in quality environments.

    Young people, our children, are depending on us to enable and empower the success of their generation and I believe education is the most important way to make that happen.

    Who is Cathy Bennett:
    Cathy Bennett is currently a Member of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly for Windsor Lake, Cathy Bennett.  Serving those whom elected her with confidence and poise, Cathy employs the strategy that made her successful as the CEO of the Bennett Group of Companies which included industrial construction and manufacturing, human resource support, food service, industrial supply and real estate investments and operations. 
    Mrs. Bennett has been extensively involved in charitable and community engagement and is currently the Vice Chair for the Ronald McDonald House.  She has served as Chairperson of the St. John’s Board of Trade, The Governor of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council and Treasurer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.  Cathy has been recognized for her outstanding leadership with numerous awards including Atlantic Business Magazine Top CEO.

    The OGM: If you had unlimited resources and the power to make a change, what would you focus on for the prosperity of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

    KATHIE HICKS: I don’t know about anyone else but I sure got riled when a well-known economist recently said, “Anything good and Newfoundland is at the bottom. Anything bad, Newfoundland is at the top”. Wade Locke was referring to things like leading the nation on unemployment, hypertension, obesity and diabetes, among other measurements. We even lead the country in alcohol consumption.

    Well, I say these are labels we absolutely do not need to own. If I had the money and the power, the priority would be to do what has to be done to get our people healthier, happier, empowered and more in control of their destiny. Just as any corporation builds a strategy around selling goods, so too can we build a strategy on how we get stronger, more creative and making smarter decisions which lead to better living. I also buy into the idea that besides GDP, the measurement of human well-being and happiness should be included in a measure of national economic well being.

    Our healthcare costs are staggering and are one of the single biggest threats to our prosperity. So we need to tackle that with priority budget initiatives directed at a more secure food supply, being more proactive on disease prevention, advancing a recovery based approach on the ever-growing trend of mental health and addictions.

    At the same time, we could be highlighting and celebrating our community spirit of sharing, elevating the value of seniors, and flying the flag of happiness. Happy matters! The better we feel, the better we act and the smarter we grow. Just as we promote all of the wonderful tourism and culture ads showing nature’s bounty and hospitality you won’t find anywhere else, have our own internal marketing campaign to promote our new life of being progressive and living well.

    We have what most people want – fresh air, freedom, rich community living, Olympic medal winners, the funniest people in Canada, an enviable foodie reputation, a show about us on Broadway, world-class talent everywhere, copious natural resources, close family connections and a generosity of spirit that is unparalleled. We are a small province that is mighty. Let’s change our view of ourselves.

    Who is Kathie Hicks?

    Kathie Hicks is the co-owner and CEO of Spirit of Newfoundland Productions, a 20-year-old dynamic entertainment company that employs 60 people, delivers year round high-quality musical comedy shows, and boasts a vibrant catering operation. The company also owns and operates the historic Masonic Temple in downtown St. John’s. Kathie is also an accountant, broadcast journalist, foodie and a chef & sommelier-in-training.

    The OGM: If you had unlimited resources and the power to make a change, what would you focus on for the prosperity of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

    JUDY SPARKES GIANNOU: People need to be more engaged in how we are governed. We have reverted back to old-style politics and the world has changed, as have the needs of all people. I am sure most people no longer truly understand what the expectations or role of government should be.

    Politics has become a personality contest, a specific party or policies are sidelined and it is now a place of blame and shame, and a race to get re-elected. We can’t afford that. We need to be entirely focused on vision and leadership and getting the most important issues resolved.

    Any number of jurisdictions around the world have reinvented themselves and there is much to be learned from a different approach. For example, in Switzerland, they have an advanced system of government.

    Swiss citizens make decisions about governance and elected officials. Switzerland’s voting system is unique in that it practices direct democracy in parallel with representative democracy, giving the people the power.

    There is a minimum of four referendums each year where citizens are required to vote on issues, policies, or governance. I believe this type of collaborative approach would result in balanced decision making where business, labour, government, arts, health care, education and all sectors, work together toward the greater good of the whole.

    Nobody can solve today’s challenges alone. This is the era of collaboration and shared views. Like the Swiss, we have to move to a strong model of partnership and inclusion. We have to be educated on the issues and work together find solutions. We have to voice our beliefs about the way things should be run and most importantly what the future can be.

    We can’t continue to do the same things and expect different results. At all levels of government, the opportunities are abundant; If we are to capitalize on what is on our doorstep, it’s time for a change.


    Judy Sparkes Giannou is the Co-Owner at Clayton Hospitality Inc.  She is a distinguished and performance based leader with 25+ years of experience in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Judy is well known for driving revenue, strategic thinking and her candor. She has a long track record for successfully building partnership and teams. Here character is one of continuously seeking innovative solutions to enhance deliverables and never settling for status quo. She has a keen focus on people and a passion for progress. Her current operations employ in excess of 400 people in Atlantic Canada.


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