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Vicki Saunders describes herself as the “original millennial.” Unlike many other business leaders of her generation, she’s always believed it’s possible to “do good” and be successful at the same time.

“I had that special gift of looking at things differently, as a lot of entrepreneurs do,” she says. “Why would you just go out to make as much money as you can, greedily, and hold on to it? That just never made sense to me. I’ve always been obsessed with how you can create a better world.”

Saunders’ spirit of generosity is a natural extension of her upbringing. Her parents created Saunders Farms near Ottawa, ON, Canada, an enterprise she calls a “rethinking of agriculture,” which was rooted in a sense of community, where people “would do almost anything for you, and you would do the same for them.” She realized at an early age that a society based on these types of relationships, instead of a more transactional mindset, would enable everyone to succeed while making the world a better place.

However, as a serial entrepreneur who spent years in the technology space, she witnessed firsthand what she describes as a “troubling lack of generosity” that creates a very isolating experience for female entrepreneurs.

“This is something in particular that I notice with women,” Saunders says. “We are just so cultured, from the moment we are born, to be good, be quiet, be perfect, not ask questions, put your head down and do it yourself. Although I think all entrepreneurs feel alone sometimes, it’s especially prevalent for female entrepreneurs.”

She knew something had to change – that’s when the idea for SheEO began to take shape.

“As I tried to get underneath what is missing in the business world, it was really the sense of: if we were generous with each other, if you imagined that people would support you if you asked, how might you dream differently?”

Founded in 2015, SheEO redefines the venture capital model for female entrepreneurs, creating a worldwide support network of like-minded professionals who empower each other to dream big and achieve success through “radical generosity.”

Here’s how the SheEO website describes it:

The model brings together 500 women (called Activators) in each year’s cohort, who contribute $1100 each as an Act of Radical Generosity. The money is pooled together and loaned out at zero percent interest to five women-led Ventures selected by the Activators. All Ventures are revenue generating with export potential and are creating a better world through their business model or their product and service. The loans are paid back over five years and then loaned out again, creating a perpetual fund which can be passed on to daughters, nieces and granddaughters. The 500 women Activators in each cohort become the de-facto ‘team’ of the five selected Ventures bringing their buying power as early customers, their expertise and advice and their vast networks to help grow the businesses.

Since its launch, SheEO has funded 53 female-driven ventures across four countries and currently has over 4000 Activators. Their goal is to grow a billion-dollar fund that will annually back 10,000 women entrepreneurs around the globe.

Saunders is not only hoping to inspire a cultural shift in how we view women in leadership positions, but also how we perceive business success overall. She encourages others to shift from a mentality of “winner takes all” and “go big or go home,” to one of endless possibility, generosity and abundance.

“At the end of the day, most of us are very stuck in a certain mindset of ‘this is the way things need to be,’ or ‘this is the way things are,’” Saunders says.

Her advice for how others can begin to break out of this traditional mindset?

Reframe the dialogue

To operate in a completely new paradigm, Saunders says, we need completely new language.

“If you want to create a new behavior, you have to use new words, because if you use existing words then the behavior gets attached,” she says, revealing the intentional choice behind calling SheEO investors “activators” in order to disassociate from the traditional, elitist connotations of the word “investor.”

Let go of limiting language

Rather than allowing limiting self-talk to hold you back from discovering all achievable possibilities, Saunders suggests using a “flip it” mentality to turn this language on its head and drive innovation.

“That would mean words like, ‘oh that would be hard,’ or ‘that’s not easy,’ or ‘I’m not sure I’m skilled enough to do that.’ All those things we have in our mind that stop us,” she says. “What if it wasn’t hard? And what if they don’t know what they’re doing, and what if we all just made this up? And what if it’s exactly the time for disruption?”

Practice a growth mindset

Coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, a growth mindset is the belief that your abilities can be improved through hard work, learning, perseverance and resilience. For entrepreneurs feeling stuck or discouraged, developing a growth mindset can be a game-changer on the path to success. This is especially relevant for female entrepreneurs, who may have been conditioned to view their abilities as fixed or as a perpetual disadvantage in the male-driven business world.

Saunders stresses the importance of working daily to improve your capacity for a growth mindset to achieve your potential.

“It’s a practice, it doesn’t just happen overnight,” she says. “[You can’t] think ‘I’ll just think differently today’ – you have to work towards it.”


  • Craig Dowden, Ph.D.

    Certified Positive Psychology Coach and best-selling author of "Do Good to Lead Well"

    Craig Dowden, Ph.D., a certified positive psychology coach, is on a mission to share evidence-based leadership principles. In particular, he is passionate about sharing the science of leadership, team, and organizational excellence with the people he serves. An inspiring and thought-provoking executive coach and an award-winning keynote speaker, Dowden partners with clients from diverse industries and sectors, who benefit from his drive, passion and insight. Dowden prides himself in providing world-class content to his clients. To date, he has interviewed over 65 CEOs of top North American companies, including McDonald’s, IKEA and VIA Rail. He has also interviewed widely known best-selling authors and TED speakers, including Marshall Goldsmith, Daniel Pink, Adam Grant, Susan Cain, Barry Schwartz, Marilee Adams, Adam Bryant and Doug Stone. He routinely integrates these conversations and insights into his client work. Dowden combines the key learnings from these interviews, along with evidence-based principles from the fields of psychology, leadership and organizational excellence in his best-selling book, Do Good to Lead Well: The Science and Practice of Positive Leadership (ForbesBooks, Feb. 8, 2019). The book outlines the return on investment of the six pillars of positive leadership – self-awareness, civility, humility, focus on the positive, meaning/purpose and empathy – and provides a practical and engaging roadmap showing how executives can effectively demonstrate these behaviors within their day to-day leadership practice, for their benefit, as well as for the benefit of the teams and organizations they lead. Called “ideal reading for people who want to make a positive impact in their organizations” by best-selling author Daniel Pink, Do Good to Lead Well is resonating with top corporate executives and international thought leaders, with endorsements from best-selling authors and top-rated TED speakers such as Adam Grant and Marshall Goldsmith, as well as over 20 CEOs of leading organizations. Dowden shares his views and expertise through articles published regularly in business and HR publications including the Financial Post, HR Professional, Canadian HR Reporter, Canadian Manager, the Huffington Post (U.S.) and Psychology Today. Dowden was recognized as one of Ottawa’s “Forty under 40” business leaders by the Ottawa Business Journal, a select group of individuals who “exemplify leadership, entrepreneurship and community building.” He will be a regular contributor to in February 2019 upon publication of his book. Dowden received his Doctorate in Psychology with a concentration in Business from Carleton University and completed his Bachelor of Science in psychology at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He currently lives in Toronto. For more information, please visit