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Mothers Matter Canada With Amy Robichaud, CEO

By May 8th, 2024No Comments35 min read
Home » Mothers Matter Canada With Amy Robichaud, CEO

Discovery Pod | Amy Robichaud | Mothers Matter Canada

When it comes to mothers, ensuring their well-being and empowerment isn’t simply important. It’s crucial for the health of our entire society. Enter Mothers Matter Canada, a national charity dedicated to making this a reality. In this episode, Douglas Nelson warmly welcomes Mothers Matter Canada CEO Amy Robichaud as she sheds light on their mission and shares insights from her leadership journey. Tune in for an empowering conversation on the importance of maternal advocacy, the transformative power of community support, and social profit leadership.

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Mothers Matter Canada With Amy Robichaud, CEO

In this episode, we have Amy Robichaud. She is the CEO of Mothers Matter Canada. In our conversation, she shares what it’s like to take over from a founder of an organization that had built it to be one of the most innovative and dynamic organizations focusing on motherhood in Canada. Amy talks about the three key steps that new leaders should focus on when they first become CEO of an organization. Focus on what is most important, delegate everything possible, and build systems that will equate to freedom in the organization as it moves to pursue its mission.

She’s full of great advice. We learn a little bit about her as a reality TV star, even if it was only CBC famous. She shares a little bit about what that was like and gives great advice for organizations with new leaders in place or individuals looking to lead organizations as CEO in the next couple of years. Please enjoy my conversation with Amy Robichaud.


Welcome to the show, Amy.

It’s great to be here.

Amy, I’ve been looking forward to our conversation as a leader new to your organization. You have a lot of energy about the cause and a great story to tell. I’m looking forward to digging into that and also hearing about your journey to leadership in our social profit sector. As we get started, tell us a little bit about Mothers Matter Canada and the work that you do there.

Mothers Matter Canada

I’d love to because Mothers Matter Canada is a national charity. We believe that when mothers matter and succeed, communities thrive and children prosper. We think it’s so critical that we are capturing the many ways that inequity affects mothers across the country. It’s not just women, but women who are experiencing and committed to motherhood. We’re recognizing the intrinsic value that mothers have in and of themselves, as well as the incredible untapped potential when we’re able to capture all of the wonderful things that women and mothers have to contribute to society.

Discovery Pod | Amy Robichaud | Mothers Matter Canada

Mothers Matter Canada: It’s so critical that we capture the many ways that equity affects mothers across the country, including women who are experiencing and committed to motherhood.


We do this in two ways. The first way we do it is we are the national license holder for a program called HIPPY, which stands for Home Instruction of Parents of Preschool Youngsters. This program is a settlement program. It’s funded by IRCC. We are in 34 cities across the country working with delivery partners. What we do is we train mothers to become their children’s first teachers. The first and most important teachers before they start school.

We are simultaneously closing the literacy and numeracy gaps. We are empowering and connecting newcomer mothers to other women in their community, building trust relationships, building their English or French language literacy, and helping them find their first employment in Canada. We do this by employing other women and mothers in the community into the program.

The second thing we do is run a social innovation lab where we take all of the data and information that we gather through the HIPPY Program and through working on the ground and in the community with these newcomer mothers. We use that to identify gaps in the ecosystem, whether that be social or economic gaps that might exist.

We innovate and pilot programs or interventions that can be replicated at little to no cost at the community level if they’re successful. In the Social Innovation Lab, we use the data we have. We take on the risk so that small organizations and community groups can then use the programs that we come up with. They can license them at no or low cost to intervene in their communities to help mothers.

It seems like you’ve got quite a comprehensive package of wraparound services for women and for mothers. Also, you’re measuring the impact as you go. It’s the envy of our social profit sector.

I’m brand new here. I just started as the CEO and I have to say that I feel some days like I’m a dragon sitting on this hoard of gold because we have real-time data on the women who are in our programs and the children who are in our programs. We’re using that for new programs and interventions. We’re using it to inform policy interventions.

We have this real-time data going back many years. It’s a real gift and it’s exciting to be sitting with that, playing with that, and thinking about ways that we can expand the impact that we can have by continuing to dig into this data and research that we already have sitting in our databases and in our intake forms.

What a unique and special opportunity to have that data and then to put it to work. As part of that, Mothers Matter announced a new name, Mothers Matter Canada, and with it a new brand identity. As an organization, these are big steps to take. The processes usually take many years. Tell us a little bit about how you came up with the brand, how the team came up with the brand, and how you’re going to apply it in the months and years ahead.

I’m standing on the shoulders of this brand strategy and the renaming to Mothers Matter Canada. I am standing on the shoulders of our founder and our board of directors who had this in our strategic plan and vision when I started. I’ve had the immense privilege of being able to execute a strategy and direction that was decided on and approved. As an executive, that’s already half the battle.

We worked with a phenomenal brand and design partner, Gravity Inc. out of Toronto, to take our identity, which has been deeply data-centered, inclusive-centered, but also very much grassroots and committed at a community level. Also, help us elevate that so that we can take all of this information and data that we have. The national scope, breadth, and depth of our work and package in a way that is going to be clear, concise, and compelling to others in the policy sector and the social profit sector as well as to ideally a more general and broad audience publicly.

Focusing On What Matters Most

One of the phrases you didn’t use in describing all of the groups and constituencies that are involved in this new brand and the work of the organization was complex. One of the things we hear when we’re working with organizations and one of the things we listen for is when leaders say, “It’s complex,” which is often a push word. “It’s so difficult, you wouldn’t understand. You wouldn’t get it.”

Truly the work that Mothers Matter does working in issues of parenthood, young children, the field of equity, and economic development, you are working in a very complex space. How do you keep yourself and your team focused on what matters most when there are so many variables and so many opportunities to get distracted?

I guess the answer to that is a little bit of naivety because I don’t think it is that complex. I think that we are leaving out a large swath of the Canadian population. We need to stop doing that. It would be better for mothers and for all of us if they were less socially isolated and more economically empowered. That problem doesn’t seem that complex in terms of framing.

All of the ways that we’ll get there could be nuanced. They could be complex. They’re certainly not easy to accomplish but I don’t it’s a riddle that we haven’t solved. I think we know the answer and I think that the work is to close the gap on how we get there. That work is hard. It’s hard because not everybody believes that it needs to happen. It’s hard because we’re making a collective change or a contribution to collective change on both an individual and a community level.

I think it’s hard and it’s difficult, but I don’t think that it’s unknowable or incomprehensible to figure out what we need to do and then how to do it. It’s just a matter of how we implement effectively and how we convince others to help us resource that implementation. Maybe I’m naive in that, but I don’t think it’s that complex of a problem. I think it’s a pretty simple problem. We know what Y is. We know what X is. We need the community to come together to help us get there.

Not Letting Perfect Get In The Way Of Good

It’s the function in between that solves the equation. I like that framing. Let’s set aside for a minute the folks who may not think there’s a problem to be solved and focus on those who are interested in finding a solution. One of the challenges in our sector can be often is that perfect is the enemy of good and sometimes organizations are stalled. They haven’t solved 100% of the problem before they take their first step so they end up being frozen in place. As a new leader or with an organization that has a great deal of momentum, how do you make sure that that momentum keeps going and that you don’t let perfect get in the way of good?

I think there are two things that I do that I think contribute to keeping the momentum going. One is that I am a big believer in systems and functions. I’m a not a big believer in goals. I think it’s a lot more about making sure that we have what we need on a small level. It’s 1% every day to make sure our systems or functions and our staff are equipped with the resources they need, financially, and professionally. Also, the human resources to do their work.

I think it’s important that we have our systems and our strategies in place. Also, we’re less worried about the big hairy goal at the end of it, which could be a moving target. Let’s get the systems in place to do good work every day, little by little. I think that’s the one piece I believe in systems and not goals on that side of it. The other thing is I genuinely believe in measuring what we’re doing in terms of more incremental amounts coming back to that system and not goals so that we can see where we’ve been and we can track where we’re going.

We’re not only saying, “Let’s solve this collective social issue as our big goal.” We’re saying we want to get to X amount of mothers by the time this time this year. We want to pilot X amount of programs. To me, those aren’t goals. Those are key progress indicators. Those are smaller KPIs that we can do. One of the things that I have inherited in this organization, but works well with how I like to work, which is around data and information, is having that progress evaluated externally. It’s bringing in that external evaluator. It’s bringing in the collaborative partners and having someone else assess where we’re at against those larger goals because they’re going to do a much better job of it than I am.

We’ll have input in that but being able to benchmark against a much more rigorous assessment process that is happening externally and coming back to us is critical to what we do. We’re an innovative organization. We run an innovation lab. We are not afraid to fail. We’re not afraid to put out an intervention and have it not work. In fact, that tells us what not to do next time and what we want to iterate a new time round.

We have a privilege on that side and it’s one that we have to keep up as we go forward of working with funders who understand that they’re investing in innovation, they’re investing in trial and error, and that it might not work out. Also, the result is that we have learned how to do this, not that we are doing it. It’s a real gift to be able to work in that space but it’s also so critical in the social profit sector that there are organizations that can and do get to work in that space because we figure out how to do this if we can’t try different ways of doing it.

I spent a lot of years working in the health sector and raising money for research and often, there were ideas that would be piloted and they wouldn’t go anywhere. They wouldn’t work. The idea that the hypothesis was proven to be false. I can think of a number of conversations sitting across the table with donors and having the researcher explain, “Here’s what we thought was going to happen. Here’s what didn’t happen.”

Also, 9 times out of 10 or even greater than 9 times out of 10, the donor would be saying, “How dare you fail.” They’d say, “What are you trying next? What do you need? Let’s keep going.” I think their funders, both institutional and individual, are more open to failure often than the organizations that are doing the work themselves.

Balancing Innovation And Risk Management

I’m curious about your perspective on why so many social profits shy away from innovation or these pilots or trying new ways because of this fear or perceived cost of failure. They don’t want to look like they’re wasting resources or getting it wrong, or they don’t have the perfect answer. How do you balance that need to innovate to stay open to new ideas and make new bets? Also, mitigating the risk and the additional expenditures of trying something that may not work.

We balance that by running the two components of our organization. The HIPPY Program has existed since the mid-’70s. It’s a global program. We own the Canadian license for it. It is incredibly well-proven and researched. Its impact is undeniable and illustrated in multiple peer-reviewed reports. What I’m trying to say is it’s a sure thing. We know it’s going to work when we implement it. We know that impact is happening day in and day out, year in and year out.

For funders who want to come to us and want to see a clear return on their investment and be able to go back to their boards or their customers or their foundation and say, “We changed X amount of lives for sure.” We’re able to put those funds in that investment to that program, which insulates us and insulates our innovation lab because we’re not reliant on that to keep our doors open or to make our impact.

The two work together because we have this incredibly well-founded impact proven program and intervention that we implement on a national scale that then gives us both credibility through what we know through that program. Also, the flexibility to pilot out smaller social interventions that can be used. It also means that I have the privilege of being able to go to a funder and say, “We want to try something really scary. Would you like to be involved in that?”

They’d be like, “Not so much, but we love what you do. Maybe there’s a way we can partner with you.” I can pivot into, “Here’s our sherbet. We know it’s going to change the lives of women, children, and newcomers in the country. Would you like to give us some money against that piece?” We’ve managed to figure out a way to run these two halves of our organization to combat what I think is the real reason most organizations don’t innovate, which is that funders don’t want to fund it for the most part.

The vast majority of the funding that is most accessible to small and medium-sized organizations is prepackaged and/or limited in a certain way because this is what the corporation wants to fund and this is what they’ve aligned it with. Also, this is how you have to slot yourself into it. We’ve found a way to be able to both do that and push the envelope, build trust through the HIPPY Program, and then use that press to bring funders and social investors along with us for the ride on the social innovation piece.

If you had a magic wand, how would you want to see the social profit sector approach the concept of risk in general?

I would like to see it rewarded. If I had a magic wand, it would be amazing if we talked about the top ten most innovative social profit organizations in the country and not the top ten most effective based on the low amount of overhead. Maybe the headline for most people is that innovation is all overhead. It’s all thinking, executive ideas, collaboration, and talking to people. It’s not producing much of a result at first but it’s that internal churn, ideation, thought process, and consultation.

Sometimes it’s giving an employee the space to go off for a day and think about what didn’t work in that evaluation and come back with a better answer and not have checked in on them. Sometimes 3 or 4 days or over a week to do that. I’d love to see a social profit sector that celebrates and rewards leadership and innovation taking big risks, trying something out, and that is building the funds into it.

My magic wand is that there become lots of funds out there for community-based, small and medium-sized social innovation organizations and social profit organizations. It’s because they’re already the ones that are closest to the ground and might have that out-of-the-box thought because they’re seeing it every day for them to be able to take on that opportunity to build that. The magic is somebody has a good idea fund out there that lets people come up and try good ideas and realize they’re not good ideas or realize they’re great ideas and then put a heck of a lot more money behind them.

I think there is a system that more effectively rewards organizations for taking those risks. Asking a really good question, even if you don’t get the answer you’re looking for, is something that could be rewarded. One of the things Mothers Matters Canada is a great example of is that organizations in our sector are often put into place to solve problems that the government can’t solve or won’t solve. Also, the private sector can’t solve. The incentives aren’t there for the private sector to solve.

These Gordian knot of social issues come together and it’s the social profit sector that’s charged with solving them. Also, having had the privilege to be around a lot of board tables over the last number of years, one of the balances we need to shift or the tensions we need to remove is the idea that innovation and cost-effectiveness are somehow linked.

We can be skinnier, spend less money, and that’s going to make us innovative. It’ll make us hungry. We’ll come up with better ideas. In our sector, scarcity drives so many of the decisions, and not usually for the good. Also, understanding that that innovation and what board doesn’t want to be innovative. Can you imagine?

It’s interesting when you talk to people on an individual level. They all love the idea of it. Innovation is complexity. It’s an easy word to throw out. They can make it sound more impressive but I want to bring it back to your comment on scarcity. I think scarcity does drive innovation. Having worked in small and low-resourced organizations for most of my career, I’ve seen so many brilliant ideas or even absolutely convinced on-the-ground knowledge of, “We’re doing it wrong, we should be doing it this way.”

The ideas are driven by scarcity, but the implementation can’t be right. I’ve seen so many great ideas left on the table or walked out of the organization when the employees burnt out because they’re underpaid and overextended that we can’t move on implementing or testing. The one thing I could communicate about it is that the ideas and the knowledge base are already here. It’s not like we have to make social profit organizations more creative. They’re creative.

The staff and the leaders, the front lines through the whole ranks are having great ideas and interesting conversations. They also have a wealth of information that they would love to act on and test out. It’s the ability to test it or to implement what is missing. It’s not that we have to teach social profit organizations how to innovate. It’s that we have to give them the capacity to turn those thoughts into reality. Scarcity gets us the ideas, but it certainly then gets in the way of making those actionable opportunities.

Amy’s Leadership Journey

Amy, you be the preacher and I’ll be the choir. We can keep talking about this all day long. I think we’re going to agree over and over again, but I want to come to you and hear a little bit about your leadership journey. This is your second time as a CEO previous to Mothers Matter Canada. You were the CEO of Dress for Success Vancouver. What lessons did you learn in that first experience as CEO that you’re applying now in your second role?

There are so many. The biggest one is a better sense of timelines. It’s a better sense of what we have the resources to do and how to prioritize those resources. One of the things coming into this role that I did, which has played out in our rebrand and our name change is a mono focus on that project. It feels like it happened quickly. It doesn’t from my side, but from the outside, we managed to do it in less than a year. That’s great but that was 90% of every day after my first month was working on this to make this happen.

It made other pieces feel like a slow productivity challenge and that this will get done. I’m going to move on to something else after this and it’ll be a single focus project. That was the one thing I learned, which is instead of trying to tackle everything all at once or look at the whole stars analysis of the organization and do bits and pieces every day, I take the big thing that was likely to feed into the others and get that off the table.

Also, in order to do that the other big piece, and I will be learning this throughout my whole career, but it’s being a better delegator. I am better at delegating to individuals and to my staff now than I was yesterday. I’m certainly better at delegating than I was when I started at Dress for Success in the CEO chair. It’s knowing that my staff have competencies that I won’t ever have. I have staff who have PhDs in the work that we do. I certainly don’t. They know way more than I could ever hope to.

It’s making that trust explicit to them to go and do that work. Also, that’s allowed me to create some of the mono focus that I’ve needed. Also, the last piece, we talked about it a little bit earlier. That is a big lesson, and I take it everywhere I go and I’m stealing it from James Clear. “We’re going to fall to the level of our systems instead of rising to the level of our ambitions.” We need to make sure that our floor for our systems, both human and otherwise, organizational and operational are absolutely as tight as we can possibly be.

That’s a really easy thing to overlook in small organizations to think that we’re small. We don’t need lots of systems. “We’re fifteen staff. Do we need an employee handbook?” The answer to all of that is, yes. You should treat yourself like you’re far more complex than you are because you are more complex than you think as an organization. Let’s get these things in writing so there are never any questions.

If we have an inclusive social practice or HR practice, let’s codify that so that it’s never in question. Let’s take that mental load off of our table because we’ve now put it in writing. We’ve gotten those policies. I think rules are meant to be broken and policies are meant to be revised, but you have to have them in the first place to be able to do any of that. That’s the last thing that learned a lot and I will continue to learn every day.

Rules are meant to be broken, and policies are meant to be revised, but you have to have them in the first place to be able to do any of that. Click To Tweet

Focus on what’s important, delegate, and build the systems that give you the freedom to do the work. It’s one of the things that I often see with new CEOs, particularly first-time CEOs. I certainly would’ve been guilty of this in my first CEO role, is every rock you pick up on the beach, you’ll find something you can fix underneath it. Everything you touch, you can make a little bit better depending on how broken a particular organization is.

I see leaders doing that time and again, and you make everything a little bit better and you’ll end up with nothing to show for it or very little to show for it. Your emphasis there on calling it mono focus, but focusing on the big things is one of the biggest challenges for new leaders and one of the most important things that anyone coming into a CEO chair can lean into in their first year or two.

Doug, I think it was you who told me that the word priority wasn’t pluralized until the ’70s or the ’80s.

It’s the 1950s, yeah.

That’s not 100 years ago and I think that’s so critical is that we can’t have priorities. We can do one thing at a time. When we think we can do more than one thing at a time, we’ve convinced ourselves of that as opposed to making that truly honest. I also think that learning what I can and can’t affect is always helpful. I will say that I think my biggest strength is that I’m not a perfectionist. I’ve never been a perfectionist. I drive a perfectionist who works for me crazy because I am the person going, “It’s good enough. This is fine.”

Discovery Pod | Amy Robichaud | Mothers Matter Canada

Mothers Matter Canada: We can do one thing at a time, but we often overestimate our ability to multitask.


“Let’s go. Come on. What’s next?”

I’ve never once used a level to hang a picture. If it looks straight, it’s straight. I’ve used that approach to everything else in my life, especially professionally. “This is good. We’re great. We can go live on it.” It’s great to have people on my team who will reign that in but as a leadership quality, my ability to say, “We’re there,” or my ability to say, “Don’t worry that happened because you weren’t going to do it perfectly in the first place,” and that was never my expectation is humanly helpful.

The only thing I’d add to that is when you tell a perfectionist not to worry about it, you’re pretty much waving a red flag in front of a bull.

The words I usually use if I have a staff member, a colleague, or a volunteer who’s very concerned that they messed something up and they’re worried about what I’m going to respond to it is, “I’m not worried about it. You’ve got enough concern for all of us but I was never expecting 100% or perfection on this execution. I was always expecting that something would go wrong. No plan survives first contact with reality and I don’t expect it to.”

One of the values that we have here at the Discovery Group is Always Be Learning. We start all of our team meetings with reflections on values. An example if we’re doing Always Be Learning is what have we learned? Almost always, it’s sharing a mistake that one of us has made or often one that I’ve made. It comes from what I learned in the CEO chair at the BC Cancer Foundation. You can say that we want to be an organization that moves fast enough to make mistakes.

You can say it and you can mean it as the leader, but you have to demonstrate what that looks like for people who are less comfortable making mistakes or who aren’t the CEO and there could be repercussions for making mistakes. You have to work hard as the leader to create an environment where those mistakes are not only acceptable but rewarded when they’re the right kind of mistakes taken at speed. It takes time to build that kind of culture in an organization. How are you doing at Mothers Matters Canada? Have you got that all locked in now?

No. That’s the problem with working with a team of incredibly competent individuals is that they have so much pride in their work and they have so much knowledge that they know exactly when it’s not right or when it’s not going according to the plan that they’ve made internally on it. However, we are moving in that direction.

The problem with working with a team of incredibly competent individuals is that they have so much knowledge and pride in their work that they know exactly when it's not right or not going according to the plan that they've made internally. Click To Tweet

One of the things that I tried to make clear early on and that I communicated explicitly to the staff is that I understand that my job isn’t your job. I have a lot of privilege to make mistakes in this office because A) My boss isn’t here every day checking in on me and B) I don’t have a boss. I have a collective of board members who are spread across the country who don’t have a line of sight on my work.

I recognize that I have a lot more flexibility in my role than you’re going to feel like you do in yours. It’s because you are not only trying to do the job you’ve been assigned, but you’re also navigating the people who are reporting to you and making your boss happy because that’s human nature. We want to make sure that we’re meeting everybody’s expectations.

I was very explicit that I have an innate opportunity because of the nature of my role as CEO to have more flexibility and to be more creative. I don’t exist completely in the organization. I’m in it, out of it, and alongside it. What I want to do is create space for everybody on my team to have that opportunity where they are not just directly eyes on or line of sight and worry about other expectations that could affect their employment and their livelihood while they’re doing their job.

To say that I figured out exactly how we do that for everybody, I haven’t but it starts with sitting down with staff members and asking, “What’s something that you think you need to try or that you have wanted to see happen here that hasn’t or that you didn’t think was part of your job to say. Tell me what that is and let’s talk about it.” Maybe it’s a terrible idea, but usually it’s not. Usually, it’s a unique perspective at some other organization because they’ve used that place of their line of sight to figure that out.

That mindset and orientation for leadership that you described there, I think would solve many, if not quite all of the problems of our social profit sector if more CEOs and executive directors maybe not perfect it but just be aware of what their role is and how they show up in the organization. It’s something that I think particularly first-time CEOs and new people new to the role struggle with is recognizing that other people see them very differently than they see themselves. It’s not the fault of the people who see them differently. It’s a feature of the role that you hold.

It is and I’m still struggling to figure out what that means. Let’s make no mistake. I’m a Millennial manager so every meme out there about Millennial managers is true for me. Sometimes I wish they were less true.

What’s an example of the Millennial manager meme?

We’re very laid back. “If you need to take an extra-long lunch, take a long lunch.” We’re the, “You shouldn’t have said that to Karen because that was rude, but also you’re correct. Just use your inside voice next time.” We’re very casual about how we engage in people management. I think part of that, for those of us who are on the elder Millennial side, comes from coming through a culture in the late ’90s and the early 2000s where we were managed by a very hierarchical style of management and leadership that was popular in that time as well.

Some of that’s a rebellion against that. I’m always grateful for it, but I’m very aware that how I see myself, how I see my role in the organization, wanting to create openness, and all of that interact with features of how an organization is built with hierarchy and different things that are necessary for authority in various roles in the organization.

It’s so critical for me to understand that for myself but also to communicate it out to the staff like, “This is my job and this isn’t my job. It’s not my job to police you. It is my job to make sure that everybody’s producing the best they can do. We’re going to focus on that and we’re going to not focus on other pieces.” The big secret though with starting at Mothers Matter that’s made this much easier is that most of my staff are mothers. I think leaders should just hire mothers.

I believe that both from a mission perspective, but also because I work with an entire staff team, most of whom are mothers, who have this incredible perspective on what is a crisis, what isn’t a crisis, where their time needs to go, where their time doesn’t need to go, how to move quickly or slowly depending on what’s needed. They are excellent for conflict resolution. Sometimes I’m like, “I am being mothered. I’m being treated like you’re a five-year-old but you know what, that was needed in this situation. You’ve de-escalated. That’s fantastic.” I would say it’s a simple secret and maybe an easy hack. Just hire the mothers. They’re going to get it done.

My colleague and the producer of our show, Alex Wilson, who does research on our guests and has conversations before we record, insisted that I ask about your career as a reality TV star. We’ve never had a reality TV star on the show before with more than 200 episodes. Amy, you’re here. You’re a reality TV star. You were interviewed by a long list of people who were on that panel, but I think most impressive was Alex Trebek, a few ex-prime ministers, Joe Clark, Kim Campbell, Paul Martin, and Brian Mulroney. Tell us a little bit, what was the reality show you were on, and what that experience was like for you?

Sure. I can do that. First, I would disagree with the characterization of reality TV stars because this was a CBC show because the people watched it.

It’s CBC-famous.

Some good people watched it. Some of whom weren’t my family.

Everyone at the farmer’s market saw it.

in the early aughts, the CTV and then afterward, CBC used to have a show called Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister, which I like to describe as America’s Next Top Model, but for Canadian political nerds. Instead of a swimsuit competition at the end, it was an answer to this crisis scenario on-the-spot question. 2009 was the last year the show ever ran.

If you’re going to ask me about it, I will tell you that I am the reigning Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister. I take that with every prime minister who has held office since 2009. It was a reality competition show on public policy and social issues. It pitted at the end of the day young Canadians against each other to come up with their best vision for a new Canada. While I am not Prime Minister, I did continue on in a career where I try to do that every single day. I feel I’ve won just fine.

Amy, you’ve stayed very involved in politics. The other part of your life and you’ve been in the media quite a bit with that. Politics is something you’re very passionate about. How do you connect that work that you do, those conversations you have, that part of you that is focused on politics, the cut and thrust of politics, and the purpose-based work that you do in the social profits that you served?

To me, they’re exactly the same. I think that anybody who thinks that politics isn’t about social profit work has fundamentally misunderstood politics. Also, we need to rebrand politics altogether because politics is public policy. It’s trying to affect the most good for the most people at the highest, broadest, and deepest level. It often fails but I think any kind of work at that level is going to fail.

Discovery Pod | Amy Robichaud | Mothers Matter Canada

Mothers Matter Canada: Anyone who believes politics isn’t fundamentally about social good has fundamentally misunderstood its purpose. Perhaps a rebranding is necessary, but politics, at its core, is public policy – the pursuit of the greatest well-being for the broadest segment of society.


We’ve had a whole conversation about innovation and the need to create space to do better and solve social problems. To me, they’re exactly the same. I love the ability to work within a political party, which to me is the closest thing we have to national service organizations in this country. Less than 1% of the Canadian population is a member of a political party.

I always say to folks who ask me why I’m a partisan. I’m like, “Why aren’t you? It’s the smallest group of people who care a lot.” I don’t care what party you join, but go and join one because you’ll find that you’re working in a community of folks right across the country, which we have very few opportunities to do that with who are trying their best to make the country better for people. I have a massive amount of respect for that.

I get to do that in an incredibly unpaid volunteer way as a partisan. As somebody who’s been engaged in politics since long before Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister came around, I then get to show up at work every day and dig into a social issue that is near and dear to my heart and deeply affects me personally. Also, whether you know it or not, it actually deeply affects everybody in the country personally. To me, it’s two different flavors of the exact same candy.

I’ve not heard politics described as candy in a very long time or ever, perhaps but I think that works. Your answer is that they’re the same thing and it’s the same commitment to positive social change.

I’d say, if it’s not the same thing for you, you’re doing either one of them wrong and for the wrong reasons. I’d be happy to call it those individuals.

The Power Of Advice

I think you called yourself an elder Millennial. That’s not a label I would apply it to anyone as a Gen X-er. Everything else below me in age, call yourself whatever you want. You’re very involved in the community. Your commitment to public policy and positive social change comes through in our conversations. The work that you’re leading can be really difficult and emotional at times, I’m sure. When you’re having a tough day, who do you go to for advice?

My mom. That’s not even just because I run an organization called Mothers Matter. It does help. I go to her for advice. I also have a nonprofit executive director and CEO support group. We meet once a month. We complain. We celebrate. We have an ongoing group text that is full of resources that we’ve shared with each other. It’s also full of things we need to get off our test or questions that we have that we’re not sure we can ask our staff or our board.

That has been so critical because these are folks who know exactly what it feels like to sit in the CEO chair in a social profit organization who are doing similar work and have similar issues. That is a great resource because it makes me feel like I’m not crazy. That someone else has experienced this and is having the same feeling or the same conversation. It’s equal parts substantively helpful and emotionally supportive. Those are the two areas that if I’m having a hard day with the job where I go, I do try my best not to bring it home because you can’t do this work if you don’t have strong boundaries, at least, not for long.

For someone who’s in their mid-career and looking to take a leap into the CEO role and wants to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?

I would lean into being a generalist. This is not the office where if one thing goes well you’re going to succeed. This is the office where every problem is going to land on your desk at some point. You want to know enough to be able to understand if it is or isn’t a problem that needs attention and then you want to know enough to figure out who else to bring into the room for you.

Discovery Pod | Amy Robichaud | Mothers Matter Canada

Mothers Matter Canada: You want to gain enough knowledge to understand if something is a problem that needs attention, and then determine who else you need to involve.


I’d say lean into being a generalist and know that this job is mostly about people, creating systems, opportunities, or boundaries that are going to help those people. If you love the work, but don’t love managing people, find a high-level specialist role and lean into that. You have to love people. If you are in a CEO role or you want to be in a CEO role, you can’t honestly say that you adore your team or the people who work for you. Also, you would do anything for them within reason, but professionally you would do anything for them, this is maybe not where you want to end up.

You may want to end up in another C-Suite position, a specialist role, or a program implementation role that’s quite senior. There are so many ways to continue to make contributions and advance your career. I think we have a default view that the CEO role is the one that we should be aiming for as the brass ring but I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think it is one of the key players on the team, but I don’t think it’s the key player in the team.

Amy, I wish I had this conversation with you before I started my first CEO job. I grew up as a fundraiser and was hired to lead an organization that needed to raise more money. In my first three months, I went around thinking about how we could raise more money and it turned out nobody cared what I thought about raising money because I wasn’t the head of fundraising. I was the CEO of the organization. We had some fundraising success on a couple of things. I was talking to the board chair. We had weekly calls for the first few months and I told him the good news and he didn’t care.

Continuing To Build People

I said, “I want to go back. This is good.” He said, “Doug, we know you can do that. That’s why we hired you. What we need to see you do now is lead the organization.” Leaning into being the generalist leader and creating that space for others or something I needed to focus on. I don’t know if you would’ve given me the same advice in 2008, but I sure needed to hear it and I’m sure lots of our readers do too. Our final question and my favorite to ask our guests. Amy, what are you looking forward to?

I am looking forward to getting back to work with my team after this. I’m looking forward to continuing to build people to be the most impactful they can be within Mothers Matter Canada. I’m looking forward to Mothers Matter Canada increasing our profile so that more folks can find out about the work we do and use it.

I am genuinely looking forward to creating a Canada probably not within my career time, but contributing to creating a Canada where motherhood is valued as a critical and integral experience that benefits all of society. Also, mothers are seen as the most desirable members of a team to hire because they’re currently considered the least desirable team members to hire. Also, where it’s common knowledge that mothers matter and that we need to bring that deep into how we achieve a prosperous community and economy.

Amy, if social profit leadership were an elected office, you would have my vote. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Thanks for having me, Doug.


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