Making a Difference

Making a Difference

Lifestyle | Posted by - January 16, 2014 at 12:00 am

It may well take a village to raise a child. And for Roxanne Joyal, those villagers are the Kenyan caregivers and Masai women employed by the for-profit social enterprise she runs with her husband, Marc.

To explain her strategy for balancing motherhood with her break-neck busy entrepreneurial career, Roxanne Joyal knowingly invokes a parenting cliché: It takes a village to raise a child. In Joyal’s case, the old adage is quite literal – she’s calling in to our interview from the Masai Mara, Kenya, where Me to We, the company she heads with her husband Marc Kielburger, lead volunteer travel programs. Her 21-month old daughter, Lily-Rose, is there with her spending lots of time with Kenyan caregivers and Masai women who make jewellery for Me to We’s socially conscious accessories collection.

“In Kenya, when a mother gives birth to a child it’s expected that everyone chip in to help take care of that child,” she says. “I’ve let go of any guilt about being able to be a full-time mom and instead I’ve chosen a family of people whose morals and ethics and personalities I’d like Lily-Rose to spend time with.”


Instead of travelling for work and leaving her child behind, Roxanne Joyal brings her infant daughter on business trips. The result? Less time for guilt about not being a full-time mom, more time for business – and for her daughter.


Joyal has enlisted the caregiving support of the Kenyan women she employs to help raise her daughter. It’s a perfect fit with the communal child-rearing traditions of Kenya, and allows Joyal to fulfill her demanding role as co-CEO.


Joyal and her husband consciously chose to be both executives and hands-on parents, which informs their non-traditional perspective. She affectionately describes her daughter as a “trusty sidekick,” and takes the North American ideal of the nuclear family with a grain of salt.

Joyal, 36, was one of the original founders of Free The Children, an international non-profit development organization created by her brother-in-law, Craig Kielburger, when he was just 12 years old. Me to We is a for-profit social enterprise created to help fund Free The Children projects. As co-CEO, Joyal is responsible for corporate and family engagement in the volunteer travel programs to Free The Children’s sites around the world. She also founded and leads the company’s Me to We Artisans jewellery line, an initiative that employs more than 600 Masai women who otherwise would not have the opportunity to earn a fair wage.

Before Lily-Rose was born, Joyal travelled to the Masai Mara every three weeks and often journeyed to other Free The Children sites in countries including India and Nepal. But when she added the role of “mom” to a long list of accolades – Rhodes Scholar, Action Canada Fellow, and recipient of an honorary doctorate from Nipissing University, to name a few – she had to adapt her hectic travel schedule to accommodate Me to We’s littlest team member.

“When we as a couple decided we wanted to have children, we agreed that she would be my trusty sidekick and that we would be very active parents. She travels with me wherever I go. It’s very rare that I take a business trip without her.”

As passionate entrepreneurs and engaged parents, Joyal and Kielburger have embraced the idea of collaborative parenting, acknowledging that to succeed at work and at home, they can’t do it all alone.

“In North America, we’ve become nuclear families and the idea of hiring help is something that people are very careful to talk about,” she says. “I’m very open about it. I would not be able to do the work that I love to do without other people on the team who love what they do, which is spend time with my daughter.”

As entrepreneurs, Kielburger and Joyal are masters of their own schedules, which allows them to tag-team parenting duties and fill in for each other when one needs to be on the road. But Roxanne’s not seeking “work-life balance” – that untenable concept that’s become the Holy Grail for professional parents.

“I love my work,” she explains. “Every morning when I wake up I know that I’m making a difference in the life of another mom and I take tremendous pride in that. We incorporate this work into our lifestyle.”

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They say it takes a village to raise a child. Can the same be said for your business? Share your experience of growing your business here.

Tags: free the children, marc kielburger, metowe, me to we artisans, parenting, roxanne joyal, profiles

Jennifer Goldberg
Jennifer Goldberg is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She's an avid magazine reader, art lover and co-founder of Tavanberg, a multiplatform content agency in Toronto. She has edited or written for Best Health, Flare, the Globe and Mail, and more. Check out her work at Twitter: @jennmg
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