We acknowledge that we live and work on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.
Since high school, I knew I had a knack for social causes and wanted to make a career out of advocating for environmental and social justice. While I thought I was going to end up working in environmental advocacy, this summer I picked up the skills to attain this goal as a businesswoman and entrepreneur.
During my spring 2015 Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) term with the Conrad Centre, I launched my venture, whyVOTE – a social media platform where young Canadians can learn about current policy issues and compare their views with friends. While the aim of whyVOTE is to motivate young people to vote, it also collects data on the youth opinion which can impact high-level decisions.
Entering E Co-op was intimidating due to the uncertainty in timelines, deliverables, and benchmarks for success. Yet I have never been more engaged and challenged to grow with my work.
Here are some of the major takeaways from my experience so far:
Planning takes time and creativity
You become the brain, and the brain has a lot of responsibility.
At the beginning, it was intimidating to be unsure whether my ideas could come to fruition. I had no clue how to begin to build a web application, not having any technical or user experience design expertise. I also felt anxious about whether others would like the idea. What if no one wants to share his or her political views? What if policy-influencers really don’t care about having insight on young people?
After doing some customer validation, I settled on the features to make up a minimal viable version of the platform. From this experience, I learned that a lot of creativity goes into the planning process—validating with users what works best, yet keeping in mind the overarching goal of engaging youth. A lot goes into testing out an initial idea and continuously iterating it until you find the right product-market fit.
Although I consult my team, I’ve realized that there is no one but myself to make the difficult decisions and determine the best course of action. I’ve learned not only to plan my own work but also the work of two full-time team members and many volunteers.
Difficult conversations are inevitable
As a new venture, obtaining customers and gaining traction requires participation in as many networking opportunities as possible. While I’ve had practice conducting interviews at my previous co-op jobs, one of the hardest parts of running a startup is having to do all the sales, relationship-building, and networking on behalf of the business.
Despite these challenges, the experience that I’ve gained from running this venture full-time has been incredible. It has been extremely empowering to see others’ involvement and support for whyVOTE—from students who have reached out to volunteer as well as active users of the Facebook group.
Solving real problems is powerful
I have learned to appreciate the unlimited possibilities that can come with creating a solution to a real problem.
While advocacy in itself can educate, successfully providing something that is both efficient and has monetary value can drive foot traffic and credibility.
The transferrable skills that I’ve taken away from managing whyVOTE— decision-making, project management, problem solving, and leadership—have been invaluable to my personal growth.
Overall, while I am still an advocate at heart, this experience has transformed me to also become a businesswoman, a manager, a sales person, a marketer, a UX designer, and a more well-rounded leader, ready to make an impact on the professional world.
Mavis founded whyVOTE in May 2015 because of her passion for bridging the gap between youth and politics. She has previous experience in marketing and engagement, and social and economic policy. Mavis is responsible for the strategic goals of whyVOTE. She is in 4A Environment and Business.
whyVOTE is a social media platform for politics. Through the platform, young Canadians can easily determine who to vote for and compare views with friends, while harvesting data on the youth opinion for policy-influencers.
To stay up-to-date with whyVOTE news, follow @ on Twitter.