Getting Traction

Sharon Marshall is helping Indigenous women to find their voice and create better economic opportunities through virtual administration. Her company, DEVA Training & Staffing Solutions, trains and contracts Indigenous women as virtual assistants. She talks about her connection to the strands of her "braid,"  her strong alliance with PowHERhouse, and reGEN Impact Media. These companies and many others have been pivotal in Sharon gaining traction. DEVA's emerging success is a testament to the value of embracing interdependence.

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Show Notes

 

Transcript 

Jalen 

But you know, I'd like to talk about your story about traction. You have been working on this project with DigitalDeva for some time, and in fact, you know if I recall right, you've actually been. This is you've been a serial entrepreneur, so. This isn't your first. First, rodeo and you've been really working on digital diva and. It's now just starting to get the traction you're hoping for, but it's been a journey. 

Sharon 

It's been a journey Jalen. Yes, thank you for recognizing that. Let me see. So I think the first time I I came up with the idea was in in 2014. So from that from the idea of of helping indigenous women to become independent contractors work from their homes, help support their families, not have to leave their homes which many many have to do for it for education purposes. Or you know, the unemployment does not. It's high unemployment in in in many communities and and so when there is employment the work is not. Really there for for. Women menial pay, menial jobs. Nothing substantive for women. So from 2014 until 20 until 2023, yeah, it's taken me that long. 

Jalen 

Well, that's a long haul. 

Sharon 

It's hard to believe. Yeah, and I've been bootstrapping my business the whole time, so I mean it other people. It might not have taken so long if they. They had done things. If I had done things the way many startups are are operate as say they get some kind of financing and and and go along. I've just been trying to figure this out. It's taking me a while because I've been trying. To figure out the best. Way to work with indigenous women in these situations. The best way to serve them and. And and now I think I've. 

Jalen 

Because it's a complex situation, right? 

Sharon 

Now I feel like I've. I've I. I believe I've got the recipe now. 

Jalen 

Now I know that you there's been many ups and. Downs throughout this. Process and I'm quite a long time, you know this, you've been super committed to this. But I'm wondering about the most recent boost you've had towards actually getting things rolling. You had a few things that happened that really made a difference, right? 

Sharon 

Right, so I launched Diva in 2019. With a cohort of 10 women from Campbell River and so that the program was free to them and, and so I think that was part of like we had issues and I think part of the issues was because it was a totally free program. I think I think women have to have some kind of skin in the game in order to make it more valuable for them. So that's one thing. And and then I've had two other cohorts since then. I just wasn't able to get to a point where. So there's two sides to the to the business, and so I train the women to become independent contractors and I give them the digital skills that they can work from their homes as virtual assistants. And then the other side of it is I will find the the contracts for them and I'll hire them out as virtual assistants to do the work. And then they so they don't have to worry about work as long as they're signed up with with Diva, they'll always have employment, right? I just couldn't get to that point where the where the Divas were going to stick around for employment for various reasons. And then I don't know like the word just got out. More on about. Eva, more people were interested in in what I was up to. And all of a sudden I had like four people calling me up wanting to, I think, to the truth and Reconciliation Commission had a lot to do with it. Like that COVID the whole, this is just the time now where people are reflecting on on what what they're doing with their lives and how they're they're making a difference. You know what their purpose is and what what can they do to make their lives have more meaning? And and so the truth and reconciliation movement really is having a lot of people think long and hard about how they can contribute and and and help out and. And so I work with both indigenous and non indigenous people. I train indigenous but I but. That it's non indigenous that I I look for the employment opportunities specifically because of the truth and reconciliation movement. And I feel that it's me doing my part to help be the bridge. For the two to to get to that place, and so you know, I all of a sudden I had four clients, potential clients interested in in working with Divas. I've had more than that, but for that I've actually been able to sign up. The ones that I weren't able to. Connect with yet our organizations that they just. They had work that just needed to get. Off the side of their desk and so in other words, they just didn't have the time to commit to working with the Divas because these are junior. Junior administrative assistants. They need the mentoring, the nurturing, and the empower, empowerment, and so we can't work with somebody that just needs to get that project done it, you know, they these women need help. They need support. So they can't be left unsupervised for the bigger tasks. They they need to be. They need to know that you're going to be there to help them. If they can't figure something out. And you know the the training that they get is all basic. So there there's a lot of instances where the the Divas will have to try to figure things out themselves, and that's part of the training that's that's part of the the work that that the soft skills that they learn in this program. And so yeah, I'm I'm very excited that that we're at this. Point now in 2023 I've got 4 Divas working and two contracts. It's incredible. 

Jalen 

It's absolutely amazing. 

Sharon 

In November, I didn't, I I didn't have one client and so. Oh yeah, from November till till January. What a difference. 

Jalen 

So are there any beyond the things you've already mentioned? Are there other things that contributed you contributed to your attraction? 

Sharon 

Well I would. Say me not giving up for for. For one thing, it's. There's been many times that I have wanted to throw in the towel, but but then I can't because I and I know how important this is. We're at a precipice right now, and COVID was my assistant in making this and. Helping us move forward, I would have to say as horrible as COVID has been. The one thing good that it it has done well. There's been lots of good things that came out of COVID and and for for me and diva and my Divas. It has been just allowing everybody to slow down and and realize that there's other things that matter more and and so people going back to work. You know it's that they want the hybrid they want to work hybrid instead of just fully back in the office. They want to have that option of working part time from home, so that helps. That certainly helps. 

Jalen 

So that was, that really helps in terms of like helping like COVID is really open up the door for people. Hearing remote workers to be an integral part of their. 

Sharon 

Team, yes, it's interesting because I've I've been doing this kind of work for close to 20 years now. So 20 year and and so I was ahead of the game 20 years ago. I was doing this kind of work and and finally the world is catching up and and and I'm not the only one. You know there are some. Things like automatic, who it is, the WordPress owner they were doing this work years ago and and and and fully distributed, you know, just all remote for years, and so COVID is has certainly helped the trajectory of of this type of work. And becoming more mainstream and and and it's going to stay now, right? And so so now it it it it. It validates diva even more and it it it it more people are being told you know you should have a virtual assistant, so then they Google virtual assistants and the end diva pops up. And so that's really, you know, that's that's that's what I've been told from three of the four that contacted me is that they just looked up virtual assistant and and Devon popped up. So so. Thrilled about that. 

Jalen 

There have been people. Who have helped you along the way in various. Ways and. 

Sharon 

Oh many people, yeah. 

Jalen 

And that's probably made a difference, I would assume right? Giving that long journey. 

Sharon 

Well, you know we can't do, we can't. We can achieve a certain amount of success on our own, but then you will. You will plateau you, but we really can't achieve any major success without the help of others. And and I mean, that's what we're here for. We're here to help each other out. And that's actually my diva's motto. It's it's my motto, is, I help? Ioffer hope and Hope is an acronym for helping other People Excel. So yes, I've had a. You know my my partners, my sponsors, folks like like you, Jalen the SV. I team just many other organizations that bring me on to discuss Diva. Or you know the the the events where I've I've been. Paid to speak. That I'm talking about, you know the digital literacy and bridging the gap. 

Jalen 

I'm wondering about like what did you look for inside yourself to help you make it through? 

Sharon 

That's that's a good question. I think though, that what I have gone through in my life I I honestly believe that everything that I have gone through in my life has led me to this place. I believe that I went through the the traumas that I went through to make me a stronger person so that I could. I could actually talk about certain issues with with from a from a place of understanding you know, like from a place of. Knowing to bring validity to to what I'm trying to not preach, but but to to other people understand right and share. Throughout my life, I've always I'm I'm a spiritual person, but there have been there been times where I've just forgotten my spirituality and and got stuck in the quagmire and the situation that I was in believing in my in myself and pulling in my inner resources really comes from. The situations that I've been in and you know, I, I've come to realize that I can do hard things. I can do hard things I've I've pulled myself out of situations and I tell the Divas all the time. Everything is figure out able because it's true, everything is figure out able, you just have to. You just have to. Think about it. You know and and and and want to get out of that situation, and so that's part of the reason. Not part of the reason that's one of the. The things that I think about when with the DIVA program and and one of the benefits. To the Divas is. You know, because I've been in this situation where I needed to get out of this domestic situation, but I couldn't because he's got the finances. So what am I going to do? Well, I I've I've had to leave with nothing. And so then, what am I gonna do? You know, I'm gonna a new a new place I've and I've I've had to rely on on temp temp agencies for for work and so that's where this whole diva idea has come from is that I've done it. And it's it's it's pulled me out of situations many times. 

Jalen 

This vision has sort of been drawn from personal experience very deeply. 

Sharon 

Absolutely yeah, absolutely. 

Jalen 

And there have been people that have lended a hand. 

Sharon 

Ohh absolutely, throughout throughout my journey from the beginning, when I first came up with the concept to where I am now. 

Jalen 

Along the way. 

Sharon 

And so if if I think of so, when I first wrote the ideas down into a proposal, I was so excited. I got my proposal all done and and I started sending it out to every funding pot. I could think of I have, you know I have a big database and I I sent it out thinking oh I'm going to get all this work now and yadda yadda yadda. Not one person responded to me. It was the most disappointing and and devastating and a lot of people would have given up at that point. But I just figured OK, so now what do I do? I got to figure out a different way to reach these people because that wasn't that obviously wasn't the way to do it, but one of the first. My first supporters was Charlene, son Janko from powerhouse she and I've been friends and I've I've done some work with powerhouse and and and she became my first sponsor and so she was sending me a monthly response. The ship which helped me which helped was at the beginning, but more than that it was validation that you. Know here's this. This smart, savvy businesswoman investing in diva in in my idea that it hasn't even taken off the ground yet and she's investing in it. So that was, you know, validation that my my idea was. Worthy and I just kept going from there. And you know, when they see an organization attached then they get interested, right? Those powerhouse is a partner. The other partner is impact art society and that's Maya Shell Olmsted and so those two are my part of my braid and so. The three of us have a very strong braid, and So what? What that means to us is that we lean on each other for resources and and they can be a number of different things when we are trying to pull our projects together and and initiatives and and whatnot. So my last. Iteration of the program of the Diva 20 Week online Training program, which is now the DIVA Accelerator. It had two modules created by powerhouse and two modules created by Impact Arts. So just to give people an idea of because the internships were going to be. You could you could take an practicum from powerhouse or you could take a practicum from impact arts. You could take a practicum from Diva, but now it's changed. We test things out in every iteration of the program. It gets it changes a little bit, so those are my first two partners and then I've got Van City Credit Union who has. Sponsored my largest sponsorship and that was just last year and purple. The organization purple from Kelowna, their sponsor and my latest one is sisters in psychedelic. They're a sponsor and I've had other sponsors. I have had land of the forest people, David Carson from land forest people. He was an earlier sponsor. He actually sponsored a practicum and had one one of my first two Divas take a practicum and that was in 2020. Yeah, it's been. It's been amazing. Seeing the people that want to participate and contribute to Diva, yeah, it's it's been incredible and it's just getting more. I've I've got more people interested. Now I've got to indigenized that's just signed on with the Diva, so there's so they're. They are contracting a diva, and who else I've got? I can't can't even think about it at this moment, but I will. I'll do shout it out before. This session is over. 

Jalen 

Satisfaction to see to see how things are building. And if you were able to go back to a critical point in time in the past and share an important word of wisdom, do you have a sense of? What that what would that be? 

Sharon 

Well, certainly don't give up. There have been many instances where I have been so frustrated, you know, and. And like I said, many startups that they do things much differently than me. I have worked mostly on my own on this organization. It wasn't it only just over a year ago I had my daughter join me to to to help out and then like I said, I've had the the two partners help out with a couple of the modules, but that wasn't more. That wasn't to help out with the modules. As much as to enrich the program and and try to give something back to the the partners, not to give up and not just not to give up, but not to give up in in your vision your dream because I'm an indigenous woman creating this indigenous program. I'm I'm trying to decolonize everything and so I have gone. I've I've had people call me up and say OK, so that part of the program seems a little, you know. Colonial I think you need to reconsider the wording and and and and so and and as and I'm going indigenous woman. I'm being told that this right and so so for myself. I've I've taken it slow and and I'm doing it the way I feel that in my heart is that the the best way for the Divas? For everybody that's involved in this program to take it slow, do it your way and and and not to give up on your vision. It's your vision, and if you follow your heart, I believe that eventually you'll come to what it what it is that is meant to be shared with the. Rest of the world. 

Jalen 

I am super glad that you haven't didn't give up and that the Divas are out there and this growing, and I'm also really glad that you shared this with me today or with all of us and we really need to check in sometime in the not too distant future to see how this continues to progress. 

Sharon 

Thank you yes. So before I forget so the other ones the other shout outs are. The West Coast Climate Action Network. Or we can we have a contract with them for one of the Divas and. And that's really an exciting contract, and we also have a contract with the WeBC and we have a contract with IndigenEYEZ and so very thrilled and. And this is the beginning of something very beautiful... scarlet. 

Jalen 

It's so clear, yeah? 

Sharon 

Yeah, thank you so much for bringing me on. I really it's been a thrill to be able to talk all things DEVA. 

Jalen 

Well, thank you. 

Sharon 

It's my passion. 

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