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Don't Be Afraid to Forge Your Own Path

Jennifer Macdonald, VP Finance & Impact, Oberland Agriscience Inc.Oberland Agriscience Inc. is striving for better as a company. A better planet for the generations coming after us, and a better example for company culture. Jennifer Macdonald, Oberland’s VP of Finance & Impact, is the protective lioness of that ethos. “It’s about the work,” proclaims Macdonald. “If you are in a workplace that values gender over the work that you do, you’re not going to thrive.”

Jennifer’s career began right out of university when she went into Investment Banking. Within a couple of years, knowing she wanted more experience with financial modelling, she made the switch to the power and utilities industry group. In 2005, Ontario issued a request for proposal (RFP) for 2000 megawatts of renewable energy. This was Macdonald’s first exposure to renewable energy, and she was hooked.

Eager for a new challenge, Jennifer moved to Cambridge, UK, to complete an MBA under the Energy & Environment concentration. Shortly afterwards, she was selected as one of 10 to work on Project Vision, an advisory committee to the president of Togo, in West Africa. As Lead Energy Analyst, Jennifer worked with a Cambridge based micro-solar power company to present a prototype of a solar-powered battery solution to the Government at the time. The pitch was a success, and the government bought a couple of thousand pay-as-you-go solar powered units for Togolese citizens. The units allowed people to buy pre-paid credit for the solar panels, providing energy in their homes.

“I remember a female minister in Togo saying to me, “The woman carries the purse of the family because the woman is what protects it.” This sentiment resonated with Macdonald as she returned to Canada and continued to forge her own path, which took her into asset management for a time. While working with PH&N, Jennifer collaborated with the Global Equity team to launch RBC’s first fossil fuel free equity fund, as well as integrating environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) solutions across various equity portfolios.

The hardwired drive to make more of an impact was what inspired Macdonald to leave capital markets and join, CoPower, a start-up aimed at democratising investing in renewable energy projects. In essence, making it more accessible for Mr. & Mrs. Bloggs to invest in renewable energy projects, as historically high net worth and institutional investors are typically the investors that can access impact investments.  “During my time at CoPower, we raised over $20m from everyday Canadian investors that went to small scale renewable projects across Canada” comments Macdonald.

In 2019, a chance Instagram post reconnected Jennifer with Dr. Greg Wanger, founder, and CEO of Oberland Agriscience Inc. “We met for coffee while he was in Toronto. He told me about Oberland and I was inspired.” In her spare time, Jennifer worked on financial models for Oberland, before joining the Board in December 2020. In May 2021, she would resign from the Board to join the Oberland team in her fulltime position as VP of Finance & Impact. “I knew this would be the most impactful thing I would ever do.”

With two decades of professional experience behind her, Jennifer is passionate about equality in the workplace. “Don’t see yourself as a woman. It’s about being valued for the work that you do,” she explains. “Callout sexism in the workplace. If the culture doesn’t change, then it’s not the right place for you,” Jennifer continues. “If I don’t stick up for the people coming behind me, they are going to have the same stumbles.”

“Mentors change as you go through life, but my advice is to not seek out a mentor based on their gender,” encourages Macdonald, who has always steered towards the mentor she could connect with, regardless of gender. “When you are faced with professional roadblocks, bring them to management or HR. There is still a lot of unconscious bias that remains and will remain until we call it out.” 

Diversity in the workplace is what will elevate us as a civilization. “There are multiple metrics that show that more diversity - including women and race - on a board produce better governance, higher performance, and lower risk.”

Jennifer continues to be inspired and motivated by her strong female friendships. “My sister always worked hard and has a Ph.D. in Geology  because she loves rocks,” she exclaims. “You have to find your passion. Look to the women who forge their own paths and don’t be afraid to follow yours.”

On this International Women’s Day… or any day… you can learn more about the Canadian Women’s Foundation here. The Canadian Women’s Foundation is a national non-profit organisation focused on ending violence against women, lifting low-income women out of poverty, and empowering girls. The Canadian Women’s Foundation is the only national women’s foundation in Canada.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

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