Digital Empowerment: Sharon Marshall’s Vision for Indigenous Women’s Independence
Nestled in Lantzville, British Columbia, Cree and Métis innovator Sharon Marshall, is shining a light on the endless possibilities digital literacy can unlock for Indigenous women with DEVA Training & Staffing Solutions, aka Digital DEVA.
Driven by startling statistics concerning unemployment among Indigenous women and her personal experiences, Sharon embarked on a mission: “Having fled domestic violence when my kids were little, and being able to keep my job because I worked remotely, I know the importance of financial independence and work-from-home employment for Indigenous women,” she shared.
Digital DEVA isn’t just another online training platform. It’s an initiative that promises mentorship and guaranteed job placements for its graduates. Sharon elaborated, “Mentorship is the cornerstone of this program. The DEVAs (Digital Executive Virtual Assistants) receive mentorship during the 20-week online program and through their practicums and job placement contracts.” The unique value proposition is evident, “I am the only online program in Canada that guarantees job placement upon practicum graduation.”
Currently, the venture is in its nascent stages, with a proof of concept established through 40 women who have completed the program and three DEVAs taking VA contracts. However, Sharon’s vision is grand. She sees this program expanding not just across Canada but internationally to countries like Mexico and Australia.
The profound impact of DEVA Training extends beyond just employment. “They gain self-confidence, self-worth, self-reliance, and self-determination. These soft skills ripple out to their families, and communities and showcase them as positive role models, which helps to heal the cycle of intergenerational trauma,” Sharon highlighted.
Sharon’s entrepreneurial journey is filled with pride and challenges alike. She beams with pride, mentioning, “I am most proud of the impact this program that I created has and can have on the women I support.” However, like all entrepreneurs, she acknowledges the hurdles, stating the most challenging aspect is “getting the word out and finding the funding to enable Indigenous women to take the program.”
Her decision to join Pow Wow Pitch was fueled by a desire to make a difference. She expressed, “I thought I had a chance at the grand prize, and $25,000 would enable me to sponsor five women to take the program.” The competition also accentuated the value of mentorship, a pillar in Sharon’s initiative. Her mentors, Robert Perron from RBC and Jim Flett from NACCA provided valuable insights into pitching and maintaining a positive demeanor.
Reflecting on Indigenous entrepreneurial ethos, Sharon emphasizes that profit isn’t the primary objective. “My program is infused with the Seven Sacred Teachings, and we only work with individuals and organizations who are on the path of truth and reconciliation,” she added.
The biggest lesson for Sharon? Resilience. “Life as an entrepreneur is very rewarding; however, it can be a roller coaster ride at times. I have learned how best to ride the waves,” she shared.
For Indigenous individuals aspiring to embark on their entrepreneurial journey, Sharon’s advice is simple yet profound: “Believe in yourself and your idea. Especially if it keeps you up at night, keep at it. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different. Surround yourself with positive people who have your back.”
Ending her narrative on a powerful note, Sharon emphasizes, “Indigenous women are the backbone of Indigenous communities. When Indigenous women thrive, we all thrive.”
In an era marked by digital transformation, Sharon Marshall is not just training Indigenous women to be digitally savvy; she is empowering them to rewrite their destinies.
Register to watch Sharon pitch at the Professional Services Online Watch Party on September 11, 2023, at 6 PM ET and vote for Sharon to win the 2023 People’s Choice Prize (#23) before September 17, 2023.