Roxanne Joyal is CEO of ME to WE, an innovative social enterprise that empowers people to change the world with their everyday consumer choices. Her belief in the transformative potential of social enterprise has taken her from the villages of rural Asia and Africa to the top boardrooms and design showrooms of New York and Los Angeles. As founder of ME to WE Artisans, Roxanne has created an international market for the intricate handiwork of more than 1,400 indigenous women in Kenya, allowing them to lift their families out of poverty and establish themselves as leaders in their communities.
Through powerful and authentic stories, Roxanne shares insights that will help you launch your own social enterprise, creating original products, services or experiences that change the world.
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When she first travelled to Kenya as a teenage volunteer, Roxanne was struck by the profound beauty, wretched poverty and the strong and resourceful women she met.
Her task was to start a fair trade program so women in the impoverished communities could sell their beadwork to visitors. Inside their small huts, the mamas showed Roxanne their exquisite handiwork, objects they used in rituals surrounding birth, marriage, warriorhood and death. Thinking of their craft as not art but necessity, these women could not believe that Roxanne wanted to sell their work and return the profits to them and their families.
In helping empower these women, Roxanne found her calling.
She went on to graduate from Stanford University with a degree in international relations, earn a coveted Rhodes scholarship and a law degree at Oxford, and clerk for the Supreme Court of Canada. But rather than pursue a conventional career, she chose to bring her training back to the communities that first inspired her.
As founder of ME to WE Artisans, Roxanne now leads social and economic empowerment initiatives for women in Kenya’s Maasai Mara and in Ecuador. Infusing centuries-old traditions with modern elements, ME to WE collections share the artistry of indigenous cultures with North American consumers looking to make a positive impact through their purchase.
A beading project that started with 25 women now provides fair wages to more than 1,500. By joining Artisans, each woman is able to build her savings to do things that were previously impossible: improve her home, buy food and medicine for her family, send her children to school, and emerge as a leader in her own right.
Roxanne’s continued commitment to the Artisans program has led to widespread retail traction, with ME to WE products now being sold in over 12,000 locations across North America through partnership with influential retailers.
As CEO of ME to WE, Roxanne has led the creation of its unique volunteer offerings, allowing travellers to break free from a touristic experience and find meaningful connections in communities where ME to WE’s charitable partner, WE Charity, puts its 20-year history of sustainable development to work. She established Bogani Cottages and Tented Camp, a first-of-its-kind facility designed as a rejuvenating home base for youth, adults, families and corporate groups volunteering in Kenya. The success of Bogani led Roxanne to expand this niche experience with the creation of Araveli Cottages and Tented Camp in Rajasthan, India, and the Minga Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Roxanne was awarded an honorary doctorate from Nipissing University in 2012 and received the Order of Canada in May 2017. ME to WE is a certified B Corporation, an indication of high social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.