Lessons from IRONMAN for the communications world: Basia Vanderveen profile

Communicator, accredited IABC professional…extreme IRONMAN athlete?

It’s an exceptional combination.

But there are few other ways that adequately sum up Basia Vanderveen’s unique contribution in the workplace.

“I love what endurance sports have brought to my life for me, for my family, and for my employers,” says Vanderveen. “I have to stay organized and efficient or else things won’t work at all.”

A passion for communications

Vanderveen is the principal of Strategink Consulting, her independent communications firm. For the past few years in that position, she’s mostly worked with government clients.

Prior to that, she held a varied list of roles in the private (Corel Corporation, Ekos Research), public (Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada) and not-for-profit (Canadian Dental Association) sectors.

What she loves most about her current role is strategy development.

“I have always enjoyed the research and analysis phase of communications strategy because it requires problem solving skills and knowledge of the subject you’re working on,” she says. “Putting a strategy together can be like solving a puzzle, when you are done, you see the big masterpiece and it all makes sense.”

An accredited communicator

Completing an IRONMAN is enough to make Vanderveen a unique member of the Ottawa communications community.

But there’s something else as well.

Vanderveen is the only person based in Ottawa  – and one of the few in the country – who holds both an MBA and IABC’s Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) designation.

The certification designates an internationally-agreed upon standard for key principles and job competencies within the communications community.

For Vanderveen, it’s helped further a lifelong love of learning and allowed her to stand out compared to other communications professionals.

“The IABC accreditation offers us a chance to validate our knowledge and experience,” says Vanderveen. “It also boosts our value in the market, which is important when we compete against so many other professionals.”

IRONMAN in the workplace

There are no shortages of lessons for professional life from the sports world, says Vanderveen.

“IRONMAN and Extreme IRONMAN give me a chance to pursue goals that may appear out of bounds for a middle-aged working mom, but aren’t at all,” she says. “I wish more women would undertake health-related goals outside of work.”

But it’s benefitted more than just in her personal life.

An ability to juggle work and a commitment to exercise demonstrates an attitude that will be irreplaceable in the workplace.

“I recently heard from a headhunter that some organizations specifically ask to find future employees who are marathon runners, for example,” she says. “They know that these athletes who juggle work and life with passion will get things done efficiently. We do!”

A commitment to IABC

Vanderveen is more than just an IABC Ottawa member.

She literally wrote the book on IABC.

As part of her Masters of Business Administration, Vanderveen had to complete a thesis.

She decided to write it on IABC – the association, its membership, value and services.

Since then, it’s helped to inform the growth of the local chapter.

“It didn’t sit on a shelf. Some of the local IABC smarts took the recommendations and ran with them,” she says. “I’m very happy to say that I see the results of the seeds planted back then and that the Ottawa chapter continues to thrive.”

Helping others

Vanderveen says she’s now at a point in her career where helping others is paramount.

That’s where IABC will continue to play a role in her professional and personal life.

“I’ve always enjoyed mentoring others and I want to keep doing that when opportunities arise,” says Vanderveen. “Networking and nurturing the network are part of my DNA, too, and connecting people is something I enjoy. It is very much a part of the IABC philosophy, I think.”

Connect with Basia:

From festival founding to communications: IABC Ottawa’s Awelana Akeriwe shares lessons from AfroFest

 Awelana Akeriwe’s accomplishment is one to which few other Ottawa communicators can lay claim: Starting, from scratch, an annual festival that celebrates African culture.

But founding AfroFest, a Regina-based festival, is more than just a unique line on her resume. She says it’s helped her a lot in her communications career.

“With AfroFest I quickly learned that starting a non-profit and putting on an annual event involves a lot of relationship building,” says Akeriwe. “For me, being authentic and making that human connection always worked.”

Building a festival on African pride

Akeriwe, originally from Ghana, has always found pride in her African heritage.

It was what she wanted to share with the rest of her community when she started Regina AfroFest, which debuted in Saskatchewan on July 5, 2014.

The event brings together live music performance, drum and dance, arts and craft, African food and workshops to celebrate Africa’s diversity.

“I’m proud of my African heritage and I wanted to share this rich culture with my community,” she says.

“Plus, with my communications background and interests in public relations, I felt I had what it took to make this happen.”

The event ran in downtown Regina’s Victoria Park for four years before going on hiatus for 2018.

During that time, the festival grew from having a zero-dollar budget to having multiple sponsorships and a recognized brand.

“Bringing this form of educative entertainment and diversifying the festival landscape in Regina has been one of my proudest achievements,” she says.

From AfroFest to TD (and IABC Ottawa)

In her day job, Akeriwe works as a Communications Analyst with TD. She also is a member of IABC Ottawa. A commitment to collaboration has defined her position, helping to bring together diverse teams spread around different locations.

“Our teams are always communicating, brainstorming, problem solving – together,” she says. “We’re always looking at the bigger picture.”

This constant collaboration encourages a culture of continuous learning, she says.

For example: She’s learned to use Canva, a simple design tool to create professional designs – both for internal and external communications. “I’ve been able to grow beyond my comfort zone,” says Akeriwe.

Lessons from AfroFest

Akeriwe says AfroFest has taught her invaluable lessons in her career.

  • Relationship-building counts: Akeriwe says she’s always had a penchant for networking. Founding AfroFest helped her to build on her commitment to connecting with others. “For me, being authentic and making that human connection always worked,” she says.
  • Build a great team: Akeriwe learned this first-hand as chairman of AfroFest’s Board of Directors. “I’ve had to be flexible but also hold on to my values. Honesty and integrity has been at the core of everything I do.”
  • Don’t discount writing skills: Building AfroFest meant grant proposals – a lot of them. “It goes without saying that good writing and editing skills have been highly essential. Seeking a second opinion on my work has always served me well.”
  • It’s never too early to start planning: Akeriwe attributes much of AfroFest’s success to building a strong brand; however, recognizing your target dates and building in sufficient lead times can make planning less onerous. How did the festival do it? 1) By building a business and marketing plan right from the outset 2) maintaining consistent messaging across all channels and 3) building the right relationships.
  • Trust your gut: Akeriwe says this is perhaps the strongest yet subtle revelation she takes from AfroFest. “There’ve been times where I have not hesitated to offer a differing view if I feel the team was not headed in the right direction. It has more often than not paid off.”

A commitment to diversity

Akeriwe has always championed diversity.

And founding AfroFest has only further affirmed to her its benefits.

“Given that we are presenting the cultures of a continent, which in itself is diverse, we’ve made it a point to create partnerships with other community groups and include both Africans and non-Africans in the planning process ― in Africa there is a saying that ‘Together we stand…’ to mean there is strength in diversity,” she says.

“After all, the festival is open to everyone regardless of age or background and so it makes sense to involve as many from our community.”

It’s an approach that would apply to many organizations in communications.

“You’ll be amazed the amount of creative ideas you can gather from a team of people with diverse backgrounds.”

Building a career with the help of IABC Ottawa

Akeriwe joined IABC Ottawa having relocated, to stay connected with other communicators, broaden her network and enhance her communications knowledge.

“For me, it’s a great opportunity to access (members-only resources) relevant materials and stay informed on industry trends,” she says.

Her advice to young communicators?

Networking is important. But so too is focusing your discipline.

“Having a broad knowledge of the profession is great and valuable, but as you progress in your career and because the Communications discipline is very broad with a wide spectrum of different domains,” says Akeriwe. “If you can nail down a specialty of Communications you’re really good at or have a passion for, then do it.”

Connect with Awelana on LinkedIn and Twitter.

A commitment to authenticity: IABC Ottawa profile of Rojen Izzetpanah

Ro Izzetpanah has held many positions in her career. Finance specialist with the Government of Canada. Customer Service Representative for a major national bank. Manager of Marketing for an amateur baseball team.

But what some might call “job hopping” or indecisiveness is actually, for Izzetpanah, reflective of her broader philosophy on marketing communications.

It all comes down to authenticity.

“The further you get from your authentic self the more it can be seen through, and to succeed in communications I think that staying true to a voice, and being able to act in a digital world the same way that you do in real life, earns respect you and allows people to believe in your brand,” says Izzetpanah.

A space for like-minded professionals

Izzetpanah currently works in digital communications with the Senate of Canada and is a member of IABC Ottawa. She says she joined because she wanted to network with other professionals and exchange ideas with like-minded professionals working in working the same space. Since joining she’s found value in the fun events and inspirational speakers. It’s just one part of her unique approach to career-building.

The other half? Her commitment to authenticity.

Finding authenticity

There is no denying that the rise of the internet has been a boon to marketing and communications professionals. There are now more tools than ever available to reach audiences. But to Izzetpanah it’s also changed some interactions for the worse. “I think that when whether you’re in marketing, public relations or really any communications role, the point of the internet is to create relationships,” says Izzetpanah.

The problem, she says, is that it’s difficult to see those relationships through the numbers that frequently dominate internet marketing campaigns.

“As communications professionals are paid to produce results it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and information that you can provide to a client, things like x amount of impressions on their company’s name or logo,” she says. “But as humans we crave real things – it’s in our nature, to care about raw, real things.”

Those brands that are willing to show their flaws and connect with audiences on a human level will find more lasting success, says Izzetpanah.

Always something to learn

That commitment to authenticity also informs Izzetpanah’s broader career strategy.

I move from place to place because I believe there’s something to learn in each one of those industries

She’s held several positions at multiple organizations – including Correctional Service of Canada, TD, the Ottawa Champions – in just a few years. “I’ve always been all over the place,” she says. “My career path is very similar to the way my brain works – I move from place to place because I believe there’s something to learn in each one of those industries.”

She’s the first to acknowledge how it looks to outsiders – “many of my peers have laughed at me, and told me to settle down and just pick something” – but says she’s just staying true to herself.

“I am a strong believer that we can do anything we want, especially when we’re young,” she says. “I’ve always focused on trying new things based on the opportunity to learn.”

Connect with Ro Izzetpanah on LinkedIn.