Special Interest Group: Including Wellness in the Communications Practice

Physical and mental health play a significant role in our success. The pressures created by the speed of current information flow, the 24/7 “on” cycle with social media, smart phones, work email – we are accountable for the flow, for ensuring that issues are managed and crises averted. This is a lot to be responsible for. How do you manage your practice in a sustainable way respecting your own general wellness? Is there something you do to be well that others can learn from? Would you like to hear what others do that works well for them? This session is designed to discuss wellness specifically for the communications professional and to talk about the challenges we all face. The goal is to discuss solutions to problems that may be more common than you think. You will walk away knowing that you are not alone in this and that there are resources to help you thrive on the job.

When: Monday, 25 June 2018 from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Where: Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) | 979 Bank Street | #400

This is a free member event! 

Save your spot now! 

About Special Interest Groups:
Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are IABC-member only events that provide an informal opportunity to connect, learn and exchange knowledge with peers in an area of particular interest and relevance.SIGs are moderated by a subject matter expert, and are a great space to ask questions, or gain insights into a specific topic. Interested in suggesting a SIG topic or hosting one? Contact membership@ottawa.iabc.com.

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.

Let’s talk money $$$

Post by Past-President Dominique Jolicoeur on her time as chapter Treasurer. 

Around this time last year, I recapped my term as President of IABC Ottawa. What a year!

I knew going into my final year on the Board that I had to continue to challenge myself in unexpected ways. But how?

I found my answer at 2017 Leadership Institute in Dallas. I was attending a session on financial management by Ginger Homan, who at the time was the Treasurer of the International Executive Board. Her passion for finances was contagious. I mean, her main key message:

“Finances are sexy.”


Following the session, I told my IABC Ottawa colleagues that I would be taking on the role of Treasurer for the Chapter. I already had an interest in personal finance. Why not apply this interest to a business context?

A year later, here are my biggest lessons to share with any communicator taking on a similar role:

Get a grip on internal controls

The first thing I did going into the season was develop a checklist of internal controls. Essentially, this is a set of guidelines that are followed to reduce the risk of misappropriation of funds – whether it is intentional or accidental. There are many times over the season that I went back to this checklist. Especially if there was any doubt on how to proceed with a financial related issue.

A few items on our checklist:

  • Require prior authorization for financial commitments over the amount budgeted.
  • Prepare a monthly financial statement and provide copies to all board members for review.
  • Produce a written copy of our financial policies and pass copies on to the next Board.
  • Set up our bank account so it requires two signatures on all cheques.

As Board members, we have the legal obligation to act in the best interest of our Chapter and these controls gave us peace of mind.

Develop a strategic budget

This was by far my favorite responsibility during my term as Treasurer. As a strategic communicator, I found that setting a strategic budget made a lot of sense. It’s all about looking beyond the numbers and digging into the organization’s strategic plan to align the budget with your objectives.

Our first step was to determine our objectives as a Chapter. Once each Vice President knew what they wanted to accomplish, it was time to sit down and determine how our budget would support them. Ginger’s session prepared me with the questions we needed to consider:

Are you budgeting to support the areas you want to grow?

Since leadership development was a priority again this year, we dedicated budget to the professional development of Board members.

Are you implementing programs that contribute substantially to the financial support of your chapter?

In an effort to retain our members, we dedicated budget to provide value add to our membership throughout the season.

Do you need to eliminate unprofitable activities?

We’re currently revising our awards program to create better ROI.

Share the knowledge

My main goal for the season was to share what I was learning with the rest of the Board. I did this in two ways:

Monthly reporting

Although I was sharing our financial reports with the team on a monthly basis, I noticed that there weren’t many questions being asked on our finances.

Perhaps I wasn’t tailoring the message to my audience?

Knowing that communicators are a visual bunch, I used the profit and loss report to create visual graphics of our revenue streams, expenses and actual vs. budgeted.

That did the trick! We started having more finance related discussions around the Board table. To take it a step further, our President added the update from finance at the top of the agenda so that we could take our finances into consideration during each portfolio update. Good call!

Bring in the advocates

The Board had identified finances as an area they wanted to develop. Upon hearing this feedback, I wanted the Board to experience Ginger’s passion for finances first hand since it was what got me there in the first place.

I invited Ginger Homan and Alain Legault to one of our board meetings to talk about financial management. Our Board appreciated the insight into IABC’s finances and I’m confident they find numbers a little more sexy after hearing from them.

I am by no means a financial expert. However, I’m no longer the communicator in the room saying:

“I don’t do numbers. It’s why I went into communications.”

Over the past year, I too have become an advocate for business and financial acumen within our profession. I look forward to continuing to build on this at the international level next season while serving on the International Investment Committee. My new role will become official at the AGM at World Conference on June 2.

Would you consider taking on a financial role on a Board?

2018 IABC Canada Silver Leaf Awards Call for Entries

Silver Leaf is Canada’s premiere professional awards program celebrating excellence in business communication. It’s a chance for communicators working in all disciplines to receive national industry recognition for outstanding work in the field of communications.

The 2018 call for entries is now open for IABC Canada’s national awards program, Silver Leaf. Professional communicators from across the country are invited to submit the best of their work for evaluation and have the chance for national recognition through the prestigious Silver Leaf award.

“I know member of our community have accomplished leading edge work in our field. I encourage all IABC Ottawa members to craft their entries and realize the benefits of gaining national recognition for their work,” says Kaleigh Maclaren, Chapter President. “IABC Ottawa is known within Ottawa for its talented communicators. I invite all of you to showcase your work to the rest of Canada by earning Silver Leaf recognition.”

With 47 categories for entry that reflect all aspects of the work of professional communicators, the Silver Leaf awards are only available to Canadian members and are an excellent stepping stone to the next level of achievement, Gold Quill.

Don’t miss out on the reduced entry-free by entering before the early-bird deadline on June 15. The final deadline for all entries is on July 13.

More information and access to the online application system are available on the IABC Canada website.


Early bird deadline: Friday, June 15, 2018
Final deadline: Friday, July 13, 2018

View the call for entries for full information.


5 Tips for Young Professionals from IABC members

IABC Ottawa Young Professional SIG attendees share their advice for other young professionals!

About Special Interest Groups:
Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are IABC-member only events that provide an informal opportunity to connect, learn and exchange knowledge with peers in an area of particular interest and relevance.SIGs are moderated by a subject matter expert, and are a great space to ask questions, or gain insights into a specific topic. Interested in suggesting a SIG topic or hosting one? Contact membership@ottawa.iabc.com.

Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/ktgPBRpiIh8