Keeping The Lights On As An Immigrant Woman

If you are an immigrant, you know the tribulations that newcomers face when they move to a new country. How have these hardships changed your life? How have you overcome them and thrived? How will they impact you, positively or negatively, moving forward?

We are currently living through some of the most unusual times that this century has ever seen, yet women all over the world continue to pave their path forward. The meaning of leadership has changed so dramatically over the past several years, and we are looking ahead on what our future generation of women leadership will look like.

In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 08, 2021, we had the pleasure of getting to know Svetlana Ratnikova, the Founder and CEO of Immigrant Women in Business (IWB) Canada. We asked her some tough questions about her journey as an immigrant, her leadership and entrepreneurial spirits, and her honest advice for women all over the world.

Svetlana was born in Moscow, Russia, formerly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). She has a master’s degree in Marketing and Economics from Moscow State University of Economics, Statistics, and Informatics (MESI). When she moved to Canada, she pursued a B.S. from the University of Toronto, specializing in Business and Managerial Economics. Throughout her life, both in Russia and in Canada, Svetlana has founded several companies, and has a track record of success in business development. Her most recent venture is that of IWB, which she founded in 2017. IWB is a non-profit organization bringing together women from over fifty (50) different countries around the globe. These women have now made Canada their home and share a common goal of providing value to their new sisters.

Through her life’s journey, Svetlana had one thing in mind: giving back. She founded an organization that is dedicated to helping immigrant women succeed in business. The association is run by immigrant women, for immigrant women. Through a giving spirit, IWB helps women grow personally and professionally, showing us that strong female role models exist all around us.

When we asked Svetlana why she created this organization, she explained that it was simply the next step in her career. She noticed that everyone around her was struggling to grow and scale their enterprises, and since she had built many businesses in her past, she lent a helping hand. She thought, “If I start something like Immigrant Women in Business, I’ll give people, at least, hope and inspiration. And if I can bring one hundred people like me together, well, we have a pool of connections. In this country, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. We are all smart already, but we need connections that will help to expedite people’s businesses.” That’s the purpose of IWB: networking and developing meaningful business and personal partnerships.

This was not an easy task. How do you find a way to bring people together, provide others with services, and add value to their lives? For Svetlana, her experience founding and leading several companies would guide her along the way; and what helped propel her forward was her network of like-minded and driven business and professional women. With all these connections, what was the next step, and how does she put the connections to good use? She says, “Nobody came to my door… I went to their door myself. I asked anybody and everybody: I need this, I need that, I need your help. I saw the need to help people with their scalability through connections. Canada is perfect for that because Canadians love to help. We are nice people. Anything we do in business is about building relationships and providing value. And this is what the organization is all about. And it’s giving me so much joy to help people.” Svetlana did all of this while trying to keep the lights on.

As an immigrant woman, Svetlana also experienced her share of struggles. On top of the regular hardships that you would find in the infancy stages of any company, she explains, “When you cannot communicate, when you cannot speak the language, it is difficult to get anywhere. So, I removed myself from the Russian community, I moved downtown Toronto, I didn't know anybody, and I only interacted with people who speak English. I didn't understand a word, but eventually, when you put yourself in uncomfortable situations, that's where things happen.”

“There’s so much I can say about the challenges and struggles, but I am grateful for them as well because that's what made me who I am today. I'm [also] grateful for Canada, the land of freedom and opportunities.” She said it perfectly. We learn by going through tough times.

Nobody invited me here, I invited myself… Because I always knew that there was different life out there where I can just do more with who I am. – Svetlana Ratnikova

We were curious to find out how Svetlana feels about the social impact that IWB is having on her community. She says, “Immigrants come to this country to make a difference, to have an opportunity to actually do something authentic and meaningful for people.” For her, it’s a series of logical decisions that leads her down the path of success. “I act. If I feel like I can help people, I do it. If you make logical decisions, it will lead you to find the purpose of your life, and this is the gift on its own. You can earn money out of doing something good, and this is the definition of progress. Find something that you are passionate about and [sic] go. It starts with us.”

I act. If I feel like I can help people, I do it.– Svetlana Ratnikova

She mentioned something in the interview that really stuck with us, “Where there is a challenge, there is an opportunity.” This year has been rough on all of us, but Svetlana saw potential in growing the organization to a larger scale with the rise of virtual and remote work. She continued, “Even though we like meeting face to face, we had to switch. We're not going to stop, so we transitioned everything online. Then, we started inviting people from Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Québec, and we grew organically.”

“On March 08, we’re celebrating the freedom and human rights that we are privileged to enjoy in Canada.  This is what we want to bring to the world; to help others understand that Canada is the country of blessings. That's the beauty of it, that's the beauty of days like March 08. We celebrate because we have the heart that unites us. Each and every parent, each and every woman, wants to do best for their children and be a great example, and that's what we celebrate.”

Join us on this journey, every week for the March edition, as we share inspirational stories of immigrant women, highlighting their struggles, their accomplishments, and their plans for the future, in recognition of International Women’s Day 2021.