Bright Side of Business: Former Air Force officer helps young Inuit women celebrate their own success

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Editor's Note

The Bright Side of Business is presented by Star Motors.

When Catherine Priestman makes up her mind to do something, she does it, no holds barred. 

After serving in the military for 12 years as an Air Force logistics officer, Priestman retired at the age of 29 to start her own consulting company. Before long, that consulting company morphed into a marketing company, CP Business Solutions Inc., now celebrating a decade since its official incorporation. 

Business got a little bumpy with COVID, but, mid-way through the pandemic, Priestman and her team won a contract to supply the territory of Nunavut with 20,000 medical-grade thermometers.

While it was a win for her business, it also meant something more to Priestman, who went to high school in Yellowknife. 

“I have very tight ties to the North,” she says. “Once you've experienced it, it sort of gets into your soul.”  

With her business thriving, Priestman was able to give back to others. “That's what fuels me,” she says.

Using some of that fuel, Priestman launched the Elizabeth Priestman Bursary in 2020 to recognize young Canadian women who are creating a positive impact in their community. The bursary is named after Priestman’s mother, a teacher and champion of women who is “still alive and makes sure I point that out every time I talk about this,” Priestman jokes. 

“I wanted to recognize her efforts and continue to give to other generations,” she adds.

Through the bursary, Priestman and her team have already supported three young women with $1,000 each for things like tuition or buying a new laptop.

But, while the bursary got applications from coast to coast, there were no applications from the North. So Priestman launched the CP Qulliq Bursary for Inuit women graduating high school. 

To ensure the bursary was effective and culturally sensitive, Priestman’s team set up a separate evaluation and advisory panel. The CP Qulliq Bursary isn’t based on academic or sports achievements. 

“We're not looking for the person who has the highest marks or who can jump the highest or who can run the fastest,” Priestman says. “The people who will come out as the eventual recipients are the ones who give back to the community, who make a difference for other people in their lives.”

There are three criteria that Priestman asks for: recipients must thank someone who helped shape them into who they are today; pay it forward; and celebrate themselves. 

“I feel like young women often forget to celebrate the actual accomplishments that they have made as individuals,” Priesment says. 

Since bursary applications can often be arduous and full of barriers, Priestman says that recipients don’t need to report back on any of the criteria or how they plan to spend the money. 

Supplemented by donors, the bursary budget is between $500 to $3,000. One donor is Mandy Gosewich, owner of Stunning!, a fashion store in the ByWard Market. The first time Priestman met Gosewich, “I was probably (in the store) for three hours, talking about our lives, buying fabulous clothing,” she says. 

At the end, Gosewich wrote Priestman a cheque for $1,000. “She said, ‘I've never met you before but I can tell that you're making a difference and I want to help you do that’,” Priestman recalls. 

She says that businesses have a responsibility to give back where they can. 

“It doesn't have to cost you money,” Priestman says. “If you can weave it right into the fabric of your business, that's where it's really successful.”

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The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.

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