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The Year of Intention— My Experience at SVI: Banff

How the three day gathering reconnected me to the concept of intention

November 22, 2022 by Jenna Walsh

Ten minutes before midnight on Dec 31 2021, I scribbled down the words: ‘the year of intention’.

To me this meant a few things. For my business, it meant more time for thoughtful planning— more time working on rather than in my company. For my work with Be Local it meant creating space to reflect on and pursue the work that lights me up the most. And for my personal life it meant slowing down. Cutting out the events, people and social obligations that didn’t align with my values and energy.

The year of intention was going to be my year for focusing in on what matters most to me. For patience. For slowed but meaningful action.

And then the clock struck midnight, and for the first six months of 2022, I did the exact opposite.

I said yes too often. In many cases I acted too hastily when making decisions about new business partnerships out of fear I would miss out on opportunities. I failed to uphold personal boundaries with people I cared about. I took on too much work. And I didn’t have time to reflect because I didn’t have time for, well, anything but my ever-extending, never relenting ‘to do’ list.

It wasn’t until the Social Venture Institute (SVI) conference in Banff that I had the time and space to reconnect with the concept of intention.

SVI is sometimes referred to as a conference, but I’m not sure if that’s the right word for it. Yes, it’s a place for social venture leaders to gather and learn and network, but it’s a lot more than that. Being there is a bit like being in a warm bubble— a safe and welcoming space that exists separate from the outside world. It’s inviting and enticing, and also a little bit uncomfortable. At SVI people get vulnerable. Really vulnerable. It creates an energy unlike anything I’ve experienced.

This was the first SVI I’ve ever attended, and I was in a unique position in that I was wearing multiple hats—I was both helping run the conference as a Be Local employee, and experiencing it through the lens of a business owner.

As a Be Local employee, and as someone with little prior experience hosting seminars, I felt privileged to have a behind the scenes look at what it means to put an event together with intention. All the seemingly small choices that were made — switching the direction of the stage so that the mountains became the backdrop, allowing space for silence, normalizing the words ‘I see you’, inviting people to connect through art and fire and Indigenous drumming,—were all made with undeniable purpose, and you could feel that as you moved through each talk and activity.  

As I business owner, I was consistently inspired by the entrepreneurs I chatted with, learned from and listened to. There were entrepreneurs with ventures of all sizes, across all industries— from tea businesses to construction companies to capital management firms.  The thread that connected them all was the unrelenting desire to make an impact with their work, and their willingness to makes sacrifices and get kicked a thousand times in pursuit of that goal.

A stand out moment for me was when four members—Raj, Sebastian, Joby and Verna— of a social enterprise called Newo gave an intimate and informal talk on the first full day of the conference. They didn’t just speak about the unique structure of their enterprise, they opened up about their personal lives, talking candidly about the trials, hardships and experiences that led them to dream about doing business radically differently. I remember Raj concluding quite simply: “Kindness is what matters. Nothing more.”

As I took in their energy and listened to the rawness in their voices, I became unexpectedly emotional. Collectively the Newo group, to me, represented many things beyond entrepreneurship: love, grief, hope, and loss. It led me to an honest reckoning with the concept that our time here is very much finite. And that means you can’t do everything. You have to wake up every day and make decisions on what matters the most. On how you can best make an impact. You have to live and act with intention. Despite my new years resolution, this was something that I had lost sight of as my life sped up and my ‘to do’ list took over. I walked away from Newo’s talk realizing that I need to refocus my energies to where it feels most right, especially in my business.

SVI not only reminded me of the importance of being intentional, it helped me reconceptualize what intentionality means, and what it doesn’t. I think I had an underlying fear that if I chose to focus in on the few things that matter most to me and cut the things that didn’t, that any failures would hit harder, and that life would feel too serious.

Little moments throughout the three days at SVI helped me let go of the idea that living with intention means everything must go according to plan in order to feel fulfillment. Like when Sam Obadero and I planned on doing the 6am glacial plunge but showed up 10 minutes late and missed the group. Instead of experiencing a metaphorical rebirth and finding rejuvenation in the cold glacial water, we doggy-paddled around the Banff Centre hot tub talking about African food and horoscope signs. You can create intentions and then life—forces bigger than ourselves— can guide us down a different path. And that’s okay. Evelyne Nairo of Ellie Biance didn’t intend on creating a skin care brand centered on providing women a sustainable income until a Kenyan woman sold her a mango, and Evelyne realized the woman’s husband received all the profits. Ted Flemming of Partake Brewing hadn’t intended on creating the number one non-alcoholic beer in Canada, until he got Crohn’s disease and realized how having few non-alcoholic options limited people’s ability to connect socially. Being intentional doesn’t mean you have to force it. It means having a sense of openness and following curiosities until those curiosities turn into magic.

And magic is, without a doubt, the best word I could use to describe Social Venture Institute: Banff.