PoD-C: Ruth Nakalyowa, Donneil McNab, Venecia Williams

Special Alliance

members of pod-c

Like many teams, Roy Group has entered into some long-overdue conversations over these last few years. Shifts in our perceptions of mental health, addiction and psychological safety became strong themes in our conversations with each other and our clients. On the front of racism in the world, we realized that if we are not a meaningful part of the solution, we are still part of the problem. Our desire to be a more honest, open, understanding, welcoming and active team meant we had to begin the work of exploring the realms of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Of course, what this really required…was exploring ourselves. Because we ARE the work. The learning never stops. This process brought us to Ruth Nakalyowa and her colleagues Donneil McNab and Venecia Williams at Power of DisCourse (PoD-C). They have helped guide us through this work for ourselves, and we are excited to share their company and their approach with our clients.

Ruth, PoD-C and Roy Group are working together because of your connection with Nina. Can you explain a little more?

Ruth: In a nutshell, a movement called UWC (United World Colleges) brought us together. In high school I attended UWC Eswatini (Swaziland), and then later volunteered with UWC Canada. I met Nina there, as she was my supervisor. I stayed in touch with Nina after she left Pearson College UWC and moved to Roy Group. Because of the trust and familiarity between us, Nina invited me to do some Zoom hosting for Roy Group. From there, I connected with Chiz, who had attended UWC USA. After telling Nina and Chiz about PoD-C, we decided we could help Roy Group achieve their EDI goals.

Donneil, can you snapshot how you each found one another?

Sure. Ruth cofounded the Afro-Heritage Association at Royal Roads University, which is where I met her. We noticed we were passionate about making a difference through EDI initiatives, so we began co-facilitating free workshops for educators and youth organizations. I’ve known Venecia all my life (we are sisters), and through our chats I realized she was just as enthusiastic about EDI. As an educator in the post-secondary space, she was doing workshops too. We were all interested in taking things to the next level, and after getting to know each other we found that our beliefs aligned, so we decided to start our own company.

Can you capture PoD-C’s why? And why the name PoD-C?

Venecia: To put it plainly, we see the need for a company like PoD-C. Talking about EDI seems to be “in” right now, but oftentimes the people who are educating others in those spaces are speaking about experiences they have not lived. We, on the other hand, have. We occupy these spaces and we can speak to how oppression affects the emotional, mental and physical health of racialized communities. There’s a real opportunity for us to bring our education, knowledge and lived experience to this space. This is where the Power of DisCourse lies. Hence our business name.

How does your background set you up for working with Roy Group?

Donneil: We’ve all done previous work in the EDI field, whether it’s collaborating with companies or educational institutions at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels. Through these experiences, we’ve conducted relevant research and built EDI-specific educational materials. We have held or currently hold positions—leadership and otherwise—on several EDI-related and anti-racism committees. Most importantly, our combined multinational lived experiences and positionality (how one’s social orientation and power influences their identity and privilege) play a significant role in informing the work that we do.

What compelled you to focus on educating people about diversity, equity and inclusion?

Venecia: Well, we can start with my daughter’s experience of being in preschool, where she was told by another child he wouldn’t play with her because she’s Black. As a mother, this was heartbreaking for me. It made me realize I needed to keep fighting for her safety. We’ve also felt compelled to get involved because of experiencing and hearing about the microaggressions racialized people face in organizations, and in society in general. And we’re resolutely compelled by what we consider the basic human right for everyone to feel respected and included.

Talk about the apprehension people sometimes feel around EDI work. What is it that feels so scary? And what’s preventing them from doing this important work?

Ruth: Oh jeez. Do you have a few hours?! First of all, we can sense the nervousness when we enter rooms or Zoom calls. For many, the world of EDI is new. Many people will share that they only started paying attention after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. There is also fear of the unknown, of not knowing all the terms and concepts, of being called out or put on the spot, of having their personal biases be “found out”. Also, we’ve noticed there’s a general misunderstanding of EDI out there. Like, it’s an assumption that diversity is firing white folks and replacing them with BIPOC folks. That causes fear, too.

You ask about what’s preventing people from doing the learning. We see a lack of resources and funding for EDI work, for starters. There’s also this assumption that a two-hour workshop is enough. But how can it be enough? We’re talking about centuries of oppression. Major social programming. I also see a lack of motivation and dedication, as sometimes people are required to do EDI work on top of their regular job. That’s tough. What else…well, unfortunately I see a lot of what we call “performative actions”, like only posting a black square and feeling like you’ve actually taken meaningful action. And finally, another thing that’s preventing people from learning more is a lack of clear leadership around the issues, and people not really understanding what to do.

What makes POD-C so good at delivering this kind of learning?

Venecia: Number one, lived experience. Taken all together, we have a lot of experience studying, working and living in different countries. And a lot of experience being non-white! Number two, it’s our empathy. We understand the hesitancy many people have and the apprehension they might feel, so we approach this work with empathy and respect. Third, we’re all lifelong learners. We are constantly learning and applying new knowledge in the work we do. And finally, we are dedicated to ensuring that equity-deserving people feel respected and supported in their organizations.

Who is someone who inspires your work?

Ruth: A few names come to mind. Desmond Cole. Ijeoma Oluo. Kimberlé Crenshaw. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. Cole and Oluo have done extensive work in the field of EDI and anti-racism. They have an engaging and easily digestible way of conveying their ideas, which is how we choose to do this work: breaking down terms and concepts so that it’s easy for our audience to follow. Crenshaw’s work around intersectionality is at the core of EDI. We can’t—and shouldn’t—talk about social injustices without looking at how these issues overlap and cause multiple layers of injustice. And Adichie’s TED Talk on the danger of the single story fits into our work really well, as we have been hearing the same colonial narrative for decades. PoD-C is challenging that by sharing our lived experiences, thus adding multiple stories to the narrative and painting a bigger picture.

What gives you hope?

Donneil: Seeing how many youth have unapologetically and passionately gotten deeply involved in social justice work. Their efforts show that they recognize the effects of oppression at an early stage in their respective journeys and choose to address them. Also, the communities of like-minded individuals who uplift, teach and support each other in these spaces. They’re a reminder that we are not alone in doing this work and that a paradigm shift is imminent. And on a personal level? My support system, which includes my mom, sister and close friends.

When you’re not at work, what would we find you doing?

Venecia: I’m going to go with baking with my daughter, teaching Zumba to friends, and reading. I also like hiking, but only in the summer!

Donneil: Yeah, I’m with Venecia on the reading. Also for me, it’s relaxing at the beach, swimming and cooking.

Ruth: Score two for relaxing at the beach and reading! Trying out new restaurants. And painting—unprofessionally.

How do you paint unprofessionally? Like, throwing paint and swearing at passersby?

Ruth: No! Not like that. As in, not within a professional context. Amateur. I’m an amateur painter. It was important to me during the pandemic to pick up hobbies that didn’t bring any stress. So: no deadlines, no monetary value, just me and my canvas.

What’s something you can share about yourself that the rest of the PoD-C team doesn’t know about you?

Venecia: This one was hard! Donneil and I are sisters, so I really had to think about something she wouldn’t know. Here it is: I was in a commercial for Toyota’s presentation at the World Expo in 2005 in Aichi Japan.

Ruth: I played field hockey for my high school team from grades 9-11.

Donneil: I was a cheerleader in my teenage years and partook in competitions at school for several years. My team even won a few.