When asked about what makes the Banff Forum special, Victoria LaBillois was certainly not lost on words.

She explained that the Banff Forum brings together thought leaders from different industries, and backgrounds and encourages everyone to engage in a thoughtful conversation about what would be considered “important yet divisive topics” in Canada. 

“I’m sitting there, I’m interacting, I’m engaging; I’m having conversations with people I wouldn’t normally rub elbows with,” LaBillois said.

“And I was just thinking to myself, ‘wow…how enriching is this?!’”

Each year, Coca-Cola Ltd. sponsors two scholarship recipients to attend the Banff Forum.

The forum aims to advance education across the country by bringing together a diverse group of Canadians and help futher their leadership skills and contributions to the country.

Coca-Cola Ltd. sponsored two women entrepreneurs, LaBillois from Listuguj, QC and Anshula Chowdhury from Toronto, ON to attend the conference.

Chowdhury is the CEO and Founder of SAMETRICA, which is a software company that enables social, community and environmental reporting for enterprises.

“One of the refreshing things about Banff was that each of the attendees had something really interesting and insightful to add to the conversation,” Chowdhury said when asked about her experience at the forum. “The speakers were amazing, but the other attendees really made the forum impactful.”

LaBillois was also a scholarship recipient.

She is the President of Wejipeg Excavation and co-owns and serves as President of Wejuseg Construction Inc. LaBillois refers to herself as a “serial entrepreneur” and has a long list of special projects, businesses and Indigenous leadership programs that she is passionate about and actively supporting.

“I heard about the Banff Forum from a friend of mine who was participating,” LaBillois shared. “She told me I’d love it; that I would be able to grow by listening, learning and engaging with people outside my normal network.”

LaBillois, who is Mi’gmaq, explained that as an Indigenous entrepreneur, she was able to share her perspectives and insights with people who otherwise may not have the opportunity to connect with this group.

The Banff Forum sparked progressive solutions to some of Canada’s most pressing challenges. Those agenda items included climate change, technology, adoption of Canadian society and Indigenous Issues.

So, naturally, when LaBillois and Chowdhury discovered Coca-Cola Canada was able to sponsor their participation and send them to the conference, they were elated.

“I think it’s really astute of Coca-Cola to realize that this is something they can play a real part in,” Chowdhury said.

The Coca-Cola Company announced their 5by20™ initiative back in 2010; which committed to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs globally by 2020.

Specifically, this means that the company is addressing the most common barriers women face when trying to succeed in the marketplace. This initiative offers women access to business skills training courses, financial services and connections with peers or mentors – along with the confidence that comes with building a successful business.

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” LaBillois said when asked about her thoughts on Coca-Cola’s mission to empower female entrepreneurs. “Coca-Cola is helping create an environment that’s not only going to help entrepreneurs, but really everyone affected by those entrepreneurs.”

“Together, it’s everyone’s responsibility that we lift each other up.”