“Teacher, because you were here, you made a difference.” These words uttered from the lips of an underprivileged child in Paraguay many years ago were the launching pad for many great things to come. This small voice of an earnest child somehow echoed louder than the voices of many who had tried to diminish her self-esteem.
Chris-Beth Cowie has spent the better part of the last decade carving out her own path, conquering uncharted territory and creating new language along the way.
Drawing from a wealth of experience as a social entrepreneur, speaker and humanitarian, Chris-Beth is spreading her invaluable knowledge to other entrepreneurs. Simply put, she is a master at discovering business solutions and leading others to do the same for their businesses.
“My mantra since I was 16 years old has been, ‘I want to make a difference in this world,’” Chris-Beth told The Weight She Carries. “I wake up in the morning and give God thanks for all the blessings and ask, ‘What can I do today to make a difference?’ Not every day turns out perfectly the way that I’d like it. But I would say, on average, my days are great – they’re funepical!”
“Funepical,” is a word, her word, that combines “fun” and “epic” and most accurately describes the memorable and impactful moments that fuel her passion each day. No other word comes close. After all, isn’t being a leader all about taking that which exists and creating something far greater? Something funepical, if you will.
As the chief social impactor of her company, Empowered 4X, her days are filled with developing programs to boost social enterprises, hosting a daily talk show called BizGrams, mentoring entrepreneurs and speaking to young people. She loves recharging and recalibrating in nature. Leadership is nothing new for Chris-Beth. It’s who she is.
Chris-Beth grew up in Trinidad and Tobago in a household that upheld Christian values and emphasized loving God and others. Her upbringing was filled with the rich cultural diversity the twin-islands offer and fond memories of beach limes and running through freshly cut sugarcane fields while flying kites with her siblings and cousins.
“One of the unique things about my life is my half-twin, Joelle,” Chris-Beth said. “[I share] the same birthday with a young sister who is three years younger. A memorable celebration was with a Barbie birthday cake. Life was great.”
Then, in 2002, her parents, Carlos and Bernadine, made the decision to move Chris-Beth and her siblings Lance, Joelle and Jessi to Brampton, Canada.
At 13, Chris-Beth suddenly found herself in a very different world. Brampton had little diversity back then, and being transplanted from a melting pot of various cultures to a sea of white people and snow was the ultimate culture shock. She remembered the words of her beloved grandfather Fritz to take all of the opportunities the land of Canada would present to help her reach her full potential. Chris-Beth dared to rise to the opportunities but quickly met real challenges.
“In my high school, coming into this predominantly white space, feeling like I didn’t belong and my accent was much stronger, people would say, ‘What did you say? Are you speaking English?’”Chris-Beth Cowie
She didn’t see many people that looked like her – not at church, not in her neighborhood, and definitely not at school. Her accent and brown skin gave the bullies plenty of fodder for their cheap shots, and to a young Chris-Beth, their comments stung.
“I heard things like, ‘Go back to wherever you came from!’, ‘Let’s go n***er hunting,’ or, ‘Get off from this space!’” she said.
While many of the students were mean, some teachers and some students at North Park Secondary School rallied for change and acceptance. They wanted a school that reflected the changing demographics of the city and started a campaign with students called “The Future We Want.” Chris-Beth saw firsthand the power of activism and advocating for social change. What Chris-Beth also learned was that change takes time.
Meanwhile, she struggled with her identity, and her insecurities heightened when her hair began to fall out in patches. At 14, Chris-Beth’s dad took her to First Choice Haircutters to shave her head for the first time. The white barber didn’t know how to cut black hair. It felt like she was being torched on the chair.
As tears rolled down her face, she wondered if she would be rejected for being bald by all.
“I remember going home very sad and nervous about going to school the next day, so I call one of my friends, Shauna (who is one of my best friends today), saying ‘Are you still going to be my friend?’” Chris-Beth recalled.
“I think in that space of dealing with a lot of insecurities – I’m Black, bald, thinking I was not beautiful and good enough in a predominantly white church and school, the stares and whispers made me feel like I didn’t fit in and I didn’t belong– the struggle was real. I think I internalized a lot of that. But the way that I hid my struggle was with a smile.”Chris-Beth Cowie
But an opportunity was on the horizon – one that would ignite her passion and propel her towards her purpose.
At 16, Chris-Beth was presented with an opportunity to travel to Paraguay through Canada’s only international co-op program in partnership with AFS at her school. Eagerly, she rushed home to ask if she could go. Her parents were reluctant at first, but their persistent daughter persuaded them. Her dad instilled and nurtured the entrepreneurial spirit in her, which she used to raise funds to go. The adventure of leaving Canada for South America without her parents was a thrill and a nerve-wrecking experience.
For four months, she taught English as a second language to children and lived with a host family in a rural part of the country.
The children she taught were underprivileged and came to school in tattered clothing. Towards the end of her stay, one of the children told her that her presence had made an impact.
“Teacher,” she said, “because you were here, you made a difference.”
That day, an insatiable desire to help others was sparked. She wished she could stay longer, but the program was nearing its end. So, she vowed to travel the world with a mission to make a difference everywhere she went.
Chris-Beth gravitated to positions of influence. While in Paraguay, Chris-Beth was looking forward to helping make a positive difference at North Park. With the support of her high school friend Shauna, Natasa and a core group of friends, she ran her 2006 class president campaign and they won.
“I will tell you I love my high school experience,” she said. “It was very difficult, but I love that I saw teachers championing for the change they wanted, and I made a core group of always, forever and beyond friends. I believe that I helped to make a positive impact there.”
With her heart set on working for the United Nations one day, Chris-Beth studied international development at the University of Guelph. During her program, she learned about some of the issues in the nonprofit space. She realized that the one-size-fits-all approaches were ineffective, didn’t truly meet the needs of the people and didn’t empower them to create their own solutions. Instead, people in need remained dependent on external aid.
“We see money, tons of dollars, being poured into systems that are broken. No change is happening. That really enraged me,” she said. “If something didn’t work last year, why would it work this year?”
While working with an alternative education school in Bolivia in 2009, she served with youth with disabilities. Chris-Beth realized that the answer to financial instability was not international aid; it was social enterprise.
“The school was helping people with disabilities develop skill sets. For example, with the support of staff, the boys were building benches, and then the school was selling them so the revenue would come back to the school and the students. I was blown away. It was my first real exposure to social enterprise. Doing business for good can truly help to alleviate poverty.”Chris-Beth Cowie
Graduating with honors, Chris-Beth worked with an organization that focused on water education and sustainability projects in Southern Ontario, First Nations community and communities in Uganda. It was a funepical three-week experience in Uganda, and it fueled her passion for speaking about mental poverty.
“It felt like I was seeing poverty for the first time in a very different way. And I realized that the narrative of the ‘white savior’ was real,” she said. “I think the thing that shocked me was this sense of mental poverty. A belief that you are not capable or that one’s ambition is dependent on someone else. That is the biggest poverty problem; in fact, it’s the pandemic we all have experienced.”
As she sat in the plane waiting for departure when the project was over, she reflected on her experience in Uganda, her schooling and other international work. Nonprofit efforts were only possible when there was funding. As soon as the money ran out, the program ceased.
“This is not a sustainable model in order for you to grow and flourish and have greater impact. It was a wake-up call to say, ‘I need to be intentional about building a better path for myself so that I can help more people in a sustainable way,’” she said.
Months later, her epiphany on the plane proved to be a premonition of sorts. The organization she was working with ran out of funding, and she was left without a job. Fortunately, she had a side gig that kept her afloat, and she began exploring entrepreneurship full-time.
Having seen some flaws in the nonprofit world, she knew what didn’t work. From that vantage point, she could fill that void if she just shifted things a little.
That summer, Chris-Beth miraculously survived a car accident, which served to be another pivotal moment in her life. Self-doubt crept in and she wondered if she was good enough to really make a difference.
One day, one of her mentors asked Chris-Beth to rate herself on a scale from A-Z.
“Maybe a C…” Chris-Beth responded.
“You’re way better than a C, but let’s go with that,” her mentor said. “There are lots of steps to get to Z, but look back, there is A and B. You can help the As and Bs where you are right now.”
That was mind-blowing for Chris-Beth. She realized she had something special; she already had what it took. All she needed to do was believe in herself and keep moving forward.
“What I realized along the way is that I am valuable. My faith in God helped me to find the truth about myself and my perspective about others,” Chris-Beth said. “I learned that I am love, loved, saved, free, transformed, joyful, powerful, able, secured and blessed. I found Zig Ziglar has a quote that I think really reminded me of the truth of why I was born. He says, ‘I’m designed for success, engineered for accomplishment and endowed with the seeds of greatness.’ So, the seeds of greatness lie within me.”
Armed with this truth, Chris-Beth launched her business Empowered for Excellence in 2015, speaking in schools and offering training programs that empowered young people. She developed a training program called M.Y. V.A.L.U.E. Formula whose main focus was to help participants discover the value in themselves, the things they do and their community.
“Developing as a young entrepreneur, I wanted to find community because I believe that one’s value is leveraged and maximized. That’s how great legacies are created,” she said. “I am forever grateful to Ryan Knight, a social entrepreneur who helped me find and build communities.”
Through Knight’s social enterprise mentorship, Chris-Beth was able to support the creation of the Entrepreneur Youth Division. It supports unrepresented youth and those who’ve had trouble with the law gain entrepreneurial and leadership experience by running mini franchises.
Chris-Beth describes the program as “life changing for the youth.”
“They get to be their own boss and understand the responsibilities and rewards that come with that journey,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is a personal development journey at its finest.”
A year later in August 2016, Chris-Beth was faced with the tragedy of losing her beloved cousin Apphia Quamina to a brutal murder in Trinidad. Her life and business were spiraling out of control. She felt depressed, lost and alone. Life didn’t make sense; what was the point of all of it? Chris-Beth had been excited to welcome her cousin to Canada in November of that year and this became an unrealized dream, along with all the other plans they had made for the future.
“My faith waned. I was physically, mentally and emotionally traumatized by the experience of losing my [childhood best friend],” she stated.
Devastated as the days became weeks and then months, Chris-Beth searched for memories of their interactions, and she found Apphia’s encouragement, humor and love were felt, and those memories gave her hope. Chris-Beth gained renewed conviction to keep living in the truth of greatness in each step and breath when she found the scripture Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (NKJV)
It was in this dark place that she penned a powerful piece about breaking free from mental poverty called “Our Redemption Song.” It reads, in part:
You and I can break the chains of mental poverty
By stepping into reality
And thinking of things that could be
For there is greatness within you and me
We have been created for a divine purpose
So our passions can shine through us
To change this world for you and me
We’re in this together you see
It’s not just about me
Just me, is like a selfie
Boxed in, trapped in isolation
Leading to the mental insanity
Which is not good for humanity
Stop listening and believing fears, lies, and insecurities
Start thinking and believing in the positive possibilities
This will guarantee no hold of mental slavery
We are loved by God Almighty
Loved, valued and important
Let’s stand up with divine authority
Breaking free from all captivity
Becoming the light we’re meant to be
Living and sharing our redemption song.
“My dear friend Maya told me that in life there is no option B. You got to take the good and the bad and find a way to your dreams,” she said. “This renewed commitment encourages me to show up better every day to serve greater in every way to make a positive difference. Deep down I know I want to make those who have gone on before me, those that are here and those that are yet to come proud of me.”
Chris-Beth’s passion for life, adventure, people and “service above self,” the Rotary motto, was reignited. Chris-Beth restarted her business, teaching entrepreneurial leadership to young entrepreneurs and students. Then, alongside her dear teenage friend and sister Shauna, she was recognized as a recipient of the Brampton Top 40 under 40 in 2018 for their contributions to the city of Brampton.
Today, Chris-Beth and her team help startup entrepreneurs build, grow and scale through training, mentorship and services to create pathways to procurement and investment at Empowered 4X. Empowered 4X provide a support environment for entrepreneurs to learn and flourish in community, centered on a collaborative business model which focuses on coworking, co-learning, co-living and co-giving. Community members get access to coworking and event spaces, networking opportunities and a team of experts in business, finance, accounting, marketing and funding so they never feel alone on the journey.
Chris-Beth is also the host of her talk show BizGrams, streamed live on Facebook daily at 11:30 am EST, where entrepreneurs tell their stories and share valuable knowledge with others. In addition, Chris-Beth is an entrepreneurship instructor and business advisor at Sheridan College incubator EDGE, a business development leader for Motify, founding member and volunteer at ACBN Canada Foundation and program director for the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). During her time with RYLA, she has worked with over 150 young adults aged 18 to 30.
Despite all her success and funepical travel adventures to 14-plus countries while embracing the beauty of all people, places, cultures and foods, negativity creeps in. Chris-Beth still has days she feels inadequate and doubtful, and she has to be intentional about shifting her mindset to refocus on the truth and the positives of life.
“I think it’s an ongoing battle. To break mental poverty, we have to find value within ourselves and believe in the truth. The biggest things for me have been my faith in God and the belief that I am powerful,” she said. “Both have helped me understand myself and my purpose. When the negative thoughts come or I internalize a person’s negative comment, I realize them for the lies they are because I know who I am and I know what I believe. And those are the things that I go back to, that ground me and renew my mind.”
To learn more about Empowered 4X or to connect with Chris-Beth, reach out to her on the following platforms:
If you are an entrepreneur and would love a platform to share your story and solutions for others, Chris-Beth would be honored to have you as a guest. Sign up here: https://share.hsforms.com/1_8isZOuZQFigZ_xpT4K3tw3v19z.
Vimbai E. is a writer, journalist, ghostwriter and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.