Q&A with Lourdes Juan of Hive Developments
Lourdes and I first crossed paths in May of last year, when we were both contracted to work on a community engagement project in Calgary’s Chinatown. Lourdes and her team at Hive Developments skillfully coordinated the needs of the client, architects, city council and community to ensure the project got the planning permissions needed to proceed. Lourdes and her team were such a pleasure to work with, and truly had the best interest of all parties in mind. I admired her work ethic and listening ability, which I believe drove the project’s success. Only when I googled her did I realize that this drive for the greater good didn’t end with her work at Hive Developments. It extended to her other endeavours Soma Hammam & Spa, Leftovers Foundation, Fresh Routes and Moonlight Market. Being heavily ingrained in business, city planning and a non-profits, she also has opinions on how people can get more involved in their city to drive the change they want to see. I am attracted to her action and solution based mindset, so wanted to learn more about how she ended up with this diverse set of businesses and some guidance she could provide for how people could get more involved in helping create a better city for us all to live in.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your set of businesses?
I was born in St. Albert and moved to Calgary when I was 2-months-old, and my education background is a Bachelor of General Studies with a Master of Environmental Design and Planning.
Currently, I run two businesses and three non-profits. At Hive Developments, we provide consulting services for projects that require urban planning and community engagement. Soma Hammam & Spas was born out of an accumulation of my travels and one of my early jobs working at a medi-spa where I perused various certifications to become a practitioner. With the spa I wanted to reintroduce the Turkish Hammam practices and shift mindset from the purely cosmetic appearance to be focused around regular self-care. Leftovers Foundation is a charity that I started 7 years ago and that works to reduce food waste. Born out of that was Fresh Routes, a sister organization that is focused on providing food security. Both non-profits are in Alberta, but our goal is to be nation-wide. Moonlight Market is a non-profit, an Asian inspired food street market that runs in East Village annually. I also sit on a few boards.
Where did you start your career?
I went to Bishop Carol High School and they focus on self-directed studies. So, when I was 14 the career councillor set me up with a co-op in an architecture firm called BCMP architects and I ended up staying on after my term and continued to work there from 14-26. I was full-time over summer and part time over the school year. I loved it because I was introduced to some really amazing mentors at a young age that shaped my work ethic, professionalism and developed how I communicate with people. I learned quick as I was thrown into situations that kids wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to be in. It was a male dominated profession, but every mentor I had was kind and supportive and wanted to see me succeed. Even now in my hiring practices I bring on a lot of juniors in because I’ve seen how at younger ages we can in-still a solid work ethic and it’s highly beneficial to get that exposure right out of school.
What are the overarching values that you bring to all your businesses / non-profits?
At Leftovers Foundation use the phrase “resident-led”, which means we involve our communities in the decisions because that is where the change actually happens. It ensures we stay open-minded and are able to provide innovative solutions that truly work for the communities we are involved with. I think you can carry this “resident-led” concept through businesses practices as well.
On a daily basis I ask myself how, are we progressing and is it aligned with what are we trying to achieve. Sometimes it’s difficult not to get stuck in the small details as you are grinding through the day-to-day. But I make a conscious effort to think about the bigger picture. So I value working collaboratively, an open-mind, innovation and really taking the time to think about the big picture – future stuff. What I really enjoy is building systems for people we haven’t met yet and creating communities that thrive for the next 100 years.
Can you tell me about your thoughts on the beauty industry, aging and Soma’s approach with clients?
I think one of the biggest things the beauty industry overlooks is time. It bothers me how fast everything is - do this injectable and have wrinkle free skin, or a radio frequency treatment to lose weight. Every product or service is a quick fix. I think the exact opposite; it’s about taking the time to treat yourself. Not a spa-day once a year but thinking about what your routine looks like. I think the best approach is looking at your daily routine and ensuring 10-15 minutes at the end of each day to care for ourselves. I think self-care should focus on your daily facial routine, body care and purchasing products that don’t have extraneous packaging, chemicals, and are Canadian made.
What was the motivation to start all your non-profits?
The whole process has been iterative. Leftovers Foundation started in 2012 and was born from simply noticing the shear waste of food I was seeing in our city. In today’s age, we have so much we think it’s ok to waste it. When I started, I would just go into coffee shops and ask what they did with their leftovers as I knew there were people who were going hungry. I then started talking to emergency shelters and we really became a matchmaking service. I knew there was a tangible benefit to picking up food and delivering it and I was planning on running around the city to deliver it whether or not someone else would do it with me! Now we have 800 volunteers across Calgary and Edmonton.
Fresh Routes started because we were getting critiqued for not solving food insecurity issues. So I looked into it and partnered with the school of public policy to help inform the organization. The critics were right, with Leftovers Foundation we were just making a dent into food waste, when the bigger issue is food security. Because I had developed so many contacts with generous vendors and food service providers I was able to bring groceries to marginalized communities using a food truck model. The vendors were supportive and allowed us to purchase orders at a very affordable rate which enables us to provide groceries to those who need them for about 40-50% less than they would find in a store, averaging around $9.45 for a week of groceries. We strategically partner with community social workers, post-secondary institutions, and service agencies to identify at risk communities such as seniors who are unable to be mobile in the winter times, rural Indigenous communities that don’t have nearby grocery stores and young immigrant families that work 14 hour days and are still having a difficult time providing for their children. We work with our community partners to ensure we bring in food that is culturally appropriate. The traditional model is to give hand-outs, we don’t do that, we provide our community partners with gift certificates to give to their clients to purchase food at the market. We call this a “food dignity model”, it means that we provide them with food choices that they actually want for a dignified price.
This mobile market sat within the Leftovers Foundation for a while, but it grew quickly and now provides 60 markets a month. Due to this rapid growth, we incorporated a new non-profit and brought in a few partners.
When did you start your companies?
I started both Hive Developments and Soma Spa in 2010, it was sort of serendipity. The architecture firm I worked for got bought out by a large construction company and they didn’t have a position for planners, and I had just gotten my master’s in planning. So my mentor at the time and I both left and started our own companies respectively, but still worked together on various projects.
With Soma Spa, I had been working part time at a medi-spa and the owner and I had a difference in opinions about what self-care should look like. It was a great experience overall, I got certified as a laser tech and in facials. Things I really enjoyed! But I really wanted to open a spa that fit with my view on beauty. Also, my father was an engineer and had his own company, that was a good example for me, gave me exposure to what it really looked like to own your own business.
You sit on the City Planning Commission? How does this affect your approach with Hive Development clients?
Yes, I sit on the Calgary Planning Commission. The Calgary Planning Commission is the approving authority for some development permits and the recommending body to Council for land use. We make recommendations to elected officials on Land Use Policies that Calgary should or should not adopt. At Hive Developments we work with a lot of developers, they typically come to us with a piece of land that they need permitting for and request our council. We help them flush out any technical issues with their applications.
Do you have a hard time juggling it all? How do you manage the workload?
I get asked this question all the time. I think my quick answer is, it’s fine, no problem. But really it is a balancing act. I am, however, really good at time management. I think I’ve always had to be. I’ve been practicing time management since I was 14, balancing finishing high school, spending time with friends and family and going downtown to my job at the architecture firm. And most days, it doesn’t feel like work to me. I was at one of the markets yesterday helping to set up - it could be considered work, but I was enjoying it, it didn’t feel like “work”. I also have the luxury of not doing anything I don’t really want to do. Budgets though, working on those feels like work! I try as much as possible to embrace everything I do, I chose this. If my day spills into my evening I am fine with that.
I set realistic goals and work backwards to achieve them. And also it’s a cliché and in every business book but I get up really early. I am not super conscious at 5am but that is when I start my day. People are too hard on themselves, and it’s easy to get burnt out, if you choose to do a ton. I learned my lessons from hitting those walls and burning out.
What are your biggest challenges for growth in each business?
I love building teams, but the staffing piece has been my biggest barrier to growth in the past. I used to hire people I liked and wanted to work with, but they weren’t always a good fit for the personalities of the team, so sometimes it didn’t end up working out. I failed many times in that regard and identified that as a weakness and from there I really learnt to hire good fits for my team and not based on people I liked personally.
This next thought goes back to choosing what we do. When I first started I operated in crisis mode, often putting out fires that I really didn’t need to. I was over-busy, and this “busy” statement bothers me. To “be busy” has been glorified and it breeds competition in a rally bad way. I used to love to say I was busy but now I am a lot more thoughtful about the words I use.
For the longest time I was really worried about getting my name out there, because I thought that was be important. But I have learned that the work will just show itself. I also recognize that many women suffer from impostor syndrome. Even when I was sitting on the planning commission, I felt like they were filling their colour/female quota, but that was no one else’s narrative but mine. I’ve had this undertone of “I don’t belong at this table,” kinda thing and that simply isn’t true. I think shifting those thought patterns has really served me and my businesses growth.
What kind of boards are you on? Do you get requests to sit on boards or do they seek you out? Why is this type of involvement important to you?
The first board I sat on was the Calgary Downtown Association, and I sat on their urban planning committee for 6 years. The goal was to make downtown thrive and understand and aid the flow of pedestrian traffic. In the past, I have been on the board for the Hong Kong Canada Business Association, as I have an interest in global business transactions and am well connected internationally so thought I would be of benefit to the board and I could learn from the position as well. I’m just finishing 3 year board position with Calgary Homeless Society; this is the most robust board that I have been a part of. I decided not to renew term because I didn’t have the proper capacity. Currently, I am on two boards, HomeSpace Society and the Calgary Planning Commission. HomeSpace Society is a building owner, operator, who partners with builders to build affordable housing, and I am on their Chair of Governance Committee. The Calgary Planning Commission is the approving and recommending body of council for development projects. I really love those two and feel that I have the time to give those two the attention they deserve.
What are the greatest changes in politics/policy that business owners should know about?
There will always be change in politics and policy. But what I want business owners to do is take ownership, they have the ability to affect change, not just complain when a policy or change is not in their favour. There are two things business owners should know, one is who their councillor is and the second is to understand how city planning can support your business.
With the recent the tax debate, for example, there was a lot of chatter going around with the sentiment - it’s not my job to know about politics or understand the clauses of my lease and what that means. When actually you chose to be an entrepreneur and that is a privilege and we need to take a more thoughtful approach to what policies actually mean and who you can contact to discuss them – your city councillor! Another example is, if you own a restaurant and need to add more seats to your outdoor patio you can contact the Council or City Administration and they can help support your businesses growth through applications.
How can business owners get involved more in politics? Or why should they care/be interested?
I learned a ton by volunteering for a campaign. Election time is a great time to get involved but there are other opportunities year round. Find a candidate that you can stand with and then help them get in to shape policies! I think so many times we elect politicians because they are a name you know, or your candidate isn’t going to win anyway so you vote with a group. But I think that is a really narrow approach and we need to look at things holistically and get more involved.
What is the most memorable project you’ve worked on?
I worked with the Asian Heritage Foundation, and that project was based on community consultation and engagement with different cultural communities to ensure the proper respect to each community was maintained. The most memorable part of the project was the people I encountered. I met some incredible women that continue to be active in the community and that I consider friends.
What qualities do you value most in your clients/vendors/partners?
Now 10 years in I can be a little more selective with who I choose to work with, which is nice. But I touched on these a bit in the above discussion, I value open-mindedness as that leads to innovative solutions. And people I work with need to value communities and collaboration.
What are some of your greatest lessons you’ve learned thus far?
I’m still learning how things are interconnected when I used to think of things in silos. For example with the food access and security issues, you can see how providing seniors with Fresh Routes gets them out of their homes and helps them to thrive, and that is a small business solution that can really help communities. So, I’m understanding more and more, how small businesses weave into city planning and policies.
Treat your team really well, have their back and they will have yours. I have really learned to bring on the team with that type of mentality.
Being decisive, I am way better at that then I was before, waves of imposter syndrome are less and less. It might not always be politically correct but having a voice is important.
Have you had an “I’ve made it moment”?
I don’t think so, meeting Helen Mirren was pretty cool, she played the Queen! But actually, I hope I never do.
Who to you admire and why?
I admire people who fight for those that don’t have the same opportunities. I love watching female politician documentaries like “Knock Down the House”, with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez for example. The barrier to entry in the United States is 10 fold what it is in Canada so those types of women I really look up to. My mom, we grew up around her work ethic, she worked three jobs and had three kids really young. And as an immigrant she had limited options, she worked at a grocery store and a care centre as a nurse’s aide. She didn’t have her family here to help her either, but she never complained and was really a workhorse.
What are your big lofty goals for your businesses and impact on the city and beyond?
My biggest thing goal is maximum impact. Everything I build is replicable and scalable which is specifically important when you are looking at organizations that do social good. These projects are bigger than me, and I want to build them so someone else could be able to take what we have done and scale it. Then the impact will grow because we have mobilized the community.
Impact people and teams so we can make real progress. Not sure where that will lead me… I’ve contemplated running for an elected official. But my decision on that would be based on if I thought I could make a bigger impact working within the system to create change on policies that affect our communities.
If you are looking to make some impact in your community, check out Leftovers Foundation!