Business Women Who Lead

Aiesha Robinson, founder of Born to Rise, on Building a Business with Empathy

In partnership with Facebook Canada, we spoke to eight incredible women entrepreneurs (ranging from a prosthetic fashion designer to a fintech founder) in our She Means Business video series about the challenges women in business face and their journey to success. Visit BSBTV to see more.

— Aiesha Robinson —

Founder, Born To Rise

When Aiesha Robinson was first diagnosed with vitiligo at 18 years old, she felt alone and had no one to turn to. Vitiligo is a rare skin condition that causes patches of skin to lose pigment in certain areas. While it isn’t overtly harmful, in a world with such unrealistic beauty standards, self-acceptance can be easier said than done. However, the Montreal native used adversity as motivation to create something positive. Born To Rise is a non-profit organization centred around storytelling and turning negatives into positives. It offers education on vitiligo, confidence and anti-bullying messaging through its social media platforms, speaking engagements, and an annual Born to Rise Show in Montreal.

PHOTOS BY MAURICIO CALERO

How have you used adversity to fuel you forward?

I grew up being someone that was always very self conscious and lacked self esteem. Vitiligo changed my appearance. Being in situations where society had the opportunity to judge me on my appearance rather than who I am showed me the strength that I have. This is my opportunity to teach people that the way they treat me affects me, so the next time they see someone with vitiligo it isn’t a big deal. Everything starts by leading by example and treating people the way you would want to be treated. If we go into business with more empathy rather than with a business mindset then we will naturally spread love and kindness.

What defines a great leader to you?

It’s somebody that is supportive and respectful of everyone’s voice. They listen with empathy and the intent to understand rather than to reply.

What lesson has taken you the longest to learn?

Growing up, I never thought that I was good enough because I didn’t finish school and dropped out. I always viewed myself as somebody that wasn’t smart or worthy. Learning to go at my own pace and not compare myself to other people’s success was the most difficult battle that I had to deal with.

What experience has given you the most courage to stand up for your own ideas?

After I started sharing my story through Facebook and Instagram, and seeing how people looked up to me, I realized the role that I was playing in other people’s lives. Once, this lady in her 40’s came up to me and told me that she doesn’t like to go on the metro because of the way that people look at her. That was when I realized I was no longer doing it for myself, but for other people.

How has mentorship played a role in your life?

I don’t like to call myself a mentor. I feel like a mentor is somebody that speaks off of many years of experience and I’m still learning myself. I have had about five different mentors and the biggest lesson that I learned is that you can have the mentors that you want but if you’re not willing to put in the work, and deal with the issues within yourself, then it will never work. I say that because I’ve paid for that support and nothing’s come out of it because I wasn’t ready to receive the advice I was given. 

What does community mean to you?

When I think of community, I think of the Facebook vitiligo group [that I joined] when I was diagnosed. Once I started sharing my story, I found thousands of people that had the same thing and could relate to me. 

Born To Rise is all about storytelling and I only run it through social media platforms.  I went from a place where I didn’t feel support to a sacred place where I can open up, share stories, and provide the opportunity for other people to do the same through those platforms. It showed me the importance of having people know that they’re not alone in whatever situations they’re going through.

Have you had a memorable encounter with someone over social media that sticks out?

I posted a picture of myself once and it said, “take me as I am.” Someone wrote a comment saying, “What the F is up with your skin?” My initial reaction was feeling hurt. But instead of getting angry, I sent him a message and explained what vitiligo was. I advised him not to approach somebody so aggressively because you don’t know what they’re going through. That led to him saying that he was a 15-year-old from California that was being bullied at school and in a dark place. I ended up speaking to him for about three hours. That moment showed me how powerful social media can be even if you’re far away. [You can] still be there to support someone else.