Written by Ananda Fitzsimmons, president of Regeneration Canada’s Board of Directors
Regeneration Canada recently celebrated its 5 year anniversary. This is a significant milestone for a few reasons. One is that most startups don’t make it to this point. Half of them fail by now. One of the reasons Regeneration Canada made it this far is because of the perseverance and dedication of our founder, Gabrielle Bastien. Gabrielle carried this organization through the tough startup years, doing what many founders do, working without pay, funding the organization from her pocket until it was able to stand on its own.
The second reason this moment in time is significant for our organization is that Gabrielle is now passing on the torch to Antonious Petro. Antonious has been helping Gabrielle to carry the organization since 2018 and is now taking over as Executive Director.
The spark that started Regeneration Canada came to Gabrielle when she was a student at Harvard University. Through a non-profit called Biodiversity for a Livable Climate in the Boston area and another one in France, 4p1000, Gabrielle became aware of the regenerative movement, which was just starting to burgeon in 2013. She became passionate about soil health, understanding that soil health is a critical part of the solution to the climate crisis.
Upon graduating and returning to Montreal, she recognized that the awareness of soil health as a climate solution was not present to the same extent in Canada and decided to make it her mission to change that. She assembled a small group of dedicated women who organized, under her leadership, the first Living Soils Symposium in October 2017. The event was a resounding success. It was attended by over 400 people and featured speakers from around the world. Many participants reported that it had a life changing impact on them and started them in a new direction in their work.
After the 2017 LSS, Gabrielle was fired up to continue the work, but her little team was ready to move on. She had registered Regeneration Canada as a non profit organization in May 2017, trusting that help would come to make it happen. It did. A new group, inspired by the Symposium, gathered around her to get the non-profit off the ground. This group included, amongst others, Antonious Petro and myself. Gabrielle was the force that kept it moving forward.
In the first five years, Regeneration Canada formed partnerships with like-minded non profits across the country, recognizing that the impact we needed to achieve could not happen through one small organization. The vision was to raise awareness with different stakeholders across the country to galvanize the regenerative movement and catalyze systemic change. Some of the notable achievements in these first five years have been three more editions of the Living Soils Symposium: a live event in Montreal in 2019, followed by two virtual events in 2020 and 2021, during the pandemic. We also launched the Regeneration Canada Farm Map, featuring just over 130 farms to date, produced a series of short videos called Soil Guardians, and organized multiple webinars and smaller in person events.
The success and impact of all this work has been largely due to Gabrielle’s hard work and vision. Gabrielle was recognized in 2021 as one of Canada’s Clean 50 Emerging Leaders for these achievements. When she took a leave of absence in winter 2022, Antonious showed exceptional leadership and took the reins as Interim Director, supported by his devoted and talented colleagues. Antonious started out on his father’s small farm in his native Egypt and made his way back to the soil in Quebec, Canada after a winding journey through pharmaceuticals and then permaculture. Having been with the RC team since 2018 and worked his way up to co-director in 2021, Antonious was the obvious choice to become Executive Director, when Gabrielle announced her decision to move on. By working collectively with the dedicated members of our team, this community work continues to progress.
We want to express our profound gratitude to Gabrielle, as she leaves the organization she founded. We wish her success in her new ventures. We are grateful as well to Antonious, who navigated us so gracefully through this transition time. Without his guiding presence, the loss of our founder would have been much more difficult.
New opportunities are presenting themselves. Regeneration Canada is evolving away from Symposiums as its primary focus and getting deeper into the field with educational projects bringing together farmers, agrologists, food companies and consumers. We are excited to go forward on this new step of our journey under the direction of Antonious.
You can find Gabrielle Bastien on LinkedIn at this link.