Who is Nerissa?
For most my story there are two principles that has been my guiding light into business, people and community and that’s always been seeking ways to "Innovate, Solve, Repeat and Punch Above My Weight."
I grew up an only child in the capital city of Georgetown, Guyana, a small city with little technology and not all that much opportunity at first glance, yet, there were two things above all that I learned early on. One: If you're willing to be curious, seek out, innovate, reinvent, perhaps even appear the fool in the process of doing something different, you 'will' find opportunity. And Two: if you're open enough to become a part of the puzzle to what make things function even if it seems a bit intimidating— there is ultimately much to be had. Suffice it to say, my curiosity about our world, how we live and interact has been woven into the fabric of choices I have made after making my home in over seven countries from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Mexico and throughout the great dominion I call home — Canada.
The experience of my story pulsates into the work I do today, how I lead and what I genuinely care deeply. This being, making the world a better place to live and world.
Outside of my professional life you’ll catch me practising my golf swing whenever I can. I’m a writer, podcast host of mini-motivational talks on Mindset Bootcamp and mother to two which continues to be the ever-teaching, ever-evolving journey of my life.
Describe/define your business in your own words.
I am involved in many ventures and disciplines, but the core of my business is helping people rise to their potential. It has been the nature of what I’ve done for over a decade. Today, this expands through Ignite the Human Spark, an initiative I’ve launched in the middle of March 2020 at the height of a global shutdown. Ignite the Human Spark is also a pledged member of the Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health. The activity under this initiative is highly research driven and aims to reengineer core frameworks of culture, talent, workplace design and employee wellbeing. It is through these pillars that the power of potential and purpose coexist.
What prompted you to leap into this?
I believe there needs to be a greater sense of responsibility to how we live, consume and coexist on an individual level. It is with this sense of responsibility as our world came to a halt in the middle of March 2020 did it become clear to me that the greatest plan, we can ever make, is to be agile enough to withstand change. It was the prompt and realisation that our world is experiencing a great reset and together we have the opportunity to do that too.
Personally, I’ve always been a big believer in pushing the limits of our capabilities when times get hard, the tough times, to really get out of our heads and pre-existing conditions to evolve into a line of thought of ‘what else is there that I can do, …where is the need now, how do people feel, and how can I help’? The conversations to date that have evolved since then have taken root in my own identity. My hope is, to ignite the human spark to foster better conversations, business and autonomy of self. To be a part of the solution navigating global change as I use this insight to help others discover, focus and align their resourcefulness.
I believe with a greater sense of self-ownership, accountability to our own actions, as well as awareness of our cultural attitudes in how we respond will be a great deal of importance in navigating through a new global order.
What does social impact mean to you?
Our daily actions - what we give a voice to or not, how we consume, respond, all, fundamentally shape the quality of conversations we have on a myriad of issues facing our world today with direct impacts on the lives of the many and the health of the planet. Social impact to me isn’t a you or me issue or to a select few but a ‘we’ conversation, responsibility, and accountability of both negative and positive. It isn’t black and white but lively and colourful and must be focused along the idea of ‘becoming solutions and becoming the change we seek to make the world a better place to live and work.’ As well as, sharply questioning the values and principles we endorse that frame how we think, learn, and listen to drive positive change in business and society. Today, there is a great deal of rise and activism on issues that impact every corner of our lives. This makes it even more important for us to pause, reflect and go inward in order to activate positive change in the world- together.
What does being a leader mean to you?
In its simplest form, being a leader is a guide along a pathway of purpose. The skillsets of leaders vary from person to person, and while there is much data and talk surrounding what a leader should look, sound and act like, in my opinion and experience of working with some of the best - leaders are people who show up, genuinely care and treat people like people.
What's been the biggest lesson you've learned so far as a leader?
You have to give your people the space, trust and support to challenge themselves and get to know what they are made of.
Teams large and small all carry their own strengths and weaknesses bearing many opportunities to cultivate togetherness, success and purpose. —The greatest tragedy is believing there’s only one best way to get the job done. Trust is a core component to achieving this
Tell us a story. Have you had an experience that’s defined you or made you a better leader? Who is a leader that inspires you?
I’ve been blessed growing up with strong women around me and of the lot I’d have to say my grandmother. She was a leader at heart, though passed now, is someone whose memory inspires me to this day and has played a big role in the openness of thought and strength I channel and lead with today.
When I think of the challenges, experiences, paths crossed over the length of my career — they’ve been many. Yet there’s one that stands out. I’m going to take you back to a time living in the Maldives, and a conversation with a young woman working there at the time. In absolute defeat, she was in tears by how her employer had treated her: public humiliation, berating, a bully of a personality. Today we’ve become much more vocal on behaviours and cultures that encapsulate these unfortunate ways but at that time, not so much.
In the moments after listening to her story, I felt an immediate need to do something. I began reaching out to friends and alliances who could be of help to her situation. I then decided to look inward at the company I worked, the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and found what became the next chapter into a career she leads strongly to this day.
What I’ve realized most from that moment is this: listening to her story could have been one of many. Listening, empathizing and then we move on, as many encounters often do. This became an enlightened moment for me, an ‘ah-ha’ moment of sorts. When we decide to do something, get involved and extend ourselves with purpose; we are participating in changing the cycle of how things ordinarily work. We begin to change the typically accepted behaviours, attitudes, and cultures on what it means to care, help and bring about something better.
Now, more than a decade later of making my home in several countries across continents, I’ve found myself at the boundary of igniting the human spark through all that I do. This is fundamentally ingrained into how I lead.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Hum…what would I tell myself? I think as young girls growing up, we aren’t often taught to lead fearlessly. And by taught I don’t only mean what we read and express in school but in our community and homes. There is a double standard with who is seen better equipped to be fearless or take bigger risks. Yes, you are capable of living fearlessly and yes you are capable of taking risks and managing risks and yes it will be alright.
What is a mantra you live by?
Call me a dreamer, but this would be ‘Becoming Better Humans.’ If we become more invested in becoming better humans, I believe we have a real shot at creating a better world. Integrating a universal culture of hope, care and responsibility to stimulate attitudes linked through mindfulness, accountability and greater self-ownership. Areas that have been widely unrealized yet tested us the most since the beginning of the pandemic.
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