Ottawa social enterprises profit from Kathleen Kemp’s passion

Youngest-ever co-chair of United Way Ottawa’s community campaign finds inspiration in striving to make the capital a better place in which to live

Kathleen Kemp
Kathleen Kemp

At the young age of 23, Kathleen Kemp has learned to place her thumb on the scales of work-life balance.

She puts in a normal 40-hour week at the Centre for Social Enterprise Development (CSED). But on top of her job with the non-profit organization, she’s co-chairing the community campaign for United Way Ottawa and is also hitting the books again to get another degree in retail management.

Still, she says it’s an improvement from her days as a business student at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management.

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For two years, she was president of the campus entrepreneurship organization Enactus uOttawa, which brings together student, academic and industry leaders to create community outreach projects and business ventures that aim to make the world a better place.

Enactus champions

Ms. Kemp and her team made uOttawa history when they were named champions at the Enactus Canada National Exposition in 2015. They went on to represent Canada on the global stage in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“I tell everybody I lost 10 years off my life doing Enactus because we spent 40 to 60 hours every week, on top of full-time school and part-time jobs and all that stuff,” she says during an interview at the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards, where her office is located.

Her team came up with a solution to make Ottawa greener and cleaner by creating CigBins disposal units to keep cigarette butt waste off the streets and out of landfills. The social enterprise, which continues to operate, hires people with mental illness through a partnership with the non-profit agency Causeway.


“I think everyone should play a role in developing their community. People need to find inspiration in things that make them the most passionate and do those things, because they’re ultimately contributing to the community in their own way.”

“I think everyone should play a role in developing their community,” says Ms. Kemp, who’s been doing just that for a good chunk of her life. “People need to find inspiration in things that make them the most passionate and do those things, because they’re ultimately contributing to the community in their own way.”

Ms. Kemp was born and raised in the affluent Toronto suburb of Oakville as the second-oldest of four children. Her father, Graham, worked at the University of Toronto, while her mother, Mary, was a chartered accountant. They’re now retired and live in Kingston.

Ms. Kemp gives credit for her community involvement to her parents and to her teachers and principal at White Oaks Secondary School. The high school, where former astronaut Chris Hadfield once had a locker, has an award-winning reputation for promoting a safe and accepting school environment.

At White Oaks, Ms. Kemp took on leadership roles by working on anti-bullying projects and mental health awareness campaigns.

She volunteered with Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving and was involved with a program that helped to integrate younger at-risk students. She also found time to coach softball and teach dance.

In 2011, Ms. Kemp moved to the nation’s capital to study at the University of Ottawa, where she was fortunate enough to be taken under the wing of Stephen Daze, the Telfer School’s faculty adviser for Enactus uOttawa.

“He provided some of the best advice I’ve ever received,” she says. “I look forward to having him as a mentor for the rest of my career.”

To date, Ms. Kemp’s biggest success has been her team’s national win at Enactus. It was made particularly special because her father was there to watch at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

The demanding combination of her school work, part-time academic and office jobs, involvement with Enactus and running of CigBins did take a toll on her, however.

“I think I hit a point where I probably realized that I wasn’t doing everything really great; I was just doing everything OK,” she says.

Effects of burnout

By graduation, Ms. Kemp was feeling the effects of burnout. That, combined with a minor head injury, forced her to take some time off to relax and get a healthy dose of Netflix.

“I think I’ve done a better job over the past year trying to balance my job with things that I like doing and to make time for myself,” she says.

“The world is not going to be over if you don’t work 95 hours a week, which I think is what I did.”

After graduation, Ms. Kemp was hired by CSED as its director of social enterprise business development. The agency works with social entrepreneurs and non-profits to develop the social enterprise sector, which offers an alternative to relying on government funding or donations to deal with social problems.

Instead, the sector aims to build enterprises that turn a profit by providing goods or services that address social or environmental issues.

“My parents would have been pretty happy for me to become an accountant or government worker,” Ms. Kemp concedes. “They don’t fully comprehend the non-profit sector and why I work in the non-profit sector, but I think they recognize that what I do is really cool and provides a lot of (community) benefits.”

Looking ahead, Kemp sees herself getting back into running a business or becoming involved in community economic development work.

“I think I will always be involved in something that supports the community,” she says. “But I also don’t want to be lumped into a bucket where I’m forever the social enterprise girl.”

Five things to know about Kathleen Kemp

  1. Ms. Kemp is the youngest individual to co-chair the United Way Ottawa community campaign. “It’s been an awesome experience,” she says. “I feel very fortunate to be able to fully understand the value that United Way has in the community.”

  2. While going to school and even as recently as last fall, she held down a part-time job in the office of Royal LePage Performance Realty and for realtor Patrick Morris. “They’re like family to me,” she says.

  3. She and her friends have done every special escape room in the city. “We’ve gotten out of all of them so far,” says Ms. Kemp, who found the most challenging one to be The Heist at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

  4. In her free time, she also enjoys classes at Pure Yoga, playing a variety of sports with the Ottawa Sport & Social Club and going to GoodLife Fitness.

  5. She’s a big fan of the Bachelor/Bachelorette reality TV show.

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