Bobbie Racette is on a mission to transform Canada’s gig economy. She is the founder and CEO of Virtual Gurus, a digital platform that pairs businesses with skilled remote virtual assistants (VAs) and freelancers using a matchmaking algorithm. Raised in Regina by two moms, the Cree-Métis Racette prioritizes inclusivity: the majority of the VAs at Virtual Gurus are stay-at-home mothers, those with disabilities, and members of the Indigenous and LGBTQ2S+ communities.
Inspiration Virtual assistants have been around in the United States for quite some time. The term itself — “virtual assistant” — is said to originate from India. They were the first ones to generate virtual assistants and offshore them. The question became: “Why aren’t we doing this in North America and keeping it within our own economy?” Now, there are tons of these companies popping up in Canada.
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Barriers When I was looking for work, I was often told, “No, thank you.” And that was because of who I am: Indigenous woman, part of the queer community, tattoos on my arm. And later, when I was trying to create Virtual Gurus, 170 funders said no. I thought it was a matter of, “You don’t look like a person we want to fund.” If a man had stepped into the meeting, I think we would have gotten funding a lot sooner.
Recently, I was part of the Indigenous Innovation panel at the Collision Conference. It says a lot when you’re at a conference with 40,000 people and in the history of the conference, there’s never been an Indigenous Innovation panel.
Inclusivity Every contractor at Virtual Gurus has a story, and we try to make sure that we can listen to them and encourage them to live their story. Our company understands that entering the workforce can be challenging — some people may not have dress clothes or a car. There are others who have severe social anxiety, and this makes it difficult for them to find work. We also have workers who live in northern communities where there are no jobs, but they’re more than capable of working. It’s really interesting to be a part of this community.
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One time, I had a young lady come into my office, sit down and say, “Thank you, I’m actually able to be myself.” This person was transitioning genders and used to work as a car salesperson, and was not allowed to go to work dressed as her true, authentic self. Now, she’s able to work through the platform just being who she is. That story stands out to me.
My upbringing taught me about caring for others. I want to make a difference and inspire people. If I can inspire one person each day, then eventually I will have inspired a nation.
Horizons For marginalized and Indigenous entrepreneurs, it’s better than yesterday, but we still have a lot of work to do. How can we create more capacity for mentorship? The more of us who succeed, the more of us there will be to support aspiring entrepreneurs. That all starts with the investment community believing in us.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. A shorter version first appeared in Broadview’s September 2022 issue with the title “Bobbie Racette.”
Mike Alexander is an Anishinaabe writer and artist from Swan Lake First Nation in Manitoba, now living in Vancouver.
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