Why Decade Impact founder Kristy O’Leary feels compelled to help businesses do more

The entrepreneur’s understanding of impact growing up laid the foundation for the work she does today

A lot of small businesses live and die as undercover heroes. The corner store Kristy O’Leary’s parents owned in Smiths Falls, Ontario, for example, did much more than sell milk, bread and lottery tickets. 

“It was really a cultural hub,” recalls the founder of Vancouver consulting firm Decade Impact. Her parents bought the store when she was just seven years old and she saw them use their business to do all sorts of wonderful things for the community: they gave everyone credit to buy grocery staples (“It really didn’t matter who they were,” says O’Leary), they offered ride-home programs, they had a Jubilee and forgave the debt that anyone owed them in the ‘90s, and they even invited people to have Christmas and Easter dinners with the family. 

“I actually just got back from being at home in my town,” says O’Leary. “I hadn’t spent a ton of time there in a very long time… It was incredible. Like, the ghost of my parents’ business is everywhere.” O’Leary went to help her mother, who has dementia, move into a home. And everyone she met—from bankers to lawyers to accountants—sat and reminisced about her parents’ store. 

O’Leary’s understanding of the word “impact” today stems from everything she witnessed growing up. As a result, she allowed her long career in communications and advertising to naturally morph into an entrepreneurial venture in 2020: Decade Impact. 

“When Decade started, it was really easy for people to know it as ‘the B-Corp certification ladies,’” O’Leary says with a chuckle. Since 2020, Decade’s team of four has helped over 60 companies in North America (and 43 in B.C.) get B-Corp certified (meaning the companies have met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency). And while that certification is an incredible tool for businesses to move beyond profit and into impact, Decade is now focused on helping companies dive deeper into social, environmental and economic impact strategies. 

Vancouver-based Humanity Financial, for example, is a longtime client that O’Leary has been working with since before she launched Decade. Through their impact management work together, the accounting firm was able to involve more Indigenous organizations in its supply chain.

In another instance, Decade helped local nonprofit Producing for the Planet build a climate action guide for the film industry in Canada.  

“I know it’s a very different business than the one my parents had,” says O’Leary, “but I feel like I had an exceptional immersion into how kindness and empathy can drive profitability of businesses… the kinder [my parents] were to the stakeholders in their community, the more money they made. That’s just how I learned business is done.”  

Needless to say, that Smiths Falls corner store has influenced every part of her life. But the current economic system is not engineered to be kind—it’s hard for businesses to survive in 2024 and even harder to prioritize impact over profits.

“There’s this real crisis of culture,” O’Leary explains. “About 12 years ago, I thought, There are a lot of businesses that would like to be good but they don’t know how. So I started doing this work with impact management consulting to really help companies understand how to create social, economic, environmental justice through their revenue-generating activities. Every company can give money to charity, and that’s good, but it’s a lot better, I think, if a company can leave something better than they found it every time they turn a dollar. That’s what we do at Decade.”