Janice Abbott, Winner: Social Entrepreneur

The 2010 Social Entrepreneur of the Year is Janice Abbott?, CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society and Atira Property Management Inc.?


The 2010 Social Entrepreneur of the Year is Janice Abbott
, CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society and Atira Property Management Inc.

It’s Tuesday afternoon in the Downtown Eastside headquarters of Atira Women’s Resource Society, and the phone is ringing off the hook. Clients ring a doorbell to gain entry to the secured building, and staffers greet them warmly. The office feels calm and upbeat despite the bustle, but the cheerful atmosphere is underscored by constant reminders of why the multi-service agency is so busy: women and children who face violence access Atira’s services every day. 

In flip-flops and jeans, 50-year-old CEO Janice Abbott is at the centre of it all. Since starting work with Atira at age 32, Abbott has dedicated her life to the provision of housing, advocacy and support services to women and children experiencing violence and poverty. Every day she witnesses the profound violence exacted upon those who seek Atira’s help. 

Abbott was hired as Atira’s administrative co-ordinator in 1992, when the society operated a single South Surrey transition house and employed seven staff. “I think I had an annual operating budget of $180,000,” Abbott recalls. “I’m not sure I had plans for anything, really, other than just going to work every day and doing my job.” 

Four Questions

What was your first real job?

A youth counsellor at the Boys & Girls Club in Powell River

What was your first big break in your current business?

Signing on the dotted line on the first acquisition

Who was your role model/mentor?

My daughter inspires me in the way that I want the world to be different for her. Second to that is the women and children who access our programs and services

If I wasn’t doing this, I’d like to be…

I can’t think of anything that matters more to me than the work that 
Atira does

As need grew for more women’s anti-violence support services, so did Atira – and Abbott’s responsibilities. Now, after 27 years of operation, 18 under Abbott’s leadership, Atira employs more than 400 staff who operate 12 Atira sites, 20 programs and more than 1,200 shelter or transition-house beds. 

The not-for-profit society is sustained by its ownership of two for-profit businesses: Atira Property Management and a painting company called the Painter Sisters. The Atira Development Society is the society’s development arm. Seventy-five per cent of net profits are returned to Atira Women’s Resource Society each year. The best financial year to date saw net profits of about $250,000. 

Abbott’s days are long and the work is demanding, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. After brief stints in media jobs – she was a BCBusiness intern, an Abbotsford News reporter and an environmental communications manager – Abbott came to Atira in search of work that would directly benefit a community in need. “I believe absolutely in the social justice work that we’re doing,” she says.