Nicki Ackerman working at her desk.

Q&A with Nicki Ackerman, CEO of the Avana Foundation

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1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I am a 34-year-old middle child, married to my best friend and business partner, with three young kids. I proudly grew up on a grain farm outside Raymore, Saskatchewan, where I attended Kindergarten to grade 12. I believe the family, small town, and strong prairie roots helped shape me into the person I am today. I am a loving and caring person with an old soul. One of my best qualities is that I look for the good in everything and everybody. I pride myself on it. 

2. Tell us about your journey to Avana. What significant moments in your life led you to the Avana Foundation?

Out of high school, I pursued a career in the beauty and esthetics industry. Although I love all things beauty, I didn’t feel fulfilled. I always felt like I was made for more, but had no idea how to figure out where I belonged. I went on to try so many different things. I worked for a well-established investment firm in Regina, sold jewellery in a high-end jewelry store, sprayed cabinets at a custom cabinetry business. You name it, I probably tried it. All of these things had several things in common. I loved to talk to people, help people, and provide services that bring the most joy to people… Yet, I still wasn’t settled with where I was. 

A good friend then shared my information with her Manager at the Government of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice Department, and I was offered an interview. I went on to work in the Young Offenders division of the Ministry of Justice for several years. I had the opportunity to listen, learn and understand on a deeper level the barriers that individuals and families in our community face. People will often say: “we need to break the cycle,” and “something needs to be done.” Through my experience at the Young Offender Programs, I gained more insight into the actual work needed to help those who need it most. I can understand on a better level the hardships that individuals are faced with and the inequalities that will often stop them from succeeding. 

In 2015 my dad passed away very unexpectedly at the young age of 56. The very last conversation I had with him was about the opportunity I had to work within our family business (Avana). He urged me to take the chance, telling me: “If you choose not to actively work within this company, you will forever regret it. You, Matt, Jenn and Troy will become so successful, and you will regret not getting to play an essential role in the development and growth of this business.” He passed away two days later, and I feel that he already knew that I could accomplish everything I have in the past six years. It was like he knew I was destined for something bigger. So I accepted the opportunity as Marketing Coordinator the very next week. 

I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given over the past seven years, working as Property Manager, Office Manager and finally Marketing Manager. I have learned so many valuable lessons about business and life in general, and I am ready for the challenge and opportunity this new role is giving me. 

3. What are your emotions as you make the jump from Avana’s for-profit side to its non-profit side? 

Since being offered the position in June, I have gone through many emotions. I feel incredibly grateful to have a strong executive leadership team at Avana. They have all pushed me to grow and develop over the past few years. This team helped me get to a place where they believed I belonged: at the head of our non-profit. I am very excited to have this opportunity to take the words: “something needs to change, something needs to be done” and create the change that is so badly needed. Our CEO Jenn Denouden has led us to where we are today in both our for-profit and non-profit. She has inspired me beyond words. It is ironic that as our Marketing Manager, I helped build Jenn’s personal brand and platform. One that speaks for what’s right, empowers young women, and fights for equality. At the same time, she helped me change my mindset, allowed me to see things through a different lens and pushed me to believe in myself. I will forever be grateful to Jenn, Avana’s CEO, my sister-in-law, business partner, mentor, and friend. She has ultimately helped me build a life I love. 

4. Tell us about the Avana Foundation. 

The lack of support for people escaping domestic abuse from the Government of Saskatchewan led Avana to establish its own non-profit organization, the Avana Foundation. This non-profit attempts to fill the funding gap by offering additional housing assistance that further subsidizes rent for domestic abuse survivors so they can leave the shelter system. The Avana Foundation also powers the Avana Empowerment Fund. This Fund helps single-mother families to access safe, suitable housing in good neighbourhoods. Additionally, Avana works closely with local women’s shelters in Regina and provides the funding to staff an Outreach Empowerment Coordinator to support these families settling into longer-term homes. 

5. From your perspective, why is the Avana Foundation so important? Why are you so passionate about the work the Foundation is doing?

I think it’s essential for companies to not only level up and look for better ways to provide their services, but also to use their success to create a positive impact in the communities they serve. 

The work we do within the Avana Foundation is important because it helps to give space to folks who have historically had their voices stifled. We amplify these voices and work towards a more equal, more inclusive, and more diverse society. Having close family and friends that have experienced the traumas of Intimate Partner Violence, I feel the Foundation is paramount to the success of our most vulnerable population. People will often say, “why don’t they just leave?” – A victim of abuse will only leave their situation when there is a community ready to care for them, provide the necessary support, and empower them. The Avana Foundation is that support system.

6. Finally, what are you most looking forward to in your new role? 

I am most looking forward to strengthening existing relationships, establishing new partnerships, and using our platform to continue fighting for equality. I want to CREATE real, meaningful change that, historically, people have only TALKED about. It is time to stop talking and start doing.

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