Elizabeth Usher interviews Sydney vegan business guru, author and media figure Katrina Fox on her new project, the Vegan Women’s Leadership Network.
Most people would probably not launch a brand new project during the early weeks of a global pandemic – especially a multi-faceted initiative with the lofty mission to “empower vegan women of all ages, ethnicities and professional backgrounds to rise up and become leaders in their fields by providing training, resources, connection, community and collaboration”.
But then, the inimitable Katrina Fox is not most people.
An ethical vegan for over 24 years, and with a wide-ranging career that has encompassed journalism, books, coaching, podcasting, comedy, performance art, animal rights activism and social justice advocacy, Fox decided that 2020 was in fact the perfect time to proceed with the Vegan Women’s Leadership Network (VWLN), “because now, more than ever, we need ethical leaders who champion vegan and plant-based living that’s good for people, animals and planet”.
Putting into practice the advice presented in her own 2015 book Vegan Ventures: Start and Grow an Ethical Business, Fox modelled a lot of the core principles it covered, such as using a pre-launch strategy to test the market and make sure that what seemed like ‘a good idea’ would actually be a sustainable model that’s desired and valued in the wider market.
“I’ve been really heartened by the response,” she tells the Sentinel.
“We’ve got members in the network from across the globe, and we’ve got everything from business owners, and people working in corporate, to people working for non-profits, NGOs, people working in their own communities. We’ve got investors, venture capitalists – a real range of people in academia, sport, entertainment, journalism …
“It’s a real breadth of women from across the globe and the one thing in common and the aim of the network is to help more vegan women become leaders in their field, whatever that might look like.”
In her drive to create supportive spaces for women to put themselves forward and do their part to change the world, Fox has already developed several different programs within the VWLN, holding regular exclusive live webinars and interviews, virtual networking calls, online training and events, and more – with the latest addition being her Conversations with Vegan Women Leaders podcast, which was launched in late August. The first episode featured Animal Liberation’s CEO Lynda Stoner – who happens to be another long-term vegan Sydney implant.
Fox herself is originally from the United Kingdom, having moved here in February 2001. She says with a laugh that this was good timing as it was just before that year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
She says she has certainly seen the Sydney vegan scene change in the past 20 years – especially coming from the UK.
She did feel the difference keenly in those early days, explaining: “I was a bit surprised because I would shop in Sainsbury’s, which was a big supermarket chain in the UK – and the one in Camden Town where I would go would have, for the time, a fairly decent vegan range, so [moving here] was a little bit of a shock to the system.
“But I guess we coped, we managed, but definitely over the past 20 years – I would say really over the past 5 years – it’s changed exponentially. Seeing vegan cheese for the first time in Coles and Woolies has been amazing.”
In pre-Covid times, Fox also travelled extensively, and she is quite frank in her appraisal of where Sydney sits on the world scale of ‘vegan-friendly cities’.
“I’ll be perfectly honest, in terms of restaurants in general, in terms of the volume and the variety, we are well below somewhere like New York for example or Los Angeles or even London.
“But I think we’re getting there and I think the potential is there.”
However, she goes on to highlight the world-leading markets run by Vegan NSW as being an area where Sydney has really shone.
“Obviously, I know that’s not happening at the moment because we’re in Covid-19 but the Sydney Vegan Market I think was a world first in terms of a regular monthly vegan market of that size, attracting thousands upon thousands of people. It was basically like a little festival each month.
“Someone may correct me but from what I can see, there was nothing of that scale to happen every month so I think we knocked it out of the park there.”
Another thing that Fox loves about Sydney is the combination of inner city living with nearby beaches – a stark contrast to her previous life in central London, where a trip to the beach was cause for advance planning and a whole day to be set aside.
She says, “In central Sydney you can get that mix of bustling city – cos I am a city girl, I like to be in the flux of it – but I like that you can say, ‘Oh, we’ll go to Coogee’ spontaneously on a Sunday and you can get on your bike or a bus and it’s not that far away.”
Fox also highlights that she feels people here are generally quite friendly, particularly in comparison to the ‘reserved’ nature of the Brits.
She adds: “And of course, you’ve got the mountains and places to go to that you can do in a day if you want to. I like that it’s eclectic.”
One final benefit that Sydney has over the UK that can’t be discounted is the weather!
Fox explains that her move to Sydney with her wife Dr Tracie O’Keefe was hugely influenced by O’Keefe’s desire to move to a warmer climate: “She didn’t want to grow old in the UK because she doesn’t do well with the cold.”
London’s loss was Sydney’s gain, and from the temperate climate of her Sydney base – and even through a pandemic – Fox is having an impact worldwide, championing the development of women vegan leaders across the globe.
For more information on the Vegan Women’s Leadership Network, visit www.veganwomensleadershipnetwork.com. Premium membership is available at $150 USD per person, per annum and includes member-only networking, access to online masterclasses, a personal profile page and more. There is also an option to purchase a gift membership – either for a specific vegan woman, or allowing Fox to allocate it, to help a woman who may not have the means or who lives in a country where the cost of is prohibitive. Visit www.veganwomensleadershipnetwork.com/vwln-gift-a-membership for further details.
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