Sarah Cohen on the force of personal connections

We see the world not as it is, but as we are.

We simply don’t all interact in the world the same way with the information around us. And we all process things differently.

What you see is going to be different to what I see. And that impacts everything.

Particularly when it comes to education and people management.

Today I speak with Sarah Cohen, a People & Culture professional and leader whose experiences in education, technology, and economics have shaped her pragmatic and innovative approaches to developing people and growing organizations.

We talk about her learning challenges growing up, and the fascinating insights that came from that time in her life.

We hear about the fundamental lesson her dad taught her in his last weeks of life. And how that then shaped how she chose to live and work.

She tells us about her time in education and helping other children transcend learning challenges.

And then how you set up the brain to be able to learn and thrive.

What is fascinating is she then took these learnings to the corporate world, where she now works in talent, and is focused on creating a culture of growing people where they thrive.

She talks of the challenges she sees in the corporate world from a talent point of view, but also how the creation of strong personal connections is the answer to a more sustainable business.

There is so much here. All rooted in people, math, and economics. Just the way Sarah likes it.

So grab your favourite beverage. Or throw on those running shoes and here is an inspiring chat with Sarah.

And please don’t forget to let us know what you think of this episode, leave a review and subscribe.

00:00:02:05 – 00:00:27:03
Philippa White
Welcome to the show, where we unearth new ways of looking at ever evolving lights around the world. Seen from a number of different industries, cultures and backgrounds. But there’s one thing that unites everyone I speak to. They all want to do their part to make the world better in their own unique ways. It’s a uniting passion. Whether they’re from the commercial world, third sector or public sector from the Global North or the global south.

00:00:27:15 – 00:01:08:10
Philippa White
My name is Philippa White and welcome to TIE Unearthed. Hello and welcome to episode 59 of TIE Unearthed. Today I’m speaking with my childhood friend Sarah Cohen, a people and culture professional and leader whose experiences in education, technology and economics have shaped her pragmatic and innovative approaches to developing people and growing organizations. Sarah is a fan of learning, working hard and savoring each day you get with the people you love, and you’ll definitely get a sense of this during your conversation.

00:01:09:02 – 00:01:33:02
Philippa White
We talk about our shared love of education, how her background in education has shaped her new role in talent at Cubic Farms, and her thoughts on the importance of creating personal connections. I came off this chat buzzing. There’s so many overlaps with her way of seeing the world and what we do at tie. You’ll definitely enjoy the energy on this one.

00:01:33:15 – 00:01:41:17
Philippa White
So grab that favorite beverage or throw on those running shoes and enjoy this conversation with Sarah by Sarah.

00:01:41:19 – 00:01:45:11
Sarah Cohen
Thank you so much for having me. It’s so good to be here with you here today.

00:01:45:13 – 00:01:59:13
Philippa White
I’m so excited for you to be here with us today. It’s wonderful. So for our listeners, I always love this. I love it so people can picture where people are around the world. I talk to people all over the place from so many different backgrounds. Tell us, where are you?

00:01:59:13 – 00:02:07:02
Sarah Cohen
Well, I am in sunny Vancouver today on the west coast of Canada in British Columbia. You’re in East Vancouver.

00:02:07:02 – 00:02:08:04
Philippa White
What’s the weather like today?

00:02:08:13 – 00:02:21:14
Sarah Cohen
Wonderfully sunny. We are rain forests and we do need some rain coming up sooner than later. But it’s always that push, pull, enjoy the sunshine. You know you need the rain.

00:02:21:14 – 00:02:41:13
Philippa White
Yeah, because Vancouver is known for being quite rainy, so. Yeah, I’m sure part of you like rolling up the rain. Yeah, I know that. You haven’t always been in B.C., and I know that because we grew up on the same street in Winnipeg. Now, I obviously ended up in Brazil where I’m talking to all of you now, and you obviously ended up in Vancouver.

00:02:41:13 – 00:03:07:01
Philippa White
And, you know, both of us have an interesting story that took us to where we are. And I often think of how beautiful that is, how there’s various different puzzle pieces of life that they all start to kind of fit together and they start to create this picture. And your puzzle pieces are interesting, and I’d love to start with you telling us a little bit about your background and the journey that’s taking you to where you are now.

00:03:07:04 – 00:03:27:24
Sarah Cohen
I was thinking back to us growing up literally across the street from each other and one of my favorite memories. People assume they know that when a pig gets a lot of snow and I remember one snow storm where schools were closed and we were children. We were small at the time and waist deep snow was not an uncommon thing.

00:03:27:24 – 00:03:37:11
Sarah Cohen
But I remember watching you come across the street in a snow suit, waist deep in snow, and it took a really long time for the.

00:03:37:19 – 00:03:40:02
Philippa White
But so far away from my reality.

00:03:40:02 – 00:03:45:24
Sarah Cohen
Now you just you got your fill of snow and you were like, I’m done.

00:03:47:18 – 00:04:10:15
Philippa White
It’s so funny, actually, because I live on the equator, pretty much just below the equator. And here people take cold showers all the time and people sleep with sort of air conditioning in like a really thin sheet or maybe not even a sheet. And I’m with a duvet often without air conditioning and hot showers and no one can understand you.

00:04:11:17 – 00:04:17:19
Philippa White
I just thought you grew up in such. I think I fit all the time.

00:04:17:20 – 00:04:28:02
Sarah Cohen
Yeah, I feel that way about Vancouver, too. Like, I just, you know, I really feel blessed to live in Canada. I love so much about everywhere in Canada, but I’m good out here. I’m done. I’m done with winter.

00:04:28:09 – 00:04:32:12
Philippa White
Winnipeg was a good experience. We love Winnipeg friendly Manitoba, love it, but.

00:04:32:12 – 00:04:34:24
Sarah Cohen
Love it best people and take it.

00:04:35:06 – 00:04:36:04
Philippa White
Here. Yeah.

00:04:37:20 – 00:04:59:04
Sarah Cohen
I’m good. I’m good. You know, I’m just so flattered to have you say that my life is interesting, but I was thinking, like, what’s interesting to share? And I’ve had opposite experiences through my life, different ends of the spectrum. And it’s really the living in both ends that I’ve really valued where it becomes sort of not about either or, but life really encompasses all of that.

00:04:59:04 – 00:05:18:18
Sarah Cohen
And I don’t know how much you knew this when we were growing up, because I was in the French program at school. You were in the English program. You know, there’s this big segregating line through our school. But I really struggled in school. Turns out learning languages is not a skill of mine. I now know that there’s stuff I could do that would help you with that.

00:05:18:18 – 00:05:42:02
Sarah Cohen
But learning French was slow for me and it really kicked off sort of a level of disorientation and learning that I didn’t understand what was going on in the classroom. I wasn’t quick to learn how to read and write. I had to put in extra time with that. And so certainly in the eighties where we grew up, you could be not that great at school and people didn’t get super fast, especially if you were a girl.

00:05:42:02 – 00:06:03:00
Sarah Cohen
I wasn’t a behavior problems, so it was it’s just sort of fine. But really, certainly school was not a place I thrived. But growing up, you know, we were middle class, my parents were educated and so much going for us that really was supportive. And my mom insisted that we do music education and not just playing an instrument.

00:06:03:00 – 00:06:27:01
Sarah Cohen
We did the Royal Conservatory of Music Program, which was very intensive, prescriptive. You did scales, you did or you did sight reading, memory playback and I must have done that for about almost ten years. All and it was really around age 13 that I had this experience that still today I can feel through my whole body where I started to understand things.

00:06:27:06 – 00:06:41:01
Philippa White
And what was it? What was that catalyst and what was it? That was the switch that went on that was related obviously to your time at the Royal Conservatory? And what what how did that link up then with education?

00:06:41:05 – 00:07:07:00
Sarah Cohen
Well, when you start to map out in the world of cognition, like what areas of the brain are really at play when you’re especially being piano and there’s so much work with eye tracking attention to detail and your working memory in the moment and find muscles and your executive functioning all plays a part. But there are sort of these areas of the brain where a lot of sensory information overlaps and where you are integrating information really quickly.

00:07:07:00 – 00:07:30:20
Sarah Cohen
And piano hit this level of complexity where the math lots of complex and then studying you know you’re working on multiple claps of the treble plus the bass plus and then I started playing viola at school. So then you’re working in the alto class and I also learn the tenor clef and you’re doing all this transposing and you’re taking symbols and making meaning out of and doing that in a whole variety of ways.

00:07:30:23 – 00:07:38:01
Sarah Cohen
But I really got into the world of special education as adults and found other ways to do that more quickly. So it felt like a ten year journey.

00:07:39:15 – 00:07:44:02
Philippa White
At the Royal Conservatory of Music. Yeah. So let’s make it a little bit more accessible, like.

00:07:44:18 – 00:08:03:05
Sarah Cohen
Mad props to the world of Royal Conservatory. They’re wonderful. But I think also really that growth mindset that comes with learning a new music piece, you know, you learn a new piece, you’re terrible at it, break it down, you take steps, you practice, you get better, you put it all together, it starts to flow. Then it actually starts to become fun.

00:08:03:05 – 00:08:29:11
Sarah Cohen
Then you turn it into art, then it’s your own and such an expression. And then you start something new and terrible. It’s just like you learn how to learn. And so I think that was really huge. And right around that age too, I also found I started to understand people. So instead of like social interactions kind of being a fog of things happening, I can see people and I could figure out what was going on in question things.

00:08:29:11 – 00:08:50:22
Sarah Cohen
So there was all kinds of growth at this one time, but at that same time was when my father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And so he started this real decline. And but that’s a very slow moving cancer. So he had about a ten year span, went on to university. I decided to study economics because I love math and I love people.

00:08:50:22 – 00:09:15:19
Sarah Cohen
And I really got into that. But I slowly tired of it. I felt quite alone in that. I think my thinking was fairly divergent. This also sounds weird to say, but there’s not at that time anyway, there wasn’t a lot of sense of wonder about the world and economics. There was a real flatness. People are rational in economics when they think about people and it’s like the people are not rational.

00:09:15:19 – 00:09:39:15
Sarah Cohen
Like let’s actually talk about people really are. I’ve since learned that there’s a whole field of economics about behavioral economics. Yeah. And actually I was in the right spot, but I didn’t know it then. There was this moment in my life, Philippa. My father got sicker and sicker and sicker over time, and in his sort of last week we had a big argument, just not the ideal thing to do with the failing health of a parent.

00:09:39:15 – 00:10:01:06
Sarah Cohen
But I’m still pretty young, but I think I was trying to pressure him to connect with some family members that he’d been more distant from and try to create a sense of urgency for him. I think he tried and I found him later laying down on the beds and I went laid beside him and he was crying. And my father was not an emotional man, you know.

00:10:01:06 – 00:10:21:09
Sarah Cohen
He said that he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t break through the wall. He said he’d always thought that he would hit a point in his life where he would feel safe enough and brave enough to move past that wall that he had connecting with people and that he always thought he would have more time. And he was trying because he was having that moment.

00:10:21:15 – 00:10:45:10
Sarah Cohen
Reflecting back on Mr.. There’s a sense of tragedy that you would be sort of essentially on your deathbed with such intense heartache and regret, but that moments that he was able to be that vulnerable and share, that was transformative somehow. And it took me a while to kind of work with it. That fundamental lesson from a parents, there is no there.

00:10:45:10 – 00:10:48:15
Sarah Cohen
You will never get there, you know, like this is it.

00:10:48:15 – 00:11:00:14
Philippa White
What did that lead you to? How have you used that as that channel to then see things differently or do things differently? Or you said it was transformative. So what did it transform you to do.

00:11:00:21 – 00:11:19:23
Sarah Cohen
Fundamentally at the start, anyway, it was the courage just to listen to what I was being called to do that even if I explain it to people always at the time, and fundamentally that the most valuable thing in life was relationships, if that at the end of your life is what you were called to, it’s not what you studied.

00:11:19:23 – 00:11:34:14
Sarah Cohen
It’s not a job. It ends. It’s those connections that’s it. So now, as a parent myself, it also always tells me that the greatest if we might be offering our children is showing them what not to do. They might be watching and going.

00:11:35:03 – 00:11:39:11
Philippa White
I’ve not got a really good lesson learned.

00:11:39:11 – 00:11:50:18
Sarah Cohen
Thanks. Well, and I laugh about that. But also, actually, what a gift that is that it’s not that as parents, we have to get it right. We have to be honest. Yeah.

00:11:51:00 – 00:12:12:06
Philippa White
Gosh. Wow. So talk to us about education. I think I’d love to understand you have a love for education. I do believe that education is the key to a better world for sure. And can you talk to us about your experience in education, why you got to it? And then just some key learnings that and takeaways from your time that stand out.

00:12:12:12 – 00:12:49:04
Sarah Cohen
You know, I studied to be a math science specialist, teacher, middle school age range. What I ended up getting into was the world of special education and of course, looking back, it’s a complete set wanting to help other students who are not thriving in the classroom. I know that feeling. You’ve been there, done that. And I still thought when I was doing that at first that it was helping children to learn how to read and write and do math to be successful at school, but ended up working with a man named Howard Eaton, who started in Arrowsmith School in Vancouver.

00:12:49:04 – 00:13:14:04
Sarah Cohen
And the Arrowsmith program was created by a woman named Barbara Arrowsmith Young, who also transcended her own learning challenges with different ways of strengthening weaknesses in the brain and has created this program that still sometimes I’m like, How did she do this? Well, that’s just like one person. How do we set up the brain to be able to learn and thrive is really how I came to think of it.

00:13:14:04 – 00:13:38:04
Sarah Cohen
And for me that’s the primary purpose of education. So I first started teaching and so I went through teachers college and but I just felt it wasn’t right for me. And I spent a year doing some traveling as a family’s private teacher for their daughters and their daughter was really struggling with different things academically. Your children do word problems for math, I’m sure at some point, definitely.

00:13:38:04 – 00:14:00:02
Sarah Cohen
Yeah. Everyone’s worst nightmare. It is. We were. Yes, you we’re working on all these weird problems about sales tax. And we did about four or five of them in a row and it just wasn’t sticking. And finally I was like, do you know what? Sales taxes? And she was like, No. What did you say? Anything. Hello? Did you ever notice you go to the store, want to buy something?

00:14:00:02 – 00:14:20:21
Sarah Cohen
There’s a price sticker, but then you pay a different price when you go to buy it. Oh, yeah? Yeah. You didn’t think to ever ask why that was the case? You know, one of those moments, oh, how I think is not the way other people see my ability to question, to process information. I don’t want to say that it’s a privilege, but it’s we all don’t think the same way.

00:14:20:21 – 00:14:46:05
Sarah Cohen
We do not interact in the world in the same way with the information around us and whatever education system people want to get down with, whether it’s walls or Montessori or democratic education or student centered models, it’s all of it. Great. It really just depends on if that child and that individual is able to interact well with the world and the information around them and make sense of it.

00:14:46:17 – 00:15:10:02
Sarah Cohen
And if they’re not, they’re going to struggle no matter where they are. That was the joy of education. If I can help people to strengthen their ability to think about information and language, to understand nonverbal information and from people in their surroundings, to process information more quickly and make sense of it and not be anxious all the time because they can’t make sense of what’s going on around them.

00:15:10:12 – 00:15:11:16
Sarah Cohen
It’s just the best I.

00:15:11:16 – 00:15:15:18
Philippa White
Have so easily. That’s such an amazing way to see education.

00:15:15:18 – 00:15:44:24
Sarah Cohen
In the way I had one. I’m going to use all fake names, so don’t worry, I’ll call them Josh. And what came to light is that he was actually a brilliant mind. But his thinking, his processing of information was so slow that he couldn’t watch TV or a movie, and then he would go to the movies with his friends and just play a game with himself of seeing how much soda he could drink before he had to go to the bathroom because the world around him was basically inaccessible.

00:15:44:24 – 00:15:54:09
Sarah Cohen
He was in a state of constant anxiety because your brain cannot think quickly enough. And so to watch him speed was mind blowing like this.

00:15:54:09 – 00:15:55:14
Philippa White
And how did that happen?

00:15:55:14 – 00:16:14:07
Sarah Cohen
All this Arrowsmith program, we would assess due to a cognitive assessment, every student came in, figure out where they’re strong, where they’re weak in some of these fundamental areas related to learning. And then they would work on a program for a good chunk of the day that would stimulate these speaking areas. It’s like physiotherapy almost for the brain.

00:16:15:02 – 00:16:34:00
Sarah Cohen
Well, I’ve had my own children through the program, which was funny because as a teacher by first year teaching it, I was like, I hope this works, you know, like the science of neuroplasticity is real. Like that’s not a made up thing. And then of course, to watch these students get through changes throughout the year was just, I’ll call her Rebecca halfway through the years.

00:16:34:00 – 00:16:49:22
Sarah Cohen
Like, what are you noticing? What’s going on? What are the changes? Well, I understand jokes. And she was 15 and I was like, what do you. Well, I never knew really why most jokes were funny. I would just laugh when people laughed. Now I get it. But the word means two things.

00:16:50:04 – 00:16:51:10
Philippa White
Oh, wow.

00:16:51:21 – 00:17:00:15
Sarah Cohen
Students have been through every tutoring program to learn how to read, and they could do the mechanics. But they couldn’t make sense of it and to watch them become reader.

00:17:00:21 – 00:17:16:17
Philippa White
So you see work in the area of education and but you are now at cubic farms in talent. So talk to us about that because it’s interesting going from the world of education in the area that you’ve worked in and obviously is now corporate talent.

00:17:16:17 – 00:17:41:22
Sarah Cohen
Cubit Farms is a vertical farm and there’s a couple different ways, but really the big takeaway and the focus I think to think about is water scarcity is really a huge problem globally, full stop. And then in agriculture, especially globally, full stop and indoor farming for human food and livestock I think is just a huge part of the solution.

00:17:41:22 – 00:18:08:18
Sarah Cohen
And Cubic Farms is really one of the countries that are central in that. So we have two arms of the business. One is this indoor farming, and then there’s the hydro green side of the business, which is entirely unique globally at this point, which grows nutritious livestock. See both sides. It’s really growing in any climate 365 days a year, no matter the whether it was started by farmers to help farmers.

00:18:08:18 – 00:18:32:18
Sarah Cohen
So that was really the main point of these two farmers being in a country after hurricane and really seeing not only Earth was disrupted and houses and all these things, the soil is gone. So there is no farming here. How do you create food systems that are sustainable this way? With hydro grid, they’ve got these automated vertical pastures and I’ll call them ACP zero.

00:18:33:11 – 00:18:57:02
Sarah Cohen
And so you’ve got these hydroponic vertically stacked, growing layers in a controlled environment, and you’re effectively bringing grazing lands indoors and then harvesting fresh livestock, feed daily 365 days a year. And it’s a fully automated, you know, very little labor. You don’t eat these pesticides, which is also a big deal and it uses much less water than traditional farming.

00:18:57:02 – 00:19:21:14
Sarah Cohen
So just to thank for this in some visuals and stats, you can replace 500 acres of farmland with a dozen of these larger keys, which 500 acres is also hard to conceive of, but that’s 378 football fields. So that’s a lot of land. And we all know land is scarce and then we’re using 95% less water than traditional outdoor growing.

00:19:21:14 – 00:19:51:11
Sarah Cohen
So that is massive. Another way to conceive of that is with a dozen of these machines, you’re saving 500 gallons of water annually, which is enough to give every person on the planet one glass of water. So that’s a lot of savings. That’s huge. That’s one aspect that it benefits. It’s been a while since we’re living in North America, but you might know this, that drought has been a major issue throughout the Midwest of all of North America and also the West Coast.

00:19:51:11 – 00:20:15:11
Sarah Cohen
And farmers are making just horrific decisions, including almond farmers and Telefonica, having to burn trees down so that their trees aren’t pulling water from the aquifers. So we’re looking at farmers deciding that they have to produce less, which is really not the place we want to be right now in the world. Right. Helping farmers to find sustainable ways to keep their operations going is essential.

00:20:15:12 – 00:20:30:16
Sarah Cohen
But there are also all of these environmental benefits. So it’s not just the water savings, but using these hydro green systems and the feeds. It’s reducing the methane that cows are producing. And through that, the company is also able to sell carbon credits.

00:20:30:21 – 00:20:53:22
Philippa White
How does your background then in education contribute to this role in talent at Cubic Farms? I mean, I know that the environment is very, very important to you and you have an incredible understanding of things from that point of view. And then obviously there’s the background of education. But back to the puzzle pieces, it’s really interesting how this picture starts to evolve, and I’d love you to connect the dots.

00:20:53:22 – 00:21:13:12
Sarah Cohen
That connect the dots. So I taught high school for a number of years, moved into full administration, and then I got more into human resources or people and culture work within education. Businesses all over right now are really looking at this idea of how do we create a culture where we are growing our people and where they thrive?

00:21:13:13 – 00:21:33:24
Sarah Cohen
In my mind, I’m like, Oh, we need to make businesses a little more like schools. I mean, that’s so simplified. It’s, you know, it’s like kind of too cutesy to say, but it really for me is when I’m recruiting people, I don’t want to say that I love everyone. That sounds insane, but it’s really about people exist, they matter.

00:21:33:24 – 00:21:56:01
Sarah Cohen
And I really approach every interaction with every person, just like you said, like they’ve got an interesting story to share. They are important in this world because they are here. They are. They matter for them to know that they’ve been seen and they’ve been heard. I’m also always really thinking, questioning and sort of evaluating how they think, how are they processing information, how are they responding to me in this interaction?

00:21:56:10 – 00:22:19:05
Sarah Cohen
How does that fit for the role? What kind of thinking is needed in that role? What kind of mind is needed in that role? And is this person’s mind a good match for that? We’re not all the same and we’re not all suited to the same things. So that’s really on the recruitment side. But then I really do approach the creation of programs and systems for people and retention, thinking about how we help people to thrive.

00:22:19:05 – 00:22:38:24
Sarah Cohen
Like what? What is it that is needed to help people grow? Yeah, build trust, build positive community. And I do think that foundation and economics though at that time I felt kind of alien from it. But being able to work with the mass of it all with people and that kind of grounding is really, really.

00:22:38:24 – 00:22:59:05
Philippa White
Yeah, God, really interesting. I’m just curious, you know, from your point of view, looking at the corporate world because you’re now in a very different environment than a school, even though there are those crossovers. But, you know, looking at cube farms or even just in general, because obviously you’ll have your finger on the pulse, I’m sure, of a lot of things that are going on in the corporate environment.

00:22:59:16 – 00:23:03:19
Philippa White
What would you say are some of the challenges that you see from a talent point of view?

00:23:03:24 – 00:23:23:22
Sarah Cohen
There’s sort of this dichotomy or tension right now that is very interesting to me. That brings up a lot of things, which is that people sort of want to personalize things to how you want it. Don’t we all like work, hybrid or remote, or we want to do it the way that works for us, but we also want lots of connection and lots of meaning.

00:23:24:06 – 00:23:48:07
Sarah Cohen
And those don’t have to be opposites, you know, it’s definitely a new challenge and I think it’s quite an exciting challenge actually. Think about how workplaces provide that leadership and that growth and development in all these new ways and helping people to be resilient. Everybody’s work has gotten more complex. Love the technology, but it certainly hasn’t made life simpler.

00:23:48:07 – 00:24:10:12
Sarah Cohen
But it’s made things like this. What we’re doing right now possible. Maybe the way to put a handle on all of this is mental health for people is really a huge thing right now. Complexity of work, nonstop information flow, there’s less structures in place. So it’s not that you have to go to work anymore. We have this freedom, but then having more choices is this other level of complexity.

00:24:10:12 – 00:24:20:07
Sarah Cohen
So in a way, none of them are problems to be solved. It’s just these new dynamics to really be engaged with and listening to people about how.

00:24:20:07 – 00:24:42:11
Philippa White
You talk at the beginning and actually you’ve talked about it throughout, but your love of human connections and I just wonder what your thoughts are. Obviously working with keyboard farms, keyboard firms as a sustainable organization company. What are your thoughts on the importance of creating those strong personal connections to help create a sustainable business? Either create or sustain a sustainable business?

00:24:42:11 – 00:24:58:06
Sarah Cohen
I’m Two fundamental things come to mind for me is that through connection you can build trust, not trust that people are never going to do wrong or they’re never going to hurt you. Because, I mean, people will they will do things that hurt you and upset you and they will make mistakes. That’s just a given from everybody in every relationship.

00:24:58:06 – 00:25:19:23
Sarah Cohen
But when you have trust, you’re always aware of the humanness there. You don’t make it about you. You don’t make it about the other person. You can have that place of interaction. And I think when you have those connections, you really can build an inclusive work environment that really transcends all the differences. One experience in particular stands out to me, and it was not in the work environment, but I brought it with me.

00:25:19:23 – 00:25:44:24
Sarah Cohen
I traveled for a while in Panama. My father in law was stationed in Panama. He was the communications director for UNICEF, and my husband and I, after we got married, we spent some time traveling around and his parents and us, we went around Panama and we spent about a week in this mountainous area. We stayed at a bed and breakfast on a coffee plantation, and it was one man who owns the whole thing.

00:25:44:24 – 00:26:06:00
Sarah Cohen
And he was quite taken with my father in law’s time at UNICEF because he had been awarded from UNICEF these certificates of appreciation, because he built these schools on his plantation so that indigenous parents who would come certain times a year, migrate to his area, work on the plantation of their children. But now this man, we got to know him a little bit.

00:26:06:00 – 00:26:28:13
Sarah Cohen
He was extremely conservative, extreme right wing. That die hard free market capitalist is certainly at that age I would have said, oh, very different than extremely Catholic almost dogmatically. I want to say. And I spent time talking with him. He also had free range chickens on his property and I was like, Oh, that doesn’t fit my box of love.

00:26:28:21 – 00:26:49:22
Sarah Cohen
Right wing capitalist upholding the patriarchy person. And so I spent some time talking with him and he said, People forget that you are impacted by the world around you. And he said, this is the biggest problem in capitalism today is that people think when they walk down the street and they see someone who’s homeless, that that’s not hurting them.

00:26:49:24 – 00:27:17:19
Sarah Cohen
Why would I want to raise chickens in small cages for their suffering? Why would I ever want to eat the meat of an animal whose life was spent here suffering? Why would I want to have my workers that come here that help me harvest the coffee, not be supportive? And that’s always stuck with me. And I’ve kind of gone back and revisited some of Adam Smith’s original writings, and he was actually fundamentally about connection.

00:27:17:19 – 00:27:19:03
Philippa White
Really interesting.

00:27:19:03 – 00:27:36:18
Sarah Cohen
Listen, I’m sure people can debate this for years, but when you go back and look at what he was pointing to in a time of warlords where you have no ability to self-determine a lot of stuff in your life is he was saying that when you do something and it produces a positive reaction from somebody, then you know you’re onto something.

00:27:36:18 – 00:28:00:00
Sarah Cohen
That’s something you can keep doing. The invisible hand. He didn’t start from a place of being about money, started from a place of that being about connection. There’s a lot of things we could say about capitalism, but part of it really always hit me that it’s, oh, it’s the humanity of it that actually is the missing element. And this person I thought I was opposed to in everything, it was the connection of humanity that brought it in.

00:28:00:00 – 00:28:12:08
Sarah Cohen
If we were to sit down and have a political debate, we would have been opposing. And you think of how torn apart communities and countries and school systems, all that. Now people are locked in. Just the idea, part of the.

00:28:12:08 – 00:28:20:10
Philippa White
Ideology I know and we’ve stopped the conversation to understand what is somebodies reality to be able to get to that and then understand.

00:28:20:22 – 00:28:41:01
Sarah Cohen
To see voters. Yeah. And so that lesson he taught me, I really carried forward and that’s that’s what you need on your team somewhere. That’s what you need between managers and employees, like getting managers to sit down at least once a quarter with all their people and just hear from them. You don’t talk about the KPI for the Oscars.

00:28:41:01 – 00:28:43:14
Sarah Cohen
What’s the lives and real for that person right now?

00:28:43:23 – 00:29:07:04
Philippa White
And it’s interesting, isn’t it, because it’s a match up then between the purpose of the company, what is it that you’re doing and then the purpose of the individual and unearthing that and if it’s clear to what the purpose of the company is, and that’s genuine and authentic, and then if you’re supporting the individuals through those personal connections to be able to unearth their purpose, then you’ve got loyal people, right?

00:29:07:09 – 00:29:31:05
Sarah Cohen
Say so long they want to make that work. They find their place in people’s lives. They feel understood, you know, around the world, these people are not involved in organized religion at the same level in a lot of places and pleasantries, you know. So there’s a lot of disruption to community structures. You have to have a workplace where you are see and value for your, you know, your fundamental inanity.

00:29:31:05 – 00:29:37:12
Sarah Cohen
And then you want to work people like to work hard for something they believe in, where they feel valued.

00:29:37:12 – 00:29:43:23
Philippa White
So what are you working on at the moment that you think our listeners would find interesting or that inspires you?

00:29:43:23 – 00:30:05:05
Sarah Cohen
I’m really jazzed right now about this idea of compassion and empathy in the workplace, which sounds all very soft and lovey dovey. But again, you have to remember, I really like math, so I’m also not only interested in like the connectivity part of this, but also really interested in how it creates more efficient business cost savings and all that fun stuff and.

00:30:05:05 – 00:30:07:09
Philippa White
Data release data. A lot.

00:30:07:09 – 00:30:08:02
Sarah Cohen
Of data.

00:30:09:03 – 00:30:09:17
Philippa White
I love.

00:30:09:17 – 00:30:41:08
Sarah Cohen
About for years and human resources and people are used to this idea of employee engagement be really important. But what I thought was so interesting through the pandemic and so part of that a bit is employee engagement to be high and you still don’t retain your employee engagement does not mean that somebody is optimistic by that. And so it’s starting to see a lot of companies use different metrics, ask different questions and really ask how do we help our employees to thrive, which again, is putting on their teacher hat.

00:30:41:08 – 00:31:08:24
Sarah Cohen
This is so interesting to me. So when you start to look at measures around thriving and develop all of these the listening channels as a company like you might have a survey, you might have town halls or emails or those quarterly meetings. You develop all of these channels to be able to listen to your people. And listening becomes a huge focus, your gathering numeric data, your gathering qualitative data at the same time.

00:31:08:24 – 00:31:23:22
Sarah Cohen
And you’re putting this together. And then in, I think companies that are really doing it right and I think where you want to approach it is that you want to share back what you’re hearing and you’re not going to get it right every time. And for some employees, they’ll be like, Oh, I feel totally see and have that.

00:31:23:22 – 00:31:48:01
Sarah Cohen
That’s great. And other people are like, That’s not what I said at all. And then you take action with that. Then you try to take action to address those unmet needs that you’re hearing from people. And for me, it’s foundationally based in the work of Marshall Rosenberg to launch nonviolent communication, passionate communication. And I love that. Yeah. And Satya Nadella, who’s the CEO of Microsoft, is a big advocate of that.

00:31:48:02 – 00:32:19:05
Sarah Cohen
We had some overlap in the development of that in our school and his love of it and using it with what he learns there. And when he became CEO of Microsoft, he took that into Microsoft. And they are now doing all of this employee listening work. I think it’s influenced by that. So for me that’s the big exciting thing, is creating these channels of listening of how you do that and then track that data so you know that you’re on track and employees know that you’re listening and they’re feeling seen and heard and you get into the neuroscience of that.

00:32:19:05 – 00:32:29:10
Sarah Cohen
How empathy, really the whole system down and allows you to think more clearly. And we could go off in so many ways. But for me right now, that is, I think some of the most exciting work.

00:32:29:16 – 00:32:58:23
Philippa White
Super interesting, like you say, of for in this era of competition, the world is evolving. And I’d like to think that we’re moving more to sort of an era of collaboration and in that world of collaboration requires empathy, requires listening, active listening, asking questions, vulnerability. And it used to be seen as sort of these softer skills. And they’re sort of like for the wishy washy kind of airy fairy, kind of, okay, but we need the hard negotiation skills.

00:32:58:23 – 00:33:05:19
Philippa White
We need that edit got if you can put numbers behind this, that’s everything. What keeps you up at night and what gives you hope?

00:33:06:00 – 00:33:32:04
Sarah Cohen
This is in no way a humblebrag, but I think actually not a lot. Keeps me up at night anymore. I mean, I guess the glib answer is people keep me up as people give me all that aside. But I think the big one for me still that gives me the most is climate change. It kind of came to a head for me, I think it was that we’ve had a number of bad forest fire summers, but there was one about four or five years ago where we had to be inside for a lot of time, like the sun was red.

00:33:32:04 – 00:33:52:19
Sarah Cohen
And, you know, at first we were like, Oh, we can still be outside. But after four or five days for the inside of your mouth, just tasted like ash. We kind of all need to go inside. And I remember one night just crying, like fundamentally breaking down about it. You know, my children were five and seven, I guess maybe a little bit older, and they saw me crying.

00:33:52:19 – 00:34:08:19
Sarah Cohen
And it’s always a tough one as a parent because you don’t want to hold back your emotions, but at the same time, you don’t want to scare your kids. Right? Like if you’re really having intense grief and I was really having that intense grief, I don’t want this for my kids. There’s nothing I can do about it, really.

00:34:08:19 – 00:34:33:08
Sarah Cohen
I mean, I can and I can’t. It’s both of those things. Yeah. And so once I really let myself have that grief and experience, it became clear for us that was like, okay, let’s become a cycling family. It’s become one of those weird Vancouver families. And my kids grew super into cycling before that, but they really, I think, heard what I was saying.

00:34:33:08 – 00:35:00:17
Sarah Cohen
And I think speaking from that kind of ground of truth, you know, when you really hit that place, you work through everything and things need to change. Things need to change. Yeah. So we don’t drive hardly at all. We have an electric vehicle, but we really have positioned ourselves and made choices around housing and various things to be able to kind of get everywhere by bike or walking or transit, live in smaller places, those sorts of things.

00:35:00:17 – 00:35:19:12
Sarah Cohen
So that was I guess about four or five years ago. Then two years ago I was out in my backyard and my younger son, Ezra, he looked at me because, you know, we’re in climate change. And I think he was eight. And I said, fine know. And he’s like, It’s not good. It’s like I said, you know, every point in the world, something real hard is going on for everybody.

00:35:19:12 – 00:35:35:17
Sarah Cohen
There’s something survival. And we were born at this time and we have an important role to play. We got to cool things off and we got to try to make things more fair. This is our time. This is our job. I mean, like the work you’re doing, the work companies like Cubic Farms are doing. I mean, if everybody keeps.

00:35:35:24 – 00:35:37:23
Philippa White
Plugging away at it and hold on in a way.

00:35:38:13 – 00:35:50:18
Sarah Cohen
Yeah, yeah. Little fundamentally, that also gives me hope because we don’t know how things are going to turn out. And I’m really glad it was for now and not 200 or 300 years ago, or I’d rather be here now even though. Scary.

00:35:50:20 – 00:35:55:02
Philippa White
Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to tell our listeners?

00:35:55:02 – 00:36:20:22
Sarah Cohen
Well, I think if people are listening to this podcast, they know this already. But I’m going to tell them in case they don’t, which is that you are an incredible inspiration. Oh, well, are you surprised to say that? But you just are out there boldly, courageously doing that work and forging something that did not exist, that is innovative, that addresses these needs of so many different levels that people have.

00:36:20:22 – 00:36:40:14
Sarah Cohen
And so it’s real concrete change in people’s lives and businesses and communities. And then all of those ripples out where you’re just out there touching people’s lives regularly with these messages of hope and light. I’m so grateful for you to be doing that and it’s so creative. I think that’s almost one of the most incredible aspects of it.

00:36:40:14 – 00:36:56:21
Sarah Cohen
So I think. Thank you. So true. And I think I just want to say one more time, I guess I said it earlier, but I would encourage everyone just to live your life fully. Don’t don’t save yourself for that special day when you think things will change and finally be right.

00:36:57:02 – 00:36:58:17
Philippa White
Totally agree. The time is now.

00:36:58:17 – 00:37:15:20
Sarah Cohen
The time is now. I’ll live your life so that you get all used up by the end. You don’t don’t hold out that energy for the ninth inning or just play it like this is the game right now and it’s really for you. Yeah. Fundamentally, we’re alone, we’re in it together, but we’re also really alone.

00:37:15:21 – 00:37:38:10
Philippa White
And the thing is, is no one is going to be able to live your life for you. And I think that’s exactly it. Don’t wait for the permission from someone else for the perfect moment. I think that’s such a great way to leave this, because thinking of your dad and the turning point for you and how you opened up the opportunity to so many people that you’ve worked with in the schools and what you’re doing now.

00:37:38:10 – 00:37:55:16
Philippa White
And and everyone has the power to be able to make make a change in their own way in the time of. What a wonderful conversation. Sarah, I have been covered in Goosebumps and it’s so funny. My children, when I listen to music or when I hear something that is I have this thing and I really do, I just take cover to do something.

00:37:55:24 – 00:38:15:24
Philippa White
And it’s often my children, I don’t know, I’ll be driving and they might say something or I’m listening to a song and my daughter, who’s in the front seat, is always looking at my leg or looking up by air. And she’s like, you know, did it work, though? It’s a thing and probably goosebumps for the majority of this conversation.

00:38:15:24 – 00:38:19:02
Philippa White
So thank you. Thank you very much for your invitation.

00:38:19:02 – 00:38:20:19
Sarah Cohen
It’s been a real pleasure.

00:38:20:23 – 00:38:21:23
Philippa White
Until next time.

00:38:21:24 – 00:38:23:22
Sarah Cohen
Until next time. Till the next snowstorm.

00:38:24:06 – 00:38:25:14
Philippa White
And till the next ones are.

00:38:26:13 – 00:38:28:06
Sarah Cohen
Trudging across the street.

00:38:29:09 – 00:38:31:07
Philippa White
Thinking they’re above you. Philippa.

00:38:31:19 – 00:38:34:01
Sarah Cohen
Thank you.

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