THE BLOG
08/30/2013 02:36 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

She-lanthropy: Heather Reisman and Her Commitment to Improving Children's Literacy One School at a Time

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If anyone is interested in how to align business interests with philanthropic endeavors, you should take a page out of Heather Reisman's book (well, not literally, given the business she is in!). A Canadian business icon, Reisman galvanized world leaders, rock stars and every day people to save an Iranian woman from the death penalty by stoning, she and her family have made major gifts to hospitals, universities and cultural institutions and next week, for her efforts in improving women's brain health, she (and Arianna Huffington) will be inducted as the first two women of the Hope-Knot 100 Club. If you look at her pattern of support and involvement, it's not a stretch to see how her philanthropic passions tie together and have manifested themselves in her mission to enrich libraries in under-resourced schools all over Canada through the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation.

What specific moment made you take up the cause of getting more young people to read?
As a child I loved to have stories read to me and I loved to read. For as long as I can remember in fact I have been a book lover. When I learned - almost accidentally - that most grade schools in economically-challenged areas in Canada have very poor libraries - sometimes no libraries - and those that exist often have books that are more than 20 years old - we decided we had to to take up the challenge of bringing the joy and love of reading to these schools... or at least as many as we could every year. By the way I have since learned that this problem exists in the U.S. as well.

What was the biggest challenge you faced at first and how did you overcome it?
Our big challenge is not in the annual grants we make to our Love of Reading School grant winners but rather raising this problem up to the political level so that in fact ensuring that all children get access to books and have the opportunity to develop a love of reading. This should be an absolutely right in 2013.

What aspect of your charitable work most interests you?
Any time you take up a charitable cause - it is because you are passionate about that particular need. So essentially I like all aspects of the work that I do. Understanding the opportunity - working with others to make some impact - seeing the result when you actually touch someone's life in a meaningful way......

When you think of the future of this cause, what do you see?
A significant portion of both the Canadian and U.S. population is functionally illiterate. Its hard to imagine a thriving 21st century society with such a significant number of people who can't fully participate. Our goal with our Love of Reading Foundation is to get our provincial governments to fully commit to addressing this need in public schools. The amount of money required is so small and the impact on quality of life, economic well being is huge.

To succeed, an entrepreneur must possess what 2 skills?
Determination to succeed, and the ability to attract and build relationships with great talent.

What is more important, power or influence and why?
In reality they are two sides of the same coin.

What is more important - education or opportunity - in today's marketplace?
Again, both are incredibly valuable - different people get educated and learn in different ways - some spend years in university and then go out and take on the world - some spend a great deal less and also succeed. The big idea may be committing to life long learning however that works - and feeling positive enough to always be open to opportunity.

Who has most influenced you and how?
Many people have influenced me .... My parents - my earliest mentor,
Marc Gerstein, and above all - my husband Gerry Schwartz.

What is next on your to do list as it relates to the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation?
Push harder with our provincial governments to ensure that every single high needs school has rich access to books - whether physical or digital.

Farah Mohamed is the creator of G(irls)20 Summit, a global movement that mobilizes girls and women for impact by generates ideas of how companies, communities and countries can benefit from the economic and political empowerment of girls & women. The Summit meets once a year and provides G20 Leaders with innovative ideas on how to properly invest in and involve one our greatest untapped resources -- girls & women -- so that we can tackle our greatest challenges. Farah has been honoured with the Queen's Jubilee Medal & Top 25 Women in Canada Women of Influence Award.