Annual Report 2021-2022

Increasing Diversity and Building Capacity

Diverse backgrounds lead to increased success

One of the elements that helps make a team successful is the unique set of ideas and experiences each member brings to the table. The more diverse these ideas and experiences are, the more likely the team will achieve its goals in innovative, long-lasting ways.

Expanding that idea from a team to an entire sector only increases the need for diversity. Employers across the plant-based food, feed and ingredient sector have seen the benefits of diversifying their staff first-hand over the past several years, and calls to further encourage under-represented groups to join the sector are getting louder.

“It certainly broadens our perspective by having diversity,” Botaneco President and CEO James Szarko said. “We get a lot more feedback, broader levels of thinking that takes place when we reach out past what our small base would be. So all of a sudden that envelope of what’s possible becomes much, much broader.”

Botaneco currently has staff whose backgrounds represent about 10 countries around the world, with an approximate 50 per cent gender split. When hiring, the company didn’t focus specifically on diversity; instead they prioritized candidates that offered experience, knowledge and skillsets that benefited their team, while also bringing new ideas that would help drive the company forward. Szarko said diversity was a natural outcome of that strategy.

Still, he added, there’s more that can be done.

“It really has to happen at the leadership level … if leadership is committed to the task of doing it, it’ll all work itself through the system. But you have to have leadership at every level, all the way from the research that takes place in the sector, at the farmgate level that takes place, at the commercialization stage and at the government stage, as well.”

Companies and organizations across Canada are taking action to help make this happen. Protein Industries Canada co-invested in a project, led by Indigenous Works and with the participation of the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Regina, Nutrien and Farm Credit Canada. Focused on improving the inclusion of Indigenous groups in Canada’s agrifood sector, the project will see the development of a national strategy, followed by steps toward implementing it.

The strategy will outline current Indigenous participation in the sector, as well as what actions can be taken. This could include the following:

  • Collaborations between post-secondary researchers and Indigenous businesses;
  • Research knowledge mobilizations and new product/service innovations; and
  • Employment and business development.

“Indigenous people want to expand their national and global businesses in ways which bring economic prosperity, jobs and well-being to their communities, and this will help all Canadians,” Indigenous Works President and CEO Kelly Lendsay said in the project’s news release. “By advancing an innovation culture with Indigenous businesses and communities, and growing the collaborations among researchers, research agencies and Indigenous business, we can develop new products, new service lines, new innovative approaches and solutions that are good for all Canadians and the Canadian economy.”

The diversity created by actions such as Botaneco’s hiring strategy and Indigenous Works’ national Indigenous strategy are helping increase the innovation and overall success of Canada’s plant-based food, feed and ingredients sector. To learn more about Protein Industries Canada’s priority of co-investing in diversity-focused projects, visit our Capacity Building program page.

Youth program surpasses goals

When the Enterprise Machine Intelligence & Learning Initiative (EMILI), Actua and Agriculture in the Classroom Canada (AITC-C) launched their Protein Industries Canada project in January 2021, they had a goal of introducing 69,000 youth to the plant-protein, agrifood and digital agriculture sectors over three years. Today, they’ve nearly reached that goal, with a significant portion of their audience being comprised of Indigenous and other under-represented groups.


Prairie youth engaged


Indigenous youth engaged


learned something new about agriculture