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RBC Disruptors

Author: RBC Thought Leadership, John Stackhouse

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RBC Disruptors is an ongoing podcast series hosted by SVP John Stackhouse about reimagining Canada’s economy in a time of unprecedented change. It features thought-provoking conversations with Canadian business and innovation leaders about planting the seeds of a new economy.
69 Episodes
From facial recognition software that fails to recognize women and people of colour, to Twitter algorithms which seem to prefer white faces in photo previews, there’s been no shortage of negative headlines about artificial intelligence over the past few months. But whether we like it or not, AI is at work all around us, all the time, and there’s a growing movement to make sure it’s being used in an ethical way.A new survey from RBC’s world-class artificial intelligence research center, Borealis AI, reveals that most businesses in Canada believe it’s important to implement AI responsibly, but 93% experience barriers in doing so, like cost, time, or lack of understanding. And barely over half of them have someone on the payroll who’s responsible for ethical data and AI practices.On this episode of RBC Disruptors, host John Stackhouse re-connects with the head of Borealis AI and RBC’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Foteini Agrafioti, to learn about a new online hub called RESPECT AI, aimed at making open source resource code, tutorials, academic research, and lectures available to the entire AI community. He also sits down for a frank and challenging conversation about the risks and rewards of AI with Ruha Benjamin, a sociologist and an Associate Professor of African American Studies at Princeton, and Saadia Muzaffar, a Canadian entrepreneur, author, and the founder of TechGirls Canada. Notes:To learn more about Borealis AI, the work it’s doing, and its new RESPECT AI campaign, you can visit RBC’s Thought Leadership Group has also published a new paper exploring ethical challenges in AI, which can be found at Ruha Benjamin’s website features a wide range of research and resources related to her studies on race, justice, and technology. For details on how Saadia Muzafffar’s non-profit organization is breaking down barriers for diversity and equity in science and technology, go to You can hear previous episodes of Disruptors on the subject of artificial intelligence here: AI for Good: Battling Bias Before it Becomes IrreversibleAI For Good: In Conversation with Foteini Agrafioti
It was already a challenge, even before the pandemic: helping young people and their families navigate Canada’s complex, fragmented mental health system. But experts say COVID could also serve as a catalyst for much-needed change, an opportunity to make meaningful improvements. Just like the rest of us, young people are spending more time than ever in front of screens; up to 7.5 hours per day, in the case of high school students. But those same apps and social media sites that are taking up more of our days could also be a force for good, as long as we use the right ones, in the right ways.In honour of World Mental Health Day, this episode of RBC Disruptors delves into the potential risks and rewards of our growing dependence on technology during the pandemic. Host John Stackhouse sits down with two leaders in the field of youth mental health; Doctor Joanna Henderson, clinical psychologist, and director at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, and Doctor Yuri Quintana, the Chief of the Division of Clinical Informatics at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He also hears from Shauna MacEachern, the executive director of Frayme, which leads a global network that connects young people with mental health and social services here in Canada and around the world.Together, they discuss the explosion in the number of health and wellness apps that are available, how those apps can and should be evaluated for effectiveness, and what else needs to happen in order to break down barriers to accessing mental health services in Canada. You’ll also hear about the importance of collaborating with youth, and involving them in the development process, in order to ensure their needs are being met by a system that has historically failed to do so. To learn more about the organizations mentioned in this episode, and the important work they’re doing, you can visit their websites: The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)Beth Israel Deaconess Medical CenterHomewood Research InstituteFrayme: Youth Mental Health ResourcesYou can read the announcement about RBC’s partnership with HRI to study the effectiveness of mental health apps HERE. If you or someone you know is in need of mental health support, help is available. Visit the Government of Canada’s Mental Health Support page for links and phone numbers.
Canadian women entrepreneurs are a dynamic and powerful economic force. After all, women own and operate almost one-third of all firms in Canada, and they start businesses one-and-a-half times more often than men, driving more than 117-billion dollars of economic activity per year. In other words -- if we want full economic recovery, we need to make sure female entrepreneurs are being given the tools they need. In this episode of Disruptors, powered by RBC, John Stackhouse speaks with Vicki Saunders -- founder of SheEO, an organization of "women supporting women-led Ventures working on the world’s to-do list,” about how different funding models and community-based networking can make a difference. He also speaks to Nita Tandon, founder, and CEO of Dalcini Stainless Incorporated, and Chenny Xia, co-founder of Gotcare -- Canada's largest self-directed home care provider, about how women do business differently, and the importance of the triple bottom line.Some of the great organizations RBC partners with, to support women in business:SheEO, RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, Stand Up Ventures, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women and Dress for Success, and Catalyst. 
The past eight months have been an unprecedented time of disruption in Canada. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everything from how we work, learn, and shop to how we travel, entertain ourselves, and obviously, take care of ourselves when we get sick. Businesses have been forced to adapt almost overnight or close. Entire industries have been forced to pivot, and supply chains around the world have been strained or severed completely.It’s against that backdrop that the RBC Thought Leadership Team released a document back in May called “8 Ways COVID Will Disrupt the Economy and Transform Every Business,” to give people a little guidance in these tumultuous times. But it’s clear now that the effects of COVID are here for the long-haul, which is why RBC’s experts and analysts have come together again to update their perspectives based on the very latest trends and data.On this episode of RBC Disruptors, host John Stackhouse discusses the newly-updated report with one of the members of the RBC Thought Leadership Team who helped write it, Strategist Theresa Do. They’ll also hear from special guests, including the CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Matthew Loden, Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter Jill Barber, the global head of public relations for Expedia, Nisreene Atassi, and influential sports marketer Mary De Paoli, who also happens to be an Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at RBC. Join them, for a fascinating exploration of COVID’s ongoing impact on the economy, and on our lives in general.You can read the full, updated ‘8 Ways’ report here: You’ll also hear John refer to another RBC podcast, the “10 Minute Take.” You can find that episode at The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s COVID-related update is here:, and you can listen to Jill Barber’s latest album here: Nisreene Atassi is also the host of Expedia’s “Out Travel the System”, which you can find wherever you download podcasts. RBC Disruptors is created by the RBC Thought Leadership group of RBC, and does not constitute a recommendation for any organization, product, or service. It is produced and recorded by JAR Audio. For more RBC Disruptors content, like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and visit the Thought Leadership page at
When others see obstacles, entrepreneurs see opportunities. Nowhere is that more true than the up-and-coming generation of business minds, many fostered through NEXT Canada. The organization gives entrepreneurs a boost through education, mentorship, funding, and access to a strong entrepreneurial network.In this episode of RBC Disruptors, host John Stackhouse speaks with three members of NEXT’s Class of 2020, who have bold goals for reshaping economic and social systems and the environment - which could have wide-ranging impacts for Canada and the world as a whole. They speak confidently, clearly, and urgently about the imperative for better solutions, right now.Myra Arshad is the Founder and CEO of ALT TEX, an intriguing B2B sustainable textile solution. It takes paper and food waste and agricultural by-products and converts them into carbon-neutral, biodegradable fabrics.Natasha Dhayagude is the Co-Founder and CEO of Chinova Bioworks. The company’s focus is revolutionizing the food and preservation process, by developing a natural preservative extracted from the stems of white button mushrooms.Zach McMahon is the Co-Founder and CEO of LUCID, which is building AI music therapy products. It places music at the centre of not only mood-building, but mental health, thanks in part to AI analysis.
COVID lockdown restrictions have boosted the desire to consume creative content higher than ever. What’s new about this era is where the content is coming from -- a diversity of voices from around the globe, not originally directly linked to traditional publishing firms, production companies, or movie studios. We explore this phenomenon in this episode of RBC Disruptors by looking into the origin story of Wattpad. As co-founder and CEO Allen Lau tells host John Stackhouse, the company was inspired by the desire for a good app for reading on mobile phones. Now, it’s turned into a content powerhouse, with more than 4 million writers uploading stories in 50 different languages. The most promising are turned into books, T.V. shows, and movies, like The Kissing Booth, After We Collided, and She’s With Me, thanks in part to Wattpad’s custom AI engine. It’s a global company with global perspectives, but Lau believes it’s also important to represent Canadian perspectives on the world stage. This episode of RBC Disruptorslooks at a whole new viewpoint on Canadian content.
It's a branch of molecular biology that humans have been harnessing for centuries, but has come to carry a negative connotation for many Canadians due to concerns about genetically modified organisms: Genomics.A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that as much as 60% of the physical inputs to the global economy could be produced biologically, with potential savings of up to 4 TRILLION dollars per year. And as Canada works to recover from the COVID crisis, bio-manufacturing is also being billed as a massive opportunity to address issues like the supply chain vulnerabilities revealed by pandemic, as well as our reliance on foreign factories.On this episode of RBC Disruptors, host John Stackhouse sits down with two of the country's top experts on Genomics; Doctor Rob Annan, the President and CEO of Genome Canada, and Doctor Bettina Hamelin, the President and CEO of Ontario Genomics, to learn more about the opportunities presented by the so-called "bio-revolution". He also delves into the regulatory, economic, and ethical barriers that exist, and the risks of being left behind if Canadian entrepreneurs fail to embrace this potentially transformational change.Show notes:The McKinsey Global Institute's report on the Bio-Revolution can be found here: also references a previous episode of Disruptors featuring Canadian author Alex Lazarow, called "Beyond Silicon Valley: Why We Need a Global Playbook for Innovation," which was originally released on August 4th, 2020.
The world is on track to add as many people to cities in the next 40 years as we have in the last 40 centuries. Those new buildings and roads will require a lot of concrete, which historically was an economically and environmentally inefficient building material. However, new innovators are leveraging technology to tackle both of those problems. The challenge they face, though, is around policy and building momentum. Right now, regulations prohibit some concrete manufacturers from innovating, even as more companies are demanding climate action. Key takeaways: City and rural dwellers alike are impacted by inefficient concrete and should advocate for the use of climate-friendly building materials.Climate entrepreneurs like CarbonCure provide solutions that can turn legacy materials into an engine for environmental good. Canada has all the ecosystem support - talent, knowledge, and global connections - necessary to lead the climate entrepreneurship race. What’s missing is policy action and market signals from governments that climate-friendly building materials should be prioritized.
Following last week’s International Youth Day, Canadian youth might feel like they have few things to celebrate. As one of the hardest-hit groups in the COVID-induced economic decline, they’re faced with a staggering 30% unemployment rate and potential long-term career setbacks. Youth need support more than ever, and the economy needs them. To rebuild, we need to tap into the energy and creativity of young people to reimagine what’s possible. In this episode, we revisit an RBC Disruptors conversation from September, 2019 with Julia Kirouac and Braden Ream, two 20-something founders who decided to start their own ventures. They share how they dove headfirst into their businesses, while also navigating the barriers of being young entrepreneurs.
Oceans provide safety, a way of life, economic sustainability, and food for the entire planet, yet over 80% of the world’s oceans are unmapped and unexplored. Now, we have the tools and technology to empower true ocean discovery. The limited knowledge we have of oceans has already produced trillions of dollars in economic benefit and insight that led to life-saving medications. With data and a renewed focus on building a sustainable future, the world’s oceans can yet again provide an unparalleled opportunity for growth. Key takeaways: Everyone is impacted when oceans aren’t cared for as food supplies, shipping industries, and national security depend on healthy oceans. Entrepreneurs, academics, and investors should collectively focus their creative energies on thinking about the triple bottom line: environment, community, and profit.  This requires working with and learning from Indigenous communities since much of our coastline is cared for by Indigenous peoples.Canada has the right opportunities and resources to lead in ocean innovation, but what’s missing is a critical mass of advocacy for a sustainable future for oceans. 
Nearly 10 years ago, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen famously claimed that “software is eating the world.” But today, a new crop of “frontier innovators” are straying away from disrupting existing industries with software in favour of building new industries, improving current innovation models, and addressing market gaps that Silicon Valley ignored. In his new book, Out-Innovate: How Global Entrepreneurs--from Delhi to Detroit--Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley, Alex Lazarow interviews more than 200 entrepreneurs from around the world about their challenges, success stories, and what he calls the "frontier," the growing constellation of startup ecosystems, outside of the Valley. On this episode of RBC Disruptors, Alex and John discuss the shift from the equity model in venture capital, what it means to be born global, and the future of innovation in Canada, and around the worldKey takeaways: Founders don’t have to settle for cash-for-equity venture capital, and should explore new models around partnerships or royalties. Every innovator needs to be “born global,” and look at the whole world as a potential market. The Silicon Valley playbook is not the only way to succeed, and founders need to consider how they are building businesses that make an impact, not just a profit.
To succeed in the post-COVID economy, businesses will need more than just a pivot to digital – they’ll need to lean into and harness data to gain an advantage. As the COVID crisis disrupts traditional business models, it’s more important than ever for companies to understand how to leverage data on user behaviour, sales trends, and other variables to re-position themselves for the future. In this episode, we revisit an earlier RBC Disruptors conversation from February, 2020 with Sam Sebastian, CEO of Pelmorex Corp, which owns The Weather Network, on how firms can capitalize on data to gain an edge and grow their business.
Building a successful company takes a community, and SkipTheDishes is no different. A Winnipeg success story, the food delivery platform has over 25,000 restaurants in its community. John Stackhouse sits down with SkipTheDishes CEO Kevin Edwards, who shares the founding story of Skip, how the company is helping its restaurant community with a $24 million commitment during COVID-19, and why the company is so focused on building a supportive environment for the next tech success story. Key takeaways: The future of restaurants is a hybrid – the ones that will thrive will draw people in but also reach out to customers and connect with them in unique ways. Restaurants need to become digital natives and harness the power of social to engage their customers.Canada has no shortage of tech talent, but for tech companies to thrive, they need to scale, and to harness the power of data.
The COVID pandemic has brought everyday life online and made us more reliant on technology than ever. Many of us are working from home and glued to our screens all day, and then Zooming with friends or streaming movies in the evenings. Not to mention our shift to online shopping and ordering food. What effect is all this technology having on us? In this episode, we revisit an earlier but still incredibly relevant RBC Disruptors conversation from June 2019 with Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, a physician and brain scientist at Duke University, on how technology is changing the brain and mind.
In the midst of a global crisis, getting food from farm to fork has never been more important, and in some ways, more challenging. Nothing has been more essential than keeping Canadians fed and supplied. At the forefront of this is Loblaw, a fourth-generation Canadian company and the largest non-government employer in the country. Through their COVID pivots they are leading the charge on enhancing customer convenience and keeping Canadians safe and stocked up. Instacart is the North American leader in online grocery – they have the largest grocery delivery network in America with more than 500,000 active full-service shoppers. On this episode of RBC Disruptors, John Stackhouse discusses the changes and challenges in grocery commerce with Sarah Davis, President of Loblaw and Nilam Ganenthiran, President of Instacart.Key TakeawaysThe future of grocery will blend digital and in-store experiences. Consumers want to choose their grocery experience, so how can grocers position themselves to deliver digital experiences for the long term?Canadians want to feel connected to their local grocery brand. They want to trust where their food is coming from and know that they have the option to support vendors from within their province. How can grocery brands use this to their advantage?As grocery stores continue to go digital, understanding your consumer has never been more important. How can grocers use consumer data to provide a seamless, end to end experience that enhances the consumer’s relationship with their brand?
Over the last 153 years, millions of Canadians have spread to every corner of the world. We have been part of major global movements from the birth of Hollywood to the strategy behind modern day peacekeeping. We know that Canadians are going to play a key role in rebuilding the global economy as we look beyond the pandemic. Laura Buhler, Executive Director of the C100, an association of Canadian expats in the Valley that has helped build Canada's tech ecosystem, and Andre Charoo, General Partner of Maple VC and co-chair of the C100, join John Stackhouse on RBC Disruptors to discuss:How we can leverage our population at home and abroad to create strategic opportunities and accelerate the growth of Canada’s tech companies.What Canadian companies need to do to attract global talent. Pay must match ambition.Why large corporations need to invest locally to develop a thriving ecosystem to compete on the global stage. Listeners can learn more about the C100 and its initiatives at
Retail is a massive originator of data, generating 40 terabytes per hour globally. As the industry continues to undergo unprecedented disruption, to survive and continue to thrive in today’s environment, winning retailers are using that data to understand their customers, empower their employees, create intelligent supply chains, and reinvent their business models. Jose Ribau, Executive Vice President, Digital & Innovation at Cadillac Fairview, and four guests join John Stackhouse on RBC Disruptors to explore the future of retail and how malls can compete in a post-pandemic environment.Key Takeaways:The mall of the future will be built on dataOnline shopping may be here to stay, but so too, is a blended model of in-person and online experiencesRetailers and landlords will need innovative approaches to cater to dramatically changed consumer behaviour
On this episode of RBC Disruptors, John Stackhouse is joined by Valerie Pisano, CEO of MILA in Montreal, and Abhinav Sharma of McGill University to discuss Canadian innovations in AI and machine learning for healthcare delivery, progress in the development of digital contact tracing applications, and the importance of healthcare professionals working hand in hand with technology.Key Takeaways:What will the patient experience look like in 2030?Technology is going to increasingly shape healthcare. But without the human adoption of technology, we'll never see its potentialHow do we navigate data and privacy concerns, while understanding the benefits of these innovations?How can we ensure that Canadian healthcare innovations are global in their ambition?
COVID-19 pushed Canada into the first recession since the mass adoption of smartphones. Entering 2020, Canada had more than 500,000 businesses that were predominantly analog. The crisis has served as a catalyst for small businesses including traditional businesses to pivot to digital as they closed their doors due to COVID-19. Businesses that will emerge from this crisis stronger, are the ones that changed their strategies through the crisis to reach customers in new ways. In this episode, John Stackhouse is joined by Lori Darlington, VP, Small Business & Strategic Partnerships at RBC and together they examine a series of case studies on small businesses who have pivoted to new strategies to grow through the pandemic. In this episode we discuss:How small businesses can scale coming out of the crisisHow have they used digital to improve the customer experience and reach new customers?What do small businesses need to thrive beyond the pandemic, in terms of capital, support, public policy and consumer behaviour?
In March of 2020, Canada’s post-secondary institutions moved over 2 million students to online learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the urgency of crisis measures fade to operating in the “new normal”, we are likely to see students demand more from digital-based learning to give them greater flexibility in where, when and how they learn. This collective moment of mass disruption can be seized to move higher education to the digital age. In this episode of RBC Disruptors, John Stackhouse is joined by John Baker, President and CEO of D2L,  Charlotte Yates, Provost and Vice President of Academics at Guelph University, Sophie D’Amours, Rector of Laval University,  Neil Passina, President of Athabasca University and  Andrew Schrumm, Senior Manager, Research at RBC to discuss: How online learning can transform post-secondary education, far beyond the current crisisHow the institutions that will thrive will figure out how to blend technology and socializationThe need to support teachers in transitioning to a brave new worldThe huge opportunity for Canada to leverage our strength in education and scale our digital platforms on a global basis
Comments (2)


really important topic, thanks for covering this and maybe include more oceanic engineers into the conversation :)

Aug 15th

M Biddle

Extremely well done. Great moderation. Well articulated, insightful and valuable comments and ideas from the two guests around how Canada can become a new energy leader. It left me hopeful and motivated.

May 5th
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