Up With Women Founder, Lia Grimanis: Swimming with Sharks, and Forging New
Avenues of Possibility in Business, Advocacy and Philanthropy
She’s a successful businesswoman, she rides a pink BMW motorcycle, swims with sharks, plays the harp, occasionally flies a helicopter, and she runs her own non-profit organization.
She was also once homeless.
When Lia lived in the shelter, she made two promises to herself:
1. That she would become successful and come back to be a role model for other homeless women to prove that homelessness is not a dead end and that success belongs to everybody.
2. That she would dream as big as she could and she would fulfill every dream.
Today she has fulfilled both promises. She spent over 15 years building a career as a top technology account executive, placing her in the top 1% of Canadian income earners. She also has fulfilled every dream the most important one being the founding of Up With Women.
An avid adventurer, Lia is an experienced scuba diver (including cavern diving and feeding sharks), she races cars and motorcycles, has learned to fly a helicopter, hang glided over the mountains and canyons of Kauai Hawaii, and is currently on a trip across Europe where, over 39 days, shewill
- Learn to drive a Russian Army battle tank
- Ride motorcycle 1,000 km across subarctic Norway, and
- Ski to Europe's largest glacier and climb inside
Aside from founding Up With Women, Lia has also founded the Mighty Lola Ballsy Girls Arts Fund - an informal arts fund that provides small grants to female artists who dare to be different. She also is a co-founder of Social Venture Partners Toronto, an organization that blends the power of business with the passion of philanthropy to assist grass roots organizations that are focused on poverty reduction.
Lia Feeding sharks Feb 2006
On a civic level, she has served on the Toronto Mayor’s Communications Advisory team, with a special focus on the Mayor’s “Opportunity for All” platform. She served as a media strategist and she wrote the Mayor’s "Opportunity for All" platform speech.
Recently, the global businesswomen’s organization, The International Alliance for Women World of Difference awards comittee, named Lia a global Unsung Heroine; an honor given to only 50 women, around the globe, whose community work has focused on the economic empowerment of women. Lia was also named Volunteer of the Year by Flare Magazine, and was nominated for Canada's Top 40 Under 40 and YWCA's Women of Distinction.
Lia sits on the advisory board of Future Possibilities for Kids, and has also worked in partnership with the United Way, the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Raising the Roof.
Lia has frequently appeared in the media, having had news and story features appear on Global TV, CTV, CBC, City TV, More Magazine, the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun and more. She focuses in on the media to help disseminate the positive stories of women and children coming out of homelessness, while raising awareness about the issues today.
Her mission: To break the stereotypes of homelessness, and prove that success belongs to everybody.
A little more about Lia:
Growing up below the
poverty line in Toronto, Lia learned early that if she
wanted to experience anything beyond her own meagre
circumstances, she would have to work hard. At the time,
though, she had no idea how challenging the years to
come would be.
In her late teens,
she found herself in an abusive situation at home. When
the violence escalated, the police would do nothing.
She felt trapped and unprotected. Unaware that shelters
existed, Lia believed that, if she wanted to live in
Toronto, she had to either endure her current situation
or live on the street. Finally, not knowing where to
turn, Lia dialled the Woman Abuse Hotline—and was immediately
given placement into Stop 86, a shelter for young women
in crisis run by the YWCA. That night, she left home
with nothing but the clothes she had on. She never looked
When she left the shelter,
Lia made a promise to herself: that when she became
successful, she would come back and speak to women in
shelters. She would be a role model and a vocal advocate
for success despite unfortunate circumstances.
To date Lia has spoken
on the radio and in public gatherings, raising awareness
about violence against women and the positive changes
that can come about from shelters, crisis intervention,
social support and advocacy. In 2006, having witnessed
the impact of negative stereotyping in her Beach neighbourhood,
where local residents retaliated against the opening
of a one-night-a-week homeless shelter run by the Out
of the Cold program, Lia launched a nationwide search
for women living extraordinary lives—women who were
also once homeless. Together these women will share
their stories on the web and in the media and, it is
Lia’s hope, help transform the lives of others and shatter
the stereotypes to show that homelessness is not a dead
end and that success belongs to everybody.
Radio Interview CHFI
Slighty longer radio
interview CHFI 2007
Lia's First Helicopter
Flight, and her 2nd Year at Motorcycle Racing School: