Barrie native Jennifer Stojkovic has made a name for herself as one of the few women working in California’s male-dominated Silicon Valley, but more recently has turned her success in the tech industry into a way to pave a path to a more sustainable planet.
In 2020, Stojkovic, who also boasts the title of best-selling author for her 2022 book titled The Future of Food is Female, took her passion for living a vegan lifestyle and created Vegan Women Summit, the world’s first events and media organization dedicated to empowering, educating and inspiring women to bring compassion to their careers.
Stojkovic has been vegan for nine years, a decision she told BarrieToday she and her husband made after the murder of his best friend.
“I made the decision to change the trajectory and the focus of my life. Going through that personal tragedy caused us to take a look at ourselves and make changes to become better people," she said. "We decided to live our lives with compassion and a natural extension of that is what you do three times a day.”
During her career working with some of the world’s top tech companies, Stojkovic says she started to notice a gap for women in the industry.
“It’s no secret that the tech industry has a troupe called the Tech Bro … and I found myself to be the only woman most of the time in these conversations and in the work that I did," she said. "As I started to see people talk more about food technology and plant-based innovations, I began to see many of the conversations that I had been having personally and advocating for come to the mainstream."
At first, Stojkovic says she was excited with the conversations happening around her, and thought it could potentially be the moment where the future of food could become the “next big thing.” She quickly discovered many of the same attributes to the industry she had built her career in.
“It was very male-driven and the majority of these new companies were male-led despite the fact that 93 per cent of food purchases are made by women,” she said, adding the goal in creating Vegan Women Summit was to strive to engage the 51 per cent of women around the world — particularly professional women — to be a part of reinventing the way we eat.
The first summit was held February 2020 and saw 250 women attend, said Stojkovic, adding the COVID pandemic then forced the summit to go virtual, a change that actually opened up the event to a much wider audience across the world.
“Now we have well over 70,000 professional women across six continents,” she said, adding this year’s event, held in May in New York City, was the third event and boasted more than 1,100 women from across the globe.
“My mission is really just to inspire everybody to be a part of building a more sustainable world. It’s very clear to many of us that there are some things going on that aren’t right," Stojkovic said. "The way we eat is not really working for anybody — certainly not the planet. If we can inspire people to be a part of shifting towards the right direction that’s how we build the momentum. Small steps with millions will create those waves we need.
“This is the only place in the world where you can quite literally sample a lab-grown meat burger, then go buy cactus leather boots and handbags and then get a makeover all in the same space," she added. "We want to create a 360-degree experience for people to be immersed in animal-free innovation across all aspects.”
Stojkovic hopes the event helps people to feel like they’re dipping their toes in — even just for a day — of what a future could look like in a sustainable world.
“It’s a really cool time, in Canada in particular. Canada is really poised to lead in the plant-based (industry). We have the ability to really build a robust plant-based economy. I think Canada can become a pretty big player in the vegan space, bigger than I think some folks might realize," she said.