Storyteller in Residence
Denise Withers has been using stories to make change for 35 years, as a storyteller, strategist and coach.
After launching her career as a whitewater filmmaker, she worked as a stringer for TSN, before joining the TV crew at the Calgary Olympics to produce 39 hockey games in 13 days. Recognizing the power of the mass media to influence behaviour and culture, she spent the next 20 years writing and directing over 200 documentaries for Discovery, CBC and other networks. Her award-winning work inspired millions to take action on issues from human rights to acid rain.
When reality TV wiped out the documentary market, Denise shifted her focus to social innovation, combining storytelling with systems change tools to help leaders discover new ways to research, test and scale ideas for change.
Since then, she's worked with foundations, governments, universities and non-profits to co-found four innovation labs, including one at UBC's business school. Together, she and her clients have done things like reduce chronic disease among South Asians, improve human rights in Peru, re-imagine higher education in Ontario and inspire climate action across municipalities. In 2018, Denise moved to Vancouver Island to help two National Geographic photographers launch an ocean conservation non-profit, doubling their revenue, reach and impact in less than a year.
These days, she works as a narrative strategist and certified coach for global innovators. After enjoying a 20-year amateur hockey career that culminated in a bronze medal at the Americas Masters Games, she now spends her spare time curling, kayaking and hiking the wet coast with her dogs. She also serves as a Board Trustee for CPAWS, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
Like many of her peers, Denise has spent much of her life fighting for equity at work and in sports – and is thrilled to be able to share her expertise and experience to support the FHL in its mission.