Joseph Roberts (motivational speaker)
Joseph (Joe) Roberts (born November 25, 1966) also known as the "Skidrow CEO" is a Canadian motivational speaker, author, a Canadian youth homelessness advocate and co-founder of The Push for Change Foundation. Roberts experienced drug addiction and chronic homelessness as a youth and entered drug treatment in 1991. Roberts worked in sales and web development before he found his passion and began speaking to children/youth and businesses about overcoming adversity. Roberts is the author of Fred the Cat, Don’t Buy the Lie About Getting High, and 7 Secrets to Profit from Adversity.
Joe Roberts was born November 25, 1966 and was raised in Midland, Ontario. Roberts’ father died in 1974 when Roberts was 8. Roberts struggled with low self-esteem. At the age of nine, he started using drugs and quickly moved on to alcohol, marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and eventually heroin. He left home at 15 due to family conflict and the inability to get along with his stepfather. After being imprisoned at 16, he dropped out of Barrie North Collegiate at 18 and began regular intravenous drug use. At 19, Roberts relocated to Vancouver and within 90 days found himself homeless, living on the streets of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, pushing a shopping cart and collecting cans and bottles to support a drug dependency. Shortly before Christmas in 1989, Roberts contacted his mother (who was located in Midhurst, Ontario) and she helped him relocate back to Ontario. After a suicide attempt, prevented and intervened by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Constable Scott MacLeod, Joe entered the Alcohol and Drug Intensive Treatment Program in Belleville, Ontario in 1991.
Roberts then applied and was accepted into the Business and Marketing Program at Loyalist College. He graduated in 1995, and then returned the following year for the Business Sales program. He graduated on the Dean’s list and won the Laurie H. Cameron Memorial Award for academic excellence  with a combined GPA of 3.941. Due to success in business, Roberts received the Ontario Premier’s Award for College Graduates (Business) and as a result an annual bursary was created in Roberts’ name at Loyalist College: The Joe Roberts – Courage to Change Bursary. This bursary is awarded to a mature student who has overcome life obstacles and returned to school.
After having earned two sales and marketing diplomas in Ontario, Joe Roberts moved back to Vancouver in 1996 and began a career in sales and accepted a position with Minolta (selling business equipment/photocopiers). Joe quickly advanced and was able to use transferable skills that he acquired while homeless "I transferred a lot of the skills I learned from hustling on the street and applied them to business," Roberts said in an interview with the Vancouver Province newspaper. "I'm very persistent and determined. I know how to take it on the chin to get things done.". After a year at Minolta, he left to manage Aurora Visual Systems (audio-visual company) at their Vancouver office. His role expanded to manage the office and employees, and sales for the company increased as he continued to use the same transferable skills1.
Another year passed and Joe with partner Dr. Pesi A. Unwalla formed Mindware Designs Communications in 1997. Mindware Designs Communications created multimedia and website development shortly after the World Wide Web and Internet gained traction and popularity.
Joe Roberts led Mindware Design Communications to an 800% increase in business in less than four years, and the company employed 15 people with Roberts as President and CEO5. According to his partner and Mindware founder, Dr. Pesi A. Unwalla, it was Roberts’ energy that drove the company's success over for six years5. "I transferred a lot of the skills I learned from hustling on the street and applied them to business," Roberts said in an interview with the Vancouver Province newspaper5. The ability to communicate with different people and sell an idea was something Joe brought with him from his intuitive nature of knowing people – which he learned in downtown Vancouver.
Joe Roberts departed the business sector and focused on speaking to children/youth based on the idea that if he could transform, anyone could. Roberts realized he had a passion for transformation and decided to focus on philanthropic advocacy and motivational speaking. In 1998 Roberts began speaking to youth about drug prevention. He shared both his successes and failures inside school and youth programs. Roberts quickly learned that his authenticity allowed young people to listen and take action in their own lives. Joe found himself speaking and sharing his story in schools, but quickly expanded into the business world. He found businesses were interested in not only his success, but also by the fact that he was once homeless and able to share his story of overcoming adversity to become successful1. These two audiences began to grow, and associations, businesses and conferences began to request Roberts to share his story. Today Roberts has spoken to well over a million people from elementary school students, to CEOs and government officials. By using his lived experience, both as a person who experienced homelessness and a successful Canadian entrepreneur, Roberts’ message resonates across all sectors and groups1. The release of Roberts’ national best seller, 7 Secrets to Profit from Adversity (2003) led to speaking to different clients across many industries. Roberts realized the impact that sharing his story had on youth, which led to The Push for Change Foundation.
The Push for Change Trek
On May 1, 2016 the Push for Change Trek began in St. John’s, Newfoundland and ended on September 29, 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Roberts pushed a modified shopping cart, a symbol of chronic homelessness, 9100 km (approximately 24 kilometers a day) for 517 days. The trek aimed to raise money and awareness about youth homelessness in Canada. The Push for Change, managed by Roberts’ wife Marie Marcoux-Roberts organized/attended 450 school and community events. At these events, students, families, police officers, government officials, and youth focused agencies raised money, heard Roberts speak and felt inspired to make change in their communities. These engagements allowed The Push for Change to raise the issue of youth homelessness and inspire communities to begin implementing strategies to prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness.
By the end of the cross Canada trek, The Push for Change raised over $575,000 which was directed to both community initiatives to end youth homelessness, and to the Upstream Project. The Upstream Project is a "school based youth homeless prevention model developed by The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and A Way Home and administered by Raising the Roof".
BC Police Leadership Conference
Council of Directors of Education
Ontario Association of School Business Officials
BC Crime Prevention Association
Family Services of Greater Vancouver
Assoc of Municipal Administrators Nova Scotia
Local Government Administrators of NWT (LGANT)
Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services
Saskatchewan Victims Unit – RCMP
Barrie North Collegiate
John Oliver Secondary School
Maple Ridge Secondary School
Stó:lō Nation – Chilliwack BC
UBC Social Enterprise
Honorary Doctorate from Laurentian University
Senate of Canada Sesquicentennial Medal Shaw Outstanding Canadian Award
John Graves Simcoe Medal of Excellence Award
Caring Canadian from the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
Maclean’s Magazine – Canadian Honour Roll
British Columbia Courage To Come Back Award
Ontario Premier’s Award - Business (1994)
Business in Vancouver’s 40 under 40 Award
Zoomer Magazine 45 over 45 Award
Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Award Nominee
- Roberts, J. (2018, January 25). Personal interview
- MacEachern, B. (2016, August 29). OPP join the Push for Change. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from https://www.mykawartha.com/news-story/6829346-opp-join-the-push-for-change/
- Keynote Speakers Canada. (2015, February 14). Joe Roberts. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from http://m.keynotespeakerscanada.ca/speaker/joe-roberts
- Past Recipients. (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2018, from http://www.co-awards.org/past-recipients/
- Roberts, J. (2018, January 25). Personal interview.
- The Vancouver Province From Skid Row to CEO Retrieved February 1, 2010
- Interview with CTV, 2003. Retrieved February 1, 2010.
- About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2018, from http://www.thepushforchange.com/aboutus/
- The Upstream Project. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2018, from http://www.raisingtheroof.org/what-we-do/our-initiatives/the-upstream-project/
- Six distinguished Canadians to receive Honorary Doctorates. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://laurentian.ca/news/six-distinguished-canadians-receive-honorary-doctorates
- Testimonials . (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2018, from http://www.skidrowceo.com/testimonials.html