Mary A. Tidlund is a speaker, author, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and board member. She has raised more than eight million dollars for charities supporting women and children globally and at home, and mentors others in strategic leadership and heart-centred giving.

Adopted into a white family as a baby, Mary grew up surrounded by love, but was relentlessly driven to learn more about who she was and what she could become. In her family’s tiny home, in which 45 foster children lived over the years, Mary learned the value of diversity and inclusion—and how to make fast friends. Her strong interpersonal skills connected her with friends who led her to see a world of opportunity beyond her humble household. She followed those opportunities into university, earning a degree and launching a career in oil and gas that allowed to her to step into a world she could finally call her own. Emboldened by her success, Mary pursued her longest held desire and began an inter-continental search for her birth parents—and found them.

Back home, her identity upended with new information about her roots, Mary pivoted, co-founding an oil and gas service company and becoming the first black woman CEO in the industry. For a few years, the business flourished, but then it all came crashing down. After slowly emerging from the lowest period of her life, Mary founded her eponymous charitable organization and spent the next 19 years travelling the world and raising funds in support of women’s and children’s health and education and the alleviation of poverty. The Mary A. Tidlund Charitable Foundation touched countless lives in 29 countries supporting over 90 programs globally.

Mary’s first book, Memoirs of a Wildcat: Unadoptable, Unstoppable, Unconditional Love is available at


Speaking Topics

  1. Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Business Environment
  2. Purposeful Leadership for Women
  3. The Power of the Purse and the Invisible Power We Carry With Us
  4. Making the Transition from Business to Philanthropy


Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Business Environment

Creating an inclusive business environment starts from a place of courage and authenticity. Join Mary as she shares how her upbringing as a brown girl in a white family gave her the foundation she needed to become the first woman of colour to be CEO of an oil company and how she used her childhood experiences to build connections far beyond the boardroom. Through her story, she’ll share how business leaders can better know themselves and build the courage required to define new comfort zones to ensure they’re cultivating a culture of diversity and inclusion.


Purposeful Leadership for Women

Purposeful leadership is about intentionally deciding that you will lead with focus, momentum, and ingenuity. It’s an approach that yields effective leaders and streamlines decision-making at all levels. Mary shares her experience leading a pioneering horizontal drilling company while developing the local community through scholarships, employee training, and running small businesses. She introduces the importance of an evolving purpose, an approach she lived when she left the energy industry to found a global philanthropic organization focusing on women and children—an unusually specific focus at the time. She’ll also delve into competitive vs. collaborative leadership, leading from outside of the spotlight, and supporting other women in leadership. This talk can be adapted to inclusive gender audiences.


The Power of the Purse and the Invisible Power We Carry With Us

Drawing on her childhood and her extensive philanthropic global travel, Mary explores the myriad privileges and powers we bring with us every day and how we can use them to give back in meaningful ways. She shares how the colour of her skin, despite what certain stereotypes would say, is one of the greatest gifts she’s ever been given. She recalls volunteering at a women’s clinic in Tanzania and realizing the invisible power she carried within her purse every day back home and the privileges she’d taken for granted. Mary further discusses the concepts of colonial “power over” and collaborative “power with” and how we can all learn to use our power—financial and otherwise—mindfully and for the benefit of all.


Making the Transition from Business to Philanthropy

 Whether after a professional setback, a personal life change, or a years-long pandemic, there comes a time when we feel ready to make a significant transition. It’s essential to evaluate yourself and your values so that you can make the right different choices to move forward. Mary shares how she healed from the traumatic end of the business she built from scratch, reassessed her entire life, and founded the Mary A. Tidlund Charitable Foundation. She warns of the friends you may lose along the way and shares strategies for asking for the help you need to pivot into philanthropy. Mary outlines how her essential business skills became key assets to her foundation, from financial management and fundraising from multiple stakeholders to building diverse collaborative partnerships and developing global programs. This talk can be adapted to include the nuts and bolts of founding a philanthropic organization or to provide guidance and inspiration for more general career transitions.