As part of the Alumni Archives podcast series hosted by Queen’s University’s Department of History, Pearl Consulting’s CEO and Queen’s history graduate, Gillian Pearl, was invited to share her story.

In this episode, interviewer, Joanne Archibald, a PhD student in history, accompanies Gillian on her journey, as she recounts the key themes that have shaped her choices in her professional life.

Why Queen’s University?

Gillian fondly recalls:

“Queen’s for me was really always just a dream to go to…and remains one of the best universities in Canada”.

She remarks that the number one thing is the academic standing of the school. However, equally important to her was the all-encompassing ‘Queen’s experience’ of being able to go to a university that was within a smaller community or within a smaller city. She lived deeply and actively within that community.

She appreciated having the space to be able to study, think, debate and analyse.

Choosing history

Like many, Gillian was initially inspired by her history teachers at high school. She connected with the notion of ‘context’, saying:

What I loved about history was the idea of understanding context:

understanding where we’ve come from, why is it that cultures are how they are, what contributed to the development of those cultures, and what is it that we need to understand about the context in which we operate to be able to go forward”.

A passion for international development

International development is a recurring theme in Gillian’s story. Fascinated by the idea of understanding foreign cultures beyond Canada was important to her. She was able to study that in the context of history.

Women’s Empowerment

Some of Gillian’s most dearly held values were shaped by the subjects that she studied during her degree. Topics included women’s economic empowerment and the history that women played and how women’s emancipation came about.


Post-university, Gillian was eager to follow her passion for international development and poverty alleviation but, having had no career exposure to international development professionals (this was pre-corporate social responsibility), she opted for marketing and corporate communications. She reasoned that the most relevant markets to head for would be those of low- to middle-income countries, so she relocated to AsiaPacific. Initially she settled in Hong Kong, then moved to Singapore and eventually Australia, all the time working in her chosen field for and with multinationals.

Stepping into the impact space

Gillian joined Microsoft with a full-time role in corporate responsibility. This was back in the 90s and, under Bill Gates’ leadership, Microsoft was trailblazing in the impact space. Microsoft’s groundbreaking work was cutting edge across all industries, not just tech. It was notable as it was well-resourced and applied technology to address social issues.

Founding Pearl Consulting

Gillian left Microsoft to found Pearl Consulting, supporting clients with their impact programmes. Her first client was none other than Microsoft.