Sophie Perreault has been working to lift up others her entire adult life, in vocational and avocational roles.

As a college student voluntarily teaching literacy in Dakar, Senegal, and later as part of the communications staff of the Canadian Space Agency, Perreault, executive director of the Quebec Produce Marketing Association, has consistently worked in a wide range of situations to help people reach their potential.

She views her job at St-Leonard-based QPMA as an opportunity to continue that path, even though she wasn’t sure about applying for it.

“I was not sure I was ready, but the board said I should apply. They said I had the willingness to learn,” Perreault said.

So after only two years as communications director for QPMA, Perreault was in the driver’s seat. She said she didn’t know anything about the produce industry before joining the QPMA staff in 2003, but by 2005 when she became the leader she knew enough about it to know she wanted to learn more.

“I really wanted to continue working for a nonprofit so I could have a positive impact. … We have a social mandate to promote good food and I like using my communications skills to help do that,” she said.

Perreault is a perfect fit for the job, said Stephen Whitney, president and chief operating officer of the Fruit and Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corp., Ottawa.

“It was a very wise decision when they appointed her,” Whitney said.

“She took over and never missed a beat. Sophie brings a lot of gusto to the job. She is results oriented and the QPMA is in very good financial shape because of that.”

Whitney said one of Perreault’s most beneficial skills is her ability to bring the right people together at the right time to get the right solution. He said she is a key factor in the success of his firm’s dealings with QPMA.

“When she came in in 2005 we entered into a first-of-its-kind agreement with QPMA,” Whitney said.

“We put down on paper what each organization would do as we moved forward, and it worked. Every challenge she has had put in front of her she has picked up and run with.”

That kind of perseverance spills over into Perreault’s private life. She said one of her favorite activities is playing in a women’s flag football league. For the first time in nine years her team made it to the final game and emerged as champions last year.

Perreault is also a produce champion of sorts, being the first winner of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s Mary FitzGerald Award in 2007. The award is given annually to a Canadian who is under 40 and has demonstrated dedication and passion for the produce industry.

One of Perreault’s passions is crisis communication. She is particularly proud of her work to establish a plan for the industry to use during situations such as the spinach and serrano pepper recalls in recent years.

“With my communications background I realized (the industry) had no good way to communicate about such situations,” she said. “I formed a group with stakeholders and government representatives and we developed a plan that works.”

Winning awards and achieving professional goals have not convinced Perreault that she is at the top of her game, though. She said she still sees herself as a rookie and is always searching for new ways to better communicate the needs and benefits of Quebec’s produce community.

She also continues her volunteer work with many organizations, including the 60 Million Girls Foundation, which she helped form. The group works to increase the number of girls worldwide who attend school and has partnered with Oprah Winfrey in similar efforts. Perreault is also a champion for UNICEF and the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Special Olympics.