In March 2023, following months of learning, YWCA Canada’s Think Big! Lead Now! National Leadership Program came to a joyous end with a successful summit. This three-day immersive training and networking summit is a key component of YWCA Canada’s national leadership program for young women, Two-Spirit, genderqueer, trans and non-binary people across Canada aged 18 to 25 years old. Grounded in intersectional feminism and social justice, this program is designed to equip young leaders living in Canada with the knowledge and skills to be change-makers in their communities and beyond.
This year, 110 youth delegates and inspirational leaders gathered in Muskoka to engage in a weekend of dialogue, networking, and reflection. Stretching beyond comfort levels to enhance leadership skills, delegates entering as strangers departed the summit as a community.
The weekend began with powerful remarks from Keynote Speaker, Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah. Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity and Co-Chair of Dignity Network Canada’s Advocacy and Government Relations Working Group, Debbie’s passion and dedication sparked inspiration among the young leaders.
To celebrate the uniqueness of each individual leadership journey, Debbie encouraged delegates to “lean into uncomfortable situations” and embrace their authentic selves.
Also joining the summit was guest speaker, Lisa Smith, bringing both laughter and encouragement discussing her breakthroughs and barriers on the path to becoming a Crown Prosecutor and now Advisor to the President at the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Her wisdom that “there is not one measure of success” inspired delegates to share their own conflicts, triumphs, and strategies of resistance while navigating spaces they exist in.
Beyond the knowledge shared by speakers and champions, the learning continued through panel discussions and workshops. Each delegate was able to attend two of eight available workshops – work visibility and communications, advocacy, grant writing, networking for sustainable leadership, public speaking, building your personal brand, unmasking imposter syndrome, and bystander intervention training. Facilitators, drawing on personal experience, encouraged delegates to embrace their own leadership styles.
Attending the 2023 National Leadership Program was not only a chance to learn but was also an opportunity to take up space, ask questions, and be heard and remembered. The podium was shared by all and was a powerful outlet for young leaders to tell stories and express themselves.
Alongside change-making, space was held for relaxation, networking, and creative expression. Rooms were filled with the silence of meditation, power of spoken word pieces, enjoyment of music, games and laughter.
The knowledge shared from speakers, staff, panellists, workshop facilitators and delegates themselves were countless, and the connections, boundless. YWCA Canada is proud to have witnessed the coming together of young leaders and the power their futures hold.
This project is funded by the Government of Canada, RBC Foundation, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.