YWCA Canada’s leadership stories.

Brenda Okorogba

My name is Brenda Okorogba, and I am an alumna of YWCA Canada’s Think Big! Lead Now! Young Women’s National Leadership Program (TBLN) 2018.

I want to share my leadership journey with you and invite you to sponsor a young woman to attend this year’s leadership program.

In March 2018, I got an all-expense-paid trip to join 100 young women and non-binary folks for the Think Big! Lead Now! Young Women’s National Leadership Program. The summit took place in Muskoka, Ontario. The Leadership Summit was filled with fantastic guest speakers, workshops and networking opportunities.

Attending the summit was an excellent experience for me. I gained new skills and also improved on the ones I have – my public speaking skills, transformative leadership and interpersonal skills, problem-solving strategic decision-making and analytical skills, grant writing and project management skills. It was such an incredible experience.

I also had the opportunity of addressing other young women and non-binary folks about self-esteem and confidence. It was a very emotional and enlightening moment for everyone, as my words made the delegates feel heard, valued and honored.

During the Think Big! Lead Now! Young Women’s National Leadership Program, I and other delegates participated in various workshops to:

  • learn strategies for effective leadership — in every situation
  • develop a better understanding of anti-racism and anti-oppression in their work
  • enhance financial literacy skills and project management skills
  • are exposed to governance and decision-making
  • acquire new tools for handling confrontation and conflict
  • gain insight, tips, and tricks from women in leadership positions

In November 2018, I was selected as one of the Young Women’s Leadership Delegates to join YWCA Canada as part of their advocacy Day on the Hill to meet with elected Canadian government officials and request changes in policy and for $75 million core funding to improve the lives of women and girls through our education and training programs.

Alongside YWCA Senior Staff from Manitoba, I engaged in strategic human-centred advocacy requesting for funding and support from the Canadian government and Manitoban political leaders. This experience was a big one for me because that was the first time of being to the Parliament Hill to use my voice advocating for the women, young girls and non-binary folks across Canada.

Also, YWCA Canada provided me with an opportunity to be a project planner for the next Think Big! Lead Now! Young Women’s National Leadership Program 2020. This opportunity has helped me build my project planning, community outreach and communication skills. I really love what I and others are doing at the LSAT.

YWCA Canada also provided me with the opportunity and platform (TBLN 2018 Facebook group) to reach out to other young women and non-binary folks from the TBLN Summit. I supported young women review the CVs that got them jobs; connected them to opportunities, especially scholarships and bursaries, leadership programs and educational resources. One of my best moments was when a young woman reached out to me for support as she had an academic challenge in school. I was able to offer a peer-to-peer mentorship which really helped her through school.

Moving forward, I used all the skills and my experience from the summit to make more impact in my community. I was recently honored as:

  • Top 25 RBC Canadian Immigrant Award 2019
  • Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada 2019 by CIBWE
  • Princess Diana Award 2019
  • Mayor’s Volunteer Award Winnipeg 2019
  • CA Award (United Kingdom) Young Achiever and Community Leader 2019
  • Divas of Colour Award, Influencer Woman of the year 2019
  • Future Leader of Manitoba (FLM) Top 9 Finalist 2019
  • The Future Award Africa (TFAA) Finalist 2018
  • Woman of Inspiration 2019, Universal Womens Network Canada

I am reminded that as a young woman, I can be wholly committed to inspiring, motivating and empowering others to be the best they can be. YWCA Canada has provided me with skills and life-changing experience that made it possible to remain passionate about improving quality of life by promoting access to inclusive education which can equip people with the tools required to develop innovative solutions to the world’s most significant problems.

Your sponsorship will ignite a young person’s commitment to lead the change in their communities as it has done with me.

Sincerely,

Brenda Okorogba
YWCA Canada – LSAT member
Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer, Momentswithbren (MWB)

Arushana Sunderaeson

My name is Arushana Sunderaeson, and I am an alumna of YWCA Canada’s Think Big! Lead Now! Young Women’s National Leadership Program 2017.

I want to share my leadership journey with you and invite you to sponsor a young woman to attend this year’s leadership program.

Growing up, I was taught that it was important to help others, especially those who are in situations of vulnerability. I was a shy teenager and would not want to get involved, but that changed when I entered university. I felt ready to make a difference.

In 2015 and 2016, I attended the YWCA Niagara Leadership Summits, and I was inspired not only to support other young women and girls but to engage in civic action during the federal election of 2015.

In 2017, I wanted to do more and joined the YWCA Niagara summit as a coordinator. I witness how the summit flourished into a space for all women and girls to come together, to support one another and to share their stories.

After the summit finished up, the YWCA Niagara Summit leader, recommended me to apply for the Think Big! Lead Now! National Leadership Summit hosted by YWCA Canada. I was worried about not getting into the program, however, a couple of months later I heard back, and it was a yes!

I was excited to head up north to Muskoka, Ontario, to meet over 100 women and girls from across the country and to celebrate 2017 International Women’s Day.

The Leadership Summit was filled with fantastic guest speakers, workshops and networking opportunities. Throughout the week, I gained the confidence I needed and learned about public speaking, political involvement, personal branding and more.

In the evenings, we also had space to relax and enjoy, and over a cup of tea and cocoa, we shared our personal stories. This part was my favorite part of the Summit, it felt like a bunch of women and girls, who one day are going to change the world and are a voice for their communities, came together to laugh, cry, share our deepest secrets and to just be ourselves.

I continue to be part of the YWCA community and actively volunteer. I have done webinars on personal branding and, on International Women’s Day 2019, I shared my experience of working in politics as a young, racialized woman and to discuss the importance of why young people should get involved in civic engagement.

Currently, I am part of the Leadership Summit Animation Team (LSAT) supporting YWCA Canada in the planning of the Think Big! Lead Now! Young Women’s National Leadership Program 2019-2020 edition. I want the experience of the new cohort to be as positive as mine and, for that, YWCA Canada needs your financial support!

YWCA Canada is an organization I consider to be my second family and an organization I fully support. The work they do to empower young women and girls transformed my life.

Your sponsorship will ignite a young person’s commitment to lead the change in their communities as it has done with me.

Thank you so much for your support. It is greatly needed and appreciated.

Arushana Sunderaeson

YWCA Canada – LSAT member

Youth Advocate, Feminist, Leader.

Andy Villanueva

Andy Villanueva – 2017 Horizon Award Winner – Feminist Filmmaker at Sundance Cannes – Gender Equity Activist.

Andy was born in Mexico, in 1996 and at the age of 6, she moved to Toronto, Canada, where she lives and studies. She is a director, screenwriter and an activist.

Andy started collaborating with YWCA Canada during in 2015 as part of Project Shift. Her contributions to the Movement through her work and experience are far-reaching and inspire much more youth across Canada. 

What motivated you to take part in YWCA Canada’s Project Shift?

I wanted to take part in Project Shift because I think the online world can provide some pretty empowering and amazing tools. Unfortunately, it’s more often used as a vehicle to perpetuate violence against women. I liked how the project included young women and how it valued us as equal collaborators.

You took part in our Young Women’s National Leadership Program in March 2018. Then you shared with us these words, ‘We are each other’s best advocates, and that is something that we often do not do or talk about.’ How do you think you could be an advocate for other women?

I try to be an advocate for other women by being transparent. It’s not easy coming up from where we come from, but we have to keep fighting the good fight and encourage each other to keep playing the game. I like to share my exit strategies and some of the tactics I use to sustain and endure in hostile, sexist or racist environments which are rampant in the film industry. Sometimes, defending yourself and your community doesn’t look like vocal advocacy, it seems like you hustling and moving on and moving up in worlds that were not made for you.

Could you share with us some actions or ideas you have implemented or are planning to apply in the future as a result of your experience of collaboration with the YWCA Movement?

Post the Young Women’s Leadership Summit; I was motivated to engage in the upcoming provincial election in the only way I knew how. I contributed to the cause by filming and featuring the voices of young women who are front-line workers and who are community leaders in a non-partisan public service announcement. I hoped to engage the public with the issues at stake, and through the process, I learned a lot about my workflow, it was a rewarding experience.

What particularly in the Program inspired you to consider being involved in politics more actively?

Laurin Liu was a great keynote speaker for the Summit. Before listening to her, I’d never considered taking politics as a viable route to explore. She was approachable, and I was star struck by her and all of her accomplishments. It motivated me to work harder and to seek out ways I can directly participate in politics in my community.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to meet other young female leaders and will do my best to carry that energy forward.

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