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Here are the top 5 ways the Canadian Women’s Foundation is building the leadership capacity of women and girls in Canada:
1. Mentorship: By funding girls’ mentorship programs, we help develop leadership capacity in two ways: providing younger girls with mentors, and training older girls to become mentors. While working with a mentor, girls receive personal validation and get help in setting and pursuing their own goals. By becoming mentors, girls are empowered to become positive role models to others and give back to their communities. To ensure more girls have a chance to experience the power of mentorship, we recently created an online toolkit to help community groups launch their own mentorship program.
The teen healthy relationship programs we fund also promote youth leadership. Workshops are often led by peer facilitators—older students who are trained to lead workshops on issues including gender stereotypes, inequality, and dating violence.
Our funded programs for adult women also offer many opportunities to work with a mentor or to become a mentor. Many women who have moved out of poverty or violence reach a point in their journey where they want to give back, inspire others, speak out publicly, or work for change. As one woman said: “I went from victim, to survivor, to mentor, to advocate.”
2. Amplifying Voices: We invest in programs that help women and girls to find their voices, speak their minds, challenge gender stereotypes, and discover and celebrate their strengths. As girls approach adolescence they can experience a sharp drop in self-esteem, which places them at increased risk for mental health issues and even sexual exploitation.
Our girls’-only programs are specifically designed to build confidence, connection, and resilience to help ensure they can successfully navigate their teen years and emerge as strong young women. We also work to amplify the voices of women and girls so they can take a leadership role in building gender equality Canada. We help women and girls to publicly share their stories and opinions in the Foundation’s SHE magazine, e-newsletter, blog, and in media interviews.
3. Women-led Programs: We believe the best solutions are designed by the people closest to the problems. That’s why we invest in community programs that actively encourage women and girls to help shape the programs they attend. Thanks to their input and leadership, we are developing ground-breaking programs that provide safe, empowering, and culturally sensitive spaces for women and girls from diverse communities across Canada. Program participants are also helping to shape our organizational strategies: the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s five-year strategy to help end sex trafficking in Canada was developed with the involvement of trafficking survivors. Survivors continue to play an important role through our ongoing roundtable discussions on trafficking policy, which also include representatives from law enforcement, community organizations, and government agencies.
4. Building Grassroots Leadership: Canada’s nonprofit sector has a serious problem: its existing leaders are retiring and there are few professional development opportunities to help the next generation to take on leadership. That’s why we created the Canadian Women’s Foundation Leadership Institute. This intensive, year-long program is unique in Canada, and is specifically designed to ensure that the next generation of female leaders in Canada’s nonprofit sector has the leadership skills they need to effectively manage change, build the sector, and become a force for change for women and girls. The Institute is delivered in partnership with the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
5. Reframing Leadership: Research shows that businesses and organizations with higher numbers of women in leadership positions are more profitable and effective. We are working to help reframe leadership from the traditional top-down hierarchy towards a leadership style that draws on strengths like collaboration and listening. This model of inclusive leadership is based on “power with” rather than “power over.” It embraces diversity and reaches out to include the quietest, most marginalized voices. Through our funded programs, women and girls learn to value their natural leadership abilities, practise using their leadership skills, and step into leadership in their communities and careers.