Minerva is always working to champion the next generation of leaders. Which is why we were so delighted to be an event partner at We For She, earlier in October. Over 1,500 people attended the conference, which brought business leaders and students together to advance gender equality. The goal was to give young women a greater understanding of their own potential, expand their confidence in what they can achieve, and inspire them with access to dynamic and successful role models.
We For She was the perfect opportunity for alumnae from our Learning to Lead™ program for Grade 11 girls. Ashley Milbury, Minerva’s coordinator of Learning to Lead™ (seen above, on the far left), re-united a dozen of the girls from the 2016 cohort, and served as their chaperone on the day of the event. Two of the twelve travelled from outside the Lower Mainland. Another was so eager to attend, she rallied funding and the support of a teacher/chauffeur, and brought three of her classmates all the way from Agassiz – entirely the result of her own initiative.
Early on October 14th, Ashley and the Learning to Lead™ girls were joined by our CEO, Jen Schaeffers, and Programs Director, Tina Strehlke, in the lobby of the convention centre. Already the building was buzzing with energy and connections, as cohorts of girls arrived, some in matching t-shirts they’d printed for the day. An enormous glass cube had been constructed in one corner of the room, inviting attendees to write something inspirational on the walls – something they’d tell their younger selves, something to help shatter the glass ceiling.
It was a miserably wet morning, with lots of travel delays, heightening the anticipation. Finally, when the space was filled with 1500 people, and the program began, it felt like a much smaller room – parents with their daughters, teachers with their students, and, already, a feeling of intimacy amongst participants of all ages. The morning was spent in individual sessions, with youth and business leaders following their interests through topics around future paths and opportunities. Round table discussions asked the question, “what would you change if you could wave a magic wand?” Answers were collected and will be distributed, as part of the follow-up from the day.
The afternoon was devoted to inspiration. Each presenter was urging the girls, in their own way, to stretch, to see beyond what was in front of them, to imagine what their lives could be. Failure was a key topic. Soccer superstar Karina LeBlanc said, “Don’t be afraid to fail at being your best self.” Next Gen Den Dragon Nicole Verkindt told the room to proudly wear the fail badge. And Raven Lacerte, co-founder of the Moosehide Project, which unites Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men against violence against women and children, as well as Ann Makosinski, serial inventor and Google Science Fair award-winner, showed everyone just what doing what you want to do looks like. They went ahead, they took initiative, they put it out there. Their simple message? Try.
Of course, each speaker acknowledged the tremendous support they’ve received, enabling them to believe in themselves and follow a path.
It was the idea of seeing beyond our own limitations that most moved Minerva’s Tina Strehlke. “It’s no easy task for an adult, but for young people, who have yet to come through things, how do you know that you can take that initiative?” At the event, she became acquainted with eleven girls from Deas Lake, many of whom had never before been to Vancouver. In their small community, they have limited infrastructure, limited opportunities to gather – and when they do, it’s to celebrate a sport dominated by boys. The girls described to Tina their feelings of remoteness and disconnect. When you have ideas, and want to create change, how do you access support, services and funding, if you live in Deas Lake? If you haven’t yet learned your strengths and abilities, haven’t gotten through many experiences, how do you see beyond your own life?
It must seem insurmountable.
These questions, and those girls, once again illustrated the necessity of Learning to Lead™. The program exists to bring young women out beyond the barriers they face – to strengthen their imaginations, and their abilities to envision the future.
Leadership already exists inside these girls. All we do is create an opportunity for them to bring it out of themselves. That opportunity is life-changing. Which means, as the storytellers on stage at We For She made perfectly clear, it is world-changing.
This year, Minerva is committed to bringing 30% of participants from outside the Lower Mainland to Learning to Lead™. The program is offered entirely free to participants, no matter where they travel from. Please consider making a donation to Minerva today, to help us continue to provide these life-changing opportunities to young leaders.