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Real Power Lies in Empowering Others

Posted By Samra Zafar, Thursday, March 12, 2020
Updated: Thursday, May 28, 2020

It was a quick stop at Tim’s to get a sprinkles donut for my 2 year old daughter on the way back from her drop-in play school. I stood at the counter after ordering and dug into my coat pocket to retrieve the toonie I was sure I’d put in there. But I couldn’t find it. My embarrassment was ratcheting into panic as I frantically turned my purse inside out. I never had any money on me. I didn’t need any, according to my husband, since I never went anywhere without him. But every once in a while, I tried to squirrel away a few coins, like the one I thought was hiding in my purse. Palms sweaty and face heating up, I started to move away from the counter when a man behind me offered to pay for the donut. His eyes were kind and his tone was sympathetic. Seeing my daughter had already bit into the donut, I had no choice but to reluctantly accept. I pushed the stroller outside and sat on a dusty bench, feeding small pieces of donut to my daughter as tears overtook me. I wanted to be grateful for the man’s generosity, but all I felt was stinging humiliation. What kind of life was I living that I didn’t even have two dollars on me? And what kind of person was I that people took such pity on me? The answer was obvious. I was poor. I was powerless.

 Samra Zafar IWD CelebrationThat afternoon in 2003 was a pivotal moment in my life. A fire was ignited in me to do whatever I could to gain bits of power over the next several years. I finished my high school courses through distance learning, playing the good wife by day and studying in my room at night. I knew my husband would never let me leave the house to earn money for university, so I started a home-based babysitting service. And though I had to turn over my earnings to my husband, I managed to sock away a few hundred dollars here and there.

I finally started university as a 26 year old mother of two. It had taken me nearly 10 years, but I’d gone from victim to survivor. I was being respected at school for the very things I was being ridiculed at home for – my goals, my ambitions, my intelligence, my individuality. I secretly started attending counseling on campus where I learned that I was trapped in the vicious cycle of abuse. I wanted to break that cycle to give my daughters a better life. It took me several days and multiple trips in my green minivan to pack my belongings in garbage bags and move to a tiny student housing apartment on UTM campus. It was small, there was no AC, and it had the ugliest green carpet. But it was mine. For the first time, I felt safe at home. I could wake up when I wanted, invite friends over, eat my favourite foods, and breathe freely. For me, that freedom was power. That year, I juggled five jobs to stay afloat. I worked as a TA, a researcher with the City of Mississauga and a student mentor. I did night shifts at the student information centre on campus, and sold home-made biryani and butter chicken to fellow students.

Two years later, when I graduated as a top student, I knew that a key ingredient to my success was the community that lifted me up and the people who showed me that there is good in the world. That kind man at Tim’s, the woman at the drop-in play school who reached out when she saw the signs of abuse before I even knew what to call it, the friends who bought my butter chicken and then showed up with ice cream when I had rough days, the professors who spent their office hours motivating me, and my mentors who believed in me so strongly that I had no choice but to start believing in myself. All these people taught me the biggest lesson of my life. That with success, comes responsibility. And true power lies in empowering others.

Samra Zafar book releaseI knew that my story was not just mine. It was the story of millions of women and girls around the world who continue to suffer in silence. I felt a deep fire in my belly to break that silence – for the millions of silences still waiting to be broken. And when I saw the impact my story made on people’s lives, I found my purpose, my why.

My why is the man who read my story and canceled his teenage daughter’s wedding to send her to school. My why is that woman who hides in Indigo to read my book because her husband won’t allow her to buy it. And my why is that 16 year old girl in St. Andrews, New Brunswick who watched my videos to move forward after sexual assault.

1 in 3 women in North America are affected by domestic violence. 1 in 2 experience some form of physical and/or sexual harassment. 12 million underage girls every year are forced into marriage. Over the past few years, my advocacy work has taken me across the globe and I have heard thousands of similar stories to mine – from Indigenous communities in rural Alberta, immigrant neighbourhoods in Toronto, young girls in Africa, and accomplished women in the executive towers of Bay Street. Gender-based violence is the most hidden, and most universally prevalent barrier to gender equity. As we speak about breaking glass ceilings and having gender equality in boardrooms, it’s also important to remember that so many of us are still struggling for basic rights to safety, education and respect.

My life mission is now to give voice to these issues and help develop solutions for change. This year, I am launching my nonprofit organization, Brave Beginnings, which is a mentorship program to help women build better lives after escaping violence. I’m also working on developing courses and workshops to raise the level of mental health education for young women so they can develop greater resilience and self-worth. And I’m collaborating with key partners to develop training for workplaces to play a key role in supporting women affected by domestic violence.

Samra Zafar ZimbabweJust like that 2003 afternoon at Tim’s, winning the WXN Top 100 Award was another pivotal moment for me. As I was overwhelmed with gratitude, the award also gave me immense validation for my work. The day after the awards gala in November, I went to Zimbabwe as an ambassador for Plan Canada. As I spent time with young girls living in poverty, facing the threat of sexual assault and child marriage, and still walking up to 10 kms each way just to go to school, I saw myself in each of them. I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor, a child marriage survivor, and a domestic abuse survivor. I was never supposed to make it. I was stripped of my power for years. Today, seeing my name among the most powerful women in the country adds more fuel to my fire – to raise my voice even higher, touch more lives, and keep living my purpose to help empower women everywhere live theirs.

Because power is not about job titles, hierarchies, and material success. I believe that real power lies in empowering others, sparking dialogue for change, and taking action to leave the world more equitable than we found it.

Samra Zafar, Speaker, Author, Human Rights Advocate for Samra Zafar Inc, is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the Champions category for 2019. She has made describable difference to the advancement of women in the workplace.

2020 Top 100 Nominations are now open. Click here to learn more about Top 100 and nominate a powerful female or even yourself!


About Samra:

Samra ZafarSamra Zafar is a Speaker, Author, Human Rights Advocate for Samra Zafar Inc.

2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner

RBC Champions

Award-winning speaker, and human rights advocate, Samra Zafar’s book A Good Wife, based on her personal story of escaping gender-based oppression to pursue her education, became an instant national bestseller and is to be adapted to a TV series. The books is name as one of CBC’s best books of 2019. She serves as a governor for University of Toronto and a celebrated ambassador for Plan International. Her work has been featured extensively in global media. In 2019 she received a Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award. She is a board member at Women’s College Hospital Foundation.

Tags:  Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100  Empower others  powerful  powerful women  powerfully empowered  powerfullyempowered  strong women  Top 100  Women Leaders  WXN  WXN Top 100 

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No Greater Force on Earth than Passionate Intent

Posted By Sevaun Pelvetzian, Monday, August 12, 2019

Sevaun Palvetzian header

I loved school. And fell in love with history. As a kid, and later a university undergraduate and graduate student I read chapter after chapter of the lives of great people who shaped us.

But so often voices were missing. For centuries women really didn’t get noticed…didn’t get written about….rarely appeared at all and when they did it was in supporting roles or cameos.

We’re living in a new era where we are noticed, are heard and are celebrated – not despite the fact that we’re women but because of it. It isn’t right, or fair to the amazing women that preceded us that this is a new era, but the point is that we’ve arrived.

I was beyond moved and in awe when I found out the company I get to keep with the other 99 powerhouse women receiving recognition this year, and the hundreds before them in years past. I am so appreciative that women have moved out of the margins of history onto, literally centre stage.

But the true power of the group that’s assembled through this award isn’t who we are as individuals, it’s what we represent as a collective. There is no greater force on earth than passionate intent. If we all collectively support and celebrate the accomplishments of women – in all of our diverse forms – not only will women rise, but we as a society will be better off.

The number of powerful positions out there may be finite. But power is not. I look forward to seeing what this group of women and the many around us do to plug in and use our positions of influence to affect positive change for years to come.

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Sevaun Palvetzian, one of Canada's leading experts in civic action, is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the RBC Champions Category for 2018. She has been honoured because of the describable difference she has made to the advancement of women in the workplace.

Do you know a female who deserves to be recognized for the difference she's made in Canada? Click here to learn more about our Top 100 Nominations and how to nominate yourself or someone else. Nominating is free!

 


About Sevaun:

Sevaun Palvetzian portraitSevaun Palvetzian is Chief Executive Officer for CivicAction.
2018 Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
RBC Champions

One of Canada’s leading experts on civic engagement, Sevaun Palvetzian has been CEO of CivicAction since January 2014. Under her leadership, CivicAction has focused on building inclusive cities with the launch of the CivicAction Leadership Foundation to change the face of leadership in our region and initiatives focused on youth unemployment and mental health in the workplace which level the playing field of opportunity and access. Throughout her career, Sevaun has advocated for new voices at the tables of influence including championing the next generation of leaders. During a decade of senior executive leadership within the Ontario Government she launched a strategy to attract and retain future generations of leaders which included the award-winning Learn and Work Program for at-risk youth and lead the team responsible for the new Trillium Park at Ontario Place. She has also held positions at the University of Toronto, the World Bank Group, and Presidential Classroom - a civic education organization in Washington DC.

A voice of influence and advocacy on many urban issues, Sevaun is frequently called on for print, radio and TV commentary.  She’s active in a range of community roles including serving as a member of the Premier’s Community Hubs Advisory Group, the Toronto Police Service Board Transformational Task Force, and as a member of Mayor John Tory’s Advisory Panel for International Hosting Opportunities. She sits on the Board of Directors for the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, NPower Canada, Waterfront Toronto, and is a member of the Ivey Business School Leadership Council. She has an M.A in history from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed executive programs at the Ivey School of Business and Harvard School of Business.

Tags:  Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100  female leaders  leaders  passion  powerful  strong women  stronger  Top 100  Top 100 Awards  Top 100 Winner  Top 100 Winners  Women  Women in Leadership  Women Leaders  Women Leadership 

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We Are Stronger Together

Posted By Julie Quenneville, Friday, August 9, 2019

People often ask me what it’s like to lead multi-million dollar campaigns. Fundraising is a lot more than the ask, but there’s no doubt that it requires confidence and self-awareness to be able to sit down with an individual, or in front of a committee, and make a multi-million dollar pitch. As a woman, and one often much younger than the people on the other side of the table, it can be tremendously challenging. My work as president of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Foundation has led me to cultivate skills I hadn’t anticipated honing. In my work today, I must be strong, bold and composed. I must not look away, I must be unflinching.

My career began in journalism, and from there I worked in provincial politics, where in a short time I was promoted to Associate Chief of Staff and Political Advisor to the then health minister. In 2005, I moved into a management role at the MUHC, and my work in strategic development and marketing in the health care domain took off in earnest.

Working in a hospital setting is certainly unique. Simply walking to a meeting, I pass patients being prepped for surgery, people on their way to an appointment where they will receive a life-altering diagnosis, or a new mother leaving from her latest round of chemotherapy. That ever-present essential human drama underscores the work I do, and it reminds me why I strive for excellence each and every day.

I am proud of being recognized as a TOP 100 Award Winner. When I learned that I had been selected, I was initially surprised, but I allowed myself a brief moment to feel the power that comes with recognition like this. There have been times in my career, in my life, where I have felt powerless, and to be named powerful, one of the 100 most powerful in the country, is emboldening.

It’s not for myself though that I feel a quickening in my stomach or my spine straightening just a slight bit more, it’s for the women around me every day, the women I pass on my way to the office, my girlfriends, my own daughter, my mother. This achievement, this honour, is for all of us.

Because, we are stronger together.

When women run companies, more women get promoted to senior management positions. When women sit on corporate boards, there is a diversity of opinion and perspective that was previously lacking. When women run for public office, more women vote, and little girls imagine themselves as leaders in their own right.

When we highlight the achievements of some women, we help all believe more is possible.

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We are pleased to have Julie as a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders Category as well as a contributor and speaker at our events throughout the year. 

Do you know a female in Canada who deserves to be recognized for her contributions? Click here to learn more about our Top 100 Nominations and how to nominate yourself or someone else. It's free!


About Julie:

Julie Quenneville portraitJulie Quenneville is President of McGill University Health Centre Foundation.
2018 Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
Mercedes-Benz Emerging Leaders

Julie Quenneville is President of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Foundation, which supports patient care, teaching and research at the MUHC, one of Canada’s top three research hospitals.

Since assuming the leadership of the MUHC Foundation in October 2015, Julie has spearheaded a transformation of the charitable organization resulting in a 60 per cent increase in annual revenue and a drop in the cost ratio from 22 per cent to 16 per cent. Last year alone, the Foundation’s donor community grew by one quarter.

Prior to her career in philanthropy, Julie joined the political cabinet of Quebec’s then Minister of Health and Social Services, Philippe Couillard. Within a year, she was promoted to Associate Chief of Staff. She ran Couillard’s Montreal office, and was responsible for steering key health legislation such as the new national policy for mental health services, the ban on smoking in all public spaces, access to services for English-speaking and cultural communities and the public health portfolio.

Julie’s most sensitive dossier was the provincial government’s campaign to save the Shriners Hospital of Canada. Shriners announced its intention to move the country’s only hospital from Quebec to Ontario in 2003. For two years, Julie coordinated the campaign to save the Shriners which involved high profile decision makers including the Premier of Quebec, the Mayor of Montreal, and the some of the city’s leading institutions, including the MUHC, McGill University, and Montreal’s Chamber of Commerce as well as many business leaders. The victory, which was deemed impossible two years prior, was announced in 2005.

Julie proudly serves on the Board of the Banff Forum and the University Club of Montreal. She was previously on the Boards of Lakeshore General Hospital and Cheerleading Quebec. For over a decade, she volunteered for AMCAL Family Services, the YMCA and The Becket Players, a federally chartered, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the performing arts in Montreal’s West Island.

Tags:  Achievements  Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100  female leaders  strong women  stronger together  Top 100  Top 100 Awards  Top 100 Winner  Top 100 Winners  Women  Women in Leadership  Women Leaders  Women Leadership 

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