Women sparking change through their voices and passions

This week, CBC Ottawa explores the idea of the changemakers. We introduce you to some of the women who are changing the game in the Nation's Capital, using their voices and their passions to make Ottawa a place where everyone can thrive.

Meet 10 changemakers in Ottawa as part of In Her Words digital conversation series

This week, we explore the idea of the changemakers. We introduce you to some of the women who are changing the game in the Nation's Capital, using their voices and their passions to make Ottawa a place where everyone can thrive.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Tinu Akinwande, student and equity and social justice advocate

(Submitted by Tinu Akinwande)
In Her Words by Tinu Akinwande: "When I was 17, I created my own conference titled Black Brilliance.

It was for Black youth to discuss their experiences (which are often neglected by the curriculum/textbooks) and also create an avenue to rectify these circumstances in their respective schools.

Throughout my university career, I introduced black businesses to the Carleton student body, and spirited both the Redress project – commemorating missing and murdered Indigenous women – and the Dear Black Girl project – addressing gender-based violence.

Most recently, I introduced the first-ever social justice campaign and Indigenous celebration campaign at our student union during my role as the Vice President Students' Issues."

CBC Ottawa: Has it always been your purpose to work with the communities that you work with?

Akinwande: Yes! My teachers and friends would say that I was always the one to ask the questions "why not" when discussing why certain groups could not attain the same opportunities as others.

However, what kickstarted my passion was following Trayvon Martin's case. I believe that Martin's death was a paradigm shift for those in my generation — it was the first time where we empathize with the notion of  "that could have been us/me." While this was occurring, I was also bullied for having a darker complexion than others.

My journey to not only love myself, but my Blackness, actively fuels why I am so outspoken about self-confidence and self-love. 

CBC Ottawa: In the future, how do you see the work you're currently doing?

Akinwande: In February, I launched a mini photography project called 'Black Women… Blossom' highlighting the beauty and boldness of Black Women. This is a self-portrait series inspired by the poem The Rose that Grew Concrete, mentioned above. Essentially, it celebrates self-confidence, self-love and self-growth through imagery. That is the feeling I hope to continue to cultivate in the near and far future—unapologetic, confident, and unconditional love for oneself. 

Stefania Marino, marketing lead at Youth Ottawa

(Submitted by Stefania Marino)
In Her Words by Stefania Marino: "I was born in Ottawa and raised by amazing parents! They immigrated to Canada in the '90s and worked really hard to give my sisters and me all the opportunities that they didn't have growing up. 

My mom told me stories about her living in a communist regime and my father told me about the many difficulties his parents had raising nine children with little income. 

These stories humbled me. 

Currently, I work at Youth Ottawa, a non-profit focused on activating and empowering young leaders.

During any free time, I volunteer to help entrepreneurs and SMEs with their marketing strategies, social media management, website development and more. I like to support small organizations that are doing amazing work in the community but don't have the capacity or the expertise to help market their services."

CBC Ottawa: Has it always been your purpose to work with these communities?

Marino: Yes, I've always been passionate about working with organizations that are creating tangible real-world impact.

When I was 19, a few friends and I launched Louder Than Words – our goal was to host monthly events in hopes of getting other youth involved in giving back.

Fast forward to now, being in the marketing and communications field, I have had the unique opportunity to help entrepreneurs and small businesses share their impact. Through my work with Youth Ottawa, I've also met young people who are starting their social enterprises. Empowering these young people to succeed is really important to me. 

CBC Ottawa: Could you identify one challenge and one reward that you experience with the work that you're doing?

Marino: Working in the nonprofit sector comes with both its rewards and challenges. On one end the work is impactful, meaningful and you know that you are creating a lasting change. 

Conversely, the nonprofit sector is a challenging one. I've noticed that many nonprofits in Ottawa work in silos; often there are 2-3 organizations that target the same beneficiary with the same program. It would be so amazing if a network could come together and collaborate, share ideas and make a difference for good causes. By working together and merging their services, there would be more resources and more impact. 

Mimi Do, real estate agent and founder of the Facebook group, Newcomers In Ottawa.

(Submitted by Mimi Do)
In Her Words by Mimi Do: "I'm a real estate agent in Ottawa. I'm originally from Vietnam, and I moved here three years ago. 

When I first arrived in Canada, I found it exciting but also very challenging. The weather, food, culture, and language were all very different for me. I found it difficult to meet people and make new friends. Also, despite having skills and a degree from my country, having no local experience or support network made it difficult to find employment.

I realized that I couldn't be the only one struggling like this as there are so many newcomers to this country, so I decided to start a group: Newcomers In Ottawa. 

The group began with only a few people on Facebook sharing information about our experiences and tips about food, shopping, local services and employment, but has since grown to over 5,000 members in the community."

CBC Ottawa: Could you share what drove you to your purpose/mission?

Do: I think struggling in the beginning as a newcomer inspired me to want to help others who might be in a similar situation. 

It can be very difficult to adapt to a new country and a new culture. You are leaving the familiar to start over again. But to succeed, you can't dwell on the negative and wallow in regret. Having a forward-looking mindset is what helped me find my path, and also made me want to support others to help realize their goals as well.

CBC Ottawa: Could you tell us about other communities that you are passionate to work with?

Do: Besides Newcomers In Ottawa, I am also a mentor for the local newcomer entrepreneur community where I connect with others that are interested in starting their own business in Ottawa and looking for support in terms of resources, knowledge sharing, and networking. I feel grateful that I'm able to use my skills and network to help the community, especially during these challenging times.

Veronica Roy, storyteller and arts administrator

(photo by John Finnigan Lin)
In Her Words by Veronica Roy: "I'm a nonbinary woman, storyteller, artist, organizer, and reluctant 'body positive' role-model.

I have been performing burlesque, comedic storytelling, and emceeing events for over a decade under the stage name Helvetica Bold. I host the Ottawa chapter of Smut Slam, a sexy storytelling open mic, and I produce Dangerous Curves, one of Canada's only all plus-size cabaret shows.

By day, my career is in arts administration as the Executive Director at House of PainT Festival of Urban Arts and Culture. I've always known who I am; the search has been to find where I fit into the existing framework of a society that wasn't built for people like me. This search has led me to connect and collaborate with many different communities.

My MO is to create and facilitate opportunities for people to tell their own stories through creativity, and to make these opportunities as safe, inclusive, and accessible as I can."

CBC Ottawa: Could you share what drove you to your purpose/mission?

Roy: I try to be the person I needed when I was younger.

I was born in Halifax but grew up in Ottawa, isolated from most of my extended family. My mom's family has been in Halifax for four generations and my father's family is from a small, rural Quebec town where nobody speaks English. For me, my home, culture, language, and community were in other parts of the country, so I never felt like I belonged here in Ottawa.

Until I got deeply involved in the arts and organizing. I think the impetus behind my call to work collaboratively with communities toward a better, more vibrant, equitable society is a deep desire to create circumstances for people to find belonging and to feel empowered to come as they are. 

CBC Ottawa: In the future, how do you see the work you're currently doing?

Roy: I hope that I will have contributed to an Ottawa that is more colourful and embracing of street art, where artists and performers are fairly compensated for their work. By 2030, I would love to see minimum standards of pay established for emerging musicians and stage performers, and I will keep advocating for fair compensation to the best of my ability.

Te-Anne Laborde-Sutton, policy analyst and self-published author

(photo by inFokhus Productions)
 In Her Words by Te-Anne Laborde-Sutton: "I was born and raised in Toronto with traditional Christian morals, alongside my Caribbean background. 

I wrote novels, poems, and songs and called it journaling my emotions.

Until fear overcame me.

I decided that I could only be a writer in private and in public — my career was in the public service. 

Once I moved to Ottawa and finished my Political Science degree at Carleton University, I decided to take my writing more seriously. I refined and published my first book She Kneels in Heels in 2020, which talks about my life, my journey and how it all led me here. I also took the topics of my life experiences to create a Live Instagram series titled Tea Speaks.

CBC Ottawa: Could you cite one challenge you faced in your journey?

Laborde-Sutton: Being young is a challenge in itself. Being a woman is a challenge worth talking about. Being Black is a challenge worth fighting for. I'm all three.

Being a young Black woman trying to advance my career in public service is the biggest challenge yet. I have faced bias and discrimination with being viewed as never good enough. Facing this challenge of being constantly overlooked and underestimated and underappreciated, makes my journey a lot more complicated and a lot more fascinating.

CBC Ottawa: Did you always have a desire to turn your passion into your business?

Laborde-Sutton: Personal life challenges made me want to create a space that others can come knowing they are not alone. Tea Speaks is that space. I talk about topics the church doesn't preach about, your family can't talk about, and that you're too uncomfortable to say.

I'll say it all because I have been through it all.

Maxine Patenaude, marketer and host of CreativeMornings Ottawa

(photo by Alexandria Preston)
In Her Words by Maxine Patenaude: "By day, I work in marketing at Shopify, especially working to build and diversify our developer community. By night, weekends, and at least one morning a month, I am the host and lead organizer of CreativeMornings Ottawa – a heart-forward, global breakfast series with over 200 chapters around the world. 

CreativeMornings is about giving Ottawa's creative community a place to call home, to gather each month, to get inspired, support each other, forge relationships, and collaborate. I've also just launched a business, selling my hand-thrown pottery." 

CBC Ottawa: Could you share what drove you to your purpose/mission?

Patenaude: I've always loved bringing people together while celebrating all that is good in our city. I think that's especially relevant now that everything is virtual, it's so easy to feel isolated. I want to live in a world where you say hello to people walking down the street.

I believe community is so important and I'm sad that we see fewer and less humanity in our every day. So, with CreativeMornings, we try to bring some of that human connection back, infuse some joy into people's day-to-day even if that's through screens for the time being. 

CBC Ottawa: Has it always been your purpose to work with creative communities?

Patenaude: I don't think I intentionally set out to build community when I joined the CreativeMornings Ottawa team 7 years ago. But, I just knew that more people needed to know about this initiative that supports the idea 'everyone is creative, and everyone is welcome.'  From the first event I attended, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of and am proud of how far this series, which runs on generosity and volunteer time, has come.

Ashli Au, student and 2SLGBTQ+ youth advocate

(Submitted by Ashli Au)
In Her Words by Ashli Au: "I was born and bred here in Ottawa. I am currently completing my bachelors degree in law and legal studies, and human rights at Carleton University. I began working with the youth 2SLGBTQ+ community when I started to understand my own identity.

I am an active member of Ottawa's 2SLGBTQ+ community through my volunteer work as the Co-Chair of the Capital Pride Youth Committee, a committee member with the Ten Oaks Project, and the Equity and Inclusive Communities Advisory Group at my university.

2SLGBTQ+ youth are particularly vulnerable because they are subject to barriers that adult-oriented 2SLGBTQ+ programming can fail to take into account. As a result, and as a youth myself, I find it especially important to advocate for this communication to give 2SLGBTQ+ youth a 'voice.'"

CBC Ottawa: Could you identify one challenge and one reward that you experience with the work that you're doing?

Au: One challenge for me is navigating participation in the 2SLGBTQ+ community while being cognisant of how individuals who are close to me understand the work I do and the 2SLGBTQ+ community more broadly.

One reward has been being able to connect with youth. I have met 2SLGBTQ+ youth at events and have continued to watch their evolution in terms of becoming more comfortable and proud of their identities. Working with them consistently has helped me to find my own 2SLGBTQ+ community and has helped me to become more proud and open about my identity.

CBC Ottawa: In the future, how do you see the work you're currently doing?

Au: I hope I can continue advocating for the 2SLGBTQ+ community in the academic arena. I've always been interested in academic research which is why in the coming years, I hope to pursue a master's degree focusing on 2SLGBTQ+ experiences in the international arena and/or advocating on behalf of the 2SLGBTQ+ community through public policy.

Sisi Akhigbe, founder Impact Black Global

(photo by Patrick Michel)
In Her Words by Sisi Akhigbe: "From a tender age, I had aspirations to make an impact and desire to help those around me.

On June 1, 2020, I launched a GoFundMe campaign in support of the Black Lives Matter protest held by "No Peace Until Justice" in the city of Ottawa. Hoping to raise just $1,500, the viral campaign garnered immense community support and ended up raising over $9,000 in four days.

It was from this small act of service that Impact Black Global was born. This is an organization that looks to build the bridge between the Black youth and the wider Black community. It also looks to build the bridge between the Black community groups." 

CBC Ottawa: Could you share what drove you to your purpose/mission?

Akhigbe: My greatest desire was to help people because I have always known that my life is not my own. I have always known that this was my purpose in life, I just didn't know how I would do it with my career.

I am beyond grateful because I know that the work that is being done today will outlive me. Even if no one remembers me in the years to come, I just want to know that this work will continue throughout the world and in future generations. I hope that people see this work and aspire to want to also succeed in their own lives. 

CBC Ottawa: Could you cite one challenge you faced in your journey?

Akhigbe: I lacked confidence and did not believe I was worth anything. The more challenges I faced in life, the more it hit my confidence because I did not understand why my life was always so hard when it looked like others did not have it as hard as me. I had to not only stop comparing myself to others, but I had to believe that God had a plan for my life, and it was a great plan. I had to stop caring about what other people thought of me and focused on myself and what I knew I had to do.

Leslie Roach, lawyer and poet

(Submitted by Leslie Roach)
In Her Words by Leslie Roach: "I currently work for the Supreme Court of Canada. My official title is Legal Communications Officer. Basically, that means that I'm a lawyer who writes. I write speeches for the Chief Justice and summarize the judgments of the Supreme Court in plain language so that non-lawyers can understand them. It is ironic because my poetry philosophy is also to say things simply so that people can understand. 

My debut collection of poetry, Finish this Sentence, launched at the same time I started working at the Supreme Court. It truly feels like I have been in some kind of flow – the one Oprah talks about – where the pieces are falling into place. I think that comes from following my bliss. It took a long time to get here, believe me, so I am grateful to have found my way.  Life is a great teacher." 

CBC Ottawa: How did your personal story shape your professional path? 

Roach: I was born and raised in Montreal. My parents came to Canada from Barbados in the 1960s. They emphasized education and wanted us, three kids, to go far. To make them proud, and to prove to myself that I could accomplish it, I decided to study law.

But my true passion was writing.

I discovered my passion for writing in high school. I am grateful to some amazing English teachers at Rosemount High School, such as Ms. Baker and Ms. Hollins – she encouraged me to speak out as I was graduating. She said my voice could easily be lost in the crowd of noise if I didn't. 

Growing up in East End Montreal, we were one of the very few visible minority families in the area and I experienced a lot of racism. My book "Finish this Sentence" focuses on racism and healing from the anger and anxiety it provoked in me throughout my life. It is essentially about following one's truth. It's about saying no to racism and anything that claims to define you.

CBC Ottawa: Did you have a clear vision and path to this line of work?

Roach: My parents instilled in me the belief that there was nothing that I could not do and encouraged me to dream big. I always knew that I wanted to do important work, whatever that is. 

My path certainly has not been linear. I have lived and worked in many countries for the United Nations (Italy, Mali, Tanzania, Kenya and Senegal), and held jobs as a lawyer, head of human resources, strategic planning expert and writer. Throughout, I would journal a lot, especially to help me get through difficult times. I have faced inner battles because there was always that nudge that wanted me to pursue my writing more seriously. Writing is what I'm best at and it's what I enjoy. 

Analisa Kiskis, painter and creator

(Submitted by Analisa Kiskis)
In Her Words by Analisa Kiskis: "I want to explore the world all the time, but it is hard to let that go and accept who I am inside myself. The person I see inside myself every day, has the power of creative writing and art painting. And I find it is a powerful thing.

Every morning I wake up and feel right inside my heart that I want to show my artistic self and express my feelings in my drawings and paintings.

All women have it in their hands to create things to express themselves. And I want to sink my teeth into art and touch people's hearts. I want to have a life where painting is my career and I become famous."

CBC Ottawa: Do you recall a game changing moment/experience that changed your path for the better?

Kiskis: Yes, I came to Ottawa in 2003 with my dad and my step mom. This was a turning point for me. I met someone who introduced me to the BEING studio [which supports artists with developmental disabilities who are working in visual art and creative writing].

I was so shocked.

There I found my artistic side. Now, I want to develop more into my art and also myself as a beautiful, young, stubborn, soft-hearted and loving woman. 

CBC Ottawa: Share one thing about yourself, that might come as a surprise to people. 

Kiskis: My art is inspired in Frida Kahlo's life. One day, my stepmom gave me the book of all different artists and I chose the one that really stood out to me – it was Frida Kahlo. 

I like to imagine myself into her world in Mexico City, New City, San Francisco because she always reminds me of me and my culture. My mom, my dad and my whole family had a lot of wonderful culture to explore, like Japanese, Lithuanian, Polish. That's where I came from so I use that in my art. My art really comes to life with full colourful, bright, shiny, pop colours.

I want to be an artist the rest of my life and have a career where I make money for a living so that I can have my own apartment.

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