Women of Distinction Awards — Postponed until 2021
After careful consideration during these uncertain and challenging times, we have decided that due to COVID-19,
YWCA Toronto will be postponing this year’s Women of Distinction Awards Gala until 2021.

2020 Award Recipients


Sylvia Bashevkin

Sylvia Bashevkin

Education

Nneka MacGregor

Nneka MacGregor

Social Justice

Dr. Tina Meisami

Dr. Tina Meisami

Health

Colleen Moorehead

Colleen Moorehead

Corporate Leadership

Arezoo Najibzadeh

Arezoo Najibzadeh

Young Woman of Distinction

Sheila Sampath

Sheila Sampath

Arts

Vicki Saunders

Vicki Saunders

Entrepreneurship

Sylvia Bashevkin


Education
An esteemed professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto for almost 40 years, Sylvia Bashevkin has championed women’s voices in research and academic leadership throughout her career. She is an author, activist and mentor who is an internationally recognized leader in the field of gender and politics.

When Sylvia began her teaching career, she was the only woman in Erindale College’s political science department. Sylvia has worked to diversify political science curricula to include feminist perspectives, and advocated for the recruitment of women faculty members. She has brought women’s political struggles and triumphs to the forefront of scholarly conversations in her research and analyses of women’s participation in politics. Her books include Women as Foreign Policy Leaders; Women, Power, Politics: The Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished Democracy; and Tales of Two Cities: Women and Municipal Restructuring in London and Toronto.

From 2005 to 2011, Sylvia served as the first woman principal of University College, the University of Toronto’s founding college. She served as president of the Canadian Political Science Association and the women and politics research section of the American Political Science Association. Her scholarly distinctions include: fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada, the Jill Vickers Prize from the Canadian Political Science Association, the Mildred Schwartz Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Political Science Association, the Ursula Franklin Gender Studies Award from the Royal Society, and the Bertha Lutz Prize from the International Studies Association.

Sylvia has volunteered with the Committee for ’94, Toronto Women’s Call to Action and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund.

Through her extensive work as an educator and author, Sylvia has steered those who might not otherwise think about women and girls toward seeing a gender dimension. This in turn has improved the city and country we live in.

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Nneka MacGregor


Social Justice
Nneka MacGregor is a powerful feminist who is paving the way for change. She is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Centre for Social Justice, better known as WomenatthecentrE, a unique non-profit organization created by and for women survivors of gender-based violence globally. She is also the co-host of the engaging podcast – ‘What’s Your Safe Word?’

Nneka is an advocate who works with governments, organizations and individuals to transform lives and build violence-free communities. In 2006, she was selected by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario as one of 13 experts tasked to review the range of services provided to women and children in the province, identify gaps and make recommendations. In June 2016, she was appointed by the Canadian government to the Advisory Council on the Federal Strategy Against Gender-Based Violence. An international speaker and trainer, she has developed and facilitated training to various sectors, and was one of the 12 Canadian women delegates appointed to the United Nations’ 63rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Nneka sits on a number of advisory boards and committees, including the Family Law Committee of the Board of Legal Aid Ontario. She recently became a member of the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, at the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General. Her research focus is on the intersection of strangulation, traumatic brain injury and inter-personal violence, and was a recipient of the 2019 PINK Concussions Awards.

An entrepreneur with almost three decades of business experience, Nneka continues to support organizations develop their strategy, people, culture and community, with a focus on nurturing women’s leadership in business.

Nneka recently retired from the Board of Directors of Moatfield Foundation of Bayview Glen School, where she served for 11 years, six of which as Chair and CEO of the Bayview Glen Foundation. She supports other non-profits and charitable organizations with governance training and developing effective Board culture.

It is her commitment to equity across all barriers that makes Nneka a beacon of hope for women and survivors of gender-based violence.

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Dr. Tina Meisami


Health
Dr. Tina Meisami is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with a long-standing commitment to helping improve the lives of women. In 2010, she founded the Dr. Borna Meisami Commemorative Foundation, along with four women dentists, in memory of her brother. The Foundation administers ‘Restoring Smiles,’ a program offering free dental and oro-facial reconstructive services to women living in shelters or supportive housing who have experienced gender-based violence.

Led by Tina’s vision and commitment, over 40 dentist, physicians, and specialists now donate their time and services to ‘Restoring Smiles,’ and the foundation has provided nearly $1,000,000 of free dental treatment to help more than 100 women regain not only their oral health, but also emotional and mental health as they continue on their journey to full healing and recovery.

Tina is currently an active staff surgeon at North York General Hospital and the University Health Network, where she provides treatment for dentofacial deformities and sleep-disordered breathing. She also maintains a private practice at Yorkville Oral Surgery where she is the principal surgeon. Throughout her illustrious career Tina has broken down barriers in the field of surgery, she is the first woman maxillofacial surgeon in Canada to subspecialize in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.

Tina’s leadership does not stop with her patients or the Foundation. She has been a dedicated mentor to female students and a teacher in the field of oral and maxilliofacial surgery for 18 years, creating meaningful opportunities and breaking down barriers women experience working in a male-dominated field.

By using her expertise, emphasizing self-confidence and prioritizing patient care Tina is helping women achieve brighter futures in a concrete way.

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Colleen Moorehead


Corporate Leadership
A true champion for women, Colleen Moorehead is a business leader, trailblazer and mobilizer. Today she is Chief Client Officer at business law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. Her efforts to support, mentor and advance women throughout her 30-year career have contributed to meaningful organizational changes for Canadian companies and women in business.

Colleen is unwavering in her commitment to supporting women in business and creating opportunities to tell their stories. She is the co-founder and business director of the Judy Project named after the late Microsoft Canada executive Judy Elder at the University of Toronto’s Joseph L. Rotman School of Management. This initiative is a leadership forum designed to empower and prepare women to take on executive leadership positions. The Judy Project has supported more than 400 women ascend into C-suite positions since its launch in 2003. The network of alumnae is a group of empowered women from Canadian CEOs to Board Members across the country.

During Colleen’s time at CIBC Wood Gundy Private Client Group where her career began, and in previous roles including co-founder and President of E*TRADE Canada, Colleen championed women and diversity in each workplace. She understands that when talented women take on challenging and visible leadership assignments, it drives great outcomes.

Colleen also recently edited the best-selling leadership book, Collective Wisdom of High-Performing Women, Leadership Lessons from the Judy Project. This book features personal stories from 70 Canadian women business leaders, highlighting their perspectives on the characteristics of great leaders.

A committed volunteer, Colleen remains engaged in the broader community. She is a past Director of Women’s College Hospital Foundation and is dedicated to its effort in revolutionizing the health of women. She is also a past Board Member at Covenant House, a founding activator of SheEO, and she currently sits on the Board of a number of organizations including #MoveTheDial, and Artscape.

By paving the way for other women and heralding their accomplishments as she goes, Colleen is ensuring the future for women in business in Canada is successful and sustainable.

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Arezoo Najibzadeh


Young Woman of Distinction
Arezoo Najibzadeh is a rising voice for women’s civic and political participation in Canada. As co-founder of the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN), she works with young women leaders and civic institutions to identify and address barriers to young women’s engagement and success within grassroots and institutional politics.

Since its inception in 2017 YWLN has been dedicated to building leadership capacity among Black, Indigenous, and racialized young women and gender-diverse youth. YWLN has also helped more than 500 young women and non-binary leaders realize their own potential to drive change and has provided professional development to 120 young leaders.

The focus of Arezoo’s work is redefining the role of young women and girls in politics, as well as the relationship between sexual violence, public safety and women’s civic engagement. She advocates for intersectional, anti-racist and anti-oppressive policies while providing tools to civic organizations that aim to be harassment-free spaces.

A watershed moment in Arezoo’s career came in 2018 when she established ‘It’s Time,’ a set of survivor-centric, trauma-informed resources for addressing sexual violence in political institutions. This project has provided training to more than 100 politicians, political staff, and volunteers on creating consent culture within campaigns and in legislatures.

As a resounding voice for issues impacting young women and girls, Arezoo is regularly consulted to lend her expertise and perspective. Most recently, she was on the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women, the World Forum for Democracy, and the Platform Women Convention.

In addition to her work at YWLN, Arezoo is a 2020 fellow at the Muslim Youth Fellowship and an Advising Leader to the Female Laboratory of Innovative Knowledge.

Arezoo is boldly challenging systemic barriers in her quest to improve the experiences of young women, girls and gender-diverse youth in politics.

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Sheila Sampath


Arts
Sheila Sampath is an activist, designer and educator working at the intersection of creativity, capacity-building and social change. She is the Editorial and Art Director of Shameless, Canada’s intersectional feminist voice for young women and trans youth. She is also the Principal and Creative Director at The Public, a community-centred social justice design studio she founded in 2008. From 2014–2019, she was an assistant professor of alternative and speculative practices at OCAD University and, in 2013, published her first book, Letters Lived, a collection of reflections from feminist activists.

Sheila has served on the board of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multi-cultural women against rape (where she was also a counsellor, organizer and support worker) and the South Asian Visual Arts Centre, and is currently on the program advisory committee of the George Brown Assaulted Women and children’s counsellor/advocate program.

Throughout Sheila’s work lies a commitment to building creative expression and civic engagement among marginalized communities, including intergenerational communities of racialized and queer women, girls and trans folks. Through her work at The Public and in collaboration with Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto, she organized and facilitated Fight like a girl, a one-week arts-based activist training camp for racialized teen girls; programming addressing gender-based violence in South Asian communities; and a series of workshops and participatory public service announcement on elder abuse that later won an RGD So(cial) Good Award.

As an educator, Sheila contributed to building a consent culture at OCAD University, co-creating resources and art installations with students that address sexual and gender-based violence. Her mentorship and feminist pedagogical approach won her a faculty of design teaching award.

Whether through design work or writing, Sheila is challenging the status quo and paving the way for feminists in our city and beyond to amplify their message, ideas and voices through richly diverse media.

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Vicki Saunders


Entrepreneurship
As the founder of SheEO, Vicki Saunders, is a trailblazer for women. SheEO is a not-for-profit global initiative to transform how we support, finance and celebrate women entrepreneurs. Through SheEO, Vicki aims to address the gender gap in entrepreneurship by improving access to capital for women-led ventures.

Through SheEO’s signature program, ‘Radical Generosity,’ Vicki is building an alternative women-led funding system that measures the success of ventures by looking beyond profit alone. The program sees a community of women, known as activators, each invest $1,100 with no expectation of financial return, creating a perpetual fund which is loaned out to support new social impact ventures run by women. These women entrepreneurs will also receive coaching through the program. Since its inception SheEO has raised over $5 million and invested in 63 ventures globally.

Vicki’s commitment to empowering women does not stop with the Radical Generosity program; she also created the ‘Learning Lab,’ which supports emerging women entrepreneurs across the world with live webinars and online resources. Vicki is always thinking of future generations of women and in 2018 launched ‘RadGen,’ a program providing girls in grades 10 to 12 with experiential entrepreneurship training.

Vicki is a transformative leader and award-winning mentor. In the past, she has mentored entrepreneurs through MaRS Discovery District and Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone. Recently she was named as one of 30 “World-Changing Women in Conscious Business” by Conscious Company Magazine and one of the 100 most influential leaders of 2015 from “EBW – Empowering A Billion Women.” In 2001, Vicki was selected as a Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum.

Vicki sees women’s entrepreneurship as a way of creating positive change in the world, and the ripple effects of her work have far-reaching impact.

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