Young Woman of Distinction
An inspirational role model, mentor, and coach, Toyo Ajibolade, a third year Marketing Management student at Ryerson University, has turned the game of basketball into an empowering playing field. With leadership acumen well beyond her years, Toyo has developed Lady Ballers Camp – a girl-centred organization providing recreational and accessible basketball and sport programming to youth, particularly those from marginalized and racialized communities. Toyo’s primary objective is to be a bridge for young racialized women who are limited not by skill or determination, but by finance and opportunity.
As an aspiring young racialized athlete, Toyo became aware of the career halting barriers faced by women, particularly racialized women. She experienced how mounting financial requirements associated with professional sports created exclusive pathways to success – exclusivity often reserved to those of a particular socio-economic status. Toyo was able to look at the world around her with a very critical lens, and when she recognized the impact of gender and racial inequities, she mobilized to address this issue and create change.
Her outreach to disadvantaged and racialized communities as a source of recruitment for her basketball leadership program is intentional. At 16, Toyo was selected as the youngest recipient of Girls Action Foundation’s Leadership Capacity Grant program and used that opportunity to create the “DUNK Like a Girl” initiative, a program combining basketball training and fitness with interactive workshops, focused on issues affecting all girls such as gender stereotypes, relationships, violence, and self-care.
In 2013, she was a recipient of the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Community Award from the office of the Ontario Women’s Directorate for her dedication to making the experiences had by people around her better and her ability to build bridges in the community. In December 2015, Toyo wrote a very compelling grant application to Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment (MLSE) for Lady Ballers Camp and received the Toronto Raptors Community Action grant for this young organization. Recently in 2017, Toyo was given the Citizen’s MVP award for community service by the Toronto Raptors. Toyo is committed to creating change in her communities and improving the lives of others.
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A strong advocate for equity and social justice, Zanana Akande is generating a tailwind of inspiration for all women. As an educator, policy shaper and community advocate, Zanana has forged a career of groundbreaking accomplishments.
Born in a family of educators, civic engagement has always been part of the fibre of her personal and social landscape. Her teaching career with the Toronto District School Board was a vindication of sorts for her parents who were denied the right to hold teaching positions in Canada. Injustices such as this served to embolden her commitment to fairness and equity as she went on to become an accomplished principal, designing programs for students with differential needs.
Zanana was recognized as the first Black woman to be elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 1990. In her appointment as Minister of Community and Social Services, she made political history in becoming the first Black woman to hold a cabinet position in Canada. Her time in office was instrumental in shaping public policies fundamental to the lives of marginalized women. She led a meaningful social welfare reform that materialized in increases to social assistance rates and benefits supporting women in shelters. She understood the importance of food security when she approved precedent setting governmental support for our foodbank system. Her strong voice as a cabinet minister, as the parliamentary assistant to the premiere, and a determined member, contributed to the passing of Ontario’s first mandatory Employment Equity Legislation – legislation that would institutionalize rights and break down barriers for all women in the workplace.
Zanana also co-founded Tiger Lily, the first magazine/journal in Ontario grounded in the voices and experiences of women of colour. This magazine proved to be a profoundly empowering forum for women within the racialized, immigrant and refugee community – shedding light on a richness of women’s experiences that would otherwise have remained invisible.
Since her retirement from public life, Zanana has continued to be engaged in her community, lending her wisdom and her energies to various social justice initiatives. She is valued as a treasured elder on whose shoulders so many women will stand to achieve their deserved height in the world.
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Dr. Pat Armstrong
Health & Education
Dr. Pat Armstrong has challenged the boundaries of gender equity throughout a formidable 50 year career. Recognized as an accomplished sociologist, researcher, advocate, and teacher, she is also recognized for being unapologetically feminist.
Pat held a Canada Health Services Research Foundation/Canadian Institute of Health Research Chair, is a Distinguished Research Professor in Sociology, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Pat’s passion for health care policy, women and work, coupled with her collaborative research and methods has led to substantial improvements for women and girls of all ages. She has demonstrated leadership in bringing feminism to classrooms, workplaces, and policy arenas.
Pat brings a gender lens to the Canadian health care system, exposing how reforms have negatively impacted the provision of and access to care. The vast scope of Pat’s published work is rivaled only by her influence with legislators, policy makers, community organizations, courts, and tribunals that have relied upon her research, expert testimonies, and reports across Canada and internationally, especially on pay equity.
Pat’s illustrious career has been punctuated with watershed moments that have cleared a path for women. Her 1978 book, The Double Ghetto: Canadian Women and Their Segregated Work, set the standard for understanding the systemic discrimination women face. Pat was Chair of Women and Health Care Reform, a group funded by Health Canada, and was acting director of the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health. Currently, Pat is doing groundbreaking research to improve the quality of work and life in long-term residential care, a sector that primarily serves women and where women do most of the paid and unpaid work.
In 2007, Pat received the Ontario Health Coalition’s Ethel Meade Award for Excellence in Research in the Public Interest. She is a board member of the Canadian Health Coalition and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as well as co-chair or the Canadian Association of University Teacher’s Equity Committee.
Throughout Pat’s prolific career she has reached far beyond academe to champion the interests of women and girls and exemplified what it means to be a feminist public intellectual.
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As the CEO of Futurpreneur Canada, Julia Deans has safeguarded the aspirations of women entrepreneurs in Canada and ensured that their futures are bright. Since she joined Futurpreneur in 2013, she and her team have helped approximately 2,000 women launch new businesses and have counseled and trained thousands more. Futurpreneur helps aspiring entrepreneurs aged 18 to 39 start and grow successful businesses with business coaching, non-collateral financing, and volunteer mentoring.
Julia’s passion is connecting people to the resources and opportunities they need to succeed. In May, she will take this passion into her new role as inaugural CEO of the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation, a new organization aiming to make Canadian children the most literate in the world.
Julia’s exceptional leadership has opened doors for many women and she is deeply dedicated to ensuring that women are represented at the highest levels of her organization. By connecting women, promoting their stories, and sourcing speaking opportunities for them at roundtables and national summits, Julia is changing the face of business in Canada.
As CEO of CivicAction from 2005 to 2012, Julia led the organization’s efforts to increase visible minority leadership in the Greater Toronto Area through DiverseCity and ensured that women actively participated and held leadership roles in many other initiatives.
In her earlier capacity as an equity-seeking lawyer, she helped to advance the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s claim against the federal government for excluding women from Charter of Rights consultations with Indigenous groups and was also a Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund volunteer.
Julia’s many accolades and awards are a keen representation of the impact of her work and volunteerism. She received the University of Toronto’s Arbor Award and was recognized as a Woman of Influence - Canadian Diversity Champion in 2012. She was also named as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network in 2014 and 2017 and served as Toronto Chair for the International Women’s Forum.
A true champion for women in business and the economy, Julia is paving the way for those following her and heralding their accomplishments and ideas as she goes.
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A resounding voice for children and youth, a fierce advocate for social justice and a remarkable philanthropist, Lynn Factor is a trail blazer. She presents with a perfect balance of expertise and social influence as she carves pathways to a safer world for children and girls in particular.
In her former work as a child welfare practitioner, Lynn developed an expertise in supporting children who have experienced sexual violence. She recognizes the potential impact of secondary trauma experienced by children navigating the court system. She stands firm in the understanding that our moral responsibility extends to all of our social systems – that children should not be traumatized by the very structures intended to protect them. Fuelled by her drive for justice, she now chairs the Sex Trafficking Advisory Committee at Covenant House – a community, collaborative approach to confront this disturbing social phenomenon that is a particular threat to vulnerable women and girls.
Lynn’s leadership in matters of social justice is far-reaching. Her role as Past Chair of the Board of Directors at the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada has been lauded as exemplary, attested by the countless public accolades for her contributions. She currently sits on the Faculty of Community Services Dean’s Advisory Council at Ryerson University. Further, she works with Boost Child and Youth Advocacy Centre preparing child victims to testify in criminal court cementing her steadfast commitment to support better futures for children in Toronto. Our community is enriched by Lynn’s advocacy for the most vulnerable children who have been victims of abuse, neglect and violence.
She is also an inspiration, leading by example through her social engagement and unprecedented levels of giving. Lynn and her husband, Sheldon Inwentash’s philanthropic contributions to social work education have been marked with unparalleled generosity. The University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work bears their name – a fitting testimony to a woman who has devoted her career to improving the lives of vulnerable children and youth. Such contributions will translate into generations of social workers dedicated to advancing equity and justice in our communities.
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Margaret Hancock’s work has created a ripple effect of inclusivity and social justice. When Margaret comes to the table she has the unique ability to harness the power of collective action to improve the lives of others. Her effective consensus building battles oppression and creates solidarity with social justice networks. Her work is guided by her core beliefs of equity, inclusion, and justice.
In 1997, Margaret became the first woman appointed Warden of Hart House at the University of Toronto. This assignment was not only momentous because she was a woman, but because her work left a long lasting and positive legacy. At a time when people were resistant to change, Margaret brought students together in support and celebration of inclusion and equity. The Hart House Lecture, established in 2001, has since been renamed the Hancock Lecture to honour Margaret’s impact. When she left Hart House she had transformed the traditionally exclusive institution to one that was fully accessible and included a positive space program for LGBTQ students and student community kitchens.
Margaret is now the Executive Director of Family Service Toronto where she and her team provide front line services that address poverty, violence against women, elder abuse and help people with mental health needs and developmental disabilities.
She has also held positions as Executive Director of Toronto’s Choice in Health Reproductive Health Clinic and served as Oxfam Canada’s Board Chair for six years where the international development work focused on addressing poverty through gender justice in the Americas, South Africa, and the Horn of Africa. She has also addressed issues of women’s poverty and homelessness in Toronto as a member and co-chair of the Board of Directors at Sistering.
In all of these positions, Margaret has acted with conviction and been at the forefront of transformative change. She has understood that true equity and justice would not be reached without understanding the lived experience of women who are underserved, marginalized or excluded by the barriers of race, income or gender identity. Her leadership and philanthropy reverberates through the fibres of all the organizations she has supported.
In all of Margaret’s work one aspect is unchanging: she is resolute in her commitment to make sure justice is not just for some but for all.
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Marcie Ponte understood early in her impressive career the importance of the grassroots – giving voice to lived experience and observing how such energies can transform our communities. Marcie has been transformative and innovative in her dedication to rights and equity.
Under her dedicated leadership since 1999, Working Women Community Centre has burgeoned into a strong vibrant organization. She leads from a place of passion and empowerment and seeks to create bridges to success for the many newcomer women welcomed by her Centre every day.
Through her various community engagements, she celebrates inclusion, civic engagement and the brilliance of diversity as she champions women to the forefront of community initiatives. She was instrumental in seeing to fruition the Rosina Shopkeeper’s Project – a community initiative intended to honour the legacy of Rosina Peluso, one of many immigrant shopkeepers who made important contributions to our city’s entrepreneurial landscape.
Marcie’s dedication to her work is born out of personal experience. At the age of seven, she arrived in Canada from the Azores with her Portuguese speaking parents. Later, she would translate her personal experience into her work with the impact of precarious employment. At the age of 18 she joined the Cleaners’ Action Group an advocacy group advancing the cause of newcomer office cleaners in downtown Toronto. She further made contributions to the labour force as a union organizer for International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union as well as the coordinator for the Labour Studies Program for the Labour Council of Metro Toronto and York Region.
Marcie has been an advisor on Premier Wynn’s Roundtable on Social Services. She is chronicled for her expertise in matters of immigration, equity and justice. As a visionary to showcase women’s contributions, she facilitated the publication of the book Making the City: Women Who Made a Difference. This first person account documents the history of immigrant women and their influence over three decades of social change in Toronto. Marcie has been awarded the Access, Equity and Human Rights from the City of Toronto in 2016 and is a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. In 2007 she received the Professional Excellence Award from the Federation of Portuguese Canadian Business and Professionals. Marcie steadfastly supports those around her and is a beacon for her community.
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Dr. Milica Radisic
As an award-winning engineer, academic and researcher, Dr. Milica Radisic is both a door opener and a role model for women in science and engineering. Milica is an international leader in the field of cardiovascular tissue engineering. Her innovative research has the potential to revolutionize treatment for people suffering from myocardial infraction and congestive heart failure.
Her body of accomplishments is far reaching and she serves as a brilliant role model for other young women aspiring to advance in the Health Sciences and Engineering. Milica is recognized as a mentor through her teaching, supervision and personal interactions. She inspires women and girls so that they also may find their fit in a field that is not always welcoming to women. Under her tutelage, students find their pathways to excellence being awarded coveted fellowships, awards and scholarships. To her credit, Milica was bestowed the Women in Science and Engineering Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award – an honour generated from nominations by her graduate students.
As an agent for change, Milica recognizes the importance of visibility of women’s contributions in a male dominant industry. She actively advocated for a gender lens to be applied to the selection of keynote speakers, award winners and new fellows at the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Society (TERMIS). Her strong voice for women has brought changes to the gender podium of a learned society of international reach.
Milica has assumed important leadership roles promoting gender equity in her field. She has assumed membership on the Board of Directors of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers and the Women in Engineering Committee. She has also served as Chair of the Membership Committee for the TERMIS-Americas. She has been widely recognized for her contribution to engineering and gender equity. In 2006, she was featured on the cover of Sybil E. Hatch’s book, Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers. The Canada Science and Technology Museum has featured Milica’s accomplishment as part its Canadian Women and Innovation website. She was awarded Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada.
Milica continues to make important advances for engineering, health and women. Through her work, she is inspiring the next generation of women engineers.
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