On October 29, 2014 nine women gathered at the Sauvé House to explore accelerating societal change through strategic connections.

This was not so much a discussion about gender equality as it was about under-represented groups not being in enough leadership roles, and how coming together as a group can lead to positive change in our communities.

Désirée McGraw, President and executive director of the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation, invited this small group of women from all professions, backgrounds and sectors to discuss how diversity in decision making leads to better outcomes in society. The group agreed that while there’s been a lot of talk in recent years, very little is being done to promote women into decision making positions in politics, governance, and in the public and private sectors.

This gathering of intelligent, caring women allowed for thoughtful conversations about collaboration and how advancing the role of women in organizations is now more than ever an economic imperative.

Coleen Mackinnon, regional director for Catalyst (Quebec and Atlantic Canada), spoke about her interest in driving change in the private sector for women in leadership roles. Coleen is a PR professional with background and experience in media, communications, strategy and advocacy. Her particular interest and international experience lies in facilitating progressive social change through Collective Impact, a collaborative, tri-sector, multi-stakeholder approach.

Tanja Maleska, from FEM International, explained her role in empowering women through social entrepreneurship and creating community leaders in immigrants and school kids through sustainable fashion projects and creating an ethical and fair-trade market for products made by women in Quebec and abroad.

Saman Ahsan, Sauvé Scholar alumna and executive director at Girls Action Foundation, shared her experience in building girls’ and young women’s skills and confidence inspiring action to change the world through innovative programs, research and support. In her previous role as the National Coordinator of the Girl Child Project at the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, Saman was responsible for community mobilization at the grassroots level to empower adolescent girls belonging to marginalized communities. She has also held leadership roles at the World Economic Forum, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

Honora Shaughnessy of McGill introduced her ideas on building a university program on Women, Philanthropy and Leadership. Her interest in exploring the role of women in governance, education and philanthropy had many of the guests excited by the idea of formalizing a program that could benefit a broader audience and has sparked many new connections already.

Ton Avenir en Main offers workshops designed to help young women develop their leadership skills, power of influence and innovation to become the leaders of tomorrow. Sonia Mata, senior advisor, runs programs in five Canadian cities including a summer camp in which 45 young people participate as staff members and 140 as campers. Dr. Mata also acts as a consultant to the Fondation pour la culture et l’éducation (FCE) and is Chair of McGill Women’s Alumnae Association.

Kim Fuller, founder and creative director of Phil Communications, specializes in marketing and communications in the philanthropic sector. Kim spoke of her lifelong dedication to non-profits and remarked on how many women work in these organizations versus how few sit on the board of directors. She too is championing for change and uses her skills in design and marketing to help professionalize the philanthropic sector. Speaker, volunteer, board member, mom and wife, Kim also mentors young people interested in choosing a profession in the not-for-profit realm.

Caroline Codsi of Gouvernance au féminin spoke about her work in supporting women in advancing their careers and how we can achieve change if we work together. She is passionate about the effectiveness of women serving, and hopefully in the future driving, board of directors. Her vast experience in career development and practical advice was appreciated by all.

Marie Senécal-Tremblay lives and works at the intersection of law, philanthropy and public policy. As a judge, executive director and lifelong volunteer, Marie has helped numerous grant-making organizations, and has an impressive background in decision making within the federal transport sector, labour, employment, immigration, and civil litigation fields. Her extensive experience is matched by her incredible passion for progress, fairness and contributions to a healthier future for society.

Expect to see exciting new developments from this group as they explore the potential of their collaborative initiatives, share experiences and resources, in an effort to create effective change.