Women smilingImagine you were about to receive an award and were asked to introduce yourself. What would you say?

If you were asked during an interview: “How do you distinguish between leadership and management,” what would be your answer?

These are tough questions, but over the past three years I have heard quite a few brilliant and inspired answers.The responses have come from potential candidates for the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s Leadership Institute, a unique professional development opportunity for staff from front-line organizations that help women to move out of poverty. The Institute is a three-year pilot project, offered in partnership with the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. 

During the interview process for the Institute, candidates are asked to reflect upon their current leadership skills and gaps, and to share their understanding of what makes a good leader. 

All of the candidates are young women who are “rising stars” who are already creating positive changes in their communities and have the potential to make an even greater impact. In an ideal world, they would become future leaders in their organizations, but given the chronic lack of professional development in the cash-strapped nonprofit world, may never get the chance. Community organizations, with their constant fiscal challenges, desperately need the best and brightest to take on leadership in order to strengthen the sector. 

When the women are asked to describe a leader they admire, many talk about their own mothers—many who were single moms, new immigrants, or survivors of abusive relationships. The women say that with determination and hard work, their mothers created a better life for themselves and their children.  Now, these future leaders want to dedicate their careers to helping women like their mothers get the help they need to reach financial and social independence. 

The Institute provides a unique learning experience, one that is customized for women who work in Canada’s nonprofit sector. The leadership development approach is asset-based, participant-focused, flexible, and strongly based on adult education principles. The program draws on a combination of personal insight, theory, and practical application. It is truly one-of-a-kind program. 

The impact of the program is both personal and organizational. Graduates become more confident leaders, taking on increased roles and responsibilities, speaking out, and offering innovative solutions to some of the country’s most complex social problems.

In just a few weeks, the latest group of new leaders will graduate from the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s Leadership Institute, making a grand total of 75 women who’ve attended the program over the last three years. 

I have met all of these women, heard their profound insights on leadership, witnessed their personal transformations, and seen the difference they are making to their organizations.

Thanks to the leadership of this remarkable group of new leaders, I’d say the future of the women’s non-profit sector is in good hands.