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My Omelette Station “Ah ha” Moment

Atlantic Skills InstituteI used to hate being told “Patience is a virtue.”

When I was growing up, this was my mother's go-to phrase for whenever I got frustrated or wanted to make a hasty decision. 

A few weeks ago, I was standing impatiently waiting for an omelette during breakfast at White Point, Nova Scotia when I heard my mother’s voice in my head.

After months of preparation, I was in Nova Scotia handling the logistics for the Atlantic Skills Institute, a training event hosted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. I had a million things to do – distribute packages, set up equipment, do sound checks for the presenters, and answer questions from participants.

Meanwhile, the omelette chef heated a small pan, whisked fresh eggs, added vegetables, and fluffed and frilled his creation. Although I appreciated his commitment to creating beautiful food, I didn’t offer any “oohs” and “ahhs.” I had to go, go, go!

As I reflected on how hard I still find it to slow down, I realized that going slow is exactly what’s needed to create the kind of change we were about to discuss at our Institute.

All of the 55 women in attendance work at non-profit organizations and share the same mission: to help low-income women move out of poverty. Some of them help women become self-employed, others help them learn a skilled trade, while others had created social purpose enterprises (basically a non-profit business) that offers the women a training opportunity. They had come from across Atlantic Canada, from rural areas, cities, Aboriginal communities, and small towns. 

Besides their mission, they all had another thing in common: a shoestring budget. As many of us know, Atlantic Canada is struggling economically and that’s especially true for the staff of frontline community organizations. Tight budgets and declining funding make it hard to maintain their specialized programming, let alone afford staff to attend professional development workshops, travel to network with their peers, or hear from experts about the latest research in their field. But helping women move out of poverty is all about building connections and bridges.

At the Skills Institute, these women had the rare chance to share learnings and best practices, address issues and share solutions, and network among peers they may have emailed but never met face-to-face. It also gave them a unique opportunity to talk about how they can address the work together as a region, instead of working in silos.

Over the next two days, I heard over and over again how grateful they all were to connect and learn from each other. I was proud to be of service to them. Later, one woman wrote in the evaluation:  “We are strong leaders in our communities, (but) we don’t get to STOP very often to think together like this. There is REAL POWER in numbers. Thank you so much.”

A few weeks after the Institute ended, one of the women told us the details of a budding social network that will keep their connection going and to figure out how to bring more women’s voices to government policy tables. It’s a social media project they’re calling Atlantic Women’s Voice Video Project.

Now, every day I come to work more determined than ever to not only help women move out of poverty but also to build the capacity of the small organizations out there working on the front lines. Watching them connect at the Institute, I learned – though it looks slow – with hope, persistence, enthusiasm, unique expertise and collaboration, change it is indeed happening.

It took a slow but passionate omelette chef to help me realize making a lasting impact never happens overnight. It takes partnerships, networks, conversations, leaders, learning, initiative, commitment and – of course! – patience.

*Over the last five years, the Canadian Women’s Foundation has hosted Regional Skills Institutes in Quebec, Ontario, Atlantic Canada, and Western Canada, as well as a National Skills Institute. A second National Skills Institute is scheduled for Fall 2014. Over 150 organizations and 300 women have been able to participate in Skills Institutes using the knowledge gained to become more effective in their work. We believe that reducing women’s poverty includes research, sharing best practices and building program effectiveness across Canada. Organizing Skills Institutes is one of the strategies used to meet this goal. All travel, accommodations and meals for the participants are funded by Canadian Women’s Foundation thanks to the generous support of our corporate sponsors.

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