Women's HandsThis year, the theme of International Women’s Day is “Make It Happen.”  To celebrate this spirit, here’s the story of how a conversation between two women ended up changing the lives of thousands of women and girls across Canada.

Change comes in many forms, but it often has its roots in small things—like a conversation between friends.

On a sunny March day in 1986, almost thirty years ago, two women who knew each other since grade school were eating lunch together and talking about women’s equality.

The women were Nancy Ruth Jackman (now a Canadian senator) and Susan Woods. They wanted to advance gender equality, but they knew only two per cent of charitable donations from corporations and foundations went to services for women and girls.   They also knew there was no way for women in Canada to target their charitable giving to help other women. What they didn’t know then was that their idea would grow into an organization that is today one of the ten largest women’s foundations in the world.

Nancy Ruth and Susan wondered: How could they harness the power of women’s philanthropy to create gender equality in Canada? By the time their lunch was over, the two women had agreed to work together to help answer that question.

A few weeks later, after brainstorming with colleagues, they issued a famous invitation: Come to a meeting to talk about stamping out sexism in Canada, forever.

That meeting was just the first of many. Slowly, through discussions with dozens of women, a solution began to emerge: Create an organization run by women, for women, with the goal of creating real change for women in Canada. In 1991, the new organization officially launched as the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Julie White, the Foundation’s first Board Chair says: “There were eight of us at that first meeting. Then there were dozens, then hundreds. Now, there are thousands of us.”

Since 1991, the Canadian Women’s Foundation has invested in over 1,300 community programs across Canada, including every women’s shelter. We do not receive government funding. All of our support comes from individual donors and corporate partners who believe in our mission: to help women and girls to move out of poverty, out of violence, and into confidence.

Every year, 30,000 women and girls attend our funded programs. We fund front-line services like emergency shelters and prevention programs that help to stop the violence, for good. We invest in programs that empower girls and programs that help women move out of poverty by learning a skilled trade, starting a small business, or getting work experience through a social purpose enterprise.

All of our investments are targeted to where they’re needed most: that means focusing on the most marginalized women and girls in Canada—particularly those from Aboriginal and newcomer communities. There are not many national women’s organizations left in Canada, but the Canadian Women’s Foundation continues to speak out on women’s issues and to change hearts and minds on critical issues facing women and girls like victim-blaming or the impact of media on girls self-confidence.

International Women’s Day is a great time to reflect on the incredible legacy that started with a conversation between friends and to thank Nancy Ruth, Susan Woods, Julie White, and all of the other founding mothers of the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

You made it happen, and your legacy lives on!