My colleague Alysia Christiaen and I founded the Lerners Women’s Symposium back in 2017 because we wanted to create a forum to educate and empower professional women to ‘lean in’ and achieve their professional goals. One of the many lessons learned from the dynamic guest speakers and engaged attendees we’ve had the privilege of hosting in our brief yet impactful history is that leaning in is easier said than done, and can sometimes come at a cost unless we build meaningful, genuine support networks, be it at work, home or in our respective communities.
The theme for the 2019 Women’s Symposium is “Building Resilience”. As my colleague Jane Scholes (Organizing Committee member) put it recently, resilience is a "personality trait and skill that impacts all aspects of our everyday lives."
It's important to acknowledge, though, that building resilience may mean different things to women facing serious challenges outside the workplace. In fact, for some women, building resilience has little to do with professional advancement or achieving personal and professional well-being; rather, it's about confronting circumstances that have deprived them of basic human rights.
For these reasons, the 2019 Women’s Symposium is honoured to support a truly unique initiative that has impacted the lives of countless women and girls in our community and across North America. The Shoebox Project distributes gift shoeboxes filled with various items, from toiletries to gift cards to inspirational messages, to women who are homeless or at risk. This includes women in emergency shelters, shelters for victims of domestic abuse as well as for women facing various other challenges. You can read more about this incredible project, which is a non-religious and unaffiliated charity, by visiting the Shoebox Project website.
The main goal of the Shoebox Project is to make women who receive a gift shoebox feel valued, respected, supported and loved. In my view, one of the most inspiring qualities of the Shoebox Project is its seemingly magical power to make something of nothing. Think about it. What could be plainer, more mundane even, than a shoebox. A few pieces of cardboard glued together and then quickly discarded once its job – the delivery of a desired material good – is done.
Yet in the hands of individuals and communities that are committed to making a difference in the lives of women at risk, something as ordinary as a shoebox can be filled, literally and symbolically, with extraordinary meaning. It’s the most unremarkable, everyday things that can have remarkable meaning for women and girls who have been robbed of their sense of personal self-worth; whose resilience has been tested in ways few of us could imagine. It’s the basic things that most of us have the luxury of taking for granted: a toothbrush and toothpaste; a hairbrush, soap. Things that most of us consider indispensable as fashion accessories – gloves, mittens, scarves – represent for women and girls at risk crucial basic necessities of personal health and security, and, just as important, of dignity and respect.
As we come together on October 29 to celebrate resilience, I encourage you to support this cause by bringing a shoebox for a woman in need or making a financial contribution at the door. Let’s make something extraordinary of something ordinary, together.
Yola Ventresca is an equity partner at Lerners LLP, co-founder and co-chair of the Lerners Women’s Symposium