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We Are The Women

A look into the work of female leaders Christie Nelson, Nour Hachem-Fawaz, and Yvonne Pilon and how they are redefining what equity, diversity, and inclusion looks like in the education and employment sectors
Author: Alley L. Biniarz
Photographer: Trevor Booth
2 years ago
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What do three powerful Windsor-Essex women have in common? They’re all breaking barriers and paving the way towards a more equitable and empowered local community. By taking their respective sectors in education, employment, and technology, linking their intersecting needs, and gluing the pieces together, Christie Nelson, Nour Hachem-Fawaz, and Yvonne Pilon show us that to build a stronger Windsor, we must work together.

Change is essential, but the greatest impact can be made within our education system. Christie Nelson with fellow co-founders Salem Berhane and Clarese Carter started Family Fuse with funding by the Ontario Trillium Foundation to support Black parents, guardians, and caregivers to navigate the education system. Along with supporting fundraising, Family Fuse sets families up with the proper tools and resources to ensure that their child not only performs their best but feels confident and comfortable within the classroom.

“We see the advertisements on inclusion and diversity, but some families feel as though they don’t completely experience it,” Christie explains the need for the individual and group programs that Family Fuse provides. Family Fuse received the grant for this project three years ago and had over 200 parents sign up for free coaching and workshops by year two. Parents of Black children from across Canada have come forward expressing microaggressions, racism, targeting, feeling overwhelmed and they are seeking help.

“There are beautiful Anti-Black racism initiatives, coaches, and counseling happening in the school boards but it’s not enough,” Christie says. “We need to focus on those who are silenced, students who aren’t performing well, or students who are burying themselves in schoolwork to cope. Like what some of our Black parents see, some of our Indigenous, our Gay and Trans children are falling and if they say they’re not being supported, then we need to refocus,” she adds.

Christie emphasizes that this includes working through trauma, aggression, isolation, and feelings of acceptance with all stakeholders: the principals, teachers, parents, and children. Through goal setting, overcoming barriers, and putting resources into place, Family Fuse makes sure families are supported so they may thrive as advocates for their children, which then results in evening out the playing field for these youth to be qualified for all future opportunities.

Nour Hachem-Fawaz shares in Christie’s vision and passion for social impact. Together, Nour feels they can work together with parents to raise equity and provide valuable insight into how school aged children can be encouraged by parent involvement whether they start in grade school or come in through college or university.

Nour also works to give voice to those who are underrepresented in the community. She is the President and Founder of Build a Dream, a national nonprofit that delivers specialized programs to encourage and empower female students to explore careers where women are underrepresented, while also working to create a gender-balanced workforce.

“I realized that the barriers keeping women out of these rewarding careers were common to other male-dominated paths and I wanted to create a non-profit to encourage and empower young women to explore careers they may have never considered,” Nour says.

Build a Dream brings their expertise and passion to build up individuals, students, and parents through education as well. Since its inception in 2014, Build a Dream continues to deliver programs to inspire young women by providing confidence, filling workforce skill gaps, and offering a new perspective for workforce problem-solving.

Programs like Nour’s and Christie’s are increasing throughout the region, including inclusive and groundbreaking programs in the technology and innovation sectors. Yvonne Pilon, President, and CEO of WEtech Alliance is at the forefront of these movements in tech, taking her 15 years of experience in the industry and building an inclusive, collaborative and connected entrepreneurial ecosystem. WEtech Alliance is working to help create an ecosystem that supports all tech founders. Throughout the last 10 years, WEtech Alliance has worked to support indigenous entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, women in mobility and automotive innovation and most recently, Black entrepreneurs and business owners thanks to a grant by the federal government.  x. “By working to support diversity in entrepreneurship, we work to ensure the future is built for everyone by everyone. There is no innovation without diversity,” Yvonne says.

As a woman who has proved herself within a male dominated industry, Yvonne is passionate about the work that she, Christie, and Nour are doing individually in pursuit of the collective vision. “We are all women who have made tremendous strides in our respective fields. We are fueled by a strong vision and sense of purpose, surrounded by outstanding mentors and allies, are extraordinarily resilient and believe in lifting others up,” she says.

Yvonne adds that they are the women who have realized that by working together that they can reach their goals much faster. They have all worked tirelessly in pursuit of their dreams, have fought to make themselves heard, and have earned a seat at the table. Now that they’re there, they want to offer other women every ounce of support that they need to pursue their ambitions.

“We are women who believe in leaving the ladder down, opening the door, and pulling others through. We are cheerleaders. We are advocates. We want to be women who young women can look up to. There is room at the top for us all,” she adds. All three of these women honour those who paved this path before them and demonstrate how far we’ve come. They demonstrate that collaboration rather than competition is possible; that to create sustainable and positive change for all, we are stronger together than apart.

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