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Aneil Gokhale: Diversity makes a huge difference when it comes to leadership. I had some ideas about this before starting the Fellows program and now, I live and breathe it. The DiverseCity Fellows experience has taught me that there is more to diversity then just “looking different”. It’s much more than that. We all have different stories to share. We all have different life experiences. And, we all have different priorities and ideas about how to make things better. It’s in those differences that we’ve been able to create some change in our city.
The importance of diversity in leadership was made most tangible to me by my team’s project. “Flavours from Home” is focused on improving emergency food services for ethnic communities by increasing the supply of culturally-familiar and nutritious foods for food banks in northern Toronto. To most, this might be an obvious problem that could be corrected easily, but it wasn’t being addressed. It took 5 diverse individuals with different viewpoints and experience to make this change. To me – that speaks to diversity and the power we can all have as we come together to make good things happen in a place we all love.
Chi Nguyen: I’ve been absolutely delighted and thrilled with this opportunity to be a part of the inaugural year of the DiverseCity Fellows programme. Having spent a good chunk of the last decade as a temporary guest in Toronto, it’s been a wonderful way to feel anchored in this city that I adore. Meeting new, smart and talented leaders from such an incredible cross-section – geographic, age, demographic, etc. has been an amazing experience. It has given us a chance to dream about the city we want to build. In my daytime position, my work is about bringing citizens to the decision-making table and to work together to build consensus and come up with innovative ideas and recommendations for policy makers. The DiverseCity programme has given me the chance to play and to be creative in how we design projects and programs that inspire the city-builders in all of us.
DiverseCity Fellows is not just about leadership. Nor is it about self-promotion. This is an opportunity for shared learning and listening — and this is what I’ve loved in this ten months of the Fellowship programme. We’ve come to the table for a chance to learn for ourselves and for each other and to help us build the Toronto we want.
Habon Ali: Having worked with several non-profit organizations and youth led initiatives, I have seen how challenging it can be to turn a great idea into an action-oriented project. One of the reasons I applied for the DiverseCity Fellowship was to learn about how community leaders effectively launch programs and how they overcome common barriers such as funding constraints and lack of resources. As a Fellow I have had the unique opportunity to meet with sector leaders that have successfully navigated their way through challenging projects. By sharing their experiences they have taught me how to maximize my networks, build relationships with the right partners, and develop my individual leadership style. I have also experienced an incredible amount of personal growth. Our sessions have challenged me to think critically about my personal and professional goals while simultaneously equipping me with the knowledge and skills to become a more confident leader. Above all, I am most grateful to be in the company of such diverse, talented and inspiring individuals. The energy that comes out of our group is truly contagious and with that much can be achieved.
Gillian Hewitt Smith: When I first saw the call for applications for the DiverseCity Fellows program, I was intrigued by the opportunity to meet a wide variety of up-and-coming leaders across my city. The experience with the Fellows thus far has exceeded my expectations: not only have I had the chance to connect with brilliant minds from a whole host of different backgrounds and disciplines, I have also forged friendships that will last well beyond our year together. Learning how Toronto works – and how it doesn’t – has fuelled my desire to affect change in a meaningful, positive way. I’ve appreciated learning about the myriad ways of examining city building projects and civic initiatives from my “fellow Fellows”. I think the most lasting gift the Fellows program has given me is my renewed belief in our ability to make our city a better place for everyone to live, work and play.