[image source: Hattie Redmond Women & Gender Center]
Three months ago, I started this new adventure as the Executive Director at the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD). As a Black queer woman and feminist, and someone who truly values the importance of community, I understand the significance of taking this role. I have big shoes to fill and a lot of eyes are watching us to see what happens next! No pressure, right?
I am in a unique position having joined this organization in the middle of a pandemic. As a result, the future of CCGSD is a lot of what I have been thinking about! I am thinking of the future of our fundraising, our programs, and how we engage with those we serve. This is an isolating time for 2SLGBTQ+ youth and many
are looking to maintain a connection with us for a sense of belonging. It is so important as the country moves to recovery, that policymakers are reminded that the issues related to diversity, including gender and sexuality, are integral for a more robust recovery plan.
(And let’s not forget: we also have a duty to influence or shift how people talk about gender, beyond the gender binary, to meaningfully have 2SLGBTQ+ people as part of the conversation. This is a huge gap in feminist influencing in Canada that this organization can fill.)
I believe that CCGSD needs to have strong programming, a strong approach to public engagement and a strong approach to advocacy. Right now is the time for an organization like CCGSD, here in the nation’s capital, to work in collaboration with 2SLGBTQ+ and feminist organizations, activists and advocates across Canada to fight against oppression and hold truth to power. To move forward in being accountable in every aspect, but, most importantly, being accountable to the communities it serves. Building our future is going to need strong leadership and planning that I am beyond ready to take on.
Building a feminist future for this organization requires swift change in our internal culture and ways of working. That is why we now have an organizational structure with three new departments: Programs, Finance & Administration, and Communications & Advocacy. Each led by a director to streamline our work within thematic areas and allow for a little distance between the staff and the ED. Additionally, we now have a management unit that works together to coordinate the organization’s operations. This new organizational structure creates more interdepartmental collaboration, fosters empowerment, and maintains mutual accountability at all levels.
CCGSD is currently engaging two external consultants for two very key processes: our performance management and our anti-racism training. For the first time, CCGSD is implementing performance measurement to set yearly performance, development, and career goals. We will develop a performance management system that reflects our values with the goal of being fully implemented for the next fiscal year. Secondly, as per our commitment to BIPOC communities, we are currently undergoing anti-racism training. The facilitator for this process is ABSOLUTELY brilliant and truly committed to a transformational process! I am excited about this not only because this will be the first step to adopting an anti-racism strategy to our strategic planning process, but also to rebuilding our trust with the communities we serve. I am committing myself to draft a report of this progress and engaging the community in the near future so your feedback is part of this every step of the way.
The biggest benchmark I am setting for myself is completing our strategic plan. For the first time, CCGSD will have a strong strategic plan that is developed with best practice in mind. It will be needed to refocus our vision for our new direction as an organization. We cannot be everything to everyone, but we can do the few things we are really good at really well. It will be my role to provide the strategic foresight to operationalize this strategy once it is developed. To be honest, I am really excited about it! This new and improved strategic planning process will:
- Refocus what the purpose of this organization
- Identify who exactly our mandate serves
- Interrogate the internal processes that may or may not be working
- Clarify what are our feminist values are to be modelled by staff and to inform how we work
- Engage with the community which is going to mean some hard conversations are going to have to be held in a public forum
- Consult other organizations who share a similar mandate to let us know what purpose they see our organization fulfilling
A few things have happened since I have joined the organization and we have a lot of work to do going forward to ensure our values remain central to what we do. This starts at the top. It requires bold leadership that isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo by applying an intersectional feminist framework to management, changing policies and procedures, and identifying what aspect of our work needs to be changed or phased out completely.
I have said this before and think it is definitely a message worth repeating: CCGSD deserves leadership that is honest, empathic, and feminist. Leadership that challenges the status quo and has the interests of the communities it serves at the forefront of everything that they do. This organization has grown so much in the last 15 years and still remains the first point of contact for many queer and trans youth across Canada looking to be involved in this line of work. As a result, we have a duty to model the behaviour we want to see fostered in our community. We have to “walk the talk”.
Our feminist future is bright! We need to let go of egos that distract us from our mission, work in collaboration with other 2SLGBTQ communities and leaders, and practice humility. I will continue working with and learning from the staff and board at CCGSD, and from stakeholders. And of course, I am looking forward to learning from and working with you all, the members of this beautifully complex community.
You can be part of our feminist future!
Click and donate to support our education programming that is changing the lives of queer and trans youth across Canada.
Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah (she/her)
Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity
Let’s chat! Send me an email to let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @d_owusuakyeeah
Our charitable registration number: 863207981RR0001