Arezoo is a rising voice for women’s civic and political leadership in Canada. As the founder of Platform (previously Young Women’s Leadership Network), she builds civic leadership capacity among Black, Indigenous, and racialized young women and gender-diverse people and boldly challenges the systemic barriers that impede on their ability to lead. As a resounding voice for issues impacting young women and girls, Arezoo is regularly consulted to lend her expertise and perspective and was most recently recognized as the 2020 Young Woman of Distinction by YWCA Toronto. With years of experience in studying and supporting the role of women in leadership, Arezoo brings an intersectional and anti-oppressive lens to her role as the Social Media and Content Manager at Women of Influence.
My first job ever was… a fund development assistant position at the Women’s Centre of York Region where I provided stakeholder engagement and social media support to an amazing organization that supports women from across York Region. It gave me the opportunity to not only raise funds to support women and children in need but also to understand the daily operations of a not-for-profit organization.
I founded Platform because… I felt like existing programs did not represent the needs of racialized young women interested in leadership, specifically in politics and governance. Most programs take a gender-first approach to identifying and addressing the needs of women in leadership positions, but we know that women with intersecting marginalized identities, especially Black and Indigenous women face multiple barriers in leadership roles. So I wanted to create something that centred the lived experiences of marginalized women instead of trying to go around them; that’s why we focus on addressing the root causes of marginalization such as racism and sexism on top of building skills and capacity among our participants.
My vision for Women of Influence is… to develop meaningful relationships with our audience and women who are redefining leadership everyday. Over the past 25 years, Women of Influence has developed an engaged audience and it is my hope to diversify the content and our audience to broaden our reach and tell stories that are often overlooked in the greater scheme of things.
Leaders should prioritize intersectionality in their work because… ignoring the realities faced by Black, Indigenous, and racialized women and those with multiple intersecting marginalized identities will only broaden inequity and lack of access to resources and support mechanisms. It is only through applying an intersectional lens to situations and our approach that we can develop holistic mechanisms and supports that can reduce inequities.
It’s important to recognize where and how you can have the greatest impact, instead of reacting to situations that arise as a result of deep-rooted inequities and injustice.
My best advice to people starting out in the nonprofit sector is… to take time to get to know the people you’re trying to reach and develop meaningful relationships with organizations doing similar work to yours. Make sure that you’re not reinventing the wheel and offer a new approach or programming that builds upon the work that is already happening in communities to strengthen your cause.
The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… to choose your battles. In the face of ongoing injustice facing racialized communities, it becomes difficult, especially for those of us who are marginalized through systems of oppression, to pick and choose what we focus on— but it’s also important to recognize where and how you can have the greatest impact, instead of reacting to situations that arise as a result of deep-rooted inequities and injustice. As a racialized woman, I often feel like I have to carry the torch and serve my communities all the time, so I often forget that I need to take care of myself before I serve those around me. One of my favorite mentors, Karlyn Percil, always tells me that you can’t feed from an empty bowl, and I try to remember that as much as I can.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… to always be self-reflective and open to criticism from those who know me best. It is easy to feel defensive and even hurt when you’re called-in or criticized by the people closest to you, but I think that it’s important to recognize that those closest to you often give the most honest advice based on their understanding of who you are, so they’re often not judging you but pointing out areas for improvement.
I stay inspired by… my friends! In a world where Black, Indigenous, and racialized women face double-standards and erasure in leadership roles, I often find myself doubting the value of my work and whether it’s truly making a difference; my friends continue to support me, and hold me accountable, when I need them. So I’m often inspired by the degree of sisterhood that they continue to display on a daily basis.
The future excites me because… I see young women stepping up to challenge the status quo and lead in different ways every day.