Meet Patricia Kumbakisaka: Rising International Relations Leader

Patricia Kumbakisaka speaks five languages — French, English, Greek, Swahili and Romanian — a result of her parents, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, working in the diplomatic field. Born in Romania, her family moved to Athens, Greece when she was three, and Winnipeg, Canada when she was 10 years old. She’s since followed her own passion for diplomacy, representing Canada at the UN Youth Assembly and UN Youth Romania. Named one of Canada’s most Accomplished Black Women in 2020, she’ll soon be continuing her work (remotely) at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, Germany, where she will be focused on International Relations and Cultural diplomacy issues.

My first job ever was… in an International call center where I was a translator and also took phone orders for people ordering from the Sears catalogue. Aside from that, I worked at an immigration center in Winnipeg where I was a junior data entry clerk.  

My proudest accomplishments are… when I represented Canada as a delegate at the UN Youth Assembly in 2018, and at the UN Youth Romania as the Human Rights Council Chair, and being named one of Canada’s most Accomplished Black Women in 2020. 

What I’ve enjoyed most about working on Canada’s Diversity Advantage project is… how I got a chance to promote the importance of the diversity that we have in our country and the talent and skills that newcomers bring to our country. The project was also to educate people on the fact that learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives within the world we live in. It helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups. Canada’s Diversity Advantage project’s message was to help us recognize and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own.

My boldest move to date was… moving from Winnipeg to Ottawa by myself two years ago to pursue my career further. I must say I loved living in the nation’s capital where I have made many friends and a community! Of course, Winnipeg will still be home and I do go back often to visit my parents and siblings, especially during holidays. 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I speak Modern Greek and Romanian fluently. Everyone’s face is always shocked, especially Greeks and Romanians, as soon as I open my mouth and speak their language. 

My advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in international relations is… do not give up. It is not easy to find a job right away, it’s not an easy field. Try volunteering through organizations working in the field since it can open up many opportunities. Also try internships, network and continue to keep in contact with those networks and your past professors and advisors from University. 

My best advice from a mentor was… always have confidence in yourself; things may not go as you plan at first, but they will come together if you continue to work hard, not give up and have confidence. 

My biggest setback was… taking my very first unpaid internship which had nothing to do with my field, I was honestly very bored in the beginning and felt like this was so useless and was wondering how this was going to bring me forward. Surprisingly, that opened up doors and helped me get to where I am right now. After my internship ended, I kept in touch with people from there and of course they passed on my CV and it led to more opportunities tied up to my field.

I overcame it by… learning that there is an opportunity in everything, and that even the most boring opportunities were not a waste of time at all and were a part of my journey. 

My passion for foreign policy and international politics began… in childhood. I have known that I want a career in international politics since middle school. I have always been a leader in school and in my community. In University, I was involved with the Student Union and was a head organizer of the Canadian Political Science Student Association conference. 

If I had an extra hour in the day… I would go out with my friends and family; but that is not possible due to the pandemic, so more sleep it is!

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that my least favorite fruit is watermelon, that I took ballet lessons in Greece, and that when I was young, I played the piano and clarinet by ear. 

I stay inspired by… past and present world leaders, as well as my parents, who despite their own accomplishments, continue to remain humble. 

My next step is… to continue to be a leader. I am a very proud Canadian and continue to mentor and help others to improve our country nationally and internationally. 

The Rise of Girls

They’re staging ‘die-ins’ at the UN in the name of global warming awareness, speaking out publicly for gun reform, fighting international governments for equal rights, being elected into government roles, standing up for equality and pay equity. They’re starting businesses, running charities, using coding and STEM to solve real world problems. They’re training to work in trades. They’re breaking gender barriers their mothers and grandmothers could only dream of. Beyoncé says they run the world. Oprah says their new day is on the horizon. The world is telling them that the time is now. So, what’s it like to be a girl in 2019?

 

by Hailey Eisen

 

 


 

 

 

“It’s a very exciting time,” says Lindsay Sealey, author of Growing Strong Girls. “But, with endless possibilities and infinite choice also comes a great deal of stress.”  

Lindsay works in Vancouver as a coach, speaker, and educator, helping girls navigate the teenage years by looking at stress, social media, body image, self-confidence, and mental health, as well as academic, social, and emotional development. 

“Girls feel the change happening in the world, they see the advantage and privilege afforded to them, but they also feel a lot of responsibility. We tell them, girls can be anything, and what they often hear is, girls have to be everything.” 

In many ways, they are meeting the challenge. “Research shows that girls are experiencing tremendous success in areas such as academics, athletics, activism, and business,” Lindsay says. “Girls are making huge strides in areas which society deems important. But while success rates are rising, self-esteem, bravery, confidence, and risk-taking are falling — because with the bar now set really high, pushing the bar becomes a lot scarier.” 

Lindsay calls it ‘SuperGirl Syndrome.’ Trying to be everything to all people. And, she says, while some girls find it debilitating, others don the cape and run with it. 

Ashley Zhiyue He (pictured left) is one of the girls who’s running with it. She has no trouble believing that girls can do anything. She’s watched her mom lead by example — emigrating from China, raising two children, and starting her own wealth management firm — and attended, since Grade 9, one of Toronto’s most prestigious all-girls’ schools. Girl power, it seems, is in her blood, and she’s leapt at the opportunities afforded to her to empower other girls her age.

“I’d like more young people to realize that the platforms we have available to us are so unbelievably amazing — how many people we can reach and how far our voices can be heard,” she says. 

Ashley has taken YouTube — a social media tool oft associated by teenage girls with fashion and makeup tutorials, unboxing videos, and celebrity commentary — and done something different. Her goal is to empower girls of her generation to have grit and tackle the world without fear, and she’s doing so by interviewing empowered and successful women. 

“When I was younger I wanted to be a YouTuber — to get paid for promoting cool stuff online,” Ashley says. “But I now realize that while entertainment is important, the real power is in using our voices to spread positive messages.” 

The idea for Ashley’s YouTube channel, GIRLSGIRLSGIRLS, started when she turned to her mom for advice about what she would do when she grew up. Nearing the end of her high school career, Ashley knew she had some decisions to make, but she had a variety of interests and wasn’t sure what direction to take. “My mom suggested I speak with other women at the start of their careers and ones whose careers were already underway, to see what their experiences have been like and how they chose the path they’re on,” she recalls.  

Ashley, being of Generation Z, figured that if she was going to talk with these women anyway, she might as well record them and post them to YouTube in hopes of helping other girls like her. 

She’s now completed nearly two dozen interviews, including with former Canadian Senator, Vivienne Poy; activist, educator, and founder of The Period Purse, Jana Girdauskas; and former Team Canada Olympic archery coach, Joan McDonald — and that’s just the beginning. “So far, I’ve interviewed women through connections I have, but my goal is to expand and connect with interview subjects and viewers across the country,” Ashley says. 

 

“When I was younger I wanted to be a YouTuber — to get paid for promoting cool stuff online but I now realize that while entertainment is important, the real power is in using our voices to spread positive messages.” 

 

While she did have to step out of her comfort zone to put herself on camera and send the finished videos out to her peers, she says the response has been amazing. “I was a really shy kid, and if you’d told me five years ago I would be doing something like this, I would have thought it was crazy,” she says. “But my friends have been really supportive and I’ve received a lot of great feedback — and it makes me feel really good.” 

As for her own plans for the future, Ashley says she’d like to go to school in the United States and hopes to find a way to combine her interests in STEM and media. She’ll also continue to grow her YouTube channel and see where it leads. “I think the biggest challenge most young girls face is being too hard on themselves,” she says. “As women, we feel like we need to prove ourselves, that we have to be perfect — that’s something I’m working on, too.” 

And Ashley’s not alone. While the narrative for girls is certainly changing — look at the recent influx of empowering books, re-invented Disney “princesses” defying the damsel in distress trope, and the “femvertising” trend of ads designed to inspire — there’s still more that can be done. 

“It’s around the age of nine that we see girls start to lose their voices,” Lindsay explains. “That’s when peer influence becomes stronger than one’s sense of self, and when being called bossy dims girls’ lights. They learn that social connection is more valuable than what they have to say, and so they stay quiet in order to fit in.” 

This is where social media can be quite powerful when used correctly. Speaking up and speaking out is often less scary online than it is in person, and social media provides a platform for girls to share their stories, to stand up for what they believe in, and to say ‘me too’ when their peers share their own stories, Lindsay explains. The key is to leverage the tool — which can be destructive and harmful — for good. 

Enter Canadian twin sisters Teagan and Keisha Simpson (pictured left). As psychology students at Bishops’ University in Quebec, they both struggled with body image issues, feelings of inadequacy, fear of missing out (FOMO), and other social-media fueled challenges. 

When faced with the choice of succumbing to the detrimental impacts of social media or doing something about it, the girls decided to own their narrative and step into their power. Thus began their game-changing Instagram movement: Live Life Unfiltered (@livelife_unfiltered). 

“I’ve been struggling with my body for a long time,” says Keisha, now 22 and a recent graduate. “Specifically, my legs. I’ve never liked the way they look and I haven’t worn shorts in years.” Social media only fueled her self-loathing. “I’d go on Instagram and compare my body to everyone else — girls I knew and girls I didn’t know.” 

According to the #StatusOfMind survey of 1,500 teens and young adults, published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health in 2017, Instagram is the worst social channel for mental health and wellbeing. 

“It’s really an issue of volume,” Lindsay explains. “Girls spend as much as eight hours a day on social media — and even if they’re aware of what’s going on behind the photos, their emotions are going to hijack their brains and they’re going to start to feel not good enough, jealous, resentful, and inadequate.” 

For Keisha, a bout of self-awareness led her to clean up her social media feed and find more positive Instagrammers to follow. What she found were a bunch of girls telling her “you’re beautiful” and “you’re perfect just the way you are.” And, while there was nothing wrong with these messages, they didn’t work for her at all. “Because being told you’re beautiful doesn’t make you feel beautiful.” 

 

“Use your voice, risk failure, step out of your comfort zone, fail and learn from it, and then try again.”

 

While the girls were aware of the effects Instagram was having on their wellbeing, it took some time for them to realize the way out. They had started using the platform in Grade 10, but it wasn’t until university that they began talking openly with their friends about its shortcomings, and the distorted sense of reality it was presenting them with.

“We’d talk with our friends about how Instagram isn’t real, how no one posts photos without posing, taking hundreds of shots, using photoshop and filters to perfect the image, and curating only the best moments of their lives to share,” Teagan explains. Yet, while the girls logically knew all of this, none of it made them feel any better as they scrolled through thousands of “perfect” images every day. 

They finally realized that what could potentially make them, and other girls their age, feel better would be more vulnerable, honest, unfiltered posts. The idea was to show girls that they weren’t alone, that many girls were struggling in similar ways and worried about similar things. 

It began as an Instagram account with six photos of friends, un-posed and unfiltered, with statements from the girls about how they were feeling, what they were struggling with, and why. One year later, it has grown into a movement with hundreds of posts, thousands of followers, and a hashtag — #AsSheIs — that’s on the brink of going viral. 

Teagan and Keisha started in their hometown, setting up a photo booth one afternoon at the University of Ottawa. They’ve since had photo booths on eight different campuses across Ontario and Quebec. They stop female students on their way to and from class, on study breaks, and in the middle of everyday life, asking them to pose for a photo against a plain backdrop, without giving them an opportunity to change their clothes, touch up their makeup, or fix their hair. 

“The most common response we’d get,” Teagan recalls, “was, ‘No!’” It wasn’t surprising, given it takes a great deal of courage to be vulnerable with complete strangers, and they were reaching out to a generation not used to posting anything that isn’t highly edited and curated. But, with persistence, their Instagram feed grew. 

Beyond the photos, every single Live Life Unfiltered post includes a quote from the girl about her own insecurities, her feelings about social media, and life itself. Girls talk openly about missed opportunities, about parts of their bodies they hate and those they like, about refusing to wear a bathing suit in public, about jealousy and insecurity, about bad relationships and good ones, about abuse, sexual orientation, mental health, and the future. Live Life Unfiltered has become a safe space, where girls can be themselves without judgement.

For Keisha and Teagan, it’s a passion project that has already surpassed their expectations. The girls have received a huge amount of support from their family and friends and have leveraged the movement to line up speaking opportunities into next year. They already have multiple talks under their belts, one upcoming at TEDxOttawa, plus features on CBC’s The National and in The Globe and Mail slated for this fall. Momentum is growing. “We’re going to take next year to focus on this project and see where we can take it,” Teagan says.

“When we started we were really scared,” Keisha admits. “In fact, we’re still scared, because we’re going out on a limb here, and everyone knows we’re doing this — and it takes courage to put yourself out there like that.” 

But courage is what it’s all about. Combined with hard work, says Lindsay, it’s what girls need to leverage the opportunities available to them today — and do something powerful. 

“Use your voice, risk failure, step out of your comfort zone, fail and learn from it, and then try again,” Lindsay says, citing her most common advice to girls. “And don’t be afraid to put in the time. Take some of the hours you’re spending consuming social media and see what else you can do with them. Work on a variety of skills, try new things, do what makes you happy, and instead of asking people, ‘who should I be?’— tell them: ‘this is me!’”

 

Four ways young women can prepare for career success

 

 

Why wait until you land your first job to start preparing for success? Our Women of Influence co-op student, Elizabeth Papadopoulos, is still in high school, however, she’s already begun the work to ensure she’s well-equipped to start her future career on the right foot. Here are her tips — learned through personal experience — to prepare for your future career.

 

 

by Elizabeth Papadopoulos

 


 

 

 

 

As a seventeen-year-old girl in high school, I understand the immense pressure that the future can place on you. The future is unpredictable, with endless possibilities and opportunities for us to seize.

Recently I had the opportunity to do a co-op placement at Women of Influence. During my time here, I have learned so much about becoming an empowered young woman. I have also learned many valuable skills that will help me become successful in my future career, skills that I hope other young women of my generation have the opportunity to develop.

Based on everything I’ve learned over the past 8 months, here are my four tips on how to prepare for success in the workplace.

 

Tip #1: Don’t be afraid to adapt

Change has always been one thing that scares me — I like to be in my comfort zone and nowhere else. However, when you are working, sometimes you are put in positions that make you nervous, or that you might not be 100% comfortable with. The best thing to do is to just go with the flow! Think of these situations as experiences or lessons to be learned and seize them. If you put yourself in a position where you might not be comfortable now, adapting to new situations at work in the future will seem much easier. Change, as I have learned, can be a good thing.

 

Tip #2: Be Confident

You are your best advocate; no one else knows you as well as you know yourself. Having confidence is so important while on the job. Trusting yourself and your abilities will make your job easier, and prove that you probably know more than you think. So instead of second-guessing yourself, trust the skills you have and use them to convince people why you are an essential member of their team.

 

Tip #3: Build a Good Support System

Although self-confidence is a key part of becoming successful in your future, it is also helpful to have a group of people who support you. Whether it be a co-worker, a friend or your mom, having a person or a group of people who will support your decisions is crucial. Parents, take note: supporting your daughter in her professional career is an important factor in her success. You can help give your daughter confidence for the future by supporting her today.

 

Tip #4: Get Experience

My time as a co-op student at Women of Influence has been so valuable. I have learned so many things that I will be able to use in my future jobs. I recommend any young woman to get a job, volunteer at local businesses, or participate in your school’s co-op program like I did. I guarantee that you will learn something that you will use in your career. Currently, I use the skills that I have learned here to help with my school work. Getting experience is an amazing way to prepare for your future career and lead you to success.

 

Overall, it’s important to start early when preparing yourself for a successful career. Adapting, building confidence, having a good support system and getting experience are just some of the ways that you can prepare for your future jobs. Even though the future is unpredictable, knowing who you are and what you can do will help you become a great leader. Good luck!

 

 

Do you know a young woman of influence looking for her first job experience? Send an email to info@womenofinfluence.ca and let us know! 

 

Meet Sharon Kim, CEO & Founder of CanPlan

Sharon Kim

Sharon Kim is a passionate, imperfect millennial striving to live a life of meaning as CEO/Founder of CanPlan, a one of a kind planner that exists to assist cancer patients and their caregivers navigate the confusing and often overwhelming world of cancer treatment. Here she outlines how she got her idea off the ground, why it’s important to her, and how she hopes to change the perception of the millennial generation for the better.

 


 

My inspiration behind CanPlan was… after my mom passed away from cancer a few days before my 23rd birthday, I asked myself, “What control would look like in one’s cancer journey?” The answer was a planner that acted as a roadmap to guide patients through the different stages of cancer.

 

I got my idea off the ground by… running a crowdfunding campaign in order to obtain enough funds for the first printing because I strongly believe in the power of a unified community working towards a specific cause. So I crossed my fingers, launched my project on Kickstarter and was fully funded seven days before my campaign was set to end.

 

My proudest accomplishment was… completing my second Relay for Life Speech. I was overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedback I received.

 

My boldest move to date was… when I moved from Hawaii to California. I knew that I had to put myself in an uncomfortable position in order to grow, so I left my friends and family behind and moved to California with a small savings and no real plans of what to do next. I took a leap of faith and trusted that I’d figure things out along the way.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… I was class clown in high school. People think I’m very serious since cancer is a pretty serious topic. But I’m actually very lighthearted and I enjoy making fun of myself.

 

My best advice for people looking to make a difference in people’s lives is… you cannot influence others without being vulnerable and being authentic. Always come from a genuine place and allow yourself to be deeply seen. Be raw and don’t be afraid to show off your imperfections. I truly believe that imperfection is the driving force behind connection, so put yourself out there wholeheartedly, with the risk of judgment and criticism.

 

My best advice from a mentor was… there is no such thing as failure. You either win or you learn.

 

My biggest setback was… lacking confidence in myself. I knew I had a great product and a great idea, I just didn’t believe that I had the ability to bring it to fruition.

 

I overcame it by… each and everyday waking up, and telling myself: I believe I can do it. I believe I deserve it. And I believe I will get there.

 

I balance work and life by… setting goals for the week and then breaking it down by each day. If I accomplish my goals for the week, I make sure to do something I enjoy as a reward.

 

Being a young entrepreneur is… riveting. But it’s not for everyone. You have to be comfortable living on a shoestring. You have to still feel motivated even if it’s the third day in a row you’re eating cup noodle. You have to ask for help even if you’re prideful. It takes sacrifice, perseverance and faith.

 

Creativity is an important part of my job because… it a fundamental aspect of any successful business. The ability to stay ahead of the curve and see a solution to an unmet need is what makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur.

 

I stay inspired by… TED Talks. I listen to a podcast each morning.

 

The future excites me because… I have hope that the millennial generation will prove society wrong. We’ve developed a culture where giving back is something of importance. We believe that a healthy society stems from a unified community where every voice is heard and every opinion has weight. We have already made profound changes in the world we live in today, and whether people think those changes are praise-worthy or not, they can’t argue that it’s fundamental in order to move society forward.

 

 

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