A new conference allows young, diverse Edmonton women to come together and help one another

A few years ago, Maegan Robinson-Anagor was scanning the Edmonton horizon for networking opportunities – particularly those that were geared towards young women of diverse backgrounds – and coming up short on results. She was then a member of the City of Edmonton Youth Council, and, partnering with fellow council member Meghana Valupadas, they created FEMPower: A Diverse Young Women’s Empowerment Conference in response to that unfulfilled niche.

ECF granted $3000 through its YEG program to support the Diverse Young Women’s Empowerment Conference

“I myself am a first-generation immigrant; my parents immigrated here from Nigeria and Grenada,” says 23-year-old Robinson-Anagor. “So I was just thinking, ‘What is something here for young, diverse women in Edmonton, to help them better themselves and be able to feel like they’re able to do anything in the community?'”

And that is the goal of FEMPower – to create a space for women aged 15 to 25 and of varied backgrounds to come together and discuss the issues facing their respective communities. Robinson-Anagor notes that men are welcome at the conference too, as inclusion is important in the discussions she wants to have.

“We’re trying to bring more people into the conversation,” she says.

The inaugural FEMPower, held in Enterprise Square last March, offered a span of sessions on topics from self-defence to volunteering to yoga, as well as panel discussions that ranged from how women are portrayed in media to the importance of community engagement, and the challenges and successes professional women face in the workplace.

The session leaders were all diverse female professionals in the community, who ranged in age from 18 to 35, and in background from music to journalism to the Edmonton Police Service.

“It was mostly trying to prepare young women with tools to use in their own communities,” Robinson-Anagor says. “To try and empower themselves, to try and make a change.”

FEMPower, both last year and this year, received grants from Edmonton Community Foundation’s (ECF) Young Edmonton Grants (YEG) program – $2000 for its first incarnation, and the grant-maximum of $3000 for the 2015 edition. That funding helps pay for the venue, catering and honorariums to some of the speakers, as well as to keep FEMPower free to attend, ensuring it remains accessible to the young people it’s looking to empower.

To qualify for YEG funding, an applicant’s idea must be partnered with a non-profit or registered charity; that said, the project must be driven by the applicant, rather than a pre-existing program, Cassandra Lundell, Community Grants Associate at ECF, explains.

Now, as Robinson-Anagor plans the 2015 conference with an added emphasis on gender equality, she’s already seeing the effects of the first FEMPower. Many of last year’s participants not only want to return, but also want to get involved in making the conference happen.

“I feel the specific impact FEMPower has been in allowing young women to picture themselves being able to succeed,” she says.

And, that goes hand-in-hand with one of the primary purposes of ECF’s YEG program – to foster youth leadership.

“I’ve never put on my own event before,” she says. “That’s helped me grow as a person. Even just reaching out to people, and realizing that there are people out there that are interested in the same things as you – you just need to be proactive, and get out there, and connect with people, and you will find them.”