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Women's giving group in Waterloo ensures women around the world have access to knowledge and opportunity

Nancy opening Women Empowering Women event


Simple good deeds can impact communities in amazing ways. In Waterloo Region, where MEDA’s head office is based, the community is coming together inspired by the giving spirit during the holiday season. Kindred Credit Union’s #12days4good campaign invites local communities to give back through simple good deeds for 12 consecutive days in December.

One doesn’t have to look too far to find do-gooders in the MEDA Waterloo community. Nancy Mann is a MEDA Waterloo Hub board member. Her past occupation as a pastor instilled in her a strong sense of giving back to her local and global community. Nancy is also the chair of MEDA’s Women Empowering Women (WEW) group in Waterloo – a women’s giving group that gathers quarterly to learn about MEDA’s women’s economic empowerment work, network with other like-minded career women, and give back.

MEDA’s Associate Development Office, Chris Brnjas “sat down” virtually with Nancy to discuss her involvement in WEW, her passion for empowering women both here in Waterloo and around the world, and why supporting women is incredibly important for our world.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Chris Brnjas: Why are you passionate about empowering women here in Canada and around the world?

Nancy Mann: This question caused me some moments of deep reflection. I truly believe that women have gifts, ideas, and energy to contribute to our societies both here in Canada and abroad. I’ve always been interested in questions of power and authority – who makes decisions in our society? Who has control over resources? Who has opportunities for education and employment? Are these systems fair? Do they fairly allocate resources, opportunities, and decision-making power? And most importantly, how could they changed or improved?

Women have unique gifts to contribute to our society. With WEW, we wanted to support MEDA’s work in supporting women’s economic empowerment in developing economies around the world. All MEDA projects have some aspect of gender equality work integrated into their design, and some focus exclusively on lowering barriers for women, and providing channels for them to access markets, training, and resources.

One example I can give is from a presentation we received about one of the former MEDA projects in Ghana. The speaker shared a photo of a woman standing in front of a classroom giving a training session to a group of women. When I saw that photo, I remembered what it was like for me to go to a training seminar and learn new ideas that were relevant for my work and go home feeling like I had more tools in my toolbox. That was empowering. When I noticed that the woman teaching the class was Ghanaian, I remembered what it was like to start leading seminars and training programs. These experiences don’t just provide economic resources, but they also provide confidence and skill development for the women who engage in these projects.

That’s what I like about MEDA’s approach to their work. They create leaders and find women who are innovators and problem-solvers. They look for local partners – people who are willing to work hard to improve their situations, and then work with them to improve their capacity to do that.

CB: What is the Women Empowering Women origin story?

NM: I learned about WEW chapters when I attended MEDA Convention in 2016. I met other women who were passionate about giving back and creating a more equitable world. It was then I decided that I would gather women in Waterloo to launch a local WEW chapter.

In February of 2017, we had our first meeting. WEW was based on the idea that women who have had the privilege of having an education, establishing meaningful employment, and finding financial stability have a responsibility to give back and support other women to have similar opportunities.

CB: How does WEW raise awareness about gender equality and economic empowerment?

NM: Our primary goal is to connect with other women who share MEDA’s values and who would like to financially support the work of MEDA. We raise awareness by existing and inviting others to join in our philanthropic passions. All are invited to join us. There is no requirement for a minimum donation, there is no requirement for regular attendance – just come and learn more about what MEDA is doing to empower women and improve their economic opportunities.

CB: How would you describe a typical WEW event?

NM: Before COVID, we used to meet 4 times a year in person. At each event, light refreshments would be provided, there would be time for networking, and then we would sit to learn from a MEDA staff member about how their work is supporting women. After this time of learning, I invite attendees to give if they are able and close with a short reflection and prayer.

The New Testament in the Christian Bible shares a great story about why it is necessary for us to give back. In the book of Luke, there is a story about a wealthy man who gets richer and richer and has no capacity to store his excess riches. He wonders what he should do with his excess, so he decides to build more barns to store his excess wealth. WEW offers an alternative. If you have more than you need, consider giving it to others. That story invites us to ask the question – if we already have enough, and more than enough, what is our responsibility?

CB: What would you like to see WEW accomplish in the future?

NM: Once COVID is done, we will probably continue with our model of meeting 4 times per year. However, during this time, we hope that more people will be able to join our online meetings as there isn’t a geographical constraint – you can join us if you’re in Waterloo, if you’re in Winnipeg, or if you’re in a different country entirely!

At WEW, we truly believe that knowledge is power and as we learn together we are empowered by the knowledge we receive. We hope that our WEW group will only grow – everyone is welcome! Join us for opportunities to network with other women, learn something new, be inspired, and of course eat some tasty treats from the St. Jacob’s Market!

Learn how you can get involved with our Waterloo WEW group by visiting their website here. WEW is sponsored by the Kindred Credit Union and St. Jacob’s Market.

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