By: Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi

We recently asked our Fellows and Mentors how they are feeling about embarking on Accelerate Her Future’s inaugural Fellowship Circle program. The sentiment image above reflects what they shared — with ‘excited’ and ‘inspired’ as the most cited responses! 

We at AHF are feeling the same emotions — excited, inspired, nervous, grateful and pumped – as we launch our inaugural Fellowship Circle program this month — which also happens to be Mentoring Month across Canada. AHF is a career accelerator for self-identifying Black, Indigenous and racialized women (BIWOC) pursuing early-careers in business and tech. 

Our Journey Getting Here

It has been a journey for us getting here! In 2016, the idea for AHF was a seed of an idea for me. In 2018, I approached Sumayya Daghar, AHF’s Operations & Strategic Initiatives Lead, a former student research assistant and research collaboration partner to work together. The need for AHF was solidified that same year when we hosted a design session to better understand early-career experiences of BIWOC. It was unequivocally clear that our lived experiences were not an anomaly. 

AHF hosted its first pilot Summit in October 2019 at the University of Toronto and the response was overwhelmingly positive.  After the pandemic, AHF evolved with the Fellowship Circle as our first virtual offering. Transitioning into developing a virtual program was not a jump to quick action process, but instead one that was intentional drawing on data and themes that have come out of years of research. And most importantly, the Fellowship Circle was co-created with and for BIWOC – our team, our advisory group, and our community.

AHF’s Inaugural Fellowship Circle

We believe Canada is filled with ambitious and talented Black, Indigenous, and racialized women (BIWOC) who have the power to advance their careers in business and tech when given access to career and leadership skills, influential and peer networks, mentorship, and tools, at a pivotal time in their lives. 

We promote a strengths-based reciprocal mentoring model. Traditional approaches to mentorship tend to be hierarchical and top down.  We believe that our Fellows and Mentors bring valuable contributions and perspectives thus both benefiting from our group mentorship circles. Through equal partnership and a learning mindset, this approach focuses on the whole person while respecting multiple lived experiences. This type of mentoring relationship provides psycho-social and career support, community and network building, nurturing strengths and wellbeing. 

We are also intentional in our design. We identified core themes from our Fellows application about career experiences and challenges and drew on the questions they posed for mentors, embedding them into our program design — to ensure we centre the voices of our Fellows in the experience.

As we embark on our first Fellowship Circle program this Winter, my sincere thank you to everyone who has played a role in getting us here – our mentors, our speakers, our volunteer Advisory Group, and our corporate sponsors. As one of the leading career accelerators for BIWOC, we are honoured to work with global companies as sponsors who believe in our mission and whose support helps us have a deeper impact.

My deepest thanks to our mentors and  fellows who are part of our inaugural program this winter. This program has been created for you! We received an overwhelming number of applications from across the country from so many brilliant and talented early-career women. We have been inspired by their views about representation and leadership of self-identifying women of colour, gender and racial equity, and their ambitions. Our mentors are brilliant and accomplished women who tell us they wished they had a program like AHF when they were in school and feel passionately about mentoring and paying it forward.

And of course, the amazing AHF team who has worked with heart and passion. They have and continue to be everything in this process bringing their talent, commitment and teamwork, on top of school or their day jobs. We are also thrilled to have been able to hire two student interns, Vanshika Agarwal through a University of Toronto ICUBE Start Up Grant and Shefaly Gunjal through the CICan Impact Internship Grant. 

My why for creating AHF: to create a world we want to live in – a world where all self-identifying Black, Indigenous and racialized women have a seat and voice that’s heard at the table, live their potential and flourish. Welcome again to our inaugural Fellowship Circle cohort!