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Andi Sharma

Keynote speaker Andi Sharma delivered a empowering speech that brought the audience to their feet March 7 at the International Women's Day Celebration, presented by the Women's House Serving Bruce and Grey and Business to Bruce.

Hub Staff

This year’s International Women’s Day celebration took place Thursday, March 7th at Lakeshore Recreation in Port Elgin. Attendees were addressed by many local and influential women including Michelle Lamont, Women’s House Community and Fund Development Coordinator; Anne Eadie, Mayor of Kincardine and councillor to the County of Bruce; Tori Matichuk, Bruce County Business Development Coordinator; Tracy Primeau, Women's House Board Chair; and Christine John, Bruce Power Corporate Social Responsibility & Indigenous Relations.

The event was hosted by a partnership between Business to Bruce and the Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey (WHSBG). While WHSBG offers shelter and aid to women at a time of turbulence, Business to Bruce is ready and waiting as they emerge out of the storm to assist them in bringing their dreams to life. The combined support from these two organizations helps to forge might and influence in individuals in Grey and Bruce. Two such women were honoured at the event as this year's Woman of Distinction and Young Woman of Distinction. As International Women’s Day celebrates not only the progress and accomplishments of women, but also their ability to inspire and embolden others - a trait evident in both of these women.

Woman of Distinction, Lea Anne Roche, is an Educational Assistant at the Walkerton District Community School. She is recognized as a mentor by her fellow staff and one who supports the actions and thoughts of the women with whom she works. Her nominators described her as “empowering”, “considerate”, “non-judgemental”, “resilient”, “patient” and “empathetic”. She accepted her award with grace and gratitude, concluding that "all species on earth deserve to be treated with safety, dignity and decency.”

Lauren Schierz, the recipient of the Young Woman of Distinction award is a coach and leader to young skaters, an inspiration to her classmates and teachers and a budding activist for the women’s movement. She demonstrates perseverance and dedication while managing a part-time job, maintaining honour role status at school and spreading awareness of sexual violence towards women by selling t-shirts of her own design. She has donated the proceeds from shirt sales to the Women’s House. Schierz accepted her award and brought along her shirts to sell at the event.

The much anticipated keynote speaker, Andi Sharma, has garnered recognition for her work as Senior Analyst for the Government of Manitoba’s Northern Healthy Food Initiative and her influential research on Social Enterprise and Systemic Change. She’s traveled internationally to present her findings and has been published in numerous journals. She’s been featured on Ted Talks and National Geographic and achieved the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for making a positive impact in her community. She has also been named one of CBC’s Future 40 under 40.

Recently Sharma has soared to new heights, earning her pilot's licence that she will use to fly food into the northern communities of Manitoba. However, at the International Women's Day celebration March 7 her story began at a much lower level. Buried beneath her towering triumphs lies a heartbreaking tragedy, easily concealed by her victories and success. Sharma chooses to yield her past like a weapon to break down barriers and defend others like her. Her downward spiral was instigated by the death of her father, leaving a dangerous void in her life. Her attempts to fill the emptiness with drugs, alcohol and erratic behaviour resulted in the loss of two jobs and ejection from university and her home. Unemployed, homeless and addicted, this is where her most formidable achievements began, no matter how meagre they appeared. Once she acknowledged these small feats as victories she began to strive for better; once she acknowledged she was worthy of better she was unstoppable.

Today, Sharma shows no sign of stopping. Continually expanding her horizons, she seeks to establish new techniques to effectively resolve the world’s most vast hardships. The enormity of these global issues does not deter her, but rather fuels her ambition. Sharma’s research covers system change and collective impact and the structural elements and requirements for this type of behavioural shift to succeed. She stresses that one of the preconditions for collective impact is a pressing need for change.

“Seventy-five million girls worldwide are denied an education simply for being a girl," said Sharma. "Seventy percent of the world’s illiterate adults being women," she said, adding that women account for two thirds of the 1.4 billion people worldwide that live in extreme poverty, four out of five victims of human trafficking are girls, one out of every three women in the world has experienced domestic violence.

"That kind of urgency is profound," Sharma said. "All of the pieces are in place for us to act, all that’s left is to have the courage to do so," she said.

Sharma delves even deeper into global catastrophes revealing the dire reality of the world’s fresh water supply, climate change and poverty. Her message being not to expose the hopelessness of the situation but to show that the solution is possible and attainable. She quotes a study by economist Jeffery Sachs that estimates $170 billion a year could eradicate world poverty in just 20 years. This annual sum amounts to less than 1% of the combined income of the world’s richest people. She concludes, “It’s not a matter of resources, it’s a matter of priorities.”

Sharma’s moving and engaging speech lifted the crowd from their seats as she stepped down from the podium and the event came to a close with a lingering air of hope and optimism.

Auction

In addition to ticket sales, both silent and live auctions helped to raise funds with 100% of the proceeds going to the Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey. Auction items were generously donated by local businesses.

Lea Anne Roche

Lea Anne Roche, recipient of the 2019 Woman of Distinction Award.

Lauren Schierz

Lauren Schierz, recipient of the 2019 Young Woman of Distinction Award.

T Shirt

Lauren Schierz proudly displays a T-shirt she designed to raise awareness of sexual violence against women.

Standing O

A standing ovation from the audience at Lakeshore Recreation at the International Women’s Day Celebration March 7, following a moving speech from keynote speaker Andi Sharma.

Andi Tori

An emotional moment shared between long time friends keynote speaker Andi Sharma and Tori Matichuk, Business Development Coordinator with the Bruce County Economic Development Department.

Unifor

Unifor is one of the champion supporters of the Women's House Serving Bruce and Grey (WHSBG), donating over $10,000 and helping WHSBG raise a total of over $157,000 in 2018.