FEATURE FRIDAY: WORLD OF CHOICES 2017

It's no secret that I am passionate about empowering women to build careers and businesses they love. This is why I started Bloom Co., and it is why I am featuring World of Choices on this week's Feature Friday. 

World of Choices is an annual event facilitated by Junior Achievement of Southern Alberta designed to empower, mentor and guide young women as they start to explore career opportunities. The event connects over 300 young women in grades 10-12 with nearly 50 local female career mentors for a morning of mentorship and inspiration.

Between the inspiring speeches, valuable mentor advice and rich discussion, this year's forum seeks to empower these young women with the theme: Own Your Future.

I sat down with the Manager of Development, Gladys Loo, to learn more about how this organization inspires and educates young Albertans to succeed in our global economy. 

 Photo credit: Pauline Zulueta and Ulzhan Salimbayeva

Photo credit: Pauline Zulueta and Ulzhan Salimbayeva

Tell me a little about Junior Achievement. 

As the largest youth organization in Canada, Junior Achievement (JA) offers educational programs focused on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness. Brought to Southern Alberta by entrepreneurs, this organization has been around for over 50 years in this region. 

These programs are offered to over 30,000 students from elementary school to high school by over 1800 volunteers and include topics such as managing money, starting a business, value of diversity in the workplace, innovation, self-employment, decision making skills, basic investment strategies, and more. Our programs are experiential and practical as students get to create a budget, invest in the stock mark or even practice running a business.

What has been one your most favorite moments working with Junior Achievement?

Our programs are delivered by volunteers, and sometimes they can be nervous about teaching or speaking to a larger group of students. So often, in the morning when the volunteers come in, I'll see the volunteers are a bit nervous. But when they finish facilitating the program, they are excited and confident. I think that when our volunteers see the immediate impact of their work, when something clicks for a students, the nerves dissipate and they know that they are doing great work to empower our students to be financially literate or passionate business owners. 

Can you tell me about any success stories you've seen because of your work?

As JA, we host the Calgary Business Hall of Fame, annual event to celebrate individuals who have achieved excellence in business, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. This year, we were able to provide our first ever JA Alumni Award winner to Manjit Minhas of Minhas Breweries & Distillery. She went through the JA program, and she is now running the brewery and is very successful with her own production company and appears on Dragon's Den as an investor. And to see someone who started with JA to go on to do incredible things was a special moment for me. 

 Photo credit: Pauline Zulueta and Ulzhan Salimbayeva

Photo credit: Pauline Zulueta and Ulzhan Salimbayeva

Talk a little bit about the career forum.

World of Choices was born out of a realization that young women wanted more education on what career opportunities were available to them. The forum is inspired by the model of high school career fairs. However, the interaction time with the career representatives during these career fairs is quite short, and we wanted to provide more mentorship to young women. So we took the model and combined it with the delivery style of our regular programs to create World of Choices. 

We call this forum "dating for careers". We have set up 30 minutes sessions, where students have the opportunity to ask our career mentors about their jobs, experiences, challenges and lessons along the way. 

This is the 8th consecutive year hosting the forum, and we always aim to ensure that the students leave feeling inspired, supported and encouraged - and that our mentors feel valued and effective. Many of our mentors have returned to the forum and have remarked that this event helps them gain an appreciation for their job, experiences and lessons a little bit more.

We also work with United Way of Calgary to promote our programs in schools who have students who might be more vulnerable to not completing high school as part of their All in for Youth program. 

Let's switch topics a little bit here. What do you think are some of the greatest challenges young women face to as they enter the workforce?

Women of all ages still face a couple major challenges in the workforce. Women still earn less than men for the same job, and you still see a lack of women in leadership positions. Of course, a lot of great work has been done to address these challenges, and we are seeing more women leaders every day. However, I believe that we need more support for young women to mentor them into leadership roles.

What opportunities have you seen emerge for young women as we become more connected digitally?

I think one of the most exciting opportunities is that not just women, but all young people, are pursuing entrepreneurial paths. They are using the vast amounts of technology available to us and their knowledge and passions to create their own businesses. 

In fact, we have a couple amazing women entrepreneurs who sit on our advisory council, and they invite their own networks of women business owners to participate and inspire young women to pursue whatever sets their soul on fire. 

Calgary is also a very entrepreneurial city, and there is a growing network of women entrepreneurs who support and encourage each other.  

 Photo credit: Pauline Zulueta and Ulzhan Salimbayeva

Photo credit: Pauline Zulueta and Ulzhan Salimbayeva

Do you have a piece of advice for any young woman out there who might be struggling to figure out what she want to do?

It's important to know that there is a community out there to support you in whatever you choose to do. Whether you need an ear to listen to your fears, or you need someone to help you turn your challenges and struggles into opportunities, there is always someone there. We don't do any of this alone, and it's okay to ask for help when you need it. 

What does "Own Your Future" mean to you?

We can have a choice to take our future into our own hands, and no matter what we are going through, there are opportunities. It's about being open and vulnerable. The first step to owning your future is owning your vulnerability, stepping in to that fear and knowing that there are always people to help. 

If you are a young woman, or you know of a young woman, know that there's never been a better time to "own your future" and create a career and life you love. You have everything you need to start. All you have to do: take the step. Reach out to someone in your desired field, ask them questions (seriously, we like to talk about ourselves), get involved with an organization like Junior Achievement and know that you have all the tools you need to meet the challenges of today's working world. Go forth, and kick butt. 

For more information: http://jasab.ca Twitter: @JASouthAlberta, Facebook: JA of Southern Alberta

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