“’No’ is a complete sentence.”

“Your daughter is going to face violence if she shows who she is.”

“Who you are makes a difference, all you need to do is show up.”

These are some of the powerful words that YWCA Canada Think Big! Lead Now! Delegates heard over their three-day leadership conference in the beautiful town of Muskoka, ON. Travelling an hour and a half north of Toronto to a beautiful lakeside community, more than 140 delegates from across Canada gathered to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of women and learn what leadership means to them. YW Calgary was thrilled to have three team members accepted as delegates from two different department areas: marketing and communications along with shelter and housing.

Before a 7 a.m. flight, all of the delegates were bleary eyed, excited but not knowing what to expect. One of the YW attendees talked about going into “this conference with little expectations” because her experience was that trainings are often filled with basic information that minimally impact her work. Another delegate talked about simply being excited to “meet other young women from around the country who have similar interests”. Seemingly, the theme among us was nervous anticipation before we touched down in Toronto.

The summit itself ran like a well-oiled machine filled with a level of expertise from the speakers that resonated with each young woman in similar, yet different ways. We found inspiration in the powerful, poetic words from Zoey Roy; some of us found a connection with women leaders spearheading projects in their communities. A project that stood one of us was a “letters for survivor’s project”. The project asked people to write anonymous letters to survivors of sexual assault and post them in public spaces for people to read. The letters hope to provide support for survivors who may not have had support when they needed it most.

There was also much conversation about the way the world makes women compete with one another and brings out each and every one of our insecurities. We are told and taught to feel insecure and hate the powerful, accomplished and intelligent women who stand next to us. We are programmed to rank and compete instead of embracing and befriending these other women. One of the most powerful lessons I took from the conference was “I don’t shine if you don’t shine” in our relationships with other women. Let’s celebrate each other’s accomplishments and lift each other up.

While the conference was marketed about building leadership, the most inspiring acts of leadership came from young women who used their voices in ways they may not have before. From sharing hilarious stories self-grooming gone wrong, to powerful feminist manifestos and letters of self-love, the young women embodied being brave, bold and inspiring women.

If you have a daughter, a sister, a friend, a cousin or a woman in your life that would be interested in learning more about leadership, share Think Big! Lead Now! With them. They will learn what it means to be a leader their way while hanging out with some of Canada’s future leaders.

The future is female.