When Amal Umar immigrated from Lebanon to Canada in 1980, she discovered that there were few, if any, programs to help immigrant women make a successful transition to their new country.
So, she did what comes naturally. She rolled up her sleeves, mobilized like-minded people, parlayed her passion for social justice, equity and women’s issues into action, and built the programs from scratch.
She founded the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and the Making Changes Association, among other programs aimed at empowering women, particularly immigrants, and has been an advocate, leader, mentor and force for positive change in Calgary ever since.
On top of a successful career that has spanned the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, over the decades she has served on the boards of a host of associations such as the Calgary Immigrant Access Fund and the Calgary Regional Immigrant Employment Council, that built community, particularly for newcomers.
“I discovered early on that changing one woman’s life was possible, but that would not have the significant impact that changing many or all women’s lives would,” Amal says. “I realized that what was needed was changes to the systems.”
A self-described “glass-half-full” person, she was undaunted by the challenges that such large-scale change entailed
“Canada has been very good to me and to a lot of people. It is the least we could do,” she says. “Democracy and a civil society are high maintenance. Everyone has to participate in a civil society.”
She also took strength from the long-term success of the people she worked with and helped progress in their careers. “I like to grow people,” she says simply.
Throughout it all she has nurtured her affinity for diversity and sought out different perspectives to build a stronger and more resilient community.
“The gift that Canada gave to me is diversity, and I’m very grateful for that,” she says.