When I was eleven years old, my parents moved from Sicily to Canada to provide my brother and me with a better future. We settled in Jane-Finch, one of Toronto’s tougher neighborhoods. Growing up, I learned that while there are many leaders who are new Canadians and many opportunities for leadership within individual ethnocultural communities, immigrants often face barriers to participating in broader civic discussions and taking on leadership positions in the wider community.

When I was selected into the first class of Loran Scholars, I received the financial means to pursue a university degree, but I also was given an opportunity to learn about communities beyond my own and to overcome the barriers to success that many of my classmates faced. Through the Loran Scholar program, I was fortunate to be encouraged by community leaders who saw my potential and showed me that I had both the skills and the responsibility to contribute positively. It was transformational for me.

Inevitably, my Loran Scholar experience informed my own approach to leadership. I believe in supporting people in setting high standards for themselves and ensuring that no one settles for mediocrity when excellence is possible. It begins by taking the time to listen, identifying people’s strengths and aptitudes, and understanding how to fully engage individuals in the work. There is so much focus on creating big visions, but what is often more important is the execution. Even the strongest ideas cannot succeed if a team does not have the commitment and ability to actually implement them. My task—the task of any leader—is to ensure that each member of the team knows his or her potential, has the tools to succeed, and is fully committed to meeting their goals.

In my work, I meet talented youth from all backgrounds who have immense potential but may lack opportunities to excel. My job is to help them see that potential and develop the skills and networks necessary to become effective leaders. It’s the way I pay forward the many opportunities that were given to me. I do not want talented young leaders to be bound by conventional standards of success or to succumb to the alluring comforts of the status quo. I want them to voice their own views, understand their talents, take meaningful risks, act with integrity, and strive to excel to their own potential.

What does it take to succeed and stay competitive in your position/field?

Relationships with people are so important. As the CEO of national charity, I am fortunate to work with hundreds of wonderful Canadians who volunteer their time and donate in support our mission. We wouldn’t succeed without them. Successful CEOs in my field, or in any other field, recognize this simple truth.

What advice would you give young women building/preparing for a career?

Avoid a comfortable path and forge a career where your job and your passion overlap. Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to take meaningful risks.